Castle iconKings of England Connected to the Castle

Harold II

Harold II was the second son of Godwin, Earl of Kent. Upon the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066, he took possession of the throne, disregarding the more legal claim of Edgar Atheling, or the asserted bequest of Edward in favour of William, Duke of Normandy. The latter accordingly invaded England while Harold was engaged in the north in repelling an invasion of Harold Hardrada, king of Norway, supported by Tostig, the brother of Harold. The invaders were defeated at the battle of Stamford Bridge, and their leaders slain. Harold soon after heard of the Norman invasion, and marched southward without delay. He fell at the memorable battle of Hastings (more properly Senlac), October 14, 1066, which commenced the conquest of the kingdom by the Normans.

William I, the Conqueror

William I, the Conqueror, was the natural son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, and was born at Falaise, in 1027. He was brought up at the court of the King of France, and succeeded to the duchy at the age of eight. But during his minority there were frequent revolts of the nobles, and his authority was not fully established for many years. On the death of Edward the Confessor, King of England, William made a formal claim to the crown, alleging a bequest in his favour by Edward, and a promise, which he had extorted from Harold. His claim being denied he at once prepared for an invasion of England, effected a landing at Pevensey, September 28, 1066, while Harold was engaged in opposing the Norwegians in the north, and fortified a camp near Hastings. The decisive battle of Hastings (or, more properly, Senlac) was fought on Saturday, October 14, 1066 Harold was defeated and slain, and the Norman Conquest was commenced. William's rival, Edgar Atheling, was supported by some of the leading men for a short time, but they all made sub mission to William at Berk Hampstead, and on the following Christmas-day he was crowned at Westminster by Aldred, archbishop of York, a riot occurring, in which some lives were lost and some houses burnt.

The first measures of the new king were conciliatory, but served merely for a show for a short time. The inevitable conflict was not long deferred. Early in 1067 William went to Normandy, leaving the government of his new dominions in the hands of Odo, bishop of Bayeux, and William Fitz-Osbern. Tidings of revolt in various quarters recalled him, and be was occupied through most of his reign in the conquest of the country. Of the military events the most terribly memorable is his campaign in the north in 1069 when he mercilessly devastated the whole district beyond the Humber with fire and slaughter, so that from York to Durham not an inhabited village remained, and the ground for more than sixty miles lay bare and uncultivated for more than half a century afterwards. The order established was that of death, famine and pestilence completing what the sword had begun. This campaign was followed in 1071 by the attack on the fortified camp of Hereward, the resolute and unconquered chieftain, in the Isle of Ely.

The settlement of the country was as cruel as the conquest. The English were dispossessed of their estates, and of all offices both in church and state; William assumed the feudal proprietorship of all the lands, and distributed them among his followers, carrying the feudal system out to its fullest development; garrisoned the chief towns, and built numerous fortresses; re-established the payment of Peter's-pence, indignantly refusing, however, to do homage to the Pope; and converted many districts of the country into deer parks and forests. The most extensive of these was the New Forest in Hampshire, formed in 1079. He ordered a complete survey of the land in 1085, the particulars of which were carefully recorded, and have come down to us in the 'Domesday Book'.

According to tradition the 'Curfew Bell' was introduced by the Conqueror; and the attempt was made to supersede the English by the Norman French language, which was for some time used in official documents. In his latter years William was engaged in war with his own sons, and with the King of France; and in August 1087, he burnt the town of Mantes. Injured by the stumbling of his horse among the burning ruins, he was carried to Rouen, and died in the abbey of St. Gervas, 9th September. He was buried in the cathedral of Caen, where a monument was erected to him by his son William II. This monument perished during the Huguenot wars. William married, while Duke of Normandy, his cousin Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders, by whom he had four sons, two of who, William and Henry, became kings of England, and several daughters. William I. began the building of the Tower of London in about 1080. He also built Battle Abbey in commemoration of his victory at Hastings. A statue of William I. was erected at Falaise, in 1853. 'Domesday Book' has been recently reproduced by the photo zincographic process, under the direction of Sir H. James.

