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, Ćthelstan, who could claim to be the first king of a single, United England. Despite reservations on the part of some modern historians, from 927 Ćthelstan 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 Ćthelstan: 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 Tudor (England)
AD 1485 - 1603

It was Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William of Normandy, who proved to be key to the founding of the Plantagenet line of kings of England. A conflict-worn King Stephen agreed to a compromise in their civil war in which he adopted Matilda's son, Henry Anjou, as his heir. Matilda had married Prince Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou in 1127, uniting the French house with the very powerful Norman one. Their son gained the crown of England from Stephen in 1154, having already married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152.

The House of Lancaster was a cadet (junior) branch of this successful Plantagenet dynasty, first appearing in 1267. It passed via two heiresses to John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III and regent for the English throne in 1377-1386. The House of York had been founded by the fifth son of Plantagenet King Edward III and first duke of York, Edmund of Langley (1341-1402) to replace the now-defunct earldom of York. His title passed down to the fourth duke, Edward IV. It was these two powerful houses which were the primary leaders of the Wars of the Roses.

The Tudors were descended from a Welsh noble family which had originated in Gwynedd. Having gradually married into an increasingly strong position in the English nobility over the course of several generations, they played a key role in the last years of the wars. They ended up being one of the few powerful noble families left which was capable of providing the leadership the country required. The killing of the last Yorkist king, Richard III, in 1485 cleared the way.

As kings and queens of England, the Tudors played an important role in transforming the country from the comparatively weak European backwater which it had become following the collapse of the 'Anglo-Saxon Empire', the Norman invasion, and the loss of the Angevin empire, into a powerful state which in the coming centuries would dominate much of the world. The Tudor monarchs also raised the conquered Ireland from a lordship to a kingdom (in 1541), giving them two kingdoms to rule over, plus the principality of Wales and the old, now-lost French lands to claim amongst their titles.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216, Austin Lane Poole (Oxford University Press 1993), from Channel 4's The Six Wives of Henry VIII series, Doctor David Starkey (first screened September 2001), from Bloody British History: Plymouth, Laura Quigley (History Press, 2013), 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 Making of Europe, Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change: 950-1350, Robert Bartlett (Princeton University Press, 1993), and from External Link: History Extra.)

1485 - 1509

Henry VII

Member of the House of Lancaster on his mother's side.

1485

Henry VII is the only major remaining claimant to the throne, although he is not without opposition and his claim is not especially unquestionable. He marries Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and heiress of the House of Plantagenet, to legitimise his somewhat shaky claim, without knowing the question mark over Elizabeth's own royal legitimacy.

Henry VII, Tudor king of England
Henry VII had a fairly distant claim to the English throne in his own right, but he greatly strengthened that by marrying Elizabeth of York, the daughter of the last of the Yorkist kings, Edward IV

Henry himself is descended from Ednyfed Fychan, chief minister to Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd, and Owain ap Meredith ap Tewdur, a Welsh squire in Henry V's court. More practically, his marriage unites the houses of York and Lancaster, ensuring an end to the Wars of the Roses.

1486

Henry VII's first-born son and his intended heir arrives in the world. Named Arthur after what the Tudors consider to be the country's most outstanding leader, Arthur of the Britons, he is also created Prince of Wales. His sudden death in 1502 will upset the succession.

1486 - 1487

Lambert Simnel

Pretender. Nine year-old caught up in attempt to gain throne.

1487

Henry VII defeats Lambert Simnel's forces at Stoke, in the final battle of the Wars of the Roses. The boy himself, an unwitting pawn who had been selected merely on the basis of his resemblance to the Yorkist prince, is given a lifelong job in the royal household.

1490 - 1499

Perkin Warbeck

Pretender. Hanged as a traitor at Tyburn.

1490 - 1499

FeatureWarbeck is an impostor, pretending to be Richard of Shrewsbury, first duke of York, the younger son of King Edward IV, but is in fact a Fleming, born in Tournai around 1474. He is first noted as claiming the English throne at the court of Burgundy in 1490 - the year before the birth of Henry VII's second son, Henry. His Second Cornish Uprising in 1497 captures territory and castles (notably Exeter and Taunton castles - see feature link).

Maximilian I of Austria and the Holy Roman empire
The sole heiress of Burgundy, Mary, married Maximilian of Austria, who became Holy Roman emperor in 1493 while also personally ruling Belgium, Burgundy, the Netherlands, and Austria

In 1499 he leaves the scene of what becomes his most recent failure in Cornwall and the south-west for London, where he mounts a feeble military challenge to Henry before fleeing. He is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London alongside a genuine claimant: Edward, earl of Warwick, with whom he tries and fails to escape in 1499.

