Kings of England


William I.; the Conqueror,

King of England, was the natural son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, and was born at Falaise, in 1027. He was brought up at the court of the King of France, and succeeded to the duchy at the age of eight. But during his minority there were frequent revolts of the nobles, and his authority was not fully established for many years. On the death of Edward the Confessor, King of England, William made a formal claim to the crown, alleging a bequest in his favour by Edward, and a promise which he had extorted from Harold. His claim being denied he at once prepared for an invasion of England, effected a landing at Pevensey, September 28, 1066, while Harold was engaged in opposing the Norwegians in the north, and fortified a camp near Hastings. The decisive battle of Hastings (or, more properly, Senlac) was fought on Saturday, October 14, 1066 Harold was defeated and slain, and the Norman Conquest was commenced. William's rival, Edgar Atheling, was supported by some of the leading men for a short time, but they all made sub mission to William at Berkhampstead, and on the following Christmas-day he was crowned at Westminster by Aldred, archbishop of York, a riot occurring, in which some lives were lost and some houses burnt.

The first measures of the new king were conciliatory, but served merely for a show for a short time. The inevitable conflict was not long deferred. Early in 1067 William went to Normandy, leaving the government of his new dominions in the hands of Odo, bishop of Bayeux, and William Fitz-Osbern. Tidings of revolt in various quarters recalled him, and be was occupied through most of his reign in the conquest of the country. Of the military events the most terribly memorable is his campaign in the north in 1069 when he mercilessly devastated the whole district beyond the Humber with fire and slaughter, so that from York to Durham not an inhabited village remained, and the ground for more than sixty miles lay bare and uncultivated for more than half a century afterwards. The order established was that of death; famine and pestilence completing what the sword had begun. This campaign was followed in 1071 by the attack on the fortified camp of Hereward, the resolute and unconquered chieftain, in the Isle of Ely.

The settlement of the country was as cruel as the conquest. The English were dispossessed of their estates, and of all offices both in church and state; William assumed the feudal proprietorship of all the lands, and distributed them among his followers, carrying the feudal system out to its fullest development; garrisoned the chief towns, and built numerous fortresses; re-established the payment of Peter's-pence, indignantly refusing, however, to do homage to the Pope; and converted many districts of the country into deer parks and forests. The most extensive of these was the New Forest in Hampshire, formed in 1079. He ordered a complete survey of the land in 1085, the particulars of which were carefully recorded, and have come down to us in the 'Domesday Book'.

According to tradition the 'Curfew Bell' was introduced by the Conqueror; and the attempt was made to supersede the English by the Norman French language, which was for some time used in official documents. In his latter years William was engaged in war with his own sons, and with the King of France; and in August, 1087, he burnt the town of Mantes. Injured by the stumbling of his horse among the burning ruins, he was carried to Rouen, and died in the abbey of St. Gervas, 9th September. He was buried in the cathedral of Caen, where a monument was erected to him by his son William II. This monument perished during the Huguenot wars. William married, while Duke of Normandy, his cousin Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders, by whom he had four sons, two of whom, William and Henry, became kings of England, and several daughters. The building of the Tower of London was begun by William I. about 1080. Battle Abbey was also built by him in commemoration of his victory at Hastings. A statue of William I. was erected at Falaise, in 1853. 'Domesday Book' has been recently reproduced by the photozincographic process, under the direction of Sir H. James.(year =1867)

William II.,

Rufus, or the Ruddy, King of England, was third son of William I., and was born in Normandy, about 1060. He was educated by Lanfranc, and appears to have been from childhood his father's favourite son. On his father's death, and by his express desire, he hastened to England, obtained possession of the royal treasury at Winchester, and was crowned by Lanfranc, then archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster, September 26, 1087. An insurrection in favour of his elder brother Robert, Duke of Normandy, broke out in the following year, headed by Bishop Odo, and several Norman nobles ; but by politic promises of good laws William obtained the assistance of his English subjects, and quelled the rising. In 1090 he made war on Robert in Normandy, but their quarrel ended with a treaty. Similar ending had the war begun with Malcolm, King of Scotland, who agreed to do homage to William. It was, however, afterwards renewed, and Malcolm fell at Alnwick, in 1093.

