Royal Panoply: Brief Lives of the English Monarchs

Royal Panoply: Brief Lives of the English Monarchs

by Carolly Erickson

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Royal Panoply: Brief Lives of the English Monarchs by Carolly Erickson

From medieval conqueror to Renaissance autocrat to Victorian Empress to modern melodrama, Royal Panoply is the story of some of the most fascinating people in world history.

With her trademark blend of probing scholarship, lively prose, and psychological insight, Carolly Erickson focuses on each monarch's entire life—-from the puny, socially awkward Charles I, to the choleric, violent William the Conqueror, to the well-meaning, deeply affectionate Queen Anne, who was so heavy she had to be carried to her coronation. Royal Panoply recaptures the event-filled, often dangerous, always engaging lives of England's kings and queens, set against the backdrop of a thousand years of Britain's past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312316440
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/28/2000
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 587,998
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

Distinguished historian Carolly Erickson is the author of Rival to the Queen, The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots, The First Elizabeth, The Hidden Life of Josephine, The Last Wife of Henry VIII, and many other prize-winning works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Tsarina's Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. She lives in Hawaii.

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It was a miracle that William survived his childhood. Born in 1028, the natural son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, young William was left fatherless at age seven when Robert died while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Eleventh-century Normandy was a savagely turbulent society, in which aggressive and unruly landowners struggled endlessly for preeminence, under the overlordship of the duke. At the best of times, these feuding magnates were held in check by the greater power of a strong overlord, as well as by the force of custom and feudal law; at the worst of times, there was little or nothing to restrain their instinct to combat one another in treacherous, frequently brutal warfare.

Before he left for his pilgrimage, Robert had made young William heir to the duchy — and heir to its political turmoil. Protected by his uncle Walter, his mother's brother, who slept in William's room and was his bodyguard, the child duke spent many watchful nights alert for the sound of hoofbeats, listening for marauders and would-be kidnappers intent on capturing and controlling him so that the lands and wealth of Normandy could become theirs.

Year after year, with the Norman countryside in near anarchy, Walter continued to keep the young duke safe, snatching him up when dangerthreatened and taking him out of the castle and into a nearby village, to some anonymous peasant hut, where they could stay hidden. Meanwhile the great magnates fought among themselves, each one a petty warlord in his castle stronghold, from which he went out from time to time to attack his enemies.

By the time he grew out of childhood, William must have been wary in the extreme, habituated to violence for it was occurring all around him. He lived in the midst of private wars, accustomed to hearing news of assassinations and casual murders. Of his five official guardians, one was murdered while out riding, another poisoned, two others, including William's tutor, assassinated after being violently attacked in William's own bedchamber.

Amid this vortex of mayhem, William grew to young manhood, and at the age of fifteen or sixteen, established his independent court at Valognes. Toughened by his years of exposure to merciless bloodshed and calculated injury, William was becoming a formidable fighter himself, physically strong, skilled with the sword and bow, an expert rider and possessed of uncommon courage and strength of purpose.

He needed no mentor to teach him the tactics of warfare; he had learned them by observation. He knew that territory was captured, and control over it consolidated, by castle-building. That allies had to be won by gifts and benefits conferred, and enemies intimidated by the burning of villages and fields and much pitiless slaughter. To rule, one had to be skilled in making war. And to wage war successfully required a hardened toughness of mind; there was no room for clemency or forgiveness, only a ruthless determination to spread fear.

Though still in his teens, William was already formidable. A rival arose, Guy of Burgundy, and a group of rebel magnates formed around Guy. Their intent was to capture and kill William at Valognes, and to make Guy Duke of Normandy. Somehow, William was warned of what was to happen — or perhaps his heightened instincts were aroused. In any case, he managed to escape his captors, and to ride as fast as he could to Falaise (his birthplace) where his mother's family lived. Still pursued, he made his way to the court of Henry, King of France, his overlord, and begged for protection. Early in 1047 King Henry, William and their fighting men met the rebel magnates at Val-ès-Dunes, a wide plain, and defeated them in a hard-fought, hand-to-hand battle.

