A Theatregoer’s Guide to the English Monarchs (Post-Hastings)
as compiled by Tim Treanor
Poets, madmen, geniuses, buffoons — the monarchs of England seem to have been designed for playwrights. Here’s a list of them, their entrances and exits, and how our playwrights (and other artists) made art from them.
|#||Monarch||Lived||Reigned||Entrance to and Exit from Power||Art|
|1||William I (the Conqueror) ||(1028-1087)||(1066-1087) ||Defeated Harold Godwinson at Hastings; died from injuries sustained in a fall from a horse while besieging Mantes, in France. ||Nothing major; there was a one-act play by John Mortimer called A Choice of Kings about his tricking of Harold Godwinson.
|2||William II (Rufus)||(1058-1100) ||(1087-1100) ||Second surviving son of William I (the oldest inherited William's Normandy lands); died without issue from an arrow wound sustained while hunting. ||None|
|3||Henry I ||(1068-1135) ||(1100-1135) ||Second surviving son of William I, he seized the throne upon William II’s death while his older brother was on Crusade. Died survived by only one child from marriage, Matilda, who he decreed should follow him to the throne.||None|
|4||Stephen I of Blois||(1096-1154) ||(1135-1154)||Son of Adela, William I’s ninth child, and Stephen of Blois, claimed the throne upon Henry’s death, asserting that Henry had changed his mind about Matilda. Eventually yielded power to Matilda's son, Henry II, agreeing to share power with him until one of them dies. || He is a recurrent character in the Brother Cadfael series.
|5||Henry II ||(1133-1189) ||(1154-1189) ||Son of Matilda and grandson of Henry I, he invaded England and reached an agreement with King Stephen that the survivor would rule England. Died while fighting his son and inheritor, Richard.||"The Lion in Winter", by James Goldman. Peter O’Toole played Henry in the film.
|6||Richard I (Lionheart) ||(1157-1199) ||(1189-1199) ||Oldest surviving son of Henry II. Spent much of his reign on Crusade, and his brother John ruled England in his behalf Killed by one of his own party while returning to England. Left no legitimate heirs.||Robin Hood was a loyal vassal of King Richard.
|(1166-1216)||(1199-1216) ||Remaining son of Henry II, John fought his nephew Arthur to secure the throne. Died of dysentery while leading a military retreat.||"The Life and Death of King John" by William Shakespeare
|8||Henry III||(1207-1272) ||(1216-1272) ||Oldest son of John; died of natural causes. ||He makes a cameo appearance in Dante's "Inferno."
|9||Edward I |
|(1239-1307) ||(1272-1307) ||Oldest son of Henry III; died of dysentery while battling the Scots. ||He is William Wallace’s antagonist (played by Patrick McGoohan) in "Braveheart".
|10||Edward II||(1284-1327)||(1307-1327) ||Oldest surviving son of Edward I. Deposted 1327 by his wife, Isabella,and Roger Mortimer and subsequently murdered. ||"Edward II", Christopher Marlowe. In the recent Shakespeare Theatre production, was played by Wallace Acton
|11||Edward III ||(1312-1377) ||(1327-1377) ||Initially, Isabella and Mortimer ruled in his name. However, in 1329 he killed Mortimer and imprisoned his mother, thereafter ruling in his own name. He died, probably of a stroke, in 1377. ||"Edward III". Author unknown, although some scholars believe Shakespeare wrote at least part of it. In a recent Washington Shakespeare Company production, he was played by Bruce Raucher.
|12||Richard II||(1367-1400) ||(1377-1399) ||The eldest son of Edward III’s eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, who predeceased the King. A council initially ruled in Richard’s name, but by 1389 and thereafter, Richard was in charge. Richard's cousin, Henry, deposed and killed Richard, kicking off the War of the Roses. ||"Richard II", Shakespeare. Michael Hayden plays him in Shakespeare Theatre's current production. Chris Henley played him in Washington Shakespeare Company's 2006 production.
|13||Henry IV ||(1366-1413) ||(1399-1413) ||Came to power by deposing Richard. Survived several power struggles and died of unknown causes in 1413. ||"Henry IV, Parts I and II", Shakespeare. Rick Foucheux played him in a recent Folger production.
|14||Henry V ||(1387-1422) ||(1413-1422) ||Oldest son of Henry IV. He died suddenly while campaigning in France, probably from dysentery. ||"Henry V", Shakespeare. Michael Hayden plays him in Shakespeare Theatre's current production.
|15||Henry VI ||(1421-1471)||(1422-1461)|
|Only child of Henry V. In his youth, the country was run by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey. He was declared of age in 1437, but the Duke of York (descended) from Richard II) led a rebellion, and the Duke’s son, Edward, eventually seized control from Henry, who escaped to Scotland. Henry briefly regained the throne in 1470, but Edward got it back for good in 1471, and Henry died under mysterious circumstances three weeks later.||"Henry VI, Parts I, II and III", Shakespeare
|16||Edward IV||(1442-1483)||(1461-1470) (1471-1483) ||Edward triumphed over King Henry in the War of the Roses. (Henry regained the throne briefly in 1470-1471) Edward’s death appears to have been from natural causes. ||"King Edward IV Part I and II", by Thomas Heywood.
