The united kingdom has witnessed some pretty terrible and ruthless monarchs over the years. To be fair a kingdom with a history as long and turbulent as Britains is bound to have had it fair share of incompetent rulers. Whilst some of these people have been pure evil, others have just been useless due to mental illness or general incompetence. From the tyrant Tudor King who took six wives to the Useless Scottish queen who lost her head, were counting down 5 of UK’s worst and most useless kings and queens / monarchs.
House of Lancaster
King of England 1422 – 1461 and 1470 – 1471
King of France 1422 – 1453
King Henry VI was the last Lancastrian King and is infamous for his incompetence. HE was far from a terrible person however. Unlike his namesake Henry VIII, he was not a tyrant and did not relish violence. In fact, Henry was a pious and forgiving man, a man of compassion. When I say that he was a terrible king, I mean that he was utterly useless. The problem with Henry was that periodic bouts of madness rendered him completely incapable of leading the country. To be fair he had a lot to live up to. His father Henry V was the legendary champion of Agincourt, A king who was a renowned leader and tactician. As born general, Henry V had secured huge territories in Normandy and France and had gotten himself recognised as heir to the French Crown. When he died of dsyntary however in September 1422 young Henry inherited the English throne. I say young, he was barely nine months old. As if this wasn’t enough responsibility for the new baby king, when the French King died several months later he also found himself King of France.
As Henry grew up it became apparent he was not suited to the responsibilities of Kingship. Whilst his father had been most comfortable making a name for himself on the battlefield, young Henry had no taste for violence and was most at home talking to God in his private Chapel. Henry, whilst extremely pious, was also utterly incompetent. He had no interest in politics and delegated the responsibility of governance to his most trusted advisors, namely the Duke of Somerset. Unfortunately some pretty incompetent decisions led to the loss of most of his territories in France and Normandy and Henry’s main rival for the throne had something to say about this.
Having previously been sent to Govern Ireland as Lieutenant, Richard Duke of York AKA Richard Plantagenet returned to England in 1450, intent on putting right the wrongs of Henry’s advisors. In actual fact Richard technically had a better claim to the throne than Henry and so began his struggle to get his family recognised as heirs to the throne. Richard clashed with Henry’s advisors, and in particular his ambitious French wife Margaret of Anjou. This was the start of the dynastic struggle we know today as the wars of the Roses.
Henry VI will forever be known for his incompetence and for the metal illness he struggled with for much of his life. He will also be remembered as the catalyst for one of the bloodiest series of wars ever thought on British soil.
House of York
King of England 1483 – 1485
Whilst Henry VI was Englands last Lancastrian King, Richard III was the last Yorkist King. Ultimately the downfall of Henry VI led to the wars the Roses and the rise of the house of York. Richard Plantagenet pressed his claim to the throne but lost his life at the battle of Wakefield. He had three surviving sons; Edward Earl of March (soon to be King Edward IV of England), George Duke of Clarence (a treacherous and self centred individual) and youngest of the three Richard Duke of Gloucester (later to become King Richard III of England). Following his death, Richard Plantagenets claim to the throne was taken up by his eldest remaining son, Edward Earl of March.
Richard III is a controversial character, no thanks to Shakespeare. Over the years Richard has been painted as a bit of a monster, with his crooked spine, withered arm and treacherous nature. Significantly Richard is alleged to have murdered his nephews and rightful heirs to the throne, Princes Edward and Richard. Of course Shakespeares portrayal of Richard is largely unfair and inaccurate. In fact there is no evidence to suggest that Richard was anything other than totally loyal to his older brother King Edward. He also pledged an oath to uphold his nephews right to inherit the throne.
That said, following the death of King Edward in 1483, Richard appears to have gone back on his word. Whilst on his deathbed, Edward mobilised his most trusted Lords and advisors and established a council to lead the country until his young son Edward came of age. Within weeks of the kings death however Richard staged a coup and had himself named as protector of the king. Furthermore, prior to young Edward being crowned, Richard had him and his younger brother declared illegitimate and seized the throne for himself. Worst still both Edward and Richard were banished to the tower of London where they later disappeared in a shroud of mystery. Of course it is believed that their uncle Richard had them murdered, removing them permanently as challengers to the throne.
Richard was proclaimed King Richard III and ruled for barely 2 years. He was killed at the battle of Towton in 1485, in effect bringing to an end the Wars of the Roses and giving rise to the Tudor Dynasty. Richard would turn up some years later underneath a car park in Leicester.
Mary Queen of Scotts
House of Stuart
Queen of Scotland 1542 – 1567
Queen Consort of France 1559 – 1560
Mary Queen of Scotts, not to be confused with bloody Mary, was Scotlands most useless monarch. A series of stupid and politically dangerous decisions led to her swift downfall. She isolated herself from her nobles and attempted to overthrow the Queen of England. She was ultimately beheaded for her treachery.
Mary had a bit of a fairytale childhood. Born in 1542 to the Scottish King James V and his French wife Mary of Guise, she was sent to live with the French Royal family at only 5 years old. She was loved in France, considered to be exceptionally lovely, kind and courteous. Having been betrothed to the French heir to the throne Francis, she later found herself Queen of both Scotland and France. When Francis died however Mary took the decision to return to Scotland.
Here she found herself in a difficult situation. Whilst she had been raised as a Catholic, Scotland was officially a Protestant country. This did not phase Mary however and she encouraged a policy of non-discrimination. Things however were about to take a turn for the worse.
