21 months ago I posted this as we waited for the announcement of the royal baby’s name. They beat me to it this year though, and last week we heard that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have named their daughter Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Recent changes to the law assure that Charlotte’s place in the succession will not be affected by any future brothers that she has. Instead she can only be bumped down, as she would if she were a boy, by any future heirs that George produces. As fourth in line to the throne she isn’t expected to become queen, but stranger things have happened! Join me on a rundown of the ‘spares’ that took the throne, (and not all of them because their elder sibling died.)
Henry the Young King
The second of ten children born to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry became the heir at the age of one when his elder brother died in infancy. Henry was crowned King of England at the age of fifteen, though rather unusually during his father’s lifetime. The intention was that he reign as a junior king, in preparation for when he became king in full. Initially Henry the younger had little interest in the day to day running of government which was surprisingly beneficial given that his father had little intention of relinquishing any power to him. As time went on however, the lack of responsibility rankled and Henry Jr would mount two rebellions against his father in an attempt to secure more power. The first lasted eighteen months and would be remembered in history as the Revolt of 1173-74, supported as he was by his brothers, mother and a significant number of Henry II’s nobles.
Though reconciled Young Henry mounted another rebellion ten years later against his father and brother Richard (later Richard the Lionheart). However, not long into the hostilities Henry contracted dysentery prompting him to attempt reconciliation with his father. Aware that he was dying he begged forgiveness and though Henry II did indeed forgive, he refused to do so in person for fear of a trap given that they were still at war. Henry the younger died shortly afterwards in 1183, six years before his father. Even though he is not included in the numerical succession of British kings and queens due to the unusual nature of his kingship, he was an anointed and crowned King of England.
The second child of Henry VIII by his second wife Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was the third of his children to take the throne after her younger brother and elder sister died childless. At the age of two Henry VIII declared her illegitimate, as her half sister Mary had been some years earlier. Although he later restored his daughters to the succession he never repealed their state of illegitimacy, something which Elizabeth also failed to do.
Despite this, and the rumours that Elizabeth was not even Henry’s daughter, she was crowned Queen without contestation and ruled England for forty five years. Her reign is known as the golden age due in part to its prosperity and the flourishing literary scene which shaped English literature as we know it. Her reign was a welcome period of stability after the brief and inconsistent rules of her half siblings.
Charles was the second son of Elizabeth ‘s successor James I of England (VI of Scotland). He and his elder brother, Henry Frederick were born in Scotland before their father became king of England and united the two kingdoms. Henry Frederick was extremely popular even though he was known to be zealous in his Protestant faith. Upon his investiture as Prince of Wales, Henry became the first heir of both the English and Scottish thrones and his father gave him greater responsibility to prepare him for his eventual kingship. Unfortunately Henry developed typhoid fever and died quite suddenly at the age of eighteen, pre-deceasing his father by twenty years.
Charles was twelve years old when he became the heir apparent, having maintained a comparatively low profile as he overcame various childhood ailments and disabilities. From his earliest time as heir he clashed with parliament, beginning with a disagreement over his marriage. His arguments with them continued into his reign and Charles alienated a great deal of his subjects through unpopular social policies and religious reform. So unhappy was the Scottish parliament that in 1640 they announced their intention to rule themselves without royal input. Meanwhile Ireland launched a rebellion the following year and by 1642 the already strained relationship between Charles and the English parliament disintegrated completely resulting in the English Civil War.
The war continued for six years before Charles was captured and charged with treason, though it took the best part of a month to actually work out the legality of the charge. Regardless Charles was found guilty and sentenced to death, executed on 30th January 1649. His sons went into exile in France as parliament abolished the monarchy, giving the rule of the land to Oliver Cromwell who had made a name for himself in the Civil War as a soldier.
George V was born during the reign of his grandmother Queen Victoria. Between his father and his brother George was fourth in line and not expected to inherit but by the time his father became Edward VII, George’s elder brother, Albert Victor, had died rather unexpectedly leaving him the heir apparent.
Albert Victor was twenty eight and had finally found a bride and set a date for their wedding when he caught influenza. It quickly developed into pneumonia and to the great shock of his family and the nation at large he died soon after. United in mutual mourning George married Albert’s fiancee, Princess Mary of Teck a year after Albert’s death.
Given that Edward was sixty when he became king, he delegated a number of duties to George to prepare him for his own kingship which followed just nine years later. George was responsible for modernising the monarcy, not least by assuming the name Windsor to distance themselves from the German ‘Saxe-Coburg Gotha’ during the war and beginning traditions that the royal family still uphold today. Despite the new publicity he brought to the royals he had a poor relationship with his son and heir; Edward whose affairs with married women he thoroughly disapproved of. On the other hand he was very close to his second son Albert and his family. In the later stages of his life he predicted that Edward would ruin himself within a year and expressed his hope that Albert would become king.
George V’s end of life declaration proved to be eerily accurate and Albert did indeed become king, though he assumed the regnal name of George to emphasise the continuity between him and his father even though Edward came between them.
Although Edward became king when George V died, he was considered wholly unsuited to the role. He was a serial womaniser and had had multiple affairs with married women. By the time he became king he was seriously involved with a married American socialite; Wallis Simpson. While there were other reasons which caused his advisors and government some reticence when dealing with their new king, it was Simpson’s unrelenting presence in Edward’s life that caused the most consternation. His insistence that he would marry her eventually resulted in his unprecedented abdication. George VI assumed the throne in his brother’s place and granted Edward the title Duke of Windsor but disallowed him use of the style HRH and forbade any of the royal family attend his wedding to the now divorced Simpson.
Relations between the brothers were further frustrated in the lead up to the Second World War when Edward became friendly with Adolf Hitler and sympathetic to the Nazi party. After Hitler’s defeat however the Windsors lived out their lives in relative obscurity occasionally visiting the royal family in London. George VI’s health never recovered from the war and in 1952 his daughter, Elizabeth became queen upon his death. Edward attended his funeral but as a former sovreign did not attend Elizabeth’s coronation.
Edward outlived his brother, the king, by twenty years. He and his wife, Wallis, returned to London and maintained a relationship with the Queen, though the Queen Mother never formally received them. She would never reconcile the drastic effect unexpectedly becoming king had on her husband and Simpson’s role in the event. The Duke died in 1972 and the royal family attended his funeral. He was buried in the Royal Burial Ground, a cemetary used by the royal where Wallis was also interred with him when she died fourteen years later.