Top 11 monarchs in British history


Blackleaf
#1
The 11 greatest English - and then British - monarchs since 1066...

Top 11 monarchs in British history


Andrew Gimson, author of Gimson’s Kings and Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs Since 1066, selects his top 11 monarchs in English – and then British – history since 1066


Andrew Gimson
Wednesday 9th September 2015
BBC History Magazine

William I (‘William the Conqueror’), r1066–87



William I conquered England. This brave, brutal, illiterate but clever Norman warlord attained at the Battle of Hastings (external - login to view) (14 October 1066) the most durable victory of any monarch in English history. At the head of 5,000 knights, he made himself master of a kingdom with perhaps 1.5 million inhabitants. The English ruling class was wiped out, its lands taken over by the invaders, and French replaced English as the language of government.

William the Conqueror, as he became known, was able to pass on the throne to his sons and his more remote descendants, who hold it to this day. Yet his origins were not as grand as his later achievements might lead one to suppose. He was the bastard son of Duke Robert of Normandy, also called ‘Robert the Devil’, and of Herleve (also known as Arlette), whose father, Fulbert, was a tanner: a trade deemed disgusting and carried out by despised people.

When William was just eight years old his father died and Normandy descended into anarchy. But the boy grew into a formidable warrior who first regained control of Normandy and then mounted a successful invasion of England. And he knew how to hold onto what he had taken: Norman castles, many of which survive to this day, were erected at all the most strategic points in his new kingdom. Arguably, no king of England has ever possessed a more unwavering ability to enforce his own will.

Richard I (‘Richard the Lionheart’), r1189–99



Richard I the Lionheart (from the Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora). Found in the collection of British Library. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)


Richard I was the most famous knight-errant of his age – perhaps of any age. He sought adventures in which he could prove his military skill, chivalric virtues and generosity. Indeed, Richard was called Coeur de Lion, or ‘Lionheart’, in recognition of his dauntless valour, and he looked the part: more than six feet tall, immensely strong, with blue eyes and reddish-gold hair. He spent only 10 months of his 10-year reign in England, where he complained about the weather, but he became one of the great English heroes.

The Third Crusade (1189–92), the aim of which was to retake Jerusalem, presented Richard with an impeccably religious motive for glory, fighting and pillage. His only use for England was to raise money for this venture. In July 1191 he captured the port of Acre, after which he had 2,700 Muslim prisoners – men, women and children – put to death. As Scottish philosopher, historian and economist David Hume later put it, Richard “was guilty of acts of ferocity, which threw a stain on his celebrated victories”.

Richard fell out with his fellow crusaders, and although he got within 12 miles of Jerusalem, was not strong enough to recapture the city. Upon his return through mainland Europe he was himself captured and handed over to Henry VI, Emperor of Germany, and a ransom of 34 tonnes of silver had to be paid for his release. From 1194–99, he campaigned with success in Normandy and Aquitaine, only to die on 6 April 1199 from gangrene contracted after being hit by a crossbow bolt while besieging a minor fort.

Edward I, r1272–1307



Edward I became known as the Hammer of the Scots (external - login to view), but he actually conquered the Welsh. Before ascending the throne of England, he crushed the rebellion led by Simon de Montfort against his father, Henry III.

Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, refused to do homage to Edward, and believed he could always take refuge from the English in the mountains of Snowdonia. But Edward rendered those mountains uninhabitable by building a chain of castles along the coast of North Wales, which prevented supplies of grain getting through from Anglesey. Llewelyn saw his cause was hopeless, and perished in battle. Edward made his son Prince of Wales – a title still borne by the heir to the throne.

While Edward was campaigning in Wales, one of his mounted knights was hit by an arrow fired from a longbow. This pierced the thick hauberk (or chain mail) protecting the knight’s thigh, drove through the upper leg – including the bone – penetrated the hauberk inside the thigh, forced its way through the wooden saddle and went deep into the horse. The English had never come across this fearsome weapon – one that was to make their armies almost invincible.

