Seminar 1 One King to Rule them All: Alfred, the House of Wessex, and the Invention of England
In the late ninth and early tenth centuries several small Anglo-Saxon territories coalesced into one under the leadership of the House of Wessex. King Alfred (871-899) introduced patterns and institutions that allowed Wessex to resist Viking attacks far more successfully than the other kingdoms, and his descendants built on these traditions to create a unified England. For the monarchy, Alfred’s legacy survives in numerous ways, including the symbolic role of monarch as commander-in-chief, as the embodiment of law, and as the patron of intellectual and artistic pursuits.
Seminar 2 1066 and All That: William the Conqueror and the Creation of Norman England
In 1066 Duke William of Normandy invaded England and was crowned King. He claimed the title as his hereditary right; English tradition dubbed him an invader and conqueror. In consolidating power he blended Anglo-Saxon and Norman elements to create a more powerful and more centralized monarchy. The Anglo-Norman heritage survives in the language and administrative system, and in the ritual, iconography, and even the monetary wealth of the modern monarchy
Seminar 3 Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Henry II and the King’s Justice
When Henry II inherited the title King of England in 1154, he was already Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, and he had expanded his French realms enormously by marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was one of the wealthiest and most formidable women of the middle ages. Twin themes of his reign were the establishment of a cross-channel, Anglo-French power base and the assertion of centralized administrative power within England. Though Henry’s reign was marked by bitter conflicts with the Church and with his own family, he succeeded in establishing efficient institutions which survive into the modern era. Chief among his legacies is the idea of an English Common Law, with the monarch as its symbolic source.
Seminar 4 “Here is a Law Which is Above the King”: the Evolving Meaning of Magna Carta
The short and calamitous rule of King John (1199-1216) culminated in a rebellion by his own barons; the rebellion ended with the signing of a royal charter which enumerated John’s concessions. This “Magna Carta” is certainly the most famous document in English history and is often cited as a founding document of American democracy. The frequently misunderstood legacy of Magna Carta resonates through the history of the English monarchy.
Seminar 5 “Now is the Winter of Our Discontent”: The Wars of the Roses
The Plantagenet dynasty established by Henry II ended in the fifteenth century with the bloody and confusing conflict later romantically dubbed “the Wars of the Roses.” Generations of conflict over rightful inheritance, coupled with the expenses of a Hundred Years War in which England was ultimately defeated, weakened the monarchy dramatically. Chaotic though this period was, it has left important marks on the history of the monarchy, perhaps most noticeably through the depiction of England and of monarchy in Shakespeare’s history plays.
Seminar 6 “This Realm is an Empire”: The New Monarchy of the Tudors
By winning the final battle of the Wars of the Roses in 1485 Henry VII became the first of England’s Tudor dynasty. Under his reign stability and efficiency were restored; his son Henry VIII expanded royal authority further, not only geographically but also by his establishment of control over the Church. Henry’s children Edward VI, Mary I and (especially) Elizabeth I carried on the Tudor tradition of “new monarchy”. Tudor institutions and policies marked the transition from medieval to modern monarchy, and were immensely important in both the failures and the successes of the institution as it developed in later generations.