There has been no greater influence in the history of England and Great Britain than the Kings and Queens that have ruled over the past 1200 years. I’m Senior Properties Historian for English Heritage, Dr Steven Brindle. Ask me anything!

English Heritage is a charity that cares for over 400 historic places in England, many of which have a royal story to tell. From Framlingham Castle in Suffolk where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen of England, to the oak tree in which Charles II hid in to escape from Parliamentarian forces at Boscobel House in Shropshire, our places tell the history of England and in turn its rulers. Learn more about England’s royal history and ask Steven a question.


EDIT: We're signing off now, Reddit. Thank you so much for all your fantastic questions today and we're sorry we couldn't answer them all. We've really enjoyed doing this AMA and we'd love to do another one soon. Tweet EnglishHeritage with your ideas for the next topic and we'll see what we can do!

Comments: 988 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

benfranklinthedevil637 karma

What do you know about the ownership of London? Isn't it divided weirdly? How many times have you seen neighborhoods shift hands?

AskEnglishHeritage676 karma

The landlords of London have had a huge impact on its history, for instance in areas like Mayfair and Belgravia and Marylebone laid out by aristocratic landowners, and still largely owned by them.

nakedphoto486 karma

Most underrated monarch?

AskEnglishHeritage1223 karma

I'd say Henry VII, who restored peace to England, established the Tudor dynasty, left a full Treasury, and built the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster and other great buildings.  

She_Says_Tapir318 karma

1) In your expert opinion, what is the likelihood of King Henry VIII fathered Henry Carey and/or Catherine Carey?

2) What is the current state of research into the English Sweating Sickness and its relation to the monarchy? Would you support exhuming victims of the disease in order to identify the cause?

3) What is the greatest oddity of English Heritage that you’ve come across?

AskEnglishHeritage338 karma

  1. Greatest oddity of English Heritage. Well, if you mean in our estate, there are lots of satisfyingly odd things. I nominate the Grange in Hampshire: a 17th century house reclad in 1809 to look like a Greek temple. A major Neoclassical work of art, but an absurd thing to do - it blocked all the basement windows!   

AskEnglishHeritage331 karma

  1. Great question! Mary Boleyn, who married William Carey, was Henry VIII's mistress, and Anne's sister. Note the resemblance between Henry Carey and his cousin Elizabeth I in the coronation portrait! Which I guess means that they both had Boleyn faces. So there is no evidence either way there. Unknowable, I'd say. 
  2. Sweating sickness. Topical question. The only royal association I'm aware of, is that Lord Stanley used it as an excuse for not joining Richard III's army at the battle of Bosworth, thus ensuring Henry VII's victory.

Jokerang282 karma

Is there a specific castle/historic location that's your favorite to visit? If so, why?

AskEnglishHeritage433 karma

I have a lot of favourites, but for now I'll say Canterbury, as a perfect English historic town, with one of the finest cathedrals, and our own St Augustine's Abbey.

slapdash57207 karma

What is one of your favorite stories related to a property under your care?

AskEnglishHeritage279 karma

Sir Walter Scott inspired to write his great novel Ivanhoe having seen Conisbrough Castle, while on a journey north on the Great North Road.

Catch22ismybible148 karma

I saw Alan Rufus mentioned in this post as one of the richest people who ever lived. Is he a significant person in English history and how did he get to be so rich? I would assume the kings of England were richer.

AskEnglishHeritage213 karma

Alan Rufus. Alan the Red, Count of Brittany, was given the Lordship of Richmond by William the Conqueror, and began Richmond Castle. He was certainly a wealthy landowner, but there were others who were comparably rich at the time, like Odo of Bayeux, or Robert of Mortain.

Odell_Strangehams139 karma

Any thoughts on the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath and what it meant at the time?

AskEnglishHeritage183 karma

Thank you for reminding us of this important anniversary. The declaration asserted the antiquity of the kingdom of Scotland, and rejected English claims of overlordship. English acceptance of the legal equality of the two kingdoms was established when James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England.

RogerCabot136 karma

Why is there such importance placed on current monarchs when the blood line has been diluted so much?

And what would happen if next in line was born with Down Syndrome or another big disability?

