What do you think makes a great king or queen? Should they be mighty conqueror that amasses a vast empire, a just ruler that governs fairly, or perhaps a glorious leader who inspires their people during tough times?
Featuring the likes of Queen Victoria, William the Conqueror, Charlemagne and Catherine the Great, we’ve compiled a list of who we consider to be Europe’s 50 most successful monarchs from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, but we want you to have the final say.
To sweeten the deal, your vote will put you in the running to win a family ticket (for two adults and three children, age 5-15 years old) to Hampton Court Palace. This prize also includes an overnight stay in London, so that you can spend the whole day exploring the grandeur of its Great Hall, Queen Anne’s baroque chapel, the Tudor kitchen and, of course, its maze that has been boggling minds for 300 years.
Please note: in a change to what was originally advertised, the vote will now close on 18 June. The public’s choice of the all-time greatest royal will be revealed in a special edition of All About History, along with a breakdown of every other rulers’ final ranking, with expert commentary from celebrated historians, in-depth profiles of key figures and more.
Not sure who to vote for? Scroll down for an overview of all the nominees…
The All-Time Greatest Royal Nominees
Charlemagne of the Franks (c. 747 – c. 814)
This Frankish king and Christian emperor of the West conquered immense territories and defined the character of Medieval Europe.
Alfred the Great of Wessex (849-99 CE)
The only English monarch known as ‘the Great,’ this Anglo-Saxon king successfully resisted Viking invasion.
Æthelstan of England (c. 895-949)
This Anglo-Saxon warrior king ‘reconquered’ York from the Vikings, and proclaimed himself ‘king of all Britain’.
Brian Boru of Ireland (c.940-1014)
This High King united Ireland under his leadership, famously defeating the Vikings at Clontarf, and establishing the powerful O’Brien dynasty.
Cnut the Great of Denmark, England and Norway (c. 995-1035)
Though he couldn’t control the tide, this Viking king ruled over the North Sea Empire, covering Denmark, Norway and England.
David I of Scotland (c. 1080-1153)
This Scottish king led a cultural revolution, introducing feudalism, founding monasteries and securing control of a large part of northern England.
Edward the Confessor of England (c. 1003-1066)
Remembered for his religious piety, much of Edward’s reign was peaceful and prosperous. However, his death brought about the Norman conquest.
William the Conqueror of England (c. 1028-1087)
Also known as William I, this Norman noble seized the English crown after victory at Hastings in 1066, and transformed the country forever.
Owain Gwynedd of Wales (1100-1170)
This warrior king ruled much of Wales and successfully expanded his borders into England, later besting Henry II of England at the Battle of Crogen.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1122-1204)
One of the Middle Ages’ most powerful women, Eleanor helped run Henry of Anjou’s empire and ruled England as regent while Richard I was at war.
Richard I of England (1157-1199)
Remembered as ‘Lion Heart’, this warrior king fought Saladin during in the Third Crusade, but only spent six months of his ten-year reign in England.
John of England (1166-1216)
Though he was forced to sign the Magna Carta, John was the first Norman king to speak English, and took an active interest in the country.
Edward I of England (1239-1307)
Nicknamed ‘Long Shanks’ and ‘Hammer of the Scots’, the English king is best known for trying to subdue Wales and Scotland, notably defeating William Wallace.
Robert the Bruce of Scotland (1274-1329)
This rebel king secured Scotland’s independence from England, waging a highly successful guerrilla war before subsequently winning papal recognition as the rightful monarch.
Margaret I of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (1353-1412)
The queen consort of Norway and Sweden and sovereign of Denmark, she peacefully united all three Scandinavians nations under her rule.
Henry V of England (c 1387-1422)
Victorious against the French at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War, he made England one of the strongest kingdoms in Europe.
Mehmed the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire (1432-1481)
This emperor captured Constantinople, the Balkans and Anatolia, establishing the Ottoman Empire’s heartlands for the next 400 years.
Isabella I of Castille (1451-1504)
This queen unified Spain through her marriage to Ferdinand II of Aragon, financed Christopher Columbus’ expeditions and established the Spanish Inquisition.
Richard III of England (1452-1485)
The last ruler of the Plantagenet dynasty may have murdered his way to the throne, but it is unlikely that he was the arch-villain that Shakespeare painted him as.
Henry VII of England (1457-1509)
This English king ended the War of the Roses, founded the mighty Tudor dynasty and brought about stability after years of civil strife.
Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1443-1490)
The Raven King set about reconstructing the country after years of feudal anarchy, encouraged the ‘new learning’ of the Italian Renaissance in Hungary and conquered several neighbouring states.
Henry VIII of England (1491-1547)
Best known for his six wives and breaking with Rome, England also flourished under this Tudor icon, who patronised the arts and amassed a mighty navy.
