41 Facts About the 41 Kings and Queens Since 1066
Queen Elizabeth II is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of William the Conqueror, and she has been related in one way or another to every other king or queen of England (and later of Great Britain, and later still the United Kingdom) since. Ahead of her birthdays (yes, she has two), here is one fact each about all 41 of Britain’s kings and queens since 1066.
1. WILLIAM I
A heckler interrupted the funeral of William I in 1087, shouting from the back of the church that it had been built on his father’s land without his family being compensated. Just when his royal send off couldn’t get any worse, William’s sarcophagus was found to have been built too small to accommodate his body and after an attempt was made to squeeze the body into it—in the words of the English chronicler Orderic Vitalis—“the swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd.”
2. WILLIAM II
William II died under questionable circumstances while out hunting in the New Forest in 1100; some have claimed that he was assassinated to secure his younger brother Henry’s claim to the throne. Oddly, he wasn’t the only member of the family to succumb to that fate: William’s elder brother, Richard, also died in a hunting accident in the New Forest around the 1070s, while his nephew, another Richard, died in a hunting accident in the New Forest in 1099.
3. HENRY I
When Henry I died in 1135, his entrails were removed and buried in Rouen in northwest France. The rest of his body was buried in England.
Stephen, son of one of William the Conqueror’s daughters, could credit a bout of diarrhea with saving his life. On November 25, 1120, a vessel called the White Ship was chartered to carry the present king Henry I and much of his family and court (Stephen among them) across the English Channel from France to England. Henry, however, had made other arrangements for himself, leaving the rest of his court to travel on the White Ship as planned. Off the coast of Normandy, the overcrowded ship sank. Of the 300 or so people on board, only one or two survived; among those who died was the king’s only surviving legitimate son, William. Henry I decided to name his daughter Matilda as the successor, but when Henry died she was an unpopular choice, allowing Stephen to claim the throne in a period of civil crisis known as The Anarchy. He had reportedly left the White Ship before it departed due to a sudden bout of diarrhea.
5. HENRY II
Henry II rode his horse so frequently that he was bow-legged.
6. RICHARD I
Richard I was shot through the shoulder with a crossbow outside of Chalus Castle in France in March 1199. The injury was serious, but survivable—but the infection that followed it was not, and he died two weeks later on April 6. As for the shot that brought down the king? It was a lucky shot over the side of the castle from a young boy. It became immortalized as “the lion by the ant was slain.”
7. KING JOHN
King John was reportedly the first British monarch—and perhaps even the first medieval king in Europe—to own what Latin wardrobe records refer to as a “supertunicam domini Regis ad surgendum de nocte,” or a “king’s over-shirt for rising in the night.” In other words, John owned a dressing gown.
8. HENRY III
Henry III was given a polar bear by King Haakon IV of Norway in 1252. He kept it in the Tower of London, and had it taken down to the River Thames each morning to swim and catch fish.
9. EDWARD I
In his campaign against Scotland, Edward I more than earned his nickname “The Hammer of the Scots.” During the Siege of Stirling Castle in 1304, Edward commissioned the construction of a gigantic trebuchet (perhaps the largest in history) that became known as the Warwolf. The sight of the enormous catapult being constructed outside the castle walls was enough to compel those inside to offer an unconditional surrender—but Edward had none of it, and did not accept the surrender until after he had tried the Warwolf out.
10. EDWARD II
In 1313, Edward II enacted a statute forbidding the wearing of armor in Parliament. It remains in force to this day.
11. EDWARD III
Edward III once attended a Christmas fancy dress banquet dressed as a pheasant.
12. RICHARD II
To celebrate the coronation of king Richard II on July 16, 1377, fountains of wine were opened across London.
13. HENRY IV
The first king of the House of Lancaster, Henry IV was the first king since the Norman Conquest to be a native English speaker.
14. HENRY V
Henry V is the shortest-reigning of all eight of England’s King Henrys. He ruled for 9.5 years from March 20, 1413 until his sudden death in France at age 36 on August 31, 1422.
15. HENRY VI
Henry VI was the only child of Henry V, and his father’s unexpected death meant that he became king when he was just 9 months old. He reigned almost 40 years over a 50-year timespan (he was deposed for almost a decade by Edward IV) and supposedly died from “pure melancholy and displeasure” on hearing of the death of his son in 1471 (although many historians suspect he was murdered on Edward IV’s orders). Shortly after, a movement emerged to have Henry canonized as a saint. The many miracles “Saint Henry” are supposed to have been responsible for include saving a drowned boy, curing a man of scrofula, and resurrecting a young girl named Alice Newnett who had died of the plague.
16. EDWARD IV
Edward IV and his House of York took the throne from the opposing House of Lancaster in March 1461, following his victory at the extraordinarily violent Battle of Towton. Fought during a blinding snowstorm on Palm Sunday, Towton is believed to be the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil: Somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 troops were involved, of whom a contemporary account estimated 28,000 were killed. Put another way, the Battle of Towton wiped out 1 percent of the entire population of England at the time. Given such a bloody start to his reign, Edward IV has been credited as being, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first king in English history to appoint a bodyguard.
17. EDWARD V
Edward V is both shortest-lived English monarch post-conquest and the shortest-reigning English king (albeit uncrowned). Although his fate as one of the ill-fated Princes in the Tower is unclear, it has long been (controversially) assumed that he was murdered after just 78 days on throne on the orders of his successor, Richard III. He was just 12 years old at the time.
