History Files
 

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Kings of England

 

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 Stuart (England & Scotland)
AD 1603 - 1649

The reign of the Tudors had covered one of the most tumultuous times British history, although worse was to come in the seventeenth century. As the result of an agreement with Elizabeth I in 1586 - known as the Treaty of Berwick - the Scottish King James VI succeeded her on the English throne as King James I of England and Scotland. 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): England, Scotland, and Ireland. This was a personal union of crowns which would not be made an official political union until 1707.

Few of the preceding Stuart kings had lived long and happy lives. Many had been victims of the internecine quarrelling between the Scots themselves. James' own beginnings had been the product of yet more of the same, with his mother - Mary, 'Queen of Scots' - marrying the alleged murder of his father before being imprisoned and having her son removed from her. She soon abdicated the throne in James' favour, and his early years were managed under the regency of the earl of Mar. James' surname in its Scots form, Stewart, had been altered to 'Stuart' by his mother while she was living in France as the letter 'w' is absent from the French alphabet. It was largely in this form that the name was used in England.

During James' reign, and that of his son, piracy in the Caribbean became fully established, especially targeting wealthy Spanish colonies such as Hispaniola. The first true British Colonies in North America also became established, beginning with the settlement of St John in Newfoundland in 1604. Life in the early settlements could be harsh and short, with several of them failing or suffering from quarrels with the natives. On the European dynastic front, James' daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, married Frederick V of the Palatinate and briefly became queen of Bohemia (1620-1621).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Royal House of Stuart: The Descendants of King James VI of Scotland (James I of England), Arthur C Addington (Charles Skilton, 1969-76), The Lion & the Lilies: The Stuarts and France, Eileen Cassavetti (Macdonald & Jane's, 1977), and from External Links: Royal Family History, and The Stuarts of Campbeltown, and The Royal Household.)

1603 - 1625

James I

James VI of Scotland (1567-1625). First king of Great Britain.

1605

FeatureCatholic plotters, unhappy with James' unsympathetic attitude towards their faith (which he also shares) decide to try and blow up Parliament at the state opening, thereby paving the way for a Catholic takeover of Britain. The plot is foiled and the act of foiling it on 5 November becomes a matter of national celebration for centuries to come (see feature link).

Coronation of James I
James was crowned king of the Protestant country of England on the feast of St James in 1603, but the queen, a devout Catholic, refused to take Communion

1616 - 1617

Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, chief of the Powhatan confederacy of native tribes which live around the Jamestown British Colony, visits England. The visit is partially being organised to promote the New World English colony, with Pocahontas being greeted at court by James I and attending various functions. Embarking for the return journey in March 1617, she falls ill on board ship and is taken off at Gravesend where she dies of an unspecified illness.

1620 - 1621

FeatureOn 21 November, the 'Pilgrim Fathers' arrive at Cape Cod in New England on the Mayflower (formerly Plymouth Company territory in the British Colonies). They are leaving behind them the confused religious situation in England, hoping to found a new and better community in the New World (see feature link).

The following year, England's early colonial presence in West Africa is formalised with the creation of English Gold Coast, close to the slave-trading Fanti people who separate the colonists from the Akan kingdoms - such as that of Akwamu - which lie further inland.

1625 - 1649

Charles I

Son. King of England & Scotland. Deposed and executed.

1638

The central American kingdom of Mosquitia is officially recognised by England, probably during a state visit by the son of the king to the court of Charles I. The act begins a degree of English influence on the kingdom which withstands successive attempts to conquer it by its Spanish-influenced neighbours.

Warships of the English Civil War
Warships at the time of the English Civil War, with ninety of them mustered in Plymouth Sound in 1625 (with the kind permission of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Library of Toronto)

1641

The Catholic nobility of Ireland attempt to stage a coup by seizing the English administration of the country. The hoped-for concessions for Catholics under English rule come to nothing when the coup fails. Instead the fighting escalates into the Irish Rebellion, pitting native Irish Catholics against English and Scottish Protestants. This is the first stage in a period known collectively as the Irish Confederate Wars. The English Parliament refuses to cooperate with King Charles in putting down the rebellion, with the result that control over much of Ireland is lost.