William II

Rufus, or the Ruddy, William II, was third son of William I., and was born in Normandy, about 1060. He was educated by Lanfranc, and appears to have been from childhood his father's favourite son. On his father's death, and by his express desire, he hastened to England, obtained possession of the royal treasury at Winchester, and was crowned by Lanfranc, then archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster, September 26, 1087. An insurrection in favour of his elder brother Robert, Duke of Normandy, broke out in the following year, headed by Bishop Odo, and several Norman nobles; but by politic promises of good laws William obtained the assistance of his English subjects, and quelled the rising. In 1090 he made war on Robert in Normandy, but their quarrel ended with a treaty. Similar ending had the war begun with Malcolm, King of Scotland, who agreed to do homage to William. It was, however, afterwards renewed, and Malcolm fell at Alnwick, in 1093.

Renewed war in Normandy, campaigns against the Welsh, a long quarrel with Anselm, the new primate, from whom William long kept the temporalities of the see, and other troubles, filled up the rest of his reign. In 1096 he acquired, perhaps subject to a right of redemption, the duchy of Normandy for a large sum of money; Robert going on the first crusade. In the following year he began building the first Westminster Hall, and a bridge over the Thames, and completed the Tower of London. His avarice, profligate life, and severity as a ruler made him universally hated, and the manner of his death was considered an expression of God's judgement against him. He was shot while hunting in the New Forest, August 2, 1100; by whose hand, and whether by accident or otherwise, it is impossible to tell. He was buried in the cathedral of Winchester.

Henry I

Henry I, surnamed, on account of his superior education, Beauclerc, was the youngest son of William the Conqueror, and was born at Selby, in Yorkshire, in 1068. Jealousies and dissensions early broke out between him and his elder brothers, Robert and William (Rufus), and on the sudden mysterious death of William in the New Forest, in 1100, Henry, who was hunting with him, immediately seized the crown and the public treasures, his brother Robert being not yet returned from the crusade. To strengthen his hold on the affections of his subjects, he granted a charter re-establishing the laws of the Confessor, abolished the curfew, professed a reform in his own character and manners and married the Princess Maud, daughter of Malcolm, King of Scotland, and niece of Edgar Atheling, thus uniting the Norman and Saxon races. When Robert invaded England in 1101, war was prevented by negotiation and the grant to Robert of a pension of 3000 marks. The same year began the quarrel between the King and Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, respecting investitures.

Henry, ambitious of the crown of Normandy, invaded that country in 1105, and took Caen, Bayeux, and several other places. He completed the conquest in the following year by the defeat and capture of Robert at the battle of Tenchebrai. In 1109 the Princess Matilda (Maud) was betrothed to the Emperor Henry V., but in consequence of her youth, the marriage was deferred for several years. Troubles in Normandy and in Wales, and war with the King of France, occupied Henry in the next few years. In 1118 he lost his Queen, Maud, and two years later his only legitimate son, the Prince William, who, with his retinue, perished by shipwreck, on the passage from Normandy to England. It is said that the King was never seen to smile again. In 1121 he married Adelais, or Alice, daughter of Geoffrey, Duke of Louvain, and on the failure of his hope of offspring, he had his daughter, the Empress Maud, then a widow, acknowledged heiress to the throne. Henry died at Rouen, from the effects of gluttony, December 1, 1135, having been absent from England nearly two years and a half.


Stephen, the son of Stephen, Count of Blois, by Adela, fourth daughter of William the Conqueror, was born in circa 1096. On the death of Henry I. he immediately came over from Normandy to England; and laid claim to the crown, although he had been one of the most zealous in taking the oath for securing the succession to Henry's daughter, the Empress Matilda. By the aid of his brother who was bishop of Winchester, he possessed himself of the royal treasure, and was enabled to bribe some of the most restive of his opponents while he sought the support of the people at large by promising to restore the laws of Edward the Confessor. After a war with the Scots, who were finally defeated at the famous battle of the Standard, the Empress Matilda landed in England with her brother, the Earl of Gloucester; and being joined by several powerful barons, a civil war ensued, which for cruelty and devastation proved one of the most calamitous in the annals of the country. After various turns of fortune, Matilda retired to Normandy, and the contest was carried on by her son, Henry Plantagenet, who in 1153 landed an army in England. Being joined by the barons of his mother's party, the competitors met at the head of their respective forces at Wallingford; but an armistice took place instead of a battle; by which it was agreed that Stephen should reign during his lifetime, and that Henry should succeed him. In the following year Stephen died, aged 49.

