Posted by: marymarthatours | September 8, 2013

English History: the historical bits & the juicy bits

When Martha and I began leading group tours to the UK, we made a commitment to each other that we would always offer the kind of tour that we would want to go on.  Some features that we felt should be included were:  longer stays in each accommodation, free time to get to know local communities and people, and lots of historical and cultural information.

coach 09 mw

Mary giving a coach talk on the Scotland tour, 2009

On our very first M&M tour, Magical English Gardens in 2007, we began a series of impromptu afternoon ‘coach talks’ on English history.  We hadn’t planned anything in advance, so it was mostly ‘winging it’ with the help of a wonderful mnemonic verse which lists all the kings and queens since William the Conqueror.  That verse, which starts out, “Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste…”, was supposedly used by English children in earlier days to memorize the order of their monarchs.  By the end of our tour, all of the Americans on our coach could recite the whole poem by heart.

urq2 MH

Urquhart Castle, Scotland

I was a little better prepared for our 2009 tour, Castles and Gardens of Scotland.  To relate the history of Scotland, I wrote a series of short poems reflecting different eras in that history.  Then I used the poems to lead into each day’s coach talk.

St Brigid, PD

St. Brigid of Kildare

On our Gardens of Ireland tour in 2011, we shared information on Irish history by using the very Irish device of telling stories about some of the notable people who lived there in different time periods.


And last year on the England in Miniature tour, Martha presented an amazing series on English architectural periods and styles that was perfect for the dollhouse enthusiasts with us.

For this year’s Quilts & Textiles of England & Wales tour, we will return to the Kings and Queens format, but with a bit of a twist.  We’ll teach the “Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste” mnemonic and talk about the key events for each reign, but we’ve decided to spice up the lessons with some ‘extra bits’ and some ‘juicy bits’.

The ‘extra bits’ include such items as:

  • The Victorian era’s fascination with Queen Boudica, the Iceni queen who led a revolt against the Roman occupiers in the first century CE.
  • The recent clandestine removal of bones from a small churchyard cemetery outside Winchester because they are rumored to be the bones of Alfred the Great
  • The intriguing journey of the Stone of Destiny
  • Some speculations on “who really killed the Little Princes”

No matter how brilliantly I ‘teach’ the history lessons, I suspect that people will be more delighted with the juicy bits that we will sprinkle in.  They are more likely to remember the reason for the Norman Conquest after I explain that Edward the Confessor’s chastity brought him canonization, a frustrated wife, and a power vacuum that William the Bastard of Normandy used to his advantage.

John,_Magna_Carta, PD

King John signing Magna Carta

Hopefully, everyone will laugh when I tell them that Martha and I are descended from Royalty – being the many-generations-removed granddaughters of Princess Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John , who was married off to Llewelyn the Great of Wales. 

Charles_II_(1675), PD

Charles II (1675)

The sexual habits and partners of generations of English kings and queens have provided unlimited material for our juicy bits segments.  Henry I is reputed to have had 25-30 illegitimate children.  I’m not sure who had the most mistresses, but we do know that, although Charles II had no legitimate children, a large proportion of the British aristocracy is descended from him.  Then there were the Hanoverians and Edward VII, whom writer Henry James called “Edward the Caresser”.  And the antics of the current Queen’s children and grandchildren could fill a book by themselves.  My biggest challenge with this year’s coach talks will be keeping them SHORT.

(by Mary)

Photo credits:  Urquhart Castle – copyright Molly L. (2009 tour), used by permission;  coach photo – copyright M&M tours; all others – public domain.


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