The first round of the English Monarchs FA Cup – which started more than 12 months ago – continues onward with the end almost in sight!

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 IX of the first round will attempt to pick up the pace and cover the following fixtures:

  • Henry VII v Charles II
  • Richard II v James II
  • George V v Edward the Martyr
  • Edward VII v Harthacnut

Henry VII (r: 1485-1509)


Charles II (r: 1660-1685)

charles II

Regular readers of the blog will no doubt know that I have massive respect for Henry VII (as shown in posts such as those about the Battle of Bosworth and my frivolous play about his death).  In terms of Tudor monarchs I believe I would rank Henry VII higher than all of the others: even the more charismatic Henry VIII and even more than the longer and more colourful reign of Elizabeth I. The reasons for this are many:

  • He won the throne from his stronger Yorkist opponent at Bosworth
  • He ended a generational struggle (the Wars of the Roses)
  • He established a brand new dynasty on the throne
  • He carefully utilised treaties to secure England’s territory (and did not embark upon ruinous wars)
  • He stabilised the economy and currency

From being relative unknown in 1485, Henry VII died in 1509 having established the Tudors as a force within the kingdom. Not many monarchs can match such achievements, bar the likes of William the Conqueror. However, the chief reason as to why Henry VII has been so overlooked for so long is because despite being a solid king his reign failed to spark the imagination when compared to others (such as Henry VIII). Ultimately, nothing much of note happened in his twenty-four reign (as shown in previous posts in the War World Cup: lots of timid encounters with the French and the Scottish).

In comparison, a heck of a lot happened in the 25 years when Charles II was on the throne: the Great Fire of London (1666), plague and war. This was the era of Samuel Pepys, after all, and Charles himself has become noted as something of a “party king” (or “king of bling” according to Horrible Histories) on account of the goings-on at the royal court during this period.

In many ways, the monarchs are more similar than many others in English history. They both obtained the throne from unusual paths: Henry Tudor won the throne through victory at Bosworth against Richard III, thereby establishing the Tudor dynasty, whereas Charles was restored to the throne in 1660, thereby re-establishing the Stuart dynasty. Both monarchs had to assert their place within the governance of the country, and both – ultimately – turned out to be successes (especially when compared to their immediate predecessors or successors).

However, despite being more flamboyant and engaging, Charles’ achievements pale in significance: Henry had to fight for his throne, it was not merely provided for him; Henry had to fight against a line of pretenders, whereas Charles was far more secure; Henry had smaller resources, whereas Charles had a growing commercial country to utilise. All of this means that Henry VII wins the fixture in order to progress further to the second round.

If this competition had been kinder to Charles II perhaps he would have been matched against a much lesser monarch; there was a possibility for Charles serving as a “dark horse” of the tournament by progressing to the later rounds. However, he was unfortunate to be placed against a far more successful monarch, and therefore he finds himself eliminated from the English Monarchs FA Cup.

Winner: Henry VII

Richard II (r: 1377-1399)


James II (r: 1685-1688)


The previous “match” focused on Charles II, whereas this following one outlines his successor: his brother James II, who reigned from 1685-88. James II has featured previously in the series when discussing William of Orange who took his throne in 1688 in what has become known as the Glorious Revolution. Within this narrative, William is portrayed as the hero who rescued England from the clutches of a poor monarch who aimed at removing liberties and freedoms. But how about we spend a little time seeing things from the position of James II?

James succeeded to the kingdom on the death of his brother, Charles – the so-called “king of bling” – in 1685. The kingdom had achieved a degree of stability after the civil wars of the 1640s-50s – during which James’ father, Charles I, lost his head – and then the eventual restoration of the monarchy. It appeared that the Stuart dynasty was set to reign for many decades yet to come.

However, the reason for James’ short reign – a mere 3 years – was related to religion. Religion had been the big disturbance in England (indeed Europe) over the past two centuries, but it had appeared that a synthesis between the Catholic and Protestant positions had occurred with the formation and enduring success of the Church of England. Elizabeth I had established such a position back at the end of the 1500s, whilst the civil wars of the mid-1600s had seen old hatreds re-emerge. The early restoration period was an opportunity to let bygones be bygones, however, James II was not welded to the idea of an Anglican Church with its Protestant features. He was a Catholic and now he had the power and influence to revert back the old English religious settlement.

