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 Windsor (United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland)
AD 1917 - Present Day

The modern 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' incorporates the ancient kingdoms of England and Scotland, the principality of Wales, and the territories and regions of Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Orkneys, and the Shetland and Faeroe Isles, plus various other 'Overseas Territories'. The British Isles are situated to the immediate north-west of continental Europe, and are neighboured by Iceland to the north-west, Norway to the north-east, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium to the east, France to the south, and the republic of Ireland to the west.

In essence, the Windsor dynasty was forged through war. In 1917 the First World War was still raging, with the armies on the Western Front seemingly having fought each other to a standstill. Anti-German sentiment in Britain was strong, with shops and people bearing German names being attacked even though many of the targets were born-and-bred Englishman of several generations' standing. The king, himself bearing the German family name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and succeeding his father who was of the British House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was advised that the time had come to sever all links with his European enemy. 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. Prince Louis Alexander of Hessen-Battenberg exchanged his German title to become marquess of Milford Haven.

Britain after the First World War remained a mighty industrial power, with the largest empire the world had ever seen. The latter was often a source of patriotic pride, but also of some astonishment as an empire hadn't deliberately been sought for the most part. The economic crash at the end of the 1920s brought harsh conditions for many, and a great increase in union activity and moves towards social fairness and worker rights. The Second World War was highly damaging. Britain and the empire stood alone for the best part of eighteen months of the worst of the Blitz bombing by Nazi Germany. A sea change followed, in which the country was forced to retain rationing to a decreasing degree until 1954, and the empire gradually transitioned into a commonwealth of nations which largely survives to this day.

Labour's triumphant 1945 general election win allowed it to introduce a welfare state for all, along with the nationalisation of many aspects of life, especially transportation. Industrial decline, though, gathered pace into the 1960s, paving the way for a highly troubled 1970s which were replete with strikes, an energy crisis (albeit not limited to the UK alone), political discord, and a general air of decay and decline. Thatcherism in the 1980s reversed all that. The country gained a new feeling of purpose and progression, although the crushing of the unions also caused more misery and unemployment. By the 1990s and into the next century, the country was thriving again, having rebuilt as a commercial, technology, and banking hub.

The unofficial national anthem of the UK is 'God Save the Queen' (GSTQ). It has never officially been adopted, although a 1934 British Army order certainly made it important for military usage when it laid down rules on interpretation and tempo. It only became known as GSTQ after about 1745 with origins which still have not been uncovered, although various important eighteenth century composers have been credited. The same tune (albeit with different words) is still used by Liechtenstein and Norway while, thanks to Chancellor Bismarck, the German empire also used it until its fall in 1918. Somewhat surprisingly to British ears, the USA also uses it as a patriotic melody.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Prince Louis of Battenberg: Admiral of the Fleet, Mark Kerr (Longmans, Green and Co, 1934), and from External Links: The London Gazette Issue 30374, 9 November 1917, and Why does Liechtenstein use 'God Save the Queen' as its national anthem? (Guardian Notes), and Prince Philip Funeral (The Guardian), and Sark voters end 400 years of feudal rule (The Guardian).)

1917 - 1936

George V

Founded the House of Windsor, formerly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

1918

A ceasefire is agreed with the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian empire by British, French, and Italian forces on 3 November. Germany, now alone, sees its emperor abdicate on 9 November, and an armistice is agreed to come into effect on the eleventh hour of 11 November, signalling the end of the war, although many less widespread wars continue as a result of the upheavals caused by it.

Portrait of George V
George V steered Britain through the First World War and also ensured that the House of Windsor would survive at a time at which most of Europe's grand monarchies were falling

In the Near East, a British mandate now governs Palestine (from 1917), which Britain had played a large part in liberating from the Ottoman empire (with a certain level of interaction being played by T E Lawrence). This mandate lasts until 1948.

1920 - 1932

Under a further British mandate, the kingdom of Greater Syria is created and then is destroyed by France. Then the Hashemite kingdom of Iraq is created to administer that region under British guidance. The kingdom achieves full independence from Britain in 1932.

1923

After years of agitation, protests, and increasingly violent guerrilla activities against the government, southern and central Ireland are given independence. The north, predominantly Protestant in faith, remains within the union.

1931

Canada becomes a separate kingdom from Britain under the terms of the 'Statute of Westminster'. It has its own prime minister but retains the queen as its head of state with the younger constitutional monarchy's administration being known as 'Her Majesty in Right of Canada'.

Canada's Parliament building
The centre block of the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa was rebuilt in 1922 following a fire which destroyed the old block in 1916

1936

Edward VIII

Son. Abdicated 11 December. Died 1972.

