5 Medieval Monarchs We Could All Learn Some Career Lessons From

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

In actual fact, any student of history knows that we have a lot more in common with our ancestors than many think. However disparate our upbringings and belief systems might be, there are some fundamental human drives and motivations that we can relate to across the divide.

Understandably, being a Medieval or Early Modern king or queen might require a slightly different skillset to a modern day role in PR or admin. Yet you might be surprised by what our past can teach us. Perhaps we can even glean a few pointers for our everyday lives from famous historical figures.


Elizabeth I and dressing for the job you want

One of the most well-known Queens of England, Elizabeth I is sometimes known as the Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess.

At Tilbury in 1588, Elizabeth stood in front of her troops and made an unprecedented speech to encourage them to defend England against the approaching Spanish Armada. As a female monarch, there was an expectation that she would be an inferior leader during wartime. Elizabeth very deliberately presented herself as war leader. She dressed in a cuirass (upper body armour) made to resemble classical figures like Athena, Greek Goddess of War.

Elizabeth was generally very skilled at manipulating her appearance throughout her reign to convey something about her character or sovereignty. Unfortunately, it is still important for women – as well as men – to use their appearances to project a point. Employers will judge you based on what you wear. Looking the part does matter.


Richard I and the importance of personal branding

Richard I is the King of Robin Hood fame. A Crusading hero, he is known by the epitaph Lionheart or Cœur De Lion. He is famous for his prowess in battle and remains well-represented in popular culture due to tales of his chivalrous deeds.

In actuality, Richard only spent six months of his 10-year reign in England. He left his indomitable mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, in charge of the day-to-day ruling of the country and swanned off to the Holy Land. His real ability as a ruler was negligible, but he is remembered as a great King.

In fact, he is a fine example of the importance of your personal brand. Essentially, your personal brand is how people remember you. Audiences trust individuals more than companies. Having a personal, unified brand is crucial to the impression you give to both employers and customers.

Richard died in 1199 at the age of 42 in battle in Normandy. He took a crossbow bolt to the shoulder during a siege and later ignominiously died of gangrene. Sometimes reputation is more important than fact.  


John and listening to advice

King John is not remembered fondly. He’s known for being a hopeless general, lecherous courtier and untrustworthy king. In the words of a contemporary chronicler, he was “a very bad man.”

You might have heard about a little event at Runnymede in 1215 – that is, the signing of the Magna Carta. Whether you think Magna Carta was the beginning of developing a parliamentary system or the work of some disgruntled barons, it is undeniably a crucial event in British history. The sin that arguably led to the creation of Magna Carta was in part John’s inability to listen to advice.

Listening is a skill that is often overlooked. You would be surprised how important it is to demonstrate to employers that you can hear and take on board advice.


Edward III and getting stuck in

Edward III’s fifty years in power represent the second longest reign in Medieval England. During his lifetime he made important developments in government and legislation, including the evolution of English Parliament.

Edward III was also a powerful military leader. He fought successful campaigns in Scotland and declared himself heir to the French throne, beginning the Hundred Years’ War. The Hundred Years’ War spanned multiple monarchs across England and France from 1337 to 1453. Hit by the Black Death and the expense of continued war, Edward III died with his position in decline.

However, the groundwork he laid in the English administrative system was fundamental and his influence positively affected his descendants. Although his legacy is considered less cinematic than other monarchs, his hard work led to definite development.


Henry VIII and not being afraid to innovate

Henry VIII is an extreme example of a one-man catalyst for innovation and change. Remembered as an overweight king who had too many wives, Henry VIII was actually once a charismatic prince who let arts and music flourish under his reign. He was well-educated and had sharp advisers who left a lasting impact on the cultural and religious landscape of the Early Modern period.

Whether you believe the 16th Century Reformation was motivated by the king’s own selfish agenda or more genuine concerns about the bloated decadence of the Catholic Church, it is one of the most important turning points in British history.

Every business needs the capacity to think outside the box in order not to go stale. As you begin your career, don’t be afraid to do things that others have not tried before. You might be offering the fresh perspective that a company is looking for!


Cat Dennis is a history student living and writing in Canterbury. For more, visit Cat’s blog.

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