Top Ten Achieving Kings of England ~ A guest post by Claire Ridgway


I’m delighted to welcome Claire Ridgway, author of “Illustrated Kings and Queens of England” to The Freelance History Writer blog on the third day of her book/blog tour. Claire’s here to share an article.

My Top Ten Achiever

A big thank you to Susan for hosting me today; it’s wonderful to be here on day three of my virtual book tour for “Illustrated Kings and Queens of England”.

As you will know, English history is full of fascinating monarchs, whether they were good, bad or ugly! But in today’s guest article, I’d like to focus on monarchs that should be praised and remembered for an achievement or two.

1 – King Alfred, the first King of England

Not only was King Alfred (849-899) the first king to call himself King of the English, he has many achievements to his name: his defeat of the Vikings and subsequent peace treaty, his encouragement of the building of “burhs”, or fortified towns, for defence, his creation of a new and improved navy to protect his kingdom from Viking invasion, his creation of an army that worked on a “rota” basis, and his reforms which included legal reform and his promotion of literacy by establishing schools.

2 – Edward the Elder, father and lord

King Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder (c.874-924), continued his father’s work in building more burhs and was able to extend his father’s kingdom so that by the end of his reign the Britons, Scots, Welsh and Vikings all acknowledged him as their “father and lord”.


3 – Aethelstan, the administrator

King Aethelstan (c.895-939) was a gifted lawmaker and administrator. As well as introducing codes with harsh penalties for a number of different crimes, he is also known for centralising government. He divided his kingdom into shires governed by ealdormen, men he chose for the job, and these ealdormen were called to national assemblies.

4 – William I, the Conqueror

The clue is in the name really! William I (c.1028-1087), also known as William the Bastard due to him being the illegitimate son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, is known for his successful invasion of England with his defeat of King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. However, this was not his only achievement. He quashed rebellions, he built a large number of castles (including the White Tower of the Tower of London) and he was responsible for the Domesday Book, the first national census, which was commissioned in 1085 for tax and administration purposes and which was a full record of each landholder in England and Wales, and their holdings.

5 – John and the Magna Carta

Civil war in his reign, which stemmed from the grievances of his barons, led to King John (1167-1216) signing the Magna Carta (Magna Carta Libertatum), or The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames, near Windsor, on 15th June 1215. As I explain in Illustrated Kings and Queens of England, “this charter limited the monarch’s powers, confirmed the liberties of the church and laid out the feudal obligations of the barons. It also set up a council of barons whose job it was to ensure that the monarch complied with the charter”. Although it is seen as the first constitution in the history of Europe and had a widespread influence, such as influencing the Constitution of the USA, King John actually only signed it as a stalling tactic to keep the barons on side and had the charter annulled by Pope Innocent III.


6 – Edward III

King Edward III (1312-1377) is known as one of the most successful monarchs of England’s Middle Ages. Not only did he create the Order of the Garter in 1348, a chivalric order which is still in existence today, but he also developed Parliament with an elected “speaker” to represent the Commons, and he was responsible for legislation like the 1351 Statute of Labourers, the Statutes of Provisors (1350) and Praemunire (1353), and the Treason Act of 1351. He also gave Justices of the Peace the power to try cases, on top of investigating them. All that, and he was a gifted military leader too! He made England into a force to be reckoned with.

7 – Henry V, the Warrior King

King Henry V (1387-1422) was immortalized in William Shakespeare’s famous play which tells the story of the King’s successful conquest of France. Even though his force was vastly outnumbered by the enemy – some sources suggest by 6 to1 – the Warrior King and his skilled English archers defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415. His words, as imagined by the Bard, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” are known the world over. Henry went on to conquer Normandy and Picardy, and then signed the Treaty of Troyes with the French king, Charles VI. The terms of the treaty included Henry marrying Charles’s daughter, Catherine de Valois, and their heirs inheriting the throne of France on Charles’s death. Unfortunately, Henry’s son, Henry VI, wasn’t quite like his dad, but that’s another story!

8 – Henry VII, founder of a new dynasty

At the risk of being shot down by some people, Henry VII (1457-1509) has made it to my list because he fought for the crown against someone he believed to be a usurper, defeated that king (Richard III) in battle at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, brought the Houses of York and Lancaster together thus strengthening the monarchy, reformed and modernised the government and legal system, restored the Crown’s fortunes, quashed rebellions and got rid of pretenders, ruled for over twenty-three years and passed the crown on successfully to his son.

9 – Elizabeth I, Gloriana

Although some historians are now challenging the idea that her reign can be seen as a “golden age”, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) inherited a country that was in quite a depressing state and left it a strong and prosperous one. Her reign was one of expansion. She encouraged explorers (or pirates!) like Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins to discover new places and to form colonies. But surely her greatest achievement has got to be ruling as a woman, without a consort, in a time when women were deemed incapable of doing so. As she once said to Parliament, “I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England”. No-one can doubt her commitment to her country and her people.


10 – William IV and the abolition of slavery

I was so close to picking Queen Victoria (1819-1901) as my tenth achiever, for her reign was one of incredible change and progress, plus Britain was, beyond a doubt, the most powerful country in the world at that point. What is that quote? “The sun never set on the British Empire”, so vast was it in Queen Victoria’s time. However, King William IV (1765-1837) won me over. His reign is known for the updating of the Poor Law, the restriction of child labour, reform of the electoral system, and the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire – things that had a major effect on society at the time.

Of course, there are lots of other monarchs who ruled wisely and who worked hard to make England a better country for their people, so please do feel free to share with me your top “achieving” English monarchs.

The schedule for Claire’s book tour:


Claire Ridgway is the author of best-selling books including:


Claire was also involved in the English translation and editing of Edmond Bapst’s 19th century French biography of George Boleyn and Henry Howard, now available as TWO GENTLEMAN POETS AT THE COURT OF HENRY VIII. Claire worked in education and freelance writing before creating The Anne Boleyn Files history website and becoming a full-time history researcher, blogger and author. The Anne Boleyn Files is known for its historical accuracy and Claire’s mission to get to the truth behind Anne Boleyn’s story. Her writing is easy-to-read and conversational, and readers often comment on how reading Claire’s books is like having a coffee with her and chatting about history. Claire loves connecting with Tudor history fans and helping authors and aspiring authors.

9 thoughts on “Top Ten Achieving Kings of England ~ A guest post by Claire Ridgway

  1. Victoria is definitely a top achieving monarch. She took the throne when she was just 18 and lasted so many years on the throne! Really looking forward to reading this! Thanks for the giveaway!


  2. As Claire stated with Henry VII at the risk of getting shot down.I believe that Henry VIII did much good for the country and his achievements were game changers so to speak.


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