The reputation William gained in that battle, a reputation for bravery, ferocity and supreme skill with lance and sword, made his name respected. He killed at least one great warrior, a man much older than himself, on the field of Val-ès-Dunes, and although the victory was in fact won by King Henry and his men, it was William who gained the all-important renown, and about whom songs began to be sung and stories to grow.

"Great was the mass of fugitives, and fierce the pursuit," wrote the chronicler Wace of the rebels' flight. "Horses were to be seen running over the plain, and the field of battle was covered with knights running haphazard for their lives." Bodies were heaped in mounds, corpses clogged the river, filling it so completely that mill wheels could not turn.

William's repute was growing, but in order to maintain the authority he had gained, he had to subdue the entire duchy, castle by castle, town by town. For the next thirteen years, from the age of nineteen to thirty-two, the duke devoted himself to the bloody work of reconquering the lands with which his father had invested him.

He invaded towns, burning them and seizing everything of value, then killing the defenders and installing his men in newly built castles to guard them. He besieged castles held by rebel lords and stormed them, in scenes of great slaughter. He seized defiant landholders and had them blinded and castrated as punishment for their disloyalty. His calculated ruthlessness was successful: convinced that they could not escape the duke's wrath, towns surrendered and asked for William's protection, and magnates swore loyalty to him, offering their wives and children as hostages, pledges of their good faith.

In his thirties, Duke William ruled over Normandy with an iron hand, keeping order among the ever restless feudatories, presiding over his ducal council, dispensing justice, holding the everpresent threat of anarchy at bay. Though he could no longer count on the support of the French king — King Henry had in fact turned against William and become his enemy — he gained the alliance of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, who became his father-in-law. William married Baldwin's daughter Matilda, with whom he had nine children, four sons and five daughters.

A larger arena of opportunity offered itself when William's distant cousin Edward the Confessor named William his heir. Edward, a Norman by culture and with many Norman courtiers, had been crowned king of England in 1042, and had no children; though others claimed the succession, William believed it to be his by right, because of Edward's verbal bequest, and expected to become king when Edward died. William was well aware, however, that Earl Godwin of Wessex, the greatest of theEnglish lords, dominated King Edward and coveted the crown for himself and his heirs. Although he fully intended to reign in England, William was prudent enough to pave the way for a future alliance with the family of Earl Godwin by arranging the betrothal of his daughter Agatha to Harold, Earl Godwin's second son.

By the mid-1060s Duke William had become a hard, flinty, forceful man, active and dominant, and accustomed to being obeyed. He was physically imposing, tall and thickset and muscular with a grating, guttural voice which carried well. William was an exceptionally strong man, his arms and shoulders so well developed that he could draw a bow which no one else could bend while standing in his horse's stirrups.

No personal records survive to reveal his inner thoughts, but William impressed others as possessed of granite will and unswerving determination; perhaps, had he failed in his greatest enterprise, the judgment of his contemporaries might have been different. What is striking about William, when compared to his peers and to his successors, is his self-control. He did not allow anger, greed or vanity to force him into thoughtless action, nor did he let his expanding power make him egotistical or tyrannical.

If the monastic chroniclers of the time are to be believed, William was temperate and self-disciplined in his daily life, eating and drinking in moderation, observant of his religious obligations, faithful to his wife and an exacting (if sometimes mean and cutting) patriarch to his many children. In an age of aristocratic excess, surrounded by powerful men often carried away by grandiosity, and even oftener prey to vice, William seems to have stood out as unique. As to his follies and foibles, the records are silent.

