Lesson Plans The History of the Kings of Britain

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Britain falls siege to a number of attacks from the Picts of present—day Scotland. The Romans stage one rescue attempt, and then end all support of Britain. In desperation, the Archbishop of London travels to Brittany, and offers the rulership of Britain to its leader, Aldroenus, if he will provide aid.

Aldroenus declines, but offers the task to his brother, Constantine. Constantine takes an army to Britain, and under his leadership, the Britons learn how to defend themselves again. He temporarily scatters the invading tribes from the land, and later, he is crowned at Silchester. He marries and has three sons. The oldest, Constans, becomes a monk, the second is named Aurelius Ambrosius, and the third is Utherpendragon. After ruling for ten years, Constantine is murdered by a Pictish assassin. A dispute arises over which one of his sons, Aurelius Ambrosius, or Utherpendragon, should rule, and a devious nobleman named Vortigern seizes the opportunity to gain power for himself.

Vortigern visits the eldest son, Constans, and convinces him to take the crown himself. Constans quickly becomes Vortigern's puppet, and Vortigern eventually arranges to have the Picts assassinate him so he can crown himself king. For display, he has the assassins executed, even though this was all part of his plan. Meanwhile, the guardians of the two remaining princes, Aurelius Ambrosius and Utherpendragon, have them taken to Brittany for safety.

Vortigern's execution of the Pictish assassins prompts the Picts to retaliate, and they begin their invasion again. At this time, two Saxon leaders named Hengist and Horsa land in Britain with three ships full of warriors, offering their services to any prince who will employ them. Vortigern chooses to employ them as mercenaries, and they win several successful battles against the Picts.

As a reward, Hengist is given lands in Lincolnshire, and he brings more Saxons into Britain on the pretense of being able to use them as warriors for the kingdom. When Vortigern meets Hengist's beautiful daughter, Renwein, he is immediately smitten by her, and Hengist agrees to marry them in exchange for more lands in Kent.

Vortigern agrees and turns over the lands to him without the knowledge of the earl already ruling over that province. The thought of their king being married to a Saxon disgusts most Britons, including his three sons, but they remain loyal to their king. Once he becomes Vortigern's father—in—law, Hengist begins taking advantage of his new position, and convinces Vortigern to turn more lands over to his new, Saxon relatives. Meanwhile, the British people are growing increasingly resentful of their king, who has allowed so many Saxons to enter the land, that they now outnumber the British, and have begun cohabiting with British women.

They present their case to Vortigern to make the Saxons leave. When he refuses, the British people crown one of his sons, Vortimer, as their king instead. Vortimer shares the British people's sentiments, and he takes up arms against the Saxons, restoring the lands to the Britons from whom they had been taken, and restores several British churches that had been destroyed by the pagan Saxons. But his stepmother, Reinwein, becoming jealous over the loss of her husband's status, bribes one of Vortimer's servants to slip poison into his drink.

With the death of his son, Vortigern is crowned king again, and allows the Saxons to return to Britain, where they arrange a conference of British and Saxon men to sign a peace treaty. At a signal from Hengist, the Saxons pull out daggers and slaughter unarmed British men.

Vortigern's life is spared, but he is forced to turn over several of his cities and fortresses. Vortigern, at a loss as to what to do, flees to Wales. He asks his soothsayers for advice, and they advise him to build a strong tower so he will have a place of safety from the Saxons he has brought into Britain.


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Vortigern surveys the land and finally decides to build his tower in the remote, mountainous region of Snowdonia. But every time his workmen begin building the tower, the next day they come back to find that the stones they had laid the previous day have fallen down. Vortigern asks his soothsayers why this keeps happening.

Unable to give him an answer, they tell him that he must find a boy who had been born of no father, kill him, and sprinkle his blood on the ground where the tower is to be built. Vortigern sends messengers all over the country to find a boy born without a father, and at last they find Merlin. In Geoffrey's History, Merlin is not yet depicted as being the kindly, old wizard we think of today, but instead, as a young boy and prophet who performs several amazing feats. Merlin's mother is a nun living in Saint Peter's Church, and his father was an incubus — a creature from Celtic mythology who is part angel and part human.

