A couple of months ago I introduced and outlined the English Monarchs FA Cup: 64 entrants from Alfred the Great right through to Elizabeth II to fight it out to become BEMOAT (that’s Best English Monarch of All Time for the un-initiated). The first post in this new series outlined the draw for the first round: 32 fixtures pitting all of the English monarchs against one another. It matched together some true heavyweights, including Alfred the Great versus Edward I, a “Georgian derby” with George I meeting George III, as well as Elizabeth II and her own dad, George VI.
I will attempt to pick away at these fixtures throughout 2019, but for now I will outline the first two fixtures that were pulled – literally – out of the hat:
- Henry V v Richard Cromwell
- Edmund Ironside v Henry VI
The Warrior King v the Protector’s Son
Henry V (r:1413-1422) vs. Richard Cromwell (r:1658-59)
Henry V is a name popularly and romantically referred to by historians; it was under his short reign (a mere eight years from 1413-1422) when England became a significant force in European affairs. He won – against the odds – at Agincourt in 1415, and the Hundred Years’ War looked to conclude on extremely favourable English terms. The 1420 Treaty of Troyes agreed that the French throne would pass to Henry V and his heirs, thereby disinheriting the French king’s progeny.
However, Henry V died in 1422. Whilst shoring up the north of France. He left behind a baby to inherit both the English and French kingdoms: an impossible task, as was discovered by Henry VI during his troubled reign. But is it fair to blame Henry V for later failings, even if his own premature death was a large contributing factor?
In comparison, Henry V’s contestant is Richard Cromwell: he wasn’t an actual monarch, and nor is he “the proper” Cromwell. Richard was the son of Oliver Cromwell, the Protector of England during the Commonwealth of 1649 to his death in 1658? Richard had an insurmountable task, and perhaps his closest comparison is Henry V’s own son Henry VI. The legacy bequeathed him was too large to continue. On his father’s death he did not enjoy the same level of authority, and the army’s power was too great for him to control. This led to Richard renouncing his role after a mere nine months in charge, with General Monck overseeing the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.
Richard’s legacy is an interesting one; undoubtedly we could call him a failure. However, along with his father, they are the only commoners to serve as heads of the English state. Perhaps Richard made the right choice: most of the monarchs in this competition died in horrific and bloody ways, or lived lives filled with stress and paranoia. But Richard lived into the 18th Century in relative obscurity.
In terms of the winner of this contest, there is no competition: Henry V and his Agincourt heroics easily beat the mild-mannered attempts of Richard Cromwell to continue the protectorship of England. Interestingly, it was Henry V who created a legacy, similar to that of Oliver Cromwell, whilst their sons would fail to match such high and lofty achievements.
Winner: Henry V
The Ironman v the Weak King
Edmund Ironside (r:1016) v Henry VI (r:1422-1461; 1470-71)
Above we discussed the exploits of Henry V, and therefore it is fitting that one of the names next pulled out was his son Henry VI. The difference between the two monarchs is that of night and day, of chalk and cheese, of cat and and dog… yes, i’m sure you get it: a clear contrast. Where Henry V succeeded, his son completely failed.
So, what went so wrong for Henry VI? For a starter, he was a baby king (which, in many ways, was more of Henry V’s fault for dying so early), and he grew up amongst factional rivalry between his uncles (Humphrey of Gloucester and John of Bedford) and his extended family (such as the scheming Beauforts). The bigger issue was over the continuation of the Hundred Years’ War; although the Treaty of Troyes had legally placed the French throne in the lap of Henry VI the French themselves continued to fight back. This happened particularly under the Dauphin and Joan of Arc in the late 1420s. By the time Henry VI became an adult the war was going terribly: the Burgundians – the allies of the English – had deserted them, and the French were reconquering territory.
Henry was unable to stem the tide, and many historians portray him as a weak dithering king unable to take decisive action (he was more at home with a religious book than on the battlefield). His choice of key minister was also poor (yes, looking at you the Duke of Suffolk) whilst his grasp of finance was flimsy. The result was rebellion (in the form of Cade’s Rebellion in 1450) and the rise of an opposition party under the command of the more respected Richard, Duke of York. The 1450s cemented the positions of the Lancastrians and the Yorkists, resulting in outright war and the disposal of Henry VI in 1461. Although Henry VI attempted to rally, he was captured by the Yorkists and dumped in prison, whilst the power behind the Lancatsrian cause was his wife Margaret of Anjou.
In 1470, luckily, the Yorkist faction split between Yorkist king Edward IV and his ally the Earl of Warwick. Entitled the Kingmaker, Warwick was angry at a lack of reward (and of the scheming of the Woodvilles, the in-laws of the king). Warwick put his lot in with Margaret, and in 1470 they succeeded in turfing out Edward IV, all of which gave Henry VI a come-back tour. But like all come-back tours of failed, ageing boy-bands, this one was brief and ultimately a failure. Edward IV and his Yorkist supporters returned in 1471, leading to the deaths of various key figures: Warwick, Henry VI’s son Edward, and then, ultimately, Henry VI himself.
Perhaps anyone matched with Henry VI would win the fixture and stride through to the second round. But let’s give Edmund Ironside some brief space. Like Henry VI, Edmund was born and lived during a tumultuous age. He was the son of Aethelred the Unready, and his own period in power as king of England was incredibly brief: from April to November in 1016.
However, despite this brief reign, history has been far kinder to Edmund; for starters, he has been provided with the suffix ‘Ironside’. This was given due to his opposition to the Danish invasion led by Cnut. However, Edmund was only able to delay the inevitable: in 1015 Cnut returned to England and in 1016 it was agreed that the kingdom would be divided, with Edmund keeping Wessex (and Cnut the rest of the country). Edmund did not live to see the post-war settlement as he died shortly afterwards (leading to Cnut taking full control of England).
Despite Edmund’s brief reign, it is clear from the little evidence provided that he was a stronger, more fierce monarch than Henry VI ever was over his four decades. Edmund succeeds into Round 2, where I will spend more time evaluating his brief and interesting reign.
Winner: Edmund Ironside
So, we have the first winners of the first two ties; Henry V and Edmund Ironside will go through to the final 32 in the second round draw. The upcoming ties in a future post will include a warrior king play-off between Richard the Lionheart and Edward III, as well as another heavyweight clash between King Cnut and Elizabeth I. Let’s hope I can use all of the summer rain as an opportunity to write out a few more posts in this series!