Kings of England



King of England and Denmark, was the son of Canute, and succeeded his father on the Danish throne in 1039; and at the same time laid claim to that of England, which had devolved to his half-brother, Harold. A compromise was effected, by which he governed the southern part of the kingdom during Harold's life, and succeeded to the whole on his death. His conduct was violent and tyrannical; he revived the odious tax called Danegelt; and his subjects rejoiced at his early death, which happened in 1041.

Harold I.,

surnamed Harefoot, king of England, succeeded his father Canute, in 1035. He reigned four years, and died in 1039.

Harold II.,

king of England, was the second son of Godwin, Earl of Kent. Upon the death of Edward the Confessor, in 1066, he took possession of the throne, disregarding the more legal claim of Edgar Atheling, or the asserted bequest of Edward in favour of William, Duke of Normandy. The latter accordingly invaded England while Harold was engaged in the north in repelling an invasion of Harold Hardrada, king of Norway, supported by Tostig, the brother of Harold. The invaders were defeated at the battle of Stamford Bridge, and their leaders slain. Harold soon after heard of the Norman invasion, and marched southward without delay. He fell at the memorable battle of Hastings (more properly Senlac), Oct. 14, 1066; by which the conquest of the kingdom by the Normans was commenced.

Henry I.,

King of England, surnamed, on account of his superior education, Beauclerc, was the youngest son of William the Conqueror, and was born at Selby, in Yorkshire, in 1068. Jealousies and dissensions early broke out between him and his elder brothers, Robert and William (Rufus), and on the sudden mysterious death of William in the New Forest, in 1100, Henry, who was hunting with him, immediately seized the crown and the public treasures, his brother Robert being not yet returned from the crusade. To strengthen his hold on the affections of his subjects, he granted a charter re-establishing the laws of the Confessor, abolished the curfew, professed a reform in his own character and manners and married the Princess Maud, daughter of Malcolm, King of Scotland, and niece of Edgar Atheling, thus uniting the Norman and Saxon races. When Robert invaded England in 1101, war was prevented by negotiation and the grant to Robert of a pension of 3000 marks. The same year began the quarrel between the King and Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, respecting investitures.

Henry, ambitious of the crown of Normandy, invaded that country in 1105, and took Caen, Bayeux, and several other places. He completed the conquest in the following year by the defeat and capture of Robert at the battle of Tenchebrai. In 1109 the Princess Matilda (Maud) was betrothed to the Emperor Henry V., but in consequence of her youth, the marriage was deferred for several years. Troubles in Normandy and in Wales, and war with the King of France, occupied Henry in the next few years. In 1118 he lost his Queen, Maud, and two years later his only legitimate son, the Prince William, who, with his retinue, perished by shipwreck, on the passage from Normandy to England. It is said that the King was never seen to smile again. In 1121 he married Adelais, or Alice, daughter of Geoffrey, Duke of Louvain, and on the failure of his hope of offspring, he had his daughter, the Empress Maud, then a widow, acknowledged heiress to the throne. Henry died at Rouen, from the effects of gluttony, December 1, 1135, having been absent from England nearly two years and a half.

Henry II.,

Henry II., King of England, first of the Plantagenet line, was the eldest son of Geoffrey, Earl of Anjou, and his wife, the ex-Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I., and was born at Mans, in March, 1133. He received his education in England, under the care of his uncle Robert, Earl of Gloucester. On the death of his father, in 1151, he succeeded to the earldom of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, and in the following year, by his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII. of France, he became possessor of the duchy of Aquitaine or Guienne. The same year he invaded England, but a treaty was concluded, in 1153, by which it was agreed that he should succeed to the throne of England on the death of Stephen. This event took place in October, 1154, and Henry was crowned without opposition at Westminster, in December. His first measures were directed to the redress of the disorders and anarchy which had prevailed in the reign of Stephen. He seized and destroyed most of the baronial castles; dismissed the foreign troops; renewed the charter granted by Henry I. ; and resumed most of the lands which had been alienated from the crown by Stephen.

On the death of his brother Geoffrey he claimed and got possession of Nantes, and was thus master of the whole western coast of France. His attempt on Toulouse, in 1159, involved him in a war with the King of France, which was only terminated two years later. In 1162 Thomas a Becket was elected Archbishop of Canterbury, and the great struggle between the civil and ecclesiastical powers began, which resulted in the Constitutions of Clarendon, the exile and murder of Becket, war with France, the king's penance at Becket's tomb, and the repeal of the Constitutions. In 1171 Henry invaded Ireland, and, under the authority of a bull of Pope Adrian IV., which had been published in 1156, effected a conquest of that island.

