Dave Does History

History in all shapes and sizes

English History, Historical Debate

English Monarchs FA Cup: Round 1 (Part V)

Part V 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.

Part V will focus on three further match-ups:

  1. George I v George III
  2. Stephen v Mary I
  3. Matilda v Charles I

George I (r: 1714-1727)


George III (r: 1760-1820)

george III

The much anticipated Georgian derby: George I versus his great-grandson George III. Their names are now associated with the 18th Century of British history when the empire started to grow and Britannia began to rule the waves. However, both Georges offer different perspectives to the Hanoverian dynasty: of success and of failure.

I have always found George I an intriguing king, mostly because he was never raised to inherit the throne. Born in 1660, he ruled in Hanover in Germany and appears to have been content with his role within this sphere. However, the death of Queen Anne in 1714 brought his fortunes in line with that of Britain. Due to the 1701 Act of Settlement, Parliament had ruled that Catholic monarchs were barred from the throne; this was an issue that concerned the British ruling class heavily, stretching back to the rule of James II in the 1680s. Anne’s death meant an end to the Stuart dynasty and the next Protestant in line just happened to be a German: George.

George doesn’t appear to have appreciated his elevation to a king of a larger nation-state. He pined for his homeland, and it was there where he died, having suffered a stroke on a trip in Hanover (pub quiz fodder: he is the last monarch to be buried outside Britain). Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to have enjoyed much popularity with his subjects: he rarely communicated in English and appears to have treated his wife poorly. Thackery commented on George I’s plight:

His heart was in Hanover … He was more than fifty years of age when he came amongst us: we took him because we wanted him, because he served our turn; we laughed at his uncouth German ways, and sneered at him. 

All of which suggests that he wasn’t a great success. However, his handful of years on the throne continued the development of a constitutional monarchy, with a clear growth of the power of Parliament (as characterised with the creation of the role of Prime Minister). And perhaps more importantly for the thinking of the time, by being a stable Protestant he kept out any real hope of the restoration of a Catholic monarchy.

However, when compared with his great-grandson, George I pales in significance. George III reigned for a much longer duration, from 1760-1820 (indeed, the longest serving male monarch), and his time on the throne saw incredible highs and mighty lows.

It was a time of great growth of empire: his early reign saw the defeat of the French in the Seven Years’ War, leading to supremacy in the North American continent; however, the middle of the reign saw the loss of the American colonies in the American War of Independence. Yet, such was his longevity, he witnessed the break out of revolution on the European continent, and the rise and eventual defeat of Napoleonic France. Such was the extent in the change in fortune that by 1815 Britain stood unrivalled on the world stage, setting in motion a century of Pax Britannica.

Of course, what has come down to us today in terms of popular memory is George III’s madness: in later life he was not able to rule in his own right, due to continued mental illness. By 1810 a regency led his son, the future George IV, was established, however, even if we include the previous 50 years there is plenty of material on which to judge him.

Perhaps because of the constant ebb and flow of Britain’s fortunes during this reign it has been difficult to find a balanced view as to George III’s overall influence and worth. However, it is clear that despite the setbacks of the loss of the American colonies the reign of George III was more successful and fruitful than that of his great grandfather’s. Therefore, George III progresses into the pot to Round 2.

Winner: George III


Stephen (r: 1135-1154)


Mary I (r: 1553-1558)

the anarchy

When Stephen and Mary were drawn against one another I thought of an instant link between the two: both were monarchs who attempted and ultimately failed to establish their rule during tumultuous periods in England. For a long time I’ve been drawn to both monarchs, and much of this has to do with the way in which both failed despite their best efforts.

Of the two, Mary I is the far more recognised. This is no doubt for her link within the Tudor family: she was the daughter of Henry VIII and first wife Catherine of Aragon, and the half-sister of Elizabeth I. Furthermore, she is a monarch that I have gotten to know well, having covered her reign in the A-level classroom. Every year of covering her has brought fresh appraisal of her achievements and failures, and I think that with every year that passes my understanding of her aims becomes richer.

