On this day in history….21st August 1765

On this day in history : 21st August 1765 – The birth of King William IV, who came to the throne at the age of 64 and is the oldest British monarch to be crowned to date….

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William in dress uniform – Sir Martin Archer Shee C.1800 – Public domain

William, who was born at Buckingham Palace, was the third son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz…. He was not expected to become King and at the age of 13 was packed off to join the Royal Navy….something which later earned him the nickname ‘Sailor King’….

NPG D10853; King William IV by William James Ward, published by  William Sams, after  Abraham Wivell
William, as Lord High Admiral by William James Ward, published by William Sams, after Abraham Wivell, mezzotint, published 1 June 1827 – Public domain

William saw active service at the Battle of St. Vincent in 1780 against the Spanish – and in New York during the American War of Independence…. George Washington even plotted to have him kidnapped but when his intentions were leaked the plan failed…. William was then to serve under Horatio Nelson in the West Indies and by the time he left the Navy in 1790 he had risen to the rank of Rear Admiral…. He was made the Duke of Clarence and later, in 1825, Clarence House in London was designed for him by John Nash….

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Clarence House (1874) – Public domain

In 1791 William began living with Irish actress Dorothea Bland, who was also known as ‘Mrs Jordan’…. They were to live as though husband and wife for the next 20 years and had 10 children, 5 girls and 5 boys…. There were those who were less than respectful to the Duke of Clarence and referred to him as ‘Silly Billy’….

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Mrs Jordan in the character of Hypolita; mezzotint by John Jones of London 1791 – Public domain

However, William’s destiny was set to change…. Upon the death of his elder brother’s only child, Charlotte, he became heir to the throne…. It was decided he would need a suitable wife and so one was found for him…. In 1818 he married Adelaide of Saxe-Menninger; they had 4 children but none survived beyond infancy….

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Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen by Sir William Beechey C.1831 – Public domain

When he came to the throne on the 26th of June 1830 he asked “Who’s the Silly Billy now?”…. He was to reign for just 7 years; William died of heart failure on the 20th of June 1837…. Having no surviving legitimate children the throne passed to his niece, Princess Victoria….

On this day in history….29th July 1565

On this day in history : 29th July 1565 – Mary, Queen of Scots, marries her cousin, Henry Stuart Lord Darnley…. It is the second of her three marriages – and is not a popular, or happy union….

Mary was just 15-years-old when she was first married to Francis II of France – the pair had been betrothed for ten years…. Mary’s father, King James V of Scotland had died when she was five days old – and so her French mother, Marie de Guise, had returned to France, taking her baby daughter with her…. Growing up in the French royal court Mary knew her intended husband well….a union that had been arranged by her mother…. Francis, being the eldest son of King Henry II of France, was heir to the French throne….

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Mary and Francis (from Catherine de’Medici’s book of hours c.1558) – Public domain

The wedding took place in Norte Dame Cathedral in 1558; within a year King Henry II had died and the newly wed Francis and Mary became King and Queen of France…. However, on the 5th of December 1560 Francis was to die from an ear infection…. Mary returned to Scotland to claim the Scottish throne – and Francis’s 10-year-old brother became the King of France….

In February 1565 Mary was to meet her cousin, Henry Stuart Lord Darnley, at Wemyss Castle – it was ‘love at first sight’…. After a whirlwind romance they were married in the chapel at Holyrood Palace just five months later; he was 19, she was 22…. Being first cousins it meant the marriage would strengthen their claims on both the Scottish and English thrones…. But not everybody was pleased…. Darnley’s mother, Queen Elizabeth I of England, was far from happy – and both Scottish and English Protestants were angered….

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Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots – Painting c.1565 – Public domain

Within two months Mary was pregnant with the future King James VI….but Mary and Darnley’s happiness was not to last…. He may have had the looks – but Darnley was not a pleasant character…. He liked to live the good life, drank too much and was a womaniser…. He was arrogant, jealous and quick-tempered…. It did not take long for him to become a hated man in Scotland….

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Darnley in his late teens – Public domain

On the 9th of February 1567 Darnley was found dead outside of a lodging house near to the Kirk O’Field…. A large quantity of gun powder had been used to cause an enormous explosion that had torn the building apart…. Darnley was discovered outside in his nightgown – it looked as though he had been strangled…. Nearby two servants also lay dead – and there was a chair and a length of rope….

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1567 drawing of Kirk o’ Field after the murder of Darnley – Public domain

There were those who believed Mary had been involved in Darnley’s murder….she had certainly visited him the night before…. Unhappy in her marriage but being Catholic divorce was not an option – she may have looked for another way out…. Also suspected was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who was arrested and tried for the murder – only to be acquitted through lack of evidence…. Meanwhile Mary’s popularity was rapidly declining….

Just over three months later, on the 15th of May 1567, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell…. With a force of 800 men Bothwell had kidnapped Mary whilst she was travelling between Linlithgow and Edinburgh and had taken her to Dunbar Castle – saying it was for her own safety…. Stories differ to what happened between the two – some believe Mary gave herself willingly to him – others say Bothwell raped her…. Nevertheless, the pair were married; Bothwell and his first wife, Jean Gordon, had divorced just twelve days earlier….

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Portrait of the Earl of Bothwell, 1566 – Public domain

Scottish nobility was deeply divided by the union – to the point of confrontation…. The two opposing sides were to clash at Carberry Hill on the 15th of June; Bothwell fled, Mary was never to see him again – he died as a prisoner at Dragshold Castle, Denmark, in 1578….

Mary herself fled to England – to seek the protection of Elizabeth I – only to find herself a prisoner for the next nineteen years…. On February the 8th 1587 Mary was executed at Fotheringhay for plotting against the Queen…. She was 46-years-old….

A scaffold was erected in the Great Hall…. The first blow of the executioner’s axe struck the back of her head…. The second severed her neck but not enough to decapitate her…. The executioner cut through and then lifted her head high by her auburn locks with the words “God save the Queen”…. Only it turned out Mary was wearing a wig – her head fell to the floor – revealing short grey hair!

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Mary, Queen of Scots – Portrait by Francois Clouet – Public domain

On this day in history….30th May 1842

On this day in history : 30th May 1842 – Would-be assassin John Francis attempts to shoot Queen Victoria – for the second time in two days….as she rides in an open carriage….

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Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

The first attempt had been on the 29th of May; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had attended a Sunday morning service at the royal chapel, St. James’s Palace and were returning to Buckingham Palace…. As they travelled down the Mall, in their open carriage, Prince Albert saw ‘a little swarthy, ill-looking rascal’ point a flintlock pistol in their direction…. The man pulled the trigger but the gun failed to fire…. He tucked the weapon back into his coat and disappeared into the crowd towards Green Park…. It seemed as if nobody else had noticed what had happened….

Prince Albert informed the police of what had occurred …. Any doubts he may have had at what he had seen were soon dispelled – as a young lad, who had been in the crowd, came forward to say he had witnessed a respectably dressed man in his early twenties aim a pistol at the royal carriage….

Queen Victoria refused to be confined to the Palace whilst the police hunted for the suspect…. The following day, on the 30th of May, she and Prince Albert went out for an evening ride in an open barouche – although feeling nervous they thought this may flush the villain out…. Plain clothed police offices circulated amongst the crowds – and at around 6pm, as the carriage moved down Constitution Hill, a shot suddenly rang out nearby….

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fair use

Police Constable Tanner had been one of those surveying the crowds, when he saw a man raise a pistol – he rushed to knock the gun from the man’s hand and in the process the weapon had fired…. Thankfully the shot missed and the man was apprehended…. He turned out to be the same gunman from the previous day – one John Francis….

Following trial at the Old Bailey Francis was found guilty of high treason and sentence was passed….

“It now only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you, John Francis, be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, that you be drawn from thence on a hurdle to the place of execution and that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead; that your head be afterwards severed from your body, and that your body be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of in such a manner as to Her Majesty shall seem fit. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

~ [Sheffield Independent, Saturday 25 June 1842]

However, luckily for Francis, Queen Victoria intervened and his sentence was commuted to banishment…. He was transported for life with hard labour….

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A broadside on the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, conducted by John Francis on 30 May 1842, with a wood-engraving showing an open horse-drawn carriage with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert inside – Image credit: The British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

On this day in history….9th May 1671

On this day in history : 9th May 1671 – Irishman Colonel Thomas Blood attempts to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London…. Although caught red-handed he receives a Royal Pardon….

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Thomas Blood by G. Scott – Public domain

Blood was born in County Meath in 1618 into a respectful family; his father was a blacksmith and his grandfather a Member of Parliament….

In 1642, when the English Civil War broke out, he travelled to England to fight for King Charles I…. However, when it became obvious Cromwell was going to win he switched sides and joined the Roundheads…. After Cromwell came to power Blood was given a large estate and made a Justice of the Peace….

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Charles I standing beside Henry VIII’s crown and a gold orb and sceptre, 1631 – Daniel Mytens – Public domain

When Charles II was restored to the throne Blood fled back to Ireland, taking with him his wife and son…. Back on Irish soil he joined a group of Cromwell supporters and a plan was hatched to seize Dublin Castle and kidnap Lord Ormonde…. Only the plan failed and Blood was to flee once again, this time to Holland….

In 1670, under the name of Thomas Ayloffe, he returned to London and set up as a ‘doctor’ in Romford…. Later that same year another plot to capture Lord Ormonde once more failed – and so Blood came up with the idea of stealing the Crown Jewels….which had a reputed value of £100,000 – a colossal amount of money in the day….

One April day in 1671 he visited the Tower of London dressed as a parson and was accompanied by a female companion, possibly his wife…. For a small fee it was possible to request to view the Crown Jewels…. The Keeper of the Jewels was one Talbot Edwards, who lived with his family on the two floors above the basement where the Jewels were kept….

Blood’s ‘wife’ feigned feeling unwell, complaining of a violent stomach-ache…. She was taken upstairs to the Edwards’ apartments to rest…. A few days later Blood returned with four pairs of white gloves for Mrs Edwards to say ‘thank you’…. A friendship developed between Blood and the family….and it was suggested that a meeting between Blood’s wealthy ‘nephew’ and the Edwards’ daughter, Elizabeth, should take place…. So, a breakfast date was arranged….

At 7am, on the morning of the 9th of May, Blood arrived with his ‘nephew’ and two other men – one of which was his brother-in-law, Hunt…. Whilst his ‘nephew’ was getting acquainted with Elizabeth the others asked to see the Jewels….

Once in the basement room Edwards was struck unconscious with a mallet – and stabbed…. The men then ripped away the iron grill in place to protect the Jewels and removed the crown, orb and sceptre…. The crown was flattened with the mallet and concealed within a bag, the orb went down Blood’s breeches and they attempted to saw the sceptre in two – as it was too large to hide….

At this point Edwards regained consciousness and began to shout for help…. Blood and the other men ran….dropping the sceptre in the process…. After unsuccessfully attempting to shoot a guard Blood was detained whilst trying to escape through one of the Tower gates…. Once imprisoned he refused to answer questions – saying he would only speak to the King himself….

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Charles II holding the orb in 1661 – John Michael Wright – Public domain

Blood was brought before King Charles II and other members of the Royal Family, including Prince Rupert, the Duke of York…. Blood turned on his Irish charm and the King found him rather amusing…. The scoundrel even had the nerve to tell the King that in his opinion the Crown Jewels were not worth £100,000 – more like £6,000….

The King asked of Blood “What if I should give you your life?”…. to which Blood replied “I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!”…. In return for his bare-faced cheek he received a pardon, land in Ireland worth £500 per year and became a frequent visitor to Court…. As for Edwards, he made a full recovery – was rewarded well by the King – and dined out on his story for a long while afterwards….

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Gryffindar CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….9th April 1483

On this day in history : 9th April 1483 – A young Edward V accedes to the throne upon the death of his father, King Edward IV…. Edward and his brother mysteriously disappear whilst housed at the Tower of London….

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King Edward V – Public domain

It was on Monday the 14th of April 1483 at Ludlow that the 12-year-old Edward learned of his father’s sudden death five days before…. King Edward IV had in his Will nominated his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to serve as Protector of the Realm during his son’s minority….

Edward had been living at Ludlow Castle as the Prince of Wales – a role he was assisted in by his uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers…. The Earl accompanied the boy to London to take the throne; however, the Duke of Gloucester had the Earl and other members of his party arrested and subsequently executed…. The Duke now had control of the young king and also that of his younger brother, Richard, the Duke of York….

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Edward V as Prince of Wales – From Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, Lambeth Palace – Public domain

The Tower of London at the time was a royal residence as well as a prison – and it was here that Edward was brought to live whilst awaiting his coronation…. He was soon to be joined by his brother….

Edward’s reign came to an abrupt end just a few weeks later, on June the 26th…. His uncle, the Duke, claimed that Edward IV’s marriage to Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) was invalid and so their children were illegitimate…. His claim was accepted and Gloucester was proclaimed King Richard III….

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King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London by Paul Delaroche – Public domain

It was not long after that the two young princes disappeared from the Tower of London; there are no recorded sightings of them after the summer of 1483…. Many historians believe that Richard III had them murdered – but the finger of blame has also been pointed at Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, or even at Richard III’s successor, Henry VII….

In 1674 some workmen at the Tower dug up a wooden box buried 10ft under the staircase leading to the chapel of the White Tower…. The box revealed two small skeletons; the remains were interred in Westminster Abbey and are believed to belong to the ‘Princes in the Tower’….

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Krischnig – Public domain