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Junior Taamas
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Most of us can name a couple of British
kings off the tops of our heads. Interested in
English history? William the Conqueror and
Henry VIII. Classic literature? The Scottish
king Macbeth and Henry V (or at least,
Shakespeare’s historically skewed versions of
them). American history? George III, or as
he’s more commonly known, “Mad King
George.” And who hasn’t heard of Queen
Victoria?

The kings and queens of Great Britain are
probably the best-known royals in history.

But there are still some British monarchs
who achieved great things in their lifetimes
but are almost unknown today. Here, we’re
exploring the lives of 10 British monarchs
you’ve never heard of.

10. King Louis

In May 1216, the heir to the French throne
landed unopposed on the island of Thanet
with a big army in tow. From there, he
marched on London. Instead of rejecting the
French king, the people of London opened
the city’s gates and proclaimed him king of
England in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral with many
of the English nobles and even the king of
Scotland watching. His claim to the throne
was tenuous at best.

The English nobility had grown sick of King
John’s reign. They invited Louis to take the
throne after it became clear that John had
no intention of keeping the promise he’d
made when he signed the Magna Carta the
year before.

John abandoned London to Louis and then
the old Anglo-Saxon capital of Winchester,
which Louis had also seized by June. By
midsummer, over half the kingdom belonged
to him.

However, the momentum turned when John
died of dysentery in October. Suddenly, the
king of England was a nine-year-old Henry—
a much smaller threat to baronial authority.
His regent was William Marshal, one of the
most respected men in England at the time.
He was able to persuade the barons back
from Louis’s side.

Though the odds were stacked against Louis,
the war continued for another 12 months. In
September 1217, after losing some key
battles and having his supply lines cut, Louis
was forced to sign the Treaty of Lambeth. In
it, he agreed that he’d never return to
England and that he’d never been the
legitimate king of England. In return, he
received 10,000 marks.
He became king of France in 1223.

9. King Kenneth I

At the time of Kenneth’s birth around 810,
modern-day Scotland was split between the
Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada and the kingdom
of the Picts. Pictland had been much
stronger than Dalriada, but by the time
Kenneth became king of Dalriada in 839, it
was in the middle of a crisis. Five different
claimants fought over the kingdom over the
next decade, severely weakening it.

Around 848, Kenneth became king of the
Picts and united Scotland under a single
monarch for the first time. How exactly he
became king is unknown. Among the various
theories are that his mother was related to a
Pictish claimant, that he was elected by the
Picts, or that he seized the kingdom by
force.
Kenneth faced some initial resistance from
some of the Picts but was able to endure.

His 10-year reign laid the foundations for a
dynasty that lasted until 1034 and a state
that has remained united until this day.

He is mostly known for moving the
administration of the Scottish kings inland to
protect it from Viking attacks, which
relocated the religious capital from Iona to
Dunkeld. He was also the first Gaelic king of
all Scotland. Not a single Pict became king of
Scotland after his reign. Therefore, he
started the process of Gaelicization that led
to the disappearance of the Picts by 1100.

8. King Athelstan

Athelstan was elected king of Mercia in 924
following the death of his father, Edward. By
late 925, he’d been elected king of Wessex,
too, though not before he had to put down a
rebellion.

With the might of the two greatest Anglo-
Saxon kingdoms behind him, Athelstan
finished what his grandfather Alfred the
Great had started. In 927, Athelstan
conquered the last Viking territory in
England—the Kingdom of York—and became
the first monarch in history to be king of all
England.

He didn’t stop there. By 934, he’d also
invaded Scotland and forced the Scottish
king, Malcolm, to pay him homage. King
Malcolm was unhappy with this arrangement
and sided with the Vikings to invade northern
England in 937.

The ensuing Battle of Burnanburh was a
decisive victory for Athelstan and secured his
position as the most powerful man in Britain
for the rest of his lifetime. He called himself
the king of Britain, and the Welsh and
Scottish kings were forced to attend his
council, where they witnessed and accepted
his laws.

Athelstan was a king who was actively
involved in the government of the realm.

More laws survive from his reign than any
other 900s king. He centralized the Anglo-
Saxon government and made efforts to
reform the currency, but the majority of his
legislation was aimed at tackling the rampant
anarchism and robbery that dominated
England at the time.

His council was the first in English history to
regularly contain figures from across
England rather than from just a single Anglo-
Saxon kingdom. However, Athelstan himself
rarely left Wessex. This way of governing, an
early form of national assembly, did much to
break down the regional barriers between
the old kingdoms and to establish a common
English identity.

7. King Edmund Ironside

Edmund Ironside was never expected to be
king. During a time of peace and stability in
Anglo-Saxon England, he was third in line to
the throne behind his two brothers.
However, that changed when the Viking King
Cnut invaded in 1015.

Many of the English earls turned their backs
on King Aethelred and supported Cnut, but
Edmund raised an army to resist them. He
was betrayed by the English Earl Eadric
Streona, leader of Mercia, who submitted to
Cnut.

