Up to this time, efforts to unite the kingdoms in England always failed, because as soon as one kingdom became dominant it was in the interest of the rest to pull it down. The dominant kingdom and the rest lacked the strongest motive to unite--a common enemy. Then the Danes invaded England and destroyed the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. This left it up to Wessex to shoulder the burden of uniting the remaining kingdoms to resist the Danes. So the Saxon leaders of Wessex became the first leaders of the nation.
Egbert, who was the king of Wessex for 37 years from 801-839, is regarded as the first King of England.
Ethelwulf, the son of Egbert, became king when Egbert died in 839. He reigned for 19 years.
Ethelbald, the second son of Ethelwulf, became king for 2 years when his father died in 858. He married his father's widow.
Ethelbert, the third son of Ethelwulf, became king for 6 years when his brother Ethelbald died in 860.
St. Ethelred I, the fourth son of Ethelwulf, reigned for 5 years when his brother Ethelbert died in 866.
Alfred of Wessex, the fifth son of Ethelwulf, became king in 871 when his brother Ethelred died. King Alfred, who reigned for 30 years, became the most famous Saxon king. He fought nine battles and saved his kingdom from the Danes. He created many fortified towns, established schools where the sons of the nobility could learn to read and write, brought in foreign scholars and craftsmen, restored monasteries and convents, helped to design houses, invented a candle clock, mastered Latin and translated many books into Anglo-Saxon, ordered the compilation of the first history book (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), and published a collection of laws, which he enforced.
Edward the Elder, son of Alfred, reigned for 24 years from Alfred's death in 901 to 925.
Athelstan, son of Edward the Elder, reigned for 15 years from his father's death in 925 to 940.
Edmund I, second son of Edward the Elder, reigned from 940 until he was assassinated in 946.
Edred, third son of Edward the Elder, reigned for 9 years from 946 to 955.
Edwy, son of Edmund I, reigned for the 4 years from 955 to 959.
Edgar, second son of Edmund I, reigned for the 16 years from 959 to 975. When he came to power, the English kingdom had been reduced by the Danes so that the dominions of Wessex extended only to the Thames River.
Edward (the Martyr), son of Edgar, reigned from 975 until he was assassinated at age 16 in 979.
Ethelred II (the Ill-Advised), second son of Edgar, reigned for 37 years from 979 to 1016.
Edmund II (Ironside), son of Ethelred II, reigned for 1 year before he died in 1017 when the Danes conquered England.
Harold I, son of Canute, reigned for 5 years from 1035 to 1040.
Hardicanute, second son of Canute, reigned from 1040 to 1042 when he died at age 24.
Harold II, brother-in-law of Edward the Confessor, was elected by the Witan (council) when Edward died in 1066. He reigned for 10 months. He was the last of the Saxon kings. In 1066, Harold's brother Tostig, aided by the King of Norway, landed in Northern England. Harold defeated them on September 25. On September 29, William the Conqueror and his army landed in southern England from Normandy. William's army defeated what was left of Harold's army, Harold was killed, and the Normans took over England.
William I (the Conqueror) was given the crown of England by the Witan in 1066 when his army defeated Harold's army. He ruled for 21 years until his death in 1087. William introduced the idea that the forests and the game in them belonged to the king. He had thousands of people mutilated for breaches of the game laws.
William II (Rufus), third and favorite son of William I, ascended to the throne of England when his father died. His older brother Robert became the King of Normandy. William II reigned for 13 years until he was shot in the eye by an arrow and died in 1100. He was tyrannical. He plundered the Church.
Henry I (the Lion of Justice), the fourth son of William I, became king when his brother was killed. He ruled for 35 years. He reorganized the English judicial system so as to obtain more taxes for the king. When his son drowned in 1120, he nominated his daughter Matilda to be his successor. When he died in 1135, the Council decided a woman was not fit to rule, so they offered the throne to Stephen of Blois, who was Henry's nephew and a grandson of William the Conqueror.
