The final part of the first round of the English Monarchs FA Cup is finally here! Three final match-ups will take place in this post to allow us to proceed to the final 32 monarchs in the second round.
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 final three match-ups include some heavyweights, and are as follows:
- Anne v George IV
- Henry VIII v Edgar Aetheling
- Alfred the Great v Edward I
Anne (r: 1702-1714)
George IV (r: 1820-1830)
Such is the male dominance in leadership roles throughout history that the inclusion of women in the English Monarchs FA Cup is quite sparse. Anne is the final female to attempt to progress to the second round, with fellow queens – Victoria, Elizabeths I and II, as well as Marys I and II – having already successfully navigated their way through.
Compared to the likes of the Elizabeths and Victoria, Anne is clearly out-matched. Many other English queens have been far more dynamic and charismatic, whereas Anne appears as a “plain Jane”. Even when pitted against those in her dynasty – of the Stuarts – Anne is forgotten: she wasn’t as boisterous as James I, or as arrogant as Charles I, or a party-goer as Charles II, or as religiously strict as James II, or a saviour as were William and Mary. She comes at the end of a frantic and erratic dynasty, seemingly as a place-holder for the start of a new line of monarchs.
However, Anne’s reign of just over a decade was incredibly important for one key reason: in 1707 the Act of Union brought together England and Scotland to form the political union of Great Britain. Her great grandfather James I may have been the first monarch to unite the crowns and rule over both kingdoms, but throughout the 1600s England and Scotland remained politically separate. The 1707 Act of Union brought about the acceleration of Britain as a world superpower.
Of course, we could shrug off Anne’s involvement in all of this: by this point the monarchy had lost its executive power and was now running on a constitutional basis. This was, after all, the result of the 1688 Glorious Revolution of William III. The Act of Union was the brainchild of Anne’s but rather of her politicians. But I would like to suggest a theory: the idea of a constitutional monarchy benefited greatly from a “plain Jane” sitting on the throne. Hear me out on this one…
England had played host to several aggressive and over-bearing kings: Henry VIII, Charles I, and William III. All of these had their own agendas and through use of their personalities (and executive power) had taken England to many expensive wars and had brought about many big changes (such as Henry VIII’s rejection of papal authority in the 1530s). Furthermore, the 1500s and 1600s had seen many factional problems due to differences in religion and what England really needed was a monarch who could be a stable figurehead and allow the politicians – those with the political acumen – to get on with the job of ruling. Therefore, Anne’s “plain Jane” status was a positive, rather than a distracting negative.
Yes, Anne still held royal powers: she could hire and fire ministers, and she was the last monarch to refuse the royal assent to a bill passed in Parliament (in 1708). However, my point – of the Plain Jane Thesis – is that a more aggressive monarch during this period may have acted against the constitutional restraints, which could have placed developments – such as the Act of Union – in jeopardy.
So, what of her opponent in this round: George IV? Although George IV only technically ruled for ten years (from 1820-1830), he ruled as regent on the throne from 1811 due to his father’s mental incapacity. His image in popular culture was, no doubt, ingrained due to Hugh Laurie’s cartoonish portrayal in Blackadder the Third: a pompous fool who was continually outwitted by the butler (Rowan Atkinson). However, is such a portrayal far removed from the real George?
George is stated to have lived an expensive lifestyle. He spent much money on the arts and on leisure pursuits, all of which has led to the cementing of the idea and sense of a Regency era. Many buildings were renovated, including Buckingham Palace, whilst the stunning Pavilion in Brighton was constructed. All of this reflected the rise in status of the kingdom during this era: in 1815 Napoleon was finally (once and for all!) defeated, and Britain became the world’s number one power.
However, despite this, George himself appears to have been an aggressive and much despised fellow: he spent huge amounts on his private lifestyle and his handling of his wife – Caroline of Brunswick – saw him lose much of the public’s trust and affection. Husband and wife led separate lives and she was refused her position as queen on George’s coronation in 1820 (in fact, she was barred entry). Even more cruel was her restriction of access to their daughter, Charlotte the Princess of Wales: in 1817 Charlotte died, and the mother is reputed to have only heard the news from a courtier due to George’s refusal to write to her. She died shortly after George’s coronation and became noted as a “people’s princess”; in many ways, there are parallels to a later “people’s princess” in the form of Diana in the 1990s.
It is interesting to consider how Anne would view George IV: a century separates them, but they are, of course, linked due to sitting on the same throne. Anne was monarch at the birth of a new and dynamic political union, whereas George was a king who sunned himself in the luxuries brought about by a century’s growth of success. Despite Anne being a “plain Jane”, she easily topples George IV in obtaining passage to the second round.
Henry VIII (r: 1509-1547)
Edgar Aetheling (r: 1066)
This competition has brought about many “David v Goliath” contests, such as Henry V easily swatting away the hapless Richard Cromwell early on. But perhaps this one – of Henry VIII against Edgar Aetheling – is the one with the biggest divide, between superstar and unknown. We all know about Henry VIII, right? So, let’s shine the spotlight on Edgar to see if he has the ability to throw a spanner in the works to “defeat” Henry and take his spot in the next round.
Edgar was the grandson of Edmund Ironside and was born in the 11th century; he spent the majority of his life in exile whilst the political events in the English kingdom during this period continued to twist and turn. In 1057 Edgar’s father returned to England and enjoyed a place in the royal court along side his relative and king Edward the Confessor (Edward was the half-brother of Edmund Ironside), and after his father’s death Edgar was the only other member of the Confessor’s dynasty.
