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16 May 2016

New Statesman Monarchy Week 2016

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1399.

By Jonn Elledge

Some time this year, Elizabeth II – queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and assorted other Commonwealth realms – turns 90.

If we’re being a bit vague about the exact date, well, our beloved monarch only has herself to blame. The Queen has actually been 90 for some weeks now (since 21 April, in fact). But she’ll be celebrating her birthday again in June: as far back as the reign of George II in the 1740s, the UK has also celebrated an official birthday for the monarch in summer, in the hope of better weather.

As if that wasn’t enough, the anniversary of the queen’s birth was celebrated over the weekend, too. When one turns 90, it seems, two birthdays are simply not sufficient.

Anyway. Since basically the whole year seems to be royal party time, in honour of her maj, we’ve decided to designate this week as Monarchy Week.

Living to 90 is not an insignificant achievement for a monarch: good ol’ Liz is now both the oldest monarch in the world (beating King Abdul Halim of Malaysia by a year), and the oldest in British history (beating Queen Victoria by more than eight). This is particularly impressive when, as monarchists and royal correspondents so often tell us, she works so very hard.

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But the modern monarchy can be a tiny bit, well, dull. When was the last time the Queen beheaded a rival? Or a former spouse? When did she last lead troops into battle? When was the last time she even bothered to invade Wales?

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So, this week, rather than obsessing about the modern monarchy, or retreading old arguments about whether we should get rid of the thing once and for all, we’re going to be looking back to when monarchy was fun – not, perhaps, for its subjects, but at least for those of us who get to read about them in books in the 21st century.

We’ll be making the case for some of our favourite forgotten monarchs, from Britain and elsewhere. We’ll also be looking at why school history classes obsess about some rulers but not others; asking what lessons the reign of Charles I holds for David Cameron; playing with Georgians and Jacobites; and I will finally get some very strong opinions about regnal numbering off my chest. We will even, if you’re lucky, look back at the cultural afterlife of the veritable queen of our hearts, Princess Diana.

We’ll be collecting the links to all those stories below. Enjoy.

Lines of Duty: Tales of the Jacobites, and other alternative successions

Some notes from a parallel universe, by James Cooray Smith.

Me and my monarch: Athelstan (924-940)

Jonn Elledge on the most important English monarch you’ve never heard of.

“Wentworthism”: What the execution of an advisor to Charles I tells us about modern politics

Stephen Bush, on how problems always begin and end with the king.

How many King Edwards has England had? 

Jonn Elledge is irrationally enraged by regnal numbering

Me and my monarch: William III (1688-1702)

Stephen Bush on the least bad Stuart king.

Could restoring a bunch of kings solve Europe’s democratic deficit?

Matthew Elliot, on a succession of slightly sad men who think they’re still king of France.

Forgotten monarchs: Why do school history lessons only teach certain kings and queens?

Robyn Vinter on the gaps in the National Curriculum.

Mourning and the media: the afterlife of Princess Diana

Stephanie Boland, on the queen of her heart.

Wigs and Whigs: Who exactly were the Georgians?

Lettie McKie, with 10 things you need to know about the House of Hanover, Britain’s forgotten dynasty.

“There have been five Pope Felixes, only three of whom were actually Pope

Jonn Elledge reports on 2,000 years of the Vatican losing count of its popes

Disney on steroids: Why Galla Placidia is one Roman empress who needs an HBO series

Ploy Radford on a story of foster parents, traitorous children, and six years on the road with some Barbarians. 

Me and my monarch: Catherine de Medici

Helen Lewis on her favourite queen, and why she never wanted to be a princess.

Me and my monarch: King John

Ed West on the worst king England ever had, and his unexpectedly great legacy.

The novels that taught me what to think about royals

Barbara Speed on the books which taught her that Richard III was innocent, Mary I was hard done by, and it wasn’t really fair that they shot Anastasia.

Me and my monarch: Cyrus the Great of Persia.

India Bourke on the real life Danerys Targaryen.

And finally, the CityMetric contribution:

Who are the most important British monarchs? (As judged using pub names)

Ed Jefferson crunches the numbers.