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English/British monarchs ranked by potential basketball ability

Now that a Northwestern alumna is in the British royal family, we need to know the genetic possibilities.

Announcement Of Prince Harry's Engagement To Meghan Markle Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The biggest news in Northwestern circles in the last few months was that Northwestern grad Megan Markle (Class of 2003) got engaged to Prince Harry. A Wildcat as part of the royal family? Say it ain’t so!

Of course, Northwestern men’s basketball under Chris Collins is developing a history of adding famous children as walk-ons to the roster. We already have Charlie Hall, son of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (keep fighting, Julia!) and Tino Malnati, grandson of the famous Lou Malnati (the pizza guy).

If a member of the House of Windsor will become a walk-on at Northwestern in the near future (men or women), we need to gauge his or her basketball ability in preparation. Thankfully, we have some scant genetic history going back to 1066, which is good enough of me.

In order to scout Northwestern’s 2038 walk-on star, we have ranked the basketball skills of the entire history of the English monarchy since the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066.

Honorable Mentions

Oliver Cromwell

Cromwell was excellent at penetrating defenses (of cities, but who cares?) and a master of elegant cavalry charges. Who says he can’t become a master of drawing charges in college basketball? Just don’t play him against someone like Fran McCaffrey, because there will be a fight on the court. Unfortunately, his status as “Lord Protector” rather than “Lord Rim Protector” disqualifies him from this list.

Richard Cromwell

“Hey, wanna hear a funny historical joke?”


“Richard Cromwell.”

Harald Hardrada, King of Norway

Hardrada is best-known for living an interesting and violent life of raiding and pillaging during the Middle Ages. He lived a life too insane even for the most ridiculous Crusader Kings II game. After spending 15 years as a mercenary commander and the head of the Varangian Guard (the elite Byzantine infantry unit), he came back to Norway, claimed his rightful throne and reorganized the Norwegian state into a Viking superpower. This lasted until Hardrada decided to invade England and lay claim to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. He was defeated by Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge and killed in the fighting. Godwinson’s army, like many sports teams, was exhausted from this titanic encounter and was crushed by William the Conqueror at Hasting a few weeks later.

So, Hardrada was one or two battles away from becoming the rightful King of England. The legends describe him as five ells or 7.5 feet tall, and while that’s an exaggeration, he was probably tall enough to be a solid contributor on a college basketball team. Sadly, he never actually became King of England, so he’s off the list.

Phillip II, King of Spain

Would’ve been on this list, but a giant storm wiped out his entry form.

Lady Jane Grey

Edward VIII

Back when marrying an American woman meant you had to abdicate the throne, Edward VIII reigned for all of eight months in 1936 before abdicating in favor of George VI. Thankfully, times have changed, but Edward VIII became a noted Nazi sympathizer and would’ve possibly become King again if the Nazis had conquered Britain in 1940. Anyway, he didn’t reign for very long and Inside NU has a NO NAZIS IN POWER RANKINGS policy that I just made up, so he is excluded from the list.

The Child Ruler Tier

Edward V (1470-1483) and his brother Richard

Edward VI (1537-1553)

Unfortunately, these three boys died young. Edward V disappeared after getting locked in the Tower for “safekeeping” and was probably murdered by his uncle Richard III. Edward VI was a sickly child who died of a fever and caused a succession crisis.

The Decidedly Non-athletic Tier

Mary I (1553-1558)

“Bloody Mary” did not like Protestants, but she was also not very tall and quite skinny. While that would be good for squash or cross-country, it probably wouldn’t work for basketball.

John (1199-1216)

Best known now as the villain from Robin Hood, King John was supposedly 5-foot-5, which is not ideal for basketball reasons. He also was an extremely ill-tempered man, which would means he would probably be a bad teammate.

Anne (1702-1714)

Contrary to most chauvinist readings of her reign, Anne was a fine monarch, especially considering she had to consolidate power after the Glorious Revolution. However, she was an especially sickly woman who could not walk in her last years, so her basketball skills were probably not great. She died at age 49, handing the throne to the Hanoverians, her closest Protestant relatives.

George III (1760-1820)

George III was a terrible ruler. In addition to bungling away the American colonies (nice one, Georgie), he also provided ineffective leadership and poor mental stability. But for basketball purposes, he had serious mental illness and was rendered incapable multiple times in his reign. While sometimes crazy can be good on the basketball court (see Rodman, Dennis), this level of crazy probably rules him out.

George IV (1820-1830)

The Hanoverians were awful at staying healthy. George IV weighed 300 pounds and was addicted to laudanum, gambling, and women. Well, to be fair, that sounds like a lot of NBA centers, but in college basketball? That won’t fly. Nope. Definitely not. He also wasn’t seven feet, which is a problem.

Queen Victoria (1837-1901)

Hey, this Hanoverian was really good at staying alive! Unfortunately, Victoria was all of five feet, which is not really basketball height.

