All of my articles so far have been opinion pieces on current affairs; I hear on the news the latest political issue that people and politicians are getting worked up to legislate on and I decide to put my own opinions forward through this platform. What I haven’t really done before is speak about my opinions as someone who’s a big fan of History, especially our own British history. Therefore, I thought I’d put together my top five favourite Monarchs and my reasonings behind them being on my list. My rankings come from both my political and cultural beliefs, as well as my research of our nation’s history. I have also relied on information that has stuck with me over the years since as far back as my school days. So feel free to let me know what you think of my perspective.
5th Place – Henry V
Henry V, born in 1386 and succeeding his father Henry IV, had a relatively short reign and life despite upon accession to power during his youth. He reigned as King between 1413 and 1422, totaling nine years on the throne.
The main reason I put him on my list is because of his military prowess. Despite being only 29 at the time, he faced down tremendous odds when he took on French King Charles VI’s men despite it being a death sentence based on sheer numbers alone. Nevertheless, Henry’s forces, estimated at around 5,000 English men, were able to beat back between 20 – 30 thousand French soldiers due to the Frenches failed battle tactics which led them into a volley of English arrows positioned well on the flanks of the battlefield.
Henry V died suddenly in 1422 at the young age of 35. He was succeeded by his infant son and like most regencies was doomed from the outset. All the accomplishments of Henry V in France eventually unravelled due to the young King Henry VI’s ineffectiveness as a leader in both domestic and foreign policy. Things might have been much different had Henry V lived long enough to raise his son to be a proper ruler.
Henry V is rather a distinct choice for me because most of my knowledge on him compared to the other top Monarchs comes from my own research and findings. That’s because unlike my other choices I never learned about Henry V at school. I’m rather disappointed that Henry V wasn’t on the syllabus for me at school. Henry V should be a “household name”. I can recite Shakespeare’s rendition of the St Crispin’s day speech – as it is one of my favourite monologues that I can quote reasonably well due to the amount of times I’ve seen the 1989 movie.
After such praise you’re probably wondering why he comes fifth out of five for me. The Main reason was that he was essentially a Tyrant to put it bluntly. He showed no mercy to his prisoners, many burned alive, not to mention his foreign policy was very interventionist by today’s standards. His military campaign debts are the reason his son had economic problems to face down during his failed reign, which brought around the War of the Roses.
4th Place – Victoria
Born Alexandrina Victoria in 1819, she was destined for the throne from a very young age due to a lot of tragic deaths of cousins that moved her further up the pecking order in the line of succession. George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte died due to complications during childbirth along with her stillborn son. George’s younger brother the Duke of York preceded him to the grave by three years leaving the third son of George III to ascend the throne as William IV – and all of his legitimate children also died.
Alexandrina was still an infant when she became Heir presumptive for the final time after the death of William IV’s final child. From a young age she was raised very protectively by her mother as her father, the Duke of Kent, died within only a year of her birth. Alexandrina, assuming the name Victoria, ascended the throne upon the death of her Uncle when she was 18. Her age meant she was just old enough to avoid a regency by her Mother and meant that the young age when becoming Queen and her longevity gave her, at the time, the longest reign of any British monarch in history. A record of course beaten since by Queen Elizabeth II.
The reason Victoria is on my list is because of what she accomplished during her reign. The very rapid modernisation of Britain brought about by the height of the Industrial revolution and prepared Britain for an era of prosperity and wealth, a completely different ball game to agrarian lifestyle that was the backbone of the economy beforehand. The progression into a much more free market nation with a simplified legal system for conducting business and a liberalised trade policy opened the UK up to markets all over the world. She tasked the East India Company to begin making provisions for a British Raj; Crown rule in India after the rebellion of 1857, and she assumed the title of Empress. However, she had to pressure Disraeli for some time to agree permission to take the title.
There are many poor connotations of Empire. But I think looking on it historically, many nations have the reign of Victoria to thank for the economic prosperity, democracy and rule of law that gives them a higher quality of life and longer life expectancy they would not have had for a much longer time otherwise.
Victoria was opposed to slavery, in favour of free markets and represents a time when Britain rolled up her sleeves and got on with the job with a stiff upper lip. Unlike the PC brigade of the UK today who are always crying victimhood and oppression.
3rd Place – Elizabeth I
The last Tudor Monarch. Born in 1533 to Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She’s essentially the love child of a time in history where we went through some radical constitutional changes so her father could get what he wanted. I agree with the outcome, just not the method or his motive. I’m always in favour of bringing power (even ecclesiastical power) back home to our country rather than have decisions be made in European nations. Henry VIII’s reformation and the formation of the Church of England I suppose was essentially the first Brexit.
Thankfully the Bill of Rights 1689 laid out provisions in statutory law that officially declared these powers of Church and State are to be made here and not overseas. But I’m getting ahead of myself as this is much later than Elizabeth I.
Upon the death of her brother, Edward VII, it was her sister, Mary I, who took the throne against his wishes. Mary had their cousin, the Lady Jane Grey, executed for her claim to throne. The reasoning behind this was Mary’s Catholic principles that would have seen England and Ireland back under the Papacy and discredited the Church of England and the legitimacy of both Elizabeth and Edward. Her reign was one of brutality.
Elizabeth took to the throne in 1558 after Mary’s death. Elizabeth’s reign was considered a prosperous one for England and dubbed ‘the Golden Age’ because of her much calmer demeanor and moderate tone compared to that of the previous Tudors. What I like about Elizabeth is she herself assumed a motto “video et taceo – I see but say nothing”. The beginnings of the idea of Constitutional Monarchy where there was a recognised separation of powers in our legislative processes and system of Government where a Monarch wouldn’t overreach their powers and stir up any conflict of interest.