Mary came to the throne in 1553 when England was in the midst of a wider societal, economic and political crisis. Historians have labelled this period as the ‘Mid Tudor Crisis’: a time when the state went through setback after setback. The beginnings of this so-called crisis can be traced back to the end days of Henry VIII’s reign: his wasting of money on costly and fruitless wars against France hit the economy, whilst his religious transformation created divides in the country. Henry was followed by a short reign from son Edward VI(1547-1553), when religion was taken in a more radical Protestant direction. The state was not helped with wars waged against Scotland and France, whilst the economy was in a poor state due to repeated debasements of the coinage. In 1553, Edward VI died whilst still a teenager, and rather than see the throne pass to his elder half-sister he agreed to the ‘Devise of the Succession’: passing the crown to a Protestant relative, Lady Jane Grey.

This is the scene of 1553 and Mary had two choices: run to the continent to avoid facing an army marching to get her, or remain and fight. Of course, being a daughter of Old King Harry, she chose the second option. This defiance can be seen as one of her better judgements, for the Devise collapsed, with Lady Jane Grey dethroned and imprisoned. However, despite the celebration of English Catholics across the kingdom, her five year reign would not experience many more successes.

Part of this is due to her insistence at taking a strong line against Protestants in the country: she wanted to return England to the Pope’s care, and rather than take a more relaxed approach to reform she created the Heresy Laws that legally established the burning of up to 300 Protestants. Such a policy provoked reaction and hostility from the public, however, perhaps in light of the previous religious developments such a harsh line can be understood.

Mary’s other key failure is linked to her marriage to Philip of Spain. This wasn’t a marriage of love, but rather a typical dynastic hook up. Philip was a relative of Mary’s, a Catholic, and more importantly, a member of the powerful Habsburg family. However, the marriage was hated by the English political class and it failed to produce an heir. Furthermore, it also brought England into conflict with France, leading to the loss of Calais – the last English territory in France – in 1558.

Unfortunately for Mary, she was not granted the time needed to allow her Catholic reforms to cement. Her premature death in 1558 led to the succession passing to her half sister Elizabeth. Therefore, ultimately, she failed in her key aim of restoring Catholicism, whilst the deaths of the Protestants has tarnished her legacy with the nickname of “Bloody Mary”.

There are many parallels with the reign of Stephen in the 12th Century, with both attempting to control the kingdom during years of crises. However, Stephen was more of a key reason as to why England descended into civil war: before the death of his uncle, Henry I (r:1100-1135), he had promised to swear allegiance to the daughter Matilda, next in line in succession. However, on Henry’s death Stephen saw his chance to nab the throne; after-all, the idea of a woman ruling didn’t fill the political elite with confidence.

But Matilida, like Mary hundreds of years after her, did not simply accept defeat. She contested the throne and the result was a nineteen long civil war which historians now call, rather ominously, ‘the Anarchy’. Stephen’s reign was plagued with attempted invasions and battles scattered across a two-decade long period, and after Matilda herself returned to France he was presented with a new rival: Matilda’s son, Henry.

The struggle eventually ended in agreement in 1153, no doubt hastened after the death of Stephen’s son Eustace. The Treaty of Westminster stated that Stephen would continue to reign and on his death the throne would pass to Henry (sealed with a kiss of peace between the relatives). Perhaps the agreement was part of a plan for Stephen to regroup in order to lay the final blow, however, a year later in 1154 he fell ill and died.

King Stephen is now a largely forgotten figure, as is ‘the Anarchy’. It seems strange to think that we once had a King Steve and if he had been successful we could have had a succession of Steves. However, despite his opportunism in taking the throne in 1135, Stephen was unable to hold onto it. Both Stephen and Mary are, in many ways, losers and poor monarchs. However, in terms of the head-to-head I believe that Mary’s achievements are all the more striking and challenging, which puts her into the next round of the cup.

Winner: Mary I


Matilda (r: 1135)


Charles I (r: 1625-1649)

charles I

It is fitting that Matilda was drawn out of the hat after Stephen – her dynastic rival. As the story recounts above, Matilda was intended to be the monarch of England after the death of her father in 1135. Obviously a female successor was completely uncommon in English history (no female would be able to cement their hold on the throne until Mary I in 1553). However, Henry I’s intended heir – William – drowned in the White Ship disaster in 1120.