1502 - 1503

FeaturePrince Arthur dies at the young age of fifteen, from uncertain medical circumstances. His wife, Catherine of Aragon, is sick as well, but survives. Henry VII gains a dispensation to marry her to Arthur's younger brother, Henry. In the same year, Scotland and England agree a 'perpetual peace' when James IV and King Henry come to terms, while construction on the defensive Kingswear Castle in Devon is completed (see feature link). In 1503, James marries Henry's daughter, Margaret Tudor, laying the basis for eventual union between the two crowns.

1509 - 1547

Henry VIII

King of Ireland (1541). Broke away from Roman Church.

1509 - 1533

FeatureFrom ascending the throne at the age of seventeen, Henry VIII turns out to be one of England's most colourful and pivotal rulers (see feature link). He marries six times in search of a male heir (and a spare), but only fathers three surviving children, two of them girls.

He first marries his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, and gains a daughter in Mary. After five children which do not survive and a long period without any further progeny, Henry secures an annulment (Catherine dies in 1536).

Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII, second son of Henry VII and 'Defender of the Faith' thanks to Pope Leo X in 1521, as portrayed in a very well known oil portrait on wood which dates to about 1526

1513

Henry campaigns in France, capturing two towns and beating off the French in the Battle of the Spurs, named for the sight of the spurs of the French cavalry as they flee at great speed. Catherine of Aragon manages England in Henry's stead. James IV of Scotland takes full advantage by invading England, but Isabella sends an army north. The two forces meet at Flodden and the Scots are annihilated, with around ten thousand casualties including James himself.

1521

Pope Leo X grants Henry the title 'Defender of the Faith' for his writing of a tract which defends Catholicism. It is a title which he retains even after his split from the Catholic church, becoming the 'Defender of the Faith' for the newly-created Anglican Church.

1533 - 1536

FeatureHenry marries the ambitious Anne Boleyn after first meeting her at Hever Castle (see feature link). She immediately gives him another daughter, the red-haired Elizabeth. After three more children, none of whom survive, Henry has trumped-up charges of adultery levelled against Anne. She is beheaded on 19 May 1536.

Anne Boleyn
Six years after first insisting on being Henry's wife, not his mistress, Anne finally married him. She was thirty-two years old and was already pregnant

1534

The English Reformation had gained political support when Henry VIII wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Under pressure from Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, Holy Roman emperor, the annulment is refused by Pope Clement VII, the latest point in an ongoing conflict of authority between England and Rome. Henry, although theologically a Catholic, decides to become 'Supreme Head' of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. Even so, he maintains a strong preference for traditional Catholic practices.

1535 - 1536

FeatureThe first English translation of the entire Bible is printed, with translations by Tyndale and Coverdale. The dissolution of the monasteries begins in 1536, with Catholic decorations in churches being removed or whitewashed over (such as Hailes Abbey - see feature link).

With the death of Anne Boleyn, a rebellion is sparked in the north which marches under the banner of the 'Five Wounds of Christ', and which demands the restoration of the old ways. By December 1536, its followers number as many as forty thousand, but it is defeated when the king appears to accedes to its demands, and then has the leaders dealt with in the customary fashion.

1536 - 1537

Henry marries his beloved Jane Seymour. Within a year she gives birth to Edward, Henry's long-awaited son, but then dies from an infection caused by unclean birthing instruments.

Jane Seymour
Henry's match to Jane Seymour was perhaps the most heartfelt of all his marriages, but after delivering him the baby boy that he desired, infection set in and Jane was dead just twelve days after giving birth

1540

The Catholic powers of France and Spain seem certain to establish an alliance with the intention of attacking England. Henry allows his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, to arrange a marriage for him with Anne of the principality of Kleve (Anglicised as Cleves), whose brother, Duke William, is the leader of the Protestant states in western German lands.

Anne proves to be a huge disappointment in Henry's eyes. The marriage is never consummated, and an annulment follows within six months (Anne lives out her life in England as a private person, never remarries, and dies in 1557 at the age of forty-two, seemingly content with her lot).

1540 - 1542

Already having a poorly-kept secret affair with one of the court's ladies-in-waiting, Catherine Howard, while still married to Anne, Henry now marries Catherine. She is executed soon afterwards. During the same period, 1541-1542, Henry's sister, Margaret Tudor, dies.

