Charles i

What makes MPs special

On Monday, the House of Commons passed, by one vote, a motion to allow MPs to be suspended from parliament (a ‘risk-based exclusion’) if arrested for sexual or violent crime. The government had preferred that the trigger should be charge, not arrest, but there were enough Tory rebels, including Theresa May, for the lower threshold to be chosen. Jess Phillips, supporting the change, asked rhetorically, and contemptuously: ‘Why do we think we’re so special in here?’ There is, in fact, an answer to her question, and it has nothing to do with any unmerited self-esteem which MPs may feel. King Charles I entered the Commons in person on 4 January

Why was Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s beautiful wife, so reviled?

On 15 June 1645, as Thomas Fairfax’s soldiers picked over the scattered debris on the Naseby battlefield, they made a sensational discovery. Amid the corpses and musket balls, dismembered limbs and severed swords there nestled a carrying case of personal letters and papers. It was nothing less than the king’s private correspondence. The cache included letters between Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria – his always opened ‘My deare harte’ – which discussed in detail the tactics and strategies of the war. Never ones to miss a PR opportunity, the Parliamentary high command ordered that a selection should be published with a guiding commentary. The first editorial note got

Why Merseyside is the natural home for a Shakespearean theatre

Prescot is a neglected little town in Merseyside noted for having Britain’s second narrowest street and for its Brazilian waxing salon. It’s now also home to Shakespeare North, a game-changing new theatre. This handsome, modern brick building overlooking a Jacobean church has a light, airy, unfussy interior – a stairway to heaven. You leave the modern world and enter an octagonal cocoon, modelled on a 1630 playhouse, built of slowly splitting green oak, the limbs all pegged together, not a nail in sight. The seats (two tiers) accommodate between 320 and 470 people, depending on the configuration of the stage. Its acoustic is spot-on and it feels cosy but not

Brother against brother in the English civil war

‘The Wars of the Three Kingdoms’ is the best description of the devastating conflict that erupted in England, Ireland and Scotland during the 1640s and 1650s. While Britain lost 2.2 per cent of its population in the first world war, 4 per cent perished during these terrible 17th-century clashes. The kingdoms were, at the outset, Charles I’s. At a time when even a great leader would have struggled to navigate the political, religious and social torrents confronting him, the king was weak and apt to act on the latest advice he received; his only strengths were piety, art patronage and being a loving husband and father. When a ruler of

With Elizabeth Stuart as monarch, might the English civil war have been avoided?

Many girls dream about their favourite princesses. Elizabeth Stuart, a princess herself, took this fantasy a step further and modelled herself from childhood on her godmother and namesake, Elizabeth I. The young daughter of James I plucked her hairline to imitate her father’s predecessor, the great Tudor queen. Aged ten, she was painted with a vivid red wig, dripping in jewels recognisably inherited from her godmother. She even practised her signature until it was almost indistinguishable from Elizabeth I’s famous flourishes. At 13, grandeur got the better of her when she signed herself ‘Elizabeth R’, her most exact copy yet of the queen’s mark. The surviving document shows that someone