Queens of England, Queens of Britain, Empress Matilda, Lady Jane Grey, Queen Mary I, Queen Mary II, Queen Elisabeth I, Queen Elisabeth II, Queen Victoria, Queen Anne,
With the United Kingdom's monarch, Queen Elisabeth II, celebrating her diamond jubilee during 2012, I thought it may be interesting to find out a little about her former peers, the previous queens of England and Great Britain.
There have of course been many queen consorts and queen regents during the country’s history, and many royal princesses who went on to marry foreign kings, but there have only been eight women who have had the right to claim the throne and call themselves the Queen of England / Britain, since the Norman Conquest in 1066.
It has always been traditional with English / British royals that the heir apparant to the throne is always the eldest son of the monarch, irreguardless as to how many older sisters he may have, hence the reason the country has had so few queens.
However, since October 2011 this rule has been waivered, and from now on a monarch’s first born child will always be the heir apparant, irrespective of gender.
But, as few queens as the country has had, these eight women have managed to notch up an impressive list of records between them, with two of them having had the country’s longest reigns, one of them is the world's longest reigning queen, two of them have had the country’s shortest reigns, one became the country’s oldest reigning monarch, one was the country’s youngest queen to ascend the throne and not one of them was heir apparent at the time of their birth.
Some other interesting facts about them include, one that never did achieve her rightful place upon the throne, one that should never have been on the throne at all, one was the only queen in history made by parliament to rule as a joint sovereign and three of them, although having been born into a royal family, were not the daughters of a monarch.
In all, the country’s eight queens have reigned for a total of just under two hundred years.
Four of them have produced seventeen heirs between them and the other four died childless and without issue.
Below are the definitions of the various titles a queen may hold.
A queen dowager is the widow of a previous king and usually the mother of the present monarch.
A queen consort is the wife of a present king.
A queen regent is the wife of a present king who finds himself unable to rule, due to being away at war or because of illness, and she is ruling the country on his behalf
A queen regnant is a queen who is absolute ruler in her own right and able to exercise all sovereign powers.
EMPRESS MATILDA – Born 1102 – Died 1167.
We start our list with the Empress Matilda, who was actually christened Maud, but preferred to be known by the French version of her name.
Some historians never give Matilda her due title of queen, as she was never actually crowned and only ruled for seven weeks, but I have mentioned her in this article as she was made heir presumptive by her father.
Maud / Matilda was the eldest daughter of Norman King, Henry I. She was made Henry’s heir presumptive after the death of her younger brother, William Adelin, who died in the the-white-ship-disaster-of-1120, as Henry only had the two legitimate children, William and Maud.
Matilda came to the throne as de – facto queen on the seventh of April 1141, and only ruled until the twentythird of May, before she was usurped by her cousin Stephen of Blois.
King Stephen reigned for nineteen years, culminating in a period of English history known as the Anarchy which was also known as the Nineteen Year Winter.
Throughout King Stephen’s reign, Matilda and her followers fought tooth and nail in order for her to regain her rightful place upon the throne of England, but it was all to no avail, until in 1153, King Stephen met with Matilda’s eldest son, Henry Fitzempress, and recognised him as his adopted son, had his own sons renounce their claim to the throne and made Henry his heir apparant, an act which eventually put an end to nearly two decades of civil war.
Matilda had been married twice, first to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, whom she married in 1114 and was widowed in 1125. This marriage produced no heirs.
Her second husband was Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, they were married in 1128 and they had three sons, the future King Henry II of England, Geoffrey of Nantes and William X of Poitou. She was again widowed in 1151.
Matilda died in 1167 at the age of sixty five in Rouen,France, where she was interred in the cathedral there, where her epitaph reads - Great by birth, greater by marriage, but greatest by motherhood.
LADY JANE GREY – Born 1537 – Died 1554.
Lady Jane Grey is another queen which many historians fail to give due title to.
Lady Jane Grey was a Tudor queen who ruled for just nine days, the shortest rule of any English / British monarch, giving her the title of the Nine Days Queen.
Jane was the daughter of Henry Grey and Frances Brandon and was cousin to the present king by way of her mother.
Jane was made heir presumptive to the throne by the then very ill, fifteen year old, King Edward VI, in order to stop his older, half sister, Mary Tudor, the true heir to the throne, from becoming queen because she was a Catholic.
Mary was not fazed by his decision and hatched a cunning plot in order to have Jane removed from the throne.
First of all she arranged for Jane to marry staunch Protestant and humanist, Guildford Dudley, in May 1553.
King Edward VI died on the sixth of July 1553 and Jane was proclaimed queen on the tenth of July.
Mary then used both Dudley’s and Janes’ father’s involvement in the Wyatt Rebellion, a revolt to stop Mary from marrying the Catholic, Prince Philip of Spain, in order to have them arrested for high treason. Jane and Dudley were both imprisoned on the nineteenth of July and Jane was labelled as an usurper to the throne.
Jane and Dudley were both later tried and convicted of treason and both were executed on the twelth of February 1554. Jane was just seventeen years old at the time of her death, and just sixteen when she became queen, making her the country’s youngest ever queen.
