Famous Medieval Kings

The Medieval period was marked by the existence of kingdoms and empires in Europe. The most notable medieval kingdoms of the period included those of England, France and Italy.

Other empires of the period included the Byzantine Empire, Holy Roman Empire and the short-lived but significant Carolingian Empire.

Following are some of the most significant medieval rulers who ruled over these European territories.

Charles V 1500 – 1558

Charles V became the Spanish Emperor in 1516 and was elected the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 Read more about the Charles V 1500 – 1558 >>

Frederick Barbarossa 1155 – 1190

Frederick Barbarossa was the ruler of the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 to 1190 Read more about the Frederick Barbarossa 1155 – 1190 >>

Hugh Capet – King of the Franks 987-996

Hugh Capet *King of the Franks 987-996 west Francia during the 10th century Read more about the Hugh Capet – King of the Franks 987-996 >>

Justinian I Byzantine Emperor 527-565

Justinian I *Reign 527 to 565 *One of the most powerful Byzantine emperors Read more about the Justinian I Byzantine Emperor 527-565 >>

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII was a famous king who reigned during the Tudor times of medieval history, famous for having six wives! Read more about the King Henry VIII >>

Philip IV – King of France 1285-1314

Philip IV is remembered for his dismantling of the Knights Templar Read more about the Philip IV – King of France 1285-1314 >>

William the Conqueror 1035-1087

William the Conqueror *Duke of Normandy Conquered England in 1066... Read more about the William the Conqueror 1035-1087 >>

King Alfred Ælfred ‘Alfred the Great’ 848 – 899

King Alfred *Ælfred is also known as Alfred the Great, ruled over most of England in the late 9th century.

Alfred was the first English ruler to assume the title “King of the Anglo-Saxons” and his reign effectively coincided with a consolidation of the Anglo-Saxon identity in England.

He ascended to the throne of Wessex in 871 and had to deal with the imminent Viking threat.

Alfred The Great

Although King Alfred suffered a few initial setbacks, he was ultimately able to push back the Viking incursion and decisively secure most of Anglo-Saxon England.

Being a patron of education and arts, Alfred helped the Anglo-Saxons forge a definite identity for the first time.

Who Were The Anglo Saxons Alfred The Great

King Alfred promoted religious education and the use of the English language and also spearheaded many legal and social reforms in the Anglo-Saxon society of the time.

It was also during his era that Anglo-Saxons significantly evolved their military structure and came to view naval supremacy as key to England’s defense.

King Richard I ‘Richard the Lionheart’ 1157 – 1199

Richard the Lionheart was one of the most notable monarchs of England in the medieval period.

He ruled over England from 1189 to 1199 and during his brief reign of ten years, he undertook such significant measures and adventures as to earn him lasting fame in the annals of history.

Before his ascension to English throne, King Richard was actively involved in military conflicts against France and later against his father, King Henry II.

Richard The Lionheart and the Crusades

Richard I aka. Richard The Lionheart is ready for battle during the crusades

Assuming military leadership at the age of 16, he came to earn fame as a formidable warrior and leader.

After Richard became King, he most notably took command of one of the armies of the Third Crusade. On this Crusade, he occupied Cyprus, took control of Sicily, and was able to defeat Saladin in a few battles although he couldn’t wrest back the control of Jerusalem.

Richard was seen as an embodiment of the medieval knightly ideals of chivalry, valor, and nobility.

Richard The LionHeart & Saladin Third Crusades

Richard The Lionheart Middle and Saladin the Great Muslim Leader Right

King Henry VIII ‘Tudor King’ 1491 – 1547

Henry VIII was the most famous of the monarchs of the Tudor dynasty.

He was the second King of the Tudor dynasty, ascending to the English throne in 1509 and remaining in it until his death in 1547.

*The Tudor period started as the medieval period ended, bringing with it one of the most famous kings in English history.

Henry VIII Tudor King

Henry VIII Second Tudor monarch 1509 – 1547

During his reign, England underwent decisive changes which were to permanently alter the future of the country.

Most notably, a schism between Henry VIII and Papacy led to the beginning of the English Reformation and a permanent tilt towards Protestantism.

Henry VIII  was an extravagant patron of arts and had as many as 60 musicians on his court staff while also owning hundreds of musical instruments himself.

Greensleeves Song King Henry III

There are various theories regarding the origin of the Greensleeves song. The song has been attributed to King Henry VIII.

King Henry composed many pieces of music, few of which are extant today. Henry led battles against France and the Holy Roman Empire through most of his reign, succeeding in many of his military conflicts.

Henrys Six Wives

King Charlemagne – Charles the Great 747 – 814

Charlemagne also known as ‘Charles the Great, was one of the most powerful kings throughout the medieval period. He was a member of the Carolingian Dynasty and arose to power as the King of the Franks in 768.


