Monarchs of Britain 1603-present

In 1603, the crowns of England and Scotland merged in personal union.  England had ruled Wales since 1284 and, in the 17th century, the King of England was also King of Ireland.  The first king of Great Britain was King James VI of Scotland, who on 24th March 1603 also became King James I of England, Wales and Ireland.  England and Scotland were still separate countries, with separate parliaments, until joined by the Act of Union in 1707.  The Act of Union in 1800 created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – but this has been referred to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since the Irish Free State was formed in 1922 (later the Republic of Ireland).

Some sources list monarchs separately from 1603-1707 and from 1707-present day.  A Bit About Britain hasn’t done that.  However, some monarchs technically held two regnal numbers – one for England, one for Scotland.  For example, James I of England (because he was the first king of England called James) was James VI of Scotland (because he was the 6th king of Scotland called James.  For that reason, many Scots believe that Queen Elizabeth II should be called Queen Elizabeth I in Scotland.  The argument was (theoretically) resolved in Parliament in 1953, when the principle of the highest numeral was agreed – ie if there were to be a King Robert, he would be designated Robert IV of the United Kingdom (there have been 3 previous Scottish kings called Robert, but no English); if there were to be another King Henry, he would be Henry IX (there have been 8 English Henrys, but no Scottish).

So what follows is a chronological list of British monarchs since 1603.  Click on their titles to reveal a bit about each monarch.

James I and VI     1603-1625     House of Stuart

Born 1566, Edinburgh Castle.     Crowned Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling as King of Scotland and Westminster Abbey as King of England.    Died  1625, Theobalds Park, Hertfordshire.     Buried  Westminster Abbey.
Father:     Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley.     Mother:  Mary Queen of Scots.
Famous for:  Apart from being the first king of both Scotland and England, James is probably best remembered for the Bible that bears his name and for avoiding being a victim of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.  James brought some strong views with him to England – an intense dislike of tobacco and smoking, a deep-seated concern about the dangers of witchcraft and his belief in the principle of the Divine Right of Kings – a doctrine that he passed on to his unfortunate son, Charles.  He favoured a union between England and Scotland – an idea that was unpopular on both sides of the border – and the favouritism he showed to particular individuals caused resentment.  He ruled over a generally peaceful kingdom but, overall, history has not remembered James kindly because many consider his reign sowed the seeds of future conflict.

Charles I     1625-1649     House of Stuart

Born 1600, Dunfermline Palace.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.    Died  1649, executed in Whitehall, London.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     James I/VI     Mother:  Anne of Denmark.
Famous for:  Falling out with just about everyone, thus precipitating Civil War.  Charles was a cultured, dignified, man but he had fixed views and his belief in Divine Right prevented compromise (indeed, it was impossible for him), widening the gulf between the monarch and an increasingly independently-minded Parliament.  He wrote that, “Princes are not bound to give account of their actions, but to God alone”.  Royalist defeat in the Civil War was probably inevitable; possibly the king’s execution was too (discuss).

Interregnum     1649-1660

The office of monarch was abolished by the English Parliament and a republic was declared.  Though Charles I’s son, Charles II, was crowned by the Scots in 1651, he was forced into exile after the Battle of Worcester and returned by invitation after the death of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.

Charles II     1660-1685     House of Stuart

Born 1630, St James’s Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey (and previously at Scone as King of the Scots).    Died  1685, Whitehall Palace, London.     Buried     Westminster.
Father:     Charles I     Mother:  Henrietta Maria of France.
Famous for:  Being ‘the Merrie Monarch’.  The reign of King Charles II is characterised by a lack of moral restraint, including on the part of the King, but is also known for its foundation of scientific institutions (the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory), architecture (Christopher Wren), war with the Dutch and concern about a Catholic revival.  The King, ever sympathetic to Catholicism, handed the throne to his openly Catholic brother, James, and had the last laugh by converting on his deathbed.

James II and VII     1685-1688     House of Stuart

Born 1633, St James’s Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1701, Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.     Buried     Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Father:     Charles I     Mother:  Henrietta Maria of France.
Famous for:  Getting booted off the throne and being Britain’s last Catholic monarch.  James was a capable man, but his Catholicism was hugely unpopular.  Though he easily withstood the Monmouth Revolution, the invasion by the Protestant Dutch Prince of Orange, James’s son in law, was virtually unopposed.  James sent his second wife, Mary of Modena, and their young son out of harm’s way to France and was later allowed to join them.  An attempt to regain the throne via Ireland with French support met with final defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  James and Mary’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, would return to haunt British history in 1715 and 1745.  His supporters were known as ‘Jacobites’ – ‘Jacob’ is the Latin form of ‘James’.