18. RICHARD III
When the skeleton of Richard III was unearthed in a car park in Leicester in 2012, analysis of his skull showed that he suffered from tooth decay (a result of the king’s rich diet—he drank a bottle of wine every day) and bruxism, better known as teeth grinding.
19. HENRY VII
Henry VII was the first English monarch to have a fully realized portrait stamped onto his coins. Before then, royal monetary portraiture was largely stylized and comprised little more than a crowned head, but a groat (equal to four pence) minted in London sometime around 1507 was embossed with a surprisingly realistic profile portrait of the king.
20. HENRY VIII
In 1520, Henry VIII challenged the king of France, Francis I, to a wrestling match. Henry lost [PDF].
21. EDWARD VI
Despite his youth (he was 9 when he as crowned and 15 when he died), Edward VI is credited with being the first English monarch to charter an exploration of the Arctic. The king was a keen geographer and had learned to read a compass from the Venetian explorer Sebastian Cabot. In 1553, Cabot championed an expedition, led by Sir Hugh Willoughby, to reach China via the Arctic Sea; Willoughby took with him letters signed by Edward VI and addressed to “the Kings, Princes, and other Potentates inhabiting the Northeast partes of the worlde.” Unfortunately, after a harsh storm Willoughby’s ships became encased in ice east of Murmansk and the entire crew perished. But one of the other captains, Richard Chancellor, found himself in Russia, where the letter was delivered to Ivan the Terrible and opened trade between England and Russia.
22. MARY I
After Edward's death in 1553, 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey—the great-granddaughter of Henry VII—ascended the throne. She had been named Edward's successor in a bid to keep Protestant control of England. Despite her youth, she was exceptionally well read and spoke Latin, Hebrew, and Italian. Her "reign" (which historians still debate) lasted just nine days; she was deposed by Mary I—a.k.a. Bloody Mary—on July 19, 1553, and was eventually executed in February 1554. Mary had two female court jesters, one of whom was named Lucretia the Tumbler.
23. ELIZABETH I
Elizabeth I had effigies of foreign dignitaries and other guests to her court made out of gingerbread.
24. JAMES I
25. CHARLES I
Charles I remains the only English monarch ever to be executed. After he was beheaded on January 30, 1649, his head was sewn back onto his body before he was buried.
26. CHARLES II
27. JAMES II
After the English took over the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1664, they promptly renamed it New York in honor of James, Duke of York—later king James II.
28. WILLIAM III AND MARY II
These two are the only official joint monarchs to have ruled Britain (although some consider Mary I and Phillip II to have also been joint monarchs). William outlived Mary by eight years: she died of smallpox in 1694, while he died of an infection after breaking his collarbone falling from his horse in 1702. Popular legend claims William’s horse had tripped on a molehill.
29. QUEEN ANNE
This monarch's body was so swollen when she died she had to be buried in a square coffin.
30. GEORGE I
Because they contain saltpeter (potassium nitrate) which can be used to make gunpowder, George I allegedly declared all pigeon droppings to be the property of the crown.
31. GEORGE II
The last British monarch to lead his own troops into battle was George II at the battle of Dettingen in 1743.
32. GEORGE III
There’s a myth that on July 4, 1776, George III wrote in his diary, “Nothing of importance happened today.” In fact, he didn’t even keep a diary. He did, however, have blue urine—which has been ascribed to either porphyria or, more recently, to the medication his doctors were giving him.
33. GEORGE IV
In preparation for a meeting the Foreign Secretary, George IV took 100 drops of laudanum.
34. WILLIAM IV
In his youth, the future King William IV served in the Royal Navy and was posted to New York during the American War of Independence. While he was there, George Washington plotted to have him kidnapped. Washington wrote to Colonel Matthias Ogden in March 1782, “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry … merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct.” Needless to say, the plot was never enacted.
35. QUEEN VICTORIA
Queen Victoria was given a musical bustle that played the national anthem whenever she sat down.
36. EDWARD VII
Edward VII had a leather chair fitted with a set of scales to weigh his weekend guests at Sandringham House. He weighed them once when they arrived, and once when they left to ensure that they had eaten well during their stay.
37. GEORGE V
Lord Dawson, royal physician of George V, gave the king a deliberately lethal dose of morphine and cocaine as he lay on his deathbed so that he would die in time to make the following morning’s headlines. Dawson even called his wife in London to tell her to let the editor of The Times know to hold back publication. In his notes, Dawson pointed out “the importance of the death receiving its first announcement in the morning papers, rather than the less appropriate field of the evening journals.”
38. EDWARD VIII
In 2010, a letter written by a steward named Jim Richardson from on board the Nahlin, the steam yacht chartered by Edward VIII, was put up for auction. Writing to his mother during a Mediterranean cruise Edward and Wallis Simpson were taking, Richardson wrote that the king had been “drinking heavily,” and, following an argument with Mrs. Simpson, had spent much of his time doing jigsaws. “When he was quiet,” he wrote, “he [the king] was usually fitting together those picture puzzles they have for children. I don’t know if he ever completed one, I don't think he could stay that long at it.” Mrs. Simpson meanwhile was described as “not good looking,” with “a very big mouth” and “a very high pitched metallic American voice.”
40. GEORGE VI
In 1926, the future king George VI competed in the men’s doubles tournament at Wimbledon.
41. ELIZABETH II
Elizabeth II is the first British monarch to have a televised coronation and a televised Christmas address. She sent her first email from an army base in 1976, and sent the first royal tweet in 2014.
All images courtesy of Getty Images unless noted otherwise