Certainly Duke William was remarkable in his ability to do many things at once. To maintain order in Normandy, supervise his army of knights, oversee the day-to-day work of government, keep potential enemies at bay (William was ever alert to treachery, a legacy of his danger-filled childhood), while planning for the expansion of his rule into England must have required extraordinary dedication and fixity of purpose. He could not afford to grow lax, or to be careless; nothing short of vigilant, vigorous attentiveness would do if he was to retain his hold on affairs.

King Edward was aging. By 1064 William was making his preparations, planning how he would take his army of mounted knights and foot-soldiers across the Channel to England — an extremely expensive undertaking, and one fraught with risk. No doubt he anticipated a long and grueling process of subduing the English, stretching out over years. He added to his treasury by seizing control of the county of Maine, and added to his army by gaining a number of landowners and knights in Brittany. (Though the Normans were contemptuous of the Bretons, William now needed Breton support, while the Bretons, for their part, were eager to join any enterprise that promised to bring them land and wealth.)

A key step in William's preparation occurred in 1064, when by good fortune his principal rival for Edward's throne, Harold Godwinson, needed William's help. Harold had succeeded to his father Godwin's lands and title in 1053, and was the dominant English noble, wealthy and so influential with the mild- mannered King Edward that he had become a sort of "sub-king" himself. Yet when Harold came to Normandy in 1064, he swore an oath of loyalty to William, promising to do all in his power to secure William's succession to Edward's title of king. Harold's betrothal to William's daughter was one token of this pact. Later chroniclers, describing the events of 1064, embellished the story of Harold's oath by saying that William had tricked Harold, who never intended to pledge himself formally. But this tale was invented after the fact.

On January 5, 1066, King Edward died and immediately Harold, abandoning his oath to William and claiming that the late king had named him, Harold, as his successor, had himself crowned in Westminster Abbey.

Harold had good reason for haste. England was looked on as a prize for the taking, much the way Normandy had been seen in William's childhood. The Danish king Swein Estrithson and the Norwegian king Harold Hardrada both contemplated invading the country, and besides William of Normandy there were at least two other potential claimants: Edgar Atheling, King Edward's nephew, and Harold Godwinson's own brother and former ally Tostig, then living in exile in Flanders.

As soon as he knew that Edward had died, William was active. Discounting Harold's seizure of the crown, indeed dismissing Harold as a usurper and oath- breaker, William met with his principal supporters and summoned them to follow him to England, to claim the throne that he believed to be rightfully his. He solicited, and won, the backing of the pope. He hired mercenary soldiers from Poitou, Burgundy, Maine and especially Brittany; a few even came from southern Italy, among them boat-builders skilled in designing horse transports. Men were sent out from the ducal court to buy provisions, horses, carts, rope and arms. Shipwrights were assembled at Dives-sur-Mer to build a fleet large enough to carry the army and its supplies.

By August all was ready — but the winds were unfavorable for a Channel crossing. While William waited, another invasion fleet, under Harold Hardrada, landed in Yorkshire and Harold Godwinson met and defeated the Norwegian forces at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. The Norman fleet embarked two days later, and landed at Pevensey on September 28. It was not until the morning of October 14 that William attacked Harold Godwinson's army at Hastings. William led his men himself, wearing saintly relics around his neck for protection and with the papal banner waving above his head. According to tradition, the Norman knights went into battle "singing a song of Roland," with a minstrel going before them, singing and juggling with his sword.

The English army was utterly defeated, and Harold was killed. Victorious, William camped that night on the battleground, surrounded by enemy bodies and abandoned arms and equipment.

He had won — but England itself, the land, the people, had yet to be conquered, and for the next twenty years William labored to subdue and consolidate his conquest. He used the same tactics he had adopted in Normandy as a young man. He built castles, nearly a hundred of them, often tearing down dozens of existing structures to make way for the defensive mound of earth, wooden tower and palisade ramparts. He dispossessed the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and gave the lands to his Norman and Breton followers. He stormed towns and plundered them, killing many of the local inhabitants. He punished those who had fought against him and took hostages from among those he spared.

