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The Anglo-Saxon kings of England used numerous different titles, including “King of the Anglo-Saxons” and “King of the English. Around the mid 880s Is period in which almost all chroniclers agree that the Saxon people of pre-unification England submitted to Alfred. This was not, however, the point at which Alfred came to be known as King of England; in fact, he would never adopt the title for himself.

Initially Alfred was titled King of Wessex until 886 when in London Alfred received the formal submission of “all the English people that were not under subjection to the Danes”, and thereafter he adopted the title Anglorum Saxonum rex (King of the Anglo-Saxons). While Alfred was not the first king to claim to rule all of the English, his rule represents the start of the first unbroken line of kings to rule the whole of England, the House of Wessex.

Alfred’s son and successor His son Edward the Elder conquered the eastern Danelaw, but it was his son and successor Æthelstan who became the first king to rule the whole of England when he conquered Northumbria in 927, and he is regarded by some modern historians as the first true king of England. The title “King of the English” or Rex Anglorum in Latin, was first used to describe Æthelstan in one of his charters in 928.

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Alfred the Great, King of the Anglo-Saxons.

Variations of the monarchs title were adopted by some kings of Wessex and England; for example, Edred used “King of the Anglo-Saxons, Northumbrians, pagans and Britons”. These titles were sometimes accompanied by extravagant epithets; for instance, Æthelstan was “King of the English, raised by the right hand of the Almighty to the Throne of the whole Kingdom of Britain”.

William I the Conqueror used the simple “King of the English” and “Duke of the Normans” as his titles. His successor, William II, was the first to consistently use the style “by the Grace of God”. Henry I added “Duke of the Normans” in 1121, though he had seized Normandy from his brother Robert in 1106. In 1152 Henry II acquired many further French possessions through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine; soon thereafter, he added “Duke of the Aquitanians” and “Count of the Angevins” to his titles.

“King of the English”, “Duke of the Normans”, “Duke of the Aquitanians” and “Count of the Angevins” remained in use until King John ascended the throne in 1199, when they changed the title “King of the English” to “King of England”, along with “Duke of Normandy”, “Duke of Aquitaine” and “Count of Anjou”, respectively. John, furthermore, was already the titular ruler of Ireland; therefore, he added “Lord of Ireland” to his style.

In 1204 England lost both Normandy and Anjou. Nevertheless, they did not renounce the associated titles until 1259. French territory once again became the subject of dispute after the death of the French King Charles IV in 1328. Edward III claimed the French Throne, arguing that it was to pass to him through his mother Isabella, Charles IV’s sister. In France, however, it was asserted that the Throne could not pass to or through a woman according to the Salic Law.

Nevertheless, Edward III began to use the title “King of France” (dropping “Duke of Aquitaine”) after 1337. In 1340 he entered France, where he was publicly proclaimed King. In 1360, however, he agreed to relinquish his title to the French claimant. Though he stopped using the title in legal documents, he did not formally exchange letters confirming the renunciation with the French King. In 1369 Edward III resumed the title, claiming that the French had breached their treaty.

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Henry VI, King of England, Lord of Ireland and King of France.

In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was an agreement signed by Henry V of England and Charles VI of France, recognizing Henry as Charles’ successor, and stipulating that Henry’s heirs would succeed him on the throne of France. It disinherited the Dauphin Charles (with further claim, in 1421, that the young Charles was illegitimate). It also betrothed Charles VI’s daughter, Catherine of Valois, to Henry V. Henry V then adopted the title Heir of France instead.

Henry V and Charles VI died within two months of each other in 1422, and Henry V’s infant son (Charles VI’s grandson) Henry VI became King of France. He was the only English king who was de facto King of France, rather than using the style as a mere title of pretense. He is also the only English monarch to actually have been crowned King of France (as Henri II, in 1431). However, by 1429 Charles VII was crowned at Reims with the support of Joan of Arc and begun to push the English out of northern France. In 1435, an end to the French civil war between Burgundians and Armagnacs allowed Charles to return to Paris the following year, and by 1453 the English had been driven out of their last strongholds in Normandy and Guyenne. The only French territory left to the English was Calais which they held until 1558.

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Coat of Arms of Henry VI with the Lion of England and the French fleur-de-lys.

Nonetheless the kings and queens of England (and, later, of Great Britain) continued to claim the French throne for centuries, through the early modern period. The words “of France” was prominently included among their realms as listed in their titles and styles, and the French fleur-de-lys was included in the royal arms. This continued until 1801, by which time France had no monarch, having become a republic.