He used to appear and disappear to Merlin's mother in her room at night. When the messengers learn about Merlin, they bring him and his mother to Vortigern for questioning, and she tells the king the story of Merlin's conception. The king consults with one of his advisors, who confirms that her story is possible. At this point, the king plans to kill Merlin, but Merlin tells him that his soothsayers are lying, and shows him that the real reason the stones keep falling is because the fortress is being built over an underground pool in which two dragons lay sleeping.

At Merlin's prompting, Vortigern orders his men to dig, and they do, indeed, find the pool. When it is drained, two dragons emerge and begin fighting.

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One of the dragons is white, and the other, red. As the dragons fight, the white one begins winning, and drives the red one to the edge of the pool. This is a sign, Merlin explains: the white dragon represents the Saxons, and the red one, the Britons, Vortigern's own people whom he has betrayed. Merlin predicts that the white dragon will overcome the red one, just as the people of Britain will be overcome by the Saxons. However, in the end, the Boar of Cornwall by whom he means Arthur will drive off the invaders, and the Britons will emerge victorious. At this point, Merlin begins a long prophecy of what will happen to Britain in the future.

Geoffrey devotes an entire chapter to this prophecy, and tells us it was originally intended as a separate book which he was asked to translate. But, he says, he has included it here at the request of others.

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The prophecy is, for the most part, gibberish, and appears to be Geoffrey's original creation. After Merlin finishes prophesying, Vortigern asks what his own fate will be. Merlin advises him to flee, for not only will the Saxons try to kill him, but the young princes, Aurelius Ambrosius and Utherpendragon, have grown up, and have returned to take vengeance on him for killing their father and stealing his throne.

Merlin's prediction is accurate. That day, the two princes land on the shores of Britain, and Aurelius Ambrosius is immediately crowned king by the British people. Vortigern flees and travels across Wales, but Aurelius and his army pursue him and force him to take refuge in one of his fortresses. They manage to set it on fire, and Vortigern perishes in the flames. Next, Aurelius attacks the Saxons, and drives them north. They inherited their titles through primogeniture , had a favoured position in legal matters, enjoyed the highest positions in society, and held seats in the House of Lords.

The vast land holdings seized from the monasteries under Henry VIII of England in the s were sold mostly to local gentry, greatly expanding the wealth of that class of gentlemen. The gentry tripled to 15, from in the century after Many families died out, and others moved up, so that three-fourths of the peers in had been created by Stuart kings since He also became king of Ireland, but the English were just reestablishing lost control there.

The English re-conquest was completed after victory in the Nine Years' War , — James' appointees in Dublin as Lord Deputy of Ireland established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralised government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the native lordships.

The great majority of the Irish population remained Catholic, but James promoted heavy Protestant migration from Scotland into the Ulster region. The new arrivals were known as Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish. In turn many of them migrated to the new American colonies during the Stuart period. King James was failing in physical and mental strength, because of this he was often mocked by his family and his own father would throw objects at him when he would try to stand up, and decision-making was increasingly in the hands of Charles and especially George Villiers — , he was Earl of Buckingham from and Duke from Buckingham showed a very high degree of energy and application, as well as a huge appetite for rewards and riches.

By he was effectively the ruler of England. In Charles became the king of a land deeply involved in a European war and rent by escalating religious controversies. Buckingham and Charles developed a foreign policy based on an alliance with France against Spain. Widespread rumour shaped public opinion that blamed Buckingham, rather than the king, for the ills that beset England.


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  7. When Parliament twice opened impeachment proceedings, the king simply prorogued suspended the Parliament. Buckingham was assassinated in by John Felton , a dissatisfied Army officer. The assassin was executed, but he nevertheless became a heroic martyr across the three kingdoms. By he and Buckingham had transformed the political landscape. In the king dissolved parliament and began a period of eleven years of personal rule. English government was quite small, for the king had no standing army, and no bureaucracy stationed around the country. Laws were enforced primarily by local officials controlled by the local elites.

