If anyone were to ask me which group of English/British monarchs who I knew the least about prior to my trip to London, hands down, I would shout, “The Stuarts!” Sure, I know general information about the English Civil War, and Charles I getting his head lopped off, and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, and James II getting booted off the throne in favor of his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution to rid Britain of a Catholic monarch, and then Mary’s sister Anne taking over the throne after that, and the Act of Settlement leading to a lot of people being passed over for the throne (based on their Catholicism) for ultimately the Hanovers. I know that mostly because of American colonial history, because some of my ancestors were those Royalist Virgina Cavaliers who settled the new world to escape those Roundheads during the English Civil War (although, probably one of my most famous ancestors of the era, William Claiborne was a Roundhead himself). So yes, I know the general historical overview, but it is really shameful how little that I actually knew about the two female Stuart monarchs – Mary and Anne. And that is was a shame. Of all of the monarchs in English/British history, I think Mary and Anne are probably the two that I could sit back with and empathize with the most.
Thankfully, on this trip, I rectified my historical ignorance by visiting two palaces that figured into the Stuart era in big ways – Hampton Court and Kensington Palace.
I had no idea that behind that Tudor façade lurked a Baroque Palace that the Stuarts built that looks like this:
Behind the walls of the Baroque Palace, I learned about William and poor, tragic Mary, who was definitely the more well-liked of the two, as she was thought to be very amiable and warm. Poor Mary died at the age of 32, childless. She had one miscarriage that may have affected her subsequent fertility, but the point is that sucks for her, because I imagine that procreation was most certainly thought of as being her main purpose and queenly duty. I can’t imagine how terrible she must have felt about herself. Her early death at the age of 32 of smallpox was even more tragic. William was devastated after her death, and didn’t really enjoy dealing with members of the public during Mary’s life, but retired to the private company of his friends even more so after her death. Touring the King’s Apartments at Hampton Court, we learned a little bit about how little he liked to entertain any people except for his closest male friends. His popularity plummeted after his wife’s death.
Also, these receiving rooms that were decorated in arms were interesting to look at. They were decorated that way to remind visitors of the great power of the monarch.
So, let’s turn our attention to poor, tragic Anne next. While it is speculated that Mary might have had multiple miscarriages (only one is certain), poor Queen Anne suffered seventeen terrible pregnancies. She endured a combination of twelve miscarriages/births of stillborn children. A few lived and died in early childhood because of terrible diseases like smallpox. She had one successful pregnancy where the child survived early childhood: Prince William, who later died soon after his 11th birthday was celebrated. When you visit the Queen’s Rooms in Kensington Palace, the event of Prince Williams 11th birthday party is commemorated in a very creepy and tragic way. You sit in window seats and listen to walls whisper to you about poor little Prince Williams death.
Look at this room display for example:
That is a stark reminder of poor Anne’s 17 failed pregnancies and one surviving child that didn’t live long past his 11th birthday. Poor Queen Anne! She knew some tragedies. This room made me cry.
The last room includes a shadow box display of the forty-something people in line for the British throne that were passed over because of the Act of Settlement.
My heart goes out to those sad, Stuart ladies. Also, here is a nice slow clap at those British museum curators at the Royal Palaces who really know how to put on a thoroughly depressing exhibit in otherwise historically grand rooms. I like it. It reminds people that even rich people have problems that can be relatable to us common folk.
Of course, in other rooms in Kensington Palace, you find displays devoted to the ever so fertile Queen Victoria (who of course lived at Kensington Palace in her youth), which seems perfectly bitchy and condescending, kind of like how I imagine Queen Victoria was herself.
I could just imagine Anne and Mary wanting to roll their eyes at Victoria and Albert. Particularly when, after all of those children, Albert died at the age of 41 and Victoria decided to become a recluse and be a grieving widow the rest of her life. Those Stuarts, would be like, you think that is tragic? You have no clue, lady.
Oh, and then the “Modern Royals” exhibit features the royal fashion displays where you can view the lovely frocks of Queen Elizabeth and the hideous 1980s frocks of Diana, Princess of Wales (not pictured, for aesthetic reasons).
Here are some more pictures of us puttering around Kensington Palace (where the construction continues on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s apartments):
Backing up to Hampton Court, we also learned all of this new-to-us information about the Stuarts thanks to the brilliant audio tour. Let me tell you, those English do some excellent audio tours. We listened to many during our time in London and they were uniformly great.
The most informative part of the tour of Henry VII’s Hampton Court wasn’t in the audio tour, though. It came in the way of this reminder about good manners for the Tudor court:
Call me crazy, but that little nugget on the table in the dining room pretty much solidified what I already thought life in Tudor court under Henry the VII must be like: a bunch of dirty, drunken, over sexed louts fully succumbing to all of their bodily urges.
Not like those poor, subdued Stuart women, at all.