Henry V, r1413–22



By defeating the French at the Battle of Agincourt (external - login to view) on 25 October 1415, Henry V united the English. He was the last great warrior-king of the Middle Ages, and Shakespeare drew an immortal picture of him as a leader who, on the way to victory at Agincourt, inspired his followers not just by his courage, but by mingling with them in the dark hours before the battle. Here is English patriotism in its most cheerful form: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

In 1420, Henry achieved the still more astonishing feat of combining the English and French crowns. He married Catherine of Valois, the daughter of the French king Charles VI, but his luck had run out, and soon afterwards he died of an illness, probably dysentery, contracted while besieging the town of Meaux.

Historians tend to draw Henry as a less sympathetic figure, who looked and behaved more like a monk than a happy-go-lucky first among equals.

Henry VII, r1485–1509



Henry VII, painting by unknown artist, 1505. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Henry VII (external - login to view) won his crown at the Battle of Bosworth (external - login to view) (22 August 1485), but ruled with the efficiency of an accountant rather than the panache of a warlord. He was born in Wales and imposed peace on England by establishing a strong new dynasty, the Tudors. When he died, he left to his son, Henry VIII, a united country, a submissive nobility, and a vast amount of money.

Henry’s most disagreeable characteristic was his avarice: he was good at forcing even his grandest subjects to pay tax. By this means he brought to an end the Wars of the Roses (external - login to view), the 32-year struggle between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists in which much of the nobility had perished.

Efficiency in collecting taxes is a somewhat uncharming characteristic, and by the end of his reign Henry was deeply unpopular. The current chancellor, George Osborne, has, however, named him as his favourite king of England.

Henry VIII, 1509–47



No English monarch has treated those close to him with such ruthlessness as Henry VIII (external - login to view). The older he got, the more he behaved like a petulant, self-obsessed teenager with a loaded revolver. But although he degenerated from a Renaissance prince into a tyrant, casting off wives and servants with merciless finality, he did make England independent.

By breaking with Rome in 1534 when the pope refused to annul his marriage with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Henry created the sovereign English nation, living under its own laws and guarded by its own ships. Parliament became his junior partner in this venture, and in the dissolution of the monasteries.

The difficulty Henry’s wives had in providing him with the longed-for male heir helps to explain why Henry got rid of them. Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a girl, Mary. She was replaced by the much younger and prettier Anne Boleyn (external - login to view), who likewise gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth, before Henry wearied of her and had her beheaded on trumped-up charges.

Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, had a son, Edward, but died two weeks later. Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was considered so unattractive that Henry was unable to consummate the marriage. The fifth, Catherine Howard, was young and ‘sexy’, but took lovers, so was executed. The last of Henry’s wives, Katherine Parr, was an amiable widow from the Lake District who looked after him in his declining years.

Elizabeth I, r1558–1603



The reign of Elizabeth I (external - login to view), the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, developed into a love affair with her people, and with every eligible man, conducted in many different moods: teasing, flirtatious, romantic, haughty, procrastinating. In 1588 it reached its ecstatic climax when together they defied the Armada (external - login to view) sent by Philip of Spain to subdue them.

France descended at this time into the horrors of religious civil war. England did not, because Elizabeth steered a successful course between Roman Catholicism and puritanism. She promoted the Church of England as a compromise between religious extremes, and she was herself tolerant of private differences of belief. For 20 years she resisted entreaties to have her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (external - login to view), put to death: only Mary’s flagrant plotting to seize the throne with a foreign, Catholic force rendered her execution unavoidable.

Elizabeth had amorous friendships, but never married. She employed outstanding ministers, but never allowed herself to be dominated. In her speech in 1588 to her army at Tilbury she showed she understood how to rally the nation against the threat of invasion, and turn weakness into strength: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” She is, in my view, England’s greatest monarch.

Charles II, r1660–85



Charles II (external - login to view) is, in my view, the wittiest monarch in English history. He was courageous, tolerant, lazy, duplicitous and pleasure-loving: his return from exile in 1660 inaugurated the most conspicuous change in manners – from extreme puritanism to unbridled licentiousness – this country has seen. But he conducted the restoration of the Stuart dynasty with such tact, and rode every later crisis with such skill, that he was never in serious danger of being unseated.

