David Starkey’s Historical Documentaries on the Monarchy


For an excellent history of the monarchy in the United Kingdom, I highly recommend David Starkey’s series Monarchy, which he adapted from his latest book Crown & Country – The Kings and Queens of England: A History. He devotes a series to each major monarchy or dynasty (as in Royal House, like the Tudors, the Stuarts, and the Hanoverians) and narrates this history of this institution in his characteristic acerbic wit and wry historian’s sense of irony. At the risk of WordPress and SOPA shutting down Parliamentum, I’ll embed the main videos here.

The Middle Stuarts covers the Restoration to Glorious Revolution, Charles II and James II (1660-1689). History remembers the regicide of Louis XVI but forgets that England underwent similar political turmoil over 150 years before, but ultimately ended its republican experiment upon the Restoration of the Stuarts. The Parliamentarians had defeated the Royalists and committed the ultimate act of treason by executing Charles I in 1649. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the new republican Commonwealth. However, the republic had fallen apart after Cromwell’s death and by 1660, Parliament invited Charles II, living in exile since the regicide, to return to England and become King. This series deals with the fallout and aftermath of the Cromwellian Protectorate and the uneasy truce that developed between Parliament and the Crown under Charles II and his brother James II. This ended in 1688 when Parliament invited William of Orange to become King and deemed James II to have abdicated the throne.

The Last Stuarts deals with perhaps the most consequential monarchs in English and British history, for King William III and Queen Anne (1689-1714) laid the foundation of the United Kingdom as “the first modern State”, in Starkey’s estimation, and constitutional monarchy. Parliament cemented the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through the passage of the Bill of Rights, 1689, which codified Parliament’s powers and authorities (such as parliamentary privilege and Members’ freedom of speech) and its constitutional limitations upon the Sovereign’s exercise of Crown prerogative. Only Parliament could pass supply and appropriate funds for standing armies in peacetime. And most crucially, Parliament asserted its right to determine the line of succession. Under William III, Parliament extracted other concessions from the Sovereign and established the Civil List and the principle that Parliament determined the Sovereign’s income and allowances (apart from the Crown estates). Under Queen Anne, Parliament again changed the line of succession through the Act of Settlement, 1701; and the personal union of the Crowns of Scotland and England became the political union known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain through the Act of Union, 1707.

The House of Hanover covers George I to William IV, 1714-1837. This series covers the period of what many scholars such as Paul Benoit and Thomas Hockin have called the “Balanced Constitution”, or representative government, of Westminster parliamentarism. David Starkey demonstrates how the Hanoverians not only secured the Protestant succession, but also ensured the entrenchment of constitutional monarchy. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, Cabinet government began to take shape under George I, and the confidence convention under George II and George III. However, Starkey also covers the deficiencies of the monarchy: George III and Lord North lost the American colonies to a Whiggish revolution — and, as some of you may not know, George III drafted his letter of abdication upon the loss at Yorktown in 1781. Under the pragmatic William IV, responsible government began to take hold in the transition between governments in 1830 and the great Whig triumph of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which saw Britain’s first significant expansion of the franchise and paved the way for the Second Great Reform Bill of 1868.

The Royal House of Windsor deals with the monarchy from Edward VII to the present Queen Elizabeth II. Starkey recounts that Edward VII revivified the ancient traditions of the monarchy and rejected “the republican simplicity” that had marked Victoria’s reign and her distaste for pomp and circumstance: this revival included the restoration of the grandeur of the State Opening of Parliament, royal weddings as public spectacles, and the first use of the Imperial Crown of St. Edward the Confessor at a coronation since 1689 with William and Mary. In fact, many of the ceremonies that we today associate as ancient tradition of the monarchy date to Edward VII’s monarchical revival of only about one century ago, though the roots of these ceremonies certainly stretch back several centuries. The State Opening of Parliament refers to the British equivalent to what we would call in Canada the Speech from the Throne, which marks the start of the new session of parliament. The “State” aspect in the United Kingdom refers to the formality of the affair: The Queen and Prince Philip take the state landau to Parliament, and Her Majesty wears the full State dress and the Imperial Crown.

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One Response to David Starkey’s Historical Documentaries on the Monarchy

  1. Pingback: What I Remember on the Fifth of November: The Glorious Revolution over Guy Fawkes | James W.J. Bowden's Blog

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