22

Specifically, I would like to know who the most recent European monarch (or monarchs, if they lived roughly at the same time) is that actively engaged in combat whilst reigning: that is, used a sword, gun, or any other weapon himself during fighting. I do not mean merely "commanded his soldiers in battle" as a general would.

For example, I am under the impression that Richard III actually fought on horseback with sword (and lance?) at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and was distinguished by his bravery. Surely, however, there must be a later example, at least from the Early Modern era.

Edit. This question is different from the older question, since the older question specifically did not require the monarch to use his weapon during the battle (the requirement there was to be an armed participant).

29

Perhaps Charles XII in 1713.

The king himself killed at least one Ottoman soldier with his sword in hand-to-hand combat when he and Roos came under attack by 3 Ottomans. During parts of the fighting, Charles was also actively sniping with a carbine against the assaulting enemy from a window in his sleeping quarters, positioned in the building where the Swedes had taken up their defense. The fighting lasted for over 7 hours and the Ottomans eventually used both artillery and fire arrows when the initial assaults were beaten back; the later method proved to be effective. The fire arrows set the building's roof on fire and forced the defenders to abandon it, the fighting then came to an abrupt end when the king tripped on his own spurs while exiting the burning house.

| improve this answer | |
15

George VI of the United Kingdom served as a turret officer on HMS Collingwood and saw action at the Battle of Jutland, being mentioned in dispatches. This was of course before he became King.

| improve this answer | |
  • 9
    Most male British royals take parts in whatever conflicts Britain participates. I think the current young princes (potential heirs) served in Afganistan for some time. – Alex Feb 13 at 21:50
  • 10
    True. However immediate heirs are rarely sent to combat. Wills was not in combat, and Harry probably isn't going to be king. George VI was probably only allowed to fight because he wasn't supposed to be king either. – DJClayworth Feb 13 at 22:16
  • 1
    Thank you for the answer. I should have been clearer: I meant while reigning. That said, presumably George VI actually fired a gun, from the sound of this? – Noldorin Feb 14 at 14:16
  • 3
    @Noldorin A turret officer would have been in command of one of the main guns of a battleship. So he would have been next to the gun and given the command to fire, though probably not actually pulled the "trigger" himself. That's definitely "in combat" from a navy point of view, and he is running exactly the same risks as any Ordinary Seaman. – DJClayworth Feb 14 at 14:45
  • 1
    Turret officers, being officers, command. They don't serve the guns personally, but direct the fire and in turn receive direction from superiors and spotters. This is also in no way combat as a monarch, as George wasn't even Prince of Wales at the time, that honour belonging to his brother who would, briefly, be Edward VIII. George saw combat up close exactly because he was not first in line to inherit. One might as ell offer Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who commanded in WW2 and was likewise not in line to inherit. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 15 at 10:27
9

The Belgium King Albert I led his troops, but also fought along them, during the First World War. Wikipedia contains a small section on this:

During this period, King Albert fought alongside his troops and shared their dangers, while his wife, Queen Elisabeth, worked as a nurse at the front. During his time on the front, rumours spread on both sides of the lines that the German soldiers never fired upon him out of respect for him being the highest ranked commander in harm's way, while others feared risking punishment by the Kaiser himself, who was his cousin. The King also allowed his 14-year-old son, Prince Leopold, to enlist in the Belgian Army as a private and fight in the ranks

Other sources:

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    The linked article says "We don’t know too much about Albert’s specific combat record, but he quite frequently visited the troops along the line and organized defenses." It does not provide any evidence that he used a weapon at the frontline (as required by the question). It seems that you are answering a different question. – Moishe Kohan Feb 15 at 15:55
  • 1
    @MoisheKohan King Albert was in direct command of the Belgian Army and served at the front during the Siege of Antwerp and the Battle of Yser. It was said that whenever he was on the front lines the Germans refused to fire on him out of respect for him being the highest ranked commander in harm’s way. There was also the fear of retribution from the Kaiser as King Albert I was his cousin. – JMS Feb 15 at 16:16
  • 3
    @JMS: Right, and hence, this is an answer to a different question, as I said. – Moishe Kohan Feb 15 at 16:33
  • @MoisheKohan also no evidence on the contrary. At least his reputation and story telling was very focused on Albert I being the Soldier King. – nathan_gs Feb 17 at 10:43
  • @nathan_gs: This is not how science (including social sciences) works: If I make a claim that A is true then this is my responsibility to provide evidence that A is true; to state that "there is no evidence that A is false" would not be a scientific argument. – Moishe Kohan Feb 17 at 14:53
8

The last in the world it was Abdulla, Khalifa of Sudan that was killed at Umm Diwaykara in 1899. Definitely, that was the most personal participation.

