British Monarchy - Learning about England’s Monarchy

After the Viking raids in the 9th century, the kingdom of Wessex showed itself as the authoritarian English Kingdom. Wessex was secured by Alfred the Great, who also dominated western Mercia, and was given the title of “Kind of the English.” Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great became the first king to reign over the kingdom as a single united entity much like the current England. England became more stable by the 11th century, even though the country was at war with the Danes. The war with the Danish resulted in a generation where the Danish ruled the monarchy. The 1066 conquest of England by William Duke of Normandy was pivotal in terms of both social and political change. The centralization of power that started in the Anglo-Saxon period continued with the new monarch.

William II, followed by Henry I succeeded the reign of their father William I. Henry I was controversial in his decision to make his daughter Matilda his heir upon his death. After he died in 1135, Stephen, grandson of William I, took over the throne with the support of the majority of the barons. His reign was challenged by Matilda and England progressed into a period of disorder that was known by many as the Anarchy. A compromise was eventually reached allowing Stephen to remain in power so long as, upon his death, Matilda’s son would succeed him. Following the death of Stephen, Henry II, son of Matilda, took power and became the first monarch of the Angevin dynasty in 1154.

For most of the Angevin monarchs, their reigns were filled with conflicts between nobility and monarch, and civil strife. For Henry II, he faced both his sons rebelling against him. Despite the rebelling by his children Richard I and John, Henry II expanded his kingdom. When he died his son Richard took the throne, but was away from England for most of his time as King because he left to fight in the Crusades. After he died his brother John took the throne.

During the time John was on the throne there was a lot of conflict between himself and the barons over how much power the king should rightfully have. In 1215 the king was convinced by the barons to issue the Magna Carta as a way of guaranteeing the liberties and rights of the nobility. It wasn’t long before more disagreements caused civil war in England. The war was called the First Barons’ War and came to a sudden end when John died in 1216. With his death the throne was passed to his son Henry III who was only nine years old at the time. Another rebellion was led by Simon de Montfort later in the reign of Henry III. This rebellion was called the Second Barons’ War and ended in victory for the royalists. In 1265 the king agreed to summon a parliament.

Edward I was the next monarch in England and was much more successful in keeping his power and was also the individual responsible for the conquest of the kingdom of Wales. He also attempted to take control of Scotland, but any advances he had made were reversed during his successors reign. Edward II was yet another English monarch to go head to head with the nobles of England. In 1311 he gave up many of his powers to the baronial “ordainers.” He was able to win back control however in 1322. Only a few years later in 1327 Edward was killed by his wife, Isabella, and his son Edward III took the throne. Edward III also laid claim to the French throne which started the Hundred Years War between the French and English.

The campaigns of Edward III meant a lot of French territory conquered by the English. All of this was lost however in 1374. It was during the reign of Edward III that more changes were made to Parliament, most notably the division of Parliament into two separate houses. Edward III died in 1377 and his crown was passed to Richard II, his grandson who was only 10 years old at the time. Richard II was yet another king who disagreed with the nobles and attempted to gain more control for himself. While in Ireland campaigning in 1399, Henry Bolingbroke seized control of the throne, deposing Richard II who was later imprisoned and killed.

The grandson of Edward III, Henry IV spent most of his time on the throne battling rebellion. He was successful largely thanks to his son, who would become known as Henry V. In 1413 Henry V took the crown. His death in 1422 left his son Henry VI on the throne. However, Henry VI was only an infant at the time. The young age of the king provided a perfect opportunity for the French to overthrow English rule.

Henry VI’s counselors were largely unpopular. This, combined with his poor leadership as king was cause for the weakening of his house (the House of Lancaster) and in turn, his right to the throne. His house was challenged by the House of York, whose head was Richard, Duke of York. Richard died in battle in 1460, allowing his son Edward IV to lead the house to victory in 1461. During his reign, the reign of his son Edward V, and the reign of his brother Richard III the War of the Roses continued. The war ended in favor of the House of Lancaster, led by Henry Tudor in 1485.

After the death of Richard III, Henry Tudor became known as King Henry VII. He re-established absolute supremacy in England and ended the conflict that had become the norm for previous rulers between the nobles and the monarch. The second Tudor king, Henry VIII, reigned during a time with a lot of political and religious change. Henry VIII went as far as to break from the Roman Catholic Church and establish his own church, known as the Church of England.

After the death of Henry VIII, his young son Edward VI continued the religious reformation that was going on in England and, because of his resistance to allow a Catholic ruler to take the throne upon his death, changed the order of succession to pass over his sister Mary and instead make Lady Jane Grey queen. Only nine days into the rule of Jane Grey her position was overthrown by Mary. Mary I became known as Bloody Mary because of her burning of Protestants who wouldn’t return to Catholicism. When she died in 1558, her sister Elizabeth, a devout Protestant took the throne. Elizabeth I helped England to become the country it is today.