Historians Answer Questions About Historical Royals We Should Have Asked Ages Ago

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Vote up the royal answers you wish you'd known all along.

For us plebians, it's hard to fully imagine what life as a royal is like. Because there are so few people who can even slightly relate to this lifestyle, it's been the center of much questioning over the years. What do their daily lives look like? How did they get their nicknames? Have they always been so well-known? 

A lot of these royal family questions are a little superficial and can likely be answered by the common knowledge about the rules and regulations of royal families today. Others, however, take a little more finesse and understanding of historical events. That's where the Reddit channel AskHistorians comes in. This page consists of questions posed by curious people who just want answers to some of history's biggest questions - obvious or never been asked before. Then, actual historians and professionals answer those questions with well-sourced information.

Take a look at some of the history questions about royal people and families that we wish we had the answers to long ago.

  • 1
    520 VOTES

    Why Didn't Queen Elizabeth Marry?

    Redditor u/Kiyohara asked:

    What is the historical consensus on Why Elizabeth I of England did not marry?

    Redditor u/PlinytheHipster answered:

    There really wasn't just one specific reason but the broader reason is generally held to be to maintain her personal sovereignty and security. Which is a bit more complicated than "didn't want to share power."

    To start off very broadly, Elizabeth was by nature an extremely cautious person. In every sense. When it came to foreign diplomacy, war, money (especially money), and political appointments. Sometimes that cautiousness led to indecisiveness, which drove her council mad. So by her very nature, a huge decision like marriage was never going to be one she took on lightly.

    A primary concern of hers was that during this period a man was expected to dominate over his wife. A woman's property was expected to be turned over to her husband upon marriage. So, regardless of what title he had, any man she married would be expected to at the least exert a lot of influence and at the extreme become king of England, himself. This wasn't a hypothetical concern. Phillip's exact role during the reign of Mary I was a continuing problem. Contrary to perception, Mary, despite being very enamored of Phillip, was firm in her own sovereignty (Mary was as much a Tudor as her father and sister.) Phillip was titled king but he couldn't act without her consent or appoint ministers. Phillip was not pleased with the arrangement, which led to tension in the marriage. And many blamed Mary's desire to please her husband with being involved in a war against France that eventually lost Calais. Although the loss of Calais was probably a good thing in the long run, it was seen as a disaster. And her marriage was not popular. So that example was certainly on her mind.

    Elizabeth would want to avoid such a situation. So, choosing a husband was a very tricky matter from the outset. If she chose a foreign prince there would be endless negotiating over the terms. As there was in her many marriage negotiations. Marrying a subject may have been entertained but it was really a non-starter. Elevation of one subject above all others was a sure way to exacerbate factionalism (which was a problem in her reign.) This is even true when a king did it (Henry VIII's marriages within the realm did see the rise, and then sometimes fall, of the families connected to his wives and adjacent factional conflict.) But with a queen it was a far greater issue because of what I discussed above about a man dominating his wife.

    Religion was an issue. It's not as though there were no possible protestant matches. She and Eric of Sweden negotiated a possible marriage for a very long time. But marrying a Catholic wasn't necessarily an insurmountable problem. Elizabeth also had very serious marriage negotiations with the Archduke Charles of Austria that lasted years. In those it was promised he could have his own chapel for worship. Although it was definitely a concern and the more staunchly protestant subjects would have issues with it.

    Elizabeth's final marriage negotiation was with Francis Duke of Anjou. And she seemed to take that very seriously. In the end, it was actually Parliament that urged her not to marry him and she was reportedly livid (although this could have been a form of theater for her it's always difficult to tell with Elizabeth.) She was in her 40s at this point. And even if she could have a child it would be very dangerous. The fear of losing the Queen in favor of an infant with a French royal father was too great. There were also objections over his religion. The strict Protestant faction grew over the course of her reign (although not with her encouragement.)

    As talk of those negotiations suggests, it shouldn't be thought that in 1558 Elizabeth decided not to marry and then stuck with it. She considered various matches very seriously.