This short reign was a tumultuous and unsettled one, with matters coming to a head during that eventful year of 1688. The birth of a son scared many in the kingdom into believing that the reforms of James II would not merely be fleeting – similar to those of Mary I in the 1550s – but rather would endure with a dynasty of Catholic kings. And then such fear was whipped into a frenzy with the arrest of the “seven bishops”: these bishops had disagreed with James’ absolutist tendencies and religious outlook. All of this led to leading nobles plotting the removal of James; they found their saviour in the form of James’ son-in-law, William of Orange.

Later in the year, in November 1688, William arrived in Brixham, Devon, and marched to London to claim the throne. Rather than stand and fight, James II fled to the continent via Ireland; his legacy would be a succession of heirs who troubled the kingdom into the mid-1700s. Such a mess would mean that any other monarch would easily “win” the match-up; however, James II is faced with Richard II.

Like James, Richard’s reign is one that has been viewed poorly by generation after generation of historian. But there was initially so much promise. His grandfather – Edward III – enjoyed an illustrious and long reign in the 1300s, whilst Richard’s father – the Black Prince – was a dashing, military knight of the period. However, the Black Prince predeceased Edward III, and by the time of Edward’s death in 1377 the kingdom had fallen on harder times. The grandson was made Richard II: a ten-year old boy with a large legacy to fulfil.

But like Henry VI in the 1400s, such boots were far too large to fill. The country was ruled by a regency council and there was a large difficulty in continuing a successful execution of the Hundred Years War against France (a struggle that was initially started by Edward III in the 1330s). Notable events of the reign were negative rather positive, with the infamous Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 notably highlighting the lack of stability.

By the time of the 1390s, Richard was ruling outright, with cracks appearing within the key players of the kingdom. Richard punished and exiled those who questioned him, including his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. Much of these actions are recounted in Shakespeare’s play – Richard II – in which the monarch is portrayed as a devious, cunning character. Of course, we need to take Shakespeare’s portrayal with a pinch of salt, but clearly ill-will was building in England. Rather than fully accept his punishment, Henry Bolingbroke returned to the kingdom; he grew a large force, with many dis-satisfied nobles flocking toward him. Richard could not resist and accepted his abdication in favour of his cousin.

The events of 1399 had a massive impact on England’s history: the main line of the Plantagenets was removed in favour of a new dynasty – the Lancastrians. However, the effect of this change in the monarchy was felt decades later, exploding in the generational struggle of the Wars of the Roses.

The ending fate of Richard was a ghastly one. After renouncing the throne he was incarcerated, and it is believed that he starved to death. In many ways, his death finds parallels with another deposed king, that of his great-grandfather Edward II. Such a reign, like James II’s, was one of failure. But yet a winner must be declared between the two.

In the end, I have simply plumped for Richard II due to a couple of supporting factors: his reign was far longer when compared to James’ (two decades compared to three years), and we must recognise that Richard was a child when succeeding to the throne. James was an adult and therefore more in control of the terrible decisions that he made during his short reign. As such, Richard II – somehow! – survives into Round 2. But it is incredibly unlikely that he will make to the next one.

Winner: Richard II

George V (r: 1910-1936)


Edward the Martyr (r: 975-978)


I will have mentioned before that one of the highlights for me continuing this series is finding out information about monarchs that I have rarely encountered, and then in pitting these monarchs against one another: of different eras, different cultures, and different circumstances. This match-up – of George V against Edward the Martyr – is one such match-up.

I believe that George V’s reputation is one that continues to grow with every passing decade, but yet despite this he is a somewhat forgotten king. He took the throne in 1910, succeeding his father – the far more characterful Edward VII (detailed more in this post below); and as such, he was up against the great feats of the Victorian era, especially with his grandmother being Victoria herself. Furthermore, George’s successors have also “stolen the limelight” in terms of historical research and fictional portrayals: his eldest son, Edward VIII, was the one who abdicated; while his second son, George VI, has grown in popularity and respect due to movies such as The King’s Speech. But despite a lack of wide-spread recognition, it is clear that George V is an important monarch of modern times.

George V was a man of the Victorian era, but a monarch who was well suited to the need for the monarchy to modernise in the fast changing times of the twentieth century. Like George VI, he was never meant to inherit the throne, and even though he was not a particularly colourful personality his straight-forward outlook was a steadying influence at a time of great change. George saw the removal of cousins in other monarchies across Europe (as a result of the First World War), including Germany and Russia: they fell whilst the English monarchy found a new role.

