Dave Does History

Electric, eclectic, and eccentric history

English History, Historical Debate

English Monarchs FA Cup: Round 1 (Part VI)

Part VI 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.

In an attempt to actually reach Round 2 at some point in the new decade, Part VI will focus on four match-ups (fixtures 15-18):

  1. Edward VIII v Edward the Elder
  2. Eadwig the All-Fair v Edgar the Peaceful
  3. Richard III v Edmund I
  4. Aethelstan v John

Edward VIII (r: 1936)

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Edward the Elder (r: 899-924)

aedVIII
Edward VIII

Fixture 15 from the first round of the FA Cup provides an Edwardian derby. This itself shouldn’t be such a rare thing considering that there have been many monarchs called Edward. Although we have officially counted eight (up to Edward VIII in the 1930s), there have been others who are not numbered due to coming before the Norman Conquest. Edward the Elder, presented here, is one of these.

First, to Edward VIII, who has come more to the public imagination due to the portrayal on Netflix hit series The Crown. He is an alluring monarch due to the brevity of his reign (less than one year in 1936) and for abdicating the throne in favour of love. Such a decision should have endeared Edward to the British public (or at least the romantic part of our souls within us) for all time, however, this has not proved to be the case, for several reasons. Many of which The Crown recounts in the first two seasons of the show.

On the one hand, we could consider Edward VIII a noble person who put his romantic love ahead of the glory of remaining a monarch. This is how I viewed Edward back in my youth: all the riches of Britain was not enough to convince him to stay as king. However, there is the alternative assessment: that Edward was greedy and selfish, and ended up putting his own interests above those of his country. This second interpretation is the one that has obtained greater momentum in recent decades, particularly with the popularity of the Oscar winning film The King’s Speech and the aforementioned The Crown which have served to place Edward’s younger brother – George VI – on a pedestal.

Edward’s selfish act placed his brother as the new monarch, the stress of which appears (arguably) to have hastened his own premature end in 1952. But his preference for his partner is not the greatest accusation to be laid at his door. Much more important and gruesome is his links with Hitler and Nazi Germany, which Edward visiting the country in the late 1930s and expressing much admiration for Hitler’s policies. The Nazis appear to have considered Edward an accommodating ally, and such was the worry that the British government had the former king removed to the Bahamas to ensure that he wasn’t placed on the throne in the event of a Nazi occupation of the British Isles.

After the war’s end, Edward continued living a life of leisure and luxury, outliving his brother by dying in the 1970s. His legacy as a monarch appears to be beyond redemption, however, such is the fruitful world of historical debate that a re-interpretation is more than likely just around the corner. However, for the pages of this blog, Edward VIII’s reign doesn’t provide much of a fight against any other English monarch, thereby providing Edward the Elder the advantage.

By contrast, Edward the Elder is an almost forgotten monarch. He ruled the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that his father, Alfred the Great, forged and reigned for quarter of a century. He had to fight for his right to rule, and after doing so he continued his father’s policies of expanding the English domains to push back Viking possessions. Such was his success that he managed to rule over Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia toward the end of his reign, with only Northumbria remaining in Viking hands.

It is clear that Edward the Elder’s reign was pivotal in the continual expansion and creation of an English state, continuing the work of his father and laying the foundations for subsequent monarchs to expand upon. All of this would culminate in the forging of a clear and large English state, which places this monarch on a much higher level than the short and indistinct reign of Edward VIII in the 20th Century.

Despite Edward the Elder’s lack of a high profile, it is clear that he easily surpasses Edward VIII; his passage into the second round is assured.

Winner: Edward the Elder


 

Eadwig the All-Fair (r: 955-959)

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Edgar the Peaceful (r: 959-975)

aeadwig
King Eadwig

The matching of Eadwig and Edgar was an interesting one: they were brothers (both sons of Edmund; grandsons of Edward the Elder; and great-grandsons of Alfred the Great) and rivals, with Edgar succeeding his brother in 959. As with Edward the Elder (outlined above), both rulers are largely forgotten, however, their reigns occurred at an important time in the development of the English state.