    Military operations were typically handled by hired mercenaries. The greatest challenge King Charles faced in ruling without a parliament was raising money. He cut the usual budget but it was not nearly enough. Then he discovered a series of ingenious methods to raise money without permission of Parliament. He sold monopolies, despite their unpopularity. He fined the landowners for supposedly encroaching on the royal forests. Compulsory knighthood had been established in the Middle Ages when men of certain wealth were ordered to become knights in the king's service, or else pay a fine.

    When knighthood lost its military status, the payments continued, but they had been abandoned by James reinstated the fine, and hired new officials to search local records to find wealthy men who did not have knighthood status. They were forced to pay, including Oliver Cromwell among thousands of other country gentlemen across rural England. Protests now escalated to include urban elites. Revolts broke out in Scotland in response to the king's imposition of the Book of Common Prayer , which threatened to undermine the religion of the people.

    The Scots drove English forces out and forced the king to subsidise the insurgents who were now occupying part of northern England. A major revolt among Catholics in Ireland killed thousands of Scots Irish—there was no doubt it had to be suppressed and new taxes would be needed to pay the costs of military action.

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    A new Parliament had to be called. It assembled on 3 November and quickly began proceedings to impeach and remove the king's leading counsellors for high treason. To prevent the king from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act , which required Parliament to be summoned at least once every three years, and permitted the Lord Keeper and 12 peers to summon Parliament if the king failed to do so.

    The Act was coupled with a subsidy bill, and so to secure the latter, Charles grudgingly granted royal assent in February The Parliamentarians were often called " Roundheads " because of their short practical haircuts. The monarchy was temporarily displaced by the Commonwealth of England from to Oliver Cromwell ruled directly from to his death in , whereupon his Commonwealth disintegrated.

    The war period — saw a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists, with most of the fighting in England. The first — and second — wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament , while the third — saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament.

    The war ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September Historians debate whether the main determinant of the outcome was based on superior operational decisions and decisive battlefield events as argued by Malcolm Wanklyn , or rather Parliament's long-run superiority in manpower and money as argued by Clive Holmes. The overall outcome was threefold: the trial and execution of Charles I ; the exile of his son, Charles II ; and the replacement of English monarchy with, at first, the Commonwealth of England — and then the Protectorate under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell — When Cromwell died his son Richard Cromwell was incapable of governing, and the Puritan army directly ruled the three kingdoms, to the growing disgust of all classes of people.

    The monopoly of the Church of England on religion was strengthened by the suppression of the last remnants of Catholicism, and the powerful forces of Puritanism and Nonconformism.

    Stuart period

    Constitutionally, the wars convinced everyone that an English monarch cannot govern alone, nor could Parliament. They were both essential. In —59 the dominant figure in England—although he refused the offer of kingship—was Oliver Cromwell , the highly successful Parliamentarian general. He remains a favourite topic of historians even as he is one of the most controversial figures in British history and his intense religiosity has long been out of fashion. After the execution of the King, a republic was declared, known as the Commonwealth of England.

    A Council of State was appointed to manage affairs, which included Cromwell among its members. His real power base was in the army; Cromwell tried but failed to unite the original group of 'Royal Independents' centred around St John and Saye and Sele, but only St John was persuaded to retain his seat in Parliament. From the middle of until , Cromwell was away on campaign. In the meantime, with the king gone and with him their common cause , the various factions in Parliament began to fight each other.

    On his return, Cromwell tried to galvanise the Rump into setting dates for new elections, uniting the three kingdoms under one polity, and to put in place a broad-brush, tolerant national church. However, the Rump vacillated in setting election dates, and although it put in place a basic liberty of conscience, it failed to produce an alternative for tithes or dismantle other aspects of the existing religious settlement. In frustration, Cromwell eventually dismissed the Rump Parliament in Sometimes known as the Parliament of Saints, it was also called the Barebones Parliament.

    The Parliament was based on an idea of Major-General Thomas Harrison 's for a " sanhedrin " of saints. Although Cromwell did not subscribe to Harrison's apocalyptic, Fifth Monarchist beliefs — which saw a sanhedrin as the precondition of Christ's rule on earth — he was attracted by the idea of an assembly made up of a cross-section of sects. In December Cromwell was appointed Lord Protector, with powers akin to those of a monarch. Cromwell's power was buttressed by his continuing popularity among the army, which he had built up during the civil wars, and which he subsequently prudently guarded, and during his period of dictatorship he divided England into military districts ruled by Army Major Generals who answered only to him.