Edward VII (1901-1910)

The eldest son of Victoria was only 5-foot-8. He also smoked 20 cigars or cigarettes a day. I initially thought the modern monarchs would have a better chance at athletic achievement, but no, not even close.

George I (1714-1727)

As the closest living Protestant relative of Queen Anne, George I went from Elector of the rather small Electorate of Hanover to King of the second King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1714. His 13-year reign was not great, marked by the Jacobite rising and other fiascoes, and George I was never a distinguished athlete, king, or person. He was a fine placeholder king. Not exactly the stuff of great basketball players.

Probably okay basketball players, when they wanted to be

Elizabeth II (1952-present)

The current queen is only 5-foot-4. However, she’s a fairly sprightly person and has the benefit of knowing what the sport of basketball actually is.

Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

Funnily enough, the same description can apply for Elizabeth I as well. There’s not much to say on Elizabeth in terms of basketball, but there’s plenty of Elizabethan literature and historical analysis out there, so you should not be trying to learn more from Inside NU dot com.

William IV (1830-1837)

William successfully navigated Britain through the Reform Crises and likely away from any violent popular revolution in the future, which earns him a gold star from most historians. This ability to work hard to achieving a better future probably he means he’d be a decent basketball player.

Stephen (1135-1154)

With his penchant for usurpation and civil war, it’s hard to argue Stephen would be a good basketball player.

Not very powerful or intimidating to me.

James I (1603-1625)

As suggested by my friend Max, James I would only pass to his favorites, leading to poor team morale. James was tall for his time, but he drank heavily and suffered from kidney stones. Not an elite talent.

George II (1727-1760)

Of the first three Georges, George II was definitely the most able-bodied. He hunted and was the last British monarch to lead an army in battle. He wasn’t very physically or politically imposing, but he did a good enough job to make the “half-decent” basketball players list on Inside NU, which is good for him.

Charles I (1625-1649)

Probably would be an okay basketball player, but his refusal to share the ball with his teammates would be a serious problem. He’s the guy who’s not very good in pickup, but still heaves contested midrange jumpers expecting them to go in.

William II “Rufus” (1087-1100)

Not much is known about William’s jumper, but he was an angry and fractious monarch that did little to unite his territories or make peace with his nobles. He died in a suspicious hunting accident. Not a good teammate, doesn’t rank highly on this list.

George V (1910-1936)

George V was of fairly average build and smoked a lot (much like his son). He was slightly below average in height, from what I’ve found, and while he doesn’t look too athletic, I’m sure he could’ve held his own. He liked collecting stamps and shooting. Not exactly hitting the gym and shooting thousands of threes per day.

Richard III (1483-1485)

Wait, isn’t he the hunchbacked king? How could he be good at basketball? Well actually, Shakespeare was wrong. Richard III suffered from scoliosis. Having a curved spine would not make him a great basketball player, but he’d at least be somewhat competent.

Average basketball players

Empress Matilda (1141-1148 [disputed])

I’m not sure Matilda is the best athlete who ever lived, but I think she was the most determined usurper that England ever had, which is saying something.

By age 20, Matilda had become Holy Roman Empress and Regent of Italy. Not bad. I’m sitting here writing dumb Inside NU articles at age 20. Her husband died when she was 23, leaving her to do whatever she wanted. She returned to Normandy and became the heir to all of Henry I’s titles. That’s pretty good. She got (unhappily) married and had two sons, one of which will feature later on this list.

Her cousin Stephen, the decidedly not good basketball player mentioned above, seized the throne in 1135. Matilda invaded England and captured Stephen. Then she somehow lost him, leading to a long civil war. Her and her son fought for 19 years (from 1135-1154), eventually forcing Stephen to name her son Henry FitzEmpress (this is not a joke name, I swear) as Stephen’s heir, ending the conflict. In the meantime, she became the ruler of Normandy for a while, because why not?

Would she have been a good basketball player? Probably not, but you can bet Matilda would be out every day in the gym, shooting buckets until her rightful status as the best basketball player would be respected.

Henry IV (1399-1413)

Wow, I didn’t know Henry IV was so against the NCAA.

Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know. - Henry IV, Part 1

(Of course, we cannot judge all historical impressions of the Lancastrians on Shakespeare plays, right everybody? Right???!!!)

Henry III (1216-1272)

Although he stood at just 5-foot-6, Henry III had “a good motor” and would be the decent low mid-major point guard. He was really not a very good king, as evidenced by his failures in France, various revolts, and his suppression of England’s Jewish communities, but he managed to reign for 56 years, so he was doing something right.

Henry I (1106-1135)

Another short but stocky guard type. Henry I did a lot during his reign, but the most important note for basketball purposes is that he was a big fan of donating to Cluniac monks. His noted charity sounds like he was a “Pat Ryan” of his age, which means he would have a reason to stay on the court.

