Whoever comes after Elizabeth II will have big shoes to fill. Her reign of 61 years is currently the second-longest for a British monarch after Queen Victoria, her great-great grandmother, who reigned for 63 years.
Below, we have profiled the greatest kings and queens of in British, English, and Scottish history.
Alfred the Great, King of Wessex from 871 to 899, led the Anglo-Saxon resistance against Viking invasion. He was the first to adopt the title of King of the Anglo-Saxons, and his heirs would go on to be the kings of England. Alfred significantly improved the country’s legal system and military structure.
Cnut the Great led an invasion of England in 1015, which ended with a treaty to let him rule part of England in 1016 and eventually all of it until his death in 1035. He also ruled Denmark, Norway, and parts of Sweden, in what was called the North Sea Empire, and was seen as an effective leader across the realm.
William the Conqueror led the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and ruled until his death in 1087. During his reign, he put down multiple rebellions and took measures to secure the kingdom, building many castles and mottes, including the infamous central keep of the Tower of London. He also ordered the first major census of England.
Edward I ruled England, Ireland, and Aquitaine from 1272 to 1307. He was known as “Edward Longshanks” for his unusual height and “Hammer of the Scots” for the brutality of his campaigns through Scotland. He reestablished the authority of the crown in the wake of his father’s ineffective leadership and is credited with solidifying the authority of Parliament.
Henry V ruled England and Ireland from 1413 to 1422. During this time, he led a campaign against France in the Hundred Year’s War, nearly conquering the country and signing a treaty that made him heir-apparent to the French throne. Featured in three Shakespearean plays, he is portrayed as a brave leader, crying “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”
Henry VIII ruled England and Ireland from 1509 to 1547. His greatest victory was separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, during his campaign to annul his first marriage and marry Anne Boleyn. Henry beheaded two of his six wives and divorced two others in his quest to produce a male heir.
Elizabeth I ruled England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603. The daughter of Henry VIII, the “Virgin Queen” rose to the throne at age 25 and was beloved by her subjects. Her navy famously defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. She reigned over a golden age for art and science.
James I ruled Scotland from 1567 and England and Ireland from 1603 until his death in 1625. Trade through the British East India Company increased dramatically under his rule, and art and literature continued to flourish.
Victoria ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to 1901, the longest rule in British history. After 1867 she adopted the title of Empress of India. During her 63-year rule, the British empire made up one quarter of the earth’s land. Her strict standards of personal morality came to define the era.
Elizabeth II has ruled from 1952 to the present, closing in on the longest reign in British history. She has maintained the popularity of the monarchy during a turbulent time, including vast social changes as well as the Falklands War, conflict in Northern Ireland, and several wars in the Middle East.
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