Monarch of England
The Monarchy of the Kingdom of England begins with Alfred the Great, who initially ruled Wessex, one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which later made up modern England. Alfred styled himself King of the Anglo-Saxons from about 886, and while he was not the first king to claim to rule all of the English, his rule represents the start of the first unbroken line of kings to rule the whole of England, the House of Wessex.
Arguments are made for a few different kings deemed to control enough Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to be deemed the first king of England. For example, Offa of Mercia and Egbert of Wessex are sometimes described as kings of England by popular writers, but it is no longer the majority view of historians that their wide dominions are part of a process leading to a unified England. Historian Simon Keynes states, for example, that "Offa was driven by a lust for power, not a vision of English unity; and what he left was a reputation, not a legacy." This refers to a period in the late 8th century when Offa achieved a dominance over many of the kingdoms of southern England, but this did not survive his death in 796.
In 829 Egbert of Wessex conquered Mercia, but he soon lost control of it. It was not until the late 9th century that one kingdom, Wessex, had become the dominant Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Its king, Alfred the Great, was overlord of western Mercia and used the title King of the Angles and Saxons, but he never ruled eastern and northern England, which was then known as the Danelaw, having earlier been conquered by the Danes from Scandinavia. His son Edward the Elder conquered the eastern Danelaw, but Edward's son Æthelstan became the first king to rule the whole of England when he conquered Northumbria in 927, and he is regarded by some modern historians as the first true king of England. The title "King of the English" or Rex Anglorum in Latin, was first used to describe Æthelstan in one of his charters in 928.
The Principality of Wales was incorporated into the Kingdom of England under the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, and in 1301 King Edward I invested his eldest son, the future King Edward II, as Prince of Wales. Since that time, except for King Edward III, the eldest sons of all English monarchs have borne this title.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth I without issue, in 1603, King James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, joining the crowns of England and Scotland in personal union. By royal proclamation, James styled himself "King of Great Britain", but no such kingdom was actually created until 1707, when England and Scotland united to form the new Kingdom of Great Britain, with a single British parliament sitting at Westminster, during the reign of Queen Anne.
- 1 Historical Overview
- 2 List of Monarchs of England
- 3 Related pages
- 4 Footnotes
Following Viking raids and settlement in the ninth century, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex emerged as the dominant English kingdom. Alfred the Great secured Wessex, achieved dominance over western Mercia, and assumed the title "King of the English". His grandson Æthelstan was the first king to rule over a unitary kingdom roughly corresponding to the present borders of England, though its constituent parts retained strong regional identities. The 11th century saw England become more stable, despite a number of wars with the Danes, which resulted in a Danish monarchy for one generation. The conquest of England in 1066 by William, Duke of Normandy, was crucial in terms of both political and social change. The new monarch continued the centralisation of power begun in the Anglo-Saxon period, while the Feudal System continued to develop.
William was succeeded by two of his sons: William II, then Henry I. Henry made a controversial decision to name his daughter Matilda (his only surviving child) as his heir. Following Henry's death in 1135, one of William I's grandsons, Stephen, laid claim to the throne and took power with the support of most of the barons. Matilda challenged his reign; as a result, England descended into a period of disorder known as the Anarchy. Stephen maintained a precarious hold on power but agreed to a compromise under which Matilda's son Henry would succeed him. Henry accordingly became the first Angevin king of England and the first monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty as Henry II in 1154.
The reigns of most of the Angevin monarchs were marred by civil strife and conflicts between the monarch and the nobility. Henry II faced rebellions from his own sons, the future monarchs Richard I and John. Nevertheless, Henry managed to expand his kingdom, forming what is retrospectively known as the Angevin Empire. Upon Henry's death, his elder son Richard succeeded to the throne; he was absent from England for most of his reign, as he left to fight in the Crusades. He was killed besieging a castle, and John succeeded him.
John's reign was marked by conflict with the barons, particularly over the limits of royal power. In 1215, the barons coerced the king into issuing Magna Carta (Latin for "Great Charter") to guarantee the rights and liberties of the nobility. Soon afterwards, further disagreements plunged England into a civil war known as the First Barons' War. The war came to an abrupt end after John died in 1216, leaving the Crown to his nine-year-old son Henry III. Later in Henry's reign, Simon de Montfort led the barons in another rebellion, beginning the Second Barons' War. The war ended in a clear royalist victory and in the death of many rebels, but not before the king had agreed to summon a parliament in 1265.
The next monarch, Edward Longshanks, was far more successful in maintaining royal power and responsible for the conquest of Wales. He attempted to establish English domination of Scotland. However, gains in Scotland were reversed during the reign of his successor, Edward II, who also faced conflict with the nobility. In 1311, Edward II was forced to relinquish many of his powers to a committee of baronial "ordainers"; however, military victories helped him regain control in 1322. Nevertheless, in 1327, Edward was deposed by his wife Isabella. His 14-year-old son became Edward III. Edward III claimed the French Crown, setting off the Hundred Years' War between England and France.
His campaigns conquered much French territory, but by 1374, all the gains had been lost. Edward's reign was also marked by the further development of Parliament, which came to be divided into two Houses. In 1377, Edward III died, leaving the Crown to his 10-year-old grandson Richard II. Like many of his predecessors, Richard II conflicted with the nobles by attempting to concentrate power in his own hands. In 1399, while he was campaigning in Ireland, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke seized power. Richard was deposed, imprisoned, and eventually murdered, probably by starvation, and Henry became king as Henry IV.
Henry IV was the grandson of Edward III and the son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; hence, his dynasty was known as the House of Lancaster. For most of his reign, Henry IV was forced to fight off plots and rebellions; his success was partly due to the military skill of his son, the future Henry V. Henry V's own reign, which began in 1413, was largely free from domestic strife, leaving the king free to pursue the Hundred Years' War in France. Although he was victorious, his sudden death in 1422 left his infant son Henry VI on the throne and gave the French an opportunity to overthrow English rule.
