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A History of the British Monarchy: Early Legends to Modern Monarchs

5-Session Daytime Course on Zoom

Monday, March 1, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2110
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Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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The British royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, 2013

Plantagenets and Tudors and Windsors, oh my!  Britain boasts one of the eighth-longest monarchies in the world, and certainly the most famous. It has outlasted most of its European counterparts, adapting to changing times and expectations and managing to maintain enough popularity to survive for more than a thousand years. In this comprehensive week-long series, Tudor scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger traces a path through the lives and times of the kings and queens who have ruled England, then Great Britain, and finally the United Kingdom to examine how the monarchy has lasted from the days of King Arthur to today.

MAR 1  Royal Beginnings: King Arthur to William the Conqueror

Historians disagree about exactly how and when the monarchy began, but the notion of a central controlling figure is part of the kingdom’s story from King Arthur’s legendary reign in the 6th century. Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor left lasting marks before William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and initiated Normal rule. William initiated the Domesday Survey, which recorded all of England, setting the parameters for the land the king controlled and the people he ruled. With these boundaries clear, monarchs formalized their kingdom and their reigns.

MAR 2 The Rise and Fall of the Plantagenets

Explore how the men who ruled Medieval England centralized their power by creating images that were larger than life. The Plantagenet kings—Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, King John, and several King Edwards—had to dominate their country and the powerful nobles who controlled much of the land and most of the people. The strength of the nation depended on the strength of the king—the successes and failures of this arrangement played out for all the world to see. Not content with England, the Plantagenets set out to conquer and rule France as well, creating conflicts with the French that would last for centuries.

MAR 3 The Wars of the Roses and the Tudors

When Henry V succeeded to his father’s throne as an adult, he was the only king to gain it in a traditional, peaceful way over a 200-year period. If the essence of the monarchy is a strong king chosen by God, what happens when the crown is worn by a child or won in battle?  Journey through the 15th century to explore the challenges that shook the very foundation of the English monarchy when powerful families battled each other and the king for control. Also examine how Henry Tudor went from unknown upstart to become the founder of the most famous dynasty in English history.

MAR 4 The Stuarts, the Georgians, and Queen Victoria

Trace the troubled Stuart dynasty and the impact of the Parliamentary execution of a king and abolition of the monarchy, its restoration, and the official unification of England and Scotland into Great Britain. The Hanoverian kings disrupted the British monarchy with an early preference for Germany and ultimately the loss of the American colonies. The reign of Queen Victoria endured more than 60 years and saw the expansion of the British Empire and the nation’s entry into a new world of technology and industry.

MAR 5  From War to Windsor: Creation of the Modern Monarchy

The 20th century began with the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family on the British throne. As World War I raged, the royal family decided to turn away from their German heritage and become the Windsors. This newly named royal family faced two world wars and a stunning abdication of the throne, and then a 25-year old woman had to weather cultural changes around the world to lead the monarchy into the modern age. HM Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in history, has spent nearly 70 years guiding her family through changing times and circumstances, including the creation of the Commonwealth. Thanks to her steady hand, the British monarchy looks with confidence into the future.

Lloyd-Stanger is an independent scholar and former head of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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