Dave Does History

History in all shapes and sizes

English History, Historical Debate

English Monarchs FA Cup: Round 1 (Part VII)

The English Monarchs FA Cup continues to rumble on: now into the seventh part of the 32 fixtures for Round 1. Just what is the English Monarchs FA Cup, I hear you ask?:

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 VI of this round saw the Anglo-Saxon monarchs win match after match, with Edward the Elder defeating Edward VIII, with Athelstan knocking out Richard III, and poor old bad King John succumbing to Edmund I.

Now we are more than half-way through the first round of 32 fixtures; Part VII in this series will focus on four further match-ups:

  • Mary II v Harold Harefoot
  • Aelfweard v William the Conqueror
  • Henry II v Ethelred the Unready
  • William II v George II

Mary II (r: 1689-1694)


Harold Harefoot (r: 1035-1040)


This round’s first match-up pits a queen from the Stuart age with one of the kings from the House of Denmark from the 11th century: Mary II versus Harold Harefoot.

Harold Harefoot is, like many of other English monarchs, a rather forgotten entity. There was, of course, a much more famous monarch by the name of Harold: the one slain at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. However, this Harold does have the distinction of bearing an intriguing epithet: Harefoot (supposedly named because he was quick on his feet).

Harold was the son of Cnut the Great, the man who had invaded England and established an enviable North Sea Empire during the period 1015-1035. On the death of Cnut in 1035, Harold ruled England in place of Harthacnut, his younger half-brother and rightful monarch. However, Harthacnut was based in Denmark, the heart-land of Cnut’s North Sea Empire, and was busy dealing with rebels in Scandinavia; therefore, Harold took the initiative to rule in England. This arrangement appears, initially, to have been rule via a regent style appointment. However, Harold was not content to simply be a caretaker-king.

The short five year reign was filled with plot and scandal. In 1036 he murdered another claimant to the throne, Alfred Aetheling, who was son of the former Anglo-Saxon king, Ethelred the Unready (more on whom below in this post). It appears to have been part of a plan to consolidate his power-base, as he also managed to banish his half-brother’s mother to ensure that calls for Harthacnut’s rule were minimised. By 1037 he managed to be officially crowned king.

Despite overcoming these obstacles, Harold was to die after ruling for just five years at the age of 24. It is clear that he achieved notable personal success in these five years, rising from regent to become king, however, on his death in 1040 he was awaiting an invasion force headed by Harthacnut and his Danish troops. On arriving in England Harthacnut assumed the throne and had his half-brother’s body exhumed, beheaded, and thrown into the Thames. Although Harthacnut would not live long after to enjoy the fruits of his labour: he was dead within two years.

And so, what of Harold’s competitor in this match-up: Mary II? Like Harold Harefoot, she is not as well known as her namesake: Mary I. Mary I was the bloody queen from the Tudor era, and in comparison Mary II pales significantly. Furthermore, she was a joint-monarch along with William III, who again overshadows her during this period. However, this is not to say Mary II was not important: for it was her marriage to William of Orange that set about the conditions for the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Mary was born in the early-restoration period in 1662. She was the daughter of Prince James, and was the niece of reigning monarch Charles II (r:1660-1685) of the House of Stuart. On the death of Charles in 1685 – and without any legitimate children to take the throne – the crown passed to James (now James II). James’ three year reign created significant problems for England, notably in his choice of religion as a Roman Catholic.

It was such a significant issue because there had not been a Catholic monarch since the middle of the 1500s, all the way back to Blood Mary (or, not a publicly official one, anyway). England had stabilised itself away from its own wars of religion, but yet James II looked set to unsettle the religious settlement once again. Furthermore, James’ disdain for parliament and a desire to rule as an absolute monarch started to worry the political establishment. This is where Mary’s role becomes incredibly important.

Back in 1677 she married her first cousin – as royals usually do – who was William of Orange of the Netherlands. William was a stout Protestant, in the mould of previous Williams stretching back to the 16th century. During the period 1685-88, many in England began giving their support to William, urging him to get across the Channel in order to wrestle the crown from his uncle/father-in-law.

Now, here’s where a local link to South Devon develops. In 1688 an invasion fleet headed toward England, ending up in Brixham in Torbay. The so-called ‘Protestant Wind’ pushed William to this spot, where he then marched to London to have a show-down with James.  As regular readers of the blog may know, every year staff and students of University Centre South Devon re-enact the first part of this walk (known as the William of Orange History Walk); this summer will be the fifth year we’ve held it.

