Friend or Foe

Narrator/Presenter - Will Gompertz: It's the passing out parade at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Two hundred and fifty soon to be officers have all sworn allegiance to fight on behalf of the British monarch. They have been performing this ceremony for two hundred years. But the link between the monarchy and those chosen to fight on its behalf goes back much, much further in time. The monarch might not reign over an empire any more but the Queen's international connections are still pretty impressive - the Head of the CIA for one.

PRESENTER: Duncan, isn't that General Petraeus?

DUNCAN: Yes. General Petraeus is the Queen's representative.

NARRATOR: Keeping friends and fighting foes strengthens both the state and its monarch. It has been ever thus and provides the link between our current queen and every sovereign since William the Conqueror. Monarchs need to be close to their friends but even closer to their warriors. You only have to step inside Sandhurst to see who's boss.

PRESENTER: The first thing you see when you walk in the entrance is a portrait of the Queen. That is the person to whom each individual member of the armed forces is signing up to defend.

MAN: Absolutely.

NARRATOR: There is an art to being a monarch. And no skill is more important than survival. History shows us that when a monarch fails in war, when they fail to defend their realm, their throne is at risk. Our present queen is the latest person to head an institution that has survived and thrived for a thousand years. And you don't do that without banging a few heads together. In this series I'm examining the art of being a successful monarch by looking at some of the monarchs' arts, art and artefacts that our kings and queens have acquired down the centuries which now form part of the royal collection, one of the most wide-ranging, remarkable and surprising collections in the world. Today we put the royal collection on a war footing.

GENERAL Sir MIKE JACKSON: We all in uniform take an oath of allegiance which is to Queen Elizabeth the Second, heirs and successors.

NARRATOR: And look at six very different objects covering seven hundred years.

PRESENTER: That's a ridiculous size for a sword. Surely, totally unusable.

SIMON METCALF: Yes, it's a bearing sword.

NARRATOR: There are stories of murder.

Deborah Clark: They stabbed him fifty six times.

NARRATOR: Together they show how the monarchy has won at war and kept the peace.

MAN: These are the equipment the Queen needs in order to do her job.

NARRATOR: All of which of course is part of the art of monarchy.

PRESENTER: Thank you very much.

NARRATOR: Security is tight at Windsor Castle.

MAN: That will be the alarm.

NARRATOR: It always has been.

PRESENTER: The grand staircase at Windsor Castle is an imposing, intimidating place.

NARRATOR: I'm surrounded by swords, flags and heraldic images. But I haven't come deep inside the walls of Windsor Castle to look at these articles of war. I've come here to see how a young princess goes to war.

SOPHIE GORDON: She's replacing spark plugs.

NARRATOR: Sophie Gordon is Senior Curator of photographs.

PRESENTER: How do you know that?

SOPHIE GORDON: Because that's what it says on the label on the back of the photograph.

PRESENTER: I accept that explanation.

NARRATOR: OK, it's not Henry the Fifth at Agincourt but in terms of the modern monarchy at war where one picture can encourage a nation to fight on, such images have an important role to play. Sophie Gordon is holding a black and white photo of the then heir to the throne Princess Elizabeth in her army overalls repairing a military truck.

SOPHIE GORDON: This is actually a press photograph. It was taken in order to be published at the time. And it was released in fact shortly before Princess Elizabeth's nineteenth birthday so in April nineteen forty five.

PRESENTER: Interesting when you say "press" Sophie because what we really mean is a propaganda photograph isn't it?

SOPHIE GORDON: It was there to show a member of the royal family involved in the war effort yes. It shows the Princess in a manner that perhaps no one would have imagined that they would see her. She's dressed in overalls. She's working. She's got her hands under a bonnet and is doing mechanical work. So very different image to the way that one normally expect princesses to be depicted.

NARRATOR: Knowing that your monarch is backing your country at a time of crisis, doing their bit to oil the machinery of war, literally sometimes, has always been important to the credibility of the monarchy. Sandhurst and military historian Duncan Anderson outlined to me the very special relationship that exists between the British armed forces and the Queen.

