On this day in history….6th May 1910

On this day in history : 6th May 1910 – King Edward VII, known as ‘Bertie’ to his family and close friends, dies from a heart attack at Buckingham Palace….

Photograph of Edward VII 1900s W & D Downey – Public domain

Edward, the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, had been born at Buckingham Palace on the 9th of November 1841…. He was to become Prince of Wales a month later, on the 8th of December….

On the 10th of March 1863 he married Danish Princess Alexandra, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor…. They were to have six children five of whom lived to adulthood – Prince Albert Victor, Prince George (later to become George V), Princess Louise, Princess Victoria and Princess Maud….

Edward and Alexandra on their wedding day 1863 – Public domain

Edward was to have many affairs during his marriage, including with actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry…. He also had relationships with Lady Randolph Churchill (the mother of Winston Churchill) and Alice Keppell (the great grandmother of Camilla, wife of Prince Charles)…. He had one particularly scandalous affair with an actress before his marriage…. Prince Albert was distraught over the disgrace it brought upon the royal family…. The affair ended – but two weeks later Albert died…. Queen Victoria blamed Edward for the death of her beloved husband – she never forgave him….

Edward (right) with his mother Queen Victoria, Tsar Nicholas II (left), Empress Alexandra and baby Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, 1896 – Public domain

Following the death of Victoria, on the 22nd of January 1901 Edward became King…. The Coronation was set for the 26th of June 1902 but Edward suffered appendicitis two days before – and it had to be postponed until the 9th of August 1902….

Edward was a heavy smoker, regularly smoking over 20 cigarettes a day and a dozen cigars…. In March 1910, whilst in Biarritz, France, he collapsed with a severe case of bronchitis…. He stayed in France to convalesce – his condition went unreported to the British public…. Edward faced much criticism for staying away at a time when political tensions were running high over the unresolved constitutional crisis of the ‘People’s Budget’….

On the 27th of April he arrived back at Buckingham Palace…. Queen Alexandra returned shortly after, having just visited her brother, King George of Greece, in Corfu…. On discovering the condition of her husband she called their children to inform them their father was seriously ill….

On the 6th of May Edward suffered a series of heart attacks – but refused to go to bed…. “No, I shall not give in; I shall go on; I shall work to the end”…. At 11.30pm he lost consciousness and was carried to bed…. He died fifteen minutes later….

drawing of Edward on his deathbed by Sir Luke Fildes 1910 – Image : Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0

On this day in history….18th February 1478

On this day in history : 18th February 1478 – The private execution at the Tower of London of George, Duke of Clarence, for treason against his older brother, King Edward IV….

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence – by Lucas Cornelisz de Kock – Public domain

George Plantagenet was born on the 21st of October 1449 in Dublin…. His brother, Edward, became King in March 1461 and shortly after George was made Duke of Clarence and then in 1462 appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland….

George had always supported his brother, who had taken the crown from Henry VI in the Wars of the Roses – but he was to fall under the influence of his first cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick…. Edward had plans for his younger brother to marry Mary, the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy – but George had other ideas…. In defiance he married Isabel, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Warwick – and switched his allegiance from the House of York to the House of Lancaster in support of his father-in-law, who’s aim was to have the deposed Henry VI reinstated…. In return Henry VI made George next in line to the throne after his own son…. Power crazed Warwick then arranged for his younger daughter, Anne, to marry Henry VI’s son – thus making George’s likelihood of ever coming to the throne remote…. George began to realise his loyalty to Warwick was misplaced….

Henry VI – Public domain

George was secretly reconciled with his brother and for a while things were fine between them…. Warwick was killed in battle in April 1471 – and then in 1475 George’s wife gave birth to a son – followed by another the next year…. However, two months later, on the 22nd of December she died – George was convinced she had been poisoned by her lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho…. Historians today think it is more likely Isabel died from a postpartum infection or consumption…. Edward had Ankarette brought to trial and then bullied the jury into finding her guilty; she was hanged (but later posthumously pardoned by Edward in 1478)….

George had designs on marrying Mary, Duchess of Burgundy – although Edward had originally thought this a good match he now rejected the idea and refused permission…. George was furious; his mental health had always been questionable but by now it was rapidly declining…. His relationship with his brother became extremely sour…. Eventually he was accused of slandering Edward and plotting against him – accusations reinforced by the confession – extracted under torture – from one of his own attendants….

