The Rex Factor play-offs are officially underway! Group A consists of six monarchs (Alfred the Great, Athelstan, Henry I, Edward IV, Henry VIII and Charles II) but only three of them can go through to the semi-finals, so they need YOUR vote. The survey is open now until 31 March. Read on for a quick refresh of the Group A monarchs and for details on how you can vote to decide the outcome.
The play-offs operate under a three college electoral system – Graham is one college, Ali is another college and you, the rest of the world, are the third college. All you have to do is click on the link below and pick the THREE monarchs that you want to go through to the next round. If you’re not sure who to vote for, listen to our Group A podcast episode where we discuss them in detail or have a quick read of the summaries below.
But for Alfred, there might not be an England. The Vikings had all-but conquered the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons and Alfred was exiled on a swamp – defeat or exile would have been the end for England and Englishness. However, Alfred emerged to defeat the Vikings in battle and then build a nation: he simultaneously reinvigorated town life and protected the country from further invasion with a system of burhs (fortified market towns), refounded the city of London and embarked on a nationwide scheme of re-education, learning Latin so he could personally translate great works into Anglo-Saxon for the good of his people.
Athelstan was the first king of all England as we know it today, conquering York, receiving the submission of rulers in the north, as well as Wales and Scotland, before taking control of Cornwall. Not just a warrior, Athelstan created an effective central administration for his enlarged kingdom, was renowned as a religious benefactor and lover of books and revered across Europe as a great king. It would have been for nothing had a grand coalition allied against him in 937 been victorious, but he won a great battle at Brunanburh, cementing his dominance and his place in history.
Henry I was the first Norman king born in England and became the most powerful Norman, defeating his brother, Robert, to reunite England and Normandy and using wily diplomacy to prevent any serious threat to his borders. Despite living in turbulent times he ruled for over thirty years with England secure and benefiting from improvements to justice and governance, while his marriage united Norman and Saxon royal lines. Despite a record number of illegitimate children (c. 20!) his only legitimate son died, ultimately leaving the only blemish on his record when his death led to civil war, with his daughter (Matilda) not well-placed to succeed.
England’s tallest monarch (6ft3), strong and handsome, Edward IV won the throne in the Wars of the Roses at just 19, triumphing in the brutal blizzards of Towton. A clash with former ally Warwick the Kingmaker over his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville (incredibly unusually, a marriage for love) led to his brief deposition before defeating Warwick in battle and reclaiming the throne. Edward ruled for a decade totally dominant, enjoying fineries, women and lots of food. Sadly, his early death led to chaos, with his sons (the Princes in the Tower) usurped by his brother (Richard III) and then the arrival of the Tudors rather overshadowed his reign.
Henry VIII is perhaps the most famous monarch in English history. Like his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, he was a tall and handsome Renaissance prince and for 20 years little happened besides parties, hunting and composing. However, when his marriage to Catherine of Aragon failed to produce a son and he fell in love with Anne Boleyn, everything kicked off. From 1533-47, Henry completely changed the course of English history, breaking from Rome, dissolving the monasteries, executing two of his closest ministers and getting through six wives (two of whom were beheaded!)
Charles II was the subject of the Restoration, brought back to England to be king after 11 years of Cromwell’s republic. Charles was charming, witty and determined to enjoy himself, bringing back theatre and Christmas as well as the monarchy. When Charles was not enjoying a virtual hareem at court or putting out the Great Fire of London, he had a difficult job to secure his position against an increasingly powerful and anti-Catholic Parliament. A bid to exclude his Catholic brother, James, from the throne led to a crisis that almost threatened to reignite the civil war but Charles saw it off and died secure, ruling without Parliament (albeit funded by Louis XIV of France and the slave trade).