His father, Charles I, was executed after refusing to reach a compromise with his opponents. The same fault led to the downfall of Charles II’s successor – his younger brother, James II and VII, who was in 1688 chased out of England for attempting to impose his personal, Roman Catholic, preferences.

James on one occasion warned Charles II not to go for a walk without guards, to which Charles replied, with characteristic humour: “You may depend upon it that nobody will ever think of killing me to make you king.”

William III and II, r1689–1702



William III is one of the greatest kings of England and yet one of the least remembered. No one could have been more skilful at deposing James II, or at negotiating the terms for a monarchy more acceptable to parliament. But even in his lifetime, this bold, cold, asthmatic Dutchman was not popular. Only by Loyalists in Northern Ireland is King Billy remembered as a hero; the victor of the battle of the Boyne (fought in 1690 between the Catholic James II and the Protestant William III who, with his wife, Mary II, had overthrown James in England in 1688 ).

William had timed to perfection his arrival in England in 1688, landing in Devon with a printing press as well as an army. His grasp of the need to present himself as a reasonable king for a reasonable people was as strong as James II’s was defective. But for him, the Glorious Revolution, as the constitutional settlement reached in 1688–89 came to be known, might not have been very glorious at all.

Victoria, r1837–1901



1876: Queen Victoria sitting on an ivory throne presented to her by the Rajah of Travancore. (W. & D. Downey/Getty Images)

Queen Victoria (external - login to view) reigned for longer than any of her predecessors. She rescued the monarchy from the contempt in which it was held for several decades before 1837, and became the grand unifying figure, at once majestic and domestic, in a Britain that dominated the globe.

Here was an empress who had a startling affinity with the middle class: the class to which even the aristocracy felt it must now defer. Her views about politics, and especially about foreign affairs, were so strong, and expressed with such partisan sincerity, that it was impossible to kick her upstairs, to the less exciting region above politics that her successors came to occupy.

Her personality was of “irresistible potency”, as her greatest biographer, Lytton Strachey, put it. But though Victoria was passionate, she possessed also a devout desire for self-improvement, fully shared by her husband, Prince Albert, who was from Coburg. His early death on 14 December 1861 (external - login to view) led her to retire for many years from public life.

Benjamin Disraeli, the most theatrical of Victoria’s prime ministers, lured her out of this mournful seclusion in 1868. Victoria proceeded to rout incipient republicanism by establishing an emotional link with her subjects that no anti-monarchist could rival.

George V, r1910–36



During the reign of George V, an alarming number of royal families, including the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs, were overthrown. George helped to avert that fate by welcoming the Labour Party into power.

In January 1924 the first, short-lived Labour government was formed. Its members proved as anxious to demonstrate respectability as George was to confer it. He wondered what his grandmother, Queen Victoria, would have thought, but was himself favourably impressed: “I must say they all seem to be very intelligent and they take things very seriously. They have different ideas to ours as they are all socialists, but they ought to be given a chance and ought to be treated fairly.”

Here was the king as the upholder of the national idea of fair play. Like a cricket umpire, he could be depended upon to remain impartial. He also became, through his Christmas broadcasts, extremely popular.

George V set a pattern of conscientious monarchy that his eldest son, Edward VIII, felt unable to uphold – hence the abdication of 1936. But George’s second son, who at the end of that year became George VI, was just as determined to be a dutiful monarch.

So too was George VI’s elder daughter, who upon his death in 1952 became Elizabeth II. She had learned from her father and grandfather how a constitutional monarch should behave, which is one reason why even leftwing Labour politicians show no real desire to overthrow her.



Andrew Gimson is the author of Gimson’s Kings and Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs Since 1066 (illustrated by Martin Rowson, published by Square Peg, £10.99).

Best 11 monarchs in British history | History Extra (external - login to view)
Last edited by Blackleaf; Feb 28th, 2017 at 05:17 AM..
 
Curious Cdn
#2
Elizabeth II deserves to be on that list.
 
Blackleaf
#3
Quote: Originally Posted by Curious CdnView Post

Elizabeth II deserves to be on that list.