And Khalifa > Sultan = Emperor, so in the feudal sense, he was higher than any king.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    Thanks for the answer. Definitely not European though! – Noldorin Feb 13 at 23:33
  • 2
    On the one hand, Sudan was then under British, and thereby European, occupation. On the other hand, Abdulla's reign was not recognized as such by many other states. Source: Google+Wikipedia (I'm no expert!). – PatrickT Feb 16 at 7:47
  • @PatrickT The source question demanded the person to be a monarch. I.e., a person having a power. The power of Khalifa in Sudan was greater than that of the queen in England or even the czar in Russia of that period. That was the second Khalifa of a special branch of the Muslim religion. So, he was not a self-proclaimed unknown guy... As for recognition: The world was bigger then. Sudan had contacts with its enemies - Egypt and England. and neighbours, that belonged to different religions, also enemies. How could they get recognition? In XX century already his father would be recognized. – Gangnus Feb 16 at 10:17
  • @PatrickT Yeah, but let's be honest, that's quibbling. Sudan is not geographically or culturally Europe, and this guy was certainly not an ethnic European. – Noldorin Feb 17 at 4:12
  • Also, I don't believe it's justifiable to compare titles across completely different cultures and regions. Queen Elizabeth and Tsar Nicholas ruled over far, far greater territories, and both were also emperors, which was the very highest title one could have in European civilisation. Sure, they didn't rule in absolute monarchies, because Europe had moved beyond that staged (essentially), but there you go. – Noldorin Feb 17 at 4:17
7

Napoleon was wounded at the Battle of Ratisbon on April 23, 1809:

Napoleon was wounded in his ankle by a small artillery round. The shot had been fired at great distance and did not severely hurt the Emperor, but caused a contusion.

We happen to know roughly where Napoleon was when wounded (about 900 metres from the Regensburg city walls), because he sat on the Napoleonstein, within sight of his troops so as to not threaten morale, while the wound was treated.

enter image description here

In his memoirs, written while on St. Helena, Napoleon also claimed that at Wagram, July 5-6, 1809:

At the battle of Wagram a ball tore my boot and stocking, and grazed the skin of my left leg.

At the same Battle of Ratisbon, where Napoleon stormed the city walls in hope of harassing or capturing Archduke Charles' baggage and siege train, it was sufficient for Jean Lannes to simply pick up a siege ladder and threaten to storm the walls personally to motivate his troops to successfully force the breach.

"Well, I will show you that I was a grenadier before I was a marshal, and still am one!" - from John H. Gill's Thunder on the Danube

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    @LаngLаngС: Now close? Napoleon would have had to be within 400 yards I expect to be hit by musket fire, even spent. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 13 at 18:44
  • 2
    Thanks for the answer. I would say this "kind of counts". Napoleon certainly wasn't a king, though he was an emperor (albeit not one of noble descent). Evidently he didn't make use of a weapon himself whilst Emperor of the French, though the fact he was wounded counts for something... – Noldorin Feb 14 at 14:18
  • 5
    @Noldorin: My pleasure. However, I believe your "distinction" between kings and emperors is misplaced. (1) To be meaningful, I believe you should be looking for sovereigns rather than monarchs. Those are the family lines held to be "acceptable for royal marriage" and would include the many houses of "Imperial Princes" in the H.R.E. (2) The proper title of the Hapsburg Emperors was King of the Romans, and for many centuries they were also King of Bohemia as a personal possession in addition to Carpathia. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 14 at 14:25
  • 1
    "Carinthia" not "Carpathia" above. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 14 at 14:38
  • 1
    True, but it wasn’t what entitled him to be Emperor if the French, nit by a long shot. – Noldorin Feb 14 at 14:51
0

While it's clearly not the last, as shown by Thomas By's answer, I just recalled an interesting and late example of medieval-style chivalric bravery in battle. In 1525 (a good 40 years after Richard III of England in the Battle of Bosworth Field), Francis (François) I of France apparently fought in the front lines at the Battle of Pavia against the Imperial-Spanish forces (specifically Charles de Lannoy's contingent). Indeed, this was brave but sufficiently imprudent as to get himself captured by the Spanish forces! The date of the battle places this event in the Early Modern era as far as just about any historian is concerned, and I think is interesting because both traditional medieval weapons (lances, pikes) and guns (arquebuses) were prominent in the battle.

