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Did you know? The strange and startling secrets of England’s kings and queens

By Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger 1497/8 (German)Details of artist on Google Art Project - eAHC0d0WiemXSA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

All the monarchs who have ruled England since 1066 have some gruesome, controversial or memorable fact that defines their reign. From exploding bodies to losing the crown jewels and even dying from eating too many peaches, Royal Central has put together a definitive list of the most interesting facts about each king and queen. 

  • WILLIAM I- When he died, his body was swollen from an accident that punctured his intestines, so much so that it would not fit into the tomb. Due to the build-up of pressure, his body exploded at his funeral, filling the church with putrid intestinal gas.
  • WILLIAM II- The king earned the nickname Rufus “the Red” because of his ruddy complexion.
  • HENRY I- He issued the Charter of Liberties which is considered a predecessor of the Magna Carter which would be signed by King John in 1215.
  • STEPHEN- King Stephen was a grandson of William the Conqueror through his daughter, Adela of Normandy.
  • HENRY II- King Henry II was the first monarch to be called ‘King of England’, rather than ‘King of the English’.
  • RICHARD I- It is believed that he spent as little six months in England as an active monarch and that he used England mainly for financial gain to fund his armies
  • JOHN- King John is believed to have been a clumsy and problematic king. He lost the crown jewels, caused the revolt of the Barons after signing the Magna Carta and died from dysentery after eating too many peaches.
  • HENRY III- The King invested heavily in castles and palaces during his reign but did not travel as much as his predecessors.
  • EDWARD I- Edward fathered between fourteen and sixteen children with his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, and a further two sons and a daughter with his second wife, Margaret of France.
  • EDWARD II- The king is famously remembered for his close relationship with Sir Piers Gaveston which later inspired Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play Edward II.
  • EDWARD III- The king had the second-longest reign at the time of his death, lasting 50 years. Edward III is mostly remembered for starting the Hundred Years’ War between the Houses of Plantagenet and Lancaster and the House of Valois over the right to rule the Kingdom of France.
  • RICHARD II- He was 10 years old when he succeeded his grandfather as the King of England. He first married Anne of Bohemia in 1382. Following her death, in 1394, he married Isabella of Valois, who was the daughter of King Charles VI of France. At the time of the marriage, she was just six, and the king was twenty-nine.
  • HENRY IV- He was the first cousin of King Richard II through their fathers. When Richard cancelled Henry’s automatic rights to inherit his father’s title and lands, Henry started an uprising and quickly gained a strong following. King Richard was deposed and imprisoned at Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire where he died in suspicious circumstances, but it is long suspected that the now King Henry IV had his cousin murdered.
  • HENRY V- Henry V had Lord Scrope and the Earl of Cambridge executed in 1415 after Henry found out they were plotting to unseat him from the throne in favour of Edmund Mortimer who was the former heir presumptive to King Richard II. 
  • HENRY VI- He was the youngest person to ever succeed the throne as he was only nine months old when his father King Henry V died. A regency was in place for the first 15 years of his life, led by the young king’s uncles, John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.
  • EDWARD IV- It is thought King Edward IV was the tallest English king because his skeleton measured 6 ft 4 ½ in.
  • EDWARD V- King Edward V was the son of King Edward IV but he was never crowned. He was one of the Princes in the Tower, alongside his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. The young brothers were placed in the Tower of London by their uncle, later King Richard III, apparently for their safety but they were never seen again and their fate remains a famous historic mystery.
  • RICHARD III- The king’s body was lost until 2012 when it was discovered below a car park in Leicestershire. His body was re-interred at Leicester Cathedral following the discovery.
  • HENRY VII- He was the last king of England to win his throne on the field of battle.
  • HENRY VIII- There are records of hearing the “hobbling” ghost of King Henry VIII in the deanery cloisters of Windsor Castle. The hugely obese king suffered from gout and painful ulcers on his leg, making it difficult to walk. 
  • EDWARD VI- As he had no heir apparent when he died at the age of 15, he declared Lady Jane Grey as his successor, rather than his Catholic half-sister Mary, who would later become Queen Mary I. This was done on the advice of his power-hungry senior advisor, the Duke of Northumberland, who was Lady Jane Grey’s father-in-law.
  • MARY I- Queen Mary had expected to succeed her half-brother following his death, but Edward ordered for Lady Jane Grey to succeed him. Queen Mary quickly raised her Catholic followers and had Lady Jane Grey imprisoned after only nine days as Queen. Lady Jane was later executed at the Tower of London.
