As people around the world continue to consider the life and legacy of the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the Commonwealth nations, many have considered the idea of inherited title and supposed God-ordained rule and what that means. Britain has been an island transformed by war and invasion. First, they were part of the Roman empire. Then, they were invaded by three small groups of Europeans from the German-speaking regions – the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons. Through the 6th Century, these three groups continued to migrate and settle in Britain. The new settlements were invaded by the Vikings beginning in the 8th Century. Following the Viking invasions, England was unified with Norway and Denmark until the rise of Norman invader William the Conqueror (ruled England 1066 – 1087).
King William the Conqueror established the aristocracy in England and the feudal lord system. He and his descendants also invaded Wales and Ireland. After they defeated Wales, the peace treaty came with the condition that the heir to the throne of England and Wales be titled the Prince of Wales.
After William took the throne, the last male in the previous royal line of succession (Edgar) fled to Scotland to seek the protection of King Robert the Bruce. King Robert married Edgar sister Margaret, which would lead to centuries of conflict before the Battle of Culloden and the annexation of Scotland into the British empire in 1745. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales fought violent wars for independence from Britain for over four hundred years. The fight continues, although it is now mostly a political fight.
The plantation system that became the preferred method of enslavement began in Ireland. English nobles were established in Ireland to force regions to assimilate under Queen Mary I (ruled 1553- 1558) and Elizabeth I (ruled 1558 – 1603). After the Pope ruled Queen Elizabeth I a heretic, religion became the dividing wall in Ireland with the crown’s Protestants on one side and the Catholic Church on the side of most Irish people. Elizabeth I made conversion to Protestantism one of the signs of fealty to the crown, a practice that would be perpetuated in all lands colonized by the British in subsequent centuries. By the end of the Irish plantation era, few Catholics held any form of leadership in Ulster and the majority of Ireland.
Those who currently hold the crown have inherited it because of religious persecution of Catholics.
King Henry VIII stamp issued in 1997 to commemorate his rule.
All of that began, because Mary I and Elizabeth I's father, King Henry VIII, wished to marry Anne Boleyn and the Pope refused him an annulment. He left the Catholic Church and England became Protestant under the Church of England. The Church refused, in part because Henry and his Catholic Queen Catherine of Aragon had at least six children together, including the only surviving child who became Mary I. Henry annulled that marriage as the head of the Church of England in May of 1533 but had already married Anne on January 25th of that year. Their daughter Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 - roughly eight and a half months after her parents "marriage" while her father was still married to his first wife. Henry and Anne never had another child, but Anne had multiple miscarriages of sons. By 1536, Henry had fallen out of love with Anne and in May of 1536, annulled their marriage and executed Anne on a false charge of adultery so that he could marry his newest mistress, Jane Seymour less than two weeks after Anne was beheaded on his order. Sixteen months later, Jane Seymour would die in childbirth delivering their son Edward. Many British people never accepted Henry's annulment of his first marriage, but by the time Henry married Jane Seymour, Catherine of Aragon had been dead for six months.
Henry died in 1547 and nine-year-old Edward became king. He was advised and decisions were made by his uncle Edward Seymour and then by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick. Edward's reign was short, but the young kind and his advisors made certain that the church became firmly Protestant. In 1533, the young king grew weaker and a decision was made that the throne should pass over his two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, because of Mary's Catholicism and Elizabeth's illegitimacy.
Edward's order of succession passed the throne to his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, his father's great niece. Jane's mother Frances was the daughter of Henry VIII's sister. She was also a protestant. Jane had been a part of Catherine of Parr's household along with young Elizabeth I. Catherine, the only one of his queens to outlive Henry VIII, married Thomas Seymour in secret very quickly after Henry's death and when young King Edward found out, he removed the Seymour family from power and installed John Dudley.
