Royal Exiles From Richard the Lionheart to Charles II by Iain Soden (Review)

In the popular imagination, royal exile is a twentieth century phenomenon. The flight of Czar Nicholas II’s mother, sisters, niece, nephews and cousins from Russia following the Revolutions of 1917 has been the subject of numerous books including The Russian Court at Sea by Frances Welch and The Flight Of The Romanovs: A Family Saga by John Perry and Constantine Pleshakov. Biographies of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg,h such as John Eade’s Young Prince Philipbegin with the infant prince’s flight from Greece  with his parents and sisters in 1922 after the abdication of his Uncle, King Constantine I of Greece. From 1946 to 2002, male members of the Italy’s former royal family, the House of Savoy were legally barred from setting foot in the country.

In Royal Exiles: from Richard the Lionheart to Charles II, Iain Soden, author of Ranulf de Blondeville: The First English Hero, demonstrates that medieval royalty did not have to lose their kingdoms to find themselves in exile. Capturing royal hostages and holding them for ransom was an accepted element of warfare in the Age of Chivalry. Diplomatic negotiations could also include a hostage exchange to ensure the good faith of one or both parties involved. Soden looks at a series of case studies from medieval and early modern England, France and Scotland, revealing how royalty of the period endured exile from their kingdoms as well as the circumstances that brought them home or kept them out of their kingdoms.

There are a number of famous medieval English kings covered in Soden’s work who are better known for their successes than their periods of defeat and exile. The opening chapter covers Richard I’s imprisonment by Duke Leopold V of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, a period in the King’s life best known as the reason for his absence in 20th century interpretations of the Robin Hood legends. Contrary to popular legend, it was not the King’s minstrel who discovered his whereabouts but a pair of English abbots who followed a trail of local gossip to find the imprisoned King. Soden also reveals telling details about other kings in exile. Edward IV became involved in civic events in Bruges while an exile at the court of his sister, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and Charles II kept at least four mistresses during his “wanderings” on the continent before his Restoration to the English throne in 1660.

While, Richard I, Edward IV and Charles II ultimately escaped from imprisonment or exile and reclaimed their kingdoms, there was no happy ending for other royalty profiled in Soden’s book. Mary, Queen of Scots spent nineteen years imprisoned in a succession of remote English castles before her execution in 1587. Charles, Duke of Orleans spent twenty-five years in England after being captured during the Hundred Years War. By the time he was able to return to France, his wife and daughter were dead and the Duke is best known as the author of melancholy poetry.

Royal Exiles: from Richard the Lionheart to Charles II is a slim volume and it a shame that Soden did not expand the book with full profiles of more of the royal exiles discussed in passing in the concluding chapter. The decision to end the book with the experiences of Charles II seems arbitrary as Charles’s younger brother, James II had a highly politically significant exile in France after the Glorious Revolution. Mary, Queen of Scots is the only Scottish royal figure and the only female ruler who receives her own chapter in the book even though Scottish history is filled with fascinating examples of exiled royalty including numerous women. The imprisonment in England of King Alexander II’s sisters and Robert the Bruce’s wife, daughter and sister demonstrate that royal exile transcended gender as well as age and kingdoms.

In Royal Exiles: from Richard the Lionheart to Charles II, Soden reveals that exile has been part of the royal experience for centuries. English, French and Scottish monarchs including Kings better known as victors than victims experienced imprisonment and “wandering.” Soden provides a concise and enjoyable introduction to how medieval and early modern royalty from England, France and Scotland experienced exile from their kingdoms. There were enough royalty of the period who experienced this fate to easily fill a second volume.

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