English Monarchs: History & Timeline

Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

The British monarchy is one of the oldest, and at one point the largest, controlling monarchies in the world. Its origins can be traced almost 1000 years back to William the Conqueror.


I am guessing you are familiar with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Princess Kate; if not, then maybe you have been living under a rock! Prince William was lucky enough to have been born into the royal family, and Princess Kate was lucky enough to marry William. But how did the monarchy begin, and how has their power changed over the last 1,000 years? For these answers we have to go all the way back to before the parades, the photographs and obsessions over this unique family.

The Royal Family

While there have been 40 monarchs in British history, here we will discuss a few of the most important:

House of Normans

1066-1087: King William the Conqueror. Originally the Duke of Normandy, William became king of England on Christmas Day in 1066. He is responsible for beginning construction on the Tower of London and distancing himself from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

House of Angevins

1189-1199: King Richard I. Richard fought his father for the throne and became king in 1189. During his reign, Christians and Muslims were fighting for the Holy Land in Jerusalem. King Richard was eager to join the fight and spent the next few years fighting in the Third Crusade. He was nicknamed 'The Lionheart' for his bravery in battle.

1199-1216: King John. When King Richard I died, his brother John became king. King John is most famous for losing land and money, and especially power, during his reign. Upset at the way he was unfairly taxing the church and the people, a group of rebel lords in England demanded that changes be made to the role of king. In 1215, the Magna Carta was signed to reduce the king's power and make him accountable under the law.

House of Tudors

1509-1547: King Henry VIII. Henry's older brother, Arthur, was expected to succeed the throne after their father, King Henry VII, but he died and left his ten year old brother next in line. Henry married his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon, and had a girl, Mary, but Henry wanted a boy. He wanted to divorce Catherine to marry his mistress, but that was against the rules of the Catholic Church. So King Henry decided to leave the church, and declared himself head of the Church of England. Throughout his reign, King Henry had six wives to try for a male heir. He had two of his wives beheaded, Anne Bolelyn and Catherine Howard.

1553-1558: Queen Mary I. Mary was the first born child of King Henry VIII and the first woman to become queen of England without having to marry a king first. A Roman Catholic, Queen Mary restored the role of the Catholic Church in England and was responsible for the deaths of many so-called heretics, or non-believers. In her five year reign, as many as 300 Protestant heretics were burned at the stake, earning her the nickname 'Bloody Mary'.

Queen Elizabeth I

1558-1603: Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and half sister to Queen Mary. When she ascended the throne, she inherited a pretty big mess. England was at war with France and there was religious tension between the Protestants and Catholics. She took care of these matters by ending war with France and reestablishing the Church of England. She also successfully defeated the Spanish Armada which threatened to invade in 1558. Her 45 year reign was the last of the long ruling Tudor family, since she had no heirs. She was also the last Queen of England, as her successors would rule over multiple countries, gaining them the title, King or Queen of the United Kingdom.

English Civil War

The monarchy was dissolved after the English Civil War in 1641, and from 1649-1660 England was ruled by the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell. His title was Lord Protector. King Charles II of the House of Stuart regained control of the crown in 1660.

House of Hanover

Queen Victoria

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