    The 15 major generals and deputy major generals—called "godly governors"—were central to Cromwell's moral crusade beginning in October They lasted less than a year. The generals not only supervised militia forces and security commissions, but collected taxes and insured support for the government in the English and Welsh provinces. They were resented by provincials. Many members of Parliament feared the generals threatened their reform efforts and authority.

    Their position was further harmed by a tax proposal by Major General John Desborough to provide financial backing for their work, which Parliament voted down for fear of a permanent military state. Ultimately, however, Cromwell's failure to support his men, sacrificing them to his opponents, caused their demise. Cromwell was aware of the contribution that Jewish financiers made to the economic success of Holland, now England's leading commercial rival. It was this that led to his encouraging Jews to return to England , years after their banishment, in the hope that they would help speed up the recovery of the country after the disruption of the Civil Wars.

    In , Cromwell was offered the crown by a re-constituted Parliament; since he had been instrumental in abolishing the monarchy he said no after long deliberation. He ruled as king in all but name, but his office was not hereditary. Instead Cromwell was to nominate his own successor. Cromwell's new rights and powers were laid out in the Humble Petition and Advice , a legislative instrument which replaced the Instrument of Government.

    The older historiography came in two flavours: The Whig history interpretation and the Marxist historiography interpretation. The Whig model, dominant in the 19th century, saw an inherent conflict between irresistible, truly English ideals of liberty and individualism represented by The Puritans and Roundheads, overcoming the medieval concept of the king as the unquestionable voice of God.

    Historians became increasingly uncomfortable with the writing of history as a predetermined search for an idealistic goal , and the Whig approach lost favour after the First World War — Meanwhile, in the late 19th century, the remarkably high quality scholarship of archivally oriented historians, especially Samuel Rawson Gardiner and Charles Harding Firth had provided the rich details on national politics, practically on a day-by-day basis.

    Scholars, however, generally neglected the local dimension. In the post-war era — , the class conflict of the Marxist interpretation emerged as a powerful explanation that seemed to tie all the details together. It portrayed a battle between the declining Crown and upper class feudalistic aristocracy , versus the rising middle class gentry. Marxists downplayed the religious dimension. On one side, influential names included R. The main argument was that the Civil War was a challenge launched by the rising gentry class to overcome the power of the Crown and the aristocracy.

    Marxists like Hill saw the war as England's bourgeois revolution—that is, the overthrow of an outdated feudal order by the new middle class. The class conflict interpretation was vigorously challenged by conservative scholars, such as Hugh Trevor-Roper , who argued that the gentry was not rising but instead felt that its status was being undermined.

    It fought back against its exclusion from the power, patronage and payoff by an extravagant court, by the king's swelling state bureaucracy and by the nouveau riche financiers in London. Marxist historiography itself lost much of its intellectual support after the s. Historians now give much more emphasis to religiosity , and to the diversity of local situations. Instead of an argument that massive popular anger had built up in the early 17th century and caused the Civil War, the current approaches depict the early Stuart period as marked by harmony, good government, and popular support.

    How then could there be a civil war?

    Monarchs Throughout History

    The current scholarly solution is to emphasise what historians call the "British problem", involving the impossible tensions occurring when a single person tried to hold together his three kingdoms with their entirely different geographical, ethnic, political, and religious values and traditions. Widespread dissatisfaction with the lack of the king led to the Restoration in , which was based on strong support for inviting Charles II to take the throne. The first basic lesson was that the king and the parliament were both needed, for troubles cumulated when the king attempted to rule alone — , when Parliament ruled without a king — or when there was a military dictator — The Tory perspective involved a greater respect for the king, and for the Church of England.

    The Whig perspective involved a greater respect for Parliament. The two perspectives eventually coalesced into opposing political factions throughout the 18th century. The second lesson was that the highly moralistic Puritans were too inclined to divisiveness and political extremes. The Puritans and indeed all Protestants who did not closely adhere to the Church of England, were put under political and social penalties that lasted until the early 19th century. Even more severe restrictions were imposed on Catholics and Unitarians.