Duncan Anderson: Men will fight for their mates. An army has to be built up from small components. And so you start with the smallest component is the section, so eight to ten men, something like that. And then that forms the platoon. You get three sections together and you get thirty men, you get three of those together and you've got a company, that's a hundred and then you get four or five companies together and that will give you about five hundred. And you'll have your colonel commanding it, will be the Colonel Commandant of your regiment. Now the Colonel Commandant may actually very often be a member of the royal family, a Prince of Wales for example, or the Queen herself, so that the monarch becomes really part of your unit. So when you're actually fighting it's not just for your mates, it's also for that person who is the very embodiment of your regiment and that is the monarch.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: The monarch is the head of state and thereby personifies the nation.

NARRATOR: Sir General Mike Jackson.

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: We all in uniform take an oath of allegiance which is to Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, not to this or that government but to the head of state. It's that personification of the nation which brings it together.

PRESENTER: How important are those visual messages that the royal family, the monarch is still willing to roll up his or her sleeve and get involved?

GENERAL SIR MIKE JACKSON: It's that demonstration of being at the heart of the country's life. I just old enough to remember the extraordinary influence of George the Sixth during the second world war. He symbolised the resistance of the nation. And that personification of what the nation is about is really I think at the heart of it.

NARRATOR: It's no longer thought to be a good idea for a monarch to lead the troops into battle. The symbolism of a slain king or queen would severely damage the morale of the armed forces while delivering a propaganda coup to the enemy. Historian Sir David Cannadine.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: Historically monarchs have led the troops into battle but of course not since George the Second has a British monarch led the troops into battle. So on the one side as the monarchy has become less, as it were, front line in a military sense that connection has in some ways perhaps as it were "uncoupled" but in other ways I think that connection has got much stronger. One of the iconic pictures of the present queen is that picture of her training to be a car mechanic for the army in the second world war and that remains hugely significant as of course do the famous pictures of her riding on her horse to the Trooping of the Colour. So that even if you have a woman as monarch some sense of identification with the military remains even then.

NARRATOR: That press photograph of Princess Elizabeth doing her bit in the ATS is an example of a future monarch forging a relationship with her military and encouraging the country to support the war effort. It helped to cement what is now a strong relationship with her own armed forces and also with those belonging to allies.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: It is a great privilege and a true honour to represent Her Majesty the Queen at ..

NARRATOR: General Petraeus, now Head of the CIA is giving his passing out speech to those recruits at Sandhurst.

GENERAL PETRAEUS: Indeed the sense of history is overwhelming.

NARRATOR: And that history is filled with tales of warrior monarchs who shared General Petraeus's belief that you lead from the front. The technology might have changed in the last seven hundred years but the intention hasn't.

CHARLOTTE MANLEY: There were two windows. There was a Benjamin West window and then ..

NARRATOR: Charlotte Manley, the Chapter Clerk in St George's Chapel, Windsor, is introducing me to the most substantial sword I've ever seen.

PRESENTER: There's the sword. Cos it looks like it could have come out of the Sheffield steel factory.

SIMON METCALF: It does but it isn't ..

PRESENTER: About two days ago.

NARRATOR: It belonged to King Edward the Third and looks more than capable of delivering some medieval shock and awe.

SIMON METCALF: No. I mean it is extraordinary ..

NARRATOR: Simon Metcalf the royal armourer gave me its vital statistics.

SIMON METCALF: It's six foot eight and a quarter inches long.

PRESENTER: That's a ridiculous size for a sword. Surely, totally unusable.

SIMON METCALF: Yes. What it is is it's a bearing sword so it's a symbol of Edward the Third's power and it's telling you he is in charge, he is ..

PRESENTER: A mighty fellow.


NARRATOR: Edward the Third was not one to shy away from a fight, a point he made very publicly with this enormous sword, a piece of fourteenth century iconography to show that the King was up to speed in the arms race.