Mary was all to aware that she must marry and provide an heir. In 1565 she married her first cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. But Darnley was a horrid man, weak and selfish. Understandably their marriage broke down and Mary became close to her advisor David Rizzio. In March 1566, when Mary was 6 months pregnant Darnley broke into her her supper room with a posse of nobles and stabbed Rizzio to death. They claimed that he and Mary were having an affair and Rizzio was using this to gain influence in court.
Mary believed that Darnley wished to kill her and her unborn son and claim the throne for himself. It was then mightily suspicious when three months later Darnley was found dead following an explosion at a house where he was staying. His body was found outside however, giving rise to speculation that he had in fact escaped the blast but was murdered. The chief suspect was James Hepburn Earl of Bothwell. Here Mary made a catastrophic mistake in marrying the earl, barely three months after the death of Darnley. In doing so Mary turned Scotlands nobles against her and she was imprisoned at Lochleven castle. She was then forced to abdicate in favour of her son who became King James VI of Scotland.
Mary managed to escape her protestant captors and raised an army. On 13th May 1568 she was defeated in battle and fled to England to to seek refuge from her Protestant cousin Queen Elizabeth. This was a terrible mistake.
The problem was that Mary had a strong claim to the English Throne, arguably more so than Elizabeth. Whilst Elizabeth was descended from Henry Viii’s second wife Anne Boleyn, Mary was a descendant of Henry’s older sister Margaret Tudor. Mary’s Catholic supporters viewed Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn as illegal and thus argued Mary had a better claim to the throne of England.
Elizabeth was all to aware of Mary’s position and had her imprisoned for 19 years. During this time Mary was implicated in numerous Catholic sponsored plots against Elizabeth, most significantly the Badington Plot. This was in fact a trap which implicated Mary in a bogus assassination attempt. Although reluctant do do so, Elizabeth sentenced her cousin to death and she lost her head on 8th February 1587.
Interestingly Mary’s son James VI went on to succeed Elizabeth in 1603 and became the very first king of both Scotland and England. This in effect created the Kingdom of Great Britain.
House of Tudor
King of England 1509 – 1547
Henry VIII is one of Englands most notorious kings, most commonly known for taking six wives. Often described as a tyrant, Henry is also infamous for dissolving the monasteries and breaking with Rome. Henry was almost not king however. This honour was meant for his older Brother Arthur who died suddenly in 1502. As the second son of Henry VIII and his wife Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII was obsessed with securing his own dynasty and sought to wipe out any resistance to his rule. To this end the king was ruthless, having executed or imprisoned all those who had even the slightest claim to the throne.
King Henry was obsessed with securing a male heir. After becoming frustrated with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, he fell in love with the young an beautiful Ann Boleyn. When the Pope refused to annul his marriage Henry set out on a path of destruction, dissolving 800 monasteries and forming the protestant Church of England. As we know, Anne was arrested on charges of adultery and beheaded at the Tower of London. Henry took four more wives. Jayne Seymour provided Henry with a son but died in child birth. He was so repulsed by his next wife Ann of Cleaves that he divorced her almost instantly, the teenaged Catherine Howard was beheaded for adultery and his last wife Catherine Parr somehow managed to keep her head and outlive him.
Particularly in his later years Henry became, fat, obsessive, paranoid and narcissistic. You really didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. His most trusted advisor Thomas Cromwell was executed for nothing more than orchestrating his marriage to Ann of Cleaves. When Henry wasn’t having those around him executed, he was waging war against Scotland and France. He was a completely useless commander and practically brought England to its knees. Henry was a pretty terrible monarch.
House of Plantagenet
King of England 1199 – 1216
Lord of Ireland 1177 – 1216
King John is probably considered Englands most useless and evil King. Portrayed as the villain in Robin Hood, he certainly stands up to his evil reputation. John was they youngest and favourite son of Henry II and was born around Christmas time 1166. As the youngest of 5 male children, John was never intended to wear the crown and with all the lands and titles being handed out to his brothers, he gained the nickname ‘lackland’.
Whilst John was not unique amongst his brothers for being treacherous, he did cement his reputation when his bother Richard ‘The lion heart’ became king in 1189. With his other brothers dead, he attempted to usurp Richard when he was off crusade. With a little help from Philip Augustus of France he was nearly successful. When Richard died in 1199 John somehow found himself sitting on the English throne. His brother had however acknowledged their nephew Arthur as heir to the throne several years earlier. Arthur did in fact have a better claim. This was no issue for John however, he just had him killed.
As well as being treacherous, John was also immensely cruel and chivalry meant absolutely nothing to him. Where others would capture their enemies as opposed to killing them, John would just do the latter. He was universally hated by everyone. He was a bastard. Hi pissed off his barons by sleeping with their wives and suppressing their baronial rights, he even fell out with the King of France and lost the entirety of Normandy as a consequence. A monumental blunder. John raised taxes and demanded money in order to take back his continental dominions. He further pissed off his barons who rebelled against him and his hand was forced into signing Magna Carter. John being john however, he soon went back on his word, France invaded England on the request of the Barons and everyone was at war. It was just awesome.
In fact the only good thing John ever did……was dyeing. In 1216 his son Henry III took to the throne at the ripe old age of 9. To think of it, he turned out to be pretty useless as well.
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