The Lives of the Kings and
Queens of England

Antonia Fraser
Wanda McCaddon, Reader

(Audio Editions)
Part II
Elizabeth I sat on the throne but, alas, the "Virgin Queen" grew rather bald in her old age, and died without leaving a hair. The English brought in a rent-a-king from the House of Stuart of Scotland. James I was bad enough, always hiving off to his Scottish estates to shoot grouse. This brings up a question which has long vexed the English: what are grouse, exactly?

In any case, James II was even worse, refusing to invite Parliament along on the shoot, or even to tell it whether grouse are plural or singular, which has remained a puzzle to this day. Parliament responded by cutting the king short, about 4'9", and trying to run the country itself.

Government without any king at all provided too little news for the tabloids, so they appointed a military man, General Oliver Crumpet, to be Lord Protector. After a few years of Protecting, Oliver retired and spent his golden years developing the pastry which bears his name to this day.

In the meantime the English redeemed the Stuarts for a couple of kings, proving that they are very slow learners. Finally, they kicked out the last Stuart and brought in a Dutchman named William N. Mary who thought he was an orange.

The Dutch king proved to be the first success since Alfred the Great. This was because William spoke so little English that he couldn't boss anyone around. In fact, this was no doubt what made Alfred so great: he too, speaking only Sassenach, could not even order out for steak and kidney pie in English.

Realizing that simple unintelligibility is the secret of enlightened monarchy, the English then turned to the House of Hanover, a small German company that specialized in slow kings and gourmet pretzels. The first Hanoverian king, George I, brought along his own court composer, George Fredrick Handel, who lost his umlaut on the trip over and later wrote the famous animal-lovers' anthem "For We Like Sheep."

George I and his son George II never learned the English language, or indeed any language at all, and their subjects could never tell one of them from the other. George III attempted to learn the language, with the result that he went a little funny in the head and ended his days dressed as a pixie and living under a toadstool. In the course of losing his grip, he mislaid the American colonies, and they ended up elevating to power the likes of Millard Fillmore, Ulysses S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, and several other Georges (not related to Georges I, II or III, but making just as much sense).

In 1837, Queen Victoria assumed the throne. She was part of the House of Brunswick, known for its system of automated bowling. She was often not pleased by people bowling on the commons and, in general, very displeased when people enjoyed themselves. In fact, she was so displeased that she stayed Queen for over sixty years, clothed in nothing but a diamond brooch-pin, a scowl, and a long black pinafore which was nicknamed the HMS Pinafore.

Victoria died at age 125 or so and was replaced by Edward VI of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Since it was impossible to conduct the usual continental wars with such a moniker, the royal house was renamed for a necktie. Members of the House of Windsor included George V, George VI and Edward VIII. The latter wanted nothing to do with being king, giving it up for "the woman I love." The woman in question was Wallace Simpson, mother to Homer, grandmother of Bart.

The system has of having your kings speak no English, invented by George I - III, has continued to this day. The current Prince of Wails, although nominally an English speaker, occasionally offers cloudy public addresses about the dangers of modern architecture, DNA, and aliens from the planet Ixneria; nobody understands a word he says, either.

--- Dr Phage
L. W. Milam

Wanda McCaddon, reader on the Audio Editions' disks of The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, reads the text with joy, aplomb, and fine Oxbridge English --- appropriate for one reporting on a thousand years of royalty. The profusion of dates and the many noble houses can begin to fuddle one, but McCaddon's renderings of the various royal mots are elegant and amusing ... especially when quoting in perfect imitative style such disparate characters as the high-pitched Queen Elizabeth II or the plump, harumphing Horace Walpole. Too bad she didn't have space to give the latter's most famous quote, from 1774, on the soon-to-depart Americans:
"The next Augustan age will dawn on the other side of the Atlantic. There will, perhaps, be a Thucydides at Boston, a Xenophon at New York, and, in time, a Virgil at Mexico, and a Newton at Peru. At last, some curious traveller from Lima will visit England and give a description of the ruins of St. Paul's, like the editions of Balbec and Palmyra."
Go back to
Part I

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