History Jar challenge 16

We’re branching out a bit this week. I’ve had a good long think and I’ve realised that I often mention kings of France – I suppose it makes sense given the number of wars that there’ve been between the Anjevins and French, the Plantagenets and the French, the Tudors and the French etc etc.

So, 1) how many of France’s monarchs can you name? 2) And which king of England was crowned King of France?

The French gave their monarchs some colourful nicknames – I can’t imagine a Plantagenet monarch being too pleased to be described as …the Lazy or the Fat…though as you can see Henry V who was named regent of France as part of the Treaty of Troyes has inspired me to attempt an accurate if unflattering nickname -I’m sure that you can do better – go on give it a go. If nothing else coming up with nicknames for English kings and queens should keep you on your toes this week, though I doubt if anyone can better the Saxon Ethelred the Unready.

History Jar Challenge 15 answers – Saxon kings of the Cerdic line

King Alfred the Great – Wantage – his birthplace.

There have been a many Saxon kings of England and at times there were seven kingdoms in England know as the Heptarchy. The Dark Ages as they once were but have been renamed the Early Medieval Period. I have listed all the kings of the Cerdic line but realistically the kings of Wessex only had a claim to being the kings of all of England from 924 onwards. The tenth century also saw an assortment of Danish kings who I have listed as part of this post.

This was a tricky challenge as there are many Saxon kings who have not achieved much notice by popular history.

The kingdom of Wessex was founded in A.D. 519 by Cerdic. Chroniclers helpfully tracked his family tree back to Noah – leaving that aside, Queen Elizabeth I is a direct descendent of Cerdic as are all monarchs from Henry II onwards. Henry’s paternal grandmother was Edith or Matilda of Scotland who was St Margaret’s daughter. Margaret and her brother, Edgar, were the last surviving representatives of the royal house of Wessex in 1066.

The golden wyvern that can be seen in the borders of the Bayeux Tapestry is the chosen symbol of the royal house of Wessex.

The family tree from Cerdic is based on a 9th century chronicle. Cerdic was followed by his son Cynric and his grandson Ceawlin. History isn’t quite sure what happened to Ceawlin but he was succeeded by his nephew (we think) Ceol circa 591. The throne went to Ceol’s brother Ceolwulf after he died in 597. This was because Ceol’s son, Cynegils, was too young to rule at the time. Little is known about Ceolwulf aside from the fact he spent a lot of time fighting the Welsh, the Picts and the Scots.

In 611 Ceolwulf died by which time Cynegils was old enough to rule – which he did. Cynegils gave the northern bit of his kingdom to his son Cwichelm. Cynegils also recognised the power of the kingdom of Mercia and married off his younger son into the royal house of Mercia. For those of you with a Derbyshire connection it was during this period that the Northumbrians clashed with the house of Wessex in Derbyshire near modern day Castleton and Win Hill and Lose Hill got their names. Wessex didn’t win. They were weakened politically and in terms of man power. It wasn’t long before Mercia was much bigger and Wessex was much smaller.

Cynegils died and was succeeded by his son Cenwahl who had been married to Penda of Mercia’s sister in a bid to maintain some sort of peace. Cenwahl now discarded his wife which was not an astute move. Penda took a dim view of the situation and was soon king of Wessex as well as Mercia.

Cenwahl eventually got his throne back but the succession was a bit messy. Æscwine, who was Cenwahl’s son ruled for two years before Centwine, uncle of Æscwine, took the throne in 676. Cyngils had converted to Christianity whilst in exile when Penda was king of Wessex and Centwine was also a Christian – so much so that it’s centrally believed that in 685 he washed his hands of the world in order to become a monk.

His successor was Cædwalla who had been forced out of Wessex when he was a young man along with other members of the extended Cerdic family by Cenwahl. History isn’t quite sure how he fits into the Cerdic line but the chroniclers are clear that he does and clearly Cenwahl regarded him as a potential nuisance. In 688 having built a more stable kingdom he became a Christian and abdicated having been injured. He died a short time afterwards.

Wessex became a somewhat chaotic for a time after that. Cædwalla had been a strong king who had subdued various sub-kings but now they were able to make their own bids for power and for land. King Ine emerged as the dominant figure. He would rule for 37 years.

Æthelheard  became king in 726. He was Inge’s brother-in-law and became king because of the influence of Mercia. Wessex now found itself on the back foot. Mercia became increasingly powerful.

