This post was most recently updated on February 22nd, 2018
The Kings and Queens of England have had a huge impact on the direction of the country throughout its long history. From William the Conqueror to Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England and our own Queen Elizabeth II’s unequalled years of service, we take a look at the men and women who have worn the English crown.
1. William the Conqueror
Gallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0003202.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35865031
Also known as William I, William the Conqueror earned his nickname with his invasion of England in 1066. Victorious at the Battle of Hastings, he was crowned king just a few months later.
William was the first Norman King of England and ruled until his death in 1087. After his coronation, he made arrangements for the governance of England before returning to Normandy. Several rebellions followed but William’s grip on the throne remained secure, allowing him to spend much of his time abroad.
His reign was marked by the building of many castles, including the central keep of the Tower of London. He also put in place a new system of military resourcing, requiring noble families to contribute soldiers to his army. By the time he died there had been a fundamental shift in England’s upper classes, with most of the former Anglo-Saxon nobility replaced by Normans.
It was William who gave us one of the most important historical documents in English history: the Domesday Book. This survey of all the landowners in the country together with their holdings is an invaluable resource for both historians and economists. Today it is held at the National Archives at Kew and can also be viewed online.
2. William II
The third of four sons born to William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, William II took the English throne in 1087 and ruled for thirteen years. Also known as William Rufus on account of either red hair or a florid complexion (Rufus being Latin for “the Red”), he does not seem to have been a popular ruler: according to the contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicles he was “hated by almost all his people and abhorrent to God.”
William died in 1100 after being struck by an arrow whilst hunting, and some historians suspect he was murdered.
3. Henry I
Henry I became king on the death of his brother. The youngest son of William the Conqueror, Henry was an arch politician, skillfully manipulating the English barons and drawing on an extensive network of spies and informants.
His marriage to Matilda of Scotland resulted in a son and daughter but his son died at sea, throwing the succession into doubt. Henry took a second wife, Adeliza, in the hope she would bear him a legitimate son to add to the range of illegitimate offspring he had fathered with his various mistresses. The marriage, however, was childless, and Henry declared his daughter Matilda heir.
Despite these plans it was Henry’s nephew Stephen, not Matilda, who succeeded him.