MARK ORMROD: Edward the Third had a really strong sense of what England needed from a successful king.

NARRATOR: Mark Ormrod, Professor of Medieval History at the University of York.

MARK ORMROD: He came to the throne under very difficult circumstances. His father Edward the Second had been disposed. The monarchy was not in a good state and its reputation was very, very much damaged. What he did then was to set about rebuilding both the national and the international image and status of his own kingship. And an emphatic part of that was the making of war against his enemies.

PRESENTER: How old is it Simon?

SIMON METCALF: It dates from Edward the Third's reign so it's thirteen twenty seven to seventy seven. When I first saw it I didn't believe it to be honest but looking in the chapel archives, incredibly we have if you like the conservation or cleaning records for this sword going back to thirteen eighty six. So it's been here in the chapel since his reign.

MARK ORMROD: Edward the Third like all effective fighting kings of the middle ages had to choose his enemies carefully. And he was in the fortunate position of having two near neighbours that he could in a sense pick off really rather easily. The first was the Kingdom of Scotland but that was small scale really in comparison with France.

SIMON METCALF: This might sound crazy. Everybody looks at swords and go "Oh they're made of steel" but you don't actually know whether they're iron or steel until you do a scientific analysis and the only way you can do that is to polish a tiny part of the blade and look at the crystal structure. This is probably made of steel and iron.

PRESENTER: Is it steel and iron?

SIMON METCALF: Yes so you ..

PRESENTER: So a composite?


MARK ORMROD: In thirteen thirty seven when the new King of France Philip the Sixth chose to make war on Edward the King of England was then presented with a perfect propaganda opportunity. And three years later in thirteen forty he proclaimed himself unilaterally King of France.

NARRATOR: Quelling enemies abroad is a fundamental component of the art of monarchy but what about neutralising enemies from within the kingdom? Faced with a potentially rebellious aristocracy on whom he depended to levy and army, the cunning King Edward came up with a plan to use the history of another warrior king to entice his knights to form a new Camelot.

CHARLOTTE MANLEY: Edward the Third was born in Windsor and he wanted to found a Chivalric order which still exists to this day.


CHARLOTTE MANLEY: Because, well for several reasons. Partly because he was a fan of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table so he had that sort of myth background that he wanted to emulate. He was a person who needed a loyal band of knights. He was forever fighting the French and therefore to have people loyal to him, and one of the ways of making people loyal was to make them part of a special club. But this was an extra special one because it had a fighting element to it but it also had a chivalric and an ecclesiastical element to it.

MARK ORMROD: Edward the third was a natural showman. He understood the power of image. And right from the beginning of his reign he used chivalry as a means of creating a powerful sense of himself as a military leader and a charismatic figure in his kingdom.

NARRATOR: Looking back at the Garter coats of arms in St George's which go back to Edward the Third it's clear that the type and cast of characters has changed. It now includes foreign kings and queens, members of the current royal family and ex prime ministers.

CHARLOTTE MANLEY: His banner has a portcullis. Now most heraldic portcullises have five points. But this particular one only has three points.


CHARLOTTE MANLEY: Which are stumps. And on top of each of those three points is a round, red ball so for cricket cos of course John Major is a cricket fan.

MARK ORMROD: Edward the Third and his friends really did feel that they were recreating the Court of King Arthur, that Windsor Castle was the new Camelot, that their destiny within the world was framed by the ambition and success of King Arthur.

NARRATOR: And nothing sums up that sense of a king who leads from the front fired by a passion for legend better than Edward's mighty ceremonial sword. It was his Excalibur.

PRESENTER: Which room are we in?

NARRATOR: Now we know Henry the Eighth like Edward the Third wasn't one to duck a fight but there were times when he thought a spot of diplomacy might be preferable. We have chosen a painting from the royal collection that epitomises a monarch deciding his best chance of staying in power was to avoid war not to start one. In fifteen twenty the Treaty of London, a pact of non-aggression between Europe's great powers was starting to fall apart. In an attempt to patch things up Cardinal Wolsey arranged a meeting between Henry and Francis the First of France. The idea being that they could have some fun and games, show off a bit, make friends. The meeting happened near Calais in a place that is now known as the field of the cloth of gold. The event was captured from I should say a very English point of view in a large painting that now hangs in the Wolsey Room at Hampton Court.