Cuthred of Wessex, who was Æthelheard’s brother ruled from 740 to 756. At this time the king of Mercia was the overlord of the king of Wessex but by the time he died Wessex was more politically powerful.

Sigeberht ruled Wessex for a year from 757 to 757. He was probably Cuthred’s cousin. He was kicked off the throne by the Witan – or council- under the leadership of Cynewulf due to unlawful acts. The witan gave him various bits of Hampshire in compensation but he managed to kill someone whose family killed him in return. Sigeberht’s brother Cyneheard was also removed from power when Sigeberht was toppled. He bided his time for the better part of thirty years before taking his revenge.

Cynewulf ruled for 29 years but was eventually murdered by Cyneheard whilst visiting his mistress. In 779 the kingdom of Wessex was beaten in battle by the Offa, the king of Mercia. Mercia dominated politics at this time in the Saxon power shuffle.

Beorthric of Wessex was of the Cerdic line according to the chroniclers but no one was quite clear where he fitted in the picture. Suffice it to say he wouldn’t have been king of Wessex without the help of Offa of Mercia. He married one of Offa’s daughters for good measure having driven his rival Egbert into exile.

Egbert became king of Wessex in 802 having been forced into exile by Offa of Mercia and Beorthric of Wessex. His remains are in the mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral. He was succeeded by his son Ethelwulf in 839. Ultimately he handed Wessex to his son Ethelbad but continued to reign elsewhere in England.

And we arrive at our first scandal. Ethelbad married his father’s widow – Judith of France. Judith was Ethelwulf’s second wife and there were no children from either of the marriages. Understandably the church looked askance at her marriage to her step-son.

Ethelbad died in 860 and was succeeded by is brother Ethelbert who also died without heirs so the throne passed to another brother Ethelred in 865.

King Ethelred or Æthelred I died on 23 April 871 at the Battle of Merton between the Saxons and the Great Heathern Army as the Danes were known. He was succeeded by his very well known brother King Alfred the Great.

When Alfred died he passed the throne to his son Edward the Elder in 899.

In 924/5 Athelstan succeeded his father. Athelstan realistically claimed the crown not only of Wessex but of England. He never married and when he died he was succeeded by his half brother Edmund I – or the Magnificent. He was murdered in 946 whitely having his diner in 946. His brother Edred succeeded him. Edred died in 955 and was succeeded by his nephew Edwy. As you can see the succession is not necessarily as straight forward one. Kings of Wessex and subsequently kings of England were chosen from a pool of people from the Cerdic bloodline.

Edwy the Fair ruled for four years before dying and being succeeded by his brother Edgar. Edgar married twice – his second marriage was to Elfrida who was somewhat scandalous. When Edgar died in 975 he was succeeded by his son from his first marriage Edward -who swiftly became known as Edward the Martyr when he was murdered at Corfe Castle by his step-mother Elfrida who wanted her own son to rule.

Edward the Martyr

Ethelred or Æthelred II now became king – history knows him as Ethelred or Æthelred the Unready. Unready simply means ill advised. He became king in 978 after the untimely demise of his half-brother. Ethelred married twice. His second wife was Emma of Normandy which was convenient when she, Ethelred and their sons Edward and Alfred had to flee England when Sweyn Forkbeard invaded.

Fugit emma regina cum pueris suis in normanniam cum pueris suis ut ibidem a duce patre suo protegatur.

Sweyn died in 1014. Ethelred returned and when he died two years later his son from his first marriage Edmund II or Edmund Ironside became king. He died the same year. Edmund had been married to Edith, the daughter of an East Anglian thane and their sons Edward and Edmund were sent to Denmark and from there sent to Hungary. Edmund died young but Edward married Agatha and would have a part to play in England’s history.

Edward spent most of his life in exile. He was eventually invited home by his half-uncle Edward the Confessor only to be murdered (in all likelihood) shortly after arrival in England. His son is better known in history as Edgar the Atheling who was proclaimed king after the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold. He was required to submit to William the Conqueror – though of course, that wasn’t the end of his story. Edgar’s sister is known in history as St Margaret.

Meanwhile Ethelred’s widow married to the Danish king Canute who took the throne after Edmund Ironside’s death. Canute or Cnut ruled from 30 November 1016 until 12 November 1035. He was succeeded by his son Hathacanute and then by his half-brother Harold Harefoot. Harold died in 1040 without heirs allowing the royal house of Wessex back into the picture.

