Every month brings its own royal milestones and April is no different. The month is filled with landmarks for kings of times past. Among them is the start of the reign of perhaps the most famous king of all and a happy marriage that went on to create royal history. Our Calendar of Kings has reached April.
Let’s start at the beginning with the arrival of monarchs. The first king of England known to have been in born in April was Edward II. The son of Edward I and his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, arrived at Caernarfon Castle on April 25th 1284. He would become the first heir to the throne to be named Prince of Wales although his time as king was far from successful, ending in deposition.
The next king to have an April birthday was a conquering monarch who won his crown by toppling a cousin. Henry IV was born on April 15th 1367 and was, for many years, known by the name of the castle where he made his debut, Bolingbroke. In 1399, he snatched the throne from his hugely unpopular cousin, Richard II, establishing the power of the House of Lancaster.
The first King of the House of York was also an April baby. Edward IV was born on April 28th 1442 in Rouen, Normandy as the son of Richard, Duke of York and his wife, Cecily Neville. From an early age, Edward witnessed his father’s attempts to first control and take the Crown. He would fulfil that ambition himself in 1461 with the deposition of Henry VI.
The month has also seen three monarchical marriages. The first king to say ‘I do’ in April was Henry VI. The man who had inherited the throne as a baby was already approaching a quarter of a century of rule when he wed Margaret of Anjou on 23rd April 1445 at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire.
Henry and Margaret’s marriage was played out against the dramatic backdrop of the Wars of the Roses but another king who married on an April day went into battle with his bride almost as soon as they were pronounced husband and wife. The future George IV was still Prince of Wales when he married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, on April 8th 1795. He was drunk and made no secret of his dislike for his new wife while she was far from taken with him. They managed to produce one child, Princess Charlotte, before publicly falling out for the rest of their married life.
There was a far happier ending for another prince who would one day rule. George VI, still Duke of York, wed Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on April 26th 1923 at Westminster Abbey, London. The groom had pursued the bride for years, having to propose three times before being accepted. Their marriage turned out to be hugely successful while their unexpected rise to the throne, on the Abdication of George’s brother Edward VIII, created one of the most popular royal ruling couples in British history.
A famed crusader and fighter, Richard I died on April 6th 1199 after an arrow wound turned gangrenous. The king they called Lionheart passed away at Chalus in Aquitaine. Despite barely visiting his English realm during his ten year reign, he was already a legendary figure there and his fame continued to grow after his death.
An April king by birth, Edward IV also passed away in the same month. His death, on April 9th 1483, at Westminster was unexpected although the king’s passion for food and drink had given cause for concern in the preceding months. Within weeks, the kingdom he had helped stabilise was thrown into chaos as factions formed to try and control his son and successor, the twelve year old Edward V.
The man who would claim the throne left wobbling by the death of Edward IV also passed away on an April day. Henry VII had ruled since 1485 when he seized power at the Battle of Bosworth. His reign had brought stability once more but his suspicious character had made him respected if not popular.
Two famous reigns have begun in April. The tragic and short rule of Edward V started on April 9th 1483 on the death of his father, Edward IV. Young Edward would never really exercise power – within weeks, he had been taken into ‘protective’ custody by his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester and found himself in the Tower of London. He was never seen alive outside its walls again.
Almost three decades later, Edward V’s nephew took the throne on an April day. Henry VIII became King of England on April 21st 1509 on the death of his father, Henry VII. Aged just seventeen, the younger Henry’s rule was immediately billed as a Golden Age for his realm. It was the start of a reign that would change his country forever.
April has been a popular month for coronations. Henry V had barely begun his reign when he arrived at Westminster Abbey on April 9th 1413 to be crowned king. However, Charles II waited a little longer between his accession and his April coronation. The Merry Monarch was crowned on April 23rd 1661 – a date chosen to emphasise nationhood as it marked the feast of England’s patron saint, George.
Charles’ young brother chose the same date for his own coronation. However, the crowning of James II on April 23rd 1685 ushered in a far less successful reign – he would lose his throne to his daughter and son in law just three years later. As if that wasn’t enough, they chose to be crowned in April as well. With Mary II at his side, William III’s coronation took place on April 11th 1689.
William III would also be buried on an April day. The king, who outlived his co-ruler and wife by eight years, died in March 1702. His funeral took place at Westminster Abbey on April 12th 1702.
Over two hundred years earlier, Edward IV had been buried on April 18th 1483. His funeral took place at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
A Calendar of Kings returns in May.