The United Kingdom and England are not the same thing. Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are a part of the UK, but England is its own, separate country that was itself formed from several smaller kingdoms that used to be independent of each other. Since it was first developed, England has born witness to many Kings and Queens. These 43 facts will hopefully provide you with more insight into what makes their past so fascinating.
43. We Decided to Go Another Direction
The Kingdom of England was created in the 10th century AD and existed up until 1707. That was when the Acts of Union were passed, and England joined with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain under Queen Anne.
42. Uncertain Beginnings
The land now known as England was once comprised several distinct kingdoms, such as East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex. As the years went by, through clashes between the Romans, Celts, Picts, and Saxons to name a few, a few men from these smaller states came close to ruling all of modern-day England, such Ecbert, King of Wessex, but it was hundreds of years before a ruler could truly say that they ruled over all of England.
41. Great Men
Only two English monarchs have ever earned the historical epithet “the Great” after their first names. These men are Alfred the Great (849-899 AD) and Cnut the Great (995-1035 AD).
40. Long Live the King
The monarch of England (and the United Kingdom) does not die. While generations of people have died while anointed as monarch, the system is arranged so that when the ruling monarch dies, their heir is instantly sworn in to succeed them. This way, the Royal Standard (aka the flag associated with the Royal Family) never flies at half-mast, since the king or queen is still alive and well.
39. The End of Anglo-Saxon Kings
The Anglo-Saxons were the first to manage to unite and rule all of England, but after many years of war with Norse and Danish invaders, their reign was finally broken in 1066 when William the Conqueror sailed from Normandy (in Northern France) and invaded England. The Norman dynasty began after the Normans crushed King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, removed the last of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, and crowned the Conqueror himself as William I of England. This began several centuries where the rulers of England spoke french.
38. Nice Try, Gramps
Despite claiming to be “King of the Anglo-Saxons,” Alfred the Great was never king of all England. The first man to do so was his grandson, Æthelstan. He was first known as “King of the Anglo-Saxons” but eventually claimed the long-coveted “King of the English.”
37. Call it a Forced Sabbatical
King Æthelred of England, like the rest of the Anglo-Saxon kings, spent a long time fighting against Scandinavian invaders. Unfortunately for him, King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark was too strong an opponent; In December 1013, Æthelred decided to visit Normandy, and while he was gone, Sweyn crowned himself the new King of England. In a twist of fate, Sweyn’s rule over England lasted just 41 days. After Sweyn’s death, Æthelred returned to restore the House of Wessex to their throne.
36. The Old Switcheroo
Æthelred may have been lucky enough to win back his throne, but his good fortune didn’t last long. Sweyn had a son named Cnut (yes, that Cnut), and he gave Æthelred a lot of trouble after deciding that he wanted to fill the crown that his dad had claimed. Æthelred died only two years after returning to his throne (though to be fair, he had ruled for 37 years before that, which is impressive for those days). When his son Edmund failed to keep his father’s throne, Cnut the Great became king of Denmark and England (his Danish dynasty was later replaced with the Anglo-Saxons under Edward the Confessor in 1042).
35. Impressive Record
The longest-running dynasty of English history were the Plantagenets. This French/English family ruled England from Henry II’s coronation in 1154 to the death of Richard III in 1485. That’s 14 kings over a period of more than 300 years.
34. We Want Your Birth Certificate!
Henry V is one of the most famous kings in the history of England, but for such a well-known and beloved figure, we have no idea when Henry V was born. Two different plausible dates exist for his birth due to an astrologer’s horoscope for Henry, and even that information may simply have been propaganda.
33. “Your Epicness” Wasn’t Around Yet
The words “Your Majesty” seem like common usage to refer to any king, but the term actually began in England. Henry VIII decided that being called “Your Grace” wasn’t enough, as it referred to the fact that he only ruled by the grace of God. When he split from the Catholic Church, he wanted to lead based on his own undeniable right. Thus, “Majesty” was introduced because of its Latin meaning referring to a divine being rather than just an ordinary king.
32. Those Wacky Cousins…
After the death of his son and heir, Henry I of England had to pick someone else to replace him. He wavered between his nephew, Stephen of Blois, and his daughter, Matilda. Henry ultimately chose Matilda, but Stephen disputed the choice, invading England when Henry died and declaring himself King. Matilda and Stephen spent a good two decades fighting for the throne, a period known as “The Anarchy.”
