Much like the Roman Catholic Popes, English monarchs get to choose the name by which they will be known. If or when Charles succeeds his mother, Elizabeth II, to the throne, he can be known as Charles III, or he could select a different name. Elizabeth’s father’s name was actually Albert Fredrick Arthur George, and prior to taking the throne, he was known as Prince Albert of York. On ascending to the throne, he decided to reign as George VI, hoping to provide a sense of continuity with his father, George V, especially after the abdication of his brother (see below).
Despite this, there are certain royal names that have been popular for one reason or another. There have been four Williams, six Georges, eight Henrys, and eight Edwards. Since today is E day in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, I have decided to take a very quick look at each of those eight Edwards. Books have been written on their reigns, but I will try to stick to a brief paragraph for each.
Edward I (reigned 1274-1307)
Edward was a powerful king, and tall at 6 feet 2 inches–an anomaly of the period that earned him the nickname “Longshanks”. Among his achievements was his subjugation of the Welsh (something others had tried with little success). He also built a number of castles, instituted Parliament, and campaigned against the Scots and their king, Robert the Bruce–for which he was known as the “hammer of the Scots.” On the negative side, he was known for his brutality toward the Scots, and also for expelling the Jews from England. His edict of expulsion wasn’t revoked until 1656. He suffered ill health toward the end of his reign, and eventually died of dysentery.
Edward II (r. 1307-1327)
Son of Edward I, but certainly not a chip of the old block. Despite the country being at war with Scotland, his interests lay more in entertainment and athletics. As a result, he reversed his father’s gains against Scotland, leading to the Battle of Bannockburn, where the English suffered a huge defeat at the hands of Robert the Bruce’s army. This was only one of a number of failures in his reign, both political and personal, which led to Parliament exerting power over the monarch and declaring him incompetent. At their persuasion, he abdicated in favor of his son. Edward was murdered later that same year.
Edward III (r. 1327-1377)
Edward was more like his grandfather than his father, and his reign is notable not only for its gains, but for its length, being only one of a few monarchs to have reigned more than 50 years. During his reign, Edward pushed back against the Scots winning some victories, but eventually signing a truce. He declared himself rightful king of France, triggering the Hundred Years’ War. Also during his reign, the Black Death ravaged Europe, resulting in millions of deaths–perhaps as much as 60% of Europe’s population died. By the time a stroke claimed Edward’s life, England was a powerful military state, the power of Parliament had grown, and confidence in the monarchy had been restored.
Edward IV (r. 1461-1483)
The feud between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists began with competing claims to the throne. From the reign of Henry IV in 1399 through to the deposition of Henry VI in 1461, the country had been ruled by Lancastrians. The Yorkists, however, believed they had a better claim to the throne, and rose up against the ruling family. Known as the Wars of the Roses (the Lancastrian heraldic symbol was a red rose, the Yorkist a white rose), this conflict extended through the reigns of six kings in the form of sporadic conflicts. Edward was the first of the Yorkist kings to take the throne. After some battles early in his reign, he was able to suppress the Lancastrian threat to bring relative peace to the land. His death came about perhaps as a result of illness, or due to an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle in his later years.
Edward V (r. 1483)
Edward was just 12 years old when he ascended the throne, and hence was under the protection of his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as per his father’s will. Not long after his coronation, questions about his legitimacy surfaced resulting in him taking up residency in the Tower of London, along with his younger brother. With no better claimant to the throne coming forward, Richard was crowned Richard III. No-one knows for certain what eventually happened to the princes in the Tower. It is widely conjectured that they were murdered (especially given the spurious nature of the illegitimacy claim), and Richard is often fingered (among others) as the culprit.
Edward VI (r. 1547-1553)
Edward was Henry VIII’s only son, born to him by his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died not long after giving birth. Although Edward was only nine when he became king, and died at age 15, his reign was important because he first established the Church of England as a Protestant Church. While Henry VIII had separated from Rome, his main complaint was over the power of the Pope, not so much with Catholic doctrine. Henry was no fan of Martin Luther. However, Edward was much more Protestant in his thinking, as were those leading the Regency Council who governed on the young king’s behalf. Edward was always a sickly child, and when his last illness was deemed terminal, he drew up a decree of succession that named his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his rightful heir, and excluded his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth. After his death, this declaration was challenged, Lady Jane Grey imprisoned, and Roman Catholic Mary took the throne, starting a tumultuous period for the church in England.
Edward VII (r. 1901-1910)
The oldest son of Queen Victoria, Edward was already sixty when he became king, thanks to his mother’s 63-year reign. His first name was actually Albert, after his father, but he chose to rule as Edward. During his lengthy stint as “heir apparent,” and especially after his father’s death when his mother withdrew from public life, Edward took on a number of public duties. The royal appearances that have become a part of royal life today started with Edward VII. As king, he was very involved in European affairs, which is understandable given that he was related to just about every other European monarch. His least favorite relative, however, was his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (the Kaiser Wilhelm of World War I fame). He died after a bout of severe bronchitis and several heart attacks. (Click here to watch Edward VII’s funeral procession.)
Edward VIII (r. 1936)
On the death of his father, George V, Edward became king. Only a few months later, he proposed marriage to an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. The resulting constitutional crisis (it was an unwritten rule that monarchs were not to marry “commoners,” foreigners, or divorcees, and Wallis Simpson was all three) led to his abdication from the throne in favor of his brother, Albert, who reigned as George VI. In the film “The King’s Speech,” Edward is depicted as being indifferent to affairs of state, and more interested in parties and socializing. This may not be far off the mark, though he was known to meddle in politics, much to the frustration of the politicians. After his abdication, he visited Germany and met with Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer certainly got the impression that the ex-king was a Nazi sympathizer. The former king expressed admiration for the way Hitler rebuilt Germany, and seemed to indicate a favorable attitude toward German fascism. The British government was concerned enough with him to exile him to the Bahamas. Edward died in 1972 after a period of declining health. (Click here for the audio of Edward VIII’s abdication speech.)
I know these articles are supposed to be brief, but it’s hard to pack a lot of information into a short space. Thanks for bearing with me!