June 30, 1559: Henry II of France is mortally wounded in a jousting tournament.
Poor Henry had been celebrating a treaty he’d recently signed with the Habsburgs and the marriage of his daughter when the fatal blow was dealt - by none other than the captain of the king’s own Scots Guard, the Count of Montgomery. Montgomery’s lance struck the king’s helmet and shattered, burying splinters in his face, including one in his eye and brain. Henry’s wife, his mistress, and his sickly son (who would soon become king) apparently all fainted at the sight. On his deathbed, Henry absolved Montgomery of any blame, but the count was so guilt-ridden that he left to Normandy and later converted to Protestantism.
The accession of Henry’s weak and inexperienced son, Francis II, exacerbated the growing conflict that would become the French Wars of Religion.
Queen Victoria: “the Grandmother of Europe”
In all, Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, had nine children and forty-two grandchildren, thirty-four of whom survived to adulthood.
Princess Victoria (her daughter) and Frederick III of Germany, plus their son, Wilhelm II; Sophie (the Queen’s granddaughter through the younger Victoria) and Constantine I, Queen consort and King of the Hellenes…
King Edward VII (her eldest son) and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of Christian IX of Denmark; their son, George V, who succeeded his father; Maud (a granddaughter through Edward) and Haakon VII, Queen consort and King of Norway.
… and finally, Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and his wife, Princess Alice (Victoria’s third eldest), and their son-in-law Tsar Nicholas II. The resemblance between the Tsar and George V (his cousin through their mothers) is often pointed out.
Also note that the three monarchs in the middle column, who all ruled during World War I, were first cousins (through marriage, in Wilhelm and Nicholas’s case).
Queen Elizabeth II is a great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria through her father, George VI; her husband, Prince Philip, is also a great great grandchild of Queen Victoria through his mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg. She and Philip, the King of Sweden, the Queen of Denmark, the King of Norway, and the King and Queen of Spain are all descendants of Victoria.
A full list of Queen Victoria’s descendants.
May 12, 1937: The coronation of George VI takes place.
Following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, in 1936, George ascended the British throne; he was coronated on May 12, 1937 - the original intended date for his predecessor’s coronation. The coronation and procession were broadcast live on television, viewed by an estimated 50,000 people.
George VI opened his coronation speech with the words: “It is with a very full heart that I speak to you tonight.” The “reluctant King”, who would soon have to face the impending crisis of world war, addressed all the people of his empire when he went on to say:
To many millions the Crown is a symbol of unity. By the grace of God and by the will of the free peoples of the British Commonwealth, I have assumed that crown. In me, as your King, is vested, for a time, the duty of maintaining its honor and integrity.
March 27, 1625: Charles I ascends the throne.
… and thus, the Cavalier Years began. These were the years of plumed hats, Van Dyke beards, the Three Musketeers, the cavalry, swashbuckling, and religious strife. ‘Twas a great time for hair and fashion… but not a great time for the English government’s treasury, which was heavily suffering from a large deficit, or Parliament, which had been dissolved by the king several times during his reign. After eleven years of “Personal Rule” (“Eleven Years’ Tyranny”, to some), Charles I fled London to raise an army, beginning the English Civil War.
In 1649, his son, Charles II, would return with a vengeance, bringing to England an even more frivolous monarchy than the one Oliver Cromwell had crushed.
October 19, 1469: Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon are married.
The marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella was the result of a political alliance between Henry IV of Castile and John II of Aragon, but according to observers, the young royals (both teenagers at the time) were reasonably pleased with each other and married happily in Vallodolid.
According to their prenuptial agreement whose motto was “Tanto monta, monta tanto”, the two would rule together with equal authority under a crown that would (unofficially) unite Spain for the first time in 700 years. Their union, one of the most famous of all time, created one of the first united, centralized monarchies in Europe and would spawn a century of Spanish exploration and conquest.
September 5, 1638: Louis XIV “the Sun King” is born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.
Louis XIV, the longest reigning monarch of any European country (having lasted for seventy-two years), was born of Louis XIII and Queen Anne of Austria in a palace outside Paris. He ascended the throne at the age of four, and his foreign and domestic ventures, though often costly and extravagant, transformed his country from a medieval feudal country into a strong nation-state, concentrating power into the monarchy.
Louis, a strong patron of the arts, helped cultivate the French culture, manners, and sophistication for which the country is so revered now. Famously, he rebuilt Versailles and established his court at the Palace, which became a symbol of his monarchical authority. Colonialism also flourished under Louis- the possessions of the French empire multiplied in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
“The Sun King” established a form of absolute monarchy (“l’etat c’est moi”) that would last a century, a rule that empowered France, and a lasting culture that endures today.