“Royal Secrets” is a fascinating chronicle of human nature in power – its vices and virtues, strengths and failings. It is also an original and exciting guide to the huge sweep of European history out of whose bloody struggles for power the great European traditions of democracy, justice and chivalry painfully emerged.
The ancient cult of royalty has always fascinated and inspired writers, historians and diarists. Stepping beyond the well-worn paths of history books, these half hour films will use little-known anecdotal stories to bring the personalities of those distant figures vividly to life.
Good King Wenceslas unfortunately had a wicked brother. The ingenious killers of England’s Edward II left no trace of foul play — except his screams. France’s Henry IV survived nineteen assassins–until he went for a fateful ride.
Britons believed Richard III had murdered his two nephews in the Tower of London, until one of them came back to life. The son of Ivan the Terrible took power after his father’s death, or was the son dead too? Denmark was once ruled by an ordinary German doctor who slept his way to power.
Sometimes keeping power is harder than getting it. The Normans triumphed on the battlefield but were undone by Mother Nature. The Hapsburgs decided to keep power in the family, and the decision proved their undoing. The Medicis lived, and died, under the spell of a curse.
04 Law & Disorder
In trying to bring justice to England, Henry II brought about one of history’s most infamous murders. Henry VII dusted off an outdated law and ate his way to power. Writing two laws a day, Joseph II of Austria failed to please most of his people most of the time, and brought his empire to the brink of revolution.
Elizabeth I ushered in England’s age of glory, yet sacrificed herself in the bargain. Louis XIV gave Europe its most glorious palace, yet it was really a monument to fear. England’s Edward I earned his glory the hard way, on the battlefield, by hammering the Scots and ringing Wales with castles.
Ivan the Terrible killed more people than any monarch in history — hundreds with his own hands, and enjoyed it. The most famous murder mystery stars a real king: Macbeth. Also: the fatal insanity of Erik XIV of Sweden.
The reign of Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, was clouded by black magic. The Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II believed he was possessed by the devil, and resorted to sorcery to exorcise him. The sister-in-law of England’s Henry VI tried to destroy him with witchcraft, and nearly succeeded.
Richard the Lionheart of England went down in legend as a kind king and a great warrior. In fact, he taxed his countrymen to the hilt, got himself captured, and taxed them again to pay his ransom. Frederick the Great proved so brilliant on the battlefield that his tactics are still studied today.
When the love of his life died, Henry III of France went on a binge of free spending, cross-dressing, and self-flagellation, until he got himself killed. Peter the Great dragged Russia out of the Dark Ages yet had his own dark side: he collected freaks of nature, and took a personal interest in torture.
When monarchs erred, they erred on a grand scale. Queen Adelaide of Sicily married a cad and was conned out of her wealth dowry: Charles VI of Austria not only bankrupted his nation, he left it defenseless. James IV of Scotland fell under the spell of a drunken quack.
A royal affair could be a dangerous liaison. Anne Boleyn flirted with Henry VIII and lost her head. England’s Princess Caroline had flings on the side, like her husband, George IV, but fell victim to double standards. France’s Louis XV was the lustiest monarch in history, and paid for it with his life.
12 Kiss Of Death
An affair with a queen could be an affair to remember, if you survived. France’s Marguerite of Valois was like a black widow, because her lovers later died suddenly. Catherine the Great of Russia used her lover to help win her throne, then tossed him aside.