Renewed war in Normandy, campaigns against the Welsh, a long quarrel with Anselm, the new primate, from whom William long kept the temporalities of the see, and other troubles, filled up the rest of his reign. In 1096 he acquired, perhaps subject to a right of redemption, the duchy of Normandy for a large sum of money; Robert going on the first crusade. In the following year he began building the first Westminster Hall, and a bridge over the Thames, and completed the Tower of London. His avarice, profligate life, and severity as a ruler made him universally hated, and the manner of his death was considered an expression of God's judgement against him. He was shot while hunting in the New Forest, August 2, 1100; by whose hand, and whether by accident or otherwise, it is impossible to tell. He was buried in the cathedral of Winchester.

William III.,

King of England, was the son of William II. Prince of Orange, by his wife Mary, daughter of Charles I., and was born at the Hague, November 4, 1650. His father, stadtholder of the United Provinces, died a few days before his birth; and through the influence of the Republican party he was long excluded from that office; his exclusion being demanded also by Cromwell on the conclusion of the treaty with Holland in 1654. But in 1672 the serious peril of the Republic from the aggressions of Louis XIV. led to the annulment of the edict by which the stadtholderate had been abolished, the De Witts were imprisoned and massacred, and William of Nassau was installed in the office of stadtholder.

Though only 22 years of age, he showed himself the worthy descendant of William the Silent, founder of the Republic; and in two campaigns drove the French out of the Dutch territory. He was defeated by the Prince of Condé at Senet and the war lasted till 1678. In the previous year William had married Mary, daughter of James, Duke of York, afterwards James II., and this alliance gave him far greater importance as head of the league subsequently formed against France, and as leader of the Protestants of Europe. When the arbitrary measures of James II. became intolerable to his subjects, the hopes of the leading friends of freedom and Protestantism naturally turned to William, and he accepted the call sent him, to come and save their rights and liberties. He landed at Torbay, 5th Nov., 1688; the king fled, but was caught and brought back; William arrived in London in December; and by the Convention, assembled in January, 1689, the crown was offered to William and Mary, and was accepted by them.

They were crowned, 11th April, by Compton, bishop of London, and the sermon was preached by Bishop Burnet. The primate Sancroft and seven of the bishops refusing to take the oaths to the new government, were suspended from their office, and Sancroft with five of the bishops (all who then survived) were subsequently deprived. Some of the clergy followed the example of the prelates and with them are known as the party of the Nonjurors. Resistance was made in Scotland but ended with the defeat of Dundee at Killiecrankie while a more serious conflict raged in Ireland in which James II. and William personally took part, and which was closed by the victory of the latter at the battle of the Boyne. The principal aim of the king thenceforth was to humble France, and he spent much of his time abroad, engaged as leader of the army of the confederates. He took Namur, but was defeated by the French at Steenkirk, and Neerwinden (Landen), and in 1697 was recognized by the Peace of Ryswick as King of England.

Three years before he had lost his queen -a great personal sorrow; but the throne was secured to him by the provisions of the Bill of Rights. He was, however, very unpopular with his subjects, and hostile intrigues, conspiracies, and projects of assassination troubled his reign. Whigs, Tories, and Jacobites alike distrusted him. He continued to take an active part in the affairs of Europe, and especially in the negotiation of the famous Partition Treaties for the disposal of the dominions of the Spanish king. He was provoked to prepare a new war against France by the recognition by Louis XIV. of the son of James II. as king, but this project was set aside by his death.