Francis I of France (1494-1547)
This French king was a Renaissance patron of the arts and scholarship, and a knightly king who waged successful campaigns in Italy, but was bested by Charles V.
Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire (c.1494-1566)
Also known as the Lawgiver, this emperor expanded Ottoman presence in Europe, Africa and the Middle East while reforming the legal system and patronising the arts and architecture at home.
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500-1558)
A king of Spain and its American colonies as well as Holy Roman Emperor, this Hapsburg monarch boasted an empire ‘on which the sun never sets’ long before Britain did.
Philip II of Spain and Portugal (1527-1598)
This king commanded the Spanish Empire at the height of its powers, and successfully conquered Portugal and defeated the Ottomans in an epic naval battle at Lepanto.
Ivan the Terrible of Russia (1530-1584)
While Russia’s first tsar deserved the bloody reputation he garnered, he also forged a mighty nation state, instituting a central administration and building the iconic St Basil Cathedral.
Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)
The Virgin Queen presided over a golden age for England, having sent the first colonists to America and defeated the Spanish Armada, saving the country from invasion.
James VI and I of Scotland and England (1566-1625)
The ruler of Scotland and the first Stuart king of England, this peacemaker ended the long war with Spain, and his version of the Bible was the standard text for 250 years.
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632)
The Swedish ‘Lion of the North’ fought wars with Poland-Lithuania, Russia and Denmark simultaneously, defended Lutheranism during the Counter-Reformation, and ultimately laid the foundations for the modern Swedish state.
John III Sobieski of Poland (1629-1696)
This elective king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth successfully pushed back the Ottomans during the Siege of Vienna, and briefly restored his kingdom to greatness.
Charles II of England (1630-1685)
The king of England, Scotland and Ireland, Charles II advocated religious tolerance and power-sharing, while presiding over colonisation and trade in India, West Indies and America.
Louis XIV of France (1638-1715)
The Sun King was Europe’s longest-reigning monarch. He established France as the dominant power of the era while ruling supremely from the Palace of Versailles.
Anne of Great Britain (1665-1714)
The last of the Stuart monarchs, Anne was also the first sovereign of Great Britain, presiding over the unification of England and Scotland.
Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725)
Through successful wars, this Russian tsar expanded his empire while seeking to modernise the vast state by introducing European culture and industry, and founded the city of Saint Petersburg.
George II of Great Britain (1683-1760)
Personally led his troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, defeating the French and becoming the last British monarch to lead his troops into battle.
Elizabeth of Russia (1709-1762)
After seizing power in a bloodless coup, the tsarina steered Russia through the Seven Years’ War, founded its first university and built the extravagant Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786)
The original ‘enlightened despot’, this Prussian king helped popularise liberal ideals while establishing his state as the foremost military power in Europe.
Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress (1717-1780)
The only female ruler of the mighty House of Hapsburg held together her disparate empire through great strength of will and multiple challenges from Prussia and other foreign powers.
Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796)
Reigning for more than 30 years, she usurped the throne from her husband, advocated social reform and greatly expanded Russian territory.
Napoleon I of France (1769-1821)
It took a million-man army to defeat the First Emperor of France at Waterloo, while his much-lauded Napoleonic Code continues to influence European law.
Wilhelm I of Germany (1797-1888)
The first emperor of a united Germany and king of Prussia, Wilhelm had the sense to appoint Otto von Bismarck to power while also keeping the Iron Chancellor in check.
Alexander II of Russia (1818-1881)
This Russian tsar emancipated the serfs, reduced the power of the landed aristocracy, loosened censorship, reformed education, the military and the courts among other things, but was still assassinated by socialist revolutionaries.
Victoria of the United Kingdom (1819-1901)
Until recently, Victoria was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, with the country becoming an industrial powerhouse and its empire spreading around the globe during her reign.
Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1820-1878)
The first king of a united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II worked with revolutionary leaders like Garibaldi in order to free Italy from the control of the French and Prussians.
George V of the United Kingdom (1865-1936)
The great moderniser of the British royal family, George V changed their name to Windsor, made the first radio broadcast, and won public respect by visiting the frontlines and factories.
Albert I of Belgium (1875-1934)
This Belgian king remained with his troops during World War I, and commanded the forces that recaptured Ostend and Bruges from the Germans in 1918.
Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (1880-1962)
The Netherlands’ longest-serving queen reigned through both World Wars, though she was exiled to London during Nazi occupation. From here she inspired the Dutch resistance through radio broadcasts.
George VI of the United Kingdom (1895-1952)
Made king after the sudden abdication of his brother Edward VIII, he remained at Buckingham Palace during the London Blitz to show unity with the people.
Olav V of Norway (1903-1991)
This Norwegian king was nicknamed ‘a king for all the people’ for his egalitarianism, won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympics, and resisted the Nazis during World War II.