Worst Royal Family Feuds from History

For royals of the past, Christmas has not always been a joyous time. True stories of imprisonment, assassination and execution might put our modern family quarrels into perspective.

Left: Elizabeth I by Biagio Rebecca After Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger © English Heritage Right: Eleanor, wife of Henry II, who imprisoned her for 16 years until Christmas 1184

From Queen Elizabeth signing her cousin's death warrant to Queen Victoria's chilly greeting to her daughter, history shows that Christmas isn't just a challenge for the modern family, but for the royals of the past too. So avoid family tensions this Christmas by escaping the house and enjoying an afternoon out.

With more historic houses, castles and abbeys opening between Christmas and New Year in 2015, wherever you are in the country you can break away from being cooped up indoors and enjoy one of many English Heritage properties. Plus, with two-for-one entry over the festive period, why not invite the extended family along too?

No family wants to argue in the festive season, and getting away from home is a great way to break any tensions.

Jeremy Ashbee, Head Curator at English Heritage, said:

"History shows us that feuds can often break out at Christmas, sometimes with dramatic consequences. After Boxing Day, we're inviting visitors to escape the house and enjoy some quality time exploring spectacular castles and abbeys this Christmas."

Decorations at Osborne, where Queen Victoria celebrated Christmas

Worst family feuds from history

A row over the rules of a board game or who should get the last Yorkshire pudding can seem like a disaster at Christmas, but a look at some festive family arguments from Christmases past can put our modern family quarrels into perspective.

King Henry II is responsible for some of the country's most magnificent buildings, such as the Great Tower at Dover Castle, but he was a better builder of castles than family relationships, imprisoning his wife - Eleanor of Aquitaine - for 16 years and only releasing her at Christmas in 1184 to present a reunited family front and fulfil a pledge of fidelity.

Meanwhile in 1399, Henry IV's first Christmas at Windsor after deposing his cousin, Richard II, saw nobles plotting an assassination attempt, thwarted only by one of the conspirators having a last minute change of heart. It was also during the festive season at Greenwich that Queen Elizabeth drafted the formal warrant for the execution of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.

  • Queen Victoria is not amused: Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, travelled to Germany in 1884 and met a young chap she took rather a shine to. Unfortunately, the Queen disapproved of the wish to marry and refused to speak to Beatrice other than in writing for 7 months. The chill lasted until Christmas, when Beatrice's suitor visited Osborne and relations were restored.
  • Festive Force: In 1126, at the age of 58 and with no male heir to the throne, King Henry I gathered his barons, bishops and nobility and called them to swear that Henry's daughter, Matilda, be upheld as successor to the throne of England and Normandy. The nation had never had a female ruler, and the death of Henry led to a 19-year civil war ended only by a peace treaty on Christmas Day, 1153.
  • All I Warrant for Christmas: Tudor Christmas was an extravagant and joyous affair at palaces such as Windsor and Eltham, but it was while keeping Christmas at Greenwich that Queen Elizabeth drafted the formal warrant for the execution of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • By George: The Georgians knew how to have an argumentative Christmas. King George I barred his son - the future George II - from attending court at one stage. He was also barred from being Regent in George I's absence, and generally relations were less than cordial. Things got even worse with George II and his son, Prince Frederick, who seem to have genuinely loathed each other. Fuelled by 14 years apart during Frederick's childhood in Hanover, by 1737 they were barely on speaking terms, Frederick ignored by his father and not speaking to his mother. He was forced to smuggle his pregnant wife away from court to prevent her being kept there by his father.
  • Christmas Rage: Tensions had long been high between King Henry II and his former close friend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. But an inflammatory sermon on Christmas morning in 1170 saw four court knights riding to Canterbury, murdering the Archbishop on 29 December in his own church.

For more from English Heritage this festive season, follow @EnglishHeritage on Twitter.

'step into englands story