The remaining years of his reign were embittered by the numerous revolts of his sons, instigated by their mother. Eleanor, whose jealousy was excited by the king's affection for Fair Rosamond, attempted to follow her sons to the court of France, but was seized and imprisoned during Henry's life. The King of Scotland, who supported the rebellion of the young princes, was taken prisoner at Alnwick, in 1174, but was released after a few months, on doing homage to Henry. A formal reconciliation with the princes took place, but was followed by a fresh revolt and civil war. Prince Henry, who, as heir-apparent, had been crowned in 1170, died in France, in 1183. Geoffrey was killed at a tournament, two years later; and John joined his brother Richard in a new rebellion against their father, in which they were aided by Philip Augustus.

The old king was prostrated by sickness, and the revolt of his youngest son John was the last and fatal blow from which he could not recover. He died at Chinon, July 6, 1189, and was buried at Foutevraud. Notwithstanding the conflicting estimates of the character and measures of Henry II., viewed as the champion of state supremacy, it is evident that he was a man of powerful intellect superior education, great energy, activity, and decisiveness, and also of impetuous passions. Ruling almost despotically, he greatly diminished the power of the nobles, and thus relieved the people of their intolerable tyranny. Good order and just administration of the laws were established and the practice of holding the assizes was introduced. He revived the trial by jury in order to check the resort to trial by battle which he could not abolish.

Henry III.,

King of England, eldest son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, was born at Winchester in 1207. He succeeded his father in 1216 and was crowned at Gloucester, in the presence of Gualo, the papal legate, predecessor of Pandulf and one of the guardians of the young king, 28th October of that year. The regency was intrusted to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke who in 1217 defeated the French army at Lincoln, and compelled the Dauphin Louis to retire to France. On Pembroke's death, in May, 1219, Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, became regents; but mutual jealousies and dissensions disturbed their administration and weakened their power. Henry was crowned a second time, in 1220, and two years later was declared of age, but his feebleness of character unfitted him to role, and the real power remained with his ministers.

His fondness for foreign counsellors, his unsuccessful wars with France, and his attempts to govern without parliaments, excited much ill-humour in the nation. This was increased by the papal exactions which he permitted, and by the heavy impositions on his subjects, made necessary by his acceptance of the crown of Sicily for his son Edmund. At length, in 1258, he was virtually deposed by the 'Mad Parliament,' which assembled at Oxford, and a council of state was formed under the presidency of Simon de Montfort. The popular leaders quarrelled among themselves, while the king was a prisoner in their hands. But in 1262 civil war began, the king being compelled to employ foreign mercenaries. In 1264 the battle of Lewes was fought, at which the king, Prince Edward, Earl Richard, King of the Romans, and his son Henry, were made prisoners by the barons. Soon after De Montfort, now virtually sovereign, summoned a parliament, which met in January, 1265, and was the first to which knights of the shire and representatives of cities and boroughs were called; thus constituting the first House of Commons. In August of that year De Montfort was defeated and killed by Prince Edward at the battle of Evesham, and the king regained his liberty. But the war lasted two years longer. In 1270 Prince Edward set out on the crusade, and before his return Henry died at Westminster, November 16,1272.

Henry IV.,

King of England, named Henry of Bolingbroke, from the place of his birth, was born in 1366. He was the son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the fourth son of Edward III. In the reign of Richard II. he was made Earl of Derby and Duke of Hereford. Having accused the Duke of Norfolk of treason, the latter challenged him to single combat; but on the appearance of the two champions, at the appointed time and place, Richard would not suffer them to proceed. Both were banished the kingdom, Norfolk for life, and Hereford for a term of years. On the death of his father in 1399, Hereford succeeded to the dukedom of Lancaster; and, returning before the stated time, for the purpose of claiming the duchy, and having been joined by the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, soon found himself at the head of 60,000 men. Richard was defeated, taken prisoner, and deposed; and the duke was unanimously declared king, under the title of Henry IV. This usurpation gave rise afterwards to the civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster.

The reign of Henry IV. was full of difficulties and disturbances. The Welsh revolted under Owen Glendower; the Scots invaded England, and were defeated at the battle of Homildon Hill; the powerful house of Percy turned against the king, and headed an insurrection, which was suppressed at the battle of Shrewsbury; and there were frequent plots against the king's life, and parliaments stoutly maintaining their rights, and failing finances. Henry persecuted the Lollards, and got the famous statute 'De hæretico comburendo' passed. He lost all his popularity, his health broke down, and his conscience was ill at ease during the latter years of his life. Henry died in 1413, and was succeeded by his son.

