This is a list of titles of Kings and Queens of the Kingdoms of Wessex, Anglo-Saxons and England prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain many small kingdoms arose. The Kingdom we will address is the Kingdom of Wessex, also known as the Kingdom of the West Saxons. Wessex was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was unified by Æthelstan in 927.
The Anglo-Saxons believed that Wessex was founded by Cerdic and Cynric, but this may be a legend.
Cerdic is described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a leader of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, being the founder and first King of Saxon Wessex, reigning from 519 to 534 AD. Subsequent Kings of Wessex were each claimed by the Chronicle to descend in some manner from Cerdic.
His origin, ethnicity, and even his very existence have been extensively disputed. However, though claimed as the founder of Wessex by later West Saxon kings, he would have been known to contemporaries as king of the Gewissae, a folk or tribal group. The first king of the Gewissae to call himself ‘King of the West Saxons’, was Caedwalla, in a charter of 686.
The two main sources for the history of Wessex are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List, which sometimes conflict. Wessex became a Christian kingdom after Cenwalh was baptised and was expanded under his rule.
We see the first major title change with Alfred the Great, who initially ruled Wessex, one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which later made up modern England. Afred is the only English King with the epitaph “The Great.”
Alfred styled himself King of the Anglo-Saxons from about 886, and while he 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. He was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder.
Edward the Elder (c. 874 – 17 July 924) was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 899 until his death in 924. He was the elder son of Alfred the Great and his wife Ealhswith. When Edward succeeded to the throne, he had to defeat a challenge from his cousin Æthelwold, who had a strong claim to the throne as the son of Alfred’s elder brother and predecessor, Æthelred.
Æthelstan (c. 894 – 27 October 939) was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and King of the English from 927 to his death in 939. He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife, Ecgwynn. Modern historians regard him as the first King of England and one of the “greatest Anglo-Saxon kings”. He never married and had no children. He was succeeded by his half-brother, Edmund I.
The standard title for all English monarchs from Æthelstan until the time of King John was Rex Anglorum (“King of the English”). In addition, many of the pre-Norman kings assumed extra titles, as follows:
Æthelstan: Rex totius Britanniae (“King of the Whole of Britain”)
Edmund the Magnificent: Rex Britanniæ (“King of Britain”) and Rex Anglorum cæterarumque gentium gobernator et rector (“King of the English and of other peoples governor and director”)
Eadred: Regis qui regimina regnorum Angulsaxna, Norþhymbra, Paganorum, Brettonumque (“Reigning over the governments of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons, Northumbrians, Pagans, and British”)
Eadwig the Fair: Rex nutu Dei Angulsæxna et Northanhumbrorum imperator paganorum gubernator Breotonumque propugnator (“King by the will of God, Emperor of the Anglo-Saxons and Northumbrians, governor of the pagans, commander of the British”)
Edgar the Peaceful: Totius Albionis finitimorumque regum basileus (“King of all Albion and its neighbouring realms”)
Cnut the Great: Rex Anglorum totiusque Brittannice orbis gubernator et rector (“King of the English and of all the British sphere governor and ruler”) and Brytannie totius Anglorum monarchus (“Monarch of all the English of Britain”)
In the Norman period Rex Anglorum remained standard, with occasional use of Rex Anglie (“King of England”). The Empress Matilda styled herself Domina Anglorum (“Lady of the English”).
From the time of King John onwards all other titles were eschewed in favour of Rex or Regina Anglie.(“King of England”).
John Lackland, son of King Henry II had been given the Lordship of Ireland. Following the deaths of John’s older brothers he became King of England in 1199, and so the Lordship of Ireland, instead of being a separate country ruled by a junior Norman prince, came under the direct rule of the Angevin crown.
English monarchs continued to use the title “Lord of Ireland” to refer to their position of conquered lands on the island of Ireland. The title was changed by the Crown of Ireland Act passed by the Irish Parliament in 1542 when, on Henry VIII’s demand, he was granted a new title, King of Ireland, with the state renamed the Kingdom of Ireland.
Henry VIII changed his title because the Lordship of Ireland had been granted to the Norman monarchy by the Papacy; Henry had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church and worried that his title could be withdrawn by the Holy See. Henry VIII also wanted Ireland to become a full kingdom to encourage a greater sense of loyalty amongst his Irish subjects, some of whom took part in his policy of surrender and regrant.
In 1603 with the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland, who left no heirs, the English throne was inherited by James VI, King of Scots. In England he is known as James I of England while in Scotland he is regarded as James VI of Scotland. I like to combine both regal numbers and refer to him as King James I-VI of England, Scotland and Ireland.
In 1604 King James I-VI adopted the title (now usually rendered in English rather than Latin) King of Great Britain. The English and Scottish parliaments, however, did not recognise this title until the Acts of Union of 1707 under Queen Anne (who was Queen of Great Britain rather than king).
Until the Acts of Union of 1707 the official title of the monarch was King/Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.