Edward the Confessor – drawn from the Bayeux Tapestry

Ethelred the Unready’s son, Edward the Confessor now became king of England. He died on the 4th or 5th of January 1066. He had no direct heirs. Edgar the Atheling was too young to rule and was not sufficiently popular in any event so Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex became King Harold II of England.

Weir Alison, Britain’s Royal Families.

Picture Quiz 6

This week’s picture quiz is another mechanical device – though somewhat earlier than the Enigma machine. What is it? And for no prizes whatsoever – who did it belong to? Readers of the blog who also attend my classes may recognise it as I am prone to mentioning it whenever I discuss it’s owner.

Picture Quiz 5 answer

Detail from the Enigma Machine

So who spotted the Enigma Machine? It was possibly a bit easier than the Viking lock and key.

Essentially the enigma machine was developed by the Germans during World War II to encrypt messages so that they could be transmitted securely. For a time the code seemed unbreakable. Alan Turing cracked the code with his team at Bletchley Park. The brilliant mathematician was eventually able to use the Bletchley Park Bombe machine to decrypt the signals.

Polish mathematicians initially started the process which was complicated when the Germans started changing their code every day. The capture of a set of code books and an in tact enigma machine by the Royal Navy on May 9th 1941 was key to the success – in later times Holywood played fast and loose with history by replacing the British Navy with an American force.

Having been to Bletchley Park I am still more than a little confused by what went on in hut 8, despite using the children’s guide and can only conclude that some very clever people worked there.

The Enigma Machine

History Jar Challenge 15

King Alfred the Great – Wantage Market place

15 weeks! Goodness. This week’s challenge is taking us back somewhat beyond our normal cut off of the Eleventh Century – Saxon Kings, I’m going with Wessex on the grounds of the Cerdic bloodline which was a factor in choosing English kings by the Eleventh Century assuming that they weren’t Scandinavian types. I think you can all name at least four of them. Happy thinking.

Picture Quiz 5

As you can see we’ve moved forward in time from the Vikings. I have the feeling that this will be more obvious.

History Jar Challenge 14 – kings and queens of Scotland from Kenneth III

Royal Arms of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle

Kenneth III became king of Scotland in 997. He made it into the eleventh century but died in 1005 where upon he was succeeded by a cousin Malcom II who is often identified as Prince of Cumbria, demonstrating that the northern borders between England and Scotland were not as we would recognise them today. He died in 1034 and was succeeded by his grandson – Duncan.

Duncan I signals the start of the reign of the House of Dunkeld. He’d become King of Strathclyde in 1018, again demonstrating that the late tenth – early eleventh century was a time of shifting borders and the amalgamation of kingdoms. King Duncan as all G.C.S.E. students can tell you was bumped off by Macbeth. He became king in 1040 and was succeeded by his step-son who was killed in 1058 when King Duncan’s son took the throne.

Malcolm III is also known as Malcolm Canmore which apparently means “bighead” – there’s not much one can say to that other than to move swiftly on to him marrying a Saxon refugee who promptly became St Margaret of Scotland and filled the court with her Saxon friends and relations making her unpopular with the resident Scots. Malcolm was killed in 1093 near Alnwick – which is the History Jar’s opening gambit on the Anglo-Scots wars that continued intermittently and with varying degrees of ferocity until the beginning of the seventeenth century – not counting the reprise under a different guise in the Civil War in the middle of the century.

St Margaret – Edinburgh Castle chapel

Malcolm was succeeded by his brother Duncan III who usurped the throne from Malcolm’s son which is going to make the Duncan numbering somewhat complex at this point – don’t query it, just accept that in this instance Duncan III comes before Duncan II! He grabbed the throne on 13 November 1093 but was turfed off it by the rightful successor the following year – another Duncan. Malcolm’s son is identified as Duncan II because that’s the correct ordering genealogically. Duncan II having gained the throne promptly died meaning that in a game of musical crowns Duncan III became king once more, ruling north of the Forth/Clyde line whilst his nephew Edmund ruled south of the line. Both Donald and Edmund were deposed in 1097 by King Edgar – and then you wonder why I haven’t ventured into Scottish history very much!

The parents of both Edmund and Edgar were Malcolm and Margaret so at least the Crown stayed in the family. When Edgar died the crown passed to his brother Alexander I. History records him as Alexander the Fierce. He married Sybilla who was one of King Henry I’s illegitimate daughters. The couple appear to have had no children so when he died the throne was passed to yet another brother – David who became King David I in April 1124.