William and Mary     1689-1702     House of Orange

William III     1689-1702
Born 1650, The Hague, Holland.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1702, Kensington Palace, London.     Buried     Westminster.
Father:     William II, Prince of Orange.     Mother:  Mary Stuart, daughter of Charles I.

Mary II     1689-1694
Born 1662, St James’s Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1694, Kensington Palace, London.     Buried     Westminster.
Father:     James II.     Mother:  Anne Hyde.
Famous for:  The so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the Bill of Rights.  William and Mary ruled jointly.  She was James II’s daughter from his first marriage and was raised a Protestant.  William and Mary accepted the Bill of Rights, passed by Parliament in 1689, which established many of the principles of constitutional monarchy and ensured that the monarch would never again rule without Parliament.  It was one of the most important events in British history.  William, who seems to have been a humourless individual, was often away fighting against France, leaving Mary to look after things while he was away.  In 1694, she died of smallpox.  William was devastated and reigned alone for the next 8 years, until succumbing to pneumonia after falling from his horse.  Allegedly, his horse stumbled over a molehill, encouraging bitter Jacobites to raise their glasses to the ‘velvet-coated gentleman’ (the mole).

Anne     1702-1714     House of Stuart

Born 1665, St James’s Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1714, Kensington Palace, London.          Buried     Westminster.
Father:     James II.     Mother:  Anne Hyde.
Famous for:  Being the last Stuart monarch.  Anne was Mary’s sister, James II’s second surviving daughter from his marriage to Anne Hyde.  During her reign, England and Scotland were united as one sovereign state, so Anne was the first monarch of that united kingdom of Great Britain.  Anne enjoyed playing cards, tea parties and, until they fell out in 1710, the company of Sarah Churchill, wife of the highly successful general, the Duke of Marlborough.  Anne used to call Sarah Mrs Freeman and was called Mrs Morley in return – pet names, apparently.  She was plagued with ill-health and in her later years became grossly over-weight.  She had had innumerable pregnancies, but, sadly, no surviving heirs.  On her death, under the terms of the Act of Settlement the throne passed to the Protestant George, Elector of Hanover.

George I     1714-1727     House of Hanover

Born 1660, Osnabrűck, Hanover.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1727, Schloss Osnabrück, Hanover.     Buried     Leineschlosskirche, Hanover.
Father:     Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick and Elector of Hanover.     Mother:  Sophia, granddaughter of James I and VI.
Famous for:  Being German.  George spoke little English and didn’t really like his new kingdom, which he inherited at the age of 54.  At home in Hanover, he was absolute ruler; in Britain, he had to respect Parliament.  So he left government (and the crucial issue of royal income) to his chosen first minister, Sir Robert Walpole, thus facilitating the role of ‘Prime Minister’.  He appears to have been a fairly unpleasant individual, who was known to keep his first wife a prisoner in the Schloss Ahlden , possibly due to her infidelity with the Graf von Königsmark, who George might have bumped-off.  Instead, the new king turned up with two ugly mistresses, one thin and one not, who became known as Maypole and Elephant.  Further, there was no love lost between George and his son, the future George II.  A man of allegedly coarse tastes, he is reputed to have said, “I hate all boets and bainters”.

George II     1727-1760     House of Hanover

Born 1683, probably in Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1760, Kensington Palace, London.     Buried     Westminster.
Father:     George I.     Mother:  Sophia Dorothea of Celle.
Famous for:  Enjoying Handel and being the last British monarch to lead troops into battle (Dettingen, 1743).  George had a spectacular falling-out with his father and, similarly, quarrelled with his own oldest son, Frederick, who predeceased him.  History has tended to emphasise his various mistresses and bad temper, but it seems George had a fairly good grasp of politics.  The state of Georgia (in the USA) is named after him.

George III     1760-1820     House of Hanover

Born 1738, Norfolk House, St James’s Square, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1820, Windsor Castle.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     Frederick, Prince of Wales.     Mother:  Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.
Famous for:  Being known as ‘Farmer George’ and, in later life, going mad.  In contrast with his predecessors, George III was born in Britain and was a model of moral rectitude.  He never took a mistress and he and his wife (Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) enjoyed a happy, 57-year, marriage which produced 15 children.  George even promoted the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which stipulated that members of the Royal Family in future needed the Sovereign’s consent to marry – so that prospective spouses could be judged suitable.  If it wasn’t for George, there would be no Buckingham Palace – he purchased Buckingham House in 1762.  George came to the throne at the age of 22 and stayed for more than 59 years, some of the most eventful in Britain’s history as the world got smaller, Industrial Revolution took off, an expensive and disastrous war was fought against American colonists and a more successful one against Napoleonic France.  To Americans, George was a tyrant, yet his nickname of ‘Farmer George’ does not only illustrate his interest in agricultural improvements but is also indicative of some affection and respect for a king who was proud of his country and who probably took the loss of the 13 Colonies personally.  In 1788, George suffered the first serious attack which eventually necessitated his odious son being Prince Regent.  The disease is generally thought to have been porphyria, a rare hereditary disorder.

