Part IV of the first round of the English Monarchs FA Cup is here. For those who just come across this series, here’s an overview:
Sixty-four monarchs throughout English history have been randomly drawn against one another in the format of the football FA Cup. The winner of the match-ups progress through to the next round until the very best monarch in English history is declared.
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. The third part of Round 1 included match-ups between Queen Victoria and Henry I, as well as a Father v Daughter tie in George VI against Elizabeth II.
This post will plough through three more fixtures from Round 1:
- Harold v Eadred
- Henry III v Edward IV
- Henry IV v Sweyn
Harold (r: 1066)
Eadred (r: 946-955)
Poor King Harold. His legacy is one in which he fights for the throne, loses his crown, as well as suffering the loss of an eyeball. His place in history is one in which he is the antagonist to the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, however, his backstory on becoming king is a tale worthy of remembering. A tale that should place Harold as a king in his own right, no matter how brief his actual reign was (less than a calendar year!).
Harold’s family, the Godwinsons, were the dominant power in Wessex; this land was a key component in the English kingdom. On his father’s death in 1053, Harold became Earl of Wessex, making him the most powerful figure in the kingdom after the king himself. King Edward (the Confessor) (r: 1042-66) was heavily dependent on the Godwinsons, and on Edward’s death in early 1066 Harold succeeded him on the throne.
However, Harold could not enjoy a honeymoon period for long. Word of his coronation reached the Duchy of Normandy south of the Channel, which incensed Duke William (the Bastard). As the Bayeaux Tapestry recounts, William claimed that Harold had pledged his allegiance to him after an earlier meeting, with it supposedly agreed that the Norman Duke would take the throne on the death of Edward. William responded to Harold’s power grab by amassing an invasion fleet to head toward England.
Harold’s problems were compounded with a second invasion taking place in the north of his newly acquired kingdom. Harald Hardrada, the king of Norway, put forward his own claim to the English crown; he was assisted by Harold’s very own brother, Tostig, who had a grievance against the new king due to an earlier dispute. Hardrada’s army defeated an English force near York in September 1066, before then succumbing to King Harold’s newly arrived army four days later. This Battle of Stamford Bridge saw Harold overcome his enemies, with both Hardrada and Tostig among the number slayed on the field of battle.
One threat had been dealt with, but Harold did not have time to enjoy the spoils of victory. His army frantically marched south to face Duke William’s invasion in the south. The Battle of Hastings saw his men stretched to their limit and as we all know, it saw Harold’s defeat and death.
Harold’s match-up in this round is Eadred, a king of the English from 946 to 955. Eadred was a grand-son of Alfred the Great and he continued the tradition of monarchs in expanding English domains to unite the various domains into a unified, solidified English state. His accession to the throne was due to the assassination of his older brother (Edmund I), and his reign was relatively short considering that he died at the young age of 32.
On the face of it, such a lacklustre reign would suggest that Eadred couldn’t match the pure drama of Harold’s short frenzied time on the throne. However, we cannot ignore Eadred’s most significant achievement: the annexation of Northumbria under English control. This makes Harold’s own selfish seizure of the throne pale in comparison, and ensures that Eadred is able to successfully win the tie and progress to Round 2.
Henry III (r: 1216-1272)
Edward IV (r: 1461-1470; 1471-1483)
This match up is a contest of heavyweight monarchs, both of whom left their mark on the English kingdom. Henry III is one of a handful of monarch to have enjoyed a reign that past the fifty year mark, whilst Edward IV is in limited company in experiencing two reigns.
I must admit, like a few of these match-ups so far, I do have a favourite. I’ve covered Edward IV in the classroom and admire his qualities and ability. He came to the throne during the Wars of the Roses, having picked up the claim to the throne after the death of his father, Richard Duke of York, in battle. The reigning monarch of the time, Henry VI, was weak and unable to heal the wounds caused by the outbreak of this civil war, and after the death of leading Yorkists, young Edward (then a teenager) won a stunning victory at the Battle of Wakefield to win the crown.
Like all young men, Edward made mistakes. During the 1460s, when the Lancastrians were scattered and unable to mount any resistance, the new king ignored the advice given by his mentor Richard Neville (to so-called “Kingmaker” due to his massive influence on political events) by refusing to marry a French princess; instead, Edward only had eyes for Elizabeth Woodville. The Woodville match was incredibly unpopular: not only was Elizabeth socially beneath the royal rank, the Woodvilles themselves were hailed as social climbers who monopolised patronage in the kingdom. Such was his anger, the Kingmaker switched sides to form an uneasy alliance with the Lancastrians; this meant that Edward had to flee his kingdom in 1470.
However, such is the wheel of fortune, Edward return in 1471 and was able to retake his crown. His enemies were killed (including the Kingmaker and Henry VI), thereby creating greater stability and peace in the 1470s. By the time of his death in 1483, Edward was still a relatively young man (in his early forties), and he could have been expected to rule for a couple of more decades. However, his death created civil war once more, with the Wars of the Roses entering its final stage. Edward’s son and intended king – Edward V – was never crowned, with Edward’s brother, Richard III, taking power in a coup. Part of the reasons as to why this happened can be traced back to Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville: Richard feared a Woodville seizure of power, and so acted viciously in order to secure the Yorkist hold on the throne.
