Ruling over medieval England was difficult, with so much land to acquire and rebellions to quell. Some warriors won the battles and became kings, while others failed. But when it comes to deciding on the greatest medieval king, the task is not easy.
Here is a list of the 5 greatest medieval kings of England whose leadership changed the course of the country’s history, depending on our opinion.
5 Greatest Medieval Kings of England
Richard I (r. 1189-1199)
Richard I is counted as one of the most iconic medieval kings. He only spent six months of his one decade of reign on England land and never spoke English. He was more focused on international war-mongering instead of affairs within England itself. Some historians say that Richard I only used England to raise money through taxes and used it for waging war abroad.
He built a reputation as a fearless warrior king and is remembered for his contribution to the Third Crusade, a religious campaign to regain the holy lands from the military leader and Muslim leader Saladin. During battles, Richard was a strong commander and the best military tactician. He even ordered the killing of 2,700 Muslim prisoners during the 1191 dispute over Acre city.
Even though he won many battles in the Holy Land, his primary goal was to conquer Jerusalem for the glory of western Christendom. He made a truce with Saladin. However, he was forced to concede failure and head back to England.
On his way home, he was captured and handed over to German king Henry VI who demanded 150,000 marks from England to allow Richard to return. Richard accepted it and headed straight back to Normandy and Aquitaine battlefields. He died from an arrow wound during the siege battle.
Edward I (r. 1272-1307)
Edward I contributed the most in the era to bolster England’s power than any other medieval king. He was known as ‘Longshanks’ because of his tall build. He contributed a lot to the process of unification of the British Isles. This process might look peaceful to a lot of people, but the campaign of suppression led by Edward to force Wales and Scotland to bend to England was very harsh.
Edward faced major troubles when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales, refused to pay the homage. In response, Edward built a chain of castles along the Welsh north coast to force Wales and its leaders into submission. It led to blocking supplies into that region, and the Welsh wish for independence was quashed. After defeating Llywelyn in 1282, Edward gave his son the title of Prince of Wales.
Edward I imposed major taxes on English Jews and pressured them to convert. This campaign of persecution culminated in 1290, leading to the banishment of Jews from England. He also led some of the major campaigns in Scotland, such as the country’s successful invasion in 1296. William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, the major Scots, rebelled against him, but Edward was able to invade the country. In 1307, Edward I died on his way to fight Robert Bruce.
Edward II (r. 1307-1327)
Edward II was another medieval king known as an inept military leader whose entire ruling time was filled with poor decision-making and conflicts. His idea was to live as a rustic in his area while letting the government do its work. It resulted in the punctuation of his reign by sporadic explosions among locals and the rise of Ordainers, descendants of the reformers of 1258.
Edward II defeated the Ordainers in 1322 but later failed to capitalise on his success. Even when the Civil war broke out, he found himself devoid of supporters. He had conflicts with his own family, which resulted in his queen and her lover Mortimer murdering him and putting an end in the dungeons of Berkeley Castle. Edward III, his son, then erected his tomb.
Henry V (r. 1413-1422)
Henry V is a famous medieval king known for his battle with France. Earlier, he was a renowned monarch in England and was not intended for the throne. But when he was 13 years old, his father, Henry Bolingbroke, usurped Richard II, the current king, and seized the throne. That’s when Henry V became heir to the throne after his father.
As a teenager, Henry V developed good military skills. At age 16, he proved to be a strong commander by leading the troops in the battle of Shrewsbury. He also contributed to major campaigns to help his father attack the Welsh rebellion. His role as Prince of Wales was not very smooth. He had some heated disputes with his father, but it didn’t stop him from becoming a great king.
Henry V inherited the throne in 1413. He immediately launched a major attack on France to reclaim the lost territories. In 1415, he defeated the French in the battle of Agincourt. And William Shakespeare featured this victory of Henry V in one of his books. In 1422, he suddenly died at 36 after falling sick while contracting dysentery at the siege of Meaux.
Richard III (r. 1483-1485)
Unlike other medieval kings, Richard III was fascinated with academics and the public. After his brother Edward IV’s death, he was appointed as the protector of the realm and to safeguard his 12 years old nephew Edward V. In June 1483, the imputations were cast on the legitimacy of the young king and his brother, which led to Richard becoming the king.
After the mysterious disappearance of the prince during Richard’s care, a rumour spread in the country that their uncle, Richard III, has murdered them. These claims were never proven, and Richard remained the king. However, very soon, Richard’s grip on England started losing. In August 1485, Richard dealt the final blow. Henry Tudor attacked England and came to blows with Richard during the battle of Bosworth. At first, Richard’s chances of winning the battle looked promising, but he met with a devastating defeat. With his death, the medieval era ended, and the new Royal dynasty, Tudors, became prominent.
Medieval England saw many kings and monarchs who left a strong mark on the country’s history. Whether real or fictitious, all kings were represented as superheroes of the medieval era. Even movies, novels, and tales picture them as fearless rulers and warriors. Reading about kings and rulers of the past still charms everyone today. We hope you enjoyed reading the list of 5 top medieval kings of England, and it has fascinated the history-enthusiastic inside you.