The peoples of these Islands can be traced far into the mists of time, progressing through stone, bronze and iron age, to produce, eventually, client kingdoms. The Roman incursion of 55 BC gradually, but thoroughly subjugated over twenty tribes of Briton bearing such names as ‘Atrebates’, ‘Brigantes’, ‘Caledonii’, ‘Catuvellauni’, ‘Dumnonii’, ‘Iceni’ and ‘Trinovantes’ into client-kingdoms so that by the end of the ‘occupation’ (425 AD) there was but a mere handful.
With their common enemy gone, tribal chieftains gradually turned their attention to their neighbours, fighting each other in order to expand their territory and power. While concentrating on this introverted pre-occupation, the Country became vulnerable to new invasions by Angles, Saxons and Jutes (marauders and adventurers from north west Europe), so that by about 600 AD, the Country was under the administrative rule of seven major ‘kingdoms’ – Wessex, Sussex, Kent, Essex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria – the ‘Heptarchy’. The word ‘king’ is believed to come from the Saxon word ‘cyning’ meaning ‘kin’ and among the first to be considered as such was Cerdic 519-524 – although Egbert of Wessex 802-839 is traditionally called the First King of (all) England.
In turn, regular raids by Vikings led to some patchy occupation until Alfred dispersed them in 878. But more forceful raiding resumed a hundred years later resulting in the reign of a line of Danish Kings, until 1042, when Edward the Confessor was crowned. At the end of his twenty-four year reign, these Islands were invaded for the last time in 1066 by William of Normandy.
English Monarchy, as we know it, is comparatively young (barely 1,500 years old), and began to evolve from a very shadowy period of history. However, what is known is that the lineage of the House of Wessex gradually gave way to that of the Saxon Kings and a few Danish ones prior to the Conquest, giving us the ten Dynasties of:
House of Lancaster Saxe Coburg
House of York Windsors
There is often a forceful urge to meet the ‘famous’ or at least see them if only at an event or on television. In the case of Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses, those still alive are so few in number that any quest to be near more of them inevitably takes one to the tombs of their ancestors. This ‘pilgrimage’ is simply that – to be near, momentarily, those who were crowned and anointed King or Queen, to be near those who played such a large part in charting the direction of England, for without them, many notable achievements at the hands of their subjects may not have been possible at the time, and this Country and the United Kingdom might not have become the great nation it did.
I believe that one ought not judge them for all their harshness at this distance in time. Often, the ‘cruel’ and ‘barbaric’ punishment accredited to them was nothing more than the order of their day and indeed accepted as such by their own society. Many a seemingly pitiful act was born out of dedication to the nation. The fate of some of Henry viii’s wives was in origin the result of his (and the Country’s) desperation for a male heir. The beheading of The Queen of Scots was an inevitable outcome in defending the realm from the powers of the Catholic Church with which Mary had been scheming for Elizabeth’s overthrow.
And so my adventure begins.
Above left: Portrait of The Queen, taken in 2002. © John Swannell/Camera Press. Above right: Official portrait of The Queen taken in the Centre Room in Buckingham Palace in December 2011 © Royal Household/John Swannell
(Both images downloaded with permission from http://www.royal.gov.uk)