Stephen reigned from 1135 to 1154. In 1139, Henry's daughter Matilda led an invasion from Anjou and began a civil war in England that lasted for a decade or so. The countryside was ravaged, crops were destroyed, and cattle were driven off. Finally, the struggle for the throne was resolved by a compromise. When Stephen's son died in 1153, the two sides agreed that Stephen should retain the throne until he died and that Matilda's son, Henry of Anjou, should then become King Henry II.
Henry II, the eldest son of Matilda who was the daughter of Henry I, was a European ruler rather than merely the King of England. He married Eleanor of Aquitaine. His empire stretched from the Solway Firth in Scotland almost to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Somme River in northern France to the Pyrenees in Spain. Pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman ever to be Pope, added Ireland to Henry's domain. Henry recovered the northern counties from the Scots. He reformed the legal system and laid the foundation for trial by jury instead of trial by ordeal or battle. His main concern in doing this was to raise money for himself and to centralize power. He is famous for his dispute with Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry wanted to control the Church courts, but Becket opposed him. The Church courts were a sanctuary from the kings court for anyone who could read Latin and pass as a cleric. Becket was killed by Henry's supporters. This backfired, because Becket became a martyr and a saint and Henry lost control of the Church courts. Even Henry's sons turned against him.
Richard I (Coer-de-Lion [the Lionhearted]), the second son of Henry II, ascended to the throne when his father died in 1189. He ruled for 10 years. He left the government in the hands of deputies so he could travel abroad. He regarded his kingdom solely as a source of revenue for his crusades to free the Holy Land from the Turks, who were Moslems. He was captured by the Duke of Austria, who sold him to Emperor Henry VI. He was kept in prison for 14 months until his ransom was paid.
John, fourth son of Henry II, became king when his brother Richard I died in 1199. He reigned for 17 years. In 1204 he lost Normandy to the King of France. He raised taxes to onerous levels. He quarreled with Pope Innocent III and was excommunicated. He was so unpopular that, for the first time in English history, influential people cooperated to make a national protest against bad government. On June 15, on the small island of Runnymede in the Thames River near Windsor, John was forced to seal Magna Charta (the Great Charter), which restated the rights of the Church and the barons. John broke his word. The nobles summoned aid from France. John died in the midst of the French invasion.
Henry III was 9 years old when he ascended to the throne upon the death of his father King John in 1216. Deputies actually ran the government until he turned 20 years old in 1227. Like his father, he imposed heavy taxes and engaged in costly, fruitless wars. He was probably the greatest patron of medieval ecclesiastical architecture. During his 56-year reign, Franciscan and Dominican friars set up establishments in England. The story of Friar Tuck, an ally of the legendary Robin Hood, during King John's reign is not accurate.
Edward I (Longshanks), son of Henry III, reigned for 35 years from his father's death in 1272 to 1307. He conquered Wales and made his eldest son the Prince of Wales, a title since borne by all male heirs to the throne. Until the day of his death he waged war unsuccessfully against the Scots, who were led by William Wallace and later by Robert Bruce. The epitaph on his tomb says "Here lies Edward Hammer of the Scots." He always wanted more money for war. The new merchant class had money. The only way to get it from them was to summon a national Parliament. Consequently, Parliament became the new way of conducting government business.
Edward II, the effeminate son of Edward I, reigned for 20 years from 1307 when his father died until he was deposed in 1327. He resorted to the noose and the chopping block to silence his opponents. In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated an English army and gained independence for Scotland, which lasted until the Union of England and Scotland in 1707. Edward II married Isabella of France. She deserted him, and his opponents forced him to abdicate in favor of his son. He was imprisoned and murdered in 1327.