1642 - 1645

Charles raises his standard, declaring war on a Parliament which is determined to force a confrontation. The English Civil War initially goes well for the Royalist cause, but in 1645 the Royalists are routed at the Battle of Philiphaugh, defeating Charles I's cause in Scotland. The archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, is beheaded at Tower Hill in London in the same year for his 'High Church' stance against the radical Puritanism which is starting to take hold in the country.

Ultimately, and perhaps to the perpetual surprise of King Charles, his cause stutters towards defeat at the hands of the Parliamentarians who sentence him to beheading and declare a kingless Commonwealth of Britain.

Protectorate / Commonwealth of Britain (England & Scotland)
AD 1649 - 1659

As the result of the signing of the Treaty of Berwick with the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I in 1586, the Scottish King James VI was able to succeed her on the English throne as King James I of England and Scotland in 1603. James' son, the Stuart King Charles I, believed implacably in the divine right of kings to rule, a point of view which brought him into frequent verbal conflict with his independent-minded Parliament.

Its cause against Charles simmered for years while it continually blocked the king's attempts to rule absolutely as he believed he should. When a crowd of apprentices rioted at Westminster in 1641 (organised by parliament), they were dispersed by troops who called them 'roundheads' thanks to their close-cropped hair. After the commencement of the civil war between king and parliament in the following year, the term came to be applied to the parliamentary military forces, in opposition to the king's cavalier-styled gentlemen-led forces.

When parliament finally won the war, it realised it didn't know what kind of governance to offer the country. It even went so far as to offer Oliver Cromwell the crown as the Puritan (extreme Protestant) forces turned Britain into a kind of police state. The commonwealth was declared in May 1649 after the monarchy and House of Lords had both been abolished. Political power rested in the hands of the 'Council of State', the 'Rump Parliament' (which quickly swelled to around three times its wartime number of seventy-five members), and the army.

FeatureIn international terms, the execution of King Charles I aroused hostility not only in England but also throughout Europe. Regicide was considered the worst of all crimes, and open season was declared against English shipping while the legitimate ruler, Charles II, was encouraged to reclaim his father's three kingdoms. At home many medieval castles which were already on their last legs were demolished or rendered useless, having supplied the Royalists with some useful defensive options during the war. Bridgwater Castle in Somerset was one such victim, with few remains to be seen today (see feature link).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Royal House of Stuart: The Descendants of King James VI of Scotland (James I of England), Arthur C Addington (Charles Skilton, 1969-76), The Lion & the Lilies: The Stuarts and France, Eileen Cassavetti (Macdonald & Jane's, 1977), and from External Links: Royal Family History, and Royal Stuart Society, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Historic England Research Records: Bridgwater Castle, and Historic England, and Cumbrian Castle Blog.)

1649 - 1653

Oliver Cromwell supports the execution of the king in January 1649. The king's body is quietly buried in Windsor Castle's St George's Chapel after being denied a place in Westminster Abbey. He is placed with Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, but the entire vault is later lost to history. Workmen rediscover it by accident in 1813 and find a velvet-draped coffin with the missing monarch's name on it. The casket is opened to reveal a body with a detached head and a pointy beard.

Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell
Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, effectively the monarch of England, Scotland, and Ireland without ever actually taking the highly dangerous step of having himself declared king and without fully implementing the reforms required to establish a full republic

In the same year, 1649, Oliver Cromwell also leads an army in August to crush the Irish and end the Irish Confederate Wars, which he does by 1653. In 1650, Cromwell also crushes Scotland with his highly efficient New Model Army. With relative peace restored in 1653, he dissolves Parliament and by the end of the year has assumed the role of lord protector - effectively king in all but name.

1653 - 1658

Oliver Cromwell

Effectively controlled Parliament (1649). First 'Lord Protector'.