All of this sets up for that crazy year of 1066. In January, Edward the Confessor died and although the next-in-line to the throne was his great-nephew (Edgar), the crown passed instead to Harold Godwinson. Edgar could not dispute this power-grab due to his weak position, both in terms of the lack of political and military allies. However, as we all know, 1066 saw the end of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Rather than succumb to the rise of William the Conqueror, the political elite – in the form of the Witan – elected Edgar as the rightful king of England.
But resistance to the Normans was futile. Key lords submitted to William’s rule and any realistic chance of keeping his throne melted away, leading to the Edgar to pay homage to William. Edgar was uncrowned and instead had the humiliation of attending William’s very own coronation in December 1066.
But it is after this year that Edgar becomes really interesting! He became involved in the plotting of Anglo revolts against Norman rule, and for a short while this rebellion briefly tasted success in Northumbria. However, William met fire with fire, leading to the collapse of this rebellion; eventually Edgar made peace with the new Norman dynasty.
Edgar continued to have many adventures throughout his life, the stuff of which is fitting for a film series: he took part in the First Crusade, became embroiled in Scottish political dramas, had time for more plots against Norman monarchs, before retiring for a quiet life in the country.
Such a life bests many of the other monarchs in this competition (yes, I’m looking at you George IV!), however, as an actual king of England all Edgar has in his favour is a two month uncrowned stint when the country was succumbing to William the Conqueror. As such, Edgar – with regret – cannot overcome Henry VIII’s reign of several decades.
Winner: Henry VIII
Alfred the Great (r: 886-899)
Edward I (r: 1272-1307)
There have been a couple of notable heavyweight clashes in this first round, notably Elizabeth I tussling with Cnut the Great. But it seems that this fixture – the final one of the first round – is the most titanic yet: two significant monarchs going head-to-head.
Both Alfred or Edward could have been expected to have gone on a cup-run all the way to the final. This is why I have enjoyed this English Monarchs FA Cup: like the real FA Cup, it has thrown up some interesting bouts. It is similar to having Manchester United against Liverpool in an early round. Both with the potential to win the cup, but with one having to exit the competition at a premature stage.
Firstly, to Alfred the Great. I wasn’t very well versed in Alfred’s reign or achievements until I was faced with having to cover him to an adult GCSE History class. Through a bit of research it was clear that Alfred was a first rate English monarch; indeed, he is the very first monarch of England. Prior to this there were several English kingdoms all vying and fighting for power: Alfred was the one to essentially unite them, thereby establishing the Wessex dynasty (which endured until Edgar the Aetheling, described above).
Alfred obtained many achievements: the extension of education, improvement of a legal system, and military renovations. However, Alfred’s union of the various kingdoms wasn’t as simple as extending his power over other rulers; the chief concern of the 800s was the rise of the Vikings in their grabbing of English land. The Great Heathen Army was able to exert great influence during the 870s, until Alfred – in his role as ruler of Wessex – was able to defeat them at the Battle of Edington in 878. The subsequent treaty established a relationship with the Vikings – the Danelaw – and provided Alfred with the opportunity to unite the various Anglo kingdoms, thereby setting out a clear template for successors to follow.
Secondly, we have Edward I. Several centuries separate him from Alfred, and by the late 1200s England was clearly established as a settled and prosperous political state. He came to prominence during his father’s (Henry III) reign, when he proved himself to be a military leader (especially during the various Barons’ Wars). He became king whilst on crusade – a typical princely pursuit – and was only crowned on his return to England in 1274.
Edward was an energetic and reforming monarch, particularly in terms of administration and the law. It is possible to make comparisons to other reforming rulers, such as Henry VII, however, Edward also possessed a clear agenda in stretching his rule over other regions of Britain: chiefly Wales and Scotland. His conquest of the 1280s saw a change in the landscape of Wales with the construction of castles and the settling of English people in order to thwart future attempts of rebellion.
In many ways, this monarch – the so-called “Hammer of the Scots” – was an archetypal medieval monarch: an intimidating man who sought military glory. However, these successes came at huge cost, with taxation becoming high in the 1290s; furthermore, Edward’s decisions led to consequences for later monarchs, particularly in the entanglement with France and with Scotland.
Both monarchs – Alfred and Edward – designed a larger, more powerful kingdom: Alfred through the union of various English kingdoms and Edward through the extension of English rule on Wales and Scotland. But it is clear that Alfred’s achievements – completed during intense pressure of an invading force – are greater than Edward’s. In many ways, Edward’s “defeat” here is with regret: if he had been pitted against the majority of other contestants it is highly probable that he would have seen success.
Winner: Alfred the Great
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
- George III beat George I
- Mary I beat Stephen
- Matilda beat Charles I
- Edward the Elder beat Edward VIII
- Edgar the Peaceful beat Eadwig
- Edmund I beat Richard III
- Aethelstan beat John
- Mary II beat Harold Harefoot
- William the Conqueror beat Aelfweard
- Henry II beat Ethelred the Unready
- George II beat William “Rufus” II
- Oliver Cromwell beat Edward V
- Edward the Confessor beat Edward II
- William III beat Lady Jane Grey
- Henry VII beat Charles II
- Richard II beat James II
- George V beat Edward the Martyr
- Harthacnut beat Edward VII