AskEnglishHeritage233 karma

Most genealogical lines of descent are 'diluted' by marriage, but that is probably just as well. The Ptolemies of Egypt sometimes married their siblings, and the 17C Spanish Habsburgs married cousins - and that didn't turn out so well for them... If there was ever a disabled heir to the throne, I expect they would reign, but there would be a Regency, as when George III became ill.

sandra_nz132 karma

Which monarch would you most like to invite to a dinner party and why?

AskEnglishHeritage246 karma

I think George IV would be the most fun, and would certainly have enjoyed his food the most. We could talk art and architecture. Plus he loved the novels of Jane Austen and Walter Scott. Nice man. Gets a bad rap.

a_bag_of_meat114 karma

Which monarch do you think deserves more love and which monarch deserves more hate?

AskEnglishHeritage347 karma

A monarch that deserves most love? Oh, that's easy. Queen Elizabeth I, who declared that with her coronation ring, she was wedded to the people of England! A great woman and a great spirit.

And most deserves hate? English Heritage try not to deal in hate too much, but our least lovable monarch is perhaps King John. Tyrant and murderer, responsible for losing the Angevin dominions in France, and left England in chaos and civil war.

OhYesPizza112 karma

How closely does English Heritage work with other, similar, bodies, like the National Trust? Are there ever disputes over jurisdiction?

AskEnglishHeritage149 karma

We do complementary things, and we jointly manage several sites, like Hardwick, where they have the new Hall, but we have the Old Hall in guardianship. We co-operate with the Trust very closely.

edwsmith97 karma

Danny dyer was found to be a descendant of William the conqueror, how many people would he have to try to go through to become king?

AskEnglishHeritage175 karma

Well, Danny is in good company, because large numbers of people are descended from the Norman, or more particularly the Plantagenet kings. Sorry, but I couldn't guess at how many cousins he has!

Jindiana2394 karma

What is a less-busy site to visit, that is underrated?

AskEnglishHeritage160 karma

When our sites re-open, the following sites are really rewarding: near London - Bayham Abbey, Kent. In East Anglia the castle and priory at Castle Acre. In the North-West, Brougham and Brough Castes.

TheHiddenTriumph76 karma

As someone who is trying to get into the field of historic preservation/public history, can you offer any insight into how you became involved with English Heritage?

AskEnglishHeritage98 karma

I applied for a post as a historian in the London Division, back in 1989, and was lucky enough to get it. A lot of people stay for a long time: I am on my fourth job with the organisation.

UCDent74 karma

61, yet the last one has resigned for 5% of that time. Have Queens on average had reigns significantly longer than Kings?

AskEnglishHeritage117 karma

Yes -  of our five queens-regnant, there have been Elizabeth (1558-1603, 45 years); Victoria (1837-1901,  64 years, and our present Queen (68  years and counting), plus the shorter reigns of Queen Mary (1553-8,  5 years) and Queen Anne (1702-14,  12 years). So the average of the five (194 divided by 5) is 38.8, which sounds well above average to me.

headfuzz68 karma

Have you or a colleague experienced any “supernatural” or unexplained events at a property? If so, what’re some of the creepiest?

AskEnglishHeritage148 karma

There has been strange and unexplained noises. At Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire members of staff and visitors often report being pushed, having doors slammed on them and finding objects inexplicably moved. A member of staff who once locked up the property reported hearing a scream which got louder and louder as she walked away from the castle, only for her to rush back and find no one there.

enlightened-despot67 karma

How was Queen Elizabeth I accepted by the public as a female monarch? And was she a particularly good ruler responsible for England’s enlightenment, or was she just lucky?

AskEnglishHeritage197 karma

The English had to accept Elizabeth as Queen, as she was the last surviving member of the Tudor dynasty, and the alternative would have been confusion and possibly civil war. As it happened, she was probably the most intelligent person ever to sit on the English throne.

fingerkuffs2364 karma

Who is the most interesting distant relative of an English mornach that you've found in your research? Which castle outside of London is the most interesting, historically? My dream is to one day jump in a car and drive around to visit castles and great houses.

AskEnglishHeritage110 karma

I can't claim to have found a royal relative in my own research. I love the story of Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816), actress and mistress of William IV, who had ten illegitimate children with him, known as the Fitzclarences. There are lots of their descendants about still.

