History Files

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Kings of England



England today forms the driving force behind the 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 remnants of a single island of Ireland which was held until 1922). The union is not a single entity in the way of the Spanish union of states (for example, although even that union is 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 had 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 had 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 merged that title into 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, ∆thelstan, who could claim to be the first king of a single, United England. Despite reservations on the part of some modern historians, from 927 ∆thelstan 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.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from ∆thelstan: 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).)

House of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (United Kingdom & Empire)
AD 1839 - 1917

It had been the last of the Stuart monarchs of Britain, Queen Anne, who had approved the 'Act of Union' between the two crowns of England and Scotland in 1707-1708. The deed was necessary at least in part because the Scottish parliament refused to endorse the Hanoverian succession should there be no further eligible Stuart candidates for the throne. The elector of Hanover had been invited to take the British throne in 1714.

With family links to the Stuart King James I, this German dynasty brought closer links between Britain and various German principalities (not just Hanover). The Hanoverians had witnessed the emergence of modern Britain, the build-up of overseas territories towards the formation of a recognisable British empire, and the confirmation of a prime minister who oversaw a recognisably modern Parliament. However, the rule of the sons of George III had generally been unpopular and, with the throne passing to one of his granddaughters in the form of Victoria, the nation still had an air of uncertainty about its monarch - until she cultivated a completely different monarchy which was centred firmly on family values. Then the nation quickly learned to love her.

Victoria was the daughter of Edward, duke of Kent, a younger brother of George IV and William IV who had died within a couple of years of her birth. Her mother was Victoire, the sister of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (who had been married to Charlotte, daughter of George IV until she died in childbirth). Victoria was to be named after her mother but the name, which was otherwise unknown in Britain, had to be Anglicised first. Victoria acceded to the throne a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday; her uncle, William IV, held onto life just long enough for that to ensure that her controlling mother would not be regent.

However, as a woman, Victoria was prevented by Salic Law from also inheriting Hanover, so that passed to the next in line; her uncle, Ernest Augustus, duke of Cumberland. Her Uncle Leopold became the first king of the Belgians in 1831. Technically Victoria was a Hanoverian herself, with title and house being inherited through the male line, but her marriage to Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840 meant that a new royal house in Britain was created.

(Information by Peter Kessler, from Indian Frontier Policy, John Ayde (2010), from An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empire, James Stuart Olson, Lee Brigance Pappas, and Nicholas Charles Pappas (1994), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 7: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, Gavin R G Hambly (1991), and from External Links: Discover Canada - Canada's History (Government of Canada), and Did Queen Victoria constitute a break from the Hanoverian line of the British royal family? (Quora), and South African History Online.)

1837 - 1901


Niece of William IV Hanover. Queen-Empress of India (1876).

1839 - 1840

Although born of the House of Hanover herself, Victoria's proposal of marriage to Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha forms a new alignment and a new royal house in Britain. The ceremony takes place on 10 February 1840.

Victoria discovers she is queen
The moment when young Victoria discovered she was queen, as Lord Conyngham (left) and William Howley, archbishop of Canterbury, kneel before her

Also in 1839, British East India Company forces invade Afghanistan, intent on creating a buffer state between British-dominated India and the threat posed by Persian and Russian intrigues. A British army marches to Kabul, triggering the First Anglo-Afghan War, which sees a native ruler used as the British figurehead in the country.

1840 - 1849

In 1840, Britain unites with Ottoman Turkey to overthrow the amir of Lebanon, while the protectorate of Basutoland is recognised by Britain in 1843. In the same year, Britain and France are forced to go to war against Argentina for blocking their access to Paraguay during the Great War in South America.

While that war progresses, in 1845 the USA triggers the Mexican-American War, hoping to annexe all of Texas. Britain, which still holds much of the disputed territory of Oregon, is persuaded not to intervene by an agreement which divides the territory along the 48th parallel. Britain keeps Vancouver to the north of the line (British Columbia), while the US gains Seattle to the south (Washington and Oregon). In 1849, a peace deal is agreed between Argentina and Britain.

1852 - 1856

Britain annexes lower Burma, including Rangoon, following the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852-1853. Between 1854-1856, Britain and France join the Ottoman empire in the Crimean War to halt Russian expansion. The war ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, a severe setback to Russian ambitions, although the Prime Minister is blamed for British failings in the war.

