On the 6th January 1066, Harold Godwinson was crowned king of England. Harold II was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, but reigned for barely nine months before being killed at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October by Norman invaders led by William of Normandy.
The day before Harold’s coronation, Edward the Confessor died. He had suffered a series of strokes in late 1065 and lay in a coma for much of the remainder of his life. He died without an heir, and this sparked a succession crisis that culminated in the Norman invasion of England later that year.
The Normans claimed that Edward had promised the throne of England to William. Reported by various Norman chroniclers, the Bayeux Tapestry shows that Harold even swore an oath on sacred relics to support William’s claim to the English throne after becoming shipwrecked in 1064. The reliability of this story is debated by historians, especially since it goes against the English tradition that the new king would be chosen by the Witenaġemot – the “meeting of wise men”.
Whatever the truth of Edward’s promise and Harold’s meeting with William, Edward apparently regained consciousness and entrusted his kingdom to Harold for “protection” shortly before he died. When the Witenaġemot met on the 6th January they elected Harold as king, and his coronation took place the same day. Historians generally believe that this took place in Westminster Abbey, which had been built by Edward and had been consecrated just a few days earlier on the 28th December 1065. Hearing of Harold’s accession to the English throne, William soon began preparing to invade.
On the 25th December 1066, William of Normandy was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey. The event ended in chaos as Norman guards outside mistook the sounds of the cheering crowd inside for the start of a riot.
William, having defeated the English king Harold at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October 1066, was forced to fight on after a number of English nobles nominated Edgar the Ætheling as the new king. When he crossed the Thames at Wallingford in early December he was met by Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who just a few weeks earlier had elected Edgar as king. However, he immediately abandoned Edgar and submitted to William, who soon marched to Berkhamsted where Edgar himself gave up his claim to the throne.
William’s coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day saw both Norman and English nobility in attendance. Norman troops were stationed outside the abbey and in the surrounding streets in case of trouble while the coronation itself was conducted by Geoffrey, the Bishop of Coutances, and Ealdred, the Archbishop of York. The account of Orderic Vitalis, the Anglo-French chronicler of Norman England, tells how the assembled nobles cheered loudly when asked if they agreed to William becoming King of England.
The troops outside mistook these cheers for a fight between the Normans and English inside the church, so set fire to some of the English houses nearby before charging into the Abbey itself. The arrival of the troops panicked the coronation guests, many of whom fled the Abbey while the bishops frantically finished the ceremony amongst the commotion.
On the 11th December 1936, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom announced his abdication in a worldwide radio broadcast. He had signed the Instruments of Abdication on the 10th, but it only became official when he gave royal assent to His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 after it was passed by Parliament the next day.
Edward abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Simpson had divorced her first husband in 1927, and was married to a second when her relationship with the then Prince of Wales began. Edward was in a serious relationship with Wallis when he became king following the death of his father on the 20th January 1936, but as the head of the Church of England faced a crisis since divorced people were forbidden from remarrying if their ex-spouses were still alive, as was the case with Wallis.
Wallis Simpson filed for divorce from her second husband in October 1936, which led to speculation in the American press that marriage to Edward was imminent. Although the British press remained silent on the matter, he was warned that this wouldn’t be the case for much longer and that he needed to address the issue. In the middle of November Edward told Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister, of his intention to marry Wallis. Baldwin gave the King three options: give up the idea of marriage; marry against his ministers’ wishes; or abdicate. He chose the latter.
Less than a month later his younger brother was proclaimed King George VI while Edward became Duke of Windsor. He married Wallis on the 3rd June 1937.
On the 17th November 1558, Elizabeth I succeeded her half-sister Mary to become queen of England. The last of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth’s reign is seen by many as a ‘golden age’ in English history. A period of relative political and religious stability, her reign saw unprecedented foreign exploration and expansion, while at home the English Renaissance brought about enormous cultural developments and the rise of one of the greatest playwrights ever to have lived – William Shakespeare.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and, despite being declared illegitimate following the annulment of her parents’ marriage, came to the throne as the next in line behind her Catholic half-sister under the terms of the Third Succession Act. Having become queen when she was 25 years old, Elizabeth relied heavily on a group of advisers led by Robert Cecil and is generally seen as providing stability through her long reign, in comparison to her two siblings.
