En español | Royals fans rejoice! Season 4 of The Crown premieres Nov. 15, and this year will add Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson, 52) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) into the mix. If you've been watching from the start, chances are strong that you know everything there is to know about Queen Elizabeth II (now played by Oscar winner Olivia Colman). If you need a refresher course on the past few centuries of British royal history before she took the throne, here's a watch list of streaming shows—from sumptuous costume dramas to steamy soap operas to rollicking sitcoms—that will serve as the ultimate primer. By the time you're done, you'll be able to tell your Henry IV from your Henry V (or VI or VII or VIII), keep track of the very confusing War of the Roses, talk Victorian-era geopolitical strategy, and rattle off all six of Henry VIII's wives. Grab some tea and scones and get to streaming!
The show: The Hollow Crown (2012)
The monarchs: Richard II (1367-1400), Henry IV (1367-1413) and Henry V (1386-1422)
Why you should watch: Based on Shakespeare's four-play Henriad cycle, this BBC series takes its cast off the stage and out into the cathedrals, castles and battlefields of England. The first episode follows the downfall of the last king of the House of Plantagenet, Richard II (Ben Whishaw), while the next three chart the rise of the House of Lancaster; Rory Kinnear and Jeremy Irons (now 72) play Henry IV at different ages, while Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) digs into the juicy role of Prince Hal, who matures from an undisciplined teenager to become the brilliant warrior king, Henry V. (You may want to jot down some notes during his monologues to send to your grandkids …) Simon Russell Beale (now 59) and Julie Walters (now 70) bring some much needed levity as the bawdy Falstaff and Mistress Nell Quickly.
Additional viewing: Henry V (who has more lines than any other character in Shakespeare's works) has always been a favorite role among classic actors, from Laurence Olivier to Kenneth Branagh (now 59). Last year, Timothée Chalamet donned the king's trademark messy bowl cut for Netflix's The King.
Where to watch: The Hollow Crown, on Amazon Prime ($9.99 for the full season)
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The show: The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (2016)
The monarchs: Henry VI (1421-1471), Edward IV (1442-1483), Richard III (1452-1485) and Henry VII (1457-1509)
Why you should watch: The first Hollow Crown series was such a success that the producers decided to adapt four more Shakespeare plays (Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3; and Richard III) to tell the story of the War of the Roses, the decades-long conflict waged between the Houses of York and Lancaster. The constant back-and-forth of kings seizing and losing the throne can be dizzying, but you'll be swept away by the performances, which include Benedict Cumberbatch as the infamous Richard III, Tom Sturridge as the weak Henry VI, Sally Hawkins as the Duchess of Gloucester and Judi Dench (now 85) as Cecily, Duchess of York. If your love of British TV means that you've already binge-watched Phoebe Waller-Bridge's award-winning Fleabag, you might recognize King Louis XI of France as “hot priest” Andrew Scott.
Additional viewing: For a different point of view on the War of the Roses, check out the BBC/Starz miniseries The White Queen, which follows three powerful women behind the kings.
Where to watch: The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, on Amazon Prime ($8.97 for the full season)
The show: The White Princess (2017)
The monarch: Henry VII (1457-1509)
Why you should watch: All that War of the Roses fighting got you down? This sequel to The White Queen (see above) — which is also based on the historical novels of Philippa Gregory — picks up at the conflict's end, when the marriage of Henry VII (Jacob Collins-Levy) and Elizabeth of York (Killing Eve Emmy winner Jodie Comer) finally unites the two houses. But don't assume it's all banquets and babies from here on out: Luckily, there's plenty of back-room plotting (especially by the couple's mothers), pretenders to the throne, marital squabbles and assassination attempts to fill eight episodes.
Additional viewing: Henry VII and Elizabeth rarely get the spotlight in fictional portrayals, though they often appear in films and plays dedicated to Richard III or their son, Henry VIII.
Where to watch: The White Princess, on Starz
The show: The Tudors (2007-2010)
The monarch: Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Why you should watch: If any British royal deserves the steamy Showtime soap opera treatment, it's certainly Henry VIII, who famously married six times, feuded with the pope, and indulged (and indulged and indulged) in eating and drinking and gambling. If your only image of the king is portraits from his portlier later years (he eventually had a 54-inch waist), you might be shocked to see heartthrob Jonathan Rhys Meyers starring as the playboy king. Rounding out the cast are cinematic Superman Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk; Sam Neill (now 73) as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey; and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn.
Additional viewing: Unsurprisingly, Henry VIII has been fictionalized countless times, including Anne of the Thousand Days, A Man for All Seasons, The Private Life of Henry VIII and The Other Boleyn Girl. Most recently, Homeland's Damian Lewis (who turns 50 in February) played the king in Wolf Hall, an adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novels that focused on his relationship with Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance, now 60).
Where to watch: The Tudors, on Netflix
The show: Elizabeth R (1971)
The monarch: Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
Why you should watch: This series of six plays, which were broadcast on the BBC in 1971 and on Masterpiece Theatre the next year, became the first British show to win an Emmy for best drama. Star Glenda Jackson (now 84) won two acting Emmys that year, and she certainly earned it: The epic miniseries follows the Virgin Queen as she ascends the throne, feuds with her Catholic sister and later battles the Spanish Armada. Ironically, despite her regal bearing, Jackson is an avowed lowercase-R republican (meaning she opposes the existence of a monarchy altogether), and she even temporarily put acting aside to become a member of Parliament from 1992 to 2015.
Where to watch: Elizabeth R, on BritBox
The show: Blackadder the Third (1987)
The monarch: George IV (1762-1830)
Why you should watch: Not all depictions of the monarchy need to be stately and serious. Take, for instance, the raucous BBC One historical sitcom Blackadder, which has a unique premise: Each season, a company of actors (including Mr. Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, now 65) takes on a different period in British history. Following the first series, which is set during the reign of a fictional Richard IV, and the Elizabethan-set follow-up (which features Miranda Richardson, now 62, as the queen), Blackadder the Third jumps forward to the Regency era. During this time, George III was unable to rule due to illness, so his son, the Prince of Wales and future George IV (portrayed here as a foppish idiot by Hugh Laurie, now 61) had to step in as prince regent.
Additional viewing: Rupert Everett (now 61) plays the young Prince of Wales in the Oscar-winning film The Madness of King George, while Richard E. Grant (now 63) took a turn at the role in A Royal Scandal, a BBC docudrama about the prince's disastrous marriage to Caroline of Brunswick.
The show: Victoria (2016-)
The monarch: Victoria (1837-1901)
Why you should watch: Thanks to the casting of Doctor Who's immensely charming Jenna Coleman as the young Victoria, this surprisingly modern series — which premiered on Britain's ITV and later aired on PBS’ Masterpiece — has a fresh and protofeminist vibe that separates it from some of its more deadly serious costume drama peers. You can't help but root for the queen as she starts a romance with Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), learns how to rule from her adviser Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell, now 52) and faces challenges such as the Irish famine and the Anglo-Afghan War.
Additional viewing: Emily Blunt also took on the queen's early days in 2009's The Young Victoria, while Judi Dench tackled Victoria twice, in Mrs. Brown (1997), for which she received an Academy Award nomination, and later Victoria & Abdul (2017).
Where to watch: Victoria, on Amazon Prime