If you recall, the inter-marital links between the royal houses of Scotland and England were strong at this time. Henry I had married one of St Margaret’s daughters – Edith who changed her name to Matilda when she married to fit into the Norman court better. Alexander was married to Edith/Matilda’s step-daughter and David I was married to another member of the royal family – Matilda of Huntingdon who was William the Conqueror’s niece or put another way Henry I’s cousin. By right of his marriage to Matilda, David became the earl of Huntingdon which raises the problem of a Scottish king having to do homage to a king of England for his lands in England. And you can see why politics swiftly became very complicated. Most Scottish kings got out of the bind by swearing very specific allegiance to the king of England for their lands in England “saving their own” i.e Scotland wasn’t part of the deal.

David I ruled Scotland whilst England tore itself apart during The Anarchy. He took advantage of the warfare between Stephen and Matilda to reclaim parts of Cumberland which William Rufus had annexed circa 1092, doing building work on Carlisle Castle and eventually dying there in 1153. He was succeeded by his grandson, another Malcolm.

Malcolm IV is know rather unflatteringly to history as Malcolm the Maiden. He was only eleven when he became king. He died in 1165 and was succeeded by his brother William the Lion. He married into the English royal family as well. His wife Ermengarde was the great-granddaughter of Henry I by descent from yet another illegitimate child of the English king.

Their son became Alexander II in 1214. He also married into the English royal family to cement a treaty of friendship. He married Joan Plantagenet, the legitimate daughter of King John- there are two English Joans, this one and Joan Beaufort so be aware when you’re reading about Queen Joan that there were two of them at different times. They married in York Minster in 1221. Joan was only eleven at the time of the marriage. She seems not to have had a strong position at court where her mother-in-law was the power behind the throne. She ultimately returned home to England. The chronicler Matthew Paris suggests that the royal couple were estranged and it is perhaps fortunate for Alexander that Joan died enabling him to remarry. An annulment would have led at the very least to political difficulties.

Alexander III succeeded his father in 1249. He was only eight at the time and on one occasion during his childhood was kidnapped during a power struggle between two noble families. He married in 1251 another English bride sent north to represent parental interests and keep the peace. Margaret was the daughter of King Henry III of England. Henry III didn’t help things when he tried to make Alexander recognise Henry as his overlord. In 1262 Alexander took charge of his kingdom and got round the overlord thing by swearing loyalty to Henry III “saving my own lands” as in what’s in England I am loyal to you for but what’s in Scotland’s mine! Margaret died in 1275. Unfortunately both the couple’s sons died and their daughter Margaret had married Eric II of Norway following Alexander’s attempt to remove the Scandinavians from the Western Isles.

Alexander remarried to ensure that he had a son but was so keen to see his bride that he rode off into a dark and stormy night. His horse threw him and to make matters worse his granddaughter, known as the Maid of Norway, who now inherited the Scottish crown died on her way from Norway to England. Some sources say seasickness whilst others speculate that it was food poisoning.

Thirteen claimants to the throne now emerged – which was not good news which ever way you looked at it.

Initially the Crown was claimed by the House of Balliol in the person of King John. He was the great-great grandson of King David I. He was chosen to become king of Scotland by King Edward I of England who had been asked to referee the situation. John’s wife, for those of you with enquiring minds, was part of the extended Plantagenet family. The situation gave Edward I an opportunity to promote claims of English overlordship – so King John did not necessarily win friends and influence people with his promotion to the kingship – there were also, of course, many other peeved claimants who cheerfully overlooked that genealogically by right of the first born, it was John who should be king.

Robert de Bruce was the next claimant and his claim was that he was closest to the throne by “proximity of blood.” Or put another way he might have been further away in terms of primogeniture i.e. there were older sibling family lines but he was higher up the family tree e.g. if a son survived then that son should inherit rather than a grandson even if he was the heir of the first born.

To cut a long story short John abdicated in 1296. There was an Interregnum without anyone on the throne. Then Robert Bruce seized the throne.

Robert Bruce became King Robert I. He was succeeded by his son David II in 1328 but was then overthrown in 1332 by Edward Balliol who fancied his chances despite his father having abdicated. David II regained the throne the same year but there was another throne swap in 1333 and 1334 and 1335 and 1336 – think of it as an arm wrestling contest where first one then the other seems stronger – David ruled until 1371 when he died. He had no children so was succeeded by his nephew Robert Stewart.