    There was another benefit to her being single. She was able to play the marriage game for the first few decades of her reign. Marrying into England was a very valuable prize to dangle in front of a prince. Elizabeth was very concerned about the prospect of Catholic powers allying against Protestant England. But for as long as she could suggest a possible alliance with one or the other she was able to prolong peace. Her most serious negotiations were with Charles of Austria, who like Phillip II was a Hapsburg, and the two successive Dukes of Anjou (Henri then Francis) both sons of Henri II of France and Catherine de'Medici. This was very effective in maintaining peace, which was very important to her. And with the exception of small expeditions she reluctantly allowed in the Netherlands and the revolts in Ireland starting in the early 1580s, Elizabeth did keep England at peace for roughly 29 years. She ended Mary's war with France in 1559 and the Spanish Armada set sail in 1588.

    Had she married into France or the Hapsburgs she could have been sucked into war much sooner. Had she married into Sweden her hand in marriage couldn't have been used as an alliance tool. Had she married a subject it would have brought her very little political gain at all.

    Elizabeth was also very aware of the potential for rival courts to form around named successors. This had happened with her while her sister Mary was still alive. A husband and, especially, a son could be direct competition. (And Mary Queen of Scots did have this issue with her husband.)

    The lack of succession plan certainly made people of her time very uncomfortable and uncertain. And it added a needless uncertainty when in almost every other area Elizabeth preferred stability over all else. Parliament urged her to marry in the first half of her reign and then urged her to name a successor in the later half. It can be glossed over in retrospect because the succession was very smooth. But it might not have been had she died sooner. So, it shouldn't be dismissed as a very valid concern throughout her reign.

    But, from Elizabeth's POV, the immediate problems that came with a potential marriage overshadowed the long-term issues of not producing an heir. Elizabeth ruled for 44 years. And her motives and the needs of her country changed over that time. Although she expressed her desire to remain single very early on, it wasn't just a random choice not to marry that she stubbornly stuck to. Really, she never found someone where the positives outweighed the risks. Or if she did ever find the right person it was Francis Duke of Anjou but her council and Parliament were opposed by then.

  • 2
    285 VOTES

    Was Marie Antoinette Liked By The French Before She Was Queen?

    Redditor u/-ad-as- asked:

    What did the French people think about Marie Antoinette before she became the queen?

    Redditor u/a_mons_at_a_glans answered:

    Marie-Antoinette was very popular more or less up until she became Queen in 1774.

    The marriage between the Dauphin Louis, soon to become Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette was meant to consolidate the alliance between France and Austria was welcomed by the people as a promise of continued peace, if not as a coming golden age.

    As soon as Marie-Antoinette set foot on French soil in 1770 she made all the right PR moves. For example she asked the mayor of Strasbourg who was complimenting her in German to speak French to her, as of this day she wouldn't know any other language. At every stop along the way to Paris, she appeared smiling and was gracious to everyone.

    By 1774, Marie-Antoinette already had serious political and personal enemies within the court, she was apparently unable to produce an heir, and the first vicious pamphlets started appearing.

  • 3
    993 VOTES

    What Was The Relationship Like Between Elizabeth I And Mary, Queen Of Scots?

    Redditor u/Hydra527 asked:

    How did Queen Elizabeth I go from being hell-bent on killing Mary, Queen of Scots to naming her son James as her successor?

    A former Redditor answered:

    The hostility between Catholics and Protestants played a huge role in the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

    Mary, Queen of Scots was a devout Catholic, and Scotland was torn between Catholics and Protestants. This eventually led to protestant rebellion, Mary’s imprisonment, and her abdication on 24 July 1567, which meant that the 1-year-old James was now King of Scotland. Mary escaped and made it to England in 1568, and wanted Elizabeth to help her. There was an inquiry in England to determine whether Mary was responsible for the death of her late husband, Lord Danley. Mary was neither found guilty nor acquitted, and Mary was kept in English custody for 19 years.

