The Prince Who Would be King: the Life and Death of Henry Stuart

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This is the story of the greatest king we never had, the oldest son of James VI of Scotland and I of England. When the Stuarts come to England in 1603, Henry Stuart is the kingdoms united. He is part of the long drawn out birth of Britain – but he is made in Scotland. Restoring Henry in his time and place reveals paths running through his court, from Elizabeth I to the Civil War, to a Puritan republic, and the British Empire in America.

Some of the most influential men, and women, of the Jacobean age wanted to shape the character of the future king and his monarchy. Acclaimed from his baptism as the looked for soldier-Prince, he is heir to the mantle of his godmother, Elizabeth I: saviour and bulwark of Protestant Europe against the reviving powers of a hard line Catholicism, led by Spain and the papacy. By the time of his death, he is a celebrity across Europe.

Henry re-founded the Royal Library, amassing the biggest private collection in England. He began to create a royal art collection of European breadth – paintings, coins, jewellery and gem stones, sculpture, both new and antique, on a scale no royal had attempted before. These went on to become world-class collections under his brother, Charles I, and form the backbone of the British Library and the Queen’s Royal Collection today. Henry undertook grand renovations of his royal palaces, and mounted operatic, highly politicised masques. His court maintained a dozen artists, musicians, writers and composers. Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton, George Chapman and Inigo Jones all created work for him. He responded with enthusiasm to the vogue for scientific research, putting time, money and men into buying state-of-the-art scientific instruments. In a ‘project’ mad age, he financed business schemes to try and extract silver from lead, and make furnaces more fuel efficient.

Henry and his circle’s curiosity and ambition reflected the era’s desire to sail through the barriers of the known world. He persuaded his father the king to let him begin a full-scale review and modernisation of Britain’s naval and military capacity. He was raised in the ancient culture of chivalry, but welcomed active servicemen from the frontline of Europe’s religious wars. Henry’s court was where the latest developments in the art of warfare were received and developed. He became patron of the Northwest Passage Company, established to find a sea route across the top of America and open up the lucrative oriental trade to British merchants. Called ‘the Protector of Virginia’ he was a passionate promoter of the project to realise the decades-long dream of planting the British race permanently in American soil. Whatever we think of colonialisation now, such men transformed the world.

By the time of Henry’s death, you could see the prince and his court positioning themselves at the front line of so much that came to define Britain in its heyday. This book is my contribution to the restoration of Henry, Prince of Wales into an iconic, colourful character standing tall in his time and place, on the stage of British history.