Her son, King James V, no longer feels tied to the 'perpetual peace' with England, and when invited he fails to meet Henry at York. Instead, he mobilises his army and prepares to invade England. His army is defeated at Solway Moss on the Scottish border in 1542. The news of the defeat is a powerful blow, and he dies just six days after his own daughter is born.

Edward VI
During his relatively short reign, the young Edward VI showed a strong drive towards harsh Protestant reforms in England and Wales before ill health slowed down his work and eventually claimed his life

1541 - 1542

The Irish parliament confers the country's crown upon Henry. After this, the English monarch holds both crowns, English and Irish, in personal union in the same way that the seventeenth century James VI of Scotland will also be James I of England (with Ireland added as a third crown). This replaces the 'Lordship of Ireland' with the 'Kingdom of Ireland' in 1542, upon King Henry's insistence. The 'Crown of Ireland Act' confirms the change.

1543 - 1547

Henry's sixth wife is the twice-married Catherine Parr. Forming a much more sympathetic union with the now ailing king which remains seemingly untroubled by personal ambition or courtly intrigue, she outlives him by a year before remarrying and then dying in childbirth.

1547 - 1553

Edward VI

Son. Crowned 20 Feb, aged nine. Died at the age of fifteen.

1547 - 1553

Protestantism is established for the first time in England (more as a simplified form of Catholicism than the more radical Protestantism which is practised in Northern Europe). In the last battle between English and Scottish royal armies, the Scots are routed at Pinkie, Edinburgh, on 10 September 1547 as Edward's uncle and protector, Edward Seymour, attempts to impose Anglican reform north of the border and force the infant Mary, 'Queen of Scots', to marry Edward.

Mary, 'Queen of Scots'
The Ridolfi Plot was a Roman Catholic attempt of 1570 to assassinate Elizabeth I and replace her with Queen Mary of Scotland (shown here), although it was foiled and its chief instigator in Britain, the duke of Norfolk, was beheaded as a traitor

In England, Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, implements the Book of Common Prayer. Unfortunately, Edward's reign is marked by increasingly harsh Protestant reforms, the loss of control of Scotland, and an economic downturn.

When it becomes clear that Edward's life is to be a short one, his advisors persuade him to attempt to exclude his two half sisters from the line of succession in order to make Lady Jane Grey, the solidly Protestant daughter-in-law of the chief regent, next in line to succeed the king.

Following Edward's death a disputed succession re-opens religious contentions. Lady Jane is queen for nine days, and reigns in name only before being deposed by Mary. Mary then seeks to undo many of Edward's Protestant reforms, issuing legislation through her Parliamentary sessions.

Elizabeth I in Parliament
An engraving showing Elizabeth I in Parliament, which was held in St Stephen's Chapel, one of the earliest parts of the modern Houses of Parliament

1553

Lady Jane Grey

Henry's grandniece. Reigned 6-15 July. Deposed & beheaded.

1553 - 1558

Mary I / 'Bloody Mary'

Dau. of Henry VIII. m Philip II of Spain. Childless.

1553 - 1554

Continually turning to her maternal cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, for advice and support, Mary Tudor accepts his suggestion of marriage to his son, Philip of Spain. However, she makes it clear that she will be queen regnant and, following the wedding in 1554, Philip is given no lands in England, nor is he allowed to make any appointments for fear of upsetting the populace. It is stipulated that if there are no children, Philip's interest in the realm will cease with Mary's death.

1555 - 1558

FeatureFollowing her phantom pregnancy and a period of depression, Mary earns her nickname by having almost three hundred religious dissenters executed in her later years, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. However, her brief attempt at the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England is reversed by her successor and half-sister, Elizabeth (see feature link, right).

1558 - 1603

Elizabeth I

Dau. of Henry VIII. Childless. Last of the Tudors.

1568

FeatureMary Stuart, 'Queen of Scots', escapes from Loch Leven Castle in Scotland but her supporters are defeated near Glasgow, at the Battle of Langside. She flees to England where she believes she will be protected and supported by her cousin, Elizabeth Tudor. Following a short stay at Bolton Castle (see feature link), she is instead subsequently imprisoned at Fotheringay Castle, a political embarrassment to both kingdoms.