The unpopularity of Henry VI's counsellors and his belligerent consort, Margaret of Anjou, as well as his own ineffectual leadership, led to the weakening of the House of Lancaster. The Lancastrians faced a challenge from the House of York, so called because its head, a descendant of Edward III, was Richard, Duke of York. Although the Duke of York died in battle in 1460, his eldest son, Edward IV, led the Yorkists to victory in 1461. The Wars of the Roses, nevertheless, continued intermittently during his reign and those of his son Edward V and brother Richard III. Edward V disappeared, presumably murdered by Richard. Ultimately, the conflict culminated in success for the Lancastrian branch led by Henry Tudor, in 1485, when Richard III was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Now King Henry VII, he neutralised the remaining Yorkist forces, partly by marrying Elizabeth of York, a Yorkist heir. Through skill and ability, Henry re-established absolute supremacy in the realm, and the conflicts with the nobility that had plagued previous monarchs came to an end. The reign of the second Tudor king, Henry VIII, was one of great political change. Religious upheaval and disputes with the Pope led the monarch to break from the Roman Catholic Church and to establish the Church of England (the Anglican Church).
Wales – which had been conquered centuries earlier, but had remained a separate dominion – was annexed to England under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542. Henry VIII's son and successor, the young Edward VI, continued with further religious reforms, but his early death in 1553 precipitated a succession crisis. He was wary of allowing his Catholic elder half-sister Mary I to succeed, and therefore drew up a will designating Lady Jane Grey as his heiress. Jane's reign, however, lasted only nine days; with tremendous popular support, Mary deposed her and declared herself the lawful sovereign. Mary I married Philip of Spain, who was declared king and co-ruler, pursued disastrous wars in France and attempted to return England to Roman Catholicism, burning Protestants at the stake as heretics in the process. Upon her death in 1558, the pair were succeeded by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I. England returned to Protestantism and continued its growth into a major world power by building its navy and exploring the New World.
List of Monarchs of England
First English Monarchs
- Athelstan (924–939)
- Edmund I (939–946)
- Edred (946–955)
- Edwy the Fair (955–959)
- Edgar the Peaceable (959–975)
- St Edward the Martyr (975–978)
- Ethelred the Unready (978 – 1013, 1014 – 1016)
- Sweyn Forkbeard (1014)
- Edmund Ironside (1016)
House of Wessex Restoration
In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy invaded England. He defeated King Harold II and became King.
- Empress Matilda (1141)
- Henry II (1154–1189)
- Richard I, the Lionheart (1189–1199)
- John (1199–1216)
- Henry III (1216–1272)
- Edward I (1272–1307)
- Edward II (1307–1327) (deposed)
- Edward III (1327–1377)
- Richard II (1377–1399) (deposed, died 1400)
- Edward IV (1461–1470 and 1471–1483)
- Edward V (uncrowned) (1483) (deposed 1483 possibly assassinated)
- Richard III (1483–1485)
- Henry VII (1485–1509)
- Henry VIII (1509–1547)
- Edward VI (1547–1553)
- Jane (uncrowned) (1553) (deposed, beheaded 1554)
- Mary I (1553–1558)
- Elizabeth I (1558–1603)
- James I (1603–1625), also from 1567 King James VI of Scotland
- Charles I (1625–1649), also King of Scotland
Interregnum Civil War Lord Protector
The Civil War in England from 1642 until 1652 stemming from a growing enmity between King and Parliament, led to the execution of King Charles I in 1649. After the execution, England became a Commonwealth eventually led by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector after successive interim governments failed and handed Cromwell power, and so England became a protectorate. Furthermore, both Ireland and Scotland became subjugated states under England and Cromwell at the end of the war. Cromwell died in 1658 and his son, Richard, became Lord Protector. This was short lived though as he failed to gain the support of the army and so the nation, in 1660 power was given back to the Monarchy and the King In Exile, Charles II, was invited back to England
Stuarts Monarchs (Restored)
- Charles II (1660–1685), also King of Scotland (backdated the start of his reign to 1649)
- James II (1685–1688) (deposed, died 1701), also King James VII of Scotland
- William III (1689–1702) and Mary II (1689–1694), as co-monarchs, also King and Queen of Scotland
- Anne (1702–1714), though the English throne was replaced with that of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707
- In 1707, England and Scotland joined together. For Kings and Queens after 1707, see British monarchs.
- Ashley, Mike (2003). A Brief History of British Kings and Queens: British Royal History from Alfred the Great to the Present. Running Press.
- Keynes, Simon (1999). "Offa". In Lapidge, Michael (ed.). The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 340. ISBN 978-0-631-22492-1.
- Fryde, E. B., ed. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (3rd ed.). Royal Historical Society. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-521-56350-5.
- Cannon and Griffiths, pp.12–13 and 31
- Cannon and Griffiths, pp.13–17
- Cannon and Griffiths, pp.102–127
- Fraser, pp.30–46
- Fraser, pp.54–74
- Fraser, pp.77–78
- Fraser, pp.79–93
- Ashley, pp.595–597
- Fraser, pp.96–115
- Fraser, pp.118–130
- Fraser, pp.133–165
- Cannon and Griffiths, p.295; Fraser, pp.168–176
- Fraser, pp.179–189
- Cannon and Griffiths, pp.194, 265, 309
- Ashley, pp.636–647 and Fraser, pp.190–211
- The Cromwellian Protectorate, ed. Barry Coward (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), p. 7
- Jacob Abbott, History of King Charles II of England (Auckland: The Floating Press, 2014), p. 124