The House of Stewart in the form of Robert II took the throne in 1371. He died in 1390 having produced many children. His son John became king but to avoid confusion…seriously…became Robert III. His son became James I in 1406 which was unfortunate as he was a prisoner of the English at the time.

James I married Joan Beaufort, the daughter of the Earl of Somerset, granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It was a royal love story. He wrote her a poem and dropped roses out of his window for her to find. When they returned to Scotland James was eventually assassinated and Joan took a bloody vengeance on the men who’d killed her husband.

Their son became James II when he was seven years old. Joan was marginalised after her second marriage. James II was killed on 3rd August 1460 when a canon exploded during the Siege of Roxburgh during an attempt to remove it from English custody. James III was nine years old and was assassinated in his turn in 1488. He was succeeded by his son James IV who married Margaret Tudor the eldest daughter of King Henry VII. James was killed by his royal brother-in-law’s army at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September 1513. His head and body are probably buried in separate locations having been carried back to London – which possibly didn’t help Anglo-Scottish relations very much let alone sibling ones.

James V was just seventeen months old when he became king of Scotland. he ruled until his own death after the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. He allegedly turned his face to the wall when he heard the news of the Scottish defeat saying of his new born daughter that the crown came with a lassie and would go with one. His demise resulted in the so-called “Rough Wooing” with Henry VIII forcibly attempting to marry off his sister’s granddaughter – the infant Mary Queen of Scots – to his own son Edward. The Scots arranged a marriage with the French dauphin and sent their queen to France where she remained until Francis died and she returned home.

Mary , queen from seven days old, married for a second time to Henry Stuart. Henry’s father Matthew Stewart decided he liked the French spelling of the name better for those of you wondering about the difference in spelling – same family – fashionable Matthew. Henry, styled Lord Darnley from birth was the grandson of Margaret Tudor from her second marriage which meant that Mary’s son James who was born on 19th June 1566 had a double dose of Tudor blood. His grandmother Margaret Douglas (Margaret Tudor’s daughter by her second husband) had been born on the English side of the border when Margaret Tudor had fled Scotland – so the Darnley side of the equation were English born and English subjects so not legally debarred from inheriting English titles.

More importantly James VI of Scotland as he became was male, with a direct Tudor bloodline and by 1603 had his own heir and a spare. Following the death of Elizabeth I who died without naming an heir James was invited into England to become James I of England.

Time for a cold compress and a lay down in a darkened room?….

Picture quiz 4 answers

Jorvik Viking Centre – Padlock and Key

Well! This week you were certainly intrigued and so many good guesses but no one got it. The image is of a padlock and key found in York dating from the Viking era during the Coppergate Dig – something I looked forward to seeing most summers now I come to think about it.

The barrel shaped lock is opened by inserting the key into the opening at the end. I think that the action of fitting the key compresses springs to release the shackle of the bolt. The lock is a high status item in its own right.

History jar podcast episode 5 – The House of York

Episode 5 of the podcast is now available in the series No plan like yours to study history wisely. Having covered the Lancastrians in previous podcast we have now arrived at the house of York, descended thrice over from Edward III. This week we cover Richard of Consiburgh and Richard of York – not to mention assorted Earls of March before progressing to Edward IV, Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.

I’m relaxing a bit more but am aware that I can still improve the quality of the presentation – none the less I hope that you’re enjoying the podcasts. I’ve actually started to enjoy making them, not least because I now feel much more confident with the software…and am enjoying the sound effects!


With many thanks to Andrew Durrant of This is Distorted


And the legal bit:

This podcast uses sounds from free sound which are licensed under creative commons:

Ambient battle sounds by pfranzen at https://freesound.org/people/pfranzen/sounds/192072/

Beheading SFX by Ajexk at https://freesound.org/s/271984/

Canonfire sound by hellboy1305 at


History Jar Challenge 14

James VI of Scotland and I of England

How many Scottish monarchs can you identify beginning from Kenneth III who died in 1005 and finishing with James VI of Scotland who became James I of England in 1603.

The House of Alpin, of which Kenneth was part, ruled from 848 until 1034. I’ve opted for an eleventh century start as it’s concurrent with the history written about in many posts of the History Jar and there were, as we discovered last week, many marriages made into the Scottish royal family.