When his father failed to arrive to lead the
army he’d raised, Edmund and Earl Uhtred of
Northumbria took matters into their own
hands and joined forces, raiding Eadric’s
lands in retaliation for his betrayal. Cnut’s
army landed in Northumbria and forced
Uhtred to submit before killing him, leaving
Edmund without any allies.

When Aethelred died in early 1016, Edmund
made his way to London to be crowned the
new king of England. Both of his brothers
had died in 1014. In a final effort to halt the
Danish invasion, he went to Wessex to raise
an army. He fought the Danes at Penselwood
and Sherston. Then he made his way to
London where he successfully broke the
Danish siege.

He pursued them to Brentford and won a
decisive victory. His forces were depleted,
however, and he retreated to Wessex to raise
another army. By this time, Eadric and
several other English earls had switched back
to his side.

Edmund defeated the Danish army once
again, this time at Otford, and chased Cnut’s
retreating army into Kent. The momentum
clearly appeared to be with him. Things
changed, though, when he met the Danish
army at Assandun.

Eadric, who was leading a portion of
Edmund’s army, once again defected and
retreated in the middle of the battle, leaving
a hole in the English lines. Cnut quickly
capitalized on this and won a devastating
victory, putting an end to Edmund’s
campaign. His reign came to an end with his
death later that year. He’d been king for less
than 12 months.

6. King Edgar The Atheling

Edgar the Atheling was one of the shortest-
reigning monarchs in British history. Part of
the Anglo-Saxon resistance during William
the Conqueror’s invasion, he was elected
king by the royal council in London in
October 1066. By December, he had sworn
homage to King William and fled to Scotland
in exile. So ended the reign of the last Anglo-
Saxon king of England, barely two months
after it had started.

That wasn’t the end of his story, though. He
returned to England in 1069 to lead a
rebellion in Northumbria and joined forces
with the Danes in 1070 when they invaded
northern England, even seizing York in his
name. The rebellion lasted for almost a year,
with Edgar leading a guerrilla campaign from
the Yorkshire marshes before eventually
retreating to Scotland.

In 1074, the French King Philip offered him
lands and a castle in northern France to
harass William’s lands. Edgar accepted. But
his ship from Scotland was caught in a
storm, and he was shipwrecked on the
English coast.

He and a handful of men barely escaped to
Scotland with their lives. Seeing his attempts
as futile, the Scottish king, Malcolm—who
was also the husband of Edgar’s sister—
convinced Edgar to give up his claim and
return to England.

In 1093, Malcolm died. The kingdom should
have gone to his son, Edgar (named after the
Atheling), but instead it was seized by
another noble. Edgar the Atheling had
become quite powerful in England by this
time. So he raised an army and led it north,
driving out the pretender and installing his
nephew on the Scottish throne.

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
English
100Level, Nigeria.
5. King Robert II

Robert II of Scotland was in his fifties when
he became king of Scotland in 1371. He had
been the heir presumptive for over 50 years.
He was also the first king of the Stuart
dynasty, which ruled Scotland until 1603 and
then all of Britain until 1714.

By the time he became king, Robert was very
experienced in the government of the realm
and knew exactly how to twist it to his
desires. While the last king had tried to
dominate and suppress his nobles, Robert
instead granted them more local powers and
earned their goodwill. Rather than take their
lands by force, he paid them significant
amounts of money and then gave the lands
to his sons.

By the end of Robert’s reign, over half the
most powerful nobles in Scotland were
Stuarts, all but ensuring their dominance of
Scotland for the next few centuries. Unlike
previous Scottish kings who’d spent most of
their time courting their followers in lowland
Scotland, Robert frequently toured the
entire country with his court, engaging in
diplomacy with his vassals and securing their
support and respect.

His skills in diplomacy extended beyond the
kingdom, too. Within weeks of being
crowned, Robert formed the alliance with
France that would be crucial to Scottish
security in later centuries by defending them
from English ambitions.

However, his wise, levelheaded approach to
governance couldn’t last forever. When
tensions began to rise once more between
England and Scotland, Robert did everything
he could to avoid war and alienated many of
his supporters in the process.

Eventually, the royal council stripped him of
a large portion of his royal power. They gave
it to his son as lieutenant of Scotland, who
promptly led the kingdom to war. Robert
spent the rest of his reign as a figurehead
king with little, if any, power.

4. King Edgar The Peaceful

While Athelstan was the first actual king of
England, it was Edgar the Peaceful who laid
the foundations of a long-lasting, powerful
realm. He worked tirelessly to centralize the
power of the monarchy over the whole
kingdom. He was also responsible for
defining a system of weights and measures to
be used across the kingdom. Although many
kings had tried this, he was the first whose
system was widely implemented and used.

His laws fundamentally shaped medieval
England and would long be considered the
standard which English people expected their
kings to follow. When King Cnut invaded
decades after Edgar’s death, Cnut swore that
he would continue to uphold the laws of King
Edgar.

