The UK’s political history is truly fascinating. Although today the UK is run by a parliamentary democracy, at the helm of the ship before the days of democracy was the monarchy.
England’s Royal households have shaped British culture for thousands of years and continue to have a dramatic effect on the world as it is today. But who are the kings and queens worth knowing about?
There are a fair few, but here are some of the most famous.
William the Conqueror (1066-1087)
William the conqueror was illiterate, but that didn’t stop this undeniably clever warlord from claiming the throne of England in 1066. The Battle of Hastings changed the future of England forever.
Even though you could say he fought valiantly with 5,000 troops to conquer a nation of 1.5 million, William I wiped out the ruling classes and claimed all the land. He also replaced English with French as the language of government.
Henry V (1413-1422)
Henry V reunited the English in 1415 by defeating the French at the infamous Battle of Agincourt. He’s often described as the last great warrior-king, with many of his followers believing him immortal after a series of victories.
Combining the French and English crowns in 1420 is considered to be one of Henry V’s greatest achievements. Unfortunately, his life didn’t last much longer after his proudest accomplishment. He died in 1422, most likely of dysentery.
Henry VIII (1509-1547)
Henry VIII is undoubtedly one of the most infamous kings in English history, widely known for his ruthless ways and six wives, two of which were beheaded.
When the Pope in Rome refused to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry split from the Roman Catholic church. In the resulting aftermath, he went on to establish his own church, the Church of England.
When he wasn’t busy beheading people, he had a penchant for warmongering and pillaging his own country. He is, without a doubt, the most infamous king in history.
James VI (1567-1626)
James VI was King of Scotland from 1567 until 1603 and also of England and Ireland until 1625, making him the first king of the union.
Even though James held three crowns, the thrones remained distinct in spite of the King’s best efforts to form a new imperial throne. Nevertheless, through almost pure accident, King James laid the foundations for what the UK would become and remain for centuries.
Apparently quite a nice fella, we think he deserves a place on our list of most famous UK monarchs. Go and explore the castles of Scotland to gain a glimpse into medieval Royal life.
When she died, Queen Victoria became the longest-reigning monarch in British history (a title now held by our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II). Some people argue that she saved the monarchy from the contempt the poor and the powerful were starting to feel towards it during the decades before her reign. And she was also in charge of Britain when its empire was at its most powerful (not largest), so in reality, she was more of an empress than a Queen.
Elizabeth II (1952-2022)
Until 8 September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II was the world’s longest-reigning living monarch (and the fourth-longest in history) and celebrated her Platinum Jubilee after 70 years of service. Queen Elizabeth II has seen a lot, including the decolonisation of Africa, devolution in the UK and the ultimate demise of the empire. Nevertheless, she’s been a sovereign of 32 independent countries during her lifetime. Not many people can top that.
Born in 1948, Charles Philip Arthur George has become King of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms. He acceded to the throne on 8 September 2022 upon the passing of his mother, Elizabeth II. He was the longest-serving heir apparent in British history and is the oldest person to assume the throne, doing so at the age of 73.
If you’re interested in the royal heritage of the UK, make sure to check out our Royal London Tour. It’s a simple, fun way to connect with the UK’s Royal Family.