The most interesting castle outside of London I think this has to be Windsor, largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, and the Queen's favourite residence.

NightStalkings61 karma

Why are the crows so important?

AskEnglishHeritage212 karma

I think you may be thinking of the ravens at the Tower of London.  A group of at least six ravens have lived there since the Middle Ages. If they leave the Tower of London, the Tower and the Crown will fall! No sign of this happening yet, though.

Jindiana2352 karma

Is there an example of a personal touch that a previous monarch made, that is still visible? I doubt any of them signed their name on the wall, but something personal like that.

AskEnglishHeritage93 karma

Yes indeed. Try googling Queen Victoria's watercolours, and you will find images of a great many paintings by that remarkable monarch. Sadly her original journals were all burnt by her daughter Princess Beatrix, who kept her own edited copies.

wawaboy51 karma

Could Charles be passed over and William be installed as King?

AskEnglishHeritage97 karma

There is no precedent for this. Legally,  the Heir Apparent is Prince Charles. Prince William is the Heir Presumptive, meaning that he is the next in line.

AwesomeAnsh47 karma

What do you exactly do?

AskEnglishHeritage152 karma

I research the history of our 400-odd monuments, work on reconstruction drawings, site panels, exhibitions and guidebooks, and other ways of presenting them to the public. It's a great job!

Jindiana2343 karma

Which site is the most authentic to what it looked like at the time? Excluding the most recent builds.

AskEnglishHeritage80 karma

You would enjoy Eltham Palace in Greenwich (London), Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire,  all of which retain interiors from the main historic periods that they represent, the 1930s and the Victorian age.

itsallalittleblurry38 karma

For how many years was Mary (Queen of Scots) under house arrest prior to her execution?

AskEnglishHeritage69 karma

Mary Queen of Scots spent almost 19 years as a prisoner before her eventual execution in 1587. You can read about her here

UncleNukem33 karma

Personally what do you consider the most shocking fact you have learned about a monarch?

AskEnglishHeritage74 karma

King John almost certainly had his young nephew Arthur, Count of Brittany, murdered. He had Matilda de Braose and her young son locked up, either at Corfe or Windsor, and starved to death.

LutzRL1232 karma

What is your case for keeping the monarchy in a modern world?

AskEnglishHeritage155 karma

A case for the monarchy. Monarchy puts a family at the heart of society which, like our own family trees, links us to our shared past, as well as to the future. It provides a personal heart for the impersonal state, and provides an apoliticial focus for loyalty, that is above everyday political identities and struggles.

penelopiecruise25 karma

What’s the most obscure royal/associated property you know of?

AskEnglishHeritage57 karma

When I was young  we had family holidays in a wonderful house, the Gate House at Clappersgate near Ambleside, Cumbria, said to have been part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. Try Googling it. I  remember this, but cannot find any evidence for the connection on the internet. So I guess that's pretty obscure!

seasonalshag25 karma

I named my daughter after Eleanor of Aquitaine. Good choice or bad choice?

AskEnglishHeritage39 karma

Eleanor is a wonderful choice of name! Do you that great film The Lion in Winter, with Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor? 

Sandsy9021 karma

Which books would you recommend for learning more about English monarchs, in particular the Plantagenet monarchs and the Scottish monarchs of the same period?

AskEnglishHeritage30 karma

No general book on the Plantagenets in print that I am aware of. I can recommend  Michael Prestwich's biography of Edward I, Seymour Phillips of Edward II, Mark Ormrod';s of Edward III,  and Nigel Saul's of Richard II. On the Scottish kings, there is Richard Oram's book.

Mobilewizz21 karma

Who was the first monarch? What made him so special? Why did people choose to follow him if he was the first?

AskEnglishHeritage38 karma

That's hard to say. In England, we might nominate Cerdic, as the founder of the House of Wessex, or King Arthur as our best national founding-myth.

coyote-tango20 karma

My dad took us to all the Heritage sites at the weekends when we were children in the North East, all the ruined abbeys. Detested the walking but adored the history, got a degree and a masters in it; but as I'm sure you know, jobs in the field are extremely hard to come by! Any tips for a quarter-life crisis post-graduate? Thanks!

AskEnglishHeritage29 karma

English Heritage and National Trust welcome volunteers, to help in managing and presenting our sites - so that would be a great place to start!