Firstly, to Eadwig: the notable feature of his reign is its brevity of four years. He came to power at the age of 15 (one of many teenage monarchs in English history) and the four years of rule were disrupted by intrigue and political plotting. A key issue was his falling out with the influential religious figure Dunstan, with their feud beginning on the same day of Eadwig’s coronation.

The legend has it that Eadwig did not attend an important meeting with the nobles of the land, with Dunstan finding him talking to a woman. Dunstan was infuriated and ended up physically dragging the young king to the meeting. Such a scene reminds me of the relationship between young King Joffrey and his uncle Tyrion in the TV show Game of Thones; and like Tyrion Lannister, Dunstan made the wise decision to flee to escape the wrath of his annoyed and humiliated king.

Worse was to come for Eadwig, namely that of the potential break-up the kingdom that his ancestors had worked so hard to piece together. The nobles and religious groups of the kingdom began to split, with many supporting Eadwig’s younger brother Edgar. The kingdom was divided in 957, with Eadwig retaining Wessex and Kent and with the north going to his brother.

Eadwig’s (sometimes) appended title of ‘the All-Fair’ is somewhat confusing, especially considering the lack of time he had to actually justify such a description. Ultimately, his brief reign is one of failure with the division of the kingdom endangering the eventual union of England into one, large nation state.

By contrast, Eadwig’s younger brother Edgar used his reign of two decades to reunite the kingdom. In this manner, Edgar continued the work of his ancestors, in spending his reign in constructing a powerful country. Furthermore, he appears to have learned from the mistakes of his older brother: Dunstan became an influential advisor (and was rewarded with being made Archbishop of Canterbury)

Such is the clear success of Edgar over his sibling that a longer appraisal of Edgar’s reign can wait until the second round. Poor Eadwig loses out and remains in the pit of obscurity.

Winner: Edgar the Peaceful


Richard III (r: 1483-85)

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Edmund I (r: 939-946)

image rich iii
Richard III

This post features yet another Anglo-Saxon monarch – Edmund I – in a match-up with one of the most famous (or should that be infamous) English monarchs of all-time: Richard III.

I must admit before continuing any further: I do have a soft-spot for Richard III. I am not a Ricardian die-hard fan of Richard, and on the balance of things I believe that Henry VII is the stronger monarch and that the outcome of Bosworth Field in 1485 was a good one. However, having studied and taught the Wars of the Roses and Tudor period for several years I have delved further and further into Richard and his life and times. All of this has led to a greater appreciation.

Richard was a younger son of Richard, Duke of York. His father’s claims to kingship was a chief cause of the ensuring Wars of the Roses, and after his death in 1460 the claim was continued by his sons and other fellow Yorkists. In 1461 the teenager Edward was able to become Edward IV, and although he was toppled for a short-time in 1470-71, the Yorkists were able to obtain dominance of the English kingdom.

If Edward had lived a full life, rather than dying in his early forties, it is entirely probable that Richard would have remained a devoted and loyal servant. Throughout the 1460s and 1470s he supported his brother through thick and thin; in 1470 when their fellow brother George of Clarence helped topple the Yorkists, Richard remained at Edward’s side in exile and helped him to reclaim the kingdom through fire and blood in 1471. Richard was rewarded with the control of the north, and that would have been that.

However, in 1483, Edward’s premature death created division in the kingdom. Edward’s wife was Elizabeth, from the family of the much unloved and mistrusted Woodvilles. Many feared a coup from the Woodvilles, in which they would control the new king, Edward’s young 12 year old son, Edward V. Such was the fear and suspicion that Richard acted in order to preserve the Yorkist hold on the throne: he took control of his nephews, killed key rivals, and ended up usurping the throne by having the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville declared invalid. Furthermore, the boys – the so-called Princes in the Tower – were never seen from again.

It is clear that Richard acted in a determined manner and was not discouraged to spill the blood of family members and former long-held allies in order to claim the throne. However, his actions created reactions, with many in the kingdom placing their trust and support behind a little known exiled noble Henry Tudor. This ultimately led to an invasion by Tudor of the kingdom of 1485, which ended in Richard’s death at Bosworth that summer.

On the whole, Richard ruled for two years: two years of problems and turmoil. Not only did he need to contend with rebellions and plots, his own personal life was marred with the death of his wife and only son and heir. Such drama is recounted in Shakespeare’s much heralded play Richard III, in which the title character is portrayed as a scheming, evil villain.

