I adore this new/ongoing Penguin series on British (predominantly English) kings and queens — partly because I love our long line of bizarre monarchs, at least once they are safely dead, and more importantly because the cover designs are beautiful.
My favourite safely dead monarch, incidently, is Henry VII, fugitive survivor and slightly machiavellian, eminently pragmatic administrator of the realm, although his reign became somewhat dystopian in its final years; but this is a selection of my favourite designs.
Edward II, reigned 1307-27. Kit Marlowe evidently had many feelings (don’t we all?). Richard II tried to have him canonised, perhaps in order to make the unflattering comparisons between himself and Edward a little more flattering and a more viable model for kingship (unsuccessfully).
Henry II, reigned 1154-89. English & French contemporary sources make for good reading about this key period in the history of Anglo-Franco relations.
Charles II, monarch of England, Scotland & Ireland 1660-85. My republican tendencies still feel let down by Oliver Cromwell and the British temperament; as regicide John Cook wrote before his execution, ‘We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom.’
Mary I, reigned 1553-58. Captions do not offer space enough to advocate for her tragic life and condemn the Marian persecutions, so I won’t.
William II, reigned 1087-1100. Often known as William Rufus (hence ‘the red king’), possible gay icon, probably murdered in the New Forest.
Also! An interview with Jonathan Gibbs, designer of the Henry II cover, on his inspiration and process.