Edward IV – Public domain

George was arrested for high treason in 1478 and taken to the Tower of London…. He was not present at his trial and a Bill of Attainder was passed in Parliament declaring him guilty…. On the 18th of February a private execution took place in the Bowyer Tower…. A later exhumation of his body revealed he had not been beheaded as was the usual form of execution for a nobleman…. Rumours at the time claimed that he had been drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine….

On this day in history….12th February 1554

On this day in history : 12th February 1554 – The executions of Lady Jane Grey – also known as ‘The Nine Days Queen’ – and of her husband Lord Guildford Dudley….

Jane was the great-granddaughter of King Henry VII (through his daughter Mary) and cousin to King Edward VI…. Her parents were proud of this royal heritage – and being the committed Protestant family that they were – swore their allegiance to King Edward and renounced the Catholic faith….

Lady Jane Grey – Public domain

In May 1553 a triple wedding took place at Durham House, the London Town house of the Bishop of Durham…. 16-year-old Lady Jane married a 19-year-old Lord Guildford Dudley, an English nobleman – her sister, Catherine, married Lord Herbert and Lord Guildford’s sister, Katherine, tied the knot with Henry Hastings…. The wedding breakfast that followed afterwards must have been quite a celebration!

Edward VI, the son of King Henry VIII, had been crowned King of England at just 9 years of age…. The Third Succession Act 1544 restored Henry’s daughters’, Mary and Elizabeth, rights to be in line for succession to the throne – even though technically they were still regarded as being illegitimate (on account of the father’s marriages to their respective mothers being annulled)….

In January 1553 the now 15-year-old Edward became unwell with a fever and cough – which continued to worsen…. Edward wanted to protect the reformed Church of England – he didn’t want the crown to fall into the hands of his Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor…. In fact he didn’t want either of his illegitimate sisters to take the throne should anything happen to him….and so he decided to change his will…. He nominated his cousin Lady Jane Grey – and her male heirs after her – as successors to the throne….

Edward died on the 6th of July 1553, although his death was not announced until 4 days later – his cause of death was probably tuberculosis…. Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England on the 10th of July – something she was not overly happy about, she was reluctant to accept the crown and refused to name her husband King – making him Duke of Clarence instead….

The crown offered to Lady Jane Grey, as imagined in the 1820s : Jane and Guildford standing – after C.R. Leslie – Public domain

Of course, Mary Tudor was not going to take all this lying down – as soon as news broke of Edward’s death she began to muster her supporters…. She was in fact the popular choice of the people – and it wasn’t long before the Privy Council (the then body of advisers to the Sovereign) switched their allegiance to Mary…. On the 19th of July Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen of England….

Jane and Guildford were imprisoned at the Tower of London – she in the Gentleman Gaoler’s quarters and he in Beauchamp Tower….

At the trial Jane was referred to simply as Jane Dudley, wife of Guildford…. She was charged with high treason, as was her husband, two of his brothers and former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer…. All were found guilty – and all were sentenced to death…. Her crime being that she had assumed the title and power of Monarch….the evidence – documents she had signed ‘Jane the Quene”…. I’ll bet she didn’t half curse Edward!

On the morning of the 12th of February Guildford was taken to Tower Hill to be publicly beheaded…. Lady Jane would have seen his departure from her rooms….just as she would have seen the horse and cart arrive back with his headless corpse…. It is said that she cried out “Oh Guildford, Guildford!” …. Then she was taken out to Tower Green to meet the same fate….

The execution of Lady Jane Grey, by French painter Paul Delaroche, 1833 – National Gallery, London – Public domain

On this day in history….8th February 1587

On this day in history : 8th February 1587 – Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded on the orders of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England – in what can only be described as a horrific botched execution….

Mary Stuart – Francois Clouet – Public domain

After Mary had abdicated from the Scottish throne she sought refuge in England and was initially welcomed by Elizabeth, however cautiously…. Mary was permitted to live in various castles around the land but she was continuously watched…. For nineteen years she was virtually a prisoner under house arrest….

Mary in captivity by Nicholas Hilliard c.1578 – Public domain

Then in 1586 a plot was uncovered to murder Queen Elizabeth I…. The Babington Plot, sparking a Catholic uprising, led by Roman Catholic nobleman Anthony Babington, implicated Mary and she was brought to trial…. At the two day trial, on the 14th-15th of October 1586, she was found guilty and sentenced to death…. It seems Elizabeth was reluctant to sign her cousin’s death warrant – so a rather underhand method was used to ensure that she did…. The warrant was slipped into a large pile of papers awaiting her signature and so she signed it without realising she had done so….