1936

Edward VIII, or David as he is more usually known before ascending the throne, decides that his love for an American divorcee is stronger than his desire to serve the United Kingdom as its head of state. He abdicates the throne, leaving his unprepared younger brother to take over the reins.

He and the double-divorcee, socialite Wallace Simpson, are granted the title 'Duke and Duchess of Windsor'. They live largely abroad, finding that they are never welcomed by David's abandoned subjects in the UK, are are kept out of the way with a posting to Bermuda during the Second World War, primarily due to their apparent sympathy for the Nazi cause.

1936 - 1952

George VI

Brother. Died of coronary thrombosis, 6 Feb.

1937

Britain separates the lieutenant-governorship of Burma from India to make it a crown colony. It is now administered by the Burma Office under the secretary of state for India and Burma. An outspoken advocate for independence, Ba Maw becomes Burma's first premier and prime minister.

Aung San, 'Father of Burma'
Aung San is shown here in uniform on a visit to 10 Downing Street in London in his role as vice-president of Burma in 1947, shortly before he was assassinated in Burma

1939

The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September is the trigger for the Second World War. With both France and Britain, under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, pledged to support Poland, both countries have no option but to declare war on 3 September.

1942

Due to France being occupied by Germany, and to prevent Japan from occupying Madagascar, Britain takes temporary control of the island following success at the Battle of Madagascar which begins on 5 May 1942. Vichy supporter, Governor Annet, defends the island with eight thousand troops but is forced to surrender on 5 November. Governance of the island is initially handled by British army staff before being handed over to Free French governors-general.

1946 - 1947

Between 1946-1947, Britain begins to pull out of Palestine, while India is handed independence on 15 August 1947. Also, on 20 November 1947, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, heir to the throne, marries Prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh, earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, born 'Prince of Greece and Denmark' on Corfu in 1921, and paternal grandson of King George I of Greece. When Philip becomes a naturalised British subject in 1947, he renounces his Greek royal title.

Burmese independence in 1948
On 4 January 1948 the British governor of Burma (left) stands beside the country's first president, Sao Shwe Thaik, standing to attention as the new nation's flag is raised

1948

Britain grants Burma independence. This is the beginning of a period in which most of the various territories of the British empire either gain a level of independence or are handed back entirely, although many of them opt to retain the British monarch as their own head of state. The Commonwealth of Nations is born. In this year, Britain's mandate in Palestine also ends, and the remaining British troops are withdrawn.

1950 - 1953

North Korea's forces attack South Korea on 25 June 1950. A multinational force made up primarily of troops from the USA, and Britain and the Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and India), goes in to support the south. The Korean War lasts until a ceasefire is agreed in July 1953.

1952 - Present

Elizabeth II

Daughter. Christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.

1953 - 1971

Britain's imperial territories gain independence, beginning with Egypt (1954), and then Sudan (1956), Ghana, formed from Gold Coast and British Togoland (1957), the former Benin empire (Nigeria) and Cyprus (1960), Kuwait (1961), Zanzibar (10 December 1963), Basutoland (granted autonomy in 1965, with full independence following in 1966), Oman (where the British protectorate comes to an end in 1967), and Bahrain (which declares independence on 15 August 1971 and signs a new treaty of friendship with Britain).

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II 1953
Elizabeth II and Philip, duke of Edinburgh, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the queen's coronation on 2 June 1953 - between them stand the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne

1982

Canada's last constitutional ties with the United Kingdom, apart from sharing the same monarch, are severed under Parliament's Constitution Act. The post of governor-general remains in place and the date of 1 July, previously celebrated as 'Dominion Day', is subsequently celebrated as 'Canada Day'.

2003

An Anglo-American-led Second Gulf War leads to the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime after just twenty-one days of fighting. Hussein is eventually captured, after having been located in an underground bunker (more of a deep fox hole). He is tried by an Iraqi court, and at the very end of 2006 sentenced to death by hanging for his crimes.

2008

On 10 December 2008 voting gets underway on the Channel Island of Sark, with the outcome bringing to an end the western world's last remaining feudal society. Sark has been a feudal state since the sixteenth century, but human rights legislation means that it is no longer legal or, for many, acceptable for a largely unelected parliament to rule the island.