JENNIFER SCOTT: This is a horizontal painting which takes up the whole of this wall. It's ..

PRESENTER: Is that eight foot wide?

NARRATOR: Royal collection curator Jennifer Scott.

JENNIFER SCOTT: It's storytelling really. And it shows a large group of people on horseback with Henry the Eighth at the centre, riding round in an arc and entering a castle.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: The field of the cloth of gold is brilliant.

NARRATOR: Doctor Anna Whitelock is a lecturer in early modern history at the University of London.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: I mean it's like the ultimate kind of summit. It's a European Summit in a way that we've never seen really since. It's Tudor bling. It's French bling on such a big scale.

JENNIFER SCOTT: It's got a landscape beyond which is quite rudimentarily painted. It looks a little bit na�ve but in the centre of that is what looks like a tournament field with a gold tent in the middle and then on the right foreground there is a wonderfully painted palace. It looks completely stable but in fact was a temporary palace that was set up for this meeting at the field of cloth of gold between Henry the Eighth and Francis the First.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: We have here two late twenties kings. They both want to be seen as the warrior king in Europe. They're competitive, they're both seen as quite sort of attractive, virile young men and you know they want to do what young men want to do which is kind of wrestle and drink and fight and hang out together.

NARRATOR: This picture is hilarious. Henry the Eighth dominates the scene. In his mind he is clearly the only star of the show. It is all about Henry and English supremacy. This depiction of a great event has to my mind been put up to project English power and wealth.

Jennifer Scott: Absolutely. And it's the build up to the triple alliance between Francis the First, Henry the Eighth and also Charles the Fifth, the holy Roman emperor. And it's this sort of false sense of solidarity between these three leaders who in fact were completely in competition between one another.

NARRATOR: Henry's efforts at the field of the cloth of gold worked in the short term. But before long he was once again leading an army, not a diplomatic mission, onto the fields of France. That spirit of a shared occasion livened up with a few games as a way of keeping the peace and making friends as espoused by Henry in fifteen twenty is still part of the monarch's role today. Take for example the Commonwealth Games.

PRESENTER: I thought it was going to be a quick one floor staircase, turns out to be this spiral ..

NARRATOR: But there comes a time in a monarch's life when the fun has to stop. For some it is because of war, for others it is a case of murder.

DEBORAH CLARKE: Mary was having supper, just in that little room there.

NARRATOR: Deborah Clark a curator at the royal collection at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh tells a story of how the husband of Mary Queen of Scots slaughtered his wife's advisor.

DEBORAH CLARK: Darnley and others who he plotted with came up the spiral staircase there, from his apartments, grabbed hold of Rizzio and they pulled him out here and they stabbed him.

PRESENTER: Where we're standing?

DEBORAH CLARK: Where we're standing, apparently fifty six times.

PRESENTER: We've just walked over to the table at the end of Mary Queen of Scots' bed and Deborah's picked up a miniature portrait of Mary. She's wearing formal dress, she's got a high collar, she's wearing a headdress with pearls, it's on a blue background. On her fourth finger of her right hand she appears to be putting on a ring. Is that significant Deborah?

DEBORAH CLARKE: Yes it is because this portrait of Mary commemorates her marriage to the dauphin of France.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: This miniature portrait is dated fifteen fifty eight.

NARRATOR: Anna Whitelock.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: Which of course is the year that Elizabeth came to the throne so it's a kind of good moment to think about their relationship which was, well I mean they were cousins. They were both queens and they were both enemies and of course right from the start, right from Elizabeth's accession she claims the English crown.

