5 Royal Births That Changed History
by Sam McCann – originally published May 5th, 2015 for the Royal Oak Foundation. Royal Oak is the American partner of the National Trust, of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to encourage Americans to learn about, experience and support places of historic and natural significance throughout the United Kingdom. Royal Oak members receive unlimited entry to all National Trust UK properties. You can read more about their work on their blog, The AngloFiles.
The English world got some big news this weekend, as it welcomed Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana! Royal births are always big news, but their full impact is felt decades down the line. Here are five Royal babies who unexpectedly changed English and world history.
The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Queen Elizabeth I
From pioneering New World exploration to defeating the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth’s reign undoubtedly changed the course of England. However, at birth her fate wasn’t as clear: the daughter of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth had an older brother, Edward, and older half-sister Mary I, standing between herself and the throne. In fact, her birth itself was a political controversy: Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn and father Elizabeth.
Elizabeth wasn’t acknowledged as sovereign until Mary’s death, but she quickly brought stability to the tumultuous political landscape her father’s action wrought. Her reign established England’s empire and her birth must be recognized as one of the most momentous in British history.
Like Elizabeth’s, John’s birth was hugely unexpected: when he arrived on Christmas Eve, 1166, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was 44 years old. John was a flawed ruler, and his actions led to English barons forcing him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
While John might not have the treasured history of Elizabeth, his reign is responsible for one of the watershed moments in Western democracy. Visit the site of the Magna Carta’s signing, Runnymede, with your Royal Oak membership.
Victoria was born in 1819; by 1820 her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was dead after a bout of pneumonia. Under supervision from her Belgian mother, also named Victoria, and her uncle, the famous King Leopold of Belgium, Victoria prepared for the throne.
Following the early deaths of King George III and King William IV when she was a child, Victoria was crowned queen at age 18. Her birth, then, represents another improbable ascension to the monarchy. Her reign, the longest in British history, was marked by the growth of the English Empire and the rise of many integral aspects of the modern world, from industrialization to urbanization.
Queen Elizabeth II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like her namesake, our current Queen wasn’t expected to reach the throne. However, in 1936, at age 10, Elizabeth grandfather died. Her oldest uncle abdicated within a year to marry Wallis Simpson, leaving Elizabeth’s father, George, the throne.
Since she became Queen in 1952, Elizabeth has obviously been instrumental in guiding England through a tumultuous century. From the Cold War to globalization, she’s been at the helm of the last 60+ years of English history and is nearing Victoria’s record as longest-reigning monarch.
William the Conqueror
Known as “William the Bastard” for much of his life, William was the product of an affair between his father and a woman named Herleva. Because of this ancestry, William faced a fight to consolidate power, but he ultimately succeeded in that regard. He then used his power to invade England, defeating King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings and ushering in a new period of British history.
Despite never speaking English, he had an incalculable effect on the language, infusing it with his native French. It’s also believed that every English monarch to follow is descended from him.
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