The English Crown is one of the oldest surviving governing institutions in the world. Hosted by the erudite, energetic Dr. David Starkey (The Six Wives of Henry VIII), seen on public television, this splendid documentary presents the complete history of British royal rule from the Dark Ages to the early 20th century. Filmed on location, it's a vivid tapestry of bloodshed, power, and passion.
Episode 1: The Early Kings
After Roman rule dissolves, England suffers wave after wave of Anglo-Saxon and Viking invaders. Out of this chaos, leaders such as Alfred the Great and Canute the Viking set the standard for English kingship, ruling nobles as "the first among equals." Then, in 1066, William the Conqueror arrives from the Continent with the civilizing ideals of the chivalry and a whole new concept of monarchy.
Episode 2: Medieval Monarchs
Charismatic and commanding, Henry II clashes with his former friend Thomas Becket, opening a rift with Rome. His line extends through Richard the Lionheart, who bankrolls the Crusades; John, who signs the Magna Carta; Edward I, "Hammer of the Scots," whom moviegoers know from Braveheart; and eventually Henry V, Shakespeare's hero, who turns his attention to conquest.
Episode 3: A New Dynasty
The succession of nine-month-old Henry VI leads to a long period of intrigue and bloodshed known as the War of the Roses, as the white rose of York vies for power with the red rose of Lancaster. Alternately passing between these two houses, the crown is finally seized by Henry Tudor, who returns from exile in France, kisses the sand, and boldly imposes his will.
Episode 4: The Imperial King
With a warrior mentality worth of his hero, Henry V, an a lust for fame as fiery as any modern rock star's, Henry VIII defies Pope and people in his pursuit of love and a male heir. He brings the monarchy to the pinnacle of its power, but ultimately allows personal passions to drive his political agenda -- profoundly changing England and the crown forever.
Episode 5: A Question of Succession
After six marriages ending in two divorces, two executions, and one tragic bereavement, Henry dies, having produced three children. Which will succeed him? Edward, the fiery Protestant, dies in his teens. Mary follows, briefly restoring Catholicism but delivering only bloody cruelty and a phantom pregnancy. Finally, Elizabeth emerges from her role as "Second Person" to wear the crown as the magnificent Virgin Queen.
Episode 6: Revolution and the Republic
James -- son of Mary, Queen of Scots -- ascends the throne and assumes the role of peacemaker. The peace proves short-lived, however, as bitter disputes with Parliament culminate in civil war and the execution of Charles I. The kingless country rests uneasily under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, self-styled Lord Protector. When Cromwell's death leaves a power vacuum, Charles II returns in triumph, restores the monarchy, and ends a national identity crisis.