NARRATOR: The turbulent and tragic life of Mary Queen of Scots is one story that shows us the darks arts of monarchy because it was her very existence that drove one of England's most iconic queens to take radical and dramatic action. Within thirty years of this portrait being painted a queen would have been killed by a queen. This apparently serene image at Holyrood conceals a bloody game that will be played out between Queen Elizabeth the First and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots.

PRESENTER: How old is she in it do you think?

DEBORAH CLARK: She's sixteen.

PRESENTER: She looks older.

WOMAN: Yes, she does. I think because to convey the formal side of her and to make her look regal I suppose.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: And of course for lots of Catholics Elizabeth the First was a bastard. I mean she was daughter of the whore Anne Boleyn and so for them when Elizabeth came to the throne she was in no way the legitimate ruler. It was actually Mary Queen of Scots. So right from that moment Mary Queen of Scots is a rival and a total headache for Elizabeth.

PRESENTER: Do you think this picture could have in any way done Mary a disservice in the eyes of Elizabeth the first because she does look so formidable and she does look so beautiful?

DEBORAH CLARK: I think that's a fair point. Apparently she did ask questions of people who knew Mary or had seen Mary, "How beautiful is she? What are her eyes like? What is her hair like?" So she was obviously aware of this so yes I think Elizabeth may have been a bit worried about it.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: After Elizabeth signs a death warrant she regrets it and it was definitely what she didn't want to do. But I think at that point such were the kind of forces around her that she had no choice.

NARRATOR: The fact is Elizabeth's dramatic and murderous decision worked. She certainly understood the ruthless art of monarchy and went on to be one of the most successful sovereigns in our history. Having a dispute with your family is one thing. Falling out with your people is quite another. Mind you, the result tends to be the same. The next object in the royal collection is a gold plated apology. It takes us to the bloody period of the English civil war.

KATHRYN JONES: It's pure fantasy. The top ..

PRESENTER: Straight out of Disney.

KATHRYN JONES: Absolutely. The crown at the top is no, has no practical function. But what I love about it is that it has little canons poking out around the top.

NARRATOR: Charles the First was the only English monarch to be executed. His death warrant was not signed by a relation but by what is now the people's representative - parliament. It led to the only interruption to the monarchy's rule throughout the institution's nigh on thousand year history. When a few years later Britain returned a king to the throne in the shape of Charles the Second there were some, such as the City of Exeter feeling a little embarrassed about the part they had played in what had gone on. They wanted to make amends, an apology you can see if you visit the Tower of London.

PRESENTER: It is what? It is eighteen inches high. It's looks to be about ten inches wide. It's ..

NARRATOR: I'm there with the royal collection's Kathryn Jones and what is now known as the Exeter Salt. It is a glittering gold coated pile in the shape of a turreted castle encrusted with seventy three jewels. Handsome for sure but not a particularly practical salt cellar.

PRESENTER: Is it gold?

KATHRYN JONES: It's silver gilt. Yes.

PRESENTER: You wouldn't be picking it up and tipping it upside down to knock salt out of it would you?

KATHRYN JONES: Certainly not.

PRESENTER: Why was it so important? Was it just because salt was a very rare thing?

KATHRYN JONES: Well I mean traditionally the salt was the luxury item in sitting, in relation to the salt was you know, was the be all and end all ...


KATHRYN JONES: Yes exactly.

DR TODD GRAY: You can look at the Exeter Salt as a crucial piece in what was a propaganda campaign by the city to convince the new king that they were going to be loyal from then on.

NARRATOR: Exeter historian Doctor Todd Gray.

DR TODD GRAY: Now Exeter remembers itself as a royalist city and not as a parliamentarian city. We believe the propaganda so much that we feel that we were faithful during the civil war when we were not. And I think the salt has shown how successful the city was in the sixteen sixties in creating this myth about loyalty to the crown because the city is now very fond I think, it's very difficult to find anybody who isn't very fond of the Queen.