Lady Jane Grey's father removed her from Catherine of Parr's household and in May of 1533, knowing the young king was dying, married her to Lord Guildford Dudley, John Dudley's eldest son. When the king died in July, Jane was declared Queen and for nine days sat on the throne of England and Ireland. Mary I's supporters rose up and reclaimed the throne in her name, and Jane, her new husband, and their supporters were all executed, with Jane's execution being the last in February of 1554. Mary's rule was violent and bloody, with Catholic leaders using the reign as an opportunity to attack Protestants. Following her death in 1558, Elizabeth took the throne. However, it is worth noting that she followed her sister in one perpetuation of violence. Her cousin Queen Mary of Scotland was also the great-niece of Henry VIII through her mother, Princess Margaret, who had married the King of Scotland. Following decades of imprisonment, Mary I of Scotland was ordered to be executed in July of 1587, in a death order signed by Queen Elizabeth I. Following the execution, Queen Elizabeth declared her wishes were not followed and had those who followed her orders arrested, and also executed, which gave her deniability over killing an ordained Queen. However, through an agreement of peace between the two queens, James, son of Mary I of Scotland, became king following the death of Queen Elizabeth I under the condition that he remain a protestant.
When Queen Anne died in August of 1714, the crown went to George, Elector of Hanover, because of the Act of Settlement of 1701 which mandated that the throne of Britain must go to a protestant. George then inherited a throne in which he was 54th in blood ascension rights. This decision meant dozens of others, with closer connections to England and the Crown, were dismissed simply because of their religious faith.
This decision ignored the claim of King James I’s descendants through Mary, Queen of Scotland, who had been assured by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I that the throne would descend through James's line and descendants.
Many modern Commonwealth nations feel that this decision to pass the crown down through a Protestant line rather than through birth order makes the current holder of the crown illegitimate.
below - Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
The only reason George became King is that he was Protestant, and through him the House of Hanover took over the British crown. King George I spoke little English and divided his time with serving Britain and in serving in Hanover. The Crown remained in the House of Hanover until 1837, when 18-year-old Queen Victoria inherited the throne from William IV. Her ascension was the end of the House of Hanover when Queen Victoria was married to Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, in 1740. Victoria and Albert’s grandson, George V formerly adopted the name Windsor in 1917 after the bombing of London because of bombs bearing the name. Belgium similarly changed the shared name in 1920. When Elizabeth II inherited the throne in 1952, it was assumed House of Windsor would be retired and she, like her great, great grandmother Victoria would bear her husband’s family name, even as she ruled as queen. Philip was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice. Alice was also the grandchild of Queen Victoria, just like Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V. After his family fled Greece following his grandfather’s execution and an end to the Greek monarchy, Philip was known as Prince Philip of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg until he renounced his claim on the Greek and Danish thrones in 1947, adopting his mother’s maiden name of Mountbatten to marry then Princess Elizabeth of England. Queen Elizabeth could have been the first Queen of the House of Mountbatten, but accepted the advice of others who said Philip’s recent adoption of that name had not faded enough from memory.
Which is where we are today. The family that currently holds the throne in Great Britain and the Commonwealth is there because the British government was determined that Catholicism be eradicated, to the point of placing George I of Hanover on the throne of a nation where he had never lived and did not speak the language in 1714, a throne that continues to be handed down to his descendants. But even for those who like and support the Crown, there is no doubt that the reign of King Charles III comes about through bias against Catholics and a decision to make the Crown of England permanently tied to the imperialistic idea that those who rule were born to rule by blood, but blood loyalty comes after the preservation of Protestant power.
The British throne was a throne of invasion and violence, and in spite of the current Prince of Wales, Prince William's, recent statement calling war in Europe or Britain, alien to younger people, the throne that he will inherit was seized through blood and perpetuated through a long line of invasion, violence, war, and colonialism. It will be up to the nations of the Commonwealth to decide if they wish to continue allegiance to that crown or to finally and freely represent themselves as a people and as a nation no longer part of the British empire's Imperialistic effort to colonize the world.
You can learn more here.