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  1. At the death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714 the throne of Great Britain passed from the House of Stuart, to the House of Hanover. Despite multiple pregnancies Anne's only child to live past the age of three had been Prince William, Duke of Gloucester.

    Born in July 1689 at Hampton Court Palace, William was recognised from birth as being second in line to the thrones of England and Scotland. The year before his grandfather, King James, had been deposed in the “Glorious Revolution”. King William III and Queen Mary II, Anne's sister and brother-in-law, now sat on the throne. As the pair were childless Princess Anne was recognised as their heir, with her children succeeding to the throne after her.

    William Duke of Gloucester with ermine-lined cloak and wearing the Order of the GarterWilliam's birth was greeted with celebration. Here at last was the male Protestant heir who would guarantee the nation's future and religion. At birth he appeared to be healthy, but at 3 weeks old he suffered a series of convulsions that impacted his health for the rest of his life. His mother had him moved to Craven House at Kensington, where the gravel pits were believed to have purer, healthier air. William was even placed in his own miniature carriage that was pulled by Shetland ponies, and driven around the surrounding estate, in order to benefit from the air.

    Whatever the original cause of his convulsions (seizures in babies can be caused by ear infections, chicken pox and meningitis), it seems to have led to hydrocephalus. As a child his head was reportedly so big it would fit a man's hat, and his doctors occasionally had to draw off fluid from it. He was unable to speak until he was three, and for some time he refused to walk up stairs without servants holding him. He may have felt unsafe on his own feet if his illness was causing balance issues. However in typical 17th century parenting style his father, Prince George, birched him as punishment. After this William agreed to walk unaided.

    As he grew older William's life became a battleground between his mother and his aunt and uncle. King William and Queen Mary were fond of him, often visiting him at his home or entertaining him at theirs. King William complimented him on his miniature army of local children, called the “Horse Guards”, while Queen Mary spoiled him with frequent toy purchases from his favourite shop. But Anne had fallen out with the King and Queen, and only allowed the relationship as a way to keep their focus on William as the future heir to the throne.

    Mary died in December 1694, when William was just five. His mother and uncle had a public reconciliation, which included Anne moving to St James' Palace with her husband and son, but personally things remained cold between them. The King had a greater say in Prince William's life than his mother would have liked.

    For his seventh birthday Prince William became a knight of the Order of the Garter at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. The banquet thrown to celebrate left the little boy sick and retiring to bed early, but he joined in the hunt the next day. A year later in 1697, Prince William was granted his own establishment. However King William and Princess Anne fought over appointments to the household, particularly in 1698. King William was eventually persuaded to accept Anne's requests to put her Marlborough friends in prominent positions, but he kept his choice of tutor despite Anne's dislike of the man.

    Although Prince William had been slow to talk and unsteady on his feet, he was a fast learner under the tutelage of Bishop Burnet. 17th century education wasn't particularly inspired, consisting of committing facts and dates to memory. But William appears to have had particularly good recall, making him a success. King William also made him an honorary commander of a regiment of Dutch footguards, as his child model army had been disbanded.

    On 24 July 1700 Prince William's 11th birthday was celebrated with a party at Windsor castle, including a banquet followed by dancing and a firework display. The Prince threw himself wholeheartedly in to the festivities, and ended up being put to bed feeling chilled and with a sore throat. Over the following two days his temperature rose until he fell in to delirium. No one knew what the cause was, he didn't show any other signs of smallpox. The doctors attending him bled him, but when another physician – Dr Radcliffe – arrived, he claimed that such actions had effectively killed the patient.

    Prince William died in the early hours of 30 July at Windsor Castle. He had never been joined in the Royal nursery by a little brother or sister, his death left his parents heirless. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, and the throne eventually passed to a distant cousin, George of Hanover.

    Last month's Almost King was Prince Albert Victor.


  2. Some princesses, even unlucky ones, could at least wield some kind of political power. They ruled the domestic side of a court, had a certain degree of patronage of artists and writers, or gained reputations for piousness and charity. But sometimes even a princess can become a virtual cipher to history.