31. Does it Count?
In the year 1141, in the middle of all the political and military strife, Matilda ruled England while battling Stephen. She became the first woman to rule England, despite how short her time on the throne was, and despite the fact that she was never officially crowned. Ultimately, the joke was on Stephen, because Matilda’s son would go on to inherit the throne after Stephen died.
30. Gives New Meaning to the Term ‘Poop Deck’
In a case of near misses in history, the would-be King Stephen was very nearly killed at the same time as Henry I’s only son. On the 25th of November 1120, the unoriginally-named White Ship was taking almost all of Henry’s family and court across the English Channel. The ship sank mid-voyage, killing nearly everyone aboard, including the heir to Henry I. The only reason Stephen wasn’t also on the ship was because he was allegedly suffering from a bad case of diarrhea. There you have it folks, one of the only times in history where you’re lucky to have diarrhea.
29. Not So Great After All
King Richard the Lionheart famously shows up triumphantly at the end of every Robin Hood film, celebrated as the beloved king coming to replace his tax-loving brother, Prince John. In reality, Richard spent less than a year of his life in England. Not only that, Richard’s time Crusading was spent making so many enemies amongst his Christian allies that he had to smuggle himself across Europe just to get back home. When he was discovered, he was held for ransom by the Holy Roman Emperor, and his mother began a PR campaign about “Good King Richard” to encourage the English populace to accept high taxes to ransom Richard back.
28. The North Remembers
William the Conqueror spent a good part of his early reign silencing disagreement over a Norman being king of an Anglo-Saxon population. These disagreements came mostly from the north of England, and so William decided to teach the northmen a brutal lesson. He laid waste to the lands north of the Humber, making them uninhabitable for humans. Over 100,000 are said to have died from starvation or by William’s troops, and records show a marked drop in the population thanks to William’s efforts.
27. He Wasn’t Even in High School??
For such a warlike king, the death of Richard the Lionheart was a bit less glorious than he probably hoped it would be. While he battled outside of Chalus Castle in France, he was hit by a crossbow bolt through his shoulder. Richard spent two weeks dying from the infection caused by the wound. Presumably he also spent those two weeks doing some serious soul-searching, since the crossbow bolt had been shot at him by a child in the castle.
26. Problems With Parents
Regardless of dynasties or time periods, one thing that nearly all of the English royal families had in common was serious issues between parents and children. In two of the more famous instances, Edward III’s father, Edward II, was mysteriously killed while his mother took a new lover, Roger Mortimer. Both ruled in Edward III’s name, which Edward III eventually got tired of. He eventually put his mother under gentle imprisonment and executed Mortimer, presumably right after declaring “you’re not my real dad” and storming off to his room. Years later, in the 17th century, James II had the misfortune of being a Catholic king in an Anglican country. The English eventually asked James’ daughter Mary, a Protestant married to William of Orange, to depose James and take the throne themselves instead, something they did happily. Some people’s kids, am I right?
25. Make Sure They Aren’t Scotch Eggs!
Edward I popularized Easter Eggs. In 1290, Longshanks ordered 450 eggs to be covered in gold leaf as special Easter gifts.
24. That’s an Odd Pet
When James VI of Scotland became James I of England as well (the first of the Stuart Kings), he presumably wanted to make sure that he left a memorable impact on history—he was, after all, following Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, perhaps the most famous English monarch of all time. Maybe that’s what brought him to keep a pet elephant in St. James’s Park. The elephant was reportedly given a gallon of wine to drink every morning during the winters. We can only hope that it also had its driver’s license taken away until spring.
23. Hopefully it Wasn’t on Backwards
One way that the Stuart dynasty is memorable in the history of England is that it featured the first and only English king to be executed. Charles I was famously deposed, put on trial, and beheaded for treason at the end of the English Civil War. Executing a king was a big deal, and maybe some people were still a little uncomfortable about it afterwards, because Charles’ head was then sewn back onto his body for burial.
22. Family Feud
William II of England, son of William the Conqueror, met his end while hunting in the New Forest in 1100. While it appeared to be accidental, it’s been generally accepted that he was murdered so his younger brother, Henry I, could become king. We’d call this a tragic situation if it wasn’t for the fact that around thirty years before, William’s older brother, Richard, had also died while hunting in the New Forest under mysterious circumstances. Not only that, but Richard’s son, Richard Jr., had died in nearly the exact same circumstances just the year before William! We’re starting to think William II wasn’t exactly smart.