NARRATOR: The Exeter Salt wonderfully captures a moment in Britain's history. It was initially acquired on behalf of Oliver Cromwell to support his rule. But when he died and the tide of public opinion changed it ended up being given to Charles the Second as a coronation gift. Whether he was aware of that at the time doesn't really matter because what it demonstrates is that sometimes if a monarchy is to survive it is best to simply forgive and forget.

NARRATOR: The passing out parade at Sandhurst is coming to an end. There was just time for Duncan Anderson to show me one last painting from Sandhurst's collection.

DUNCAN ANDERSON: The two princes - Prince Harry on the extreme right with Prince William to his right, the Duke of Edinburgh in the background, the Queen in the foreground.

PRESENTER: Is she grandmother and mother?


PRESENTER: Or is she head of the armed forces?

DUNCAN ANDERSON: She's head of the armed forces and she's the grandmother of the ... officer ... being commissioned.

NARRATOR: The picture portrays Queen Elizabeth the Second as the matriarch, the head of her own family as well as the armed forces. It shows a women who has knitted the two together for the benefit of both. The instinct and inclination to intertwine personal and public interests in such a way has been central to the monarchy's success but few sovereigns have understood the art of building a dynasty quite as well as Queen Victoria as our final item from the royal collection attests.

PRESENTER: Sophie we've got a whopping great photograph album here.

NARRATOR: Sophie Gordon, Windsor Castle.

SOPHIE GORDON: This is an extended family gathering. They've come together in April eighteen ninety four to celebrate the wedding of two of Queen Victoria's grandchildren.

PRESENTER: To her right is her daughter, Victoria's son, her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm.


PRESENTER: Above him by two people is Queen Victoria's son, the future Edward the Seventh. I mean the politics of this picture are extraordinary aren't they?

SOPHIE GORDON: They are. There's all sorts of family alliances in existence and being created as well.

PRESENTER: So Queen Victoria within her direct blood line, of either her own children or her grandchildren, has set up the future King of England, Kaiser Wilhelm the leader in Germany, and Tsar Nicholas the Second, are all intimately tied.

SOPHIE GORDON: Yes intimately.

PRESENTER: And then catastrophically fall out.

SOPHIE GORDON: Yes. And it's just that tragic shattering of national ties and personal ties at the same time.

NARRATOR: Monarchies across Europe were wiped out by war and revolution in the twentieth century but not in Britain where it survived and continues to do so. Sir David Cannadine.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: One of things I think is very interesting about late nineteenth and early twentieth century monarchies is the way in which they're doing lots of different things at the same time. They're an icon of national identity, they're part of this European cast of royalty and they're an icon of imperial identity as well. They're kind of multitasking in terms of the geographical reference group to which they belong and which in some sense they articulate and embody. And one of things I suppose that's happened to the British monarchy over the last hundred years or so is that it's largely given up on the European connection. It's much strengthened its national connection and in a way that no other monarchy has. It's managed to reinvent the imperial connection so that the Queen today although no longer an imperial monarch is still head of the commonwealth. I think the way in which the British monarchy has adapted so much more successfully and so much more resourcefully than other monarchies is part of the key to its survival. But I think we should also never lose sight of the fact that another reason the British monarchy has survived is simply a four letter word and that's "Luck".

NARRATOR: Of course that's true. But then to paraphrase an old golf pro the more the monarchy plan the luckier they seem to get, which I think has been demonstrated by the objects we've been looking at from the royal collection. The monarchy has proved itself to be shrewd, brave, patriotic and at times brutal. Yes there has been malice aforethought and the establishment of cosy clubs but there's also been the quest for peace and the protection of subjects. Lucky? Yes. But there is no doubt that there is also an art to monarchy. In the next programme I will be exploring the role of faith and how the monarchy has had to reform and reinvent the church in order to survive. It was a close run thing.

DESMOND SHAWE-TAYLOR: We have to remember whose authority the monarch carries. She has to remember or he has to remember whom she or he is answerable to.

NARRATOR: And the glorious items which reflect a change in faith over one thousand years.

PRESENTER: Oh my goodness. That was magnificent. It's covered in diamonds.