Soon after assuming power she introduced the Elizabethan Religious Settlement consisting of two Acts of Parliament which resolved much of the Protestant/Catholic divide that had characterised the years before and after her reign. However, this did little to appease the Catholic Philip II of Spain who famously launched the Spanish Armada against England in 1588 but was defeated.
Elizabeth never married nor had any heirs, leading to her becoming known as the Virgin Queen. When she died, the lack of an heir led to the end of the Tudor dynasty and the beginning of the Stuarts after James VI of Scotland became James I of England.
On the 22nd August 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the forces of Henry Tudor brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end. Henry secured his reign soon afterwards by later marrying Elizabeth of York, the niece of Richard III and daughter of Edward IV, and united the two warring houses through the symbolism of the Tudor rose.
Wishing to capitalise on Richard’s diminishing support following the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of his wife, Henry Tudor prepared to invade England from his base in Brittany and fight Richard for the throne. Funded by Charles VIII of France, and supported by three times as many French mercenary soldiers as his own troops, Henry set sail on the 1st August with 2,000 men. Landing at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, Henry secured the support of the influential Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas, on his march to England.
Richard’s army gathered in Leicester from the 16th August and, on the night of the 21st, camped on Ambion Hill near the town of Market Bosworth with 10,000 men. The next morning, facing Henry and his force of around 5,000 soldiers, the Yorkists were defeated when the Stanley family switched sides and surrounded and killed Richard after the king chose to break ranks and target Henry himself. Henry was crowned under an oak tree near the site.
Richard’s body was taken to Leicester by the Lancastrians where it was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars church. The body was only found again in 2012.
On the 10th August 1792, French revolutionary troops stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Referred to by some historians as ‘the Second Revolution’ the events of the 10th August suspended the monarchy under King Louis XVI.
The royal family had lived in the Tuileries since the October Days of 1789 saw them brought back to Paris from Versailles. Louis and his family were virtually imprisoned, as proved when crowds barred them from moving to their summer residence in April 1791. This may have influenced Louis to carry out the failed Flight to Varennes two months later, after which the family were more officially held under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace.
The relationship between the royal family and the people of Paris continued to decline throughout 1792. The king did himself no favours by vetoing a range of decrees passed by the Legislative Assembly, but the situation grew worse with the threat of invasion from foreign armies. By the time of the Brunswick Manifesto on 1st August that lent foreign support to the royal family, the crowds of Paris held Louis and the concept of monarchy in absolute contempt.
On the morning of the 10th August, crowds massed outside the Tuileries. With Louis opting to take shelter in the Legislative Assembly building, his Swiss Guard who were left to defend the palace were eventually overrun after they ran out of ammunition. Approximately 800 people on the king’s side were killed, and Paris was put in the hands of the revolutionaries while the royal family were sent to the Temple prison.
On the 29th July 1567, James VI was crowned king of Scotland when he was just 13 months old. As the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, he succeeded Elizabeth I and became the first monarch to rule all three countries almost 36 years later.
James was the only son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and as such immediately became heir to the Scottish throne when he was born. However, his mother’s Roman Catholic faith caused her reign to be constantly under threat from the largely Protestant nobility, and was one of many reasons for her arrest and imprisonment in June 1567. She was forced to abdicate in favour of her young son a month later, and never saw him again as he was quickly taken away to be raised in Stirling Castle as a God-fearing Protestant king.
Having been crowned king when he was barely one year old, James obviously didn’t rule Scotland himself. Instead power lay with a series of four regents who handled the affairs of government until his minority ended in 1578 when he was 12 years old. However, he didn’t gain complete control over the government for another 5 years.