21. “Stretch” Wasn’t Royal Enough
You might remember from the film Braveheart that Edward I of England was nicknamed Edward Longshanks, though the movie never really explains why. The reason was that Edward I was famously long-legged and long-armed. In fact, his height of 6”2 made him one of the tallest kings in the history of England.
20. They Don’t Count!
Edward I of England was not, in fact, the first King of England to be called Edward. However, the tradition of numbering kings only began with the year 1066, and Longshanks was the first Edward to be king after that date.
19. Paranoid, Bro?
Henry VIII loved collecting things, whether it was tapestries or meals during the day. But one thing he loved especially was weaponry. His collection included a total of 6,500 handguns, and a huge battle-axe which lay next to his bed while he slept. We can only imagine what a sight that must have been for his wives.
18. It Runs in the Family
The Stuart dynasty featured two women named Mary who were connected to a foreign monarch coming to England to take the Kingship, whether by force or by prearrangement. The first Mary Stuart is better remembered as Mary Queen of Scots, whose son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England when Queen Elizabeth I died. The second of these Mary Stuarts was married to her cousin, William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands. William would invade England alongside his wife and lead the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which crowned them both as joint monarchs of England.
17. England Isn’t Enough!
The title “King of England” was formed in the 10th century, but after Edward I conquered Wales in 1284, being King of England meant you were king of Wales as well. Not only that, but the Kingdom of England would also include various regions of France and Flanders at different points in history (this was a big reason why the Hundred Years War was fought).
16. Traitorous Tudors
The Tudor dynasty is maybe the most famous line of English monarchs. It began after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and ended with the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603. However, despite their family being distant relatives of King Edward III, it was through an illegitimate female lineage. Thus, in the eyes of Medieval England, the Tudor’s claim to the throne barely existed at all. Henry VII spent most of his reign defeating rival claimants who saw him as a usurper.
15. No Wonder She Became Bloody Mary
Mary I, commonly known as Bloody Mary, was the eldest child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was declared illegitimate when her father divorced her mother and sent her away. Mary and Catherine weren’t allowed to see each other because they refused to acknowledge the new Protestantism or Henry’s new queen, Anne Boleyn. Mary wasn’t even allowed to attend her mother’s funeral when she died. Safe to say she grew up with a few grudges.
14. Don’t Stop Me Now
Efforts were made to keep the staunchly Catholic Mary away from the English throne, but she couldn’t be stopped. Henry VIII’s successor, his son Edward VI, died shortly after becoming king. He named the Lady Jane Grey as his heir, but Mary was far more popular with the English than Lady Jane. Mary deposed the would-be monarch and became Queen of England herself. If you don’t count the short reigns of Jane and Empress Matilda, Mary I was the first Queen Regent of England.
13. Fashion Frenzy
Before she became the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth lived in penury, after her mother’s execution. Her father, Henry VIII, ignored and neglected her so completely that Elizabeth’s guardians had to beg the king for finances to provide Elizabeth with clothes that fit her. Later, when she became queen, Elizabeth collected more than 2,000 dresses for herself, and even that wasn’t enough. She allegedly stole a dress from one of her maids of honor out of envy when she saw how good it looked.
12. Progress Through Regress
After the execution of Charles I, England was placed under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who had helped overthrow the monarchy. One of Cromwell’s decisions was to close all the theatres in England, despite their immense popularity. When the Stuart dynasty was restored after Cromwell’s death, Charles II re-opened the theatres, with a new twist. For the first time, women could be actresses on stage along with the men.
11. History is Written by the Victors
Mary I only got her nickname of Bloody Mary because of her persecution of Protestants in England. While more than 200 Protestants were indeed burned at the stake, Mary’s reputation for savagery and tyranny was greatly built up by Protestant writers of the time and in later years. Mary’s efforts to restore Catholicism were completely reversed after her death due to a lack of heirs, which led to Elizabeth I being crowned Queen and restoring Protestantism to favor.
10. Power Grab
When William the Conqueror took the English throne for himself, he did not include it as part of Normandy’s territory. This was because William technically owed allegiance to the King of France, being a mere duke, and he rightly saw that if he became the King of England, it would put him on more level footing with the king. Ironically, centuries later, during the Hundred Years War, the descendants of William would invade France and plunder Normandy to hold up the long-standing rule “what goes around comes around.”