2011

At a summit in Perth in Australia, the heads of the sixteen Commonwealth countries of which Queen Elizabeth II is head of state unanimously approve changes to the royal succession. Sons and daughters of any future monarch of the United Kingdom will have equal right to the throne, bringing to an end the use of three hundred year-old succession laws.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Commonwealth summit of 2011
Queen Elizabeth is pictured here at the Commonwealth summit of 2011 with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh on the left, and on the right Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar

Perhaps equally momentous, the ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic is also lifted. The succession changes require a raft of historic legislation to be amended, including the 1701 Act of Settlement, the 1689 Bill of Rights, and the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

The change to the Royal Marriages Act will end a position in which every descendant of George II is legally required to seek the consent of the monarch before marrying. In future, the requirement is expected to be limited to a small number of the sovereign's close relatives (essentially meaning only those who are in direct line to succeed to the throne).

2012

Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Golden Jubilee with a four-day public holiday which includes a Thames river pageant the likes of which have not been seen since the eighteenth century (albeit not in the best of weather conditions), a concert at the palace end of The Mall, and a service in St Paul's which is rounded off by a popular balcony appearance and three cheers in unison from the Coldstream Guards and amassed crowd.

Later in the same year, the rumbling discontent on the part of Argentina over the ownership of the Falkland Islands sparks further controversy. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has long been known to be using the issue to mask her growing unpopularity at home during the thirtieth anniversary of the war to expel Argentine troops from the island.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip about to join the Royal barge
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as they were being ferried across to the royal barge, Spirit of Chartwell, for the river pageant as part of the queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations

Despite repeated assurances by the islands' residents themselves that they are quite happy to remain British, Kirchner ignores them completely, instead attempting to score political points and garner support amongst likeminded governments. She even goes so far as to attempt to 'handbag' Prime Minister David Cameron at a conference. However, Argentina's military power is so weak after years of cut-backs and purges that it is unable to offer a convincing military threat to the islanders' independence.

2014

The last British troops pull out of Helmand province in Afghanistan, transferring all defensive duties to Afghan forces as the fight against the Taliban continues. US forces in the country are also being reduced to a minimum by the end of the year, although official combat participation formally ends in line with the British on 26 October.

In the same year, Britain announces the establishment of a naval base at Bahrain's Mina Salman Port in order to ensure the stability of the region. The decision also serves to confirm the tradition of cooperation between Britain and Bahrain and is Britain's first permanent military base in the region for forty-three years. The main driving force behind the move is the threat to the region's stability which is posed by Isis.

2015

The terrorist organisation - and now controller of a large swathe of northern Syria and Iraq - which goes by the self-proclaimed name of Islamic State continues to export terrorism from its main base in northern Syria.

Isis militia
Isis militia carrying their black flag suddenly launched the sweeping conquest of large areas of northern Iraq in 2014, proclaiming the caliphate in June 2014

At least two serious atrocities can be pinned to their door, the first being the massacre in June of thirty-eight people in Tunisia, when a gunman opens fire on tourists who are staying in the popular resort of Port El Kantaoui, just to the north of Sousse. Thirty of the dead are British. The second act takes place on 13 November, when 130 people are killed and up to 368 injured during a series of coordinated attacks across the French capital of Paris.

2016

The UK takes the rather bizarre decision to isolate itself from the largest single trading market in the world by voting by a slim majority to leave the European Union. The vote on 23 June results in the Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigning, leaving the path open for the controversial figure of Boris Johnson to take over following a chaotic series of events in British politics.

2020

When the Covid-19 pandemic hits Britain, the response by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is half-hearted, confused, contradictory, and one of knee-jerk reaction rather than forward planning. As a result the country suffers one of the highest rates of infection during the first wave.

Theresa May, prime minister, 2016-2019
Peculiarly, although highly unpopular, Theresa May was, statistically speaking, the least unpopular still-living PM or former PM of her time, as measured in YouGov data

Second wave Covid-19 begins to take hold in December, largely due to the appearance of at least two variants which are better at transmitting infection. Christmas is largely a locked-down celebration of individual households with little permitted travelling or mixing.

2021

With the death of Philip, duke of Edinburgh, son of the late Prince Andrew of Greece and closely related to the hereditary heirs of Hessen through his mother, Alice of Hessen-Battenberg, the current representatives of the House of Hessen are of course involved in his funeral. The head of the house, Henry Donatus, will represent the German side of the family while the Mountbattens will attend from the English side.

Invitations are limited due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but Queen Elizabeth also invites Philip's carriage-driving companion - one of his closest confidantes - Countess Mountbatten of Burma, the sixty-seven year-old wife of Norton Knatchbull, Earl Mountbatten, grandson of Philip's beloved late uncle, Louis Mountbatten.

Prince Charles Philip Arthur George

Son & heir. Prince of Wales.

Prince William

Son. Born 21 June 1982. Duke of Cambridge.

Prince George Alexander Louis

Son. Born 22 July 2013.