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9. Edward I
By Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96) – →
Edward I was born in June 1239 and died in July 1307. Also known as Edward Longshanks, he reigned as King of England from 1272 until his death.
He inherited the throne from his father, Henry III, and had first-hand experience of the challenges of governing England. He had fought alongside Henry in the conflict known as the Second Barons’ War, and was taken hostage by the rebellious barons at the Battle of Lewes. Escaping soon afterwards, he continued the fight and led the defeat of the rebels at the Battle of Evesham.
With the barons vanquished, Edward joined the Ninth Crusade to the Holy Land. He was on his way back to England when he heard the news that his father had died. He was clearly in no rush to assume the crown – it took over a year for him to complete the journey and his coronation did not take place until August 1274.
Edward’s reign saw him suppress a series of rebellions, restoring royal authority over England. He also established Parliament as a permanent institution and created a functioning tax system. He strengthened the country’s administration and codified English law.
Other aspects of Edward’s legacy, however, were far from positive. His brutal treatment of England’s northern neighbours earned him the nickname the “Hammer of the Scots”. Jews were another target, and in 1290 Edward issued the Edict of Expulsion, formally expelling all Jews from the country. The edict was not to be overturned for over 350 years.
40. George VI
Known as “Bertie” to his family and close friends, George VI was named after his grandfather, Prince Albert. As the second son of George V, he had never expected to become king and the abdication of his brother Edward VIII to marry Wallis Simpson placed on him an unwelcome burden. The day before the abdication he went to visit his mother, Queen Mary, reporting, “When I told her what had happened, I broke down and sobbed like a child.”
On taking the throne, Albert assumed the name George to reflect continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy after the turbulence of Edward VIII’s short reign. He received speech therapy for a stammer in the mid 1920s – as dramatised in the film The King’s Speech – but never completely overcame the impediment.
King throughout the Second World War, George and his wife, Elizabeth, visited bomb sites, munition factories and troops throughout Britain to raise morale. The King also visited troops abroad in France, North Africa, Malta, Italy and the Netherlands.
He died in his sleep of a coronary thrombosis, aged 56.