    Isabella of EnglandIsabella of England was the fourth child of King John and his wife Isabella of Angouleme. Born some time in 1214, probably in the city of Gloucester, Isabella grew up with her siblings rather than her parents. Her father John died in 1216. Queen Isabella saw her eldest son Henry crowned King of England, but less than a year later she returned to France to claim Angouleme in her own right. With her went her eldest daugher, Princess Joan, who was to be raised in the home of her betrothed, Hugh Lusignan. In 1220 Queen Isabella usurped this arrangement and married Hugh herself, and then refused to send Joan back to England until she received guarantees about her dower.

    Very little is known about the early life of Isabella, or her younger sister Eleanor. They certainly didn't join their mother in France. Although Henry was King he was too young to rule on his own, so the regency who ruled in his name no doubt arranged appropriate care for Isabella and Eleanor too. At some point, once she was older, Isabella probably took up a place at her brother's court. Henry didn't marry until 1236, and Joan may have been in Scotland as early as 1221, leaving Isabella to be the first lady of the English court.

    In 1235 Isabella was betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Aged around 21 at the time, Isabella was marrying a bit late by royal standards. Her sister Eleanor had married young, to the son of William Marshall (also called William). Her older sister, Joan, had been married to the King of Scotland following the collapse of her betrothal to Hugh Lusignan. Had Joan refused to go north, or had she died in childbirth early on, it might have been Isabella who was sent to replace her. However Henry himself was still unmarried, and several potential betrothals had been scuppered by the French. It's possible that Henry's attention was on his own marital plans, leaving Isabella sidelined until someone stepped forward with an offer to marry her.

    Reportedly Isabella's marriage came about after a suggestion from the Pope to Emperor Frederick himself. Frederick had been married twice already and wasn't going to take a third wife without some financial benefit. Henry had to find thirty thousand marks as a dowry for his sister, and the resulting tax lead to loud complaints in England. Nonetheless Isabella was suitably catered for, and took a trousseau and a bevy of servants to the continent when she left England that summer. She proved to be popular as she travelled across Europe, even removing her veil so the women of Cologne could see her face. She finally met Frederick in July 1235 and married him at Worms Cathedral that same month. She was crowned on the same day, becoming Holy Roman Empress.

    Sadly though the marriage was a farce. Frederick promptly sent all his wife's English servants, bar two women, back to England. Isabella was rarely seen in public, instead she was placed in Frederick's “harem”. Her primary residence was at Noventa Padovana near Padua in northern Italy, where her husband periodically visited her. Very little was heard of her from that point on. She's believed to have had four children in five years, of which only two survived.

    In 1240 Isabella received a special visit from her brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Richard had been on crusade and was now returning to England via a “grand tour” of Italy. However even this visit couldn't release Isabella from her confinement. Frederick threw a lavish reception for Richard, but refused to let Isabella attend. Her meeting with Richard was a private affair, and if he heard any complaints from her he doesn't appear to be publicised them. He was the last family member that Isabella would see. On 1 December 1241 she died at Foggia shortly after giving birth to her last child, believed to be her daughter Margaret. She was, at most, just 27 years old. Frederick buried her at Andria Cathedral next to his second wife, another Isabella. As Empress she might have expected some key public role, and a court to run like her sister-in-law Eleanor of Provence. Instead her life and death were virtually anonymous, and mentioned only in reference to the men in her life.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Madeleine of Valois.


  3. After surviving the usual childhood illnesses, as well as a stint in the Royal Navy, Albert Victor was virtually a shoe-in to one day become King Albert I. Unfortunately a winter chill changed everything.

    Born two months premature in January 1864 at Frogmore House in Windsor, at the time of Albert's birth his grandmother, Queen Victoria, was still on the throne. He wasn't Victoria's first grandchild, but he was the first of her eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales. Therefore Albert was second in line to the throne from birth.