Henry V.,

King of England, called, after his birthplace, Henry of Monmouth, was born in 1388, and succeeded his father, Henry IV., in 1413. It is usually said that his dissipated habits while a prince gave his father great uneasiness ; but he frequently displayed noble traits of character, and on ascending the throne he justified the best expectations. France being at the time torn asunder by the opposing factions of the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy, Henry took the favourable opportunity of reviving the claims of his predecessors upon that country, and he landed with an army at Harfleur, August 14, 1415. With 15,000 men he gained the battle of Agincourt, though the French immensely outnumbered him. He then returned to England; but two years afterwards he went again to France, espoused the Princess Katherine, in 1420, on condition that the French crown should pass to him and his heirs on the death of the King of France, and be inseparably united to the crown of England. While all his great projects appeared to be rapidly advancing towards a successful issue, a painful disease arrested his progress, and he died in 1422, aged 34, and in the 10th year of his reign.

Henry VI.,

King of England, was the only son of Henry V. and his queen, Katherine of France, and was born at Windsor, in 1421. At the age of nine months be succeeded his father, 1st September, 1422, the government being intrusted to his uncles the Dukes of Gloucester and Bedford, of whom the former was named Protector of the Realm of England, and the latter Regent of France. The guardianship of the young king was intrusted to Richard Beau-champ, Earl of Warwick. Henry was crowned at London in 1429, and at Paris in 1431. The war in France was continued, and several victories were gained by the English, but in 1429 the extraordinary intervention of the Maid of Orleans compelled them to raise the siege of that city, and the English power in France rapidly declined.

In 1444 the king married Margaret of Anjou, daughter of René, King of Sicily and Duke of Anjou, who by her high spirit, ambition, and audacity, gained a complete ascendancy over her 'meek' and feeble husband. The king had little influence personally on the course of events, and the government was weakened by the quarrels of his uncles. The measures of the ministers, Suffolk and Somerset, excited much popular irritation, and insurrections broke out in 1450; the most serious of which was that headed by Jack Cade. In 1453 the brave Talbot was defeated and killed at Castillon, Bordeaux was soon after taken by the French, and nothing was left in France under English dominion but Calais.

The same year the king fell into a state of mental aberration and incapacity for governing; and about the same time his son Edward was born. Then began the Civil Wars of the Roses, which filled up the remaining years of Henry's reign; and, after various alternations of fortune, victory remained with the Yorkists. The accession of Edward IV. and the exile of Henry took place in 1461. The war, however, continued; chiefly through the courage and energy of the Queen Margaret, but in 1466 Henry was captured and imprisoned in the Tower. Released by the great Earl of Warwick in 1470, he was again imprisoned by Edward in the following year, and was soon after found dead in the Tower. Whether he was murdered or died a natural death from overpowering grief is uncertain. Henry was a man of sincerely religious character, but without the strength and capacity to rule, and his misfortunes and tragic end may justly be pitied. An endeavour was made by Henry VII. to get him canonized, but unsuccessfully.

Henry VII.,

King of England, first sovereign of the Tudor line, was the son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and his wife, Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of the eldest son of John of Gaunt, and was born, probably at Pembroke Castle, in 1456. His father dying the same year, he was taken charge of by his uncle, Jasper Tudor; on the accession of Edward IV., in 1461, was attainted and placed under the care of Sir William Herbert; was taken to court on the restoration of Henry VI., and is said to have studied a short time at Eton; and after the victory of Edward IV. at Tewkesbury was taken by his uncle to Brittany. The Duke of Brittany steadily refused to deliver him up when pressed to do so by Edward and by Richard III.

A rising in favour of Henry was planned in 1483, and he made an attempt to invade England in October of that year, but failed, and several of the leaders, the Duke of Buckingham among them, were executed. In August, 1485, he made a second attempt, landed at Milford Haven, and won a decisive victory over Richard III. at the battle of Bosworth, in which Richard was killed. Henry was crowned in October following. In 1486 he married the Princess Elizabeth of York, but although this union was looked on as an alliance of the rival houses of York and Lancaster, Henry showed himself the merciless and unscrupulous enemy of the Yorkists. Numerous insurrections broke out to trouble the peace of his reign. First that under Lord Lovel and the Staffords, which was easily suppressed; next that of Lambert Simnel, who, under the instruction of Richard Simon, a priest of Oxford, personated Edward, Earl of Warwick, and was crowned in Ireland as Edward VI, in May, 1487; was supported by Margaret, duchess of Burgundy; and was defeated and taken prisoner by Henry at the battle of Stoke; then, in 1492, that excited in favour of the so-called Perkin Warbeck, giving himself out as Richard, Duke of York, son of Edward IV. He was acknowledged as such by Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy; attempted unsuccessfully to invade England in 1495; was received in the following year by the king of Scotland, who gave him in marriage Lady Katherine Gordon; again invaded England in 1497, and on the approach of Henry fled to Beaulieu Abbey, and was sent prisoner to London; made his escape, but was retaken, and in 1499 executed.