George IV     1820-1830     House of Hanover

Born 1762, St James’s Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1830, Windsor Castle.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     George III.     Mother:  Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Famous for:  Being a waste of space.  Extravagant, dissolute, irresponsible, a patron of leisure and with all the leadership qualities of a drunken teenager, the Prince Regent seems to have had few redeeming qualities.  He is best remembered as sponsor of architecture, resulting in the opulent splendour of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and the elegance of Nash’s Regent Street.  George did at least make the effort to visit Scotland – no monarch had ventured north of the border since Charles II – even appearing in Highland dress, which was a popular move, helping to revive the tartan which had been banned since 1745.  He had several mistresses and in 1785 secretly married a Catholic widow, Mrs Fitzherbert, an illegal union in contravention of both the Act of Settlement and the Royal Marriage Act. They had at least two illegitimate children.  Later forced to marry a German cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, his opening remark on first seeing her was apparently, “Harris, I am not well.  Pray get me a glass of brandy.”  In fairness, portraits of Caroline make her look just about as attractive and feminine as George himself, whose gross eating and drinking habits had predictable effects.  Prone to delusions, he was convinced he had charged with the cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo.

William IV     1830-1837     House of Hanover

Born 1765, Buckingham House, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1837, Windsor Castle.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     George III.     Mother:  Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Famous for:  Being forced to very reluctantly support the Great Reform Act.  William was known as ‘the Sailor King’ – because, surprise, surprise, he had been in the Navy (between the ages of 13 and 25).  He was created the Duke of Clarence in 1789.  For 20 years from 1791, William lived in unwedded domestic bliss with an Irish actress, Dorothea Bland, known as ‘Mrs Jordon’, with whom he had 10 children.  He later married the more suitable (ie royal blood and much richer) Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and, by all accounts, they spent a happy 20 years together too.  A further reason for the marriage was in an effort to produce a surviving royal heir – which did not happen.  Still, it seems that William was a genial reactionary, defined by having two successful 20-year relationships.

Victoria     1837-1901     House of Hanover

Born 1819, Kensington Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1901, Osborne House, Isle of Wight.     Buried     The Royal Mausoleum, Frogmore, Berkshire.
Father:     Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, son of George III.     Mother:  Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld Famous for:  Giving her name to an era.  At the end of that era, the monarchy was more popular (and loved) than it had ever been and Victoria was pretty much the matriarch of Europe – as well as being Empress.  Alexandrina Victoria was a dutiful 18 year old when she became queen.  Her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was a huge influence on her, as well as on Britain, and they had an extremely happy marriage which produced 9 children.  Victoria was devastated when Albert died in 1861 and her withdrawal from public life produced a temporary dip in popularity.  For the next 40 years of her life, she dressed as a widow.  Despite being venerated by many as Queen-Empress, Victoria represented particular values – family, conscientiousness, integrity, respectability – which ordinary people could relate to and which, alongside technological and economic achievements, helped define the best of the Victorian Age.  Victoria reigned longer than any other British monarch until Queen Elizabeth II.  Her Golden and Diamond Jubilees, in 1887 and 1897, were huge events, bringing together people from all over the world as well as an astonishing number of her own relatives.  Victoria and Albert had 42 grandchildren, including George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, are two of Victoria’s great-great-grandchildren.

Edward VII     1901-1910     House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Born 1841, Buckingham Palace, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1910, Buckingham Palace, London.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.     Mother:  Queen Victoria.
Famous for:  Being a playboy but also helping to end Britain’s isolation.  Edward spent most of his life as Prince of Wales, enjoying horses, eating and drinking well, weekends in the country, other men’s wives, travelling the world and generally having a great time.  His mother, Victoria, ensured he was excluded from any serious public responsibility.  As King, Edward’s statesmanship helped forge the Entente Cordiale with France and the Triple Entente including Russia.  He was a supporter of both army and navy reforms and enjoyed a particularly close relationship with his son, George, perhaps preparing him more thoroughly for his future role than he had been himself.