Soon after ascending to power, Charlemagne sought to expand his kingdom and was successful in gaining control of Italy and being crowned as the King of Italy as well in 774.

Charlemagne then turned to the East of his kingdom and subdued the pagan Saxon tribes after nearly 18 years of warfare, converting them to Christianity and gaining control over their territories.

In the West, Charlemagne expanded his Empire all the way to the Iberian Peninsula, launching offensives against the advancing Moors.


Charlemagne was the first person to forge a sizable Empire in Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire and the first to consequently assume the title of “Holy Roman Emperor”.

As a staunch patron of the Church and fervent exponent of Christianity throughout Western Europe, he is hailed as one of the key figures who gave Europe its Christian identity.

King Otto I – Otto  the Great 936 – 962

King Otto, I was also known as ‘Otto the Great, he was the Holy Roman emperor and East Francian King from 936 – 962.

Charlemagne’s vast Empire disintegrated towards the end of the 9th century. It was only at the hands of Otto I that a similar Empire was revived in Central Europe.

Otto I Famous Holy Roman Empire Kings

Otto I originally ascended to power as King of the Germans in the Saxony region in 936. King Otto united the German tribes into a single identity and subdued the notable dukes and barons of his kingdom by expanding his own powers significantly.

Otto then went on to conquer the Kingdom of Italy in the south and decisively defeated the Magyars in 955, effectively blocking their conquest of Western Europe.

Famous Medieval Kings Otto I

Like Charlemagne before him, Otto I was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 962 in Rome.

Although he played the role of the protector of the Church at many instances, he also effectively used the Church to further his political goals successfully.

The Empire forged by Otto I would continue to exist, in one form or the other, until the 19th century!

Hugh Capet – King of the Franks 987 – 996

Hugh Capet was the King of the Franks from 987 to 996.

He was born in France at a time when the Carolingians might have declined and members of the Robertian dynasty were being elected as Kings by the nobility.

Capet was a member of the Robertian family himself but he couldn’t initially win an election to kingship. He rather had Louis V, one of the remaining Carolingian descendants, elected to the throne.

Hugo Capet Medieval king Crowned

Once Louis V was in power, Capet successfully manipulated him and was able to amass so much power that he was second in power to the King alone.

In 987, Louis V died in an accident and Capet was elected King of the Franks while his son, Robert was established as his heir.

Medieval France map Capetian France

Capet remained the King of the Franks until his death in 996 and his dynasty directly ruled over France until the 14th century.

King Philip II of France – Philip Augustus 1180 to 1223

Philip II Augustus ascended to the French throne in 1180 and remained in power until his death in 1223.  Before him, the monarchs of France had used the title ‘King of the Franks’ but Philip II became the first to use instead “King of France”.

Philip II Augustus Famous Medieval King of France Portrait

Philip II reign was decisive in the history of France in that he was able to establish France on firmer grounds and amassed significant power and prestige for the French crown.

King Phillip’s notable military feats include the defeat of the English in the Anglo-French War at the beginning of the 13th century whereby he broke up the Angevin Empire.

Battle of Bouvines

King Phillip then went on to defeat a joint coalition of Germans, English, and Flemish in 1214 at the historic Battle of Bouvines. This victory at the battle forced the English king to seek conciliation with his rebel barons, ultimately resulting in the signing of the Magna Carta.

During his reign, France emerged as the most formidable power in Europe while internally, the kingdom underwent rapid urbanization and many towns prospered, giving rise to a new bourgeoisie class.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta

King Philip IV  – Philip the Fair 1268 – 1314

Philip IV of France was one of the most powerful French monarchs during the medieval period.

He became the King of France in 1285 at a time when the power of the nobility was diminishing in the face of a new bourgeoisie class, rich merchant class and skilled civil servants directly reporting to the king.

King Philippe IV Famous Medieval Kings King of France

By leaning on these changes, Philip IV further constrained the power of the feudal and nobles in his kingdom, at the same time becoming more powerful as the king.

King Phillip also ruled over the Kingdom of Navarre in Iberia and his extended family came to rule in Naples and Hungary at the time.

With centralized authority in his hand, Philip sought to push French control both eastward and westward, annexing many counties and fiefs in the process and extending French territories.

A rather notorious event of Philip IVs reign was the extermination of the Knights Templar on direct orders from the King who was under their debt.

Knights Templar Burned at The Stake

The Knights Templar were burned at the Stake accused of being witches

His reign is also considered the decisive mark in history whereby the ultimate temporal authority of the Catholic Church began to diminish in the face of the monarchy.

King Charles V  – The Wise 1338 – 1380

Charles V was a French monarch who ruled from 1364 to 1380. He earned the epithet of “The Wise” on account of his skillful rule at a turbulent time. Before he ascended the throne, his father King John II was captured by the English forces at the Battle of Poitiers.