The reign of William III. forms one of the great epochs of our Constitutional History, -the Revolution the main feature of which is the final recognition by law of those great principles of regulated liberty for which the statesmen and heroes of the Commonwealth had contended. The character of William has been both extravagantly lauded and passionately depricated. His taciturn cold manner, his preference of his foreign friends and the way in which he stood aloof from both the political parties naturally excited prejudice and ill will against him. But it is not possible to doubt his great intellectual and moral qualities, clear sightedness, courage (often to rashness in the field) decisiveness and indomitable energy, and persistency of purpose. One dark stain on his character is ineffaceable, he distinctly sanctioned the atrocious massacre of Glencoe, devised by the master of Stair. William III. died at Kensington Palace, in consequence of a fall from his horse, 8th March, 1702, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

William IV.,

King of England, known before his accession to the throne as William Henry, Duke of Clarence, was the third son of George III., and was born August 21, 1765. At fourteen years of age he entered the navy as a midshipman on board the Prince George, a 98-gun ship, commanded by Admiral Digby; and he was placed on the same footing, in every respect, with other youths of the same rank in the service. Prince William Henry was present with Admiral Rodney at the capture of the Caraccas fleet, commanded by Don Juan Langara. The Prince served nearly all the residue of his time as a midshipman in the West Indies, and off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Canada; and many characteristic anecdotes, honourable to his bravery and humanity are related of him during the period of his naval career. He was afterwards removed to the Warwick, of 50 guns, commanded by Lord Keith, and was present when that officer captured the frigates L'Aigle and La Sophie, and the Terror sloop-of-war, off the Delaware, in 1782. He then joined Lord Hood, who was in quest of the French fleet under De Grasse and Vaudreuil, and on board the Barfleur first became acquainted with Nelson, then in command of the Albemarle.

In June, 1783, Lord Hood's squadron returned to England ; and in the summer of 1785 the Prince was appointed third lieutenant of the Hebe frigate. In 1786, as captain of the Pegasus, of 28 guns, he sailed for Nova Scotia; whence he proceeded to the Leeward Islands station, and remained for some months under the orders of Nelson, when a strong and lasting friendship (honourable to both) sprang up between them. In December, 1787, the Prince returned to England, and was appointed to command the Andromeda frigate, in which he again sailed for the West Indies. In 1789 he was created Duke of Clarence and Earl of Munster, in Ireland, took his seat in the House of Lords, and was made rear-admiral of the Blue in 1790. From this time, however, he saw no more active service afloat.

In 1811 he succeeded Sir Peter Parker as admiral of the fleet. In that capacity he hoisted his flag for the last time, for the purpose of escorting Louis XVIII. to France; and on board the Impregnable he received the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia. For many years the Duke led the life of a private English gentleman, residing at Bushy Park, of which he had been appointed ranger on the death of the Countess of Guilford in 1797. After the death of the Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1817, a new era opened in the position and prospects of the Duke of Clarence, and on July 11, 1818 he married the Princess Adelaide, eldest daughter of the Duke of Saxe Meiningen. Two daughters, the eldest of whom died on the day of her birth, and the youngest when only three months old, were their only offspring. Having become heir - presumptive to the throne in 1827 by the death of the Duke of York he received an additional parliamentary grant which raised his income to £40.000 a year. He was also appointed Lord High Admiral of England, -a post revived for the occasion, but owing to some objections made by the Duke of Wellington to the expense of his royal highness's progresses, he resigned the office. On June26 1830, the Duke of Clarence succeeded his brother George IV as King of England and was crowned, with his royal consort in Westminster Abbey, September 8, 1831.

A marked difference was soon observable in the conduct of William IV. and his predecessor. The secluded habits and fastidious retirement that had distinguished the last years of his brother's life, gave place to an obvious desire of popularity on the part of the new monarch; while the Wellington administration was succeeded by that of Earl Grey, under whom the long desired reformation of parliament was effected. Political animosities were at their height; but still the king was on the popular side, and the court offered, in every respect an example worthy of imitation. In May, 1837 his Majesty was taken ill and in four weeks from that time, June 29, 1837 he died. -'A man,' said Lord Grey, more sincerely devoted to the interests of his country, and better understanding what was necessary for the attainment of that object there never did exist; and if ever there it was a sovereign entitled to the character, William may truly be styled a PATRIOT King.

William fathered some 10 illegitimate children by his mistress Dorothy Jordan (an actress), but had no surviving legitimate children and as a result, the young Princess Victoria (his niece) became heiress presumptive, and subsequently acceded to the throne on William's death in 1837.

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

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