Drawing of the trial of Mary Queen of Scots – The digital collections of the British Library – CC0

44-year old Mary was to be executed in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle…. Mary’s own mother, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded – a master French swordsman had been brought in to perform her execution….it had been quick and clean…. The same cannot be said for Mary’s….

The scaffold was draped in black, more than 100 spectators gathered in the Great Hall to watch the proceedings…. Mary was forced to undress to her undergarments – she wore a blood red bodice to symbolise her Catholic martyrdom…. All the while her loyal servants wept around her….

Mary’s lady-in-waiting tied a cloth around her mistress’s eyes and helped her to kneel on the cushion…. Mary prayed – “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” ~ “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”….

Unable to see, due to the blindfold, Mary had to fumble around to find the block on which to lay her head…. Once her chin was in place one executioner held her in place whilst the other raised the axe…. As it fell and struck her neck it became all too obvious he had gravely misjudged….the blade had only partially gone through…. He quickly raised the axe and let it fall again but still her head remained attached…. after a third blow and using a sawing motion Mary’s head was finally severed from her body….

The execution scene, drawn by eye witness Rupert Beale – Public domain

Exclaiming “God save the Queen!” the executioner raised the head for all to see…. as he did so Mary’s head promptly fell to the ground – and he was left holding only a red wig…. According to witness accounts of the time her lips continued to twitch for a good quarter of an hour after decapitation….

As if all that is not gruesome and traumatic enough, more was still to come…. As the executioner lifted the skirts of Mary’s petticoats to remove her garters – as was his right as executioner – he discovered her pet dog, Geddon, hiding in the folds…. The distraught little dog refused to leave his dead mistress – and lay in the pool of blood where Mary’s head had been….

On this day in history….1st February 1327

On this day in history : 1st February 1327 – Fourteen year old Edward III is crowned King of England – but the country is to be ruled by his mother and her lover….

Edward was born on the 13th of November 1312, probably at Windsor Castle…. His father was King Edward II and his mother Isabella of France – the pair had married in January 1308…. Isabella was the daughter of Philip IV of France….

Edward II’s reign was a troubled one….he had difficulty asserting his authority over the powerful barons…. His own father had left him with enormous debts, a war with Scotland that was proving to be impossible to win – and hostilities with France…. It was all a recipe for disaster….and his nineteen year reign was to eventually come to an acrimonious end….

Royal 20 A.II, f.10
Edward II shown receiving the English crown in a contemporary illustration – British Library digital collections – Public domain

Isabella returned to France in 1325 to settle a long-standing dispute between her husband and her brother, Charles IV of France…. The dispute involved the Gascogne region of Southwestern France… She was successful in her negotiations and managed to secure the land for England – on the condition that in return Edward II would pay homage to Charles IV…. Edward II, reluctant to leave England because domestic troubles were arising once again, decided to send his son on his behalf…. Once the young Edward had arrived and joined his mother, Isabella announced her refusal to return to England…. She also became the mistress of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore….

The future Edward III giving homage in 1325 to Charles IV under the guidance of Isabella of France – Public domain

Mortimer, 1st earl of March, owned wealthy estates in Wales and Ireland and was opposed to King Edward II and his Despensers, which had eventually landed him in the Tower of London in 1323…. However, he managed to escape and fled to France…. He and Isabella began to plot….

An invasion of England in September 1326 saw the fall of the Despensers and the deposition of Edward II (and his murder in 1327)…. Edward II was charged with incompetence and breaking his coronation oath – he was forced to give up the throne…. Mortimer was heavily implicated in the proceedings….

Young Edward III was crowned but it was Mortimer who was to become the de facto ruler…. He soon set about seizing many of the noble estates and titles across the land…. He became a very unpopular man – even more so after a humiliating defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Stanhope Park….

In 1330 young Edward III decided it was time he assumed responsibility and dealt with Mortimer…. Edward had married Philippa of Hainault in January 1328 and had become father to a son in June 1330 – he now had an heir of his own….

With the help of his close friend William Montagu – and a small number of loyal trusted supporters – Edward took Mortimer by surprise at Nottingham Castle on the 19th of October 1330….

Mortimer was taken to the Tower of London…. He was condemned without trial, being accused of assuming royal power – and other charges…. His estates were forfeited to the crown…. and he was hanged at Tyburn on the 29th of November 1330…. His body was left hanging on the gallows for two days…. However, Edward III did show some degree of leniency – he refrained from having Mortimer disembowelled….

The Tyburn – from the collections of The National Archives (United Kingdom) – Public domain