Monday, April 15, 2013

MM Mini View: Kings of England (Part I)


The Normans

King William I: Surprisingly, I often find myself having a higher opinion of William the Conqueror than most Englishmen, I assume because of nostalgia for Saxon England, but I tend to at least entertain the possibility that he may have been the chosen heir as he claimed, he did have the full blessing of Pope Alexander II (which mattered back then) and it wasn’t all cakes and ale in Saxon England before the Norman conquest of 1066. He seems to have been a very talented warrior, not the most upright or likeable guy in the world, but his harshness in England was provoked rather than planned. I think he would have preferred to have everyone cooperate with him but when anyone did not -they were destroyed totally. He was a harsh man who lived in harsh times, sure not to ever be a favorite, he was capable and died in battle which is usually good for a king to do.

King William II: I think better of his father than I do of “Rufus” who was still at least competent, seemed well liked by his soldiers (which was very important in those days) but whereas his father took religion seriously (even if he didn’t always live it) and enacted beneficial reforms, the court of William II was reportedly a little on the licentious side and he didn’t have much time for the Church. That does not endear me to him, nor his reputation for being heavy on the flash but light on the substance. He did not marry and never had any children which English monarchs often seem to be applauded for but which I tend to take as a dereliction of one of the most basic royal duties. I remember he died in a hunting accident (if I’m not mistaken) which might not have been entirely accidental.

King Henry I: No very strong feelings are stirred in me by Henry I. His reign, as I recall, was dominated with reconquering Normandy and the “investiture dispute” with the Catholic Church. In the final settlement he sacrificed form in favor of substance so that it was still basically the King who picked the bishops and opinion of him will be divided over whether or not one thinks that was a good thing. Personally, when it comes to choosing bishops I have not been impressed with the record of royals or popes. King Henry I doesn’t stand out much to me but sometimes some of the best monarchs are those who seem unimportant simply because they were so good at keeping the peace and maintaining calm and contented countries.

King Stephen: King Stephen “of Blah” as I like to call him, spent his reign locked in battle with Empress Matilda for control of England and he suffers in my view simply from being a less interesting character than his archrival. He stopped a Scottish invasion by negotiation rather than victory and based on how troubled his reign was King Stephen doesn’t seem to have been terribly strong or effective as a national leader. His buying off of enemies and lavish lifestyle laid the foundation for some financial problems and accompanying discontent which certainly did him no favors. About the best I can say about him was that things could have been worse and most of his rule seems to be a succession of minimizing disasters as much as possible.

6 comments:

  1. One question: Why do you always seem to ignore the Anglo-Saxon kings, the only English to rule England? The kingdom started in 927, and existed as separate states all the way from the 5th century....

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    1. A) I don't "always" ignore them, I just haven't written anything specifically about them yet. B) It seems mildly offensive to me to say that they were "the only English to rule England", to the ancient Brits the Angles and Saxons were as much foreign invaders to British shores as the Romans had been before and the Normans would be later.

      The reason I have not covered them here is because I do try (though it may not seem that way) not to blather on about topics I know little to nothing about and as yet I have very little in my library on the Saxon kings, only one of my books on English kings even lists them. These are short opinion pieces and aside from a couple I don't know enough about all of the Saxon kings to have an opinion on them. When that changes I will certainly be as free with my opinions as I usually am.

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    2. Ok, sorry if I sounded offensive, you seemed so knowledgeable I assumed you knew about the AS kings. But what I said about them being the only English to rule England shouldn't be seen as being offensive, because it's factually correct; The Britons/Welsh were just that: Britons, not English. The English were foreign invaders to Britain, yes, and it would have been offensive if I had called them the only British to rule England or Britain. I just use English as more an ethnic term per its original meaning, rather than a geographic one.

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  2. The fact of the papal blessing of Pope Alexander II is tenuous at best - and it is noteworthy that the papal banner supposedly carried by William the Conqueror is not even depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry!

    In fact, much of what is accepted of the circumstances in 1066 is in reality Norman propaganda used to justify their actions.

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  3. Funny, I always liked William the Conquerer. If you where a peasant under him and kept your nose clean you where pretty safe. Robber feared this guy. Not enough insults to Rufus though, many historians believe was weird and he when it comes to the church he hated it! Like father, unlike son!

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  4. Ah, the Plantagenets, my favorite Era of English History. My family was one of the last to surrender to the Normans on my father's side and was given land by William the Conqueror when one of my earliest ancestors came over during the conquest, his name is in the Domesday book. I understand the nostalgia for Saxon England, but would Saxon England be anything like the Great Britain we now know?

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