The United Kingdom of Great Britain (which is the UK as we know it) was formed in 1707 and its first monarch was Queen Anne I. Since then, there have been 12 rulers of Great Britain and Ireland (changed to Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927).
The Monarchs of England and Great Britain include a great cast of memorable, and sometimes infamous, characters.
Alfred the Great - 871 to 899
The first, and only ruler to be given the moniker ‘the Great’, Alfred was a well educated man who improved the country’s legal and military systems. He is known for his defence of southern England against the marauding Vikings.
William the Conqueror - 1066 to 1087
William I or William the Conqueror as he is popularly known, was the first Norman king. He invaded England from Normandy in 1066 and was victorious over the English forces at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. William created a feudal state that brought stability and law to England, and a strong government that endured for many years.
Edward II - 1307 to 1327
Widely believed to be gay or bissexual Edward II was allegedly murdered horribly in 1327. He was the first person to establish colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, but is best remembered for his resounding defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn against the Scots, which were then freed from English rule.
Richard III - 1483 to 1485
Infamous for supposedly killing his two nephews in order to take the throne in the ‘Princes in the Tower’ mystery. The last English king to die on the battlefield at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
Henry VIII – 1509 to 1547
Perhaps one of England's most famous rulers, Henry married six times, beheaded two of his wives and divorced another two. He famously broke with the Catholic church and destroyed many of England's churches and monasteries in the English Reformation that made the country a protestant nation under the Church of England.
Elizabeth I - 1558–1603
Daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth was an astute ruler who led England to victory over the Spanish, the strongest rulers of the age. She never married and so became the fifth and last Tudor monarch. Many people consider her to be one of England’s greatest rulers.
Charles I - 1625–1649
The last years of Charles’ rule were marked by the English Civil War in which he was defeated, twice. He was eventually imprisoned and executed for high treason in 1649. The monarchy was abolished and England became known as the Commonwealth of England. The commonwealth was ruled by Oliver Cromwell, who served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland for the next 11 years, until Charles II restored the monarchy in 1660.
George III - 1760 to 1820
King George III was a king of the House of Hanover. In the early years of his reign Britain defeated France and became the dominant power in northern Europe, India and north America. However, many of the American colonies were lost in the American War of Independence. King George was unfortunately known as ‘the Mad King’ due to his developing a mental illness later in his life, it is now suspected he was suffering the blood disease porphyria.
Victoria - 1837 to 1901
Her reign is the longest of any British monarch and the longest of any female monarch in history. She had nine children with her husband Prince Albert, and eight of her 42 grandchildren sat on thrones of Europe. Her reign defined a whole era known as the Victorian Age, in which Great Britain developed in areas of industry, arts, politics and science and the British Empire expanded to its greatest height.
Edward VIII - 1936
Edward VIII was King for 11 months before he abdicated to marry a twice divorced American socialite named Wallis Simpson, which at the time was a major scandal. He was succeeded by his brother, who became King George VI. After the Second World War he spent the rest of his life in retirement in France.
The Future of the Royal Family
The current British monarch is Queen Elizabeth II who has ruled since 1952. It is widely expected that she won’t retire (though there have been calls for her to do so), but it is speculated that her son Prince Charles will reign after her death. He is currently the longest serving ‘king-in-waiting’, and public opinion varies between him ruling or the crown passing directly to his eldest son, Prince William.
When surveyed about the future of the monarchy in 2006, over half the respondents thought Britain wouldn’t have a royal family in 100 years time. Whether they are right, only time will tell. However, it is undeniable that UK history and the monarchy go hand in hand.