Elizabeth was also easy on Catholic sentiment, she didn’t systematically persecute on religious grounds. Her relative tolerance is despite the Pope declaring her an illegitimate ruler, freeing Catholics up from the Pope’s rule to show obedience to their Queen, and plenty of Catholic attempts on her life.
The Elizabethan era saw some amazing culture in literature and the arts. Queen Elizabeth I was a Patron of the Arts for William Shakespeare, sponsoring much of his work, and also financed Sir Francis Drake. With that being said, despite the moderate tone Historians say Elizabeth had from the beginning and through most of her reign, towards her later life she was prone to moments of rage and outburst due to a quick temper.
2nd Place – James VI & I
James’s father died in 1567 when James was less than a year old, as James was born in 1566. His Mother was Mary Queen of Scots and her authority was not well respected after her imprisonment and marriage (believed to be under duress) to the man believed to have murdered her former husband. This led to her abdication later that year and the young James became King of the Scots under a regency due to his infancy.
James’ mother was executed in England in 1587 after being implicated in a plot to murder Elizabeth I. James VI never got to properly meet either of his parents. James VI of Scotland also ascended the English throne as James I in 1603 following the death of his cousin Elizabeth I. The Queen had no heirs so in her final years with her ailing health and inevitable demise upon them, politicians worked with James through correspondence to prepare for an orderly transition when the time came because Elizabeth never officially named a successor. Regardless, James, being the Great Great Grandson of Henry VII, gave him his claim to the throne after his cousin’s death.
The transition was a success. James’ arrival in the capital for his coronation brought about no civil unrest or challenge to his authority. With James’ reign the ‘Golden era’ continued for literature, arts and culture. Like Elizabeth, he was a patron to writers and artists such as Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. James I funded the translation of the Bible from Latin into English to make it more easily accessible for the Common man, now unsurprisingly called the King James bible for that very reason.
James was a King who was very successful in Foreign Policy, he toned down the Wars with Spain despite discontent from Hawk Politicians in Parliament. I guess Politicians never change when it comes to foreign policy interventions.
James frequently conflicted with Parliament. Which can be a good thing for when it comes to toning down foreign wars to control the debt but not so much when he declares the “divine right of Kings” outlook as his free pass and motto to overreach with his power and completely disregard respect of the seperation of powers which was much more respected under Elizabeth’s motto of “seeing but saying nothing”.
During James’ reign so began the first colonisation of the Americas, as a matter of fact the States of North Carolina and South Carolina take his son Charles I as their namesake. James I began the process to unify the crowns of England and Scotland despite the pent up anger of such an idea on both sides of the border. More famously James survived an infamous attempt on his life during the State opening of Parliament when Guy Fawkes, a Catholic dissident, was caught attempting to set light to gunpowder in the basement of the House of Lords.
I’d definitely say James I is one of my favourites due to his personal beliefs and outlooks. I also admire his cultural views and the era of English renaissance he oversaw despite his Scottish heritage. My main and only criticism would of course be his direct influence over parliament; which meant he had a free pass to act how he wanted, which was a complete disregard for the separation of powers in our system.
1st Place – George V
Last but not least, my top guy, George V. Born in 1865 to the future King Edward VII during the reign of his Grandmother; Queen Victoria.
George took to the throne following the death of his Father in 1910. A few years after his coronation he faced one of the most difficult challenges the United Kingdom had ever faced, the Great War with Germany. George changed his family’s name from that of Victoria’s husband Albert Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the more simplified House of Windsor. This was a smart move during the First World War with anti-German sentiment rising in the UK and potentially becoming a threat to the Monarchy.
George V had to oversee some really fast cultural shifts in Europe in such a short space of time. As Monarchies collapsed all around him it seemed like a matter of time before his role and life could be at risk from a potential republican movement in the UK. So with the change of the name began the break down of social barriers between the people and the Crown, George would spend a lot of time greeting the people and listening to Union representatives and other workers. This all did well to prevent the rise of Socialism and Communism in Europe from impacting his future. After all, Communism and Socialism were the same hateful ideologies that signed the death warrant for his own cousin, Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1917 by the Bolsheviks.
He used diplomacy and cunning, but not evil cunning, to help bring about the Parliament Act of 1911 to limit the power of the Lords to hold the House of Commons in limbo on important bills. Why would the Lords vote for the Parliament Act when for them it meant Turkey’s voting for Christmas? Because if they didn’t let this one through the King planned to appoint how ever many Peers necessary in order to make sure they outnumbered the Gentry. The Hereditary Gentry peers feared what else they’d have taken from the Lords if rabble gained entry into the Chamber. This warning hit much harder to home with the Hereditary Gentry Lords and so they reluctantly passed the Parliament Act to assume the Commons’ authority over that of the non-elected House.
One may argue these tactics of diplomacy weren’t entirely moral by a King who rules but does not Govern. But certainly they aren’t forbidden constitutionally. However, if anyone read my previous article on the House of Lords then you’ll of course know that I’m biased on this topic.
After the First World War, George V oversaw the smooth transition from Empire to the beginnings of the Commonwealth. This was necessary as Britain came to realise we had much more responsibility here at home to rebuild our nation and it’s morale after the Great War.
These reasons of mine are why I’m quite curious that a lot of High Tories are big fans of George V. Not arguing they shouldn’t be. But by their usual talking points he’d be the Monarch that represented everything they oppose to this day. So I just wonder if when they shout “Fear God, Honour the King” they actually know which Monarch they’re talking about. I’m not concerned either way, I like that George V has got good support because he’s been placed Number one on my list.