Now, back to the narrative: William’s arrival in London was something of an anti-climax. James fled to the Continent and the throne being taken without use of force. Parliament rejoiced and hailed the ‘Glorious Revolution’: a constitutional, more peaceful monarchy was established and never again could a king or queen push their weight around scaring the English people.

After this point, William and Mary became joint monarchs; however, the reality was that she had far less power than his husband. But because of William’s lust for combat and desire to snuff out Catholics wherever he could find them it meant that he was often away from Westminster and abroad, with Mary filling in to stabilise the crown. Perhaps this role may have developed further, however, she died several years after the Glorious Revolution in 1694 (with William as sole ruler until 1702).

It is difficult to judge the success of both Mary II and Harold Harefoot, due to the brevity of their reigns. Neither appears to have been a particularly notable monarch, however, Harold destabilised the kingdom due to his own personal ambition of power, whereas Mary was part of a solution that helped settle England. For this reason, Mary II wins the fixture and makes her way into the second round. (However, beyond this, I do not fancy her chances of progressing further to the final!)

Winner: Mary II

Aelfweard (r: 924)


William the Conqueror (r: 1066-1087)


In all of the match-ups so far, none has been such a disparity as this one: a true David v Goliath fixture. William is one of the best known and most influential monarchs in English history, and one of the favourites for the English Monarchs FA Cup. Whereas poor little Aefweard is such an non-entity on which historians cannot find agreement on whether or not he actually ruled. Even if he did rule, it was only for a mere handful of weeks in the year of 924.

Such is the scale of William the Conqueror’s achievements, how about we first focus on Aelfweard and the events of his own life. He was born in the early years of the 10th century and was the son of Edward the Elder (seen on the last post). On his father’s death in 924 it appears that Aelfweard was next in line to become king. However, his reign only lasted 16 days; such was the brevity that he ended up buried alongside his father at Winchester. Such a short reign compares to a handful of other monarchs in English history, notably those of Edward V in 1483 and poor Lady Jane Grey in 1553.

However, there is debate as to whether or not Aelfweard was an actual king. Different accounts and chronicles across the ages dispute the length or whether it actually happened. Many historians believe that it was actually Aelfweard’s half-brother, Aethelstan, who was the actual successor to Edward the Elder. Aethelstan did assume the crown in 924, and during his own reign of a decade-and-a-half went on to go down in legacy as perhaps the first actual king of England (see previous post for more).

When compared with William the Conqueror it is clear that poor Aelfweard is completely dwarfed. William was the man who invaded England, won one of history’s most famous battles, and went on to socially, economically and politically transform the kingdom. Such is the list of achievements and the lack of a real challenger, I will leave a more thorough assessment of the Conqueror for the second round; because it is clear that he is the winner. Perhaps there he will be pitted against a monarch of more considerable weight.

Winner: William the Conqueror

Henry II (r: 1154-1189)


Ethelred the Unready (r: 978-1013; 1014-16)


Recent posts in this series have recounted the context of Henry II’s ascension to the throne in 1154, highlighting the reigns of both Stephen (r: 1135-1154) and Matilda. The two decade long period known as the Anarchy saw a struggle for supremacy of the throne, thrown into confusion after the death of Henry I in 1135. The outcome was for Stephen to concede the crown to Matilda’s son and heir: Henry of Blois. In 1154 he became Henry II and reigned for many eventful years until his death in 1189.

I have always harboured something of a “soft spot” for Henry II, ever since reading a short book about him many years ago. However, perhaps this “soft spot” is incredibly misguided, due to Henry himself being something of a horrible person. Yes, he established a new dynasty – the Plantagenets – but he also appears to have been despised by his family (wife and sons). There were notable rebellions against him, including those waged by his son, Richard the Lionheart. And of course, there was the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

However, his reign was important for the history of England. This can be seen in the stability and growth of the kingdom after the upset of the Anarchy, in an assertiveness in foreign affairs, and in the development of empire (particularly with the invasion of Ireland). This places Henry II toward the higher reaches of the “table” on the importance of English monarchs.

Ethelred the Unready, by comparison, does not hold up to such scrutiny. Although he is in a rather unique band of monarchs (including Henry VI) to have essentially reigned twice, this distinction is itself a give-away to a poor reign (as can be seen with Henry VI).

Ethelred was an Anglo-Saxon monarch, ruling from 978 to 1013, and then again from 1014-1016 (the year of his death). He became king at the age of 12 and his reign was plagued with problems with the invading Danish. The Danish influence grew larger and larger toward the end of the century, and Ethelred was forced to pay tribute to buy himself some time and breathing room (the Danegeld). However, this was not enough to stop the growth of the Danes.