Henry II

Henry II King of England, first of the Plantagenet line, was the eldest son of Geoffrey, Earl of Anjou, and his wife, the ex-Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I, and was born at Mans, in March 1133. He received his education in England, under the care of his uncle Robert, Earl of Gloucester. On the death of his father, in 1151, he succeeded to the earldom of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, and in the following year, by his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII. of France, he became possessor of the duchy of Aquitaine or Guienne. The same year he invaded England, but a treaty was concluded, in 1153, by which it was agreed that he should succeed to the throne of England on the death of Stephen. This event took place in October 1154, and Henry was crowned without opposition at Westminster, in December. His first measures were directed to the redress of the disorders and anarchy, which had prevailed in the reign of Stephen. He seized and destroyed most of the baronial castles; dismissed the foreign troops; renewed the charter granted by Henry I; and resumed most of the lands which had been alienated from the crown by Stephen.

On the death of his brother Geoffrey he claimed and got possession of Nantes, and was thus master of the whole western coast of France. His attempt on Toulouse, in 1159, involved him in a war with the King of France, which was only terminated two years later. In 1162 Thomas a Becket was elected Archbishop of Canterbury, and the great struggle between the civil and ecclesiastical powers began, which resulted in the Constitutions of Clarendon, the exile and murder of Becket, war with France, the king's penance at Becket's tomb, and the repeal of the Constitutions. In 1171 Henry invaded Ireland, and, under the authority of a bull of Pope Adrian IV, which had been published in 1156, affected a conquest of that island.

The remaining years of his reign were embittered by the numerous revolts of his sons, instigated by their mother. Eleanor, whose jealousy was excited by the king's affection for Fair Rosamond, attempted to follow her sons to the court of France, but was seized and imprisoned during Henry's life. The King of Scotland, who supported the rebellion of the young princes, was taken prisoner at Alnwick, in 1174, but was released after a few months, on doing homage to Henry. A formal reconciliation with the princes took place, but was followed by a fresh revolt and civil war. Prince Henry, who, as heir-apparent, had been crowned in 1170, died in France, in 1183. Geoffrey was killed at a tournament, two years later; and John joined his brother Richard in a new rebellion against their father, in which they were aided by Philip Augustus.

The old king was prostrated by sickness, and the revolt of his youngest son John was the last and fatal blow from which he could not recover. He died at Chinon, July 6, 1189, and was buried at Foutevraud. Notwithstanding the conflicting estimates of the character and measures of Henry II, viewed as the champion of state supremacy, it is evident that he was a man of powerful intellect superior education, great energy, activity, and decisiveness, and also of impetuous passions. Ruling almost despotically, he greatly diminished the power of the nobles, and thus relieved the people of their intolerable tyranny. Good order and just administration of the laws were established and the practice of holding the assizes was introduced. He revived the trial by jury in order to check the resort to trial by battle, which he could not abolish.

Richard I

Richard I, surnamed Cœur de Lion, was born 1157, and ascended the throne on the death of his father, Henry II, Sept. 3rd, l189. He had previously taken the cross, and now resolved to fulfil his vow in the fields of Palestine for which object he raised money by the sale of the crown property and offices, and a great number of English barons joined in the enterprise. In 1190 Richard joined the Crusade with Philip Augustus of France; and 100,000 of their bravest subjects met together on the plains of Vezelai. The two royal crusaders proceeded by separate routes to Sicily. There they quarrelled, but were reconciled by means of a large money payment by Richard. After some months' stay in Sicily, they again set forward; Richard on the way making himself master of Cyprus, and giving it to Guy of Lusignan.

