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Telling the Big Story of Monarchy


At key Stage 3 coverage of the ‘monarchy’ story has been traditionally difficult because to students it seems to consist of a series unrelated episodes spread across Y7 and Y8. Pupils find it difficult to relate the Civil War in the 17th century to previous work on Magna Carta and medieval depositions. Therefore there’s a need to see these events as part of one story. The Top Trumps and Rebellion Steps activities below have been developed to do exactly this, providing pupils with a strong sense of the big story of monarchy from 1066 to at least 1649.

For further discussion of how these activities fit into the KS3 thematic stories of Monarchy, Power and democracy [ click here ].

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Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying cards can be downloaded:

This activity is based on the ’Timeline and Living Graph ’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

Lesson 1 – Top Trumps Monarchs

Telling the Big Story of monarchy from 1066 to 1649 using Top Trumps cards

Ideally this activity has the whole class on their feet, forming a human timeline. I’ll begin with the explanation of how it works with a co-operative group. Notes on less than ideal circumstances are at the end [ click here ].

Have you downloaded the Top Trumps cards? If not [ click here ]

1. Give out the 25 Top Trumps cards, one per person, and ask students to stand in a timeline from William I to Charles I. This will take a bit of juggling – it will help to have cards with century dates on the floor to help them sort out where along the timeline they go. [Note the information and ratings on the T-T cards are entirely my own assessment – feel free to disagree!!]

2. Ask each monarch to do a bit of maths – add up their score for the top two categories on their card which will give them a score out of 20. [Note – this will need repetition and undoubtedly someone will add up all 4 scores on the card but that can be overcome].


a) ask which monarchs have a score of 15 or over out of 20 and get them to put a hand up or take two steps forward. Ideally give each of these star monarchs a crown (keep Christmas cracker crowns) or other symbol of greatness! They are Henry I – 16; Richard I – 16; Edward I – 17; Edward III – 15; Henry V – 18; Elizabeth - 16

b) ask why these monarchs have done so well, why they’ve got such a good score – the answer lies in the top two categories on the cards: ‘war’ and ‘peace at home’. These were the main requirements of a monarch, defending his or her people at home and from foreign enemies – so from the T-T cards we’ve identified the most important things monarchs were expected to do.

c) now who did badly – sit down anyone who got 5 or less! A much longer list (in my opinion) – Stephen, John, Henry III, Edward II, Richard II and so on. There were really quite a lot of poor monarchs and this is the point to emphasise as this takes us into the key part of the lesson. This is where you explain that it didn’t matter how poor a monarch was, they always had another. Do this by giving William I a crown and get pupils to pass the crown down the line doing a brief and speedy commentary e.g. “then came Stephen, he was a terrible king causing civil war – how many did you get out of 20 Stephen? 1 – terrible! But they still wanted another king so when Stephen died Henry II got the crown” and so on – some you can skate past quickly but stress the poor ones, especially the deposed ones, but always they had to have another king to defend the people at home and abroad – UNTIL 1649 – then with a flourish you throw the crown across the room. All those kings, good and bad, some even deposed but always followed by another king – until 1649.

The key point is that by doing this whole period in one sweep it demonstrates how shocking, how revolutionary 1649 was – something that’s entirely missed if you don’t see this Big story in one go. This idea can then be captured very simply as a diagram – perhaps a line of stick-men kings with their scores out of 20, good ones in red, poor in blue perhaps. It will be quicker if pupils annotate a diagram you outline for them.

Alternative strategies:

However it would be naïve to assume that this will work with every class although as often is the case, it’s not necessarily the traditionally disruptive students who can cause trouble with this physical activity. If you have concerns about some students being disruptive there are two possibilities

a) select students carefully – likely problem students could be used as the successful monarchs as they’ll be involved at the beginning

b) do it sitting down but with each student having a card – a seated timeline that doesn’t get anyone out of their seat. This should be backed up by giving out the A4 stick men sheet in advance – as you go round the kings students have to annotate the diagram as you go, adding a score and a tick or cross for the stars and the failures – basically a strategy to ensure everyone ought to have something to do all the time.

Lesson 2 – The Rebellion Steps

Linking 1649 to monarchy in the Middle Ages

This activity builds on the previous lesson, looking at the pattern which emerges from key confrontations between kings and barons/nobles, using the Rebellion Steps cards.

Have you download the Rebellion Steps cards? If not [ click here ].

Note that the Rebellion Steps cards are sized to give an A3 notice – but assume you’ve got an A4 printer and some sellotape!

The task here is to put the kings who quarrelled with the barons on the correct Steps, showing how different solutions were tried to the problem of kings who didn’t consult their barons or Parliament.

The pattern that emerges is

Step 1 – kings apologise and say they won’t be troublesome again – Henry II (Becket – see later note)

Step 2 – King agrees to set of rules about how to govern – John (Magna Carta)

Step 3 – Barons hold regular meetings to make sure king keeps his word – Henry III (Provisions of Oxford)

Step 4 – Depose king but crown another, ideally the last king’s closest relative – Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Richard III

Step 5 – Depose king BUT do without a monarch – Charles I

This resulting pattern shows that with each major conflict the barons moved up a step but stuck several times at Step 4 – doing this physically with several students on Step 4 makes the point very concrete.

The most economical way to do this is to set the Steps out on the floor or stick them on the wall and split the class into groups – each group to study one king – John, Henry III, Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Charles I. They don’t need a book-ful of information – just enough to decide which step the opposition reached with each king. Then ask a ‘volunteer’ from each group to put on a tabard bearing their royal name and take position on the steps, producing the pattern above.

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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Top Trumps Activity

Rebellion Steps Activity