Edward III, son of Edward II, reigned for 50 years from 1327 to 1377. He started the Hundred Years' War ostensibly to establish his claim to the French throne. Actually he wanted to retain control of Gascony and the wine trade centered on Bordeau and to keep open the connections between the English wool traders and the woolen markets of Flanders. During his reign Parliament was divided into two houses and met regularly to vote supplies for the war. The bubonic plague from 1348 to 1350, known as the Black Death, killed half the population of England. This weakened Edward's army so much that he signed a peace treaty in 1360. England began to build its own civilization. In 1362 English replaced French as the official language of the English law courts. Chaucer wrote the first English masterpieces. John Wycliffe and the Lollards (the first Protestants) produced the first English translation of the Bible.
Richard II, grandson of Edward III, reigned from the death of his grandfather in 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. He was the last Angevin king. Parliament passed legislation to restrain wages, but not prices. This caused the Peasants Revolt in 1381 led by Wat Tyler. The revolt was put down with great brutality. Richard was extravagant and unjust. His final undoing was to make plain his wish to abandon Parliamentary government, which was now an established part of national life. In 1399, Henry of Lancaster returned from exile, deposed Richard, and was elected king by Parliament, as Henry IV. In 1400, Richard was murdered in prison.
Henry IV, son of the Duke of Lancaster, usurped the throne from Richard II and ruled from 1399 to 1413. From 1399 to about 1410 Henry was never free from rebellions. Many nobles and the Archbishop of York were executed. Henry died of leprosy in 1413.
Henry V, son of Henry IV, reigned from 1413 to 1422. He diverted England's attention from internal discord by renewing the war with France. He appeased the Church by persecuting the Lollards. He married Catherine, the daughter of King Charles VI of France. King Charles was such a lunatic that he recognized Henry V as his heir in preference to his own son. If Henry V had lived two months longer, he would have been crowned King of France. But Henry died suddenly in 1422
Henry VI, son of Henry V, became king when his father died in 1422. He was nine months old. Within two months, on the death of Charles VI, he was also King of France. For the first 20 years of his reign, the government of England and its war with France were managed by his uncles and cousins. Joan of Arc turned the tide in France's favor in 1428, and France kept the momentum even after the "Maid of Orleans" was burned at the stake in 1431. When the nobles came back from France, the weak government wasn't able to control them. The two aristocratic factions battled for supremacy, but they left the mass of people unaffected. In 1454 Henry VI succumbed to the insanity which was hereditary in his mother's family. Richard, Duke of York, was appointed Regent. Henry recovered his senses in 1455. Hostilities broke out between the families of Lancaster and York in 1458. The Yorkists triumphed, Henry was captured, and the Duke of York resumed his Regency. In 1460 the Lancasterians routed the Yorkists at Wakefield. The Duke of York was killed. The next year the new Duke of York defeated the Lancasterians. Henry VI was deposed, and Edward, Duke of York, became King Edward IV. In 1470 an invasion led by Warwick restored Henry VI to the throne as Warwick's puppet. Edward fled to Burgundy and returned to England in 1471. He fought two battles and won back the throne. Warwick and Henry VI's son were killed in battle. Henry VI was was probably killed after the battle by Edward IV's brother Richard.
Edward IV reigned from 1461 to 1470. Then he reigned from 1471 to 1483. His morals were weak but his greed was strong. He invaded France. In 1475, Loius XI paid him cash plus and annuity to return to England. Edward was able to live on this money and the proceeds he confiscated from the Lancaster estates for the rest of his reign.
Edward V was 12 years old when he succeeded his father to the throne in 1483. He reigned for two months. Then his uncle threw him and his brother Richard in prison and seized the throne as Richard III. In 1674 skeletons of two children were found while alterations were being made at the Tower. Richard probably murdered his nephews in 1483.
Richard III usurped the throne in 1483 and reigned for two years. He is credited with the deaths of Henry VI, Henry VI's son, his own brother Clarence, and his nephews Edward V and the Duke of York. He was unpopular. Henry Tudor of Richmond returned from exile in Brittany with a small army. More men joined him when he landed in Milford Haven. On 22 August 1485, the last important battle in the Wars of the Roses was fought in Leicestershire. Richard III was killed and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII.
Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, was nine years old when he became king in 1547. He died in 1553 at age sixteen. The country was virtually ruled by his uncle, the Duke of Somerset, until Somerset was executed and Northumberland took over.
Lady Jane Grey, daughter of Northumberland's stooge the Duke of Suffolk, ascended to the throne when Edward VI died of consumption in 1553. She reined for nine days. Then Mary, Edward VI's sister, entered London with her supporters. Mary became queen, Northumberland was imprisoned and executed, and Lady Jane and her husband were executed a year later.
Mary I (Bloody Mary), who ascended to the throne in 1553 by violence, was a devout Catholic. Her first act as queen was to repeal the anti-Catholic legislation of her younger brother's reign. She wanted to bring Catholicism back to England. She had the Protestant bishops Latimer and Ridley and the Archbishop of Cranmer and many others burned at the stake. She plunged the country into a blood-bath, but it only rallied more Englishmen to the Protestant faith.
Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, ascended to the throne in 1558 when her half-sister Mary died. She reigned for 44 years until 1603. In the early part of her reign women controlled the three important countries: Elizabeth, England; Mary Queen of Scots, Scotland; and her mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, was Regent for Charles IX of France. Elizabeth was a Protestant. She sent an army to assist the French Protestants, she aided the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) in its struggle for independence from Spain, and she assisted the Protestant cause in Scotland. When Elizabeth learned that Mary Queen of Scots was at the center of plots against her, Elizabeth had Mary executed in 1587. In 1588 the Spanish Armada was decisively defeated by Elizabeth's navy. She sent Sir Walter Raleigh to Virginia to found a colony. Her reign was a good one for writing. It was the age of Shakespeare, Sidney, Spencer, Bacon, Marlowe, and many others. Elizabeth was the last of the Tudors. She died in 1603.
Charles I, son of James I, became king when his father died in 1625. He reigned for 24 years until he was beheaded in 1649. From 1629 to 1640 he governed by personal rule because Parliament wouldn't do what he wanted. Without Parliament he couldn't raise tax money. He overcame this problem by selling monopolies and demanding "ship" money from seaports and eventually from inland towns. Civil war erupted between supporters of Parliament and supporters of the king. The middle classes and tradesmen supported Parliament and the nobility and the peasants took the king's side. The parts of the country controlled by Parliament contained two-thirds of the population and three-quarters of the country's wealth. Charles surrendered to the Scots, who turned him over to the English. He was arraigned in 1648 and refused to plead. He was found guilty by a vote of 68 to 67. By one vote Charles lost his head.
Oliver Cromwell was busy killing Catholics in Ireland when Charles I was beheaded in 1649. He became Lord General of the Commonwealth and then, in 1653, Lord Protector, a position which was a virtual dictatorship. Later he was offered the title of King, but the Republican section of the Army resisted the suggestion so strongly that he declined. Cromwell imposed Puritan laws that included severe penalties for such offences as travelling on Sunday or for using profanity.
Richard Cromwell succeeded to his father's position in 1658 when Oliver Cromwell died. The Army and Parliament were unable to agree on a government. The Restoration in 1660 was basically a conspiracy by Royalists and Puritans against the Army. It was intended more as a restoration of Parliament than of the king. Richard Cromwell had to go to France, but he was able to return and live in peace through four reigns, dying in 1712 at the age of 86.
Charles II, son of Charles I, ascended to the throne in 1660 and reigned for 25 years. He married Catherine of Braganza Portugal in 1662 to get her dowry and naval bases. He also had thirteen mistresses that we know about. The Great Plague of London and the Great Fire took place during his reign.
James II (James VII of Scotland), son of Charles I and brother of Charles II, became king of England when his brother died in 1685. James was a Catholic. Six months after he took over, his nephew James, Duke of Monmouth (the son of his brother Charles II and Lucy Walters) landed in Dorset and was proclaimed King by his Protestant adherents. James II's army crushed the rebellion and captured Monmouth. James II had his nephew executed. Then he had 230 others executed. Hundreds of others died in prison, were fined, or flogged. James II was hated for his ruthless crushing of Protestantism. In November 1688, William of Orange, who had married James II's daughter Mary, landed with a strong army at Devon to start the "Glorious Revolution" at the invitation of Parliament, which declared that James was no longer king. As William's army neared the capital, men of all parties rallied to it. James fled the country. He tried to regain the throne later but was defeated at the battle of Boyne in Ireland and returned to France where he died.