England had become a land under occupation, and the occupiers were hated. Normans were ambushed and killed, rioting and violence broke out. At William's coronation the guards standing at the doors of the cathedral, hearing shouts of acclamation from inside, thought that a riot was beginning; immediately they set fire to the houses nearby — their automatic reaction to any resistance — and caused panic among those attending the ceremony.

William must have been aware of the risks he ran in assuming the English crown, taking on leadership of a turbulent society, knowing that he himself might well become a target for assassins. England might be invaded again, or the undisciplined north or west might prove to be unconquerable. And there was a more personal risk: that William himself, who was thirty-eight in the year he claimed the English kingdom, might not have the strength or health to sustain the labors he would have to undertake. Shortly before his alarm-ridden coronation, William fell sick — and so did many of his fighting men. Camped in the open, in the drizzle and cold of late fall, they contracted dysentery, and had to rest for five weeks before attempting to move on to London.

William seems to have made an effort to learn English, "so that he could understand the pleas of the conquered people without an interpreter, and benevolently pronounce fair judgments for each one," the chronicler Orderic Vitalis wrote. But he made little progress, other than to learn to swear "By the resurrection and splendor of God!" With his closest advisers, Archbishop Lanfranc, whom he brought from the monastery of Bec in Normandy and made Archbishop of Canterbury, and William's half-brothers Bishop Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain, the king spoke French, as he did with his family and servants. Even his jesters Berdic and Adelina joked in French.

For though he had become a king, and was the ruler of a large and prosperous realm, William was still duke of Normandy and conceived of his domains as a single unified political entity. His Norman barons owned lands on both sides of the Channel, their interests spanned the entire enlarged realm. When the king made the crossing to Normandy, as he did, by one historian's reckoning, at least seventeen times in the twenty-one years of his English reign, many of his barons went with him, along with an armed retinue.

Indeed William spent well over half his reign in Normandy, asserting and reasserting his authority, campaigning, checking the aggression of the counts of Anjou. Once Normandy had been temporarily pacified, the king returned to England, marching swiftly to crush rebellions in Wales, where Edric the Wild was in revolt, in Kent, where one of the French magnates, Eustace, Count of Boulogne, was defying royal authority, and in Dover, where the city of Exeter, in league with neighboring towns, held out against the king's army for eighteen days in 1067.

Only by ceaseless vigilance could the peace be maintained — and the keeping of peace and order was a prerequisite to good governance. Every time a rebellion was put down William built castles to secure his hold on the region. Exeter, Warwick, Nottingham, Lincoln, York, Huntingdon, London, Cambridge — the roll call of fortifications is long. Norman fighting men, supplemented by local levies led by Saxon military commanders, kept order, along with mercenaries hired from time to time. Those who did not cooperate were imprisoned, their relatives taken hostage and often maimed or killed, their possessions seized. Through coercion, sheer terror and the force of the stern king's dominant personality, a brittle peace was achieved — until shattered by fresh acts of defiance.


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Copyright © 2003 Carolly Erickson.
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Royal Panoply 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
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Brickl More than 1 year ago
Brief bios of the royals.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It gave me the infomation that I needed on English monarchs. If I need more, I can choose an extended individual biography to read.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Starting with William the Conqueror and finishing with Elizabeth II and including every English monarch in between, Carolyn Erickson provides an intriguing overview of the royals and their spouses in a chronological fascinating sweep. Each ruler receives somewhere in the range of seven to twelve pages regardless of historical importance or length on the throne. By going chronological, the reference is easy to read and follow, but repetition also occurs as death marks the end of an era (chapter) and the beginning of the next reign (next chapter). The epigraph that starts each royal provides an interesting perspective on that personage and is especially fascinating with the more famous as the audience sees a somewhat differing view than the textbooks or romance novels. Still the lack of analysis of overarching trends takes somewhat away from a fine look that will elate those who prefer their look at the English monarchy based on facts not tabloids. --- Harriet Klausner