1655

English troops take Jamaica from the Spanish colonial viceroyalty of New Spain, making it a hub for rum production and slave trading. This victory also allows renewed contact with the Mosquito Coast. The English governor of Jamaica now forms the direct link of authority between the Miskito king and the English crown.

1657

Parliament offers Oliver Cromwell the title of king in the 'Humble Petition and Advice'. He rejects it, realising the dangers of re-establishing the kingship and being entirely content to dominate the country with the support of the people. However, his role means that the anti-monarchical reforms which are required to ensure that the republic survives him are not completed. His death in 1658 ends the prospect of that happening.

Oliver Cromwell refuses the crown
Although he himself was of the opinion that a king would be required to manage the country once the echoes of war had died away, Oliver Cromwell's own position was not secure enough for him to accept a crown himself - and so it was refused when offered

1658 - 1659

Richard Cromwell

Son. Second 'Lord Protector'. Abdicated. Died 1712.

1659

Richard Cromwell, entirely unsuited to his role, abdicates in 1659. Negotiations with Charles II are opened, and the restored king returns to Britain. The body of Oliver Cromwell, buried in Westminster Abbey, is exhumed by Charles' supporters and hanged on the scaffold at Tyburn (near modern day Marble Arch in London).

It is later cut down and beheaded, with the body probably being dumped in a nearby pit. The embalmed head is eventually removed from a spike and passes from owner to owner until it is reburied at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge in 1960. Charles II now heads a restored Stuart monarchy.

House of Stuart (Restored in England & Scotland)
AD 1660 - 1714

The cause between Stuart King Charles I and Parliament simmered for years while it continually blocked the king's attempts to rule absolutely as he believed he should. When a crowd of apprentices rioted at Westminster in 1641 (organised by parliament), they were dispersed by troops who called them 'roundheads' thanks to their close-cropped hair. After the commencement of the civil war between king and parliament in the following year, the term came to be applied to the parliamentary military forces, in opposition to the king's cavalier-styled gentlemen-led forces.

When parliament finally won the war, it realised it didn't know what kind of governance to offer the country so a temporary 'Commonwealth of Britain' or protectorate was formed in May 1649. Oliver Cromwell was firmly in charge until the country should recover from the war and a form of kingship could be reintroduced. Cromwell himself was too reliant on support from the army to be able to consider taking up the role. With his death, his protectorate supporters found it apparently impossible to select a suitable replacement.

Instead they followed the dynastic route which had long been established by kings and selected Oliver's son to govern as the country's second lord protector. He proved entirely unsuited to the role, and it was seemingly a fairly short step from forcing his abdication to supporting the return of the monarchy. Charles II returned on his birthday from the Netherlands to reclaim the throne, along with his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. Parliament proclaimed him king of England on 8 May 1660. Charles received popular support as he re-opened the theatres, and introduced a relaxed, tolerant rule to a country which had been battered by a decade of extremist Puritan rule. The protectorate had ended (known as the interregnum by royalists).

The period of the protectorate had wrought considerable changes on British society, not least in the way in which religion was practiced. Nonconformity had effectively become mainstream, albeit with the majority of nonconformists being Presbyterians who shared Anglican church premises (the process of establishing nonconformist chapels had not yet been permitted in law). It would take the remainder of the century for the new situation to settle down, encouraged by two major acts, with the 1672 act probably being the most important in terms of denuding Canterbury's congregations and opening the doors to true nonconformity.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Story of Mayfair, Peter Wetherell, Erik Brown, & Oliver Bradbury (London, 2014), from The Royal House of Stuart: The Descendants of King James VI of Scotland (James I of England), Arthur C Addington (Charles Skilton, 1969-76), The Lion & the Lilies: The Stuarts and France, Eileen Cassavetti (Macdonald & Jane's, 1977), from Queen Anne, Edward Gregg (Yale University Press, Second Ed, 2001), and from External Links: Royal Family History, and Royal Stuart Society, and The Stuarts of Campbeltown, and The Royal Household.)