In Cyprus Richard married the Princess Berengaria of Navarre. Early in June he arrived at Acre, which was then besieged by the crusaders. It was taken soon after; but mutual jealousies arose among the Christian princes, and Philip returned to Europe, leaving behind him 10,000 of his men. Richard remained in the East where he displayed the most heroic valour against Saladin, whom he signally defeated near Cæsarea. Having made a truce he embarked in a vessel, which was shipwrecked, on the coast of Italy. He then, in the disguise of a pilgrim, travelled through part of Germany but being discovered by Leopold, Duke of Austria, he was made prisoner and sent to the Emperor Henry VI, who kept him confined in a castle some time. He was as at length ransomed by his subjects for 150,000 marks, and landed at Sandwich in 1194 after which he was again crowned. Philip having, contrary to treaty, seized on part of Normandy, Richard invaded France with a large army, but a truce was concluded in 1196.

The war was, however, soon renewed and Richard, in besieging the castle of Chalus in March, 1199, was wounded by a shot from the cross bow of one Bertrand de Gourdon who being asked what induced him to attempt the kings life, replied, 'You killed my father and my brother with your own hand, and designed to put me to an ignominious death.' Richard then ordered Gourdon to be set at liberty and allowed a sum of money; but the savage Marcadée, who commanded the Brabançons, caused him to be flayed alive. Richard died of his wound on the 6th of April 1199, in the 42nd year of his age, and the 10th of his reign, leaving no issue. His queen, Berengaria survived him till about 1230.

His character was strongly marked, presenting much to admire and much to condemn He was the bravest among the brave; frank, liberal, and often generous; at the same time he was haughty, violent, unjust, and sanguinary; uniting, as Gibbon observes, 'the ferocity of a gladiator to the cruelty of a tyrant.' His talents were considerable, both in the cabinet and in the field; neither was he deficient in the art of poetry, and some of his compositions are preserved among those of the Troubadours. Richard I. bequeathed his heart to Rouen: it was placed in a silver vase, which was melted in 1260, to aid in the ransom of St. Louis from the Saracens. The relic itself in a case of lead is now in the museum of Rouen. The tomb-statue of Richard was discovered in the Cathedral of Rouen, by Deville, in 1838 and soon after that of his brother Henry. Two volumes have already appeared of 'Chronicles and Memorials of the Reign of Richard I.,' edited by W. Stubbs, M.A., under the authority of the Lords Commissioners of her Majesty's Treasury.


John was the youngest son of Henry II. by Eleanor of Guienne, and was born in 1166. Early named governor of Ireland, he was sent over, in 1185, to complete its conquest, but such was his imprudence that it was found necessary to recall him; and on the death of his father he was left without any provision, which procured for him the name of Sans Terre, or Lackland. His brother Richard, on coming to the throne, conferred on him the earldom of Mortaigne in Normandy, and various large possessions in England, and married him to the rich heiress of the Duke of Gloucester. Notwithstanding this kindness, he had the ingratitude to form intrigues, in conjunction with the King of France, against Richard, during his absence in Palestine; but Richard magnanimously pardoned him, and at his death (1199) left him his kingdom, in preference to Arthur of Brittany, the son of his elder brother, Geoffrey. Some of the French provinces, however, revolted in favour of Arthur; but John ultimately recovered them, and his nephew was captured, in 1202, and confined in the Castle of Falaise, whence he was subsequently removed to Rouen, and never heard of more. Suspected of the murder of Arthur, the states of Brittany summoned John to answer the charge before his liege lord, King Philip; and upon his refusal to appear, the latter executed the sentence of forfeiture against him; and thus, after its alienation from the French crown for three centuries, the whole of Normandy was recovered.