Henry VII (1485-1509)

It’s hard to say whether Henry VII had the physical capacity to be a great basketball player, but his ability to manage his country’s finances and keep the state intact implies that he would be a great NBA GM. The Daryl Morey of his time, Henry VII was a master of trade deals, bookkeeping and passing reforms. He also performed well in the clutch, as seen with his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field.

Henry VI (1422-1461, 1470-1471)

This is not the article to get into a full description of the Wars of the Roses, but suffice to say that Henry VI would’ve been a solid basketball player with or without his untimely end. He stood at around 5-foot-10 and was apparently a fairly strong and athletic guy in his prime. Unfortunately, he suffered from depression or schizophrenia.

William III (1689-1702)

William III was a boring guy, and he probably would’ve been a classic role player on a basketball team. He did well to contain Louis XIV, though, so you know he’ll bring defense.

Henry II (1154-1189)

Henry II energetic and active 35-year reign had a lot of positives for this list. He was always conquering things (usually parts of France), and clearly had a lot of passion for his work. He wasn’t all that tall, but he could definitely hold his own on the battlefield and on the court.

James II (1685-1688)

Gaining motivation from his dislike of the Commonwealth and Protestantism, I’m fairly certain James II would’ve been a decent basketball player. He was around 6 feet, like his brother Charles II, and would’ve been good at asserting his right to the post through the divine right of kings. However, too many midrange jumpers would probably doom his game.

George VI (1936-1952)

I recently watched the first two episodes of Crown and I will admit the frail, chain-smoking George VI portrayed in the show would probably not be very good at basketball. His slight build would be an issue, but George VI competed at Wimbledon in 1926 and he definitely had some hand-eye coordination skills. I’m not ready to say he’d be good, but he could definitely hold his own.

William I (1066-1087)

William the Conqueror signaling to the bench that a timeout needs to be called.

William lived a very complicated and tumultuous life. However, for basketball purposes, the Norman invader was around 5-foot-10 and had excellent health. As with most of the medieval kings on this list, it’s hard to imagine William not being reasonably coordinated and athletic considering he was at war for much of his life.

Edward II (1307-1327)

Part of the tall and athletic subset of the Plantagenet line, Edward II would’ve been a solid player. He also would’ve had solid chemistry with his lover Piers Gaveston, but since Gaveston was not very well liked, this may not be a good thing.

Actually good basketball players

Richard II (1377-1399)

Richard was found to be around six feet tall when his tomb was opened. He enjoyed hunting and various tournaments and could be described as a real “sports guy.” Not sure how his jumper would be, but he was somewhat cool with a regency under his uncle John of Gaunt for a long time. That screams “coachability” to me.

Charles II (1660-1685)

Standing at a solid 6-foot-1, Charles is almost always portrayed as a lean, flamboyant, but still reasonably athletic guy. Considering he spent a good 20 years hiding out from the English Civil War and the Commonwealth, that’s almost to be expected. Despite being a complete playboy, I still think Charles II would’ve been the best basketball player in the Stuart dynasty, a ridiculous statement that I cannot believe I just penned.

Henry V (1413-1422)

Henry was supposed to be 6-foot-3, but I’m beginning to doubt the veracity of the medieval sources on height at this rate unless we have serious archaeological evidence. Regardless, Henry V was probably at least 6 feet, and he personally won a famous victory at Agincourt in 1415. Those are some real accomplishments and abilities! He would’ve been just fine on the hardwood.

Edward IV (1461-1470, 1471-1483)

The second-tallest member of this list, Edward IV was also a really good military commander and a very energetic monarch. I have little doubt that Edward IV could’ve carved out an Anthony Gaines-esque role at the very least. He definitely had the intangibles.

Edward I “Longshanks”

Another particularly tall guy, Edward I was a good soldier and had the intangibles to make it work. Not much is known about his athletic ability, but since the English monarchy is not exactly rich with athletic talent, we’ll take it.

Henry VIII (1509-1547)

While the portraits of Henry VIII seem to portray him as an obese but proud monarch, Henry VIII is one of the few English kings who took athletics seriously. He was a very good tennis player and hunter, and he apparently actually enjoyed sports, which means a lot out of this group. Given his size and hand-eye coordination, it’s fair to say that Henry VIII would be decent at basketball.

Richard I “The Lionheart” (1189-1199)

The great 6-foot-5 crusading English king had to make this list somewhere. Lucky for him, it’s at the top spot. His sole goal in life was to go to war, by any means necessary. That’s a “Mamba mentality” if there ever was one. He also had the height to make it as a basketball player, along with the athleticism and warlike skills to actually be decent at the sport. Richard, you win. I can confidently say that, with some basketball training, you’d be just about as good as Charlie Hall and Tino Malnati. I’m done with English history for a few weeks.