1660 - 1685

Charles II

Son of Stuart King Charles I. King in exile (1649-1660).

1664 - 1667

Under the leadership of the duke of York, the English attack and capture the province of New Netherland in 1664. The act leads in the following year to the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which ends with the Netherlands agreeing to the English ownership of the colony in exchange for Suriname.

Second Anglo-Dutch War
The Four Days Battle in June 1666 was part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, as depicted by Willem van de Velde the Younger

1665 - 1666

The last Great Plague sweeps through London killing 65,000 (according to official figures), although the real figure is probably closer to as much as 100,000. The following year an accidental fire which starts at a Pudding Lane bakery engulfs almost all of the old medieval city of London with only a few exceptions, one of which is the Tower of London.

1670 - 1671

In a period in which adventurers seem to rule, the privateer Henry Morgan captures the port of Chagres from the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru in 1670 and goes on to destroy the city of Panama in New Granada. On 9 May 1671, the crown jewels are briefly stolen from the Tower of London by Irish adventurer Colonel Thomas Blood.

1673 - 1674

The territory of former Dutch New Amsterdam is seized by during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, but is returned to England as part of the Treaty of Westminster in 1674. The king is effectively forced to sign the treaty as Parliament will no longer finance his war.

Lulworth Castle, Dorset, England
Sir Humphrey Weld of Lulworth Castle in Dorset was a Royalist during the English Civil War, which no doubt cost him position and income during the Commonwealth, but his finances did not fare much better under the Restoration (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page)

1685 - 1688

James II

Brother. Catholic revivalist. Deposed. Died in 1701 in exile.

1685

The Monmouth Rebellion is also known as The West Country Rebellion or The Revolt of the West. Opposing the succession of the Catholic James II is James Scott, first duke of Monmouth and an illegitimate son of Charles II. He is proclaimed king at Taunton on 20 June 1685. Unfortunately for Monmouth, his forces are no match for the professional army and he is defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685.

FeatureSubsequently nineteen rebels are hanged in Taunton on 9 July and twenty-two more in September after trials in Taunton Castle (the 'Bloody Assizes') before Judge Jeffreys (known as the 'Hanging Judge'). Monmouth himself is executed on 15 July. (Taunton Castle is located very close to a former short-lived Carmelite Abbey - see feature link.)

1686

FeatureThe Mayfair district of London gets its name when King James grants royal permission for a fair to be held in the first two weeks of May on the site of what is now Shepherds Market. At this time Soho, Whitehall, and the City are the addresses of choice for the wealthy aristocracy, but a gradual shift towards Mayfair starts to take place.

1688

Feeling against the blatantly anti-Protestant James flares up when his second wife, Mary of Modena, gives birth to a Catholic heir (commonly believed to be a changeling). His brother-in-law, William of Orange, lands in Britain with a Dutch army. The disaffected British army goes over to him, and a bloodless takeover is effected with the support of the British people, named the 'Glorious Revolution'.

King James II
The staunchly Catholic King James II was intent on ignoring the concerns of his largely Protestant subjects in Britain, but in Ireland with its predominantly Catholic population his cause was much more popular

James flees London for France on 11 December, and by this act is deemed to have abdicated. He and his supporters continue to hold a claim to the thrones of England, Scotland (where the full details of his successors are shown), and Ireland for decades to come.

1689

There is an interregnum while events are unfolding. William of Orange and his wife, Mary II, come to the throne with the 'Declaration of Rights' being read before Parliament on 13 February. Despite her better claim to hold the throne, Mary declines to be queen regnant, instead preferring to give way to her husband in all matters of state. Nevertheless, she proves to be a worthy regent in his absences.

1689 - 1694

Mary II

Dau. Regent when husband, William III, on campaign.

1689 - 1702

William III

Husband. Prince of (the House of) Orange.

