All that is generally remembered about Spencer Perceval is that he was the only British prime minister ever to be assassinated. By all accounts he was a thoroughly decent, honourable and competent man, but he was cut off in his prime and failed to make any lasting mark. A lawyer, born in London, the younger son of an aristocratic family and educated at Harrow and Cambridge, he became an MP in his thirties in 1796.
Victoria was born into a family that rather resented her, and her cousin Charlotte was the product of a failed three-day marriage. Meanwhile the future Edward VI was feted purely on the grounds that he wasn’t a girl.
The three main strands of the chivalric ethos – warrior, courtier and Christian – might throw up some contradictions, but on the whole the knight was able to ignore these, adapting courtly behaviour and Christian teaching to fit with the martial ethic.
Well aware of this increase in realism, Henry VIII decided to choose his fourth wife from her portrait. Traditionally, dynastic marriages were arranged between (often teenage or even pre-teen) parties who may never even have seen one another before the ceremony – they were pawns in power plays, and personal preference did not have much to do with it. Henry, however, in middle age, felt free to be choosy; he sent an artist to paint pictures of Europe’s most eligible young ladies.