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English Monarchs: Part 1 - What is England?
Posted on Jun 08, 2002 - 03:10 PM by Bill McCann

These articles set out to present a complete list of the monarchs that have ruled England since the end of the Roman occupation in the fifth century AD. Before defining the scope of the list, however, it was necessary to wade through the confusion that surrounds the apparently inter-changeable terms England, Britain, Great Britain, and The United Kingdom . This, the first article, therefore asks just what we mean when we say that London is the Capital of England. The very answer itself provides a mini-historical tour of political development in what many still, erroneously, refer to as the "British Isles". The first article asks just what we mean when we say that London is the Capital of England. The very answer itself provides a mini-historical tour of political development in what many still, erroneously, refer to as the "British Isles"

England and Wales in 1399
This Article originally set out to provide a complete list of the post-Roman Monarchs which have ruled the State of which London is the Capital - variously known today as England, Great Britain or the United Kingdom. Before very long, however, questions of definition began to arise and it was necessary to look closely at what exactly those three terms meant in the historical context. There is great confusion, not only amongst the people of foreign States but also here at home. The Series has therefore been divided into two parts. In this, the first part, the historical development of the present State (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is placed in its historical context. The second part will outline the development of the system of Monarchy in that part of the State in which London finds itself, England. Finally, the third part will present a complete list of the Monarchs that have ruled England from the end of the Roman occupation down to our present monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Very few modern inhabitants of "Britain" know the difference between England and Britain or between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The four terms do mean different things and the distinctions between them are rooted in historical change. It might be fashionable to ignore these distinctions today but it is impossible for a modern subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to have any sense of their place in the world without understanding them and the historical imperative that underlies each. In his brilliant book, The Isles: A History, the historian Norman Davies tackles these distinctions with clarity and precision and what follows is a summary of his introductory clearing of the ground.

Perhaps the first term to be addressed is that of the "British Isles". The term is derived from the ancient Greek geographers who labelled this group of European "offshore" islands the Pretannic Isles. The word Pretannic refers to the act of ritual body painting which the natives of the islands underwent before going into battle in an otherwise naked state. The term clearly became the derivative Britannic and thereby British through long usage. However, distinctions were in place by the Roman period when Britannia was the name used for the largest island whose inhabitants were known as Britones, in the south and the Pictii in the north. The next largest, and westernmost, island was known as Hibernia and her inhabitants, the Iverni were by the Romans called Scotti. They later (in the seventh century) established an independent kingdom in "Pictland". Subsequently, through intermarriage with the Picts, the kingdom which still bears their name, Scotland, appeared in the early mediaeval period. In turn, Norman Conquest in the twelfth century and later Tudor and Stuart Plantations in Hibernia itself resulted in a tenuous unification of what are now commonly understood as the British Isles.

However, Davies writing in 1999 tells us that:

"having written Europe: a history, I was invited to give a lecture at University College Dublin. After the presentation, someone in the audience asked about my current project. I started to reply that I was thinking of writing a history of 'the British -'. Then I realized that in Dublin, of all places, one cannot fairly talk of 'the British Isles!. The Isles ceased to be British precisely fifty years ago when the Republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth, though few people in the British residue have yet cared to notice".
In his trawl through libraries and dictionaries across the English-speaking world he found nothing but confusion. The basic problem was the habit of the inhabitants of the larger island in indulging in an "unshakeable belief" in an unbroken continuity of "our island history". This unquestioning belief is so strong that it completely overpowers the need to adapt to the changing reality. Thus, he contends, the people of Britain are unable to recognise that their United Kingdom has undergone two successive transformations since its creation in 1707 under the Act of Union (Scotland). It changed its name in 1801 under the Act of Union (Ireland) and again in 1922 when the creation of the Irish Free State left the "residue" as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

That "residue" has come to be largely dominated politically by Presbyterian Scotland (and its satellite in Northern Ireland) and Wales. In many respects, England, within this confederation, has become the "Country that dare not speak its name". But for all of that, the monarch is still primarily the "Monarch of England" and the constitutional system within which the monarch functions is a system uniquely devised and elaborated in England.

Davies has outlined the number of different States which are known, from the various historical records, to have existed in the Isles. These can be summarised in ascending chronological order as follows:

Historical States in the Isles

The High Kingship of Ireland to AD 1169
The Ancient British tribal principalities, to circa AD 70
Independent Pictland to the ninth century AD
Roman Britannia, 43 to circa 410 AD
The Independent British/Welsh principalities from the fifth century to 1283, including Cornwall, Cumbria and Strathclyde
The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from the fifth to the tenth centuries
The kingdom of the Scotti (Scots) from the ninth century to 1651
The kingdom of England from the tenth century to 1536 together with its dependencies including the Channel Islands, the isle of Man, the Welsh March, and English-occupied Wales and Ireland
The Kingdom of England and Wales, 1536-1649, 1660-1707
The Kingdom of Ireland, 1541-1649, 1660-1800
The Commonwealth and Free State of England, Wales and Ireland, 1649-1654
The Commonwealth of Great Britain and Ireland, alias the First British Republic, 1654-1660
The United Kingdom of Great Britain, 1707-1800
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 1801-1922
The Irish Free State (later ire, then the Republic of Ireland) since 1922
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, since 1922

From a London perspective, therefore, the name of the state of which it is the Capital has changed no fewer than eight times since the Romans left the island. However, she remains, as she always was, the Capital of England a distinct Nation State within the UK. Of the kingdoms that now make up the United Kingdom it is England that has always been the major centre of innovation and development and the driving force in matters constitutional and industrial in the Kingdom. It is an irony of history that english people today are made to feel that they must apologise to all and sundry for this achievement.

The remaining articles in this series can be accessed by following these links.

English Monarchs: Part 2 - Development of the Monarchy

English Monarchs: Part 3 - Regnal Lists


· More about The Monarchy
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