1690

James II has gained Irish and French support for his cause and he invades Ireland from France. However, his attempts are stopped dead at the Battle of the Boyne on 1 July (there can be some confusion over pre-1752 dating, and these days it seems to be the case to refer to historical events by keeping the old day and month but updating the year. The dates used here are the accepted ones). The archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, refuses to take the oath with William and Mary, and is removed from office.

Mary II and William of Orange
Mary II and William of Orange were invited to Britain from their home in the Netherlands, where William was the official head of state, to rescue the country from the divisive Catholic rule of James II

1701 - 1766

James Francis Stuart 'Old Pretender'

Son of James II. Prince of Wales. Involved in 1716 rebellion.

1701

The Act of Settlement on 12 June confirms that it is illegal for a Roman Catholic, or anyone married to a Roman Catholic, to inherit the throne (as set out in the 1689 Bill of Rights). This disqualifies the Catholic Stuart pretenders from gaining the throne after Anne's death. It also disqualifies the Catholic heirs of Charles I and his sister, Elizabeth of the Palatinate, 'Queen of Bohemia', wife of Frederick V 'The Winter King' of Bohemia.

This leaves just Sophie, widow of Ernst August of Brunswig-LŁneberg, elector of Hanover, and her son, George Ludwig, who are eligible to succeed Anne should she have no offspring.

1702 - 1714

Anne

Sister of Mary II. Had 17-18 children, but all predeceased her.

1702 - 1715

While Portugal initially supports France during the War of Spanish Succession, Britain alters the situation with the signing of the Methuen Treaty with Portugal on 16 May 1703, which grants mutually beneficial commercial rights for wine and textiles from the two countries.

In December 1703 a military alliance between Austria, Britain, and Portugal sees them invade Spain. British forces attack Spanish interests in the Americas, including an attack on Puerto Rico in 1702. Lorraine is occupied during the war, forcing the ducal court to flee. The allied forces capture Madrid in 1706, although the campaign ends in a defeat at the Battle of Almansa.

War of the Spanish Succession
The War of the Spanish Succession was fought to avoid a shift in the balance of power in Europe with the proposed unification of the Bourbon kingdoms of Spain and France

The conclusion of the war in 1715 sees Spain giving up Milan, Naples, Sardinia, and the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) to Austria, with Sicily going to the duchy of Savoy. The Papal States are forced to hand over the territories of Parma and Piacenza to Austria, a definite blow to the papacy's prestige. Philip, duke of Anjou, is recognised as the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain, but only on the condition that the Bourbon crowns of Spain and France can never be united under a single ruler.

1707

The formal union of the crowns of England and Scotland is enacted. The idea had been recommended by William III and is now approved by Anne as a method of avoiding the possibility of Scotland going its own way, as the Scottish parliament refuses to endorse the Hanoverian succession. The joint kingdoms are governed from a single Parliament at Westminster in London. The following year, an attempted invasion of Scotland by James Francis Stuart at the Firth of Forth is defeated at sea.

1710

The 'Four Mohawk Kings' or 'Four Kings of the New World' who visit Queen Anne in this year are three Native North American Mohawk chiefs and one Mahican of the Iroquoian confederacy.

Etoh Oh Kaum of the Turtle Clan
Etoh Oh Kaum of the Turtle Clan of the Mahican confederacy was immortalised in this oil painting which quite wrongly depicted him as the 'Emperor of the Six Nations'

The four are Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow of the Bear Clan, called 'King of Maguas' (with the Christian name Peter Brant); Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row of the Wolf Clan, called 'King of Canojaharie'; Tee Yee Ho Ga Row of the Wolf Clan, called 'King Hendrick' (with the Christian name Hendrick Peters), and Etoh Oh Koam of the Turtle Clan.

1714

Queen Anne's health has never been strong, with gout from around 1698 onwards rendering her lame. Increasing obesity and the strength of various illnesses have made her more weak until she suffers a stroke on 30 July 1714. She dies on the morning of 1 August 1714. paving the way for a Hanoverian succession.