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English Monarchs: Part 1 – What is England?

English Monarchs: Part 1 – What is England?
by Bill McCann

These two articles set out to present a complete list of the monarchs that have ruled England since the end of the Roman occupation in the fifth century AD. Before defining the scope of the list, however, it was necessary to wade through the confusion that surrounds the apparently inter-changeable terms EnglandBritainGreat Britain, and The United Kingdom . This, the first article, therefore asks just what we mean when we say that London is the Capital of England. The very answer itself provides a mini-historical tour of political development in what many still, erroneously, refer to as the “British Isles”.

English Monarchs: Part 1 – What is England?

by Bill McCann

This Article originally set out to provide a complete list of the post-Roman Monarchs which have ruled the State of which London is the Capital – variously known today as England, Great Britain or the United Kingdom. Before very long, however, questions of definition began to arise and it was necessary to look closely at what exactly those three terms meant in the historical context. There is great confusion, not only amongst the people of foreign States but also here at home. The Article has therefore been divided into two parts. In this, the first part, the historical development of the present State (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is placed in its historical context. The second part will outline the development of the system of Monarchy in that part of the State in which London finds itseld, England. It will then present a complete list of the Monarchs that have ruled it from the end of the Roman occupation down to the present Queen, Elizabeth II.

Very few modern inhabitants of “Britain” know the difference between England and Britain or between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The four terms do mean different things and the distinctions between them are rooted in historical change. It might be fashionable to ignore these distinctions today but it is impossible for a modern subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to have any sense of their place in the world without understanding them and the historical imperative that underlies each. In his brilliant book, The Isles: A History, the historian Norman Davies tackles these distinctions with clarity and precision and what follows is a summary of his introductory clearing of the ground.

Perhaps the first term to be addressed is that of the “British Isles”. The term is derived from the ancient Greek geographers who labeled this group of “offshore” islands the Pretannic Isles. The word Pretannic refers to the ritual body painting of the natives before going into battle and clearly became Britannic and thereby British through usage. However, distinctions were in place by the Roman period when Britannia was the name used for the largest island whose inhabitants were known as Britones, in the south and the Pictii in the north. The next largest, and westernmost, island was known as Hibernia and her inhabitants were known as the Scotti. They established an independent kingdom in “Pictland” and subsequently, through intermarriage with the Picts the kingdom which still bear their name, Scotland. In turn,Norman Conquest and Tudor and Stuart Plantations in Hibernia itself gave us what are now commonly understood as the British Isles.

However, Davies writing in 1999 tells us that:
“having written Europe: a history, I was invited to give a lecture at University College Dublin. After the presentation, someone in the audience asked about my current project. I started to reply that I was thinking of writing a history of ‘the British –’. Then I realized that Dublin, of all places, one cannot fairly talk of ‘the British Isles. The Isles ceased to be British precisely fifty years ago when the Republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth, though few people in the British residue have yet cared to notice.

In his trawl through libraries and dictionaries across the English-speaking world he found nothing but confusion. The basic problem was the habit of the inhabitants of the dominant (but only since the Norman Invasion) island in indulging in an “unshakable belief” in an unbroken continuity of ‘our island history’. This unquestioning belief is so strong that it completely overpowers the need to adapt to the changing reality. Thus, British people are unable to recognise that their United Kingdom has undergone two successive transformations since its creation in 1707 under the Act of Union (Scotland). It changed its name in 1801 under the Act of Union (Ireland) and again in 1922 when the creation of the Irish Free State left the “residue” as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Davies has outlined the number of different States which are known, from the various historical records, to have existed in the Isles. These can be summarised in ascending chronological order as follows:

Historical States in the Isles
» The High Kingship of Ireland to AD 1169
» The Ancient British tribal principalities, to circa AD 70
» Independent Pictland to the ninth century AD
» Roman Britannia, 43 to circa 410 AD
» The Independent British/Welsh principalities from the fifth century to 1283, including Cornwall, Cumbria and Strathclyde
» The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from the fifth to the tenth centuries
» The kingdom of the Scotti (Scots) from the ninth century to 1651
» The kingdom of England from the tenth century to 1536 together with its dependencies including the Channel Islands, the isle of Man, the Welsh March, and English-occupied Wales and Ireland
» The Kingdom of England and Wales, 1536-1649, 1660-1707
» The Kingdom of Ireland, 1541-1649, 1660-1800
» The Commonwealth and Free State of England, Wales and Ireland, 1649-1654
» The Commonwealth of Great Britain and Ireland, alias the First British Republic, 1654-1660
» The United Kingdom of Great Britain, 1707-1800
» The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 1801-1922
» The Irish Free State (later Éire, then the Republic of Ireland) since 1922
» The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, since 1922

From a London perspective, therefore, the name of the state of which it is the Capital has changed no fewer than eight times since the Romans left the island. The following article, follow the link below, will concentrate on that geographical entity and the monarchs who can said to have ruled it since the fifth century.

English Monarchs: Part 2 – Development of the Monarchy

English Monarchs: Part 3 – Regnal Lists