French Zouaves in the Crimea
This illustration of French Zouaves (light infantry, generally drawn from North Africa) in the Crimea was published in The Charleston Mercury on 21 November 1861

1857 - 1858

FeatureThe Indian Mutiny over British rule erupts, but after some hard fighting in places it is suppressed. The last Moghul emperor is deposed and India is placed under direct control of the British empire's viceroys, whilst subject or allied princes govern various small states (see feature link for more on India). Victoria herself is acclaimed empress of India in 1876.

1859 - 1860

The British begin the building of the Suez Canal in Egypt. In 1860, British troops occupy Beijing, effectively ending the Second Opium War and humiliating the Chinese Qin dynasty. In the same year Britain also cedes the Bay Islands to Honduras.

1867 - 1868

Upper and Lower Canada are united with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on 1 July under the Britain North America Act. By enacting this, the British Parliament creates the dominion of Canada. The following year, Basutoland becomes one of Britain's 'High Commission Territories'.

Also in 1868, Prince Louis Alexander of Hessen-Battenberg is aged fourteen when, influenced by Princess Alice, wife of his cousin, Prince Louis (or Ludwig) of Hesse (the later Grand Duke Ludwig IV), and daughter of Queen Victoria, he joins the Royal Navy. In doing so he also becomes a naturalised British subject.

The act of Confederation in Canada
The British North America Act of 1867 created Canadian confederation out of the various British-governed territories in North America, uniting all of them into a single body

1878 - 1882

In 1878, Britain leases Cyprus from the Ottoman empire as a result of the 'Cyprus Convention', which grants control of the island to Britain in return for its support in the Russo-Turkish War. The following year, the war against the Zulu nation ends in British victory. Zululand is annexed in 1887. In North Africa, the British occupation of Egypt begins in 1882.

1888 - 1899

The increasingly independent territory of Kuwait is taken from the Ottoman empire and a British protectorate is created. This gives Britain an important mainland foothold between the Persians and Ottomans.

1890 - 1893

Another British protectorate is created for Zanzibar in 1890. Between then and 1893 Britain also conquers the Bornu empire of Chad as part of a European grab for African territory in which Britain and France are the most successful.


Son. Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1893-1900).

1897 - 1898

With the suppression of the native monarchy there, direct colonial rule of the former Benin empire now begins and lasts until 1960. The following year Sudan is gained under joint Anglo-Egyptian governance.


The Zobier dynasty in Chad is defeated and Britain gains Borno while Chad goes to France. British troops under Robert Baden-Powell relieve Mafeking in South Africa, after a Boer siege of 215 days. In 1902 The Second Boer War ends with the Treaty of Vereeniging, which gives Britain sovereignty in South Africa.

Rabih az-Zubayr
Rabih az-Zubayr, perhaps a typical south Sudanese warlord of any period right down to the modern age, captured an empire but couldn't keep it in the face of French superiority - instead he ended up on the end of the spear of a French native soldier

1901 - 1910

Edward VII the Peacemaker

Elder brother of Alfred.


The Union of South Africa is formed, ending direct British control of South Africa and Zululand. From now on the Boers and Britons of the region will govern it themselves, with the native population given no say in the matter.

1910 - 1917

George V

Son. Changed family name to Windsor (1917).


Britain and the Ottoman government sign a treaty recognising the independence of Bahrain, but the country remains under British administration. Britain also annexes Cyprus, removing it from the Ottoman empire.


Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Britain and all its territories and colonies (including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), France, and Russia are forced to declare war against Germany and Austria at midnight on 4 August. The First World War (variously called World War I, or the Great War), has begun.

Japan joins Britain against Germany, as does China, both keen on reducing the German presence in their region. Japanese and British troops take Tsingtao Fortress which houses the German East Asia Squadron's headquarters. German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province are also taken, as are the Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall islands in the Pacific, all of which are part of German New Guinea. China supplies nearly 150,000 labourers to the Western Front.

Belgium refugees in 1914
Belgian refugees (looking surprisingly jolly) were photographed here in 1914, on the road between Malines and Brussels while they attempted to outrun the invading imperial German army

1916 - 1918

The Arab Revolt is triggered, nominally under British direction and with British support. It begins the liberation from Ottoman hands of much of the Near East, with Britain and the Hashemite Arabs taking control in Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, and Syria. One of the best-known figures of this conflict is, of course, T E Lawrence, as shown dramatically in David Lean's film, Lawrence of Arabia.


With the First World War against Germany seemingly in stalemate, George takes the politically astute decision to sever all familial links with his Teutonic cousins (his cousin in Belgium soon follows suit). Several British titled families with German connections are granted replacement titles and lands in Britain, while the royal family's name is changed to Windsor.