Good point. I think that because she's the current monarch she's often accidentally ignored in favour of those from the past.
 
Bar Sinister
#4
Why is Richard I on the list? He spent almost no time in England; achieved none of his goals; and got himself killed in a minor dispute. By all accounts the man was little more than a homicidal glory seeker.
 
Blackleaf
#5
Quote: Originally Posted by Bar SinisterView Post

Why is Richard I on the list? He spent almost no time in England; achieved none of his goals; and got himself killed in a minor dispute. By all accounts the man was little more than a homicidal glory seeker.

Because, as it says in the article, he was an English hero of the Crusades.

If they can put William the Conqueror in the list - a man who conquered a whole country, not long after which he undertook a brutal "harrying" of the north of that country which left thousands either dead or slowly dying of famine - then a great English Christian hero of the Crusades surely can be included in it.
 
Bar Sinister
#6
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

Because, as it says in the article, he was an English hero of the Crusades.

If they can put William the Conqueror in the list - a man who conquered a whole country, not long after which he undertook a brutal "harrying" of the north of that country which left thousands either dead or slowly dying of famine - then a great English Christian hero of the Crusades surely can be included in it.


Sorry, I forget that useless mass murderers were considered heroes during the Middle Ages.
 
Dexter Sinister
+1
#7  Top Rated Post
Kill one person and you're a murderer. Kill a dozen, you're a serial killer, or a mass murderer if you do it all at once. Kill 50 or so to thousands, you're a terrorist. Kill millions, you're a conqueror. Kill everybody, you're god. Being "royal" these days just means you're descended from the more successful thugs and thieves of less civilized times, and I have nothing but contempt for the whole idea of royalty. I would not bow to the Queen or any of her relatives and descendants. I will not concede that their bloodline makes them any better than I am.
 
Blackleaf
#8
Quote: Originally Posted by Bar SinisterView Post

Sorry, I forget that useless mass murderers were considered heroes during the Middle Ages.

Richard the Lionheart wasn't a useless monarch. He was a Christian English hero and a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, during which he scored many considerable victories against the tyrant Saladin.

In World War I, when British troops commanded by General Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem, the British press printed cartoons of Richard the Lionheart looking down from the heavens with the caption reading: "At last my dream has come true."



The Lionheart also created the Royal Arms of England, featuring the Three Lions...



... which later also became the emblem of the England football team, which is also nicknamed the Three Lions:

Last edited by Blackleaf; Mar 2nd, 2017 at 04:51 AM..
 
Curious Cdn
#9
He was a Christian English hero
... who only spoke French ...
 
Blackleaf
#10
Quote: Originally Posted by Curious CdnView Post

He was a Christian English hero
... who only spoke French ...

French was the language spoken by the English royals and nobility in those days. Only English commoners spoke English, which was seen as the language of the peasants.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, French quickly replaced English in all domains associated with power. French was used at the royal court, by the clergy, the aristocracy, in law courts. But the vast majority of the population continued to speak English.

English didn't become the lingua france of English governance until the 14th Century.
 
Curious Cdn
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

French was the language spoken by the English royals and nobility in those days. Only English commoners spoke English, which was seen as the language of the peasants.

English didn't become the lingua france of English governance until the 14th Century.

It still is, if you ask any Frenchman.
 
Blackleaf
#12
Quote: Originally Posted by Curious CdnView Post

It still is, if you ask any Frenchman.

The current monarch is fluent in French.
 
Curious Cdn
#13
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

The current monarch is fluent in French.

Does she also speak her ancestoral German?
 
Blackleaf
#14
Quote: Originally Posted by Curious CdnView Post

Does she also speak her ancestoral German?

I don't know.
 
Curious Cdn
#15
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

I don't know.

We've been watching the quite excellent BBC series about Victoria. I didn't realize just how German her court was, not just because of Albert, either.
 
Bar Sinister
#16
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

Richard the Lionheart wasn't a useless monarch. He was a Christian English hero and a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, during which he scored many considerable victories against the tyrant Saladin.

