Many Christians are familiar with such famous martyred saints as Joan of Arc, but a number of other influential saints are not known for being martyred. These saints’ claim to fame comes largely from their positions as king or queens. This list covers the ten most historically significant monarchs canonized by a Christian church. These men and women accomplished a great deal for Christianity and the well-fare of their people and, even today, appear on everything from coins, to being the namesakes of churches, cities, and schools around the world.
10. St. Balthild of Ascania (626 – January 30, 680)
Bathild, whose name means “bold sword” or “bold spear,” was canonized by Pope Nicholas I, around 880. This wife of King Clovis II is known for many praiseworthy attributes, from her physical beauty to her humble and modest nature. According to the hagiographic accounts of her life, she was concerned for others to such an extent, that she contributed to charity and offered donations that helped establish a number of abbeys in her kingdom.
What makes her story especially remarkable is that, earlier in her life, she was sold into slavery prior. King Clovis, however, became smitten with this household servant and married her, despite her lower place in society. Balthild is admired for not forgetting her earlier plight, and for doing what she could to help the downtrodden when she was in a position to do so. She worked to abolish selling Christians as slaves, and to free children sold into slavery. Given how long it took even modern Enlightened societies to abolish slavery (Britain in 1833, France in 1848, and the United States of America in 1865,) her anti-slavery practices nearly 1,500 years ago are all the more remarkable and commendable.
9. St. Charles I (November 19, 1600 – January 30, 1649)
Charles, the controversial King of England and Ireland, as well as King of the Scots from March 27, 1625 to January 30, 1649, is noteworthy as the only saint canonized by the Church of England after the Reformation. He is also the only martyr to appear in this article, due to his less positive claim to fame: being the only king of England publicly beheaded. Charles is known for reigning in such a way that he alienated Puritans in his country. He tried to rule without Parliament, raised taxes through loopholes, attempted to impose a common prayer book on Scotland, and married a French Catholic.
After Scotland invaded England, a civil war erupted against him, led by the ultimately victorious Oliver Cromwell. Yet, Cromwell’s reign was arguably even more brutal than Charles’s. Cromwell, who once said of his opponents, “You have no other way to deal with these men but to break them in pieces,” abolished the monarchy and Parliament, banned critical newspapers, re-conquered Scotland, subdued Ireland, suppressed Catholicism, and made himself Lord Protector. After his death, his son became the new Lord Protector of something that was allegedly not a monarchy. So, the former members of Parliament invited Charles’s son to come to England as its king in 1660. Cromwell’s body was exhumed, and his head was cut off and put on public display. Charles I, meanwhile, became regarded as a martyr, and England has remained a monarchy to this day.
8. St. Edward the Confessor (1003–05 to January 5, 1066)
St. Edward, who reigned from June 8, 1042 to January 5, 1066, was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England from the house of Wessex. The year of his death should be recognizable to most people as the year of the Norman invasion. The pious Edward was the son of Emma of Normandy, great-aunt of William the Conqueror. His significance for Christian history is that he was the first Anglo-Saxon, and the only English king to be officially canonized by the Catholic Church, in 1161. His feast day is October 13, and he is venerated as a patron saint of difficult marriages.
7. St. Emma Kalanikaumakaamano Kaleleonalani Na’ea Rooke (January 2, 1836 – April 25, 1885)
St. Emma easily wins the contest for most bodacious saint name of all time, part of which means “flight of the heavenly one.” Well before Hawaii became a U.S. state, it was an independent monarchy, and Emma served as Queen Consort of Hawaii from June 19, 1856, to November 30, 1863. During her lifetime, she met with Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, who had become godmother to Emma’s son. Emma founded Saint Andrew’s School for Girls and also The Queen’s Hospital, where she personally visited patients on a regular basis. She played a major role in helping to establish the Church of England in her island kingdom, was baptized in 1862, and is now honored with a feast day on November 28 by the Episcopal Church.
6. St. Jadwiga (1373/4 – July 17, 1399)
Jadwiga, although a woman, reigned as King, rather than Queen, of Poland from October 16, 1384 to July 17, 1399. the reason for this is because she was not merely the wife of a reigning king, but rather royalty in her own right. She is one of Poland’s most important monarchs. She learned at least six languages (Latin, Bosnian, Hungarian, Serbian, Polish and German,) and was known for her charity. Appropriately enough, Polish-born Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1997. She is now venerated as the patron saint of queens, and a united Europe.
5. St. Louis IX (April 25, 1214 – August 25, 1270)
Louis IX reigned as King of France from November 8, 1226 to August 25, 1270. A patron of the arts, Louis is unfortunately best known for his participation in the Crusades. The two Crusades he participated in (the Seventh in 1248, and the Eighth in 1270) were disasters. During the Seventh Crusade, Muslim forces captured Louis. During the Eighth Crusade, he died. Yet, despite these failures, back in his kingdom of France, his country enjoyed the “Golden Century of Saint Louis,” due to its artistic and architectural achievements as well, as the size of its military. Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis in 1297, and Louis became the patron saint of the Third Order of St. Francis, France, the French monarchy, hairdressers, and lacemakers (that’s quite the mouthful!)
4. St. Clotilde (475–545)
Clotilde, in her role as wife of Frankish king Clