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Andrew O’Hagan: Meeting the Royals, 19 February 2015

... It was​ in Charles Dickens’s upstairs sitting room that I met the future king of England. The Duchess of Cornwall was wearing a red paisley silk coat and dress by Anna Valentine. I know that because I was peeping out of the window and heard a lady from the Daily Mail say so into her mobile phone while she stalked the pavement outside ...

Downsize, Your Majesty

David Cannadine, 16 October 1997

The Royals 
by Kitty Kelley.
Warner, 547 pp., $27, September 1997, 0 446 51712 7
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... Young Things. Think of George VI, Elizabeth and the two young princesses, ‘we four’, as the King observed with characteristic precision, ‘the royal family.’ And think of Elizabeth and Philip, whose domestic felicity was proclaimed to the world in the BBC documentary which was inevitably entitled Royal Family. At first glance, it might seem ...

The great times they could have had

Paul Foot, 15 September 1988

Wallis: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor 
by Charles Higham.
Sidgwick, 419 pp., £17.95, June 1988, 0 283 99627 7
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The Secret File of the Duke of Windsor 
by Michael Bloch.
Bantam, 326 pp., £14.95, August 1988, 9780593016671
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... a foreign power. Could there be anything more horrible, more unthinkable? Well, yes, according to Charles Higham’s extraordinary biography, there could. He suggests that not long ago the most dangerous agent of a foreign power was the King; and the second most dangerous was the King’s ...

They Supped with the King

Bee Wilson: Mistresses, 6 January 2011

Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman 
by Elizabeth Abbott.
Duckworth, 510 pp., £20, 0 7156 3946 3
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... legal state depriving women of much of their freedom along with their name. Writing in 1808, Charles Fourier argued that ‘high-class courtesans’ were among the only women in history who had enjoyed any real measure of liberty (along with shop-girls and Catherine the Great). But Fourier may have been fantasising when he said that they had their own ...

Jousting for Peace

Thomas Penn: Henry VIII meets Francis I, 17 July 2014

The Field of Cloth of Gold 
by Glenn Richardson.
Yale, 288 pp., £35, November 2013, 978 0 300 14886 2
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... Besides which, he noted not unreasonably, ‘it is very dangerous for the soul and body.’ The king of England, he wrote, had a duty to uphold peace: his sage, authoritative conduct would lead foreign princes willingly to offer him honourable peace in return. Writing these words from the Tower, the unpopular Dudley was the first of a long line of ministers ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Van Dyck’s Portraits, 12 March 2009

... looking up at his master, the lace, silver and silk: all these say more than the face. To give Charles I, a little man with a very ordinary face, regal presence, and to make his plain queen a beauty, was a gift the king knew the value of. In the exhibition the portrait of Charles by ...

Field of Bones

Charles Nicholl: The last journey of Thomas Coryate, the English fakir and legstretcher, 2 September 1999

... example of self-fashioning, he is an essentially Jacobean product. Sometime after the accession of King James in 1603, he gained entry to the court of the precocious young Prince of Wales. According to Bishop Fuller, ‘Prince Henry allowed him a pension and kept him for his servant. Sweetmeats and Coryate made up the last course on all court ...

At the National Gallery

Peter Campbell: Goya, 14 January 2002

... it was Goya’s first significant royal portrait, a prelude to the painfully truthful Family of Charles IV. It is more rewarding to visit than most exhibitions, however many paintings they include. Of all portrait genres, the informal group is the most difficult. It depends, first of all, on something that any family snapshot shows is highly unlikely: that ...

‘Because I am French!’

Ruth Scurr: Marie Antoinette’s Daughter, 3 July 2008

Marie-Thérèse: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter 
by Susan Nagel.
Bloomsbury, 418 pp., £25, July 2008, 978 1 59691 057 7
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... was the first child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the sister of the dauphin, Louis-Charles. All four members of the royal family, together with the king’s sister, Madame Elisabeth, were imprisoned in the Temple, a medieval fortress in the Marais, after the collapse of the monarchy on 10 August 1792. Told it ...

In an Ocean of Elizabeths

Terry Eagleton: Rochester, 23 October 2014

Blazing Star: The Life and Times of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 
by Alexander Larman.
Head of Zeus, 387 pp., £25, July 2014, 978 1 78185 109 8
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... of an improvident life. John Wilmot was born in 1647 on All Fools’ Day. His father, one of Charles II’s most stalwart lieutenants, had fought for the king and fled the field with him after the royalist defeat at the battle of Worcester. The two men escaped together to Paris, where the grateful monarch made Henry ...

As Bad as Poisoned

Blair Worden: James I, 3 March 2016

The Murder of King James I 
by Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell.
Yale, 618 pp., £30, October 2015, 978 0 300 21496 3
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... as a royal adviser said, ‘to be put in a new romanso’ – when the future Charles I and his father James I’s leading minister the Duke of Buckingham donned false beards, assumed the names Tom and John Smith, and journeyed to the Spanish court to woo the infanta for Charles? Incognito travel, a ...

Short Cuts

Inigo Thomas: Cromwell’s Seal, 4 January 2018

... was inside the old Palace of Westminster. It began to appear on seals, medallions and medals after Charles I had lost the war and Parliament was supreme. Once Charles was dead, moulds for his seals were smashed by a blacksmith in the Commons itself. The royal coinage was replaced by the Commonwealth’s: the transition was ...

Conrad Russell’s Civil War

Blair Worden, 29 August 1991

The Causes of the English Civil War 
by Conrad Russell.
Oxford, 236 pp., £35, November 1990, 0 19 822142 8
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The Fall of the British Monarchies 1637-1642 
by Conrad Russell.
Oxford, 580 pp., £40, April 1991, 9780198227540
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... So we have to ask why the Bishops’ Wars broke out in 1639; why the Scots won them; why the King and his English critics failed to reach a pre-war settlement; why the King failed to dissolve or prorogue the Long Parliament; why Englishmen took sides in 1642; why negotiation failed in the same year; why the majesty of ...

The Dwarves and the Onion Domes

Ferdinand Mount: Those Pushy Habsburgs, 24 September 2020

The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power 
by Martyn Rady.
Allen Lane, 397 pp., £30, May, 978 0 241 33262 7
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... 20 July 1554 and married Mary Tudor five days later at Winchester Cathedral, where he was declared king ‘de jure uxoris’, though Parliament refused to let him be crowned, to his considerable annoyance. If Mary had borne him a son, there would have been a Habsburg dynasty in England. Unfortunately, her ghastly gynaecological difficulties, which may have ...

You are a milksop

Ferdinand Mount, 7 May 2020

Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate 
by Paul Lay.
Head of Zeus, 352 pp., £30, January, 978 1 78185 256 9
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... 1640 to 1648 – on 20 April 1653 effectively ended the republican Commonwealth established after Charles I’s execution in 1649. It remains one of the most memorable and terrifying scenes in English history. Eight months later, Cromwell became Lord Protector. Under the Instrument of Government, devised mostly by John Lambert, his mercurial but talented ...

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