Matilda left England in her youth: she married a Holy Roman Emperor (hence the name ‘Empress Matilda’) and after the death of her husband she married Geoffrey of Anjou in order to form an alliance to help defend Henry I’s continental possessions. During the panicked events of 1135, the Anglo-Norman barons moved their support from Matilda and instead backed her cousin, Stephen. This division led to Matilda invading England in 1139 in order to take back her throne.

The high-point of the war (as noted above, the so-called ‘Anarchy’) was the Battle of Lincoln in 1141: Stephen was captured and Matilda was able to take London. However, her attempt to be crowned failed due to the hostility that she faced. Then, later in 1141, her trusted general Robert of Gloucester was captured by rivals, which led to an exchange of prisoners: Stephen for Robert. All of which meant that Matilda was back to square one.

The stalemate eventually forced Matilda to return across the Channel, although the campaign was later re-triggered by her son, the future Henry II. As noted above in this post, Henry and Stephen obtained an agreement on the succession of the throne, with Henry succeeding in 1154 on Stephen’s death. So, ultimately Matilda was eclipsed by her son, and she ended her days living in Normandy helping to run the French domains of Henry II’s expanding Angevin empire, later dying in 1167. Although she was not successful in claiming back the crown for herself, her ability to fight back eventually paved the way for the English throne to be taken by her progeny.

Matilda’s rival in this round is the infamous Charles I: both monarchs share a similarity in losing their thrones. Although the key difference was that Charles was in a much privileged position on inheriting the throne; it wasn’t a sexist attitude that led to him losing it, but rather his own foolishness and inability to manage politics.

Charles I succeeded his father, James I, in 1625. The man had pretensions about ruling as an absolute monarch, which in turn created problems with Parliament. Rather than seek compromise, Charles preferred to have the political class bow down to him, all of which led to years of personal rule without the calling of the Parliament itself. However, this situation was unwise, as when he needed money – which every king must do at one point or another – he was forced to return to calling Parliament in order to obtain agreement in raising taxes. On Parliament’s recall the place was awash with debate and discussion as to Charles’ actions, all of which concerned the king.

Due to problems north of the border in his Scottish kingdom, Charles required an English army to gather and to march in order to resolve the issue. However, his continued reluctance to treat Parliament with respect created further divisions between a royalist and parliamentary factions: thereby laying the ground-work for the outbreak of civil war in 1642.

For four years Charles’ Cavaliers fought against Parliament’s Roundheads. However, Charles was no match for the New Model Army which was able to secure victory after victory. Charles first fled to Scotland before being captured and returned to London. But even then he refused to accept the new political reality and Parliament’s supremacy, all of which led to him having his head chopped off in 1649.

Charles story is a well known one: his civil war, unlike the many others throughout English history, is often deemed the Civil War. It is a war that I often return to due to his complexities of religious and national divisions. However, at no point does Charles come off well: his ignorance created the conditions for the war and his continued arrogance led to his own execution. Such actions could have, in an alternate reality, have led to the complete end of the monarchy and the creation of a Republic. As such, Charles I has gone down in his history as one of the island’s poorest monarchs – all of which means that he is unable to progress to the next round.

By comparison, Matilda’s is a lesser known story; it is fair to call it almost forgotten. However, even though she was not able to claim the throne for herself her ability to fight created the opportunity for the crown to be taken by her son. As such, Matilda’s pluck and determination see her into Round 2 of the draw.

Winner: Matilda


The results so far:

  1. Henry V beat Richard Cromwell
  2. Edmund Ironside beat Henry VI
  3. Edward III beat Richard I
  4. Elizabeth beat Cnut
  5. Victoria beat Henry I
  6. Elizabeth II beat George VI
  7. William IV beat Louis
  8. James I beat Edward VI
  9. Eadred beat Harold
  10. Henry III beat Edward IV
  11. Henry IV beat Sweyn Forkbeard
  12. George III beat George I
  13. Mary I beat Stephen
  14. Matilda beat Charles I

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