Followers of this blog may have caught the first two parts in the English Monarchs FA Cup series. If not, the premise is simple: 64 monarchs have been randomly drawn against another – a more geeky FA Cup, if you will – in an attempt to find the very best monarch in English history.
The first post outlined Edmund Ironside v Henry VI, and Henry V against Richard Cromwell (an honorary English “monarch” for the purpose of the competition; a bit like how some Welsh football teams compete in the English FA Cup). The second post in the series saw Edward III overcome Richard I, and Elizabeth I defeat King Cnut.
In this post I will endeavour to provide a run-through of four further fixtures:
- Victoria v Henry I
- Elizabeth II v George VI
- William IV v Louis
- Edward VI v James I
Henry I (r: 1100-1135)
Victoria (r: 1837-1901)
I have long held something of an interest in Henry I. Of course, he does not stand-up to comparison with the intrigue and popularity of later Henrys, notably those of Henry VIII and Henry V; however, my respect for the very first Henry runs high. This has much to do with my wider interest in the Norman invasion of 1066 and how this influenced a societal and political change in England. Henry I was the youngest son of William the Conqueror (or, William the Bastard, as he was widely known before the Conquest, much to my delight), and in many ways looked set to miss out on a great inheritance of the English kingdom and the duchy of Normandy. However, he overcame the odds and ended up establishing himself as the ruler of both provinces, in the process doing a better job than both of his older brothers.
On the Conqueror’s death in 1087 the vast domains were split: the eldest son – Robert Curthose – took possession of Normandy, whilst the second-son – William Rufus – took control of the larger, more prosperous English kingdom. None of the sons appeared to have fostered a positive, close relationship, with much bickering and plotting taking place. This settlement edged Henry out entirely, however, he played the waiting game. In 1100 King William Rufus was killed with a stray arrow in a hunting accident in the New Forest and Henry nabbed his chance to become the king of England. Robert, who held the stronger claim, failed in his bid to become recognised, thereby leading to a war between both brothers which was was ended in Henry’s victory and conquest of Normandy by 1106 (forty years after the reverse conquest of England).
Henry I reigned for 35 years, which places him highly in terms of longevity of success: he was not overthrown as so many other monarchs, and nor did he rule brutally or viciously. However, his greatest failure was in his ability to provide a clear, stable succession after his death; his only son, William, drowned in 1120, leaving only a daughter – Matilda – as heir. Despite Henry’s efforts to obtain recognition of Matilda’s right to rule, the aftermath of his death provoked a two decade’s long civil war in the kingdom (known as the Anarchy, something that will be covered in other posts relating to Matilda and King Stephen I).
Despite Henry I’s successes, he has been incredibly unfortunate to have been pitted against Queen Victoria. Her reign – from 1837-1901 – doubles that of Henry’s, and such is her influence in a crucial period of British history of industrial, political, and cultural dominance that it has been hailed as the Victorian era. As such, poor Henry has come up against a heavyweight and fails to obtain passage to the next round. As for Victoria, I will cover her reign in more detail in future posts. Perhaps this juggernaut will come up against stiffer opposition.
Elizabeth II (r: 1952-)
George VI (r: 1936-1952)
Elizabeth v George pits daughter versus father in what, in hindsight, is something of an unfair contest. It is unfair for several reasons: Elizabeth’s advantage in a longer reign and in being a stabilising force in a period of uncertainty in English history in the post-war period, but also because both monarchs appear to be good eggs.
George’s popularity has grown in recent years, notably due to the Oscar winning film The King’s Speech, and more recently in the Netflix series The Crown. He is portrayed as stoic and well-mannered, and perhaps this recent revival finds a longer pattern established back during his reign. After all, George took on the mantle of the crown – somewhat reluctantly – after his older brother’s abdication in 1936. George was a symbolic figure-head during the turmoil of the Second World War, all of which appears to have injured his own health, leading to a premature death at the age of 56 in 1952.
Despite such respect and affection, the father is unable to overcome the daughter. As with Victoria in the above fixture, Elizabeth progresses on the strength of her long reign, and her credentials and achievements will be covered in her fixture in the second round.
Winner: Elizabeth II
William IV (r:1830-1837)
Louis (r: 1216-1217)
When first considering the idea of the English Monarchs FA Cup this was the kind of fixture that excited me: two names that I have had little contact with in wider reading during my life, thereby providing me with an opportunity to find out more.
William IV appears to be a forgotten monarch, coming before the long enduring successes of the Victorian reign, and after the excesses of the Hanoverian kings of George III and George IV. So, what did William actually do during his handful of years on the throne? The 1830s were a time of vast political and social change, notably in the form of the Great Reform Act of 1832, the introduction of the poor law, as well as the complete removal of slavery across the British Empire.
Perhaps William’s strength was in his ability to adapt to the changing times. A more forceful monarch may have attempted to intrude into political matters, thereby creating unneeded clashes. It is clear that the monarchy was evolving during this period, with the King’s strength weaker than in previous centuries. William himself was aware of this change, noting:
‘I have my view of things, and I tell them to my ministers. If they do not adopt them, I cannot help it. I have done my duty.’
