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The Stuart Kings: A Bloody Reign

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

One of the delights of lockdown is finding and downloading streaming apps, and bingeing their content. When these apps are free, the delight reaches new heights...

Such was the case with the UKTV Play, which I found through the historian Kate Williams' link in her Instagram bio, which led me to her documentary The Stuarts: A Bloody Reign (2018), and that's what I'm here to talk about.

It's a documentary about the Stuart Kings of England (and Scotland and Ireland and Wales), the symmetric foursome: James I, Charles I, Charles II and James II. Each of these monarchs is the subject of one of the four episodes.

Edinburgh Castle - where James I of England was born

There are many things to note about this symmetric foursome, e.g. the historical arc of their reigns: from Gloriana to Glorious Revolution; from the last Scottish King to the Jacobite Movement...Of course, in the middle lie the Regicide and Interregnum, and it adds a further dynamic: the first two Stuart Kings believed wholeheartedly in the Divine Right of Kings, so too did the last two, but will they learn the lessons of their family's recent past? It is this struggle between what they think is right, what they think they ought to do, and what they think they can get away with, is what I find most fascinating about these Kings.

The documentary is very well researched by the presenter Kate Williams, with interviews by the historians Charles Spencer, A.N. Wilson et al. The historical narrative of the Stuart Kings in this programme is intertwined with the Wynn family of Gwydir Castle in North Wales, and curiously, the ups and downs of both clans seem to coincide: the Wynns and the Stuarts. It also adds depth to the documentary, by seeing the court events through the lives of their subjects.

Banqueting House: Divine Right of Kings inspired paintings by Peter Paul Rubens

The reconstruction scenes of Wynn family life and their conversations are possibly the only drawback of this show. In Russian there's a saying - every barrel of honey contains a drop of tar. These scenes are very much such drop: directionless action by mediocre actors saying cringe-worthy dialogue, written as an attempt at elevated English. 99% of this dialogue is exposition, which explains why it lacks any kind of flow and feels a very bad way.

The reconstruction Charles I is wearing a periwig which wouldn't appear in England until his son would restore the monarchy some twenty years later. In fact, the historical Charles II brought this fashion over from France in 1660, where the old King Louis had resorted to periwigs to cover his baldness.

The reconstruction scenes aside, the documentary has a great pace, good graphics, and very much fits the 'edutainment' needs on all things Stuart. Also, it came in handy for me when I was preparing for my Instagram Quiz on the Stuarts...Keep an eye on my stories for the next Quiz!

The trailer is currently available on YouTube...though with the US accent.. The full show is available on UKTV Play, free of charge. Lots of other great documentaries on it, too. #lockdownlife

N.B. 1. The historical Charles Sr had a 'love-lock': longer hair on one side hanging above the chest - a symbol of love and attachment to a significant other #ValentinesVibes.

Read more here on love-lock.

N.B. 2. I'm a big fan of Horrible Histories, so of course, a particular song was playing in my head on repeat when I was watching this documentary.... I love the people and the people love me...

Please see below for the Charles II song - King of Bling - from this adorkable show for more edutainment.

Charles II: King of Bling

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