The earliest known humans arrived in the British Isles around 900,000 years ago. Prehistory (the time before written records) stretches from then until the Roman invasion in AD 43.
The Romans stayed in Britain for almost four centuries. In some parts of the country they were met with rebellion and resistance, but in more peaceful areas cities were founded, villas constructed and a network of roads developed. By the seventh century, England was made up of different Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, all fighting for power.
(Anglo-Saxon (a term to distinguish the Saxons of Britain from those of the European continent (the invaders from three tribes, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes)) describes any member of the Germanic peoples who, from the 5th century, inhabited and ruled territories that are today part of England and Wales. )
(“Anglo-Saxon” continues to be used to refer to a period in the history of Britain, generally defined as the years between the end of Roman occupation and the Norman Conquest.)
Between 865-878, the Vikings from Denmark invaded all of the kingdoms, apart from the kingdom of Wessex. In 901, the rulers of Wessex slowly began to take back these lost kingdoms.
Then, in 927, the king of the Anglo-Saxons, Athelstan, became the first King of England. His rule ended in 1066, when William of Normandy (a region in what is now France) defeated King Harold II of England at the Battle of Hastings. William claimed the English throne, and became known as William the Conqueror.
(By the time of the Norman Conquest (1066), the kingdom that had developed from the realm of the Anglo-Saxon peoples had become known as England, and Anglo-Saxon as a collective term for the region’s people was eventually supplanted by “English.”)
Ruling families could rule for many years, creating dynasties. There have been six main dynasties:
- Norman (1066-1154)
- Plantagenet (also called the house of Anjou or the Angevin dynasty). (1154-1485)
- Tudor (Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. This battle ended the Wars of the Roses. Henry Tudor became King Henry VII). (1485-1603)
- Stuart (the Tudor line ended when Elizabeth I died in 1603; the crown passed to her cousin James (at the time he was James VI, king of Scotland) of the house of Stuart (or Stewart). (1603-1714)
Until 1603 the English and Scottish Crowns were separate, although links between the two were always close – members of the two Royal families intermarried on many occasions.
Following the Accession of King James VI of Scotland as King James I of England to the English Throne, a single monarch reigned in the United Kingdom.
- Hanover (Hanover was a German state, and both George I and George II were born in Germany. George III was the first of the Hanoverian line to be born in England. (1714-1901)
Queen Victoria, born on May 24, 1819, the daughter of George III, and became queen in 1837, was the last monarch of the House of Hanover. With the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, son of Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha came into the British Royal Family in 1840. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, the house of Hanover came to an end.
- Windsor (Victoria was succeeded by her son Edward VII. His dynasty was at first called the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It encompassed the reign of King Edward VII, who reigned for nine years at the beginning of the modern age in the early years of the twentieth century, and the first seven years of his son, King George V. (1901-present).
The House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, as a British dynasty of that name, was short-lived. During World War I, Britain was fighting Germany. George V replaced the German-sounding ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ with ‘Windsor’ in 1917.
(The name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha survived in other European monarchies, including the current Belgian Royal Family and the former monarchies of Portugal and Bulgaria.)
By George V’s Proclamation of July 18, 1917, it was decreed “that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor …”
“… and that all the descendants in the male line of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who may marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor”.
Windsor remains the family name of the current Royal Family.
The early English kings were absolute monarchs, or rulers with total power over the kingdom. Over time, much of the English monarch’s power was transferred to Parliament. In 1215 King John was forced by English nobles to sign a document called the Magna Carta, which placed some limits on the king’s power.
The English Bill of Rights of 1689 made the king responsible to Parliament and subject to the country’s laws. In 1701 the Act of Settlement further limited the role of the monarch.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch shares power with a constitutionally organized government. The reigning king or queen is the country’s head of state. All political power rests with the prime minister (the head of government) and the cabinet, and the monarch must act on their advice. (Information here is primarily from Britannica.)
Queen Victoria and Queen Emma
Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, London, on May 24, 1819. She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent (fourth son of George III). She became heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in succession – George IV, Frederick Duke of York and William IV – had no legitimate children who survived.
On William IV’s death, she became Queen at the age of 18 on June 20, 1837. Queen Victoria is associated with Britain’s great Victorian Era of industrial expansion, economic progress and, especially, empire. (At her death, it was said, Britain had a worldwide empire on which the sun never set.) (British Monarchy)
Across the globe, John Young, a Briton who came to the Hawaiian Islands in 1790 and befriended and supported Kamehameha, was called Olohana (“All Hands!”) He had four children,—Jane, Fannie, Grace and John Young Jr.
