James I (1603 – 1625)
The proclamation of James’ kingship broke precedent because it was issued not by Elizabeth, but by an appointed Council of Accession. However, although James was a successful monarch in Scotland, the same was not true in England. He was unable to deal with a hostile Parliament, while his mismanagement of the kingdom's funds and extreme Protestant background led to many enemies; it was James who was the target of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament in 1605.
As a man, however he was not seen as a failure. Along with Alfred the Great, James is considered by many to have been one of the most intellectual and learned individuals ever to sit on the English or Scottish thrones. As King, he allowed much of the cultural flourishing of Elizabethan England to continue while science, literature and art grew greatly during his reign. However, when he died, he had unwittingly sown the seeds for the English Civil War.
Charles I (1625 – 1645)
King James’ son famously took his father’s struggle with Parliament to unprecedented levels with his fierce belief in the Divine Right of Kings, causing many in England to fear that he was attempting to gain absolute power. Actions such as the levying of taxes without Parliament's consent only added to this fear, as did his attempts to impose major religious changes on the Church of England, which many of his subjects felt brought their country's faith too close to Catholicism.
The last years of Charles' reign were marked by the outbreak of the English Civil War, which saw Britain being torn apart as the King’s Cavalier supporters took on the might of Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarian New Model Army. The war ended with Charles being publicly executed for high treason, the monarchy being overthrown, and a commonwealth established. It was the only time since 1066 that the United Kingdom had no monarch.
Charles II (1649 – 1685)
Prior to his father’s execution, Charles had fought against the Parliamentarians until he fled into exile in Europe. However, rule under Cromwell became increasingly akin to a dictatorship and when he died, his son Richard proved to be unfit to take his father’s place. This being the case, plans were made for a restoration of the Monarchy and in 1660, Charles II returned to England, triumphant.
Unlike his father, Charles II was skilled at managing Parliament and the Whig and Tory political parties first developed during this time. His reign was also marked by both the last outbreak of bubonic plague in England and the Great Fire of London.
‘The Merry Monarch' as he was later known, Charles II is famous for his decadent lifestyle and his many mistresses. Interestingly he converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed, and although the Catholic part of his reign lasted no more than a few moments, but he also firmly supported the succession of his Catholic brother James.
James II (1685 – 1688)
The second surviving son of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France, James was the last Roman Catholic monarch over Scotland, England and Ireland. Due to his religious disposition some of his subjects distrusted his policies, leading a group of Protestant dissidents led by his son-in-law William of Orange to depose him after only three years in what is known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
James made one attempt to get back the throne, raising an army in Ireland but this never amounted to anything and he spent the last days of his life in France. Back in England, he was replaced on the throne not by his Roman Catholic son, James Francis Edward, but by William of Orange and his wife, the exiled King’s own protestant daughter Mary, as joint rulers. The subsequent belief that James - not William or Mary - was the legitimate ruler became known as Jacobitism, taken from the Latin for James.
William III/Mary II (1689 – 1702/1694)
When James II's daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange accepted the joint crown they were read the Declaration of Rights, which designated the succession was to go to their children, then those of her sister Anne. It declared that no Catholic could become sovereign and that no monarch could keep a standing army during peacetime except with the consent of Parliament.
Born in The Hague, William made no effort to win English hearts and spent a lot of time abroad, leaving Mary to rule England. As a result, he was seen by many as an arrogant foreigner. Being English, Mary was more popular and ruled fairly successfully. After she died of smallpox, William’s ties in Europe led to England’s involvement in war overseas and when William died he was not missed. The rule of England was passed over to Mary’s sister Anne.
Queen Anne (1702 – 1714)
Anne was the last monarch of the House of Stuart. As both Anne and her sister Mary had failed to produce a child who could live into adulthood, there was a succession crisis, in which the Roman Catholic James Francis Edward, son of James II, attempted to claim the crown. The upshot of this Jacobite rebellion led to the passing of the Act of Settlement, uniting English and Scottish parliament and further cementing the rule that only Protestants could hold the throne.
Anne’s reign was also marked by England’s attempts to further its influence in Europe by declaring war on France, which led to the War of Spanish Succession, lasting twelve years and dominating both foreign and domestic policy. During this time Anne sought council from many political advisors, which ultimately led to the increase in the influence of ministers and a decrease in the influence of the crown. When she finally died of gout without an heir, she was succeeded by a distant cousin, George I, from the House of Hanover.