Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Memorize a Country's Monarchy

I was asked earlier today how I remember so many monarchs off the top of my head, and I realized that rote memorization of entire family trees spanning over a thousand years is not an easy task, and I know three of them by heart and am working on two more. That being said, I know the English monarchy best for the simple reason that I associate the monarchs with rivalries and external politics. The other two monarchies are easier to forget because I don't know the role each monarch played in the overall political scheme of the nations. France is also a bit harder because of the large generational break between Henry III and Henry IV, when the Valois cadet branch was replaced with the Bourbons. Portugal doesn't have the same problem, but I simply do not know Portugal's history as well. Scotland, which I am currently studying, and Spain, which is my next goal, will also both require further research to truly understand.

As an example of my technique, I will showcase the English monarchy from William the Conquerer and show just what goes through my mind when I sketch this confusing family tree:

The Monarchs of England, Great Britain & the United Kingdom (1066 to Present)
William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 from Normandy and killed Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. An upstart, Edgar Ætheling, the son of Edward the Exile, attempted to take the throne but William deposed him. William's two sons, Robert and William, succeeded him. Robert got Normandy and William got England, because Normandy was more important. William ruled until his brother, Henry, probably had him murdered. Henry then took the throne and fought against his eldest brother, Robert, imprisoning him for the rest of his life in Cardiff. Henry eventually died but not before his son died on the White Ship. His daughter, Matilda, should have been queen next but Stephen of Blois, the son of William the Conqueror's daughter, Adélè, took over instead. Matilda staged an uprising in 1141 and the two agreed that her son, Henry, would be the next king, even though Stephen had kids of his own.

Henry II was the first Plantagenet ruler of England. His father, Geoffrey, had been duke of Anjou in France. Henry had four sons—Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John. Henry was crowned king during Henry II's life but died early while rebelling against his dad. Richard was the next king but he was always gone on Crusades. Eleanor then John ruled while he was away/imprisoned/ransomed/whatever. Richard's nephew, Arthur, should have been the next king because his father was Geoffrey, but John, who was older, took the throne and made war on his nephew. Arthur finally was killed and Eleanor, Arthur's sister, was imprisoned, the "Fair Maid of Brittany." John signed the Magna Carta but then reneged and the nobles elected Louis, the French heir, to be the new king. John died and his son, Henry III, took over and, since the king was young, Louis agreed to leave the kingdom to the boy and some loyal barons. Henry ruled for a long time but not a lot happened while he was king. His son, Edward I, was a different story, though. Edward subdued the Welsh and fought the Scottish. He finally died and his son, Edward II, who was gay, couldn't succeed in Scotland. He was eventually overthrown by his French wife, Isabelle, who was having an affair with some Mortimer dude. Edward was deposed and murdered and his little boy, Edward III, was chosen to be the next king.

Edward finally tossed his mom and her lover aside and took over England. He had a feud with France and claimed the throne when the Valois took over. The Kings of England took the title "King of France" as well until 1800 because of this feud. Edward died and his grandson, Richard II, took over, but Richard became an idiot king and was tossed aside by his agnatic senior, Henry of Lancaster, the son of John of Gaunt, Edward III's third son. Richard's true heir, however, was his cousin Edmund Mortimer, the son of Roger Mortimer, the son of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, who was the second son of Edward III. But since Edmund was young and passed through a female line, Henry took over. Henry's son was Henry V, whose son was Henry VI. Pretty straightforward. But then the War of the Roses broke out and all logic went out the door.

Henry VI was replaced by Edward IV. Edward was the son of Richard, who was the son of Anne, the sister of Edmund Mortimer. But Richard's father was another Richard, who was the son of Edmund of Langley, the fourth son of Edward III. So he had a double claim to the throne and, through his grandmother, claimed to be the senior heir. Edward's son, Edward V, ruled after for a few weeks but was killed with his brother as one of the "Princes in the Tower." Edward IV's brother, Richard III, usurped the throne for two years until another unknown entity, Henry VII Tudor, killed him at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Henry VII had multiple claims to the throne, and all were bad. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the daughter of John Beaufort, the son of another John Beaufort, the illegitimate-legitimized eldest son of John of Gaunt. Henry's father was Edmund Tudor, the legitimate but sketchy son of Owen Tudor, a welsh soldier, and Catherine of France, the widow of Henry V. Henry didn't really have a right to the throne but he took it anyway. He was the first Tudor king. His son, Henry VIII, took over after and, although Henry had six wives, he only had three kids who ruled according to proper law...mostly. Edward VI came first, but when the time came for Mary I to take over, a random cousin, Jane, tried to take over. Jane was the eldest daughter of Frances Brandon, the daughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's younger sister. Jane was deposed and later executed and Mary I took over and had a bloody good time for five years until Elizabeth I became queen. Elizabeth is famous, just like her dad. Not much more is need to remember her by except...well, Shakespeare.