Young’s daughter, Fanny, married George Naea; they had a daughter, Emma, born on January 2, 1836. Emma was adopted by her aunt Grace Young & husband, Mr. Thomas Charles Byde Rooke. On June 9, 1856, Emma married Alexander Liholiho, King Kamehameha IV, and then was known as Queen Emma. (Restarick)
Queen Victoria and Queen Emma were unlike in more than the size of their realms. Victoria was almost a generation older than Emma. Victoria had nine children, the last one born in 1857, a year before Emma’s one and only child, Albert.
Queen Victoria and Queen Emma exchanged letters; many of them sad exchanges about the losses experienced by each. The correspondence between the two queens began in September 1862, with Queen Emma’s announcement of the death of Albert, her son and Queen Victoria’s godson.
It took 6-months for letter exchanges – at least 3-months for a letter to travel each way from Hawaiʻi to England. (Kanahele)
Queen Emma’s first letter (September 10, 1862) expresses her appreciation to Queen Victoria for her willingness to be godmother to Emma’s only child, Prince Albert …
”As a wife and fond mother, my heart overflows with gratitude to your Majesty, for the honour which you have been so graciously pleased to render to the King, my husband, and to our only son, in condescending to become his sponsor, at his baptism.”
However, that same letter also notified Queen Victoria that Prince Albert had died … “But, alas! Your Majesty’s spiritual relation to my beloved child has been of short duration, for it pleased Almighty God, in his inscrutable Providence, to call him away from this world, on the 17th August, only a few days after his baptism.” Queen Emma signed it: “Your Good & Grateful friend – Emma.”
Victoria, in mourning for years after the death of her husband in December 1861, replied (February 14, 1863) on her personal notepaper, marked with a wide black border on the paper and envelope and sealed with black sealing wax.
“As a Mother you will understand how fully I am able to appreciate the depth of your grief, at the sad loss which so soon succeeded to the Holy Ceremony. As a wife I can sincerely hope that you may be spared the heavier blow which has plunged me into life long sorrow,—but which makes my heart tenderly alive to all the sorrows of others.”
Later that year, Alexander Liholiho (King Kamehameha IV,) Emma’s husband, died. On February 14, 1864, she wrote to Victoria of the news and her grief, signing, “I remain Your Majesty’s afflicted but grateful friend”.
“My heart is very, very heavy while I make known to Your Majesty that God has visited me with that great trouble which in your kind and consoling letter you said you hoped I might be spared.”
“On the 30th. November my Husband, of whose danger I had never entertained one thought, expired suddenly, almost while in the act of speaking to me, and it was a long while before they could make me believe that what I saw was death and that he had really left me alone for the remainder of my life.”
“This blow has been very hard on me. It seems truly as yesterday that we lost our beautiful boy Albert, Your Majestys Godson, of whom I am afraid we were too fond and proud, and from whom we looked for such great things, flattering ourselves that his very name gave an assurance of his becoming as he grew up, every thing that is good and true and Prince-like.”
Victoria replied (June 14, 1864,) “My bleeding heart can truly sympathize with you in your terrible desolation! A dear & promising only child & a beloved Husband have both been taken from you within two years! Time does not heal the really stricken heart!”
“May God give you strength to bear up under your heavy affliction. I remain Your Majesty’s affectionate & unhappy friend Victoria R.” (The phrase “unhappy friend” was often used by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert. (Hackler))
For the next 20 years, the two Queens wrote each other from time to time, sharing news of family events, happy and tragic. They exchanged photographs and small gifts and inquired about each other’s health and that of their families.
It was not until 1865 that Queen Emma travelled to England; there, she had the rare experience of spending the night with the British royal family in Windsor Castle. Victoria never made it to the Islands.
“The highlight of Emma’s visit was her audience with her son’s godmother and the ruler of the most powerful nation in the world and hence the most powerful woman in the world, Queen Victoria. She had looked forward to the meeting since her first letter recounting her son’s death.”
“But so was had Queen Victoria who, according to Prime Minister Lord John Russell, was ‘anxious to show her every attention and civility, & will be much interested in seeing her.’” (Kanahele)
In writing her appreciation for the visit, Emma wrote (December 12, 1865,) “Allow me to say with how much gratitude and affection I shall always cherish the remembrance of you and yours and with what pleasure I feel that I may subscribe myself My dear Madam, Your very sincere and faithful friend, Emma”
The last known letter exchange between the two was in 1882, Victoria responded to Emma, “My dear Friend, You wrote me a most kind letter on the occasion of the attempt on my life … We are now engaged in a war which I hope will be of short duration …”
“We were pleased to make the acquaintance of King Kalakaua and I would ask you to remember me to him. With renewed expressions of friendship and esteem, Your majesty’s affectionate friend, Victoria R.I.”
In 1883, Emma suffered the first of several small strokes and died two years later on April 25, 1885 at the age of 49; Queen Victoria died on January 20, 1901. (Information here is from Hackler and her paper, ‘My Dear Friend.’)