The Monarch’s Song from the terrific children’s BBC production, Horrible Histories, helps young people learn the names of all the monarchs in British history. However it has always bothered me that it starts with William the Conqueror because he was not the first King of England.
The very first King of England was Æthelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great. He became king after the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937. It was arguably the most significant battle ever fought on this small island as it was on that one day more than 1000 years ago that the political boundaries that define the countries of England, Scotland and Wales and that remain in place today, were forged. I have written about it previously in Never was there such slaughter in our islands.
Alfred the Great’s line ruled until William the Conqueror came and conquered in 1066. Our late Queen Elizabeth II was a direct descendant of William the Conqueror and this made me wonder who would be the monarch had William the Conqueror never come? It should have been obvious to me before I started searching because royal families in the past were a bit incestuous and William the Conqueror’s son Henry married one of Alfred the Great’s descendants, Matilda. Thus Queen Elizabeth II was a direct descendant of Alfred the Great as well.
Of course the line of succession would still have been different without the Norman invasion so it’s impossible to know who would be king or queen today. Alfred the Great probably has many descendants like this fellow who claims to be his 34th grandson.
In keeping with interconnectedness of royal families, our late Queen was also a direct descendant of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. When Elizabeth I died without an heir, succession went to her cousin, King James VI of Scotland who became King James I of England. He was the great-great-grandson of Robert the Bruce.