In the second of the three play-off contests, two of England’s most successful warrior kings (Athelstan and Henry V) take on one of its most iconic (Elizabeth I) but only one monarch can make it through to the Grand Final. Read on for more information about the three contenders and how you can influence 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. Things get tougher in the semi-finals, though, as now you can only vote for ONE monarch, so have a read of the summaries below, listen to our podcast episode and have a good think about who you want to go through to the Grand Final. Then cast your vote in the link below:
Athelstan is perhaps something of a forgotten monarch in English history, overshadowed by his grandfather, Alfred the Great, and like many Saxon rulers largely ignored by historians. However, his CV makes for impressive reading. He was the first king of all England as we know it today, being the first king to conquer York and ‘the north’ in 927. He was also the first king for whom a portrait survives (see left) and to be consecrated with holy oil at his coronation. Not content with dominance over England, he also established his dominance over the Welsh princes and Scotland, styling himself as effectively ruler of all Britain. When the King of the Scots rebelled in 934, Athelstan stormed up with army and navy to raid as far north as Caithness before returning home with the king’s son as a hostage, while a grand rebellion in 937 (featuring Scots and Vikings united) was defeated by Athelstan at the epic battle Brunanburh, known for a century after as “The Great Battle”. Athelstan was also a highly respected ruler across Europe and in England made admirable reforms such as declaring it cruel to execute 12 year-olds (wooly liberal!)
In military terms, Athelstan is a tough act to follow, but Henry V is perhaps the greatest warrior king in English history. His father, Henry IV, struggled to legitimise the new Lancastrian dynasty and ruled over a divided court with rebellions and a somewhat grumpy Parliament. In contrast, after just seven years Henry V had been recognised as the heir to the King of France! Henry V’s major victory against the odds at Agincourt in 1415 is well known, but the conquest of France was achieved more by years of hard sieging through Normandy from 1417-20 and effective diplomacy with the disaffected Burgundians. In 1420, Henry was named as the heir to the French king and married his daughter, Catherine of Valois, but tragically was brought down by dysentery just six weeks before ascending to the throne. Though his reign was short, he also succeeded in reuniting England, restoring former enemies of his father to court and securing huge loans from Parliament, as well as being the first king since 1066 to use English in his personal correspondence.
Elizabeth was not in the thick of the fighting like her rivals but along with her father, Henry VIII, is perhaps England’s most iconic monarch. Her early years were a state of almost continuous chaos with the Tudors at their most notorious: her mother, Anne Boleyn, executed when she was just 2; religious turmoil with Reformation and Counter-Reformation; imprisoned in the Tower of London by her own sister, Mary I. In contrast, Elizabeth’s motto, semper eadem (‘always the same’) reflected her focus on stability: a religious settlement that called only for outward conformity, a loyalty to her ministers instead of Henry VIII’s policy of literally chopping and changing, and a knack for surviving. The Elizabeth Age saw exploration under Drake and Raleigh, plays from Shakespeare and Johnson and a monarch with the popular touch. It could all have been swept away by the Spanish Armada of 1588 but poor weather and Drake’s harrying saw the Spanish fleet destroyed, while Elizabeth’s speech to her troops at Tilbury (“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too”) enshrined her place in legend.