By comparison, Henry III’s reign appears – at first look – relatively tame. However, perhaps much of this is due to the longevity of his time on the throne; stretching a vast span of the 13th Century. Like Edward, Henry too came to the throne against the backdrop of chaos and confusion; his father, King John, had lost continental possessions and had become so unpopular that the English lords even preferred a French noble to take the throne (the infamous Louis mentioned in the previous post in this series).
Henry brought stability to England, however, he also faced civil war in the form of the Barons War of the 1260s against Simon de Montfort. Despite being taken prisoner at one stage in this conflict, Henry regained his freedom and managed to restore his authority in the kingdom. Furthermore, he manages to best Edward due to leaving the crown to an adult son (Edward I), which led to further enlargement of the English kingdom.
Due to Henry’s considerable successes, it must be said that my favourite Edward IV leaves the competition at this early stage. Henry III proceeds forward and such is the length of his reign that he will be a strong match against any other monarch in Round 2.
Winner: Henry III
Henry IV (r: 1399-1413)
Sweyn Forkbeard (r: 1013-1014)
We all know the popular names of the English monarchs: the Henrys, the Edwards, the Elizabeths. But when we track back to beyond the Conquest of 1066 we come across some very odd-sounding names. Sweyn Forkbeard clearly belongs to this category, sounding more akin to a Viking than what we associate with the English monarchy. So, what the heck was he?
Despite his unfamiliarity, Sweyn was a powerful and influential ruler during the turn of the 11th Century. He was the ruler of Denmark (from 986 to his death in 1014), as well monarch of Norway, and later England. He was the father of other powerful kings, notably Harald II of Denmark and Cnut the Great. His era was a time when the Nordic rulers had powerful sway over northern Europe, and Sweyn cast a greedy eye over to the British Isles and the rich and weak kingdom of England.
In 1003-1004 he began invading the kingdom, an effort that would endure until his death in 1014. It was clearly a nice earner for him, what with the English paying him off (Danegeld), although he was never enough to prevent him from coming back for more. In 1013, he led a full-scale invasion of England, keen to add it to the political portfolio of his other assets. His assault on London was resisted by the English king Ethelred, however, Ethelred knew that a continuation of the war was hopeless. He sent his sons (Edward and Alfred) abroad and then left England himself. By Christmas of 1013 Sweyn was named king of England.
A decade of war had brought him a great gain, however, within two months King Sweyn was dead; he only ruled the kingdom for a mere five weeks. This was good news for Ethelred, who was sent for to return home to resume his own reign. However, he was destined to lose it out once more to Sweyn’s son, Cnut; Cnut created an even greater legacy by forming a mighty North Sea Empire during the first half of the 11th Century.
By comparison, much more is known about Henry IV. Much of this is to do with Shakespeare, who wrote a play about him, thereby cementing his legacy in the public consciousness. There are many similarities between the two: both had to fight for the throne, and both left powerful successors who achieved more than themselves. In Henry’s case, he began his life as the son of the powerful John of Gaunt (who was son of Edward III); he enjoyed life as a mighty noble within the kingdom. However, the reign of his cousin Richard II was a troubled one, leading to Henry’s banishment from England. Rather than simply accept this fate, Henry returned and led a revolt against Richard II (who was imprisoned and then never heard of from again).
Henry IV’s reign was spent dealing with rebellions and the Welsh, and it is his son – Henry V – who achieved greatness and legendary status on the battlefield against the French (Agincourt in 1415, and then a union of the English and French crowns by 1422). Like Sweyn, Henry IV was eclipsed by his progeny.
Henry IV’s reign had big consequences. By removing the legitimate ruler, Richard II (even if he was a bugger), it unbalanced the English monarchy. In many ways a ripple effect formed which can be traced through to the outbreak and waging of the Wars of the Roses later in the 15th Century. This can be seen in the formation of two powerful factions: Lancaster stretching back to Henry IV, and that of York, the other line that claimed to have a stronger link to the throne. Perhaps the balance was only restored – if we buy into the Tudor myth – when Henry VII became king in 1485.
Despite the similarities, the win for this fixture must go to Henry IV: simply for longevity alone. Although Henry IV’s fourteen years pales in comparison to some other monarchs (such as Victoria or George III), it is a great deal more than Sweyn’s five weeks! The “What If” is if Sweyn had lived longer, thereby establishing his hold on the kingdom and bringing about reforms (as William the Conqueror did later in the 11th Century). However, the speculation is not enough to win him passage to Round 2.
Winner: Henry IV
The results so far:
- Henry V beat Richard Cromwell
- Edmund Ironside beat Henry VI
- Edward III beat Richard I
- Elizabeth beat Cnut
- Victoria beat Henry I
- Elizabeth II beat George VI
- William IV beat Louis
- James I beat Edward VI
- Eadred beat Harold
- Henry III beat Edward IV
- Henry IV beat Sweyn Forkbeard