Spacedude5019 karma

Are any of the 61 monarchs known and/or accepted to be illegitimate? How many times was the line of succession broken? Is there any monarchy in Europe that doesn't have ties to the British throne?

Also why do you think the Royal family keeps getting in the way of the proper testing of the childrens bones (rumored to be the princes in the tower) that were found in White Chapel? There was a petition on it's way to getting enough signatures to trigger a parliamentary debate that was yanked down months before the cut off date and am curious what the monarchy stands to lose by finding out

AskEnglishHeritage15 karma

Yes, there is one monarch accepted to be illegitimate, William the Conqueror, known as William the Bastard, being the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy by his mistress Herleva, daughter of one of the leather-makers of Caen, I think. 

How many times has the line of succession been broken? It depends quite what you mean by broken, but one could certainly say: 1603 (end of the Tudors); 1714 (Hanoverian succession).

Ties to the monarchy in Europe are the royal house of Sweden, and the princely houses of Monaco and Liechtenstein, have no close connection to our own. All the others are linked genealogically at some point, so far as I can think.

Lego_10517 karma

I was caught a bit off guard by the tree Charles II hid in being a heritage site. Are there any other more obscure or peculiar heritage sites?

AskEnglishHeritage51 karma

England is very blessed with these things! Here are three favourites:

Mother Shiptons Cave,  Knaresborough,  Take an object and hang it up;  10 years later it will have turned to stone ! 

Painswick Churchyard,  Gloucester, which is famous for its 99 yew-trees.  Can you count them?   

The Rollright Stones and Castlerigg Stone Circle. Try taking lengths of wire to dowse with (coat hangers cut up and made into an L-shape seem to work...), you hold them loosely in your hands so they can revolve as you step in and out of the circle!

Logicknot-16 karma


AskEnglishHeritage28 karma

Well, yes. They were all immigrants once, but you could say that of most of the inhabitants of these islands anyway, and the same would go for almost all European ruling families. However, Queen Elizabeth I, descended from Tudors and  Plantagenets,  described herself as 'mere English'.

zeanobia14 karma

Why do my family make a big deal out of descending from a bastard child of Von Han?

AskEnglishHeritage24 karma

I have to admit I am not sure who the original Von Han is? Are you able to offer any further clues as to their identity?

tridecyl13 karma

what do you think of oliver cromwell?

AskEnglishHeritage31 karma

Cromwell was by any standards a great leader,  though he remains a controversial figure, especially in Ireland. He doesn't leave much of a legacy, with one very important exception: his government allowed Jewish people to live in England, for the first time since the Middle Ages.

Incorrect_Oymoron13 karma

Do you happen to know how far down the line of succession you are?

AskEnglishHeritage55 karma

A good deal further than Danny Dyer, that's for certain.  

Xukay33313 karma

Do you know any secret fact about Pembroke Castle, home of Henry Tudor VII?

AskEnglishHeritage26 karma

The castle sits over a huge natural cavern, rather oddly called the Wogan! True fact! 

machipulav12 karma

Are there any palaces that are haunted??

AskEnglishHeritage29 karma

There's some speculation. Lots of good ghost stories about our sites on here if you want to have a read

Cunt_Puffin9 karma

Who do you personally believe was the first to be King of all of England, I've heard its disputed between:

Offa of Mercia, Egbert of Wessex, Alfred the great, Edward the Elder and Æthelstan?

AskEnglishHeritage16 karma

That's hard to say.  In England, we might nominate Cerdic, as the founder of the House of Wessex, or King Arthur as our best national founding-myth.

Nickeebob8 karma

Hi, thank you for doing the AMA! When were guilds abolished, if they ever were. It's really hard to find any information on this matter, but it does not seem like there was no formal abolition of guilds in England- it moreso looks like they slowly dissipated. Is this true?

AskEnglishHeritage12 karma

Their monopoly powers ceased to have the support of law, more than being actually repealed, and were increasingly challenged/fell into decay, through the 18C.

NeedsToShutUp8 karma

Favorite Usurper? Or would be usurper?

AskEnglishHeritage39 karma

Hard to have a favourite. One I am most sorry for is poor Lady Jane Grey.