Edgar the Peaceful was also instrumental in
the foundation of a modern, nationalized
currency for England. Before his reign,
coinage was produced on a regional basis.
The average silver penny varied in size,
weight, and stamp across the kingdom.

By the end of his reforms, the penny had a
standardized size and was stamped with the
same design at all the royal mints. Edgar’s
currency reform dramatically increased the
wealth of the English monarchs and allowed
later Anglo-Saxon kings to keep the peace by
paying money to the Vikings, preventing
them from burning coastal settlements.

3. King William II ‘Rufus’

When William the Conqueror was dying of his
wounds in 1087, he made the succession
clear: His eldest son, Robert, was not to be
king of England. Instead, he would be made
duke of Normandy and the kingdom that
William had built for 20 years would pass to
his second surviving son.

Rufus—a nickname that supposedly referred
to his ruddy complexion and possibly to his
drunkenness or angry nature—was far from
perfect as a king. But he was certainly a
better choice than Robert, who’d once
started a full-on rebellion because his
younger brothers emptied a chamber pot
over his head.

When William Rufus became king, Robert
naturally disputed it. He launched a rebellion
against Rufus, but the rebellion fell apart
quickly when Robert failed to turn up.

Secure in his throne, Rufus ruled for 13
years. He was triumphant against the Scots,
securing the border and taking Cumbria for
the English throne, and he made lots of
money for the royal coffers by levying high
taxes on the realm.

He also profited from the free investiture
rules (enacted by his father) by purposely
leaving bishoprics empty, meaning their
incomes automatically went to Rufus.
However, this also deprived people of the
religious leadership they wanted.

This act in particular seems to have earned
him many enemies. Alongside the fact that
he had never married, this may have led to
the widespread anger and accusations of
sodomy that many chroniclers (who were
usually monks) threw at him in the years
following his death.

William Rufus was an unpopular king either
way and was said to have been more
interested in enjoying himself than governing
the country properly. When he died in a
hunting accident in 1100, very few people
mourned his loss.

2. King Henry I

Henry was unlike his brother Rufus in almost
every way. Henry’s nickname, Beauclerk,
hinted at his learned nature and his
knowledge of Latin. When Rufus died in
1100, Henry was on the same hunting trip
and his brother Robert was away in the Holy
Land. The coincidence has led many
historians to accuse Henry of assassination .

As the older brother, Robert felt that he had
a greater claim to the throne than Henry and
hurried home from the crusade to take the
kingdom for himself. To begin with, many of
the nobility were on his side, but Henry was
able to turn them by issuing the Charter of
Liberties, a document which pledged to undo
the corrupt practices of his brother and
restore law and order to the kingdom.

It also promised to clear any debts or
murder charges still facing any nobles who
joined Henry, a cunning scheme to persuade
them to take his side to avoid their
punishments. The Charter of Liberties placed
many restrictions on the king and effectively
prevented him from interfering in the
succession of his vassals at all.

Henry imprisoned Robert for life after
capturing him in 1106. With Henry in a
much stronger position, he ignored many of
the restrictions set out in the Charter of
Liberties.

Instead, he was responsible for establishing
the most efficient and advanced English state
that had been seen up to that point. He
made many new royal justices who roamed
the countryside ensuring that courts were
functioning properly and that all criminals
paid their fees to the crown.

He also established the office of the
exchequer, which even today manages the
income and expenditures of the British state.
Henry reformed the currency three times
during his reign—in 1107, 1108, and 1125.

The first pipe roll, the records that kept
track of royal expenditures, was created in
1130.

1. King Constantine II

If Kenneth was the first king of a united
Scotland, then his grandson Constantine was
the king who shaped the country into
something we’d recognize as Scotland today.

Over the course of his 43-year reign, it went
from being called the Kingdom of the Picts
to the Kingdom of Alba, the Gaelic word for
“Scotland.” The words “Scot” and “Scotland”
were first used during his reign.
In the third year of Constantine’s reign, the
Vikings returned and pillaged the kingdom.

They made it as far as Dunkeld, where they
looted many Scottish religious treasures.

From then on, Constantine’s main focus
seems to have been on defeating the Vikings.
He allied himself with the English for much
of his reign, even deigning to visit the court
of Athelstan and witness his laws in return
for peace and cooperation. In 918, he
worked with the Northumbrians. Together,
the Scottish and English armies met the
Vikings at the Battle of Corbridge.

The most powerful Vikings were the Ui Imair,
who had their base in the Hebrides. While
the history of the conflict between
Constantine and the Ui Imair is shrouded in
uncertainty, their influence had faded in the
face of a centralized Scotland by the end of
Constantine’s rule.

When he was in his sixties, Constantine had
been king for so many years that he simply
handed the kingdom to his nephew,
Malcolm, and lived the rest of his life as the
abbot of St. Andrews, dedicating his time to
teaching and study. The peaceful succession
was a rarity in both Scotland and England at
the time and reveals just how successful his
efforts to create a peaceful, stable realm had
been.

listverse.com/2019/05/20/10-british-kings-youve-never-heard-of/

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