King Charles V then signed a compromising treaty with the English, ceding key territories and agreeing to pay a heavy ransom.

Battle of Poitiers

The Battle of Poitiers was one of the more significant battles during the 100 years war!

Once he ascended to the throne in 1364, Charles V led a round of reforms and measures with the help of his advisers.

These were a huge success and helped him replenish the kingdom’s coffers, brought together a regular and paid army for the first time, and wrest back most of the territories ceded to the English earlier.

King Charles V The Wise

King Charles also pursued a construction program and had a number of monumental buildings built in his kingdom. Charles was known to own a sizable library at Louvre in which he stored French manuscripts which he would share with his counselors.

King Frederick Barbarossa – Frederick I 1122 – 1190

Frederick Barbarossa was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 to 1190, being one of the most powerful and well-known European rulers of the medieval period.

Medieval Kings Frederick Barbarossa

During his long reign, he waged war against a wide range of foes, including the Papacy, and despite many setbacks, scored vital successes.

He was initially elected the King of Germany in 1152. He then proceeded to gain control over Italy and was crowned the King of Italy in 1155, also being crowned as the Emperor the same year.

Flags of The Holy Roman Empire

Flags of The Holy Roman Empire ruled by King Frederick Barbarossa

Italy would prove a contested point for Frederick who led three subsequent campaigns in a bid to subdue Italy, ending in disagreements with the Papacy and the Normans in southern Italy.

His disagreements with the Papacy led him to appoint an anti-pope whose papacy was short-lived. After many decades of extended warfare, Barbarossa successfully consolidated the imperial authority of the German throne.

King Frederick Barbarossa German KIng

King Frederick Barbarossa King of Germany and The Holy Roman empire

His significance in medieval history is also due to his charismatic personality. Being well-versed in a number of languages, very well-read, highly well-mannered, and living a very long life, Barbarossa was considered an extraordinary monarch of his period.

King Justinian I – Justinian the Great 482 – 565

Justinian I was one of the most powerful emperors of the Byzantine Empire. Reining over the Empire in the 6th century, Justinian’s ascension coincided with what has been considered the golden period of the Empire.

It was during his reign that Byzantine Empire attempted, with great success, to annex the territories lost by the Western Roman Empire.

Justinian remained in power from 527 until 565

justinian I famous medieval kings

Consequently, Italy and portions along North African coasts as well as territories in Iberia came back under Byzantine control. During his reign, Roman supremacy was once against established in the Mediterranean.

While a patron of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Justinian placed the Church authority decisively under his own.

Byzantine Architecture Hagia Sophia at Dusk

Byzantine Architecture Hagia Sophia at Dusk

Justinian also actively patronized arts and culture, launching an architectural Renaissance in the Empire which flowered in masterpieces such as the Hagia Sophia.

Most of his reign was marked by the rapid military expansion of the Empire and a flurry of cultural activities which proved vital in sustaining the Byzantine Empire in the coming centuries and contributed to the birth of its unique identity.

Robert the Bruce – King of Scots 1274 – 1329 

Robert the Bruce was the King of the Scots from 1306 until 1329.

Before he ascended to the Scottish throne, the English and the Scots were pitted in an ongoing armed conflict which was later termed the ‘Wars of Scottish Independence’. Until 1306, the English had been successful in subduing many attempts by Scots to gain independence from the English throne.

Robert The Bruce Famous Medieval Knight Statue at Marischal College

In 1307, the tide began to turn as the Scots launched another war against England under Robert as their king. Robert defeated the English in open battle in 1307 and then launched large-scale guerrilla warfare, devastating the English and their allies in Scotland.

By 1314, Robert had gained control of most of Scotland through decisive military victories. He then went on to ravage northern England, taking the battle to English territory.

Robert reigned as the King of the Scots until his death in 1329. His military prowess, political acumen, and his tenacity in defending Scottish independence earned him a semi-legendary status in Scottish medieval history.

Robert The Bruce Famous Medieval Knight Portrait Painting

William the Conqueror – William I 1028 – 1087

William the Conqueror was the first Norman king of England following the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

His conquest of England decisively replaced Anglo-Saxon royalty and nobility of the country with a French-Norman nobility.

The change also significantly altered the cultural outlook of England. William was originally the Duke of Normandy but following a succession dispute against Edward the Confessor’s death, he laid claim to the English throne.

William The Conqueror Medieval Kings Norman King Portrait Painting

This was followed by the 1066 invasion in which he successfully defeated the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Hastings, cemented his control over England by extensively building castles, and subdued many attempted rebellions by the Anglo-Saxon nobility in different parts of England.

Battle of Hastings 1066

The Battle Of Hastings in 1066