George V     1910-1936     House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha/Windsor

Born 1865, Marlborough House, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1936, Sandringham House, Norfolk.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     Edward VII.     Mother:  Alexandra of Denmark.
Famous for:  Helping make the monarchy more modern.  George became king because his elder brother, Albert, died unexpectedly in 1892.  He even married his late-brother’s fiancée, Mary of Teck.  His reign was dominated by crises and unprecedented change – social upheaval, Prime Minister Asquith’s clash with the House of Lords, Irish Home Rule/the creation of the Irish Free State, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the General Strike and the Depression.  In 1911, the King and Queen toured Ireland and India – the only time a British king-emperor dropped in on the Jewel in the Crown.  During the war, the king visited the front and the queen visited the wounded.  In deference to anti-German sentiment, in 1917 the name of the Royal Family was changed from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the very English-sounding, ‘Windsor’.  After the Tsar of Russia and his immediate family were murdered by Russian revolutionaries, George allegedly became haunted by the decision, which was apparently his, not to attempt a rescue.  Whilst monarchies fell throughout Europe as a result of the First World War, George presided over a dignified and respected British monarchy.  At this time, the term ‘Commonwealth of Nations’ began to be used when referring to ‘the Empire’.  Though by upbringing a traditionalist, George adapted to the changes that were taking place in the world and, apparently, advised wisely.  In 1932, speaking from Sandringham, he made the first Royal Christmas broadcast over the radio, the speech being written for him by his friend, Rudyard Kipling.  His favourite pastimes were hunting and stamp collecting.  Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, called him ‘Grandpa England’.  Exacerbated by heavy smoking, his health was not good in his latter years.  On 20th January 1936, the King’s physician issued the bulletin “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close”, before administering the lethal injection that hastened the end of George’s life.  It is alleged that he chose the moment in order that the news could be announced in the Times the following day, rather than ‘less appropriate’ evening papers.

Edward VIII     1936     House of Windsor

Born 1894, White Lodge, Richmond, Surrey.     Crowned Wasn’t.     Died  1972, ‘Villa Windsor’, Route du Champ d’Entraînement, Paris.     Buried     Frogmore, Windsor, Berkshire.
Father:     George V.     Mother:  Mary of Teck.
Famous for:  Abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson.  Edward – known as David – was a popular Prince of Wales, though a bit of a playboy.  His desire to marry twice-divorced American Mrs Simpson provoked a constitutional crisis, largely because the monarch was Head of the Church of England, which officially opposed marriage to divorcees whose ex-spouses were still alive.  Edward chose to abdicate.  It subsequently emerged that he held Nazi sympathies.  Edward and Wallis married, were created the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and lived most of their lives in France.  The Duchess of Windsor died in 1986 and was buried alongside her husband.

George VI     1936-1952     House of Windsor

Born 1895, York Cottage, Sandringham House, Norfolk.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.     Died  1952, Sandringham House, Norfolk.     Buried     St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Father:     George V.     Mother:  Mary of Teck.
Famous for:  As a consequence of the film, ‘The King’s Speech’, George VI is now probably (unfairly) best-known for his speech impediment.  George (or Albert) did not expect to be king.  In fact, this brave and honourable man, together with his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later known as ‘the Queen Mother’), did much to restore confidence in the Royal Family following Edward’s abdication, gaining immense popularity in their own right and reaching out to the nation in the dark days of the Second World War.  During the Blitz, the King and Queen stayed at Buckingham Palace, which was itself bombed, and were perceived as sharing the dangers that everyone else was prone to.  The Queen commented, “I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face”.   They had a high profile, touring bombed areas, visiting factories and so on – and George developed a close working relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  The King also instituted the George Cross and the George Medal for acts of bravery.  The latter part of George’s reign saw the morphing of Empire into Commonwealth, particularly after India gained independence in 1947.  Like his father, the king was a heavy smoker and he was seriously ill in his last years.  On 6th February 1952, this much-loved king died of a coronary thrombosis aged 56.

Elizabeth II      1952-     House of Windsor

Born 1926, 17 Bruton Street, London.     Crowned Westminster Abbey.
Father:     George VI.     Mother:  Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIFamous for:  Being a good egg.  Britain’s present queen has reigned longer than any other previous British monarch and she enjoys enormous respect and admiration around the world.    She married her cousin, Philip Mountbatten (the Duke of Edinburgh), on 20 November 1947 and they have four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward.  She is viewed as the model constitutional monarch.  Her reign has seen the transformation of Britain, including the completion of the transformation of the British Empire into the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states.  As well as being hereditary Head of State of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth is Head of State of 15 other Commonwealth Nations: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

God bless you, Ma’am.

 

Monarchs of England 871-1603

Monarchs of Scotland 843-1603