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Prince Henry Stuart – the best king we never had….?

Henry, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

Henry, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

 

I have just watched a documentary (called The Best King We Never Had and presented by Paul Murton) about Prince Henry, the firstborn son of King James VI of Scotland, James I of England. James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was already King of Scotland, when he succeeded Elizabeth I, and became the first King of a United Kingdom. He was a Protestant, as was his dazzling son, Henry, who was destined to succeed him.

At birth, or a very short while after, Henry had been taken from his mother, Queen Anne of Denmark. She was anguished by this, and it would be ten years before she saw him again for any length of time. Like his father before him, Henry was given into the care of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, keeper of Stirling. This enforced parting caused great rift between the king and queen. The reunion was to take place when James became Elizabeth’s heir, and the journey south to London was undertaken.

It was a time of religious strife, Protestants versus Catholics versus Puritans, and would include the great Gunpowder Plot that aimed to blow-up James and his Parliament. James was a Protestant, as was his son. Henry grew up a sophisticated, popular and talented young Renaissance prince, and the future boded well that he would be a good and effective king. But death was to claim him at the age of only eighteen, when he was taken by typhoid after swimming in the Thames in winter. Which meant that the succession passed to his younger brother, Charles, who was to be beheaded. But that is another story.

The loss of Prince Henry reminds me of the earlier loss of Prince Arthur, firstborn son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. What might these two princes have brought to their kingdom? Their departure from life meant their brothers inherited the crown instead. Henry VIII and Charles I were to prove awful in one way or another. (My personal opinion, I admit, and not necessarily yours as well.)

The documentary imparts a great deal of background information, among which is the wearing of 17th-century armour and fighting on foot. Paul Murton, the presenter, is got up in this armour to fight with an expert from the Royal Armouries. It was fascinating, and the thing that stood out for me was that afterward, Murton couldn’t wait for the helmet to be removed because it was so claustrophobic, Then he said more than once that the experience of wearing it and then fighting had made his ears ring.

This excellent programme was first shown on 30th November 2017, and is available on BBC iPlayer for fifteen days from the day of writing this, i.e. Boxing Day 2017. I don’t know if it can be seen anywhere else.

 

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