Ranking the Royals

Another week of anniversaries, as each and every week is. For followers of the British monarchy, it was the week of Elizabeths, with Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday (September 7) and Queen Elizabeth II assuming her well-deserved title of longest-reigning British monarch on September 9. In my day-job capacity as an English history professor, I thought I would make up a list of BEST British Monarchs and contrast it with the longest-reigning ones to see just what the overlap might be. Of course this is a ridiculous exercise, as the first list is completely subjective and the second one completely objective. But I was waiting for my car to be serviced at the dealer and bored with all the other administrative tasks before me. Let’s start with the longest-reigning kings and queens, and the amazing picture of Her Majesty that Buckingham Palace released to mark the occasion. I just love it! The (royal) red briefcase!!

Elizabeth II

So here is the list of longest-reigning monarchs of either Great Britain or England: 1) Elizabeth II (1952-; 63 years, 218 days and counting); 2) Victoria (1837-1901; 63 years, 216 days); 3) George III (1760-1820; 59 years); 4) James VI of Scotland and I of England (1567-1625; 57 years); 5) Henry III (1216-1272; 56 years); 6) Edward III (1327-1377; 50 years); 7) Elizabeth I (1558-1603; 44 years); 8) Henry VI (1422-1471, with a break, 38 years); 9) Aethelred II (978-1016, with a break, 37 years); 10) Henry VIII (1509-1547; 37 years).

British Monarchs

In very random order, the longest-reigning British and English monarchs.

And now is my list of “best” monarchs according to my completely subjective opinion–I invite you to offer up your own candidates. I must state a very big qualification, a result of my training and expertise: all my monarchs reigned before 1688: the “revolution” and constitutional documents of that year and the next dramatically limited the powers of the monarchy and so I don’t think post-1688 monarchs rate. Just my opinion: obviously the British monarchy has a role to play that is extra-political.

My top ten: 1) Henry VII (1485-1509–the first Tudor and the first modern king, in my opinion. Courageous and clever. I’ve definitely bought into the “Tudor Myth”); 2) Elizabeth I (1558-1603–need I say anything? Just accept countless words of praise); 3) Alfred the Great (871-899–warrior, scholar, the first English king); 4) William I “the Conqueror” (1066-1087–another militant unifier, through conquest, but he gave us the greatest primary source in medieval history); 5) Henry II (1154-1189–I know, Becket, but his legal reforms were important; 6) Henry V (1413-1422–it’s hard for me to see him apart from Shakespeare (and Kenneth Branagh) but still, he won it all, and then died, which makes him tragic and interesting); 7) Edward I (1272-1307–I’m giving him credit for all those castles); 8) James VI and I (1567-1625–a rather wasteful king but an interesting man, and anyone who could condemn smoking in the early seventeenth century is worthy of note); 9) Edgar “the Peaceable” (959-975–another builder); 10) Charles II (1660-1685–a lovely personality that reunited England after the long Civil War; a page-turner.

Best British Monarchs

The best? Only according to me.

So there is not much overlap between longest-reigning monarchs and my best monarchs: only Elizabeth and James. No doubt this is partly due to my exclusion of monarchs who ruled after Charles II. No Henry VIII for me: too much waste, too much squandering of the considerable legacy left to him by my favorite king, Henry VII, as well as his own talents. Despite the English Reformation, which he bought into for selfish reasons, I would rank him near the bottom. But that is a list for another day.

Henry VIIIs Nightmare

Buckingham Palace by Assaf Frank

Henry VIII’s worst nightmare and Buckingham Palace © Assaf Frank.

10 responses to “Ranking the Royals

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    It’s interesting that over the past 288 years, there have been just 10 British monarchs. And of those, Edward VIII ruled for less than a year and William IV for just six years. Generally, you’re either in for a short time or for a very long time.

  • mariathermann

    All that comes into mind when I see a list of English/British monarchs is to yell iin unison with the Queen of Alice in Wonderland: “off with their heads”, since all of them were – and are – pretty nasty individuals.

  • Roger

    Two poets’ verdicts:

    George the First was always reckoned
    Vile, but viler George the Second;
    And what mortal ever heard
    Any good of George the Third?
    When from earth the Fourth descended
    (God be praised!) the Georges ended.

    -Walter Savage Landor
    That’s nearly a hundred and twenty years disposed of.

    James I

    THE child of Mary Queen of Scots,
    A shifty mother’s shiftless son,
    Bred up among intrigues and plots,
    Learnèd in all things, wise in none.
    Ungainly, babbling, wasteful, weak,
    Shrewd, clever, cowardly, pedantic,
    The sight of steel would blanch his cheek.
    The smell of baccy drive him frantic.
    He was the author of his line –
    He wrote that witches should be burnt;
    He wrote that monarchs were divine,
    And left a son who – proved they weren’t!

    -Rudyard Kipling

  • Geoffrey Meijer

    There are for me Three Kings whom I like the most, 1. King Arthur, 2. King William the Conqueror, 3. King Richard the Lionheart

    • daseger

      Hello Geoffrey, thanks for stopping by. I’m with you on William, I would be with you on Arthur if he existed, but I’m not with you on Richard. Great warrior, terrible king.

  • Brian Bixby

    Hmm, how about a list of English/British monarchs who did the right thing?
    1. Edward VIII: abdicated to marry the woman he loved, who sadly turned out to be Wallis Simpson.
    2. Lady Jane Grey: pushed into the throne, she at least was graceful on her way out. Too bad she had to be executed.
    3. George VI: Not expecting the job, but was a magnificent symbol during WWII.
    4. Charles II: Well, he had his faults, but his ability to hold the kingdom together despite his own religious beliefs and the unnerving precedent of the Commonwealth shows he was not a fool.

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