King Charles III: how the royal family came to power

We may associate the royal family with strict protocols and stiff upper lips, but King Charles III and the House of Windsor can trace their lineage through centuries of bloody wars and brutal power struggles to 1066, when the illegitimate son of a duke and grandson of a tanner ascended the throne.

William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day 956 years ago at Westminster Abbey. Known as “William the Bastard” in his day, his father was Duke Robert I of Normandy and his mother, Herlève, was the daughter of a tanner, according to the royal family’s website.

Born around 1028, he became heir to the duchy on the death of his father in 1035 and was ennobled at the age of 15 by King Henry I of France, an ally who tried in vain to invade Normandy a decade later.

“The history of the British monarchy is a bit like Game of Thrones, only real,” said Graham Broad, associate professor of history and department head at Western University’s King’s University College, in a telephone interview. Friday.

“Defenders of the monarchy, their main argument is that it promotes stability, but for centuries in medieval Britain, in medieval Europe, the reality was almost incessant warfare over questions of dynastic lineage, dynastic succession… Monarchs unable to provide a male heir who always felt precarious and vulnerable.

Since the High Middle Ages, or the end of the Viking Age, European countries have taken hereditary succession and primogeniture very seriously, according to Daniel Woolf, author and professor of history at Queen’s University. England was particularly serious about it, and when it was “set aside” – as was the case in 1399 when Richard II was deposed by his cousin, who became Henry IV – things got extremely ugly. .

“That deposition essentially precipitated 100 years of almost Game of Thrones-like struggle — what we now call the War of the Roses,” Woolf said in a phone interview Friday.

Even marriages were no guarantee of peace. Edward II, who reigned from 1307 to 1327, for example, “had few of the qualities that made a successful medieval king,” according to his biography on the Royal Family website. His own wife, Isabella of France, led an invasion against him in 1326. Within a year he was assassinated after being forced to pass the crown to his son.

“Marriage throughout the Middle Ages until the 19th century was integral to diplomatic alliances and making agreements and was very arranged,” Woolf said.

“There were so many intermarriages between the royal houses of Europe that it would be hard to find someone who was not descended, at least in part, from a whole bunch of famous people from a thousand years ago. “

Stability finally came after Britain became a constitutional monarchy following the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

“Only once in the past 350 years has a British monarch overturned a law, for example, and that was over 300 years ago,” Broad said.

“So at this point you really have a stable dynastic succession because no one is going to war for a figurehead position anymore.”

Monarchists today argue that knowing who will be the next monarch for decades through a system of succession promotes stability, he added.


Tracing King Charles III’s family tree nearly a thousand years ago is a complicated and convoluted exercise involving royal houses, cadet branches of other houses, beheadings, conquests and of course marriages and alliances.

“It’s about 34 generations – depending on how you count them, but you can actually draw a direct line from William the Conqueror to Charles III,” Woolf said.

“There are all sorts of jumps and last name changes along the way, as you can imagine.”

The Windsors became the reigning royal family when King Edward VII ascended the throne in 1901. They are descended from the Hanoverians, a line that came to power in 1714. The House of Hanover, of German descent, succeeded the Stuarts, who ruled Scotland for centuries until 1603, when James VI of Scotland became King of England and Ireland as James I.

James I had succeeded Elizabeth I, known as the Virgin Queen. She was the last reigning member of the House of Tudor, the reigning royal family of 16th century England.

“When Elizabeth I died, that line was extinct. So basically it went to Elizabeth’s cousin who was King of Scotland. He in turn was a great-grandson of Henry VII, the first king Tudor,” Woolf explained.

Henry VII could trace his ancestry back to Edward III in the 14th century, who in turn was a descendant of Henry II in the 12th century. Henry II was the great-grandson of William the Conqueror.

William managed to survive childhood and became known for his military successes.

“A lot of people were trying to get rid of him because it’s hard to be a kid and inherit the dukedom,” Woolf said.

His online royal biography describes him as “a highly experienced and ruthless military commander, ruler and administrator who had unified Normandy and inspired fear and respect outside his duchy”.

William spent over six months planning his invasion of England, bringing a force of around 7,000 across the English Channel via some 600 ships. He claimed that Edward the Confessor, a distant cousin, had promised him the throne, and that Harold II, the last crowned English Anglo-Saxon king, was a usurper.

With the support of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and the approval of the Pope, William and his fleet of invaders landed in England in 1066. It was a close battle that William ultimately won after the death of Harold and two of his brothers.

“It created a change in the identity of all British monarchs,” Broad said.

“But it also created a link between the thrones of France and England which was to be the source of great tension and even long periods of war in the centuries to come, because eventually the kings of England would come to claim the throne. of France. ”

It also took centuries before the English accepted that William the Conqueror’s invasion had in fact been a conquest, Woolf added.

“They kept this kind of myth that William did in fact have a legitimate right… It’s a pretty complicated and neat story really. But if the Battle of Hastings had gone differently, there might not have been had the Norman Conquest and we could all still speak Old English.