Fit to Rule; Horizon: The Secret Life of the Cat

The second episode of Fit to Rule covered the end of the Stuarts, and the four Georges. Lucy Worsley skipped over Charles II entirely, and only briefly mentioned James II. Unlike his brother, James did actually manage to have a male heir, but unfortunately for him this is what led to his being deposed. James had converted to Catholicism much to the disgust of Parliament so when his second, Catholic wife had a son it Parliament invited William of Orange to invade. William was married to Mary, the eldest daughter of James (by his first wife) and both of them were staunch Protestants. William turned up with an army, but when he got to London James II and family fled. Worsley pointed out that this was a paradigm shift – Parliament were now the deciders of who should succeed to the throne.

William & Mary might’ve been strong in the right religion, but their health was another matter. William was physically weak – he was short & he was also asthmatic. His asthma got worse once he was living in London, so he & Mary moved to Hampton Court. This removed them from the political centre of the kingdom, which didn’t help to ease the friction between the foreign King & his Parliament. Worsley said that Mary was mentally fragile – she suffered greatly from guilt over being involved in deposing her father (which he made sure to fan the flames of, quoting the Commandments in letters to her etc). She also believed that women should not involve themselves in politics, but ended up being regent while her husband was away at war. The couple also failed to have any children – not even a single pregnancy. Worsley said that even at the time there was speculation that this was William’s fault – either through physical problems or possibly that he was gay. Whatever it was, they had no heir. Mary died young, of small pox in her 30s and William died 8 years later.

By this time Parliament had had some time to determine who should be next – Mary’s younger sister Anne who was also a Protestant. Anne’s medical history is rather sad – in 16 years she had 17 pregnancies most of which ended in miscarriage or still birth. Of the 5 who made it out alive, the longest lived child was only 11 when he died (which was before Anne took the throne). Worsley told us that contemporary doctors thought that Anne’s difficulties with pregnancy were due to an imbalance in her humours (that was still the dominant medical theory at the time) – in effect they thought she was slippery (had an excess of cold & wet humours) so the foetuses just slipped out. Obviously implausible to us today, but there’s not enough evidence of what was wrong to diagnose her from this distance of history. One thing that Worsley & the expert she was talking to did draw out was that Anne was obese, which can lead to pregnancy problems (but this wasn’t the whole problem).

Towards the end of her reign there were also rumours about her sexuality. Blenheim Palace was built by Queen Anne (using public money) for the Duke of Marlborough after his victory at the Battle of Blenheim. This caused a certain amount of political problems but it wasn’t Anne’s relationship with the Duke that caused raised eyebrows, instead it was her relationship with his wife. The two women had been very close friends for years, and scandalously treated each other as equals even after Anne became Queen. The Duchess had a lot of power and held the most important offices for a Lady of the Bedchamber and this caused resentment among others of the aristocracy. I’m not sure if there was any truth to the rumours – I don’t remember Worsley saying one way or the other.

After Anne the Stuart dynasty was over – and Parliament cast around for a suitable heir, eventually settling on George, the Elector of Hanover who was a Protestant. Worsley skipped quickly past George I, clearly other than being too German for comfort for his new country there wasn’t much wrong with him. George II didn’t have any medical problems (that Worsley told us, anyway) instead he had family drama. The Hanoverian monarchs were much more fertile than the Tudors & Stuarts had been but this lead to its own issues. Frederick, the eldest son & heir of George II, fell out with his father and this helped to further polarise British politics. The political party system was starting to get going during this era, but wasn’t yet as defined as modern political parties. Now with an adult heir who wasn’t getting on with the King there was an alternative court, so politicians in disagreement with the policies of His Majesty’s Government had a new centre they could revolve around. And the Prince of Wales could attract people to his court with promises of what would happen once he was King.

Sadly for him tho Frederick pre-deceased his father. Instead his son, George II’s grandson, George inherited. George III is famous for his madness, but Worsley was saying that it shouldn’t overshadow what was actually a very long and mostly sane reign. The madness itself is often thought to’ve been porphyria, but Worsley told us that the current theory is actually that this was a manic episode. She spoke to a doctor who has used the same techniques he uses to diagnose modern patients to look at the letters of George III before & during his madness, and he seemed fairly convinced that were George III to see a doctor today he’d be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

George III might’ve been mad, but he was also fertile and so his eldest son was old enough to be regent during his father’s madness. Worsley told us that this George (later George IV) was probably reacting against his childhood all his life. He’d been sent away from the family as a child to be educated strictly, and to have discipline instilled in him. In adulthood he indulged himself in as much vice as possible. He overate, he drank to excess, he took large quantities of laudanum (which is opium in alcohol), he was a notorious womaniser. Worsley showed us several satirical cartoons of George IV which were drawn by his contemporaries. When he died he was apparently not much mourned.

And that was the end of this episode, saving the rest of the Hanoverians for next time.

We decided we were just about ahead enough of the PVR filling up to watch one of the non-HD programmes we recorded more recently – because we were both intrigued to watch the most recent Horizon episode: The Secret Life of the Cat. For this programme some researchers had fitted GPS-tagged collars to 50 cats living in the same village. They recorded the tracks of the cats over a week, and also filmed some with cameras set up round the village and attached cameras to others. They picked where & which cats to film based on the early data from the first couple of days of GPS tracking.

There was a bit much “gee wow isn’t this exciting” and fluffy time-filling interviews with the families that owned the cats for my tastes. I’d rather’ve seen more of the data & some more in depth analysis. However there were some interesting results. There was quite a lot of variance between different cats, with some staying close & some ranging much further. They said that the male cats tended to have a longer range than female – I wanted to know if that was entire males or if it was also true for neutered males (and if there’s a difference does it depend on age at neutering?) but they didn’t talk about that. Where the cats are more tightly packed in the centre of the village they saw them time-share territories, which was interesting. And amusing (although not surprising) were the cats that left their own house, sauntered across the village into another house through some other cat’s catflap and finished off that cat’s food. The video they recorded of one of these showed that it wasn’t particularly wary as it did this – clearly it was something usual & the cat felt safe.

Overall it was still fun to watch, just I would’ve preferred something more in depth. It did make me wonder (not for the first time) where Toby goes when he goes out. We’ve thought before about fitting him with a camera or a gps device, but if he goes into our neighbours’ houses I think I’d rather not know 😉