Penguin has embarked on a four-year project to chronicle the lives of all 45 of our monarchs

From Athelstan to Elizabeth IIs, Gillian Orr discovers some great pub facts
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The Independent Culture

Do you know your Plantagenets from your Lancasters? Or the youngest ever ruler to take the throne? Which King played at Wimbledon?

Penguin has decided that it's time to enlighten the public about our rich royal history (or at least everything we've forgotten since school).

'Monarchs' is the ambitious new publishing project from Penguin, which will see 45 titles released in groups of five over the next four years. Today's releases include Henry VIII, George V, Charles I, Edward VI and George VI. At a time when the industry is in a fragile state, and best-seller lists seem overrun with cookery books and thrillers, why are Penguin throwing their weight – and cash – behind Kings and Queens?

"I think there's an enormous appetite for well-presented history books. It's one of the main areas in which we publish," says Stuart Proffitt, editor at Penguin. "We felt that it was a good time to take a big overview of the English and British monarchy. It hasn't been done properly for a very long time. The last such series was more than 40 years ago."

Penguin has secured some top writing talent and heavyweight historians such as David Cannadine and John Guy to cover everyone from Athelstan to Elizabeth II. And with our current Queen due to become the longest ever ruling monarch next year, the books arrive at a pertinent time. Don't fancy reading all 45? Here are the best facts we found in 'Monarchs':

HENRY VIII

* Henry may have beheaded two of his six wives and divorced two more, but he loved his dogs. He spent (in today's money) £250 per month on dog food, £10,000 on collars and muzzles for the royal mastiffs, and offered £500 for anybody returning a lost pooch.

* The news of Henry's death was kept secret for three days (even the trumpets were sounded at dinner time as usual), until the scheming Lord Hertford could get his heir, Edward VI, safely to court and in his power.

EDWARD VI

* Edward kept a diary which he called a "Chronicle". In his early years he wrote about himself rather woodenly in the third person but he came to be a fluent writer.

* Although surrounded by opulent decorations, Edward loved bric-a-brac. He kept treasured oddments in his desk drawer; a brooch, buttons, coins, metal tags, an iron stamp, boxes for ink.

* As the 15-year-old Edward was dying, he wrote a "Device" which said that the crown should go not to Princess Mary or Princess Elizabeth as Henry VIII had wished, but to the male heir in the Grey family. But on the brink of death, he changed the "Device" to make Lady Jane Grey heir to the crown. Why he made the change is still a mystery.

CHARLES I

* Charles went to the scaffold, in January 1648, wearing two shirts so that he wouldn't shiver and seem afraid.

* One of the only possessions not taken from him was a golden toothpick, which he gave to one of his captors, Colonel Matthew Tomlinson, who had been kind to him during his final imprisonment.

GEORGE VI

* George VI is the only royal to have played at Wimbledon. He played in the Men's Doubles with Louis Greig (but lost).

* When he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at Westminster Abbey on 26 April 1923, he insisted that the glittering and aristocratic guest list included 52 working-class boys from the East End.

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