So, what of Edmund I? He reigned for less than a decade from 939 to 946, being the son of Edward the Elder (discussed above) and grand-son of Alfred the Great. In terms of the connective tissue of the monarchs discussed in this post, he was also the father of unlucky Eadwig and Edgar the Peaceful. All of this places him relative good company and highlights his pedigree.

The entirety of Edmund’s reign saw conflict: the Vikings had taken Northumbria and the Midlands was encroached on. Time and energy was exerted on reclaiming the Midlands, and by 944 he was successful in retaking Northumbria. Such actions add greater weight to his nicknames of ‘Deed-doer’ ‘the Just’, and ‘the Magnificent’. However, Edmund’s ultimate potential legacy was ended with his murder in 946, possibly through a political assassination (although the legend notes that he was killed by an exiled thief).

When compared with Richard III, it is clear that Edmund’s accomplishments are much greater. Edmund managed to fight to rebuild a kingdom, whereas Richard’s determined actions led to the fall of his own royal house and dynasty. As much as I enjoy delving into Richard’s reign, his failures mean that he is unable to continue in the English Monarchs FA Cup.

Winner: Edmund I


 

Aethelstan (r: 924-939)

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John (r: 1199-1216)

amagna
King John signing Magna Carta

The final match-up of this post: another Anglo-Saxon monarch is pitted against another Plantagenet king. Edmund I was able to defeat the last Plantagenet, Richard III, so what of this next match-up?

Continuing with the reigns of the Anglo-Saxon monarchs, Aethelstan makes his entry in this series. Like Edmund I, he was another son of Edward the Elder, which makes him a grand-son of Alfred the Great, and also the uncle of Eadwig and Edgar. Unlike these other monarchs (Alfred aside), Aethelstan has enjoyed greater popularity due to the exploits of his reign which place him as – arguably – the very first King of England.

He succeeded his father, Edward the Elder, in 924 and continued his father’s work of expanding the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. By 927 he had conquered the last remaining Viking kingdom, thereby officially making him the first ruler of the whole of England. But his territorial ambitions were not bounded by England alone: in the 930s he started the English monarch trend of invading Scotland, whilst in the south in fixed the boundary with Cornwall at the Tamar.

The Scots and Vikings were not too happy with Aethelstan’s greedy plans; in 937 they invaded England and met the English king in battle at Brunanburgh. The outcome was a great victory for Aethelstan, allowing him to reassert his dominance and add greater weight to his subsequent legacy.

And now onto John. Yes, poor, poor John; one of the worst monarchs to have ever sat on the throne. He is a well known monarch – especially with his link to the Robin Hood legend – but this is due to his failures rather than his successes. John became king in 1199 on the death of his brother, Richard the Lionheart, and despite a sizeable empire (the Angevin empire constructed by his father Henry II) he ended up losing a significant portion of it.

Such is the scale of John’s defeats, it is better to list some of the chief failures:

  • Collapse of the French Angevin possessions
  • Political division within the English kingdom
  • Baronial rebellion
  • Invasion from a French challenger (Louis)

All in all, John’s reign of 17 years was a disaster for England. The loss of the French domains stunted Anglo power and provided a stronger platform for the rise of France, whilst his inability to govern led to political factions that ultimately created a civil war. The signing of Magna Carta in 1215 is often cited as a key moment in the development of the British constitution, however, the reality was that John was forced to sign it and had no intention of actually abiding by it. His death in 1216 during a civil war was the best outcome for the kingdom: it allowed the barons to put their weight behind John’s son, Henry III, and England was able to find stability once more.

In the end, Aethelstan is the clear winner and continues into the post for the second round. Whoever was matched with John would have likely to have been the winner, due to his terrible record and overall failures. It is hard to find anyone willing to appraise John in a positive light. As such, John fails at the first hurdle, and Aethelstan looks set to be a match for many remaining monarchs.

Winner: Aethelstan


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
  15. Edward the Elder beat Edward VIII
  16. Edgar the Peaceful beat Eadwig
  17. Edmund I beat Richard III
  18. Aethelstan beat John

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