    Prince Albert Victor as a young man in military uniformAlbert and his brother George, younger by seventeen months, were given the same tutor and same education. Neither of them did particularly well, something which could be blamed on poor teaching. But as he grew up Albert showed little interest in anything academic. He learned Danish, but struggled to pick up French and German, languages his parents and grandmother were fluent in. In 1877 both Albert and George were signed up to the navy and sent to the training ship HMS Brittania. Albert fell ill with typhoid but recovered, and by 1879 he was ready to be deployed. He and George spent 3 years travelling the world as crewmen on HMS Bacchante. By the time they returned the pair had seen more of the British Empire than their father and grandmother combined.

    On returning to Britain, Albert was enrolled in Trinity College Cambridge. He still wasn't particularly academic, but he was excused from taking exams so it hardly mattered. He was finally awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge in 1888, three years after he left. Instead of continuing his education he was enrolled in the army, in the 10th Hussars. He trained at Aldershot before being promoted to captain in 1887. But again his lack of talent prevented him going further than Major, and then his classmates proceeded to be promoted above him. He may also have contracted an STD by this point, as letters to his doctor refer to him taking medication that was generally used to treat gonorrhea.

    As an adult Albert was a diffident young man. He was considered to be perfectly affable and good natured, but with no talent and no occupation he quickly grew bored. He might have been given Prince Albert's name, but he was as far as one could get from the kind of King that his grandfather would have wanted. He had inherited his father's interest in card games and pretty women, but unlike Edward he lacked any kind of work ethic.

    In July 1889 the police raided a male brothel in Cleveland Street, London. During interrogation the names of the clients were soon divulged, including Albert's equerry, Lord Albert Somerset. Although Albert's name was never mentioned by any of those arrested, it wasn't long before the association between the two men led to a rumour that Albert also visited the same establishment. This wasn't helped by Somerset's lawyer, who claimed that if his client went to court he would reveal the name of one “P.A.V.” (Prince Albert Victor) who also visited Cleveland Street. Somerset himself fled abroad and refused to condone the rumours about Albert.

    In the end Albert's father the Prince of Wales intervened and made sure that none of the clients would end up in court. For some this is proof that Albert had indeed visited the brothel and his father covered it up as a result. It may be that Albert was bisexual, or followed expectations at the time and been firmly in the closet. Alternatively Somerset's lawyer may have spread the rumours himself to take the focus off his client. But the scandal was enough to prompt the family to step in and draw a line under the matter, and to start hunting for a suitable bride.

    A further scandal enveloped Albert's life long after his death. In the 1960s it was suggested that he could have been Jack the Ripper. However papers from the time show that Albert was no where near London during several of the murders. It's also generally accepted that killer had some kind of surgical skill, well beyond the capabilities of Albert.

    The search for a bride for Albert started as early as 1889. His cousin Princess Alix was considered to be the frontrunner. But when he proposed she declined. She would go on to fall in love with and marry Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. A year later Albert was quite over her, and instead had fallen in love with Princess Helene of Orleans. Originally Queen Victoria was against the match, but the young couple convinced her that they were in love. Always sentimental at heart when it came to love, and with a soft spot for Albert, Victoria decided to give her blessing.

    But other family members were less forthcoming. The Princess' father in particular was opposed to the match, and the Prince of Wales wasn't thrilled either. Helene had offered to convert from Catholicism in order to marry Albert, but her father refused to accept this as a condition. In a desperate attempt to get around her father, Helene even travelled to Rome to appeal to the Pope in person. Why she thought this would work is a mystery, naturally the Pope refused to give her permission to convert from the Church. Ultimately the pair gave up, Helene would go on to marry the Duke of Aosta in 1895.

    But a bride had to be found for Albert, and there was a shortage of suitable women. Apart from his European cousins, Queen Victoria reportedly complained that other potential continental brides were too stupid or too ugly to be considered. However waiting in the wings at home was another relation – Princess Mary “May” of Teck. Mary's mother was a cousin of Queen Victoria, as she was another granddaughter of King George III. Mary was beautiful, educated, down to earth and well liked. She took an active interest in charities and good works, and was considered to be a practical, sensible young woman. The hope was that she would help reform Albert, who was entertaining himself with actresses.

