The late medieval period (1250-1485)

English monarchs of the late medieval period

Edward I
Edward I (r1272-1307)
Edward II
Edward II (r1307-1327)
Edward III and Edward the Black Prince
Edward III (r1327-1377)
Richard II
Richard II (r1377-1399)
Henry IV
Henry IV (r1399-1413)
Henry V
Henry V (r1413-1422)
Henry VI
Henry VI (r1422-1461 and 1470-1471)
Lord Rivers and Caxton presenting a book to Edward IV
Edward IV (r1461-1483)
Edward V
Edward V (r1483)
Richard III on horse back
Richard III (r1483-1485)

Scottish monarchs of the late middle ages

Alexander III
Alexander III (r1249-1286)
Margaret (1286-1290)
John King of Scotland kneeling before Edward I King of England
John I (r1292-1296)
Robert the Bruce
Robert I (the Bruce) (r1306-1329)
David II and Edward III
David II (r1329-1371)
Robert II (1371-1390)
Robert II (r1371-1390)
Robert III
Robert III (r1390-1406)
James I of Scotland
James I (r1406-1437)
James II of Scotland
James II (r1437-1460)
James III
James III (r1460-1488)

The Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland 1290

Alexander III had married the daughter of the English king when he was 10, but although the union had produced three children, including two boys, they all predeceased him. In desperation, he married again, but died within months of the wedding in 1286.

Alexander’s heir was his 3-year-old granddaughter, daughter of the 15-year-old King of Norway, Eric. Having foreseen such a situation, Alexander had appointed a group of nobles known as The Guardians to oversee Margaret’s accession, and in 1290 they agreed with Eric, Edward I of England and Robert the Bruce to bring her to Scotland. She arrived in the Norwegian territory of Orkney in September 1290, but died a week later possibly from the side effects of either seasickness or food poisoning. Her body was returned to Norway to be buried beside her mother.


Alexander III of Scotland, Llywelyn ab Gruffydd of Wales and Edward I of England
The people of Tournai bury victims of the Black Death. c1353
The people of Tournai bury victims of the Black Death. c1353

The Black Death (1348)

The first outbreak of plague in England was in June 1348, carried by a sailor from Gascony. Within 12 months it had spread across the entire country and by the time it subsided in December 1349 it may have wiped-out as much as 60% of the population.

‘Sheep and cattle went wandering over fields and through crops, and there was no one to go and drive or gather them for there was such a lack of servants that no one knew what he ought to do. Wherefore many crops perished in the fields for want of someone to gather them.’   – History of England by Henry Knighton

Victims came from all sections of society, and would have long-lasting repercussions for society, the economy and religion. Labour immediately became scarce, driving wages up for those who survived the pestilence, whilst the landowners desperately tried to keep them at pre-plague levels, causing resentment that lasted for generations. 

Scotland's first three King James

Beginning in 1406 with the succession of James I when he was only 11 years old, Scotland was to see an unfortunate run of seven consecutive monarchs inherit the throne whilst still a child, causing a cycle of instability, faction and power-grabbing that was hard to break.


For the first 18 years of James I’s rule, he was a prisoner in England, only returning to Scotland when he was 30. His subsequent attempts to restore the king’s authority ended in his assassination leaving his six-year-old son, James II as king. Though violent (he stabbed the earl of Douglas to death in 1452), he was an able king, but his early death in 1460 when his cannon exploded beside him left yet another minority king, James III who was eight. This James, however, lacked charm and although he survived his turbulent regency, he managed to alienate his family, nobles and people. He was killed by rebels acting in the name of his 15-year-old son, James IV, who subsequently became king in 1488.

A contemporary portrait of James II of Scotland showing the birthmark on his face
The execution of the Duke of Somerset
The execution of the Duke of Somerset at the Battle of Tewkesbury

The Wars of the Roses

Although now remembered as a dynastic conflict for the English throne, the Wars of the Roses (as it became known later) actually encompassed a whole host of local and personal feuds.

The early death of the Lancastrian king, Henry V, left his baby son on the throne. As Henry VI grew, he showed himself as a weak king, who relied heavily on the advice of the Duke of Suffolk over that of the Duke of York and his close ally, the earl of Warwick.

With his descent from Edward III and an arrogant personality, York was not prepared to be sidelined and in 1455 the conflict broke into open warfare. By 1461 York was dead, but his second son, Edward, earl of March seized the throne, deposed Henry VI and made himself Edward IV.

The conflict should have ended then, but Henry VI escaped and when Edward begun to shake off Warwick’s control, the earl shifted his allegiance back to the House of Lancaster.

With French help, Henry VI was placed back on the throne in 1470, but it was not to last. He and his heir were dead within a year and Edward IV was reinstated. His reign lasted until 1483 when a life of excess finally caught up with him.

The last king of the Wars was Richard III whose two-year reign ended with the most famous battle of the Wars, the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Edward V

Edward V is the forgotten king of the middle ages, which is hardly a surprise given that he was only 12 at the time of his accession and was never actually crowned.

Edward was raised under the care of his mother’s brother, Anthony, Lord Rivers, one of the much detested and distrusted Woodville clan. But when Edward IV died suddenly on 9 April 1483, he appointed his own brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, as Protector.

During his procession to London, the young king was waylaid by Gloucester, and Rivers was promptly arrested and later executed.

Edward and his brother were residing in the Tower of London awaiting the coronation, but on 22 June rumours regarding their legitimacy began to circulate. Four days later Gloucester became King Richard III.

By the autumn of 1483 the boys had both disappeared from public.

Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Edward V
Edward V with his parents, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

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