William’s rival for a slot in Round 2 is Louis. As with the addition of the Cromwells, I have been slightly selective in putting Louis into the draw for the first round. Yes, I needed the numbers to even the pot to 64 names, but there is more to this than simple evening out. Louis himself was proclaimed as king by many in England back in 1216, but to get to that part of the story we need to rewind to the reign of King John.
As we shall see when we cover King John in a later post, his reign was nothing short of a disaster. He was gifted a strong inheritance, but yet he lost his grasp of the Norman domains, notably that of Normandy. These problems culminated in the baronial rebellion against John in 1215, which led to the formation of Magna Carta. John’s refusal to fully recognise Magna Carta led to the barons offering the throne to a rival candidate: Prince Louis of France.
Louis landed in England in 1216 with an army, and was able to enter London where he was proclaimed king. All of this appears to have been much to the relief of the barons and the people, and the recognition of his new status appears to have stretched far and wide. This can be seen with his control of more than half the kingdom, with John seemingly on the run and facing his ultimate ruin.
However, an event happened that changed all of this: John’s death. The barons realised that they had a better option as king: a younger and more malleable prince son of John’s, Henry III. Therefore they jettisoned their support for Louis, leading to the defeat of the French at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217. Ultimately, Louis made peace with the barons, and returned to France with a big pay-out. But let us not feel sad for Louis, for he became French King in 1223 on the passing of his father (although he did die of dysentery three years later in 1226).
In terms of a winner between the two, William IV shades out Louis for his conduct during years of political change in the 1830s. Although the whole period of Louis’ time in England offers a fascinating “What If” moment for English history, ultimately, his campaign failed and he was not able to become an official King of England.
Winner: William IV
Edward VI (r: 1547-1553)
James I (r: 1603-1625)
Edward VI’s reign of six years (1547-53) is one that I have covered over the best part of a decade in the classroom. On becoming a teacher back in 2011 I was slightly stunned to see that half of the specification focused on Tudor history; I considered myself more of a modern historian, and the Tudor period had previously held little appeal. However, here we are years later, and as this blog shows, I am now a paid-up member of the Tudor Appreciation Society.
The reign of Edward VI is a fascinating one. He took on the mantle at the young age of 9 and was under the guidance of two key nobles during the six years. Firstly, his uncle the Duke of Somerset directed affairs, all of which led to a collapse during 1549 when the government faced a poor economy, an unwinnable war in Scotland, religious upheaval, and two rebellions (the Great Prayer Book Rebellion and Kett’s Rebellion). Somerset attempted to cling onto power by kidnapping the young king, leading to Edward to write in his journal:
‘Methinks I am in prison, here be no galleries nor no gardens to walk in.’
Somerset was arrested (and eventually executed in 1552), for another noble rose to prominence: John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick (who on taking power gave himself the grander title of Duke of Northumberland). Historians like to compare both dukes, with the traditional narrative stating that Somerset was the “Good Duke”: a well-meaning chap. Whereas Northumberland has been labelled the “Bad Duke”, which mostly stems from his involvement in the events of 1553 when Edward realised he was dying at the young age of 15. Rather than pass the throne to Edward’s elder Catholic sister, Mary, it was plotted to instead ensure that a good Protestant family inherited the crown (in the form of Lady Jane Grey). All of this has been labelled the “Devise for the Succession”, and it is clear that Northumberland greedily involved himself in the scheme, for he married his son Guildford Dudley to Lady Jane Grey (thereby ensuring his fingers would remain in control).
However, the plot failed: the people rallied to Princess Mary, making her Mary I of England. Northumberland was foiled and executed, followed by his son and Lady Jane Grey a year later. However, despite the scheme, modern historians have questioned whether or not Northumberland truly deserves the nickname of “Bad Duke”, with a reappraisal of his achievements. For example, he was able to stabilise the economic situation, to end the war with Scotland, to avoid any further rebellions. All of these problems are stored away under the thesis of a “Mid Tudor Crisis”, when the Tudor state looked in jeopardy. But yet Northumberland was able to shine despite these issues, all of which gives greater weight to rehabilitating his character. Such is my own fascination with Northumberland, that I wrote my very own play for the classroom: The Rise & Fall of Dudders!
What all of this shows is that Edward VI was not a particularly strong king: he needed two powerful nobles to take control of the heavyweight issues impacting the country. But can we really place the onus for his weakness on the king himself? After all, he was a mere child when his reign began, and still a few years shy of becoming a man when he died. The “What If” of his reign is if he managed to reign into manhood, with the potential to be on the throne for several decades. Perhaps England would have become a more firm Protestant country, and we would have avoided Elizabeth I’s reign entirely. However, when we compare him to James I – a full-blooded king, there is no contest. So, without going into detail about James’ reign – something that I shall save for Round 2 – this fixture sees the end of Edward VI.
Winner: James I
The next post will outline more fixtures in Round 1, including a “Georgian Derby” with George I v George III, Edward IV meeting his ancestor Henry III, and with Harold facing an Anglo-Saxon monarch in the form of Eadred.
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