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.
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?
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.
Some notes from a parallel universe, by James Cooray Smith.
Jonn Elledge on the most important English monarch you’ve never heard of.
Stephen Bush, on how problems always begin and end with the king.
Jonn Elledge is irrationally enraged by regnal numbering
Stephen Bush on the least bad Stuart king.
Matthew Elliot, on a succession of slightly sad men who think they’re still king of France.
Robyn Vinter on the gaps in the National Curriculum.
Stephanie Boland, on the queen of her heart.
Lettie McKie, with 10 things you need to know about the House of Hanover, Britain’s forgotten dynasty.
Jonn Elledge reports on 2,000 years of the Vatican losing count of its popes
Ploy Radford on a story of foster parents, traitorous children, and six years on the road with some Barbarians.
Helen Lewis on her favourite queen, and why she never wanted to be a princess.
Ed West on the worst king England ever had, and his unexpectedly great legacy.
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.
India Bourke on the real life Danerys Targaryen.
And finally, the CityMetric contribution:
Ed Jefferson crunches the numbers.