9. A Friend in a High Place
Charles II was crowned after the Stuart dynasty was restored to power in England, and he decided to have fun with it. He was young, popular, and cemented his image as a hedonistic rogue in power. However, he also provided some more long-lasting contributions to English history. He was a patron of both the arts and sciences, and personally supported Sir Christopher Wren, who would go on to reconstruct London after the Great Fire of 1666. Charles also founded the Royal Observatory and supported the scientific-focused Royal Society, whose members included Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke. Sounds like a cool guy!
8. Born in Battle
Just like many kings of England, Edward IV had to fight for his throne, but he managed to go an extra mile by fighting one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil. The Battle of Towton, fought between the forces of Edward of York and those men loyal to Henry VI, involved up to 60,000 soldiers and resulted in 28,000 deaths. That was the equivalent to 1% of the entire English population at the time!
7. All That Glitters…
Elizabeth I of England presided over a Golden Age in England’s history. Peace and prosperity were the order of the day, and national pride grew to an all-time high under her reign. However, she managed to outlive this Golden Age as the latter part of her rule bore witness to many problems arising. Conflicts with Spain and Ireland caused taxes to increase, which wasn’t helped when harvests fell short of expectations. Elizabeth fell into a personal depression with the deaths of several of her closest friends, and she eventually passed away at 69 years old, leaving no heirs.
6. Richard the Record-Holder
Richard III of England holds a few records to this day. His rule as king was the shortest reign of all the crowned rulers of England after 1066. He was also the first English king since 1066 to die on a battlefield. We have yet to determine, however, if he was the only English King ever to be buried in a parking lot—at least, that’s where his remains ended up, as was discovered in 2012 in Leicester.
5. Family Feuds
Henry II of England was not a popular king during his lifetime. In fact, he spent the last years of his life putting down violent rebellions by his own sons against himself or each other. Interestingly, the son who arguably gave him the most grief was Prince Richard (later known as the Lionheart) while his favorite son was Prince John (yes, that Prince John). John was loyal to his father for a long time until the very end of his life, when he joined Richard in negotiations with the King of France against their father. It’s said that the shock of John’s betrayal was what caused Henry’s final collapse and eventual death.
4. England: Total War
The Stuart monarchy lost popularity quickly during the reigns of James I and his son, Charles I. Eventually, the camel’s back was broken and civil war erupted between the forces loyal to Parliament and those loyal to the Crown. The English Civil War resulted in nearly 200,000 men dying on the battlefield or of injuries sustained on the battlefield. To put it another way, 10% of the entire adult population of England met their end during the English Civil War. It was proportionally the most destructive war England ever fought.
3. Equal Opportunity Execution
In the days when Henry VIII was getting ready to burn all the bridges in the world by divorcing his wife to marry Anne Boleyn, one woman turned to prophecy to stop him. In 1532, a Catholic nun (and mystic) named Elizabeth Barton prophesied that if the King married Anne Boleyn, he would die and go to Hell. She was promptly arrested by the next year and forced to admit that she’d made it all up (which, let’s be fair, she probably did). Barton was beheaded for her treason and her head was put on a spike on London Bridge. She remains the only woman in history to have her head decorate the bridge.
2. Awkward Funeral
William the Conqueror was more successful in life than he was in death. First, he likely died after the pommel of his saddle injured him and ruptured his intestines. Not a great look. Then, during his funeral, a man interrupted the proceedings by complaining that the church they were in was built on his family’s lands without giving any compensation in return. As if that wasn’t bad enough, William’s body had swollen, and couldn’t fit inside the sarcophagus that had been built for him. Attempts to shove him in caused the body to burst, creating an unbearable odor during the rest of the funeral.
1. What Did the Scots Ever Do to You?
Edward I of England, AKA Edward Longshanks, has become known as the mortal enemy of the Scots, but we’re quite confident that that’s exactly how Edward I would have wanted to be remembered. In his own lifetime he was known as the Hammer of the Scots, and that’s before even mentioning his final request. On his deathbed, Edward demanded that his body should be boiled after death, and his bones taken into battle against the Scots. Sadly, his request was not carried out, and this chilling (and admittedly pure metal) episode of history was denied to us. We can only imagine how bitter Edward I’s ghost is about that.