James ruled Scotland on its own until the 24th March 1603, when Elizabeth I of England – James’ first cousin twice removed – died and James was proclaimed king in a surprisingly smooth and peaceful succession. As such he was the first monarch to rule Scotland, England and Ireland in what is referred to as the Union of the Crowns.
In the early hours of the 17th July 1918 the Russian Imperial Romanov family were shot dead in the basement of the Ipatiev House in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. Their death took place during the ongoing Russian Civil War, at a time when White Russian forces were approaching the house where the family were held captive. The execution was led by Yakov Yurovsky, a member of the Bolshevik secret police known as the Checka, and commandant of the house which had become known as The House of Special Purpose.
The Romanov family – Nicholas and his wife, and their four daughters and son, had first arrived in Ekaterinburg at intervals from the 30th April onwards. They were accompanied by a small number of servants. Their time inside the house was heavily regulated by the guards, who blocked all contact with the outside world.
As the White Army advanced on Ekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks became concerned that the royal family might fall into their hands and act as a rallying point for the White cause. Similarly, their release could encourage other European nations to view them as the legitimate rulers of Russia, and thus undermine the revolutionary Bolshevik government.
Shortly after midnight on the 17th July therefore, the family were woken and led to a small basement room in the house. A group of Bolshevik secret police then entered the room and read out the order for the deaths. All were shot or stabbed by bayonets, their bodies taken away in a truck and disposed of in a forest 12 miles north of the city.
The Battle of Naseby, a decisive engagement of the English Civil War, was fought between the Royalist army of King Charles I and the Parliamentarian New Model Army.
The New Model Army was formed as a result of concerns over the effectiveness of the existing Parliamentarian army that was based on local volunteers, many of whom were reluctant to fight away from home. The new army would be made up of full-time professional soldiers whose loyalty would be national rather than regional. The introduction of the Self-denying Ordinance further strengthened the new force, since it resulted in a more effective military leadership.
The New Model Army, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, was besieging the King’s former capital in Oxford when news arrived that the Royalist army had captured the Parliamentarian town of Leicester. Fairfax abandoned the siege on Oxford and marched north to engage the Royalists, whom he found on the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. Fairfax’s army was joined by Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry on 13 June. Faced with the choice of either fighting or retreating, the King accepted battle.
Fairfax had positioned the Parliamentarian army on a ridge, but was persuaded by Cromwell to move it to a weaker position to encourage the Royalists to attack. Prince Rupert of the Rhine soon broke through the Parliamentary left flank, but rode on to pursue fleeing Parliamentarians rather than turn and outflank the infantry. This weakened the Royalists, and Cromwell’s cavalry were able to break the remaining cavalry before turning against the infantry in the centre. Before long the Royalists began to surrender, while Charles fled. The Royalist army was virtually destroyed in the battle, with around 6,000 of its 8,000 men either killed or captured.
The 22nd May 1455 marked the start of the Wars of the Roses, when the First Battle of St Albans was fought between Richard, Duke of York, and King Henry VI.
The Wars of the Roses were fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York, both of whom had claims to the English throne. Although the Lancastrians had ruled England since 1399, Henry VI had come to the throne in 1422 when he was just 9 months old. England had therefore been ruled by regents for 15 years, during which time the monarchy was weakened.
The situation didn’t improve after Henry took full control of the country in 1437, since he experienced periods of mental illness that affected his behaviour and decisions. Having experienced a long period of mental instability from August 1453, the “kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, made Richard, Duke of York, protector of the realm.
When Henry recovered 18 months later, Richard was excluded from the royal court. In response he led an army to London, but was met by the King’s forces 22 miles north of the city in St Albans. After many hours of failed negotiations, Richard ordered his troops to attack. The battle was fought in the streets, and lasted for less than an hour before the Lancastrians were outflanked, key Lancastrian nobles were killed, and Henry was taken prisoner.
Richard was declared Protector of England just a few months later, but the Wars of Roses raged for another three decades.