I cite the Encylopaedia Britannica entry on the Battle of Pavia:

Showing impeccable personal courage but limited judgment, King Francis led his armored cavalry in a medieval-style charge with couched lances. Unfortunately his horsemen rode in front of his cannon, making it impossible for the artillery to fire on the enemy.

| improve this answer | |
-1

Making a last effort, Charles formed a new army and arrived in the dead of winter before the walls of Nancy. Having lost many of his troops through the severe cold, it was with only a few thousand men that he met the joint forces of the Lorrainers and the Swiss, who had come to the relief of the town. He himself perished in the fight, his naked and disfigured body being discovered some days afterward frozen in the nearby river. Charles' head had been cleft in two by a halberd, ...

I want to propose Charles "Martin" "The Bold" Duke of Burgundy, who died in 1477 as described above (wikipedia).

There is this famous triple disaster: in the first battle he lost his goods, then his troops, then his (own) blood.

I looked up his life on wikipedia. I think he might qualify because he might be one of the last "real" fighting kings, at the end of an epoch. And he was attacking, not fleeing.

And why they call him bold? (I really wonder)


This Q is interesting. Already Agamemnon had to face some criticism, for letting the other kings do Ares' grim work (sorry). Alexander the Great almost captured Dareios, they say. But in more modern times, after 1500, a king probably does not belong on the battlefield. The business gets too dangerous with cannons and mercenaries. It is always (?) mixed with propaganda when a king puts on uniform.


Achilles to Agamemnon, right at the beginning:

"...though it is my hands that do the better part of the fighting. When the sharing comes, your share is far the largest, and I, forsooth, must go back to my ships, take what I can get and be thankful, when my labour of fighting is done..."

And wiki article Basileus (greek "king")

In Homer the wanax is expected to rule over the other basileis by consensus rather than by coercion, which is why Achilles proudly and furiously rebels (the central theme of the Iliad) when he perceives that Agamemnon is unjustly bossing him around.

Now "wanax" seems to be the mycean "overlord", or "high king", and disappeared as a title. "Basileus" was later used, which before was more "chieftain", (= "tribal chief").

And A.t.G. is mentioned extra:

Basileus and megas basileus were exclusively used by Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic successors in Ptolemaic Egypt, Asia (e.g. the Seleucid Empire, the Kingdom of Pergamon and non-Greek but Greek-influenced states like the Kingdom of Pontus) and Macedon. The feminine counterpart is basilissa (queen), meaning both a queen regnant (such as Cleopatra VII of Egypt) and a queen consort. It is precisely at this time that the term basileus acquired a fully royal connotation, in stark contrast with the much less sophisticated earlier perceptions of kingship within Greece.

(I am asking what is a king, exactly?)

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    This comes before Richard III mentioned by the OP in the question, so clearly not the last. – Lars Bosteen Feb 16 at 22:51
  • Well that is true. I just read what happened at Bosworth Field. Very dramatic also. I hope not too much fiction, this Alexander-like charge across the battlefield (in desperation, obviously). – rastafile Feb 16 at 23:15
  • @rastafile Thanks for the answer. It's a nice non-English example. I'm sure Richard III's deeds were surely elaborated or romanticised a bit, but I don't think there's any denying he fought himself. (Apparently, he killed a rival noble with his own sword.) – Noldorin Feb 17 at 4:05
  • I am not contesting Richard III's deeds - there is real personal drama in these final events, with or without Shakespeare's contribution. I like the notion of "swan song of middle age chivalry". Both had their head split by a halberd, just before firearms took over. – rastafile Feb 17 at 6:14
  • The question was about a monarch. So, a cont or an earl, being sovereign, is OK. (I don't know about sovereign barons) But your example definitely is not the last, and Charles XII also participated in battles at will, being 300 years later. So, it is an interesting person and answer, but definitely not THE answer. The same as mine. – Gangnus Feb 17 at 18:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.