    The third lesson was that England needed protection against organised political violence. Politicized mobs in London, or popular revolts in the rural areas, were too unpredictable and too dangerous to be tolerated. This solution became highly controversial. The Restoration of was a deliberate return to the stability of the early 17th century. There was very little recrimination. King Charles acted with moderation and self-restraint, and with energy and attention to details.

    He was largely in control of royal affairs, especially after his daughter Anne Hyde married the king's brother James he became king in When the Second Anglo-Dutch War ended in failure in , the king removed Clarendon in a severe confrontation; the earl was accused of treason and was banished to France. Charles gave out high offices in England with an eye toward favouring his longtime allies, and making sure his erstwhile enemies received at least some symbolic positions.

    In Scotland he included all of the important factions from the s. In Ireland he retained the men currently in power. It covered everyone, with the exception of three dozen regicides who were tracked down for punishment. It was illegal to use dubious non-parliamentary fund-raising such as payments for knighthood, forced loans, and especially the much-hated ship money.

    Parliament did impose an entirely new excise tax on alcoholic beverages that raise substantial sums, as did the customs, for foreign trade was flourishing. Parliament closed down the harsh special courts that Charles had used before , such as the Star Chamber , Court of High Commission , and the Council of the North. Parliament watched Charles' ministers closely for any signs of defiance, and was ready to use the impeachment procedure to remove offenders and even to pass bills of attainder to execute them without a trial.

    Religious issues proved the most difficult to resolve. Charles reinstated the bishops, but also tried to reach out to the Presbyterians. Catholics were entirely shut out of opportunities to practice their religion or connect to the Papal States in Rome. The Royalists won a sweeping election victory in ; only 60 Presbyterians survived in Parliament. Severe restrictions were now imposed on the Nonconformist Protestant bodies in England, preventing them from holding scheduled church services, and prohibiting their members from holding government offices at the national or local level.

    For example, The five-mile law in made it a crime for nonconformist clergymen to be within 5 miles of their old parish. Charles II cancelled their charters and imposed centralised rule through the Dominion of New England. His colonial policies were reversed by William III. Most of the smaller independent religious factions faded away, except for the Quakers. The Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists remain, and were later joined by the Methodists. These non-Anglican Protestants continued as a political factor, with its leaders moving toward what became the Whig party.

    The country gentry continued to form the basis of support for the Church of England, and for what became the Tory party. Parliament was especially alarmed at the success of Cromwell's New Model Army , which demonstrated that a well-organized, well-led professional army was far superior to poorly trained militia units.

    Cromwell had used his standing army to take full personal control, and so it was much to be feared as a threat to traditional liberties.

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    The New Model Army was permanently disbanded, and all the soldiers received their full back pay. On the other hand, as long as enemy nations such as Spain and France, had large standing armies, England was practically defenceless on land. King and Parliament all agreed on the wisdom of a strong expanded Royal Navy. But while the king tried to build up a small standing army, Parliament kept a very close, nervous watch.

    Puritanism was entirely out of fashion, as the royal court introduced a level of hedonism that far exceeded anything England had ever seen. Harris says, "At the center of this world was a libertine court — a society of Restoration rakes given more to drinking, gambling, swearing and whoring than to godliness — presided over by the King himself and his equally rakish brother James, Duke of York. England never had a standing army with professional officers and careerist corporals and sergeants. It relied on militia organised by local officials, private forces mobilised by the nobility, or on hired mercenaries from Europe.

    This tense coincides neatly with this topic which is fixed in the past. Use visual support as much as possible. Copy and print them and extract some key sentences from the text and remove some of the verbs. In small groups they have to put the verbs back into the sentences. You can move on to them inventing a new king or queen and compiling a biography for them using the same format.

    He had three wives. He was born in He loved to eat chicken and potatoes. Do they like watching pop concerts? They could invent strange foods or have a special theme for their garden party. Design the invitations and remember to include all the necessary information about where to come and for what time.

    You may need to give them a written frame to work from for the invitations.