Cryptokudasai8 karma

Who was the worst?

AskEnglishHeritage14 karma

Perhaps King John. Tyrant and murderer, responsible for losing the Angevin dominions in France, and left England in chaos and civil war.

TinyDKR8 karma

1) Did Henry IV order the murder of Richard II?

2) Was Edward II gay?

3) Why was Henry VII allowed to accede to the throne when he had no legitimate claim whatsoever?

AskEnglishHeritage24 karma

His descent was via his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a grand-daughter of John of Gaunt, and thus great-grand daughter of Edward III. It is true that there were descendants of Edward IV's younger brother, George Duke of Clarence, who arguably had a better lineal claim to the throne. Henry tried to neutralise this by marrying Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York.

AskEnglishHeritage20 karma

There's some great information on Edward II and his relationship with Piers Gaveston here. It is impossible to know the exact nature of their relationship, but there is strong evidence to suggest it was a romantic one.

AskEnglishHeritage17 karma

Henry IV probably ordered Richard to be starved to death, to avoid shedding royal blood. 

TittyBeanie6 karma

Hello! What is the newest and the oldest properties under the care of English Heritage?

I've just had a little look through your website at places near me, and I think we might end up visiting a few once we're allowed out.

AskEnglishHeritage27 karma

The oldest is debatable, but you could say Grimes Graves, Norfolk, c. 2600 BC. The newest, is the Cold War Command Bunker at York.

blue_bison933 karma

How did you get involved in this organization and what things would you recommend someone do if they’re really interested in British history? Are there ways to get involved?

AskEnglishHeritage4 karma

I applied for a post as a historian in the London Division, back in 1989,  and was lucky enough to get it. A lot of people stay a long time: I am on my fourth job with the organisation. English Heritage and National Trust welcome volunteers, to help in managing and presenting our sites. Once we can go out again you can engage in history by walking High Streets,  and town centres. Virtually every English town has something to see, in way of historic buildings and the past!

baldonebighead3 karma

Who's your favorite r/royal?

AskEnglishHeritage14 karma

Queen Elizabeth I was a who great woman and a great spirit. She declared that with her coronation ring, she was wedded to the people of England! Henry VII was the most underrated monarch. He restored peace to England, established the Tudor dynasty, left a full Treasury, and built the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster and other great buildings.

donaldfranklinhornii2 karma

As an American, I can only glimpse at the splendor and majesty of the Royal Family from afar. As a descendant of Jacobites, my question concerns the Scottish succession. If Scotland were to secede from the UK, popular sentiment seems to be on retaining Elizabeth II as the monarch. There is a Stuart successor still living. Would it be prudent for the Scots to give the throne to the rightful Heir-General to make a complete break with the UK?

AskEnglishHeritage10 karma

The Queen rules the United Kingdom, under the Act of Union of 1707. English Heritage cannot speculate on the future of the Union, but my personal view is that the royal family have the best claim to the thrones of England and Scotland! 

Natwig941 karma

Which monarch in your opinion made the biggest impact both to England, for better or for worse? I’d also be interested in finding out who your favourite monarch is?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

I'd say Henry VII was the most underrated monarch. He restored peace to England, established the Tudor dynasty, left a full Treasury, and built the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster and other great buildings.

AskEnglishHeritage1 karma

Queen Elizabeth I was a who reat woman and a great spirit. She declared that with her coronation ring, she was wedded to the people of England!

jdgmental1 karma

Do you have a favourite monarch, from personal or professional preference? If so, who is it and why?

AskEnglishHeritage2 karma

I think the most interesting monarch is Henry III. Not politically astute - his misrule led to the Baron's war - but a deeply good man. He was devout, kind to the poor,  an excellent family man,  and built Westminster Abbey. He left England richer and more prosperous, and at peace.  So much better than certain warrior kings, and all those pointless wars! 

BudLightYear770 karma

When QE2 finally dies, is there precedent for the crown being passed directly to William? Or will it be passed to Charles?

I'm talking in the coronation sense, not in the technical 'Charles becomes king the moment Elizabeth dies'

AskEnglishHeritage1 karma

No, there is no precedent for this. Legally, the Heir Apparent is Prince Charles. Prince William is the Heir Presumptive, meaning that he is the next in line.