The rest of Henry's reign was undisturbed, and he could indulge the master passion of his nature, the love of money. He had by popular feeling been compelled more than once to declare war on France, but it did not come to fighting. He gained subsidies by declaring war, and then by secret treaties made peace and got well paid for it. He employed in the latter years of his reign the notorious Empson and Dudley, for the purpose of extorting money on any pretexts from his subjects ; and on the death of his queen in 1503, cast about for a new bride with a rich dowry. Illness came upon him in 1507, and he began to build monasteries and release prisoners for debt. He died at Richmond, April 21, 1509, and was buried in the magnificent chapel erected by himself, at Westminster. His reign was the epoch of one of the most important social changes the destruction of the feudal system and the growth of a middle class. Lord Bacon wrote a 'History of the Reign of Henry VII.'

Henry VIII.,

King of England, second son of Henry VII. and his queen, Elizabeth of York, was born at Greenwich, in 1491. He was very early created Duke of York, and at four years of age was named Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. He became heir apparent on the death of his elder brother, Prince Arthur, in April, 1502, and was soon after created Prince of Wales. He succeeded his father on the throne in April, 1509, and his handsome person, frank and spirited bearing, accomplishments, and graceful familiarity with his inferiors, secured him general liking, and excited sanguine hopes. He had the infamous Dudley and Empson tried for conspiracy, imprisoned, and afterwards executed. His marriage with Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow, an event leading to such great and unlooked-for issues, took place in June, 1509.

Henry joined the Holy League against France, and in 1513, with Maximilian, won the 'Battle of the Spurs,' and took Terouanne. The same year the victory of Flodden was won by the Earl of Surrey over the Scots. The influence of Wolsey soon after became predominant, and he had a leading part in the intrigues carried on by the English king with Francis I. of France and his great rival the Emperor Charles V. Henry had a friendly interview with Charles at Dover, in the spring of 1520, and very soon after met Francis near Calais, at the famous 'Field of the Cloth of Gold.' For several years, however, he united with the Emperor against France and after the battle of Pavia, he allied himself with Francis against Charles.

The series of momentous changes which have made the reign of Henry VIII. so memorable, and which are summed up in the word 'Reformation,' may be said to have commenced in the year 1527; when the king first moved for a divorce of Catherine. It is impossible here to give even an epitome of the details of the great struggle. The sentence of divorce was pronounced by Cranmer, who rose into power after the fall of Wolsey, and was made archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer's sentence was annulled by the pope, Clement VII.; but Henry married Anne Boleyn, and the Church of England was finally separated from Rome. The royal in supremacy was enacted by parliament; Fisher and More were put to death for practically denying it; and under the administration of Thomas Cromwell the dissolution of the monasteries was carried out. Insurrections were provoked and rigorously suppressed; the king's proclamations were declared to have the force of laws; and, at the instigation of Bishop Gardiner, the infamous act of the 'Six Articles' was passed, under which a large number of executions took place.

The cruelty and tyrannical disposition of Henry became more and more apparent as he advanced in years and failed in health. And the fearful series of political executions, which had commenced with that of Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1513, was terminated by that of Henry Earl of Surrey, in January, l547. According to Holinshed, the number of executions in this reign amounted to 72,000. Henry VIII married six wives: Catherine of Aragon, divorced after 24 years; Anne Boleyn, beheaded; Jane Seymour, who died in child-bed; Anne of Cleves, put away in a few months; Katherine Howard, beheaded; and Catherine Parr who survived him. Katherine of Aragon was the mother of Queen Mary; Anne Boleyn of Queen Elizabeth; and Jane Seymour of Edward VI. Henry had several other children who died young. He died January 28, 1547. His character and the great events of his reign have furnished matter of continued controversy, and are likely to do so for a long time to come. Mr. Fronds, in his 'History of England,' has done his best to vindicate the character of this king, and to show that the popular conception of it is not justified by the facts ; but his view is not generally accepted. The important collection of 'Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII.,' edited by Professor Brewer, is still in course of publication. Sixteen portraits of Henry VIII. were lent to the National Portrait Exhibition (1866), among them the two by Holbein and the group of Henry and his family from Hampton Court. But pre-eminent among all was the magnificent cartoon belonging to the Duke of Devonshire; a genuine drawing of Holbein's, full-length, life-size, with Henry VII. in the background: the original of all the master's large full-length portraits. A small portrait, on copper, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson © 1996.

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