A quarrel with the Pope, Innocent III, who had nominated Stephen Langton to the see of Canterbury, added to the perplexity of the king, whom the Pope excommunicated, and whose subjects he formally absolved from their allegiance (1212). At length John was induced not only to receive Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, but also abjectly to resign his kingdom, by the hands of Cardinal Pandulph, to the Holy See, in order to receive it again as its vassal. John had by this time rendered himself the object of such universal contempt and hatred, that the barons determined to limit his power and establish their privileges; and though the Pope censured them, they assembled in arms at Stamford, and immediately marched to London. They were received there without opposition, which so intimidated the king, that he consented to whatever terms they chose to dictate. Thus was obtained (June 1215) that basis of English constitutional freedom known as Magna Carta, which not only protected the nobles against the crown, but also secured important privileges to every class of freemen. But while John appeared to be all complying and passive, he was secretly purposing to disannul the charter. The Pope pronounced a sentence of excommunication on all who should attempt to enforce it; and John, having collected an army of mercenaries, carried war and devastation throughout the kingdom. The barons, taken by surprise, sent a deputation to Philip of France, offering the crown of England to the Dauphin, Louis; who, in May 1216, landed at Sandwich, and preceded to London, where he was received as lawful sovereign. John was immediately deserted by all his foreign troops, and most of his English adherents; but the report of a scheme of Louis for the extermination of the English nobility arrested his progress, and induced many to return to their allegiance. While the king's affairs were beginning to assume a better aspect, he was taken ill, and died at Newark, October 19, 1216, in the 49th year of his age, and the 17th of his reign.

Henry III

Henry III, eldest son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, was born at Winchester in 1207. He succeeded his father in 1216 and was crowned at Gloucester, in the presence of Gualo, the papal legate, predecessor of Pandulf and one of the guardians of the young king, 28th October of that year. The regency was entrusted to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke who in 1217 defeated the French army at Lincoln, and compelled the Dauphin Louis to retire to France. On Pembroke's death, in May 1219, Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, became regents; but mutual jealousies and dissensions disturbed their administration and weakened their power. Henry was crowned a second time, in 1220, and two years later was declared of age, but his feebleness of character unfitted him to role, and the real power remained with his ministers.

His fondness for foreign counsellors, his unsuccessful wars with France, and his attempts to govern without parliaments, excited much ill humour in the nation. This was increased by the papal exactions, which he permitted, and by the heavy impositions on his subjects, made necessary by his acceptance of the crown of Sicily for his son Edmund. At length, in 1258, he was virtually deposed by the 'Mad Parliament,' which assembled at Oxford, and a council of state was formed under the presidency of Simon de Montfort. The popular leaders quarrelled among themselves, while the king was a prisoner in their hands. But in 1262 civil war began, the king being compelled to employ foreign mercenaries. In 1264 the battle of Lewes was fought, at which the king, Prince Edward, Earl Richard, King of the Romans, and his son Henry, were made prisoners by the barons. Soon after De Montfort, now virtually sovereign summoned a parliament, which met in January 1265, and was the first to which knights of the shire and representatives of cities and boroughs were called; thus constituting the first House of Commons. In August of that year De Montfort was defeated and killed by Prince Edward at the battle of Evesham, and the king regained his liberty. But the war lasted two years longer. In 1270 Prince Edward set out on the crusade, and before his return Henry died at Westminster, November 16,1272.

Edward I

(Longshanks), king of England, eldest son of Henry III and his queen, Eleanor of Provence, was born in 1239. At ten years of age he was named governor of Gascony, and married in 1254 the Princess Eleanor of Castile. He took a prominent part in state affairs during the latter part of his father's reign, and showed that ability, quick energy, and decision of character which distinguished him throughout his reign. In the barons' war, which began in 1261, he had generally the conduct of the royal forces; was defeated and taken prisoner by De Montfort at Lewes, in 1264; escaped the next year, and defeated De Montfort at Evesham, thus securing the liberty of his father, and ended the war by the reduction of the Isle of Ely in 1267. He soon after took the cross, and set out to join St. Louis in the crusade, but did not arrive in the Holy Land till 1271. After various successes and a narrow escape from assassination - -his wife, it is said, sucking the poison from his arm --he set out on his return, arriving in England in August 1274. He had been proclaimed king on the death of his father nearly two years previously, and was crowned, with his queen, soon after his arrival.

