Kings and queens with historical author Alison Weir
PUBLISHED: 12:41 29 May 2012 | UPDATED: 22:23 06 October 2014
It was a right royal theatrical month for our county town in February with the world premiere of The King’s Speech play and Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Richard III both treading the boards in Guildford. Here, the Carshalton-based, best-selling historical author Alison Weir joins us to share just a few of her favourite kingly and queenly tales from Surrey’s history...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2012
Interview by Matthew Williams
Although not especially Surrey connected, my recent talk on Richard III for Guildford Shakespeare Company meant I revisited a subject I last covered in my book The Princes in the Tower in 1992. He is a king on whom opinions are polarised, and of whom many have an emotional view. My latest book, a novel called A Dangerous Inheritance, returns to the subject and comes out in the spring.
Where to start with Henry VIII? If his palaces had all been preserved then Surrey would look a very different place – from Oatlands to Nonsuch to what’s left of Woking. In fact, the area’s hunting appealed to him so much that he established the vast honour of Hampton Court for that very purpose. He also founded royal studs to breed horses for hunting and racing, and laid out a racecourse at Cobham, which is thought to have been the first in England. He even destroyed a whole village, Cuddington, to create his grand Nonsuch Palace. You can’t imagine the royals getting away with that these days!
She was the starting point for my interest in history when I was a teenager; hers is a story that has always fascinated me. Anne’s ascent from private gentlewoman to queen was astonishing, but equally remarkable was her shockingly swift downfall. When Cardinal Wolsey fell from grace, Henry VIII took on Hampton Court Palace and began to embellish it for Anne, but the Great Hall built for her was only finished after her execution. Henry married Jane Seymour ten days after Anne’s death; things happened so fast they forgot to remove Anne’s initials from the Great Hall and Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, where they can still be seen.
It was at Richmond Palace that the Tudor dynasty came to an end. It was one of many palaces at which Elizabeth I (and other kings and queens of the era) would stay, and her favourite because it was warm in winter; thus she would lodge there often, and passed away there in 1603 – although not in the gatehouse, as tradition claims.
Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte
After a honeymoon at Oatlands in Weybridge, which was the country seat of the Duke of York, Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte took up residence at Claremont House near Esher. They lived happily at Claremont House until tragically Charlotte died there in childbirth. An interesting historical side note is that if Charlotte and her son had lived, Queen Victoria would never have come to the throne.
King George VI
As well as Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Richard III, Guildford also hosts the first performance of the new play, The King’s Speech, this month – which is fitting because King George VI had ties with Surrey: he and the late Queen Mother honeymooned at the National Trust’s Polesden Lacey in Great Bookham, near Dorking, in May 1923, and there are touching pictures of them walking in the grounds.
I think the world has a great affection towards our current Queen because she has always appeared to be conscientious and dedicated. I don’t think it’s any surprise that, despite talk of empire being a thing of the past, she is still greeted with great warmth wherever she goes. I therefore look forward to this year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Prince William and Kate
I’m part of a group of historians called The History Girls and, to coincide with Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton, we published a book, The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings 1066-2011. The other authors are Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood and Tracy Borman, and my section focuses on the medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods. I think William and Kate make a good partnership – and the wedding itself was probably the biggest event of last year. It would seem that the future of the royals is in safe hands.
- Alison Weir’s latest book A Dangerous Inheritance is set to come out this spring. For more details, see www.alisonweir.org.uk.