William III and Mary II ascended to the throne in 1689. William III was the son of William II. Mary II was the daughter of James II. William was the champion of the Protestant cause in Europe. He married Mary in 1677. They had no children. He refused to accept the vacant throne by right of conquest. He was declared King by Parliament. The theory of the divinely ordained king was finally dead. The Act of Parliament of 1689 declared that no Catholic, nor anyone married to a Catholic, could be sovereign of England. William massacred a Highland clan at Glencoe because they were slow in making submission to him. He put down Jacobite plots to restore James II to the throne. William personally headed the army that defeated James II at Boyne. He had Britain at war with France until 1697. He died from a hunting accident when his horse stepped in a hole and threw him. He was: William I of Ireland, William II of Scotland, William III of England, and William IV of Normandy.
Anne, daughter of James II, became queen in 1702 when William III died. She was 37 years old. She had 17 children, and they all died before she did. Marlborough was her Commander-in-Chief. He continued William III's wars of the Spanish succession. For 10 years he won every battle and secured every town to which he laid siege. Peace broke out in 1713 with the signing of the Peace of Utrecht. During her reign Swift, Addison, and Steele were writing, Christopher Wren was building St. Paul's Cathedral, and Locke and Newton were theorizing. In 1707 the Act of Union between England and Scotland created Great Britain. Anne was the last of the Stuart monarchs.
George I, son of Sophia and Ernest the Elector of Hanover, became the first Hanoverian King of England in 1714 at the age of 54 when Queen Anne died. He never took the trouble to learn the English language, and he spent more time in Hanover than England. The English Court virtually ceased to exist. George let his ministers make national policy. This laid the foundation for the Whig oligarchy which ruled England for the next 50 years. (The terms Whig and Tory were coined in the 17th century as terms of contempt. Whigs were Scottish whiggamores or horse-drovers. Tories were Irish robbers.) Cabinet government began in this reign. Sir Robert Walpole, the chief minister of the majority party became England's first Prime Minister. In 1715 the Jacobites tried again to install a Catholic king, but their rebellion failed.
George II, son of George I, became king when his father died in 1727. He ruled for 33 years. Like his father, George II was first and foremost a German prince. He relied on his Whig cabinet and prime minister Walpole to run the government. The Tories were not trusted because of their associations with the Jacobites. So the custom was established of selecting the whole cabinet from men of one political party. War was declared with Spain in 1739. This was the beginning of a series of wars that ran intermittently until 1815. In 1745 the Jacobites tried again to restore the Stuarts to the throne. Their candidate was Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). He landed in Scotland, amassed an army, and was routed a year later by the Royal Army under George II's second son, the Duke of Cumberland. Prince Charlie escaped to the Western Isles. No one betrayed him, even though there was a price of 30,000 pounds for his head. He moved later to France and died a drunkard in Rome. In 1756 the Seven Years' War with France began over clashes in North America.
George III, son of George II, became king when his father died in 1760. He reigned for 59 years. He wanted to recover power from the Prime Minister so he worked to break the power of the Whigs. He used bribery to create his own party, the Kings' friends, until he was strong enough to appoint his own Prime Minister, Lord North. Working together George III and Lord North managed to lose the American colonies by attempting to impose taxes on them. The exasperated colonists rebelled and declared independence in 1776. The Whigs refused to support the king in his war against the Americans. George gave up trying to rule personally and, in 1783, he gave much of his ministerial power to William Pitt the Younger, a Tory and son of the famous William Pitt who was the Whig Prime Minister before Lord North. In 1793 England joined a coalition to fight against the French revolutionaries. By 1797 England was alone against the French who seemed to be bent on conquering Europe. A peace treaty was signed in 1802, but Napoleon Bonaparte renewed the war in 1803. The English Navy blockaded Europe, which caused problems with neutral countries such as the United States. The Anglo-American War began in 1812 and lasted until 1814. Also in 1814 Napoleon was exiled to Elba. He returned to France and started up again, but was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, was exiled to St. Helena, and died there in 1821. In 1801 the Act of Union joined Ireland to England until the Government of Ireland Act in 1920 established the modern arrangement. In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in lands under British control.