Elizabeth I
As Princess Elizabeth, her life was sometimes in danger, especially during her sister's reign, and she was constantly the subject of political intrigue, even without her consent - she is pictured here in the earliest-known full length portrait of her as queen, by Steven van der Meulen and Steven van Herwijck (as seen at Tate Britain, London)

1569

Elizabeth puts down the Catholic-led Northern Rebellion, before finding a new enemy in her former brother-in-law, Philip II, king of Spain. The First Desmond Rebellion is ignited in Ireland, largely fuelled by the imposition of Protestant Tudor controls over Catholic regions of the country.

1571

The duke of Norfolk is executed following the failed Ridolfi Plot which would have seen Elizabeth assassinated and replaced by Mary, 'Queen of Scots', as Norfolk's intended puppet. Roberto Ridolfi is an international banker who can travel across Europe without arousing too much suspicion. Norfolk's co-conspirators are the pope and Philip of Spain. (The plot is a key point in the 1998 feature film, Elizabeth.)

1572

Elizabeth agrees an alliance with France and begins tentative marriage negotiations which, although perhaps well meant, go nowhere and decisively end when the younger duke of Anjou dies in 1584.

1579 - 1583

FeatureThe Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland is put down by the end of this period. In the same year, 1583, the first English colony in North America is founded (see feature link). This later period of Elizabeth Tudor's reign sows the seeds of the British empire, and is termed 'Gloriana'.

Roanoke Colony
The Roanoke Colony, located on the large island to the lower centre-left of the illustration, was founded in 1586, but by the following year it had failed

1585 - 1598

The Anglo-Spanish War erupts as relations with Philip of Spain worsen. Mary, 'Queen of Scots' is executed in 1587, while Francis Drake 'singes the king of Spain's beard' by attacking his fleet in the Spanish port of Cadiz.

Intended retaliation is not long in coming, but the great 130-vessel-strong Spanish Armada is destroyed at the Battle of Gravelines in 1588 while attempting to bring about an invasion of England. In 1595, forces under Francis Drake and the earl of Cumberland attack and seize Puerto Rico, holding it for several months until dysentery forces a withdrawal. The war stalls in 1598 and is only officially ended by the Treaty of London in 1604.

1599

FeatureThe Globe Theatre is opened by the Lord Chamberlain's Company, of which William Shakespeare is a member. The site lies near the rival Rose Theatre in Southwark, and is built using the oak frame from the company's previous theatre in Shoreditch. Although it burns down in 1613 due to an accident involving a cannon on stage and the thatched roof over the theatre, it is quickly rebuilt and remains operational until all theatres are ordered closed in 1642 (see feature link for more on Shakespeare's buildings).

1594 - 1603

The Nine Years' War (otherwise known as Tyrone's Rebellion) erupts in Ireland. Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tír Chonaill and Hugh O'Neill of Tír Eoghain lead other allies against the English crown, fighting across the island, although the bulk of the conflict takes place in Ulster.

Robert Devereux, earl of Essex
The young and ambitious Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, attempted to woo Queen Elizabeth I at court and win power (and possibly the crown) for himself, but in the end his dreams died in an ill-advised coup attempt and a visit to the executioner's block

In 1599 the ambitious earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, leads a massive force of sixteen thousand men to Ireland and proceeds to conduct a poor campaign against the rebels. Upon his return he is placed under house arrest (which leads to his abortive attempt at a coup in 1601, and his subsequent execution).

1600

The arrival of a Dutch trading vessel in Japan, the Liefde, greatly unsettles the Portuguese and Spanish merchants there. The vessel's pilot, William Adams, is an Englishman of wit and charm. He is escorted to the powerful warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, where he reveals the lies peddled by Jesuits about religion in Europe.

Ieyasu is no less interested in the Liefde's canon, and it is possible that he uses them in battle later in the year. (William Adams serves as the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's novel, Shogun, with the role played by Richard Chamberlain in the remarkable tv mini-series of the same name.)

1603

Following a surprise military defeat, the rebels in Ireland are reduced to guerrilla tactics and the O'Neills themselves are symbolically destroyed when their inauguration stone at Tullaghogue is smashed. Hugh O'Neill surrenders on 30 March 1603 and signs the Treaty of Mellifont. The Nine Years' War fades to an end.

Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne in the Nine Years War of Ireland
Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne won a crushing victory over Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton at Glenmalure in 1580, part of the Second Desmond Rebellion

By this stage, Queen Elizabeth has been fading for quite some time, her decline not helped by the loss of several close friends in the first years of the new century. Before news of the surrender in Ireland can reach London, the queen is dead, and a rider is racing northwards to contact her successor. The House of Stuart will now govern both England and Scotland in personal (but not political) union.