  • ELIZABETH I- In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh reached the shores of North America and named the colony Virginia after Elizabeth, who was famously known as the ‘Virgin Queen’.
  • JAMES VI & I- He was only 13 months old when he became the King of Scotland following the forced abdication of his Mary, Queen of Scots. She was later executed on the orders of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.
  • CHARLES I- King Charles I was beheaded outside the Palace of Whitehall in London on January 30, 1649. On the morning of his execution he wore two shirts so that he did not shiver in the cold and be mistaken as shaking in fear. The executioner was disguised and did not speak so that he wouldn’t be identified. Once the king’s head was removed, the crowd dipped their handkerchief’s in his blood as a memento. His head was then sewn back on and he was embalmed. 
  • CHARLES II- Charles II was the king during Colonel Thomas Blood’s daring attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. When Blood was bought before the king, he found his story so amusing that he pardoned Blood and gave him his own land in Ireland.
  • JAMES II- Upon his death in 1701, parts of the King’s body were removed, such as his heart and brain, and distributed for further scientific studyHis body was placed in a tomb in Paris, France.
  • WILLIAM III & MARY II- The married couple were first cousins. When Mary was told that she would marry William, she reportedly “Wept all that afternoon and all the following day.” 
  • ANNE- The queen was hugely overweight and suffered from rheumatism. On the day of her coronation, she had to be carried in an open chair under a canopy by Yeoman Guards.
  • GEORGE I- He was the last British Monarch who was not fluent in English.
  • GEORGE II- By the time of his death at the age of 76, he was the longest-lived monarch that England had witnessed- this feat was later eclipsed by his grandson King George III, who would die at the age of 81.
  • GEORGE III- George III is often remembered as the king who lost America or for his various struggles with mental health. The monarch is also believed to have suffered from porphyria which caused his urine to appear purple. 
  • GEORGE IV- King George IV and Sir Henry Halford went underneath the chapel at Windsor Castle and opened the tombs of King Charles I and King Henry VIII. The king allowed Halford to sketch King Charles I face, however due to the change in pressure, the former king’s eye reportedly exploded. During the visit, he also allowed Halford to take a souvenir- Charles’ cervical vertebrae. It was later reinterred by Queen Victoria.
  • WILLIAM IV- He was the oldest person to ever inherit the throne. The king was 64 when he succeeded his brother in 1830. When Prince Charles becomes the king, he will break this record as he is already 72.
  • VICTORIA- Queen Victoria and her beloved husband Prince Albert had nine children, 42 grandchildren and 87 great-grandchildren.
  • EDWARD VII- The king was married to Queen Alexandra of Denmark but carried out many famous affairs on the side. He even had a special seat made called a ‘siege d amour’ which made carrying out his affairs with more than one woman at a time easier.
  • GEORGE V- King George V had been ill for several years but when he was on his deathbed, he was euthanised at 11:55pm with two consecutive lethal injections of ¾ of a grain of morphine, followed shortly by a grain of cocaine. The king’s physician explained that he acted to preserve the king’s dignity so that his death could be announced in the morning edition of The Times, rather than “Less appropriate… evening journals”.
  • EDWARD VIII- The king who abdicated the throne in 1936 also had an incredibly long, official name. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, however, he was known by his close friends and family as David.
  • GEORGE VI- The Queen’s beloved father was born as Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George on December 14, 1895- the 34th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert’s death. His father, later King George V, was unsure about how his grandmother would take the news of the birth and was advised by his father, later King Edward VII, to make the suggestion of naming the baby Albert to her. Queen Victoria is then recorded of saying: “”I am all impatience to see the new one, born on such a sad day but rather more dear to me, especially as he will be called by that dear name which is a byword for all that is great and good.”
  • ELIZABETH II- The current Queen is a record-breaking monarch in more ways than one. Her Majesty surpassed the reign of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, on September 9, 2015. The Queen then became the oldest current monarch after King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died on January 23, 2015. She then became the longest-reigning current monarch and the longest-serving current head of state after the death of King Bhumibol of Thailand on October 13, 2016. On February 6, 2017, the Queen became the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee. Most recently, Queen Elizabeth celebrated 25,000 days on the throne.