George III was neurotic. After 1811 he was at times both blind and insane. His eldest son ruled for him as Prince Regent. George III spent the last nine years of his reign in seclusion and died in 1820. Although he was an idiot, many good things happened in England during his reign. The population doubled. Transportation was revolutionized with new roads and canals. Great literary figures such as Johnson, Gibbon, Jane Austen, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelly, and Keats abounded. The arts flourished.
George IV, son of George III, became king in 1820 and reigned for 9 years. He became the leader of London society, setting the fashion in dress and patronizing the arts and architecture. Regent Street and Regent's Park and Regency style were named after him. He had a steady flow of mistresses while he was Prince Regent. When he was king, his attempts to divorce his wife disgusted the country.
William IV, third son of George III, became king when his brother George IV died in 1830. He reigned for six years. He was a welcome relief from his brother. He had an unassuming character, lead an exemplary private life, and hated pomp and ceremony. The Reform Act of 1832 extended the franchise to the middle classes on the basis of property qualifications. In 1833 slavery was abolished in British colonies. Because William IV was such a liberal-minded and pleasant fellow, he was the only European monarch of his time to survive the advent of democracy.
Victoria, niece of William IV and granddaughter of George III, became queen in 1837 when William IV died. She reigned for 63 years. She married her cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Prince Albert was the virtual ruler of the country until he died in 1861. He and Victoria brought respectability to the monarchy. Albert left two permanent legacies to England: the Christmas tree, which he introduced from his native Germany, and with the profits from the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, he developed a shrine to science and art in Kensington, which now contains the Victoria and Albet Museum, the Science Museum, the Imperial College of Science and Technology, the Royal College of Music, and Royal Albert Hall. When he died, Victoria withdrew into seclusion until the Golden Jubilee celebration of her reign in 1887. During her reign the British Empire doubled in size. New Zealand joined in 1840, Canada in 1867, and Australia in 1900. Wars were fought in Egypt and South Africa, and a mutiny was suppressed in India to establish English rule in those countries. In 1876 she became Empress of India. Except for the Crimean War (1853-1856), England was involved in no European wars between 1815 and 1914.
Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, became king in 1901 at age 59 when Victoria died. He reigned for nine years. He had already been known as Edward the Peacemaker for his constant attempts to foster international harmony. His affability and dandyism made him popular. He became the first reigning monarch to win the Derby. During his reign, Parliament passed welfare legislation such as the Education Act (1902) and old-age pensions (1908).
George V, son of Edward VII, became king in 1910 when his father died. He was educated as a naval officer. During his reign World War I took place, England got its first Socialist government, and the world went into a great economic depression. The BBC was established in 1926. In 1931 the Dominions were no longer subordinated to England.
Edward VIII, son of George V, became king when his father died in 1936. He wanted to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. This would raise a problem with the established Church, whose official doctrine did not condone divorce. Edward VII renounced his throne in December 1936 so he could marry Mrs. Simpson. He and was replaced by his brother George.
George VI, second son of George V, became king in 1936 when his brother resigned. The outbreak of World War II overshadowed the abdication of Edward VIII. After the war the Socialist government nationalized the Bank of England, the mines, railways, gas and electricity, and health services.
Elizabeth II, daughter of George VI, became queen in 1952 when her father died. She is still the reigning queen today.
Year Read: 1999
Libertarian Essays by Roy Halliday
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