The Kings and Queens of England have had a huge impact on the direction of the country throughout its long history.
Choosing the most important is a tough task – each has made at least some effect- but these 13 we reckon made the most impact , for good or ill, during their time in charge.
They are presented in chronological order (no attempt was made to perform the impossible task of ranking them).
Here’s the list:
1. Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great ruled as the King of Wessex from 871 to 899 when he died. He was known for providing a successful defense against several attempts by Vikings to take over. Only two English monarchs have been called “the Great,” and he is one of them. Additionally, Albert was considered to be quite a gracious and logical man, deemed fair. He valued education and sought to improve his region’s justice system as well as the overall quality of the lives of people he ruled over.
2. William the Conqueror
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William the Conqueror is also known as William I.
William invaded England in 1066 with his fleet at the Battle of Hastings. Just a few months later, he was crowned king.
The ruler became the first Norman King of England and ruled from 1066 until he died in 1087. Before that, he had served as the Duke of Normandy.
He is best known for his role in the Norman Conquest of England, but he struggled to consolidate England.
William also struggled because he was considered an illegitimate son, but this began to clear up as he aged.
He also found an ally in the family of his wife, Matilda of Flanders.
3. Edward I
By Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96) – →
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Edward I was born in June of 1239 and died in July of 1307.
His reign as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots led to his title of King of England from 1272 until his death.
His father, Henry III, had been king as well. Durng the Battle of Lewes, Edward was actually a hostage to a rebellious group of barons.
Soon after the war, he joined the Ninth Crusade.
Soon, he learned that his father had died and was crowned. During his reign, Edward was determined to reform common law and the royal administration. He was also focused on different military issues, as many rebellions occurred during his rule.
4. Henry V
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Catalogue entry: Arundel MS 38
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Born in 1386, Henry V ruled from 1413 until he died in 1422. He was just 36 at that point, and he was also the second monarch from the House of Lancaster. He had taken over soon after his father passed away, and he became active during the Hundred Years’ War with France. He is known for being victorious at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Soon, the Treaty of Troyes was written, recognizing Henry V as the rightful heir to the French throne. As such, he married Catherine of Valois, Charles VI’s daughter.
5. Henry VIII
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Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491, and he reigned from 1509 until he died in January of 1547.
He was the second Tudor monarch, but this ruler is best known for his six wives, two of whom he had beheaded.
He also separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, mostly over a disagreement he had with the pope regarding his first marriage.
Henry VIII tended to use threats of treason charges to maintain power, and was a strong, charismatic ruler.
6. Elizabeth I
By David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6639542
Elizabeth I was born September 7, 1533 to Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII.
When Elizabeth was just two years old, her mother was beheaded by the king. Elizabeth was determined to be illegitimate and not an heir to the throne.
She took reign of England and Ireland in 1558 and held it until she died in March of 1603.
The so-called Virgin Queen never married, nor did she have children.
She established the official church as English Protestant and relied on several trusted advisors. This led to a great British victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Her death marked the end of the Tudor dynasty. During her reign, William Shakespeare flourished and English explorers like Francis Drake prevailed.
7. James I
By unknow, English School – http://www.philipmould.com/zoom.php?sid=2454&p=sa, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6968064
James I was born in 1566 and died in 1625. In Scotland, he was known as James VI, which may lead to some confusion. He was actually the first monarch known as the King of Great Britain, as it was the first time England and Scotland agreed to have the same monarch. Additionally, James was the first ruler from the House of Stuart, as Elizabeth I was his predecessor and had no children. James was the closest relative, and his mother was Mary, Queen of Scots. Unfortunately, James had a difficult time with the Parliament of England causing some dispute. He also spent money poorly.
8. Charles I
Charles I ruled from 1625 to 1649, and is most famous for being beheaded.
The source of this untimely end was his defeat in the English Civil War – the culmination of a long running dispute with parliament about who had ultimate authority to rule.
Charles believed in the ‘divine right of Kings’, that the Kinbg was appointed by God to have the ultimate say over his or her kingdom.
Parliament disagreed and the Civil War between its folowers (Roundheads) and the King’s supporters (Cavaliers) was fought between 1642-1651.
It ended in Charles’ defeat at the Battle Of Worcester and his ultimate trial and execution.
9. Charles II
By John Michael Wright – Scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6639427
This monarch of Ireland, Scotland, and England lived from May 29, 1630 to February 6, 1685.
His father had been executed during the English Civil War, and Charles II took the throne in 1649. Still, the country had become a de facto republic headed by Oliver Cromwell.
Charles II lived in exile throughout Europe for nine years until Cromwell died.
In 1660, he became King and began to enact the Clarendon Code, reinstalling the anglican church as the official religion of England. He also reigned during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
After his reign, Charles was known as the Merry Monarch.
10. William III of Orange
Born into his role as the Prince of Orange in 1650, William III ruled from 1689 until he died in 1702.
William married his cousin, Mary.
You may have heard him referred to as King Billy throughout Northern Ireland and Scotland. He was a Protestant king who fought wars against France’s Catholic king, Louis XIV.
In 1685, William invaded England to run out his father-in-law. This sparked the so-called Glorious Revolution, and William and Mary ruled jointly.
11. George III
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George III became King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1760. He ruled until the countries united in 1801, when he became King of the United Kingdom.
There, he ruled until he died in 1820. He was a member of the House of Hanover, and he ruled for a longer period of time than any preceding monarch in Britain.
During George’s rule, Great Britain had defeated France during the Seven Years’ War
Soon, Britain also lost American colonies due to the Revolutionary War.
Unfortunately, the latter part of George’s rule was marred by mental illness.
12. Queen Victoria
Victoria was born in May of 1819, and she ruled from 1837 until she died in 1901.
She ruled Great Britain, Ireland, and was also the Empress of India for a while.
While she a constitutional monarch with little power on the political spectrum, her strict sense of morality was a major component in her popularity.
The queen married her cousin, Prince Albert, and had nine children. Following the death of her husband in 1861, Victoria mourned deeply.
We still refer to the queen’s reign as the Victorian era.
13. Elizabeth II
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Elizabeth II was born April 21, 1926. As of 2016, she has reigned since 1952 as Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia (and other smaller domains)
Throughout her reign, Elizabeth II has overseen a variety of constitutional changes as well as Africa’s decolonization.
Not only is she the longest living monarch in Britain, but she is also the oldest monarch in the world. Additionally, she has received high support and experienced intense popularity as queen.