War filled up the greater part of his reign. The principal events are the conquest of Wales and the wars with Scotland. Llywelyn, Prince of Wales, refusing to attend the English parliament and do homage, was defeated by Edward in 1277; and having again revolted, was again defeated, and at last slain in 1282. Edward built many castles in Wales, and settled the government by the statute of Rhuddlan. He treated the Jews with great cruelty and injustice, hung hundreds of them on a charge of clipping the coin, and in 1290 banished them. In 1291 the numerous competitors for the crown of Scotland submitted their claims to Edward's decision, which was in favour of John de Baliol. Baliol did homage to Edward, and was made to feel his dependence too keenly, so that war soon broke out between the two kingdoms. Then came the terrible devastation of Scotland, temporary submission, insurrection of Wallace, his victory of Stirling, his defeat at Falkirk, numerous invasions and truces, capture and execution of the great patriot leader, fresh revolt, and coronation of Robert Bruce in 1306, and a final expedition against the Scots in the following year, which was cut short by the death of Edward at Burgh-on-the- Sands, near Carlisle, 7th July, 1307. Very great and important legislative changes took place in this reign. Edward left by his first wife, four sons and nine daughters; and by his second, Margaret of France, whom he married in 1299, two sons and one daughter. Margaret survived him.

Edward II

King of England, was the son of Edward I, and was born at Carnarvon (Caernarfon) in 1284. He succeeded his father in 1307, and was governed by his favourites, Gaveston and the Despensers, which occasioned the barons to rise against him. After resigning his crown, he was confined in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, and was there traitorously murdered by the contrivance of his queen, Isabella, and her favourite, Roger Mortimer; Earl of March, in 1328. His deposition took place in 1327.

Edward III

King of England, eldest son of Edward II. and Isabella of France, was born at Windsor in 1312, and succeeded to the throne, on the deposition of his father, in 1327. Although a regent was appointed, the chief power was held by the queen and her paramour, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. In 1328 Edward was married to Philippa, daughter of William III, Count of Holland and Hainault, and two years later he assumed the government, had Mortimer seized and hanged, and imprisoned Queen Isabella. In 1333 Edward invaded Scotland, which had been nominally subjected to England by Edward Baliol, besieged Berwick, and defeated the regent at Halidon Hill. The greater war with France soon withdrew his attention from Scotland. He assumed the title of king of France, invaded the country from Flanders, but without any successful result, renewed the invasion in 1340, when he defeated the French fleet at Sluys, besieged Tournay, and concluded a truce. The war was renewed and another truce made in 1348, to be broken the following year.

In 1846 he won the great victory of Crecy, took Calais in 1347, and concluded another truce. During Edward's absence in France the Scots invaded England, and were defeated at Nevil's Cross-, David II being taken prisoner. Edward aimed at the acquisition of Flanders, hoped to get his son Edward, the Black Prince, made Earl of Flanders by the aid of Philip van Arteveldt and the free towns; but Philip was murdered in an insurrection at Ghent. In 1356 Edward, the Black Prince, invaded France, and gained the victory of Poitiers, taking the French king and his son prisoners. The king was released after four years on the conclusion of the peace of Bretigny. David of Scotland was released for a heavy ransom in 1357. War broke out again with France in 1369, and in 1378 John of Gaunt marched without resistance from Calais to Bordeaux. The long wars of Edward III, though almost fruitless of practical result, appear to have been popular; and his numerous parliaments granted liberal supplies for carrying them on, gaining in return confirmations of the Great and other charters, and many valuable concessions. His victories raised the spirit and also the fame of his country, and with the evident military power of England grew also her commerce and manufactures. In this reign Wickliffe began his assault on the church of Rome; the order of the Garter was instituted, and the Round Tower at Windsor was hastily built by command of the king, to receive the round table for the new knights (1344): cannon began to be used in war; and the first English gold coin was struck. Edward died at Shene, now Richmond, on June 21, 1377. By his queen Philippa, he had six sons and five daughters.