Monarchy and technology in history

Summary:The British royal family has long taken an interest in high technology. As the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, we review a hitherto hidden part of the UK's history which she was beautiful, but never consummated because the reality was somewhat different — thus prefiguring internet dating by nearly 500 years. Henry also managed to persuade the powerful monks of the era that command line software was the way forward, not the faddish new graphical user interfaces — that mistake cost them everything in the famous DOS illusion of the monasteries.

Queen Elizabeth Google

Queen Elizabeth II provides proof of her familiarity with modern technology. Photo credit: Google

After Henry, Elizabeth. Her long and eventful reign withstood the despatch of a compact Armada that crashed before it could cause any damage. Famously, she died unwed — although Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was her closest love, politics intervened and he had to go on to become a floppy disk magnate and office supplies supremo. When she died, the succession went to James VI of Scotland who promptly networked England and Scotland in the Act of Union.

Robert the Bruce and forcible upgrades

Scotland had not been backward in monarchical IT — Robert the Bruce had once searched a web sight for the answer to his motivational problems — and James proved more than up to the task. Although married, he practised open standards — especially with the Earl of Buckingham — and he was very fault-tolerant. It is said that when the servers went down at the Court of King James it was not always a matter of misery.

Charles, although not pin-compatible with some of his father's habits, was equally fond of a very strict client-server configuration when it came to him and his subjects. However, an attempt to forcibly upgrade Scotland to a more recent revision of church documentation resulted in outright rebellion: cack-handed management helped this to spread across the rest of the network and before long the populace logged off. The monarchy suffered a head-crash shortly afterwards, leading to an experimental Commonwealth system being brought online by Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell, backups and Victoria's voice

When it came to stained glass, Cromwell's puritans had nothing but a bad word for windows, a hatred for icons and a dislike for multimedia flummery in all its forms. Attempts to open up the Celtic market were not entirely successful, and after a while the monarchy was restored, thanks to an off-site backup kept abroad. Charles II learned the importance of firewalls after some problems in the City of London in 1666, while an Apple interface issue with Newton was a matter of some gravity in Lincolnshire.

After Charles II's demise, his brother James II took over. Not a popular monarch, the customer base took exception to his attempts to reinstall some old drivers and introduce Romeing again. Not for us, said the Brits, who thought the future was brighter if the future was Orange and promptly went to Holland to pick up a replacement system. William and Mary popped over for a bit and left the keys for Queen Anne.

Then came an unending series of Georges. George I spoke no English and preferred to live in Hannover, where he could get easy access to CeBIT. George II did a final spot of debugging of the network at Culloden, oversaw rapid expansion of the system in America and the first real world-wide web. George III saw a management buy-out of the American office and promptly went mad — not the first time that reaction has been engendered in the UK by colonial capers — and handed over to George IV at the same time as Babbage built his amazing mechanical device. There was a William who everyone wisely forgets and then — Victoria.

Victoria's reign saw the invention of the telephone, telegraph, wireless, much of modern chemistry, much of modern physics, medicine and modern warfare. She was having none of it, although Albert was dead keen on gadgets. Her reaction to the telephone? "It was faint", and she refused to have one installed. However, she did consent to having her voice recorded onto a wax cylinder for delivery to an irksome Ethiopian king to make him more amenable in sorting out a border dispute. By her royal command the cylinder was broken after play, but someone made a copy that is still in existence — the first monarch whose voice survives into the information age.

Princess Diana and online ancestry

And so into the 20th century. After a dodgy start, King George V got the idea by instigating a Christmas broadcast to the Empire on the newly formed BBC in 1932. The BBC has been there for royal abdications, funerals, weddings and coronations ever since. Prince Philip is the royal patron for the Radio Society of Great Britain, which cheers radio hams up a lot, and he was also the target for the first widely publicised computer hack in the UK when his Prestel mailbox was rudely violated by some very naughty boys.

The royal website is full of nice pictures of crowns, smiling Windsors, and some family trees that repay close examination.

Princess Diana's use of mobile phones was well documented, while Charles continues to carry out voice recognition tests on plants. The royal website is full of nice pictures of crowns, smiling Windsors, and some family trees that repay close examination.

In the end, it's got us all an extra day off — so even the grumpy republicans among us can raise a glass to the Saxe-Coburg Gothas. And has anyone seen a working copy of the Domesday book on laserdisk yet?

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Topics: Tech Industry


Rupert has worked at ZDNet UK, IT Week, PC Magazine, Computer Life, Mac User, Alfa Systems, Amstrad, Sinclair, Micronet 800, Marconi Space and Defence Systems, and a dodgy TV repair shop in the back streets of Plymouth. He can still swap out a gassy PL509 with the best of 'em. If you want to promote your company or product, fine -- but pl... Full Bio

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