One example can be seen in a constitutional crisis early in his reign: in 1910 two general elections were held, with the Liberals battling with the Conservatives. The Liberal government was frustrated at the blocks to reform from within the House of Lords, and George’s intervention meant that further revolution did not occur. The 1911 Parliament Act confirmed the dominance of the Commons over the Lords, and the British political system was allowed to continue to evolve.

George V’s rival in this match-up is a far more forgotten monarch: Edward the Martyr. Edward came to power on the death of Edgar the Peaceful. This period was an unstable one, although Edgar had done a respectable job in bringing peace to the kingdom; his death in 975 divided those who claimed the throne, with Edward contesting it against his younger brother Ethelred the Unready.

Despite nabbing the throne, Edward failed to stabilise the factions in the country, with civil war breaking out. Such problems were resolved with Edward’s murder in 978; Edward joins the list – which is rather long – of English monarchs that were killed. But the lingering aspect of Edward is not the achievements (which were minimal) of his reign (which was short), but rather his enduring name: the Martyr. The reason for the rise of this image is unclear, but it may have something to do with Edward’s name being promoted during the reign of his brother Ethelred.

The result then, if you cannot tell from my fondness of George V, is – of course – George V. I will be interested to see how this under-stated and modest king fairs against the other “bigger beasts” of the competition in the second round.

Winner: George V

Edward VII (r: 1901-1910)


Harthacnut (r: 1040-1042)


Whenever I think of Edward VII – which, admittedly, is not incredibly often – I instantly think of our modern day Prince Charles. Both are men who lived in the shadow of their mothers; both mothers had incredibly long reigns – Victoria I and Elizabeth II – which limited the time on the throne that the sons were able to enjoy. In Charles’ case, he has yet to become king and Elizabeth II continues her reign as long-serving monarch. Whilst in Edward VII’s case, he was Prince of Wales for six decades before eventually becoming king in 1901.

Earlier in this post (in the section about Edward VII’s son George V) I noted how Edward was a colourful personality. Much of this has to do with the life of leisure that Edward appeared to lead during the late Victorian era, with notable visits taking place across the globe. Therefore, it is probable that Edward’s influence on society was greater than that on politics. But despite his reign being a short one – comprising the final decade of his life – it coincided with an important time for Britain.

The new century was witness to vast changes with the Edwardian era being deemed by some historians as a period of crisis: political changes in the form of the rise of socialism and the suffragettes, the Irish crisis, and the impending pull toward the outbreak of war. Although Edward’s influence on such events was minimal when compared to monarchs of previous centuries, he utilised the clout that he had to continue to build friendships with other countries, notably that of France.

Like his son above, Edward VII is matched with a monarch from a millennium’s distance: Harthacnut. He was the son of Cnut the Great, the man who built an impressive North Sea Empire in the period 1015-1035. However, on Cnut’s death in 1035, the empire unfolded. Harthacnut succeeded as king of Denmark, but looked longingly on his father’s previously held possessions. In 1040, his chance to obtain England arrived with the death of his half-brother, Harold Harefoot.

Harthacnut pulled off a move from his father’s playbook: a good old fashioned invasion of the English kingdom. The return was symbolic not only for the attempt to revive the North Sea Empire but also in re-establishing the position of his mother (Emma of Normandy) in England. The monarch was essentially invited by leading nobles – a similar position to William of Orange’s invitation centuries later in 1688. However, the ambition to establish a dynasty on English territory was cut short with Harthacnut’s premature death in 1042. The throne was taken by his half-brother Edward the Confessor and the death marked the end of the influence of Scandinavian kings in the English kingdom.

Obviously comparing the two monarchs is incredibly difficult due to the distance in time, however, it is clear that despite his short reign of two years Harthacnut achieved more than Edward VII. Edward merely waited to be passed the throne and ended his life without any notable achievements, whereas Harthacnut had much larger ambitions and was on his way to emulating Cnut the Great’s accomplishments before dying. Therefore, Harthacnut finds himself in the hat for Round 2.

Winner: Harthacnut

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
  23. Oliver Cromwell beat Edward V
  24. Edward the Confessor beat Edward II
  25. William III beat Lady Jane Grey
  26. Henry VII beat Charles II
  27. Richard II beat James II
  28. George V beat Edward the Martyr
  29. Harthacnut beat Edward VII