Thursday, April 14, 2011
My Favorite Kings of England
I - King Henry II, the first to be titled “King of England” rather than “…of the English” and the founder of the so-called Angevin Empire. It was under his rule that England became the dominant power in Western Europe. Henry II ruled England, most of western France, Ireland and was overlord of Scotland. He was well acquainted with the law, studious in his duties and he made the legal system more efficient. His efforts to subdue the Church has left him with a rather bad reputation but, it must be remembered, this was far from unusual, he did not intend to have his friend Thomas Becket killed and he did do penance for it -something our supposedly humble political leaders of today would never dream of. His relationship with his family is probably what I consider the worst aspect of him but, taken altogether, I cannot but view him as a very great English monarch.
II - King Richard I, the ‘Lionhearted’, yes, I will admit, much of his fame is due to some past romanticism but I cannot resist it. Modern critics have harped on him not spending much time in England and speaking French and other such silly little details. The legendary image of him did not spring up for no reason. He was, in his own time, noted for his chivalry, his courage, military talent and abilities as a political leader as well. When setting off for the Third Crusade he vowed to reform his life to better reflect a true Christian warrior. He conquered Cyprus (which remained in Christian hands until the time of Lepanto) and even while quite sick he helped re-take Acre. He won the battle of Arsuf even after being abandoned by his allies and fought the formidable Saladin to a stalemate before returning home. Forgiving his disloyal brother John and naming him heir might not have been the best but it was prudent and he still did quite well in his war in France, showing his skill as a soldier and diplomat as well as displaying his famous chivalry. His death by a mortal wound in battle was a good enough end for such a warrior-king. He also adopted the motto still used by the Royal Family today.
III - King Edward I, another monarch who has suffered a great deal of criticism in recent years, is probably most thought of today as a villain. I, however, take the older point of view and consider him one of the greatest of English kings. True, he was no softy but he was a great statesman and another heroic warrior king. He too was a crusader but hurried home when his turn came to be King of England. He showed himself to be such an astute statesman he was known as the “English Justinian”. He conquered Wales and made his son Prince of Wales and though his war with France came to nothing it was the fault of his allies rather than Edward. His victories in Scotland won him fame in the past, not so today, but it must be remembered that his involvement in Scotland was by invitation. He was rather bad-tempered and intimidating but, in that day and age, a king often had to be.
IV - King Edward III, an awesome monarch if ever there was one. Under Edward III the Kingdom of England became the Prussia of its day, famous across Christendom for the quality and efficiency of its military. He could be harsh but also merciful. After giving the Scots a drubbing he mostly left them alone and concentrated on becoming King of France. He captured Caen, won the battle of Crécy and after a long siege captured the city of Calais as his crowning achievement. Were it not for the Black Death he might have accomplished much more and in any event his son won the great battle of Poitiers. His later years were less successful but those before more than compensate for that. If he had done absolutely nothing else Crécy and Calais would be sufficient to rank him among the greatest of English kings. He also created the Order of the Garter, one of the most prestigious orders of chivalry in the world even today. His own people revered him so much he was compared to King Arthur.
V - King Henry V, one of my absolute favorites. For myself, kings do not come much better than Henry V. He was zealous in every effort he undertook, as energetic at administration and religion as he was at war. No detail escaped his notice and on the battlefield he was as audacious as they come -and if there is one quality I admire in any leader it is audacity. He was just in upholding the law, firm in protecting the Church and astute in bringing about national unity. He is most famous, of course, for his brilliant military campaign in France where he captured Harfleur and won a stunning victory at the battle of Agincourt despite being grossly outnumbered. He showed himself a skilled diplomat, conquered Lower Normandy and captured Rouen. He died while still fighting in France after winning a number of other victories. In short, he excelled at every aspect of leadership that he set his mind to.
Honorable Mentions: King Richard II for suppressing the Peasants Revolt