The Stuarts are a fun little addition. Take Margaret, Henry VII's eldest daughter, and add King James IV of Scotland. They had a kid appropriately named James V. She also had a daughter, appropriately named Margaret, with her second husband, not at all appropriately named Archibald Douglas. James V had only one daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, and Margaret had a son, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. The two of them shacked up, merged their claims to the English throne, and had a kid, James VI, before Mary knocked off Henry. Mary was deposed but caused a bunch of problems in England for Elizabeth until Elizabeth finally shouted "Off with her head!" And so it was...offed.

The rest of the Stuarts are a bloody fun time. Charles I was executed for treason by a bunch of radical Puritans. His sons ran off to France and became...well, French. His daughter, Mary, meanwhile, went to the Netherlands and hooked up with their leader. Charles I begat Charles II who was a Merry Monarch until he died and was replaced with the not-at-all merry James II, who was only Catholic trouble. In Holland, Mary's son, William, hooked up with James II's daughter, Mary, and they went to England to depose their uncle/dad. They did this because their Catholic dad/uncle had a Catholic son with his Catholic wife and everyone feared a Catholic revolution in England. James's son, James, continued to make trouble for another fifty years, and then his two sons, Charles and Henry, kept the trouble brewing until around 1800. Meanwhile, Mary II died then William III died, and finally Anne, Mary's sister, died, and everything went all German in Great Britain. Oh! And Parliament forced Scotland to become Britain with England.

No one really cares about the next five monarchs, but that's okay because they are easy to remember. George I through George IV. Just for fun, let's end with a William IV. George I came from Hanover and didn't speak English. In fact, he wasn't even supposed to be king of England until that William and Mary stuff earlier. Once they became rulers, they had to find a way to make sure no Catholics got in charge of England again. The way to avoid it: pick a Protestant family to rule next. Skipping over the first 52 people in line, William and Mary finally settled on the Dukes of Hanover, in Germany. You see, James VI of Scotland had a daughter, Elizabeth, who had another daughter, Sophia. Her son was George, and that's where the Hanoverians come from. George I's son, George II, spoke some English. His son, Frederick, died first and so a grandson, George III, took over next and spoke swell English, though still with an accent (he never even went to Germany!). George IV was his oldest son and was truly old when he finally became king. Older yet was his younger brother, William IV, who liked to sail but hated to rule. These blokes were so old that their niece, Victoria, the daughter of Edward, ruled next. Victoria was popular but did not rule at all because Parliament had taken all her power. Victoria had a ton of kids and her oldest, Edward, finally took the throne when he was quite old. Since Victoria married Albert, a prince of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, the dynasty of her children was named after him.

Edward VII only ruled for a decade or so before his own son, George V, took charge. George was king during World War I and, since everyone hated the Germans, he had the family's name changed to Windsor, just for kicks. The name sticks to this day. George V had two sons, Edward and Albert. Edward VIII really didn't want to be king but had to be for a while. When he married his once-divorced American girlfriend, he had to forfeit the throne to his speech-impaired brother, Albert, who took the regnal name George VI. Seen The King's Speech? That's this guy. George VI lived for another fifteen years or so and died without any sons, so his eldest daughter Elizabeth II took charge and she still runs the country (technically) today. Elizabeth's eldest son is Charles, Prince of Wales, and he has two sons of his own, William and Henry. Those blokes will be next in line when Elizabeth—finally—dies.

The End!

All of this was remembered off the top of my head. The genealogies were added after for those not following entirely. France is a bit more of a challenge so I think I will just do this one for now. Enjoy!

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