In World War I, when British troops commanded by General Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem, the British press printed cartoons of Richard the Lionheart looking down from the heavens with the caption reading: "At last my dream has come true."



The Lionheart also created the Royal Arms of England, featuring the Three Lions...



... which later also became the emblem of the England football team, which is also nicknamed the Three Lions:

Rubbish. Saladin a tyrant - then what was Richard? At least he didn't murder several thousand prisoners. In case you missed it pretty well all kings were tyrants in the Middle Ages.
 
Blackleaf
#17
Quote: Originally Posted by Curious CdnView Post

We've been watching the quite excellent BBC series about Victoria. I didn't realize just how German her court was, not just because of Albert, either.

German was Victoria's first language. She didn't learn English (and French) until she was three years old. As the Empress of India, she was also able to speak Hindustani.

Quote: Originally Posted by Bar SinisterView Post

Rubbish. Saladin a tyrant - then what was Richard?

An English hero.

Quote:

At least he didn't murder several thousand prisoners.

Saladin was a brutal murderer. He killed many people. At the beginning of his campaign in Egypt, Saladin had the leaders of the Shi'ites killed so he could take power in the region.

After the Battle of Hattin in 1187, Saladin not only executed Renauld de Chatillone, but he also ordered the surviving Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller to be executed, and the remaining prisoners be sold into slavery.

And it wasn't just his enemies he was brutal towards - he also displayed murderous brutality towards his own people, unlike Richard I.

As for the the 2,700 Muslims Richard ordered to be killed at Acre, he had no other choice. Saladin was using those captives as a means to slow Richard down, and Richard didn't have the time, money or soldiers to continue guarding and feeding them while Saladin built up his forces.

Quote:

In case you missed it pretty well all kings were tyrants in the Middle Ages.

Medieval kings had to be harsh because life was harsh.
 
Bar Sinister
#18
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post



Saladin was a brutal murderer. He killed many people. At the beginning of his campaign in Egypt, Saladin had the leaders of the Shi'ites killed so he could take power in the region.

After the Battle of Hattin in 1187, Saladin not only executed Renauld de Chatillone, but he also ordered the surviving Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller to be executed, and the remaining prisoners be sold into slavery.

And it wasn't just his enemies he was brutal towards - he also displayed murderous brutality towards his own people, unlike Richard I.

As for the the 2,700 Muslims Richard ordered to be killed at Acre, he had no other choice. Saladin was using those captives as a means to slow Richard down, and Richard didn't have the time, money or soldiers to continue guarding and feeding them while Saladin built up his forces.

Medieval kings had to be harsh because life was harsh.

Classic deflection. You are trying to defend Richard I by pointing out that someone else was also bad. Only you didn't do a very good job - you should have chosen someone really destructive like Jenghis Khan or Attila. The article was an opinion article ranking English rulers. I simply don't happen to agree with all of the choices and if you don't like that then too bad.
 
Blackleaf
#19
Quote: Originally Posted by Bar SinisterView Post

Classic deflection. You are trying to defend Richard I by pointing out that someone else was also bad. Only you didn't do a very good job - you should have chosen someone really destructive like Jenghis Khan or Attila. The article was an opinion article ranking English rulers. I simply don't happen to agree with all of the choices and if you don't like that then too bad.

Muslim tyrant Saladin was worse than the English Christian hero Richard the Lionheart.
 
Curious Cdn
#20
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

Muslim tyrant Saladin was worse than the English Christian hero Richard the Lionheart.

Nyah!Nyah!Nyah!!!
 
Blackleaf
#21


Richard the Lionheart defeating evil Saladin at the 1191 Battle of Arsuf.
 
Bar Sinister
#22
Quote: Originally Posted by BlackleafView Post

Muslim tyrant Saladin was worse than the English Christian hero Richard the Lionheart.


Why do I suspect you are also a Trump admirer?
 
Blackleaf
#23
Quote: Originally Posted by Bar SinisterView Post

Why do I suspect you are also a Trump admirer?

I'm an admirer of Trump and Farage. Mr Farage should be given a knighthood and a statue outside the Houses of Parliament.
 

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