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Queen Victoria - commemorating 200 years since her birth

Queen Victoria
Commemorating 200 years since her birth

24th May 2019 marks 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace.

Although there were 4 other people in line to the throne before her, a succession crisis was looming.

On the throne was her grandfather George III, dubbed “Mad King George” but due to his illness his son George Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent was acting monarch. (If you’ve ever wondered where Regent’s Park and Regent’s Street got their names, it is for him). He became King the following year however he had no surviving legitimate children and, in fact, neither did any of his brothers despite searing an impressive number of children between them.  George IV was estranged from his wife and their only legitimate offspring, their beloved daughter Charlotte had died in childbirth in 1917 (read more about her in my blog ‘Princes Charlotte - The Original English Rose’). 

Hasty marriages were arranged in a bid for one of the brothers to produce a legitimate heir. The future William IV, who succeeded George IV, married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen but despite numerous pregnancies they had no surviving children. The personal toll on Adelaide must have been unbearable.

This left Victoria, christened Alexandrina Victoria in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace, the only legitimate grandchild of George III and therefore, in the line of succession after her uncles and father. 

Victoria, the name she would adopt as Queen, had a lonely and closeted childhood. Her every move was carefully monitored by her mother and her father’s equerry John Conroy who, after her father’s death when she was only 8 months old, assumed a position of considerable support to Victoria’s mother, Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. Her childhood was lonely, even isolated and her collection of dolls provided the friendship she lacked elsewhere.

Conroy was hoping to hold significant power via his continued support to Victoria’s mother who he was hoping would be made regent for her daughter if she became queen before her 18th birthday. In the event, Victoria was 18 years and 27 days old on 20th June 1837 when her uncle, William IV died and she became queen!

Kensington Palace - The room in which Queen Victoria held her first privy council meeting

Victoria was young, female and small in stature which meant that from the beginning she was fighting biased assumptions made about her ability to rule. She held her first council meeting at Kensington on the morning of her accession.

She would go onto rule over a period of significant change and progress in Britain and over a rapidly expanding British Empire.

She died, after 63 years on the throne, the longest reigning monarch in our history only now surpassed by that of her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Her 9 children had led to 42 grandchildren and her direct decendents occupied many of the thrones of Europe, earning her the nickname ‘The Grandmother of Europe’.


Image: Kensington Palace - The room in which Queen Victoria held her first privy council meeting

Happy 200th Birthday Queen Victoria!

- Philippa Brewell

History Writer and History Tour Creator

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Anne Boleyn - Birthdate, Henry's Wife and her Downfall

Anne Boleyn - 
written from Hever Castle Gardens

I wrote this from the magical and enchanting Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I.

I can not help but be moved by Anne's story whenever I hear it but sitting here, in the castle gardens of her childhood home, her safe place, the place which held such good memories for her, its tragedy is all the more poignant. My wish for a different ending is ever stronger.

There is so much written about Anne that it would be impossible to introduce you to any new facts and so that is not my intention. In this 5 minute history fix blog I want to bring to life the human elements to Anne's story by picking three specific elements; her birth date, Henry's intentions and the speed of her downfall.

Anne's Birthdate

Anne was born in 1501 (some say 1507) probably at Blickling Hall, Norfolk.

This 6 year discrepancy has surprised many people - how can we not know when she was born?! There are two points to make. Firstly, her status at birth. We must remember that, at the time of her birth, she was not the person of significance that she would become. Secondly, the record keeping at the time. Nowadays we take for granted that a child's birth is recorded but the registration of births was not introduced in the UK until the 19th Century. Parish records go back further but only to 1538 when the recording of Christenings, Marriages and Burials was introduced as a responsibility of the local clergy in an initiative of Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.1538 is two years after Anne's death. So, actually we could say it is not a surprise at all that there should be a question mark over her birthdate.

Anne Boleyn Henry Fitzroy - Horenbout Minature

You can't help but wish for a differnet end each time you hear Anne's story!"

Henry's Intentions

When the following thought occurred to me I have to say that it gave my spine, with modern sensitivities, a rather large chill…the prize of a girl's virginity. The legal status of women as a legal appendage to a man, be it her father, husband or other male relation, persevered throughout England in law until fairly recent times. I can't, however, accept that this status was meekly accepted by women throughout society in any time period. There are enough examples of strong women, including Anne herself, to realise that this could not be the case even 500 years ago.
If we take this idea of ownership of women to a darker more sinister level then we talk about the ownership of her body and her virginity. If Henry merely wanted Anne as a mistress in the beginning why had she not been allowed to marry? I would argue that the virginity of Anne was a huge draw for Henry and as King he expected to take it if he wanted it. Thus the idea of her being allowed to marry and then pursuing her as a mistress was a none starter. For Anne, she was well aware of the implications of being an unmarried mistress and this was not the life she saw for herself. Could it be possible that when Anne said she would not sleep with Henry as a mistress but only a wife it was more a statement of fact rather than a proposition? However she meant it, it put the idea into Henry's head and there was no way back!