    While all of this is taking place, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull titled ‘Regnans in Excelsis’ in 1570 that declared Elizabeth was not the rightful heir to the English throne. It gave any English Catholics permission to disobey her and threatened to excommunicate any Catholics who did obey Elizabeth’s orders. They didn’t need to pay taxes, obey the laws and so on. This inspired many plots to remove Elizabeth from the throne, and Mary was the focal point of many of these plots. The final of the plots was the Babington Plot which was a plan to execute Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. Babington wrote to Mary in code and told her what he planned to do, and she replied that she agreed. She was arrested, and put on trial for treason and sentenced to death in October 1586. It’s also important to note that while Mary was in England, it’s said that she was very vocal about her belief that she was the rightful heir and should be queen.

    Elizabeth reportedly did not want to execute a queen as it set a bad precedent, and it could lead to Catholic rebellion. She eventually signed the warrant of execution in February and gave it to a member of the Privy Council and reportedly asked him not to do anything with it. Mary was executed on 8 February 1587. It isn’t clear if Elizabeth wanted Mary to be executed, as after she was told that Mary had been executed, Elizabeth declared it was against her authority.

    When it comes to the line of succession, Elizabeth refused to name an heir throughout her reign. Elizabeth reportedly would say that the person with the most right to inherit the throne would whenever she was asked. It actually wasn’t a given that James would succeed Elizabeth. Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, had excluded the line of his sister Margaret (who was James’ great-grandmother) from English succession in favour of his youngest sister Mary Tudor. This was stated in his will in the event that his children all died without issue, and endorsed in the third Succession Act. It prioritized what was referred to as the Suffolk claim over any claim the Stuarts (i.e. James) would have.

    Despite the other claims to the English throne and Henry VIII’s exclusion of the Stuart line, James did have a strong claim. Both of his parents were descended from Henry VII through Margaret Tudor, and James was Protestant, unlike his Catholic parents. James was a foreigner, which was not ideal, though the relationship between England and Scotland was not as hostile as it had been in the past. He was also already a King, certainly helping matters. At the time of Elizabeth’s death, James was also genealogically the closest relative. One of the other likely candidates seemed to be Anne Stanley, descended from Mary Tudor. However, the family’s religion was unclear with speculation they were Catholic, her father had been approached to be involved in a Catholic plot, and her grandmother was arrested for using witchcraft to determine if Queen Elizabeth would live much longer.

    Elizabeth’s advisor Robert Cecil played an important role in James’ succession to the English throne. Between 1601 and 1603, Cecil secretly negotiated and corresponded with James, and all but confirmed that James would be the heir. Cecil requested that their communication be kept a secret from Elizabeth, that James not broach the subject of succession with her, and that James not seek parliamentary confirmation of his claim to the throne. Shortly before Elizabeth died in 1603, James was sent a draft proclamation of his accession by Cecil and James was declared the King of England within hours of Elizabeth’s death. It's not really clear whether or not Elizabeth ever specified that James was to be her heir, though she reportedly once said that only a king is fit to succeed a Queen.

    Essentially, Elizabeth never really seemed to want Mary, Queen of Scots to die or that she had any real animosity towards her cousin. She wanted to protect the throne and Mary simply being in England was a threat to that. While Elizabeth kept Mary in custody for 19 years, Mary was afforded a relatively good lifestyle even while captive, including at least 16 personal staff, private chefs, and summers spent at a spa town. If Mary had not been found to be involved in one of the many plots on Elizabeth, she likely would have remained in custody. When it came to succession, James was the logical choice and rightful heir following the rules of primogeniture (and ignoring Henry VIII’s exclusion). Elizabeth had long stated that the person with the most right to inherit would, and as James was her closest living relative, it is not surprising he succeeded her.

  • 4
    281 VOTES

    Why Don't English Royals Use Surnames?

    Redditor u/Ainatuoretta asked:

    What is the surname of Queen Elizabeth II ?

    Redditor u/jschooltiger answered:

    Inasmuch as she has a surname, it's Windsor. The current British royal house is the house of Windsor; that line succeeded the house of Hanover when Queen Victoria died and her son Edward VII succeeded her. Edward took his father's surname, being a member of the royal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; the name of the house was changed to Windsor in 1917, under George V, as a result of anti-German sentiment in WWI. However, in normal usage, the royal family doesn't use surnames -- there's no ambiguity over which Elizabeth is queen of Britain, versus who's Elizabeth Smith or Elizabeth Stone.