Last month I started the English Monarchs FA Cup by outlining the first two fixtures from Round 1. We saw Henry V defeat (not-actually-a-monarch) Richard Cromwell (yes, he was included to make up the numbers to a nice even 64), as well as Edmund Ironside narrowly edge out the disaster that was Henry VI. In this post I’ll continue by outlining a couple of further fixtures: two warrior kings battling it out in the form of Richard I and Edward III, as well as another heavyweight fixture of two influential monarchs in Elizabeth I and Cnut the Great.
Richard I (r:1189-1199) v. Edward III (r:1327-1377)
Richard I – or Richard the Lionheart, as he is more romantically named – is a legendary figure in English history. His name has been utilised across the centuries as something synonymous with the English fighting spirit, as evidenced by the use of the three lions on the royal arms of England and on the English football shirt. However, Richard’s actual reign is little known to the English, with Richard himself overshadowed by his more influential father (Henry II) and the more disastrous reign of his younger brother, John.
Richard reigned for a decade at the end of the 12th Century. He is chiefly remembered for his adventures whilst on crusade (the “must do” feature of any contemporary To Do List for royals and nobles during the period), and his exploits were ones that occurred whilst abroad away from English shores. This international experience is highlighted in the fact that he remained in England for a handful of months across the entirety of the ten years, which suggests that domestic concerns wasn’t something that he was particularly bothered with.
The myth, then, is greater than that of the reality. Richard himself schemed with his family against his father before becoming king, and his reign also saw an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence, as well as his own capture and ransoming. His premature death happened whilst campaigning in France, and it is hard to obtain a firm gauge as to his overall effectiveness whilst king. Steve Runciman’s words suit well here:
‘He was a bad son, a bad husband, and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier.’
By contrast, Edward III stands tall as one of the longest served and most successful of English monarchs. His 14th Century reign is one connected with England taking on France in the century-long struggle that has become known as the Hundred Years’ War; it was Edward himself, in stating his claim to the French throne, that began the war. Edward oversaw great victories against the French, including the 1346 Battle of Crecy, and the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, which demonstrated the power of the English during this medieval age.
However, the war itself ended in a stale-mate by the time of his death in 1377, whilst one of the starring lights of the war – Edward’s son, the Black Prince – predeceased his father, thereby leaving the throne to a grandson (the ill-fated Richard II). In many ways, Edward created severe problems for this descendants, with the Hundred Years’ War dragging on until an ultimate defeat in the 1450s. More seriously was the problem of his own progeny: his many sons sired many more grandsons and their divisions led to the Wars of the Roses in the second half of the 15th Century. Whilst teaching this period in an A-level module many years ago I used the mantra (passed down to me by another History teacher): ‘it all began in the bed of Ed’!
But it must be stated that Edward overcame many severe problems during his five decade long reign, none more larger than the Black Death which resulted in a massive decline of population and a re-shaping of English society. I like to view Edward as a new-type of monarch than the ones that have come before, almost as if the monarchy rebooted itself with his reign. The Plantagenant dynasty was strengthened, and even though his own descendants would bring about the dynasty’s downfall, the king’s hold on the throne was shown to be mighty and strong during the period.
Perhaps if Richard I had been fortuitous in being matched with a weaker monarch he could have gone on a longer cup run. But, as it stands, there is no way past the much stronger, bigger, more successful reign of Edward III.
Winner: Edward III
Elizabeth I (r:1558-1603) v. Cnut the Great (r:1016-1035)
I have a confession to make: I am a big fan of Elizabeth I. For the best part of a decade I have taught her reign in an A-level module and each and every year my own appreciation of her grows. She inherited an unstable country – in what some historians have dubbed the ‘Mid Tudor Crisis’ – and managed to make a success of an England shaped by her rule. This includes England become more confident on the world stage (the first steps in becoming a world power) and in establishing a firm settlement regarding the divisions in religion. The preceding reign of her half-sister Mary I had seen Catholics persecuting Protestants, and Elizabeth’s own settlement in 1559 established the Church of England as what it later became.
Of course, Elizabeth is not without her faults. Her lack of decisive action created periods of panic with nobles and those in Parliament, with her lack of a husband being seen as a continuing issue (of course, some historians would argue that the lack of a marriage was a conscious decision in order to retain power). I would not go as far as one previous A-level module in hailing the period as ‘The Triumph of Elizabeth’, however, it is clear that England itself found its confidence and direction once again during her reign.
However, this fixture is one between heavyweights. Elizabeth’s opponent here is Cnut the Great, who himself achieved great things during his reign in the early 11th Century. Cnut created a North Sea Empire comprising England, Denmark, and Norway, thereby becoming an incredibly powerful and influential monarch of the period. His story is an interesting one, especially when we consider that he invaded the country in 1015 in order to defeat Ethelred (and later, Ethelred’s son, Edmund Ironside). In this vein, he is similar to many other English monarchs who had to fight to claim the throne, notably that of Henry VII.
Cnut created many changes in the kingdom: he divided England into earldoms, and managed to increase the economic stability of England which amounted to a period of prosperity. Historian Norman F. Cantor has hailed him as ‘the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history’, despite him not actually being of Anglo-Saxon descent! Cnut’s connection to the English throne can be seen in his marriage to Ethelred’s widow, Emma; although this did later create succession issues between Cnut’s sons.
Perhaps Cnut is mostly famous for the legend of his supposed attempt to push back the tides of the sea. On the face of it, this portrays Cnut as a deluded monarch who believed that his powers were so vast that he could actually control the sea. However, the story refers to Cnut demonstrating the limits of his power: by failing to push back the sea he showed that it was only God who had the power to push back the tide. Ultimately, secular power was vain when compared to the supreme power of God.
Despite Cnut’s clear achievements the winner must be Elizabeth, and for several reasons. She was the first full successful female monarch of England; before this the country had dabbled with Matilda in the 12th Century (a complete failure) and with Liz’s half-sister Mary in the 1550s (another failure). Elizabeth established the precedent that females could rule, and more than this helped to establish England as a power. This is not even explaining the achievements of the Golden Age, which culturally established England for the subsequent centuries. Cnut, in comparison, did not create a new age; although his reign was powerful, his North Sea Legacy was not long-lasting and crumbled in a matter of years. Elizabeth may not have left children to continue her reign, but she did leave behind stronger political and social structures that endured for centuries after her death.
Winner: Elizabeth I
That makes four out of the opening 32 fixtures of Round 1 of the English Monarchs FA Cup. I will speed things along in the next post by assessing four more fixtures, including:
- Victoria v Henry I
- Elizabeth II v George VI
- William IV v Louis (?!)
- Edward VI v James I
In the meantime, I shall place the victors and the losers of Round 1 into their respective piles:
- Henry V
- Edmund Ironside
- Edward III
- Elizabeth I
- Richard Cromwell
- Henry VI
- Richard I
- Cnut the Great