King Edward IV
|17||Edward V ||(1470-1483?)||(1483?) ||Oldest surviving son of Edward IV. His father named Richard, the new King's uncle, as his protector. Shortly thereafter, Richard declared that Edward IV was illegitimate, Edward V was illegitimate, and that he, Richard, was the legitimate King. Richard placed Edward and his younger brother in the tower of London, where they were last seen two months after their father’s death.||None as a primary character
|18||Richard III ||(1452-1485) ||(1483-1485) ||Made protector of King Edward V, Richard III immediately declared that Edward IV’s marriage was invalid and that Edward V was thus illegitimate. Richard was thus declared King, but he was later deposed and killed by forces led by Henry Tudor.||"Richard III", Shakespeare
|19||Henry VII||(1457-1509) ||(1485-1509) ||Grandson of Catherine (widow of Henry V) and Owen Tudor, he fortified his claim to the throne after defeating Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field by marrying Edward IV’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. Died of tuberculosis. ||He is a secondary character in "Richard III" but has no play in which he is the central character.
|20||Henry VIII ||(1491-1547)||(1509-1547) ||Eldest surviving son of Henry VII. He grew to be enormously obese, which doubtedlessly contributed to his death. ||"Henry VIII", Shakespeare and John Fletcher
|21||Edward VI ||(1537-1553) ||(1547-1553) ||Only surviving legitimate son of Henry VIII, he assumed the throne at nine and thereafter a council of ministers ruled in his name. He died before he reached adulthood. ||None|
|22||Lady Jane Grey ||(1537-1554) ||(1553) ||The great-granddaughter of Henry VII, she was designated in Edward VI’s will as his successor. However, armed forces on behalf of Princess Mary overwhelmed her supporters and deposed her. She was executed the following year.||There was a 1986 film called "Lady Jane", in which Helena Bonham Carter played her.
|(1516-1558) ||(1553-1558) ||As the oldest surviving child of Henry, she led a successful military strike to recover the throne from Lady Jane Grey after Edward VI’s death. She died without issue. ||None|
|24||Elizabeth I ||(1533-1603)||(1558-1603) ||Oldest remaining legitimate child of Henry VIII; she died without issue. ||Numerous, most Recently played by Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth:the Golden Age".
|25||James I ||(1566-1625)||(1603-1625)||Great-grandson of Margaret Tudor, the older sister of Henry VIII. He was already King of Scotland when Elizabeth died; Chief Minister Sir Robert Cecil facilitated his ascent to the English throne. He died of dysentery. ||James himself was a writer – a poet and a political theorist. He commissioned the first standard Anglican Bible, the King James Bible.
|26||Charles I||(1600-1649) ||(1625-1649) ||Oldest surviving son of James I. As a result of frequent and intransigent conflicts with Parliament, frequently over religion, Charles was overthrown and executed.||Alexandre Dumas wrote a novel about Charles’ downfall called "Twenty Years After".
|England is a Commonwealth||(1649-1660)||Oliver Cromwell and, later, Richard Cromwell ruled|
|27||Charles II||(1630-1685)||(1660-1685)||The death of Oliver Cromwell and the political failures of his son Richard led to a widespread desire to see the Stuart Monarchy restored. Charles was the oldest son of the late King. He died without legitimate issue, although he had many children by mistresses.||None|
|28||James II||(1633-1701)||(1685-1688)||Younger brother of Charles II. His Catholicism was not well tolerated in England, and he was overthrown and exiled.||He is a character in the Victor Hugo novel, "The Man Who Laughs".Victor Hugo|
|29||William III |
|(1650-1702)||(1688-1702)||Husband of Mary Stuart, daughter of James II. After James was deposed, he ruled jointly with his wife until her death in 1694. Died without issue.||None|
|(1665-1714)||(1702-1714)||Younger daughter of James II. She died without issue.||She is a character in the Victor Hugo novel, "The Man Who Laughs".Victor Hugo|
|31||George I||(1660-1727)||(1714-1727)||A great-grandson of James I, he was the closest Protestant relative of Queen Anne and thus became King instead of her fifty closer Catholic relatives. Died of a stroke.||None|
|32||George II||(1683-1760)||(1727-1760)||Oldest son of George I. Died of a ruptured aorta.||None|
|33||George III||(1738-1820)||(1760-1820)||Oldest son of Frederick, the oldest son of George II. Frederick predeceased his father. George III suffered from bouts of incoherence now generally attributed to porphyria and his son was elevated to regent when that happened.||"The Madness of King George III", by Alan Bennett. Nigel Hawthorne won the Lawrence Olivier award for his portrayal of George.Nigel Hawthorne|
|34||George IV||(1762-1830)||(1820-1830)||Oldest son of George III. He ruled in his father’s name during the latter’s illnesses, but assumed the throne for himself in 1820. He died without issue.||He was a character in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and was played by Nigel Bruce.Nigel Bruce|
|35||William IV||(1765-1837)||(1830-1837)||Younger son of George III. Oldest person ever to assume the English throne. Died of heart failure, leaving no issue.||He was played by Peter Ustinov in the 2001 TV miniseries, "Victoria and Albert".|
|36||Victoria||(1819-1901)||(1837-1901)||Granddaughter of George III and daughter of George’s fourth child, niece of William IV and George IV. Longest reign in British history. Died of natural causes at 81.||Numerous. Recently played by Emily Blunt in "The Young Victoria".Emily Blunt|
|37||Edward VII||(1841-1910)||(1901-1910)||Oldest son of Victoria. Died of natural causes.||Nothing significant.|
|38||George V||(1865-1936)||(1910-1936)||Oldest surviving son of Edward VII. Often incapacitated in his final years. His son, Edward VIII, would often reign in his name during those periods.||Nothing significant.|
|39||Edward VIII||(1894-1972)||(1936)||Oldest son of George V. Abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American socialite.||In the TV potboiler, "The Woman I Love", Richard Chamberlain played him.The Woman I Love|
|40||George VI||(1895-1952)||(1936-1952)||Second son of George V. Died of arteriosclerosis.||Nothing significant.|
|41||Elizabeth II||(1926 - present)||(1952 - present)||Oldest child of George VI. Incumbent. Oldest person to serve as British monarch.||Most recently played by Helen Mirren in the film "The Queen".The Queen|