    The Prince was quite taken with his pretty potential bride, and proposed to her in December 1891. Unlike Princess Alix, there was no refusal from Princess Mary. A public announcement was made that the pair were engaged, and the wedding was set for February 1892. Together they moved on to Sandringham to spend the festive season with Albert's family, the Prince and Princess of Wales held Christmas at Sandringham every year. However early in the New Year Albert felt ill while out on a shooting trip in the cold January air. He quickly fell sick with the flu. He struggled through his birthday celebrations on 8 January, but took to his bed shortly after. As his temperature rose he reportedly cried out for Princess Helene. Flu developed in to pneumonia, and he died on 14 January 1892. His death shocked the nation. The sudden loss of a healthy twenty eight year old heir to the throne came out of the blue. He was buried in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

    In similar style to Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon, Albert's younger brother Prince George took both the throne and the bride. Mary was still considered good enough to be a Queen Consort, and she had merely been engaged to Albert. George and Mary became close during their period of mourning, and were married in July 1893.

    Last month's Almost King was Henry Stuart.


  4. Like many princesses, Madeleine of Valois wanted to be a Queen. Sadly the man that fell for her was the King of a country whose climate wasn't ideal for a young woman in poor health.

    Born in August 1520, Madeleine was the fifth child and third daughter of King Francis I of France and his wife, Claude. By the time of her birth her eldest sister Louise was already dead, but the nursery still had Charlotte, Francis, and Henry. Madeleine herself was followed by Charles in 1522, and Marguerite in 1523.

    Madeleine of Valois in a black dress with white fur draped over her arms.In 1524, just over a year after Marguerite's birth, Claude died at the Château de Blois. Madeleine's sister Princess Charlotte died two months later. The Royal nursery, which was under the care of Madame du Brissac, now fractured. Madeleine and Marguerite were sent to live with their paternal aunt, another Marguerite de Valois, the Duchess of Alencon. A year later Madeleine's father King Francis was captured at the Battle of Pavia, and Young Francis and Henry were sent to Spain as hostages in his place.

    Through the political upheaval Madeleine continued to reside with her aunt, even when Marguerite married the King of Navarre. Marguerite was highly educated, and like her mother Louise of Savoy had gained a reputation as a mediator and diplomat. She was an ideal role model for a Royal princess; clever, witty, generous to the poor, and a patron of artists and writers. She wrote and published poems and plays, and kept up a prolific written correspondence. Although little is known specifically about Madeleine's own education, her aunt would have neglected her duty if she didn't ensure that her two nieces were well educated.

    In 1530 Madeleine moved again. Francis had married for a second time. His new bride was effectively foisted on him as part of the treaty negotiated with Emperor Charles. The new Queen of France was Charles' sister, Eleanor of Austria. A former Queen of Portugal by her first marriage, Eleanor was the niece of Catherine of Aragon. Although Francis married her and had her crowned at Saint-Denis, he was a reluctant groom and preferred the company of his mistress. Although her marriage was unhappy Eleanor was determined to make the most of her new life. She gathered her Royal step-children around her, including the two surviving princesses.

    At some point in her childhood Madeleine appears to have contracted tuberculosis. Her health was fragile, she wasn't strong enough to ride or hunt, and had to be transported in a carriage when the household was on the move. So when King James V of Scotland stated that he wanted to marry her, his proposal was shot down by Francis.

    The problem was that France and Scotland had signed the Treaty of Rouen, one of the terms of which was that a French Princess would be given as a bride to the Scottish king. Francis feared an early death for his daughter if he married her off, she was hardly likely to survive childbirth. Instead he negotiated for James to marry Mary de Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Vendome. Although James initially agreed, even signing a marriage contract, he still wanted a Princess. He decided to pay a visit to France to view Mary, arriving at Dieppe in September 1536. Ultimately he decided that Mary wasn't the one for him. He'd been promised a Princess, and even the promise of a dowry worthy of one of the Royal blood wasn't enough.

    James had chosen his time badly. Shortly before his arrival the Dauphin Francis had died. The court was officially in mourning, but King Francis invited the Scottish king to meet with him at Lyons. When they met James reminded Francis that the Treaty of Rouen had stipulated a French Princess for a bride. Francis was now caught in an unenviable position; help James break the marriage contract with Mary, and agree to a new bride. Furthermore King Henry VIII, who was James' uncle, had sent word to Francis that he personally objected to any marriage between the two countries.