Hever Castle Courtyard

Philippa with Anne's Portrait in Anne's Bedroom at Hever Castle

The moat at Hever Castle from the private bridge

The rapidity of Anne's downfall

The sheer speed at which Anne's fortunes changed in May 1536 is terrifying. Anne was arrested on the 2nd May, tried on the 15th and executed on 19th. Not only did she have to contemplate her own demise but that of the men who were implicated in the stories told against her. One of these men was her own brother, George Boleyn, who would also have played as a child in the gardens in which I now sit. Knowing how the story ends it is clear to see that she had no way of escape, that her fate was effectively sealed. Perhaps we project our knowledge of how the story ended onto Anne's understanding of what was happening to her, assigning her an air of regal acceptance of her situation that may not have been there. She certainly conducted herself in public with grace and bravery but how she felt inside and when away from the public eye, knowing she would never see her daughter, the husband she though doted on her and the rest of her family again, we can only surmise.

- Philippa Brewell

History Writer and History Tour Creator

If you love Anne Boleyn then our 'Anne Boleyn Experience' tour, ran in association with Claire Ridgway from the Tudor Society and The Anne Boleyn Files could be your perfect vacation! Click here for more details.






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Keep your nose to the Grindstone

Keep Your Nose to the grindstone

Language from Milling

While you are tucking into your toast at breakfast this weekend I thought you may be interested to learn of some of the every day phrases which came about through the process by which you get your bread, or more specifically to the milling process of the grain to make flour.

On a trip to the beautiful, historic city of Winchester, well known as a place a packed with history from Alfred the Great to the Romans, the Tudors and Jane Austen, I decided to drop in to the City Mill and I was so glad I did.

The mill was working that day, milling flour which, along with recipe cards, was available to buy in the shop.

Henry Fitzroy

There is a lot to know about milling flour it turns out! The staff were extremely knowledgable too...and vigilant, as they must be whilst the mill is in operation. Flour dust, as you may or may not know, is explosive! I am always fascinated by the origins of language and the mill provided a number of finds to add to my ‘collection’, well known sayings that originate in the milling industry.

Henry Fitzroy - Horenbout Minature

'Keep your nose to the grindstone'
The millstones must never be allowed to run without grain. They quickly wear out and could even cause sparks which would set fire to the mill. A quick sniff of the stones would tell you if they were getting hot, hence the phrase!
'Fair to Middling'
The quality of the flour was graded fair, middling or fine. If you are feeling 'fair to middling' you're not at your best!
'First come first served'
A strict rule of milling to prevent impatient farmers jumping the queue!
'Show your mettle'
Millstones were often re-carved by travelling stone dressers. If the stone dresser had tiny slivers of metal embedded in his hands and forearms (which would have been thrown up from his stone cutting tools) the miller knew that he was experienced.
'Rule of Thumb'
Millers would test the quality and grind of the flour by rubbing a small quantity between finger and thumb. From this they would know if it were too fine or coarse and could change the conditions to rectify the grind.
  • First Come First Served
  • Show Your Mettle
  • Rule Of Thumb

Written by Philippa Brewell

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Visit City Mill

For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/winchester-city-mill 




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Henry VII dies 21st April 1509

Henry VII dies 21st April 1509
Henry VIII is king!

Henry VII dies 21st April 1509

Henry VII was the founder of England's most famous dynasty. His son, Henry VIII, one of the most famous English kings of all time. However, both shared the same crushing burden of dynastic expectation. This was a newly established dynasty based on shaky foundations and both worked tirelessly to build the enduring myth of legitimacy for their family. They may have shared the same problems but as men, they shared very few characteristics.

The passing of the crown from the elder to younger Henry, on 21st April 1509, was the first peaceful transfer of power in living memory. The sharp contrast in characters of the two Henrys gave contemporaries hope that the accession of a new Henry would herald the dawn of a new epoch of rule, one where subjects openly loved their king without fear of his actions. The last decade of Henry VII's reign had become increasingly oppressive as his suspicious character and paranoid temperament dominated more and more. The death of his first born son, Prince Arthur the Prince of Wales, in 1502 followed by the death of his wife in childbirth a year later, only exacerbated matters.

Henry Tudor's world was rocked by this sudden and public threat to the stability of the dynasty. Why should the death of a child, a not uncommon experience in 16th century England, when he had another son, be such a cause for concern? That lies in a truth which the grand memory of Henry VIII and his infamous daughter Elizabeth I belies - the tenuous claim to the throne of Henry Tudor.

No one could have predicted the even greater turmoil that the second Henry would bring to the country and the very souls of his subjects through his efforts to secure an heir but, for now, the young Henry represented hope for the future.

Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547, what would have been his father's 90th birthday, and the crown of England once again passing from father to son. Only 56 years later the Tudor dynasty was to end with the death of the last surviving child of Henry VIII, the childless Elizabeth.

The throne then passed to the Stuart family, the Scottish descendants of Henry VII through his eldest daughter Margaret, and so Tudor blood still ran through the veins of the English monarchs even though by a different name.


Written by Philippa Brewell

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Princess Charlotte - The English Rose

Princess Charlotte - The Original English Rose

The death of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the future George IV, in 1817 due to complications following the birth of a stillborn son, was a personal tragedy for the family but it didn't end there.

The knock on impact of Charlotte's death was far reaching, the family's grief was echoed across the country but beyond that, there was now a succession crisis worse than any in English history.

There was not one surviving, legitimate, grandchild of George III. The loss of Charlotte and her baby wiped out two generations of legitimate heirs. It was the 'race for a new heir' which led to the birth of Victoria, later Queen Victoria.

Yet, many people have not heard of Charlotte. Type her name in search engines and they will return, understandably, countless pictures of the daughter of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Such is the tragedy and significance of Princess Charlotte's story that it is one we should all know.

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