This year (in fact yesterday, 6th November!) marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594-1612), eldest son of James I and elder brother of Charles I. The National Portrait Gallery is currently hosting an excellent exhibition about him, entitled 'The Lost Prince'. Henry was hugely popular: handsome, charismatic, athletic, cultured, martial, a patron of the arts and sciences, everything you could hope for in an heir to the throne. His brother, Charles, idolised him. The future looked bright. Tragically, at the age of 18 Henry contracted what is now thought to have been typhoid fever and, despite the attentions of a team of six doctors and their increasingly desperate treatments, he died. The public reaction must have been reminiscent of that to Diana's death: an outpouring of national grief on an unprecedented scale, at times bordering on hysteria; vast quantities of music, literature and sermonising - both official and private - eulogising the dead Prince appeared. The funeral itself was on a massive scale; the official mourners alone numbered 2000.
Today, however, he is almost forgotten. His collection of thousands of books, works of art, scientific instruments, arms and armour etc was broken up and scattered to the four winds; the location of only a fraction of it is now known. His name survives in such locations at Cape Henry in North America, but few probably know who they're named after. Indeed, the vast majority of people have probably never heard of him.
And of course there is the other issue... if Henry hadn't died, he would have eventually become King Henry IX, and there would have been no Charles I. Who knows how that could have turned out? He was quite a different character from Charles; devoutly Protestant, with none of the High Church leanings that would prove so damaging to his brother; well versed from childhood in the statecraft that had allowed his father James to successfully negotiate the volatile politics of 17th century England. It seems likely the Civil Wars would never have happened - at least, not at that point! - and England's history would have swung in a very different direction. An intriguing prospect.