    Francis managed to juggle his competing issues. Mary was proposed as a bride for the Lorraine family. Henry VIII was facing problems at home so could be safely ignored. The Pope was contacted and agreed to a marriage between Scotland and France. All James needed to do now was pick which of the two French princesses he wished to marry. Francis may have been hoping he would pick Marguerite, who had none of the health problems that plagued her eldest sister.

    But James chose Madeleine. It may even have been a love match, when she was well Madeleine was reportedly charming and lively. She actively wanted to be a Queen, after all she was daughter of the Queen of France, step-daughter to the Queen of Portugal and had been raised by the Queen of Navarre. Her family however were deeply upset. Scotland was considered to be a harsh country. The people were uncivilised, and the climate was too cold and wet for someone with her health problems. She had grown up in the comfort and luxury of the French court, the Scottish one would never be able to match up.

    But Madeleine insisted, and so did James. The marriage contract was signed in November 1536. Madeleine was granted a large dowry, and James agreed she would be given a variety of properties as her dower. On 1 January 1537 the pair were married at Notre Dame cathedral, with King Francis escorting his daughter to the cathedral. The marriage was celebrated with a banquet, followed by several weeks of parties. Francis bestowed a collection of expensive gifts to his daughter and her new husband, from tapestries to beds, and silver plate to carpets.

    As the winter weather improved the Royal family began to move towards the coast for James and Madeleine's departure for Scotland. Madeleine fell ill with a bad fever on the way, and took a long time to recover. They finally reached the coast in May, embarking for Scotland several days later. Their journey was difficult, with bad storms delaying the start of the journey. The ships finally arrived at Leith on 19 May 1537.

    Sadly though Madeleine still hadn't recovered her health from her earlier fever. James wrote to Francis asking him to send over another doctor. She was moved to Fife, where the air was considered to be healthy, but insisted on returning to Edinburgh to be near her husband. She might even have convinced herself that she was on the mend. A letter to her father dated 8 June stated that she was feeling much better.

    Preparations were being made for her coronation. She was writing to Francis asking for some pearls and robes he had promised her, she may have wanted them for her official entry in to Edinburgh. But the return to better health was only brief. She fell ill again and died in James' arms on 7 July, having never had her coronation. She was nicknamed “The Summer Queen” on account of her brief reign as James' wife. Despite his love for his wife James still needed an heir. A year later he was walking down the aisle with another French woman, Mary of Guise. James' own early death meant that Mary had to step up to an unexpected political role, protecting the throne for their daughter Mary. As a result, and due to the shortness of their marriage, Madeleine tends to be forgotten as James' first Queen.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Margaret of Norway.


  5. Another one of those “could have changed the course of history” princes, Henry Stuart's arrival was greeted with immense relief by the Scottish court. But it wasn't long before his birth showed the stark division between his parents, which would set the scene for the rest of their marriage.

    Born in Stirling Castle on 19 February 1594, baby Henry was the first child of King James VI and his wife, Anne of Denmark. The couple had married in Oslo in November 1589. The years between the marriage and Anne falling pregnant had led to rumours that the couple could not conceive a child together. The birth of a living, healthy male child promptly put a lot of concerns to rest.

    The childhoods of James and Anne could not have been more different. James' mother Mary Queen of Scots had been arrested in June 1567 when her son was just a year old. Eventually she was imprisoned in England before being executed. His father Henry Darnley had been murdered months after his birth. A variety of Regents had come and gone from the young James' life, their own lives cut off by murder, execution, and illness. Thus James grew up with no real sense of a close, loving family life. Anne on the other hand had been initially raised in the home of her maternal grandparents in Mecklenburg, before returning to the Danish court. Her mother Sophia was a dedicated and diligent parent who personally nursed her children through a range of childhood illnesses.Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales

    Thus Anne might have expected to be able to create a warm, homely Royal nursery, starting with baby Henry. Instead James placed the infant in the care of the the Earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, and appointed his own childhood nurse to the household. Anne was furious that she was to have no say in the way Henry was raised, and consistently argued that she should be allowed custody of her own son. James not only refused, but gave instructions that Anne was not even allowed to have custody should James die while the boy was still in his minority. Anne had a miscarriage in 1595 that was reportedly caused by how upset she was over James' refusal.