In 1013, King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded the kingdom and took the throne. Ethelred fled across the Channel, finding refuge in Normandy. This invasion was recounted in an earlier post in this series (Part IV), with Sweyn finding himself resisting in England, before taking control of England. However, despite finally fulfilling a life-long ambition of claiming the kingdom, Sweyn was dead within a couple of months. He ruled the kingdom for a mere five weeks. Ethelred return in 1014, before facing a renewed Danish invasion led by Sweyn’s son, Cnut. Again, the omens did not look for the English, and this time Ethelred did not flee for safety; instead, he promptly died.

His death ended a 37 year (combined) reign – the longest of any king from the period. But yet the reign was one of failure, particularly in the rising influence and power of the Danish. Ethelred’s own response to the invasions of 1013 and 1016 was one of surrender and cowardice, elements not often associated with what is considered to be key features of a successful king. As such, it is Henry II who succeeds to the next round, with Ethelred eliminated.

Winner: Henry II

William II (r: 1087-1100)


George II (r: 1727-1760)

william rufus

It is commonly believed that sequels are never superior to the original, as experienced in the form of books and movies. However, does this generalisation hold up for monarchs? For example, is William II weaker than his father, William I (the Conqueror), and is George II weaker than his father, the first Hanoverian king? This match-up sees two “sequel” monarchs battle it out: William II v George II.

William II is not popularly considered as a “second”, but rather with the term William Rufus. He succeeded to the throne in 1087, taking the crown after the illustrious reign of his father, the Conqueror. William reigned for only 13 years, with the time characterised by a zeal for warfare: he fought against the Scotland, invaded Wales, and found time to campaign in France. Perhaps this passion for fighting is reflected in his nickname “Rufus”; in Latin, “Rufus” means “red”, and is an illusion to William’s temperament.

By far the most discussed – and interesting – element of William’s reign is his death. He died whilst hunting in the New Forest (which back then appears to really have been “new”) in an accident; I have blogged about his death in a post from 2018, where I wrote;

Various legends have evolved, including the different plots and conspiracies as to his untimely end. That it was his younger brother Henry – the future King Henry I – attempting to nudge his brother out of the picture, or more wild ones that suggest that Rufus was ‘the sacrificial victim of a pagan fertility cult’.

William of Malmesbury’s account from the 12th century reveals a graphic story:

“After dinner he went into the forest with a small number of attendants. Among these the most intimate with the king was Walter surnamed Tirel, who had come from France attracted by the liberality of the king. This man alone remained with him while the others were widely scattered in the chase. The sun was now setting, and the king drawing his bow let fly an arrow which slightly wounded a stag which passed before him.

He ran in pursuit, keeping his gaze rigidly fixed on the quarry, and holding up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays. At this instant Walter, forming in his mind a project which seemed good to him, tried to transfix another stag which happened to come near him while the king’s attention was otherwise occupied. And thus it was that unwittingly and quite unable to prevent it (oh, gracious God), he pierced the king’s breast with a fatal arrow.

When the king received the wound he uttered not a word, but breaking off the shaft of the arrow where it struck out of his body he fell to the ground, thus accelerating his own death. Walter immediately ran up, but finding the king unconscious and speechless, he lept quickly on his horse and escaped at full gallop. Indeed there was no one to pursue him. Some connived at his flight; others pitied him.”

Can it be said that George II– William’s competitor in this contest – has a better death? No, perhaps not. George met his end after waking one morning, downing a cup of hot chocolate, and fell to the floor when attempting to defecate. However, such an ordinary end does not take into account the more illustrious life and times of George’s reign.

George took the throne from his father, the first Hanoverian king, in 1727; he ruled for several decades until 1760, and during this time the British Empire kicked into gear in terms of power and prestige. This was the era of Walpole’s time as Britain’s first prime minister, of dealing with the Jacobite rebellion of the 1740s, and of continental wars with the French.

However, George is now more often remembered for the frequent quarrels with his family members, particularly his son, Frederick the Prince of Wales. Frederick himself continued the Hanoverian tradition of sons despising their fathers, however, he did not inherit the throne due to dying nine years before his father (instead, the crown went to George II’s grandson, the future George III). Furthermore, there were other issues with George’s mistresses, all of which taint his legacy.

On the whole, both monarchs did not enjoy a great deal of personal success. However, George II tips the balance for his longevity over the shorter rule of William Rufus. There is no denying that Britain grew as a power during the 18th Century, and so George II just about scrambles through to the pot for the second round draw.

Winner: George II

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
  19. Mary II beat Harold Harefoot
  20. William the Conqueror beat Aelfweard
  21. Henry II beat Ethelred the Unready
  22. George II beat William “Rufus” II

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