MARY I – Born 1516 - Died 1558.
Tudor queen, Mary I was England’s first queen regnant and was proclaimed queen after the imprisoment of Lady Jane Grey in July 1553.
Mary was the daughter and first born child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Mary was a staunch Catholic and restored the country back to Catholocism after her father had initiated the Church of England, an act which was implemented in order to enable him to divorce her own mother.
Mary married Catholic, Prince Philip of Spain in July 1554, but their marriage lasted only four years and produced no heirs.Historians believe Mary may have been suffering from uterine cancer at the time of her marriage which could have accounted for her not being able to conceive and led to her untimely death at the age of just forty two.
Throughout her five year reign Mary was reknowned for her persecution and susequent burning at the stake of hundreds of Protestants, acts which became known as the Marian Persecutions and earned Mary the sobriquet of Bloody Mary.
ELISABETH I – Born 1533 - Died 1603.
Elisabeth I was the last Tudor monarch. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, and half sister of the previous monarchs Edward VI and Mary I.
Elisabeth needs no introduction being hailed as she was, the most influencial monarch in English history.
She was also reknowned for never having married, which earned her the title of the Virgin Queen, and like her previous half siblings before her, for never having produced an heir.
Some historians believe her decision to never marry was due to her wanting to be a great queen, rather than to any dislike of sex, men, marriage or children, although some historians are of the belief that Elisabeth was sexually abused as an adolescent, but history also states that she had a long term affair with the noblemen Lord Robert Dudley, on whom she bestowed the title of Earl of Leicester in 1564.
Elisabeth was twenty five years old when she came to the throne in 1558 and reigned for forty five years before her death at the age of sixty nine.
MARY II – Born 1662 - Died 1694.
Queen Mary II was a Stuart monarch and the only queen in English / British history to have joint sovereignty and equal power with her husband, her cousin and staunch Protestant, the Dutch prince, William of Orange, whom she married in 1677.
Mary was the daughter of James, Duke of York, who went on to be the future king, James II, after the death of his older brother King Charles II, who died without issue.
Mary and William were made joint sovereigns by order of parliament in order to end the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the term used for the period during which her Catholic father, King James II, was deposed.
Mary was queen from 1689 until her death from smallpox at the age of 32 in 1694.
Mary and William produced no heirs during their fourteen year marriage, which resulted in the throne being succeeded by Mary’s younger sister Anne, upon the death of William in 1702.
ANNE – Born 1665 – Died 1714.
Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch and ruled England from 1702 until 1707 and Great Britain from 1707 until 1714.
Anne was the daughter of former King James II and sister of former Queen Mary II.
Anne was married to Prince George of Denmark, whom she married in June 1683. During their twenty one year marriage Anne endured eighteen pregnancies, which resulted in four miscarriages, eight stillbirths, six live births that died before their second birthday and one heir, Prince William, who died at the age of just eleven.
Anne is best remembered for signing the Act of Union between the kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707and subsequently changing the name of England, Wales and Scotland to Great Britain.
VICTORIA - Born 1819 – Died 1901.
Queen Victoria was the last monarch of the Royal House of Hanover and was never born to be queen at all. Which is surprising when you consider she went on to have the longest reign of any English / British monarch and the longest reign of any queen regnant in the world.
Victoria was the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the fourth son of King George III, and was chosen as the future queen after the monarchy had been left without an heir apparant for the last two generations.
Victoria came to the throne in 1837 at the age of just eighteen and is another queen which needs no explanation from me. Her reign was legendary as was her love affair with husband Prince Albert, whom she married in 1840, as was her period of mourning after his death in 1861.
Their twenty one year marriage produced nine children, one of which became the future king, Edward VII.
Victoria died of a stroke in January 1901 at the age of 81, after having ruled for sixty three years.
ELISABETH II – Born 1926.
Queen Elisabeth II is another queen who was never born to the task, but went on to achieve the second longest reign of any English / British monarch.
Elisabeth was born in 1926, the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, but after the abdication of her uncle King Edward VII, in 1936, the King’s brother the Duke of York was made king and his eldest daughter suddenly became next in line to the throne.
Elisabeth became queen in February 1952 after the death of her father, and still remains monarch to this day, having had the second longest reign of any English / British monarch in history.
In 2012 the year of her diamond jubilee of sixty years on the throne, she also celebrates her eighty sixth birthday, making her the oldest surviving English / British monarch, with her husband Prince Philip, whom she married in 1947, now aged ninety, the oldest royal consort in English / British history.
Their marriage produced four children, of which their eldest, Charles, Prince of Wales / Duke of Cornwall, is currently the country’s oldest ever Prince of Wales and heir apparant in waiting, at the age of sixty four.
NOTE – Since King Henry VIII initiated the Church of England and made the monarch the head of that church, no British monarch can be a member of the Catholic faith, and until 2011, no British member of the royal family could even marry a Catholic.
This rule has now been waivered and members of the royal family can marry a Catholic and even bring up their children in the Catholic faith, but if one of these children finds themselves heir to the throne, he / she must convert to Anglicanism, as he / she will become head of the Anglican, Church of England.
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