History on Film – Monarchy

Just in case you were wondering what kind of a history nerd I am, this is it.  When I first stumbled across David Starkey’s amazing historical documentary series Monarchy I thought, “Ooo, this looks nice”.  Then I started watching it … and was glued to my seat!

Monarchy, as the title implies, traces the rulers of that pesky little island just north of Europe that is sometimes known as Britain from the moment the Romans left to the present.  That’s a heck of a lot of history!  And guess what?  It’s all fascinating.

A large part of the reason why this series is as entertaining as any hour-long drama is this man:

David Starkey.  I did a little research about David Starkey and found out that he is a graduate of Cambridge and taught history at the London School of Economics.  He’s also a Tudor expert.  And, of course, he’s a TV and radio presenter.  And you can tell in every second that he’s on screen.  Sure, the kings and queens of England are fascinating, but Starkey tells their stories with such intense excitement that you can’t help but be riveted to the screen.

And let me tell you, those kings and queens got up to some serious stuff!

The very first episode of the series is one of my favorites, simply because it delves into a period of history that few people know about.  Heck, I barely knew about it.  This is the period people know as the Dark Ages.  For whatever reason, when I took history classes in school teachers rarely delved into this obscure and mysterious time.  But Monarchy jumps in with both feet.  And there’s a lot of juicy stuff there.

Who knew a guy called Offa of Mercia could be so freakin’ cool?  How great was Alfred the Great?  Pretty darn great!  What did Aethelred the Unready do to deserve such an inglorious nickname?

And then, of course, all of the drama that happened around the Norman Conquest.

I could probably spend all day telling you about the amazing, stranger than fiction stories of the Medieval kings, what really went on in the War of the Roses, the English Civil War, and mad King George III, but I’ll leave that to the series.  As a whole the series goes all the way up to the present, including a look at the daily lives of the current members of the royal family.  It’s amazingly comprehensive.

One of the other things I like about the way Starkey weaves the personal stories of the kings and queens of England into the fabric of what was going on in a larger sense at the time is demonstrated by the story of George I, the first Hanoverian king.  He was German, 50-somethingth in line to the throne, and only ascended to the throne because everyone else in front of him was Catholic and England was so over Catholicism after the debacle of the previous century.  They had just passed an act of parliament stating that no more Catholics could rule over England.  That left George.  And George knew that nobody in England liked him.

People thought George was an idiot, because he was German, after all, but in fact he was very, very smart.  He knew how to work the PR machine.  One of his best weapons was a fellow German-British composer by the name of George Frederick Handel.  Handel’s music was incredibly popular in Britain, so George used it to maintain his own popularity.  Here we have an early example of a ruler using the entertainment industry to boost his own image.

Anyhow, there are hundreds, literally hundreds, of fascinating stories just like this throughout the series.  Not to mention some priceless reenactments.

But there’s only so much I can do to convince you this is one history program worth watching.  That being said, I leave you with episode one of Monarchy to give you a taste.  And believe me, the taste is right there, right from the word go!

One thought on “History on Film – Monarchy

  1. It’s strange how we’re taught only the easy parts of history during our schooling. I found history a fascinating subject but it was those gaps between the epic that I often wondered about. And it’s sad to say that I never studied history beyond school mainly because the teachers were dried up old husks going through the motions.

    Although now I’m glad to say I’m loving reading about history, and thoroughly enjoy reading your blog as it makes the subject so much more interesting!

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