    In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died, making James the new King James I of England. Anne finally got her chance to see her son again, refusing to move south to join the King unless she could have custody of Henry. James finally agreed, and mother and son travelled down from Scotland to London together. By this point Henry was an older brother to Elizabeth and Charles, a baby sister named Margaret had died a few months after her first birthday in 1600. Elizabeth joined her mother and brother on their journey to England, but Charles was a sickly child. Rather than risk his life and health with a strenuous journey, he was left in the care of Lord Fyvie until he was well enough to join the family a year later.

    Henry's education had begun in Scotland under the tutelage of Sir George Lauder, apparently with regular input from James, who took a keen interest in his son's learning. Henry was educated with his future in mind, studying current national affairs as well as the usual subjects. Unfortunately this put him on course to clash with his father. Not only did he disagree with his father on policy, he disliked his father's favourites and the running of the court. He was reportedly strict on his own household, fining members who were caught swearing, and ensuring the whole household attended regular church services.

    His position as heir to the throne also put Henry in the same danger as his father. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 had the intention of killing both father and son in the explosion. Assuming that Charles would either be killed or too weak to pose a problem, the plotters intended to put Henry's sister Elizabeth on the throne. She was young enough for a Regency to be needed, she could be raised as a Catholic and married to a Catholic prince, and through her the country would return to Catholicism. The discovery of the plot led to a sense of national relief that the King and his heirs had survived, and created a boost of popularity.

    As he grew older the gulf between father and son also grew. Henry was handsome, physically strong, and intelligent. His younger brother Charles appears to have emulated him, and his attempts to keep up with his brother led to positive changes in his health over the years. Henry was confident and appears to have been a natural leader. He was interested in affairs of state, was kept abrest of activities in Ireland and the American colonies, and was not afraid to debate policy with his father. In one incident he and James argued while out hunting near the King's favourite lodge in Royston, Hertfordshire. The pair nearly came to blows before Henry decided to leave, and some members of the court followed him rather than stay with the King. They were already starting to mark the rising star, and the potential rewards that would follow when he inherited the throne.

    The matter of Henry's future marriage was a key policy area for many years. In 1605 James began to investigate a Spanish match for his eldest son. This was apparently at the suggestion of Queen Anne, who wanted highly prestigious marriages for her children. Spain had Infanta Anne, born in 1601, and Infanta Maria Anna, born in 1606, the original proposal may have been for Anne (who later became Queen of France). By 1612 the Spanish were refusing the match unless Henry converted to Catholicism. Even if James had been willing to support such a demand, Henry had been raised with a series of Calvinist preachers in his household and was a dedicated Protestant.

    The match may have been renegotiated were it not for Henry's early death. In October 1612 Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine, arrived at the English court as the betrothed of Henry's sister Princess Elizabeth. Their mother Anne disapproved of the match, she wanted Elizabeth to be a Queen. However Henry and Frederick appear to have become good friends in a short space of time. Elizabeth was close to her older brother, and was relieved that he got on well with her future husband.

    Sadly the friendship did not last long. During the celebrations for Frederick and Elizabeth, Henry suddenly fell ill with typhoid fever. He died on 6 November 1612 at St James' Palace, plunging the previously joyful court in to deep mourning. Charles and Elizabeth were devastated at the sudden loss of their brother, and Queen Anne was so upset that it permanently affected her health. Henry was buried in Westminster Abbey on 7 December, with Charles as chief mourner.

    Like the Black Prince and Arthur Tudor, Henry was considered one of the great losses to English kingship. Charles' problems as King may have been avoided had it been Henry on the throne. In reality Henry may have faced the same accusations of acting like a tyrant, depending on how his own policies turned out.

    Last month's Almost King was a trio - the sons of King Edward I.