What makes a king or a queen? Is it Divine will as many monarchs have claimed? Some might think that one might need to have been born in England to rule over its people, but history has shown otherwise. Several of England’s monarchs came from foreign lands, ascending the throne either by invitation or by force. Coming from many varied parts of Europe, these kings below were not native-born of England, but each changed its destiny in their own ways. Enjoy reading about England’s foreign kings and let us know your favorite in the comments.
Cnut the Great
Cnut was still only a prince of Denmark when he crossed the North Sea in 1015. Landing in the Kingdom of Wessex, he forced it to submit and marched north, taking London, Mercia, and Northumbria, defeating the armies of the Anglo-Saxons as he went. A treaty with King Edmund of Wessex left Cnut King of England north of the Thames, while Edmund continued to rule everything south of the river, including London. Cnut remained king for another twenty years and after his death, Cnut’s successors would pave the way for another foreign king.
King Edward the Confessor was Cnut’s son-in-law but died without an heir to the throne. While the Anglo-Saxon nobles elected Harold Godwinson as their new king, Duke William of Normandy had a blood relation claim to Edward as well as a supposed promise from the king to name William as heir. William crossed the English Channel and proceeded north until he met Harold’s forces at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Defeating Harold in battle, William was crowned king on Christmas day and instituted changes that started England on the path to its modern status.
Like William I before him, Henry II hailed from France and was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Duke of Anjou, and Empress Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I of England. In the period known as “The Anarchy” following Henry I’s death, Matilda tried to take the throne but was rejected in favor of her cousin, Stephen of Blois, sparking a civil war. When he came of age, Henry continued the war against his own relative and gained enough success that Stephen opted to name Henry as his successor in a treaty to bring the civil war to an end. When Stephen died in 1154, Henry ascended the throne as King Henry II.
The throne remained in English hands for several centuries after Henry’s reign, but by the time of the Tudor Dynasty, Queen Elizabeth I chose to remain without a spouse or heir for her reign. When she passed away, her nephew James was already King of Scotland as King James VI. Being Elizabeth’s closest blood relative, he was naturally proclaimed her successor in 1603 as the elder queen lay dying. With his coronation on July 25, 1603, he became King James VI of Scotland and James I of England, unifying the two crowns and producing the first Union Flag in 1606, a predecessor to the modern Union Jack. James also patronized a translation of the Bible that would become highly influential as the King James Edition.
However, the Stuart dynasty that began with James was not to last. Following the reigns of his descendants Charles I and Charles II, the English government was weary of the prospect that King James II might lead Protestant England back into Catholicism. James dissolved Parliament over its unwillingness to overturn anti-Catholic laws and also openly persecuted Anglican clergymen, causing the government to enter into negotiations with William, then stadtholder (effectively king) of the Dutch Republic. With assurances of the English government’s support, William crossed the channel to accept the crown. He married Mary, James II’s daughter, as a further cementing of his claim on the throne and they ruled together as King Henry III and Queen Mary II.
After William and Mary died without issue, the crown passed to Mary’s sister, who became Queen Anne. As she had no heir, a success crisis seemed to loom as the Scottish Parliament (known as The Estates) would not recognize the English Parliament’s chosen successor, Sophia, Electress of Hanover. Scotland negotiated a trade bill for its say in the heir to the throne, eventually producing the Act of Union in 1707 that officially created the Kingdom of Great Britain. After Sophia died in 1714, her son George became the heir presumptive and succeeded to the crown later that year when Anne passed away after suffering a stroke. Thus, speaking German and not much English, he was crowned King George I on October 20, 1714, beginning the House of Hanover and a family line that would eventually lead to the modern Royal Family.
King George II gets in here on a bit of a technicality since, while he ascended to the throne directly from his father, King George I, George II was also born in Germany. George was born in Hanover and, like his father, was not a natural speaker of English. He traveled to England with his father in 1714 for the coronation and was invested as heir and Prince of Wales. George clashed regularly with his father on policy during George I’s reign and when George I died in 1727, George II elected not to travel to Germany for the funeral. Rather than earning any scorn from the English people, they praised George II for the decision as they believed it showed that he had turned his back on his German roots and fully embraced Englishness. His grandson, King George III, would be the first Hanoverian monarch to be a native English speaker.