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Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Kings of England

 

England (British Isles)

England today forms the dominant region in the union of geographical and political entities which are known as Britain (England and Wales), Great Britain (with Scotland added), and the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' (including the remaining controls over a single island of Ireland which was held in full until 1922).

The union is not a single entity in the way of the Spanish union of states (for example, although that union model is coming under increasing strain). Instead the four 'home nations' have many of their own institutions and, since 1999, devolved governments which largely handle internal affairs. These are increasingly becoming independent governments in waiting, especially since the highly-divisive 'Brexit' referendum of 2016.

The origins of England lie with the West Saxons. They formed one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms during the period after the end of Roman power in Britain, and during the two subsequent centuries of colonisation and territorial advance. In fact it was their kingdom which ended up standing almost alone amongst the by-then native English kingdoms in the face of the overwhelming onslaught of Danish attacks in the last quarter of the ninth century.

As a result, almost all of the later Bretwaldas - the most powerful of Anglo-Saxon rulers who were acknowledged as such by their peers - were West Saxon kings. This was so much the case that the kings of Wessex effectively subsumed that title within their own kingship.

MapThat Danish onslaught and the enforced merging into a single state of the remaining free English territories produced a united kingdom of English peoples, although it was far from a kingdom of all of England - not until the Danish-controlled territories could be conquered (see map via the link, right).

While that process was largely initiated by Alfred 'the Great', it was his grandson, Æthelstan, who could claim to be the first king of a single, United England. Despite reservations on the part of some modern historians, from 927 Æthelstan actually was the recognised ruler or overlord not only of all of England, but of the principalities of Wales and all of Scotland and Strathclyde too.

The ascendancy of Wessex remained with subsequent kings, although the Scandinavian kingdom of York proved to be a continual source of distraction until it fell to King Eadred in 954. He now ruled a definitively united kingdom. The early Anglo-Saxon kings still had their powerbase in Wessex, and still spent much of their time there but, now that they had a far greater domain, Wessex became somewhat demoted in the form of an earldom which existed alongside several other great, pre-Norman earldoms of England.

A twelfth century Norman civil war saw Henry Anjou accede as the first Plantagenet king of England. The 'Wars of the Roses' fragmented their authority while the House of Lancaster and the House of York swapped control of the throne between them. The last survivors joined up with the Tudor dynasty to end the war and begin a climb towards imperial tendencies. The crown passed peacefully to the Stuarts and then to the largely successful Hanoverians.

The succession in 1837 went to Victoria, daughter of Edward, duke of Kent, a younger brother of the last Hanoverian kings, George IV and William IV. He had died within a couple of years of her birth, leaving her to the care of her difficult mother. Her own marriage to Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840 meant that a new royal house in Britain was created. It was this which would morph into the Windsor ruling house after 1917.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Æthelstan: The First King of England, Sarah Foot (2011), from the BBC series, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, first broadcast from 6 August 2013, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Wessex, Barbara Yorke, from Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede, from the Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography: Cenwalh, Barbara Yorke (2004), from The Earliest English Kings, D P Kirby (1992), from Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, Barbara Yorke, from the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, John Marius Wilson (1870-1872), from The Peterborough Chronicle (the E Manuscript version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia of Earth, and Early Christian to medieval settlement and cemetery (Historic England), and Devolved Parliaments and Assemblies (UK Parliament).)

KING LIST INDEX

King list Anglo-Saxons Kings (AD 954 - 1016)

Anglo-Saxon kings of this period were at the height of their power, ruling the 'Anglo-Saxon Empire' of a united England, with the Scots and Welsh also under their command.

King list Danish Kings (AD 1016 - 1042)

Canute's accession brought England into his vast Baltic-Scandinavian empire as its southernmost province, and he immediately set about removing his competitors for control of the country.

King list Anglo-Saxon Kings Restored (AD 1042 - 1066)

Edward 'the Confessor' was invited back by Hardicanute in 1041, and was fortunate to be in the right place when the Danish king unexpectedly died at a wedding feast, albeit that he held little power.

King list Norman Kings (AD 1066 - 1154)

With the Battle of Hastings won, for three months William of Normandy faced off against the remaining Saxon forces under the leadership of Edgar the Atheling, while nobles sought to secure their own shaky positions.

King list House of Plantagenet / Angevin Empire (AD 1154 - 1399)

Henry of Anjou came to the throne not only as the ruler of England, but also of Anjou and Normandy, as well as most of the rest of France through his wife, but his sons lost most of his Angevin empire.

King list House of Lancaster (AD 1399 - 1461)

The exiled Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt and heir to the duchies of Lancaster and Aquitaine, returned to reclaim his lands, raising an army and marching to meet the king.

King list House of York (AD 1461 - 1470)

The House of York owned land predominantly in the south of England, while the rival Lancastrians owned much of the north, including Lancashire and Yorkshire, making the civil war a north-south conflict.

King list House of Lancaster Restored (AD 1470 - 1471)

Henry VI was restored to the throne on 30 October 1470, but the years of hiding and captivity had taken their toll, Warwick and Clarence held all the power, and the restoration was brief.

King list House of York Restored (AD 1471 - 1485)

Whilst the nobility of this period were busy hacking down their peers, the common population was suffering from repeated waves of plague, less severe that the Black Death of 1348, but they still killed many.

King list House of Tudor (AD 1485 - 1603)

The Tudors were descended from a Welsh noble family which had originated in Venedotia which gradually married into an increasingly strong position in the English nobility over the course of several generations.

King list House of Stuart (AD 1603 - 1649)

A descendant of Henry VII through his daughter, Margaret, James was the first ruler of the three kingdoms of 'Great' Britain (a term which he coined in 1604) involving England, Scotland, and Ireland.

King list Commonwealth of Britain (AD 1649 - 1659)

In international terms, the execution of King Charles I aroused hostility not only in England but also throughout Europe, with regicide being considered the worst of all crimes.

King list House of Stuart Restored (AD 1660 - 1714)

Charles II returned on his birthday from the Netherlands to reclaim the throne, along with his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza,and with parliament proclaiming him king of England on 8 May 1660.

King list House of Hanover (AD 1714 - 1837)

Hanoverian rule witnessed the emergence of modern Britain, and the near-accidental build-up towards what would eventually be known as the British empire, first in the Americas and then in India.

King list House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (AD 1837 - 1917)

Queen Victoria acceded to the throne a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday, with her uncle, William IV, holding onto life just long enough to ensure that her controlling mother would not be regent.

King list House of Windsor (AD 1917 - Present Day)

On 17 July 1917, George V made the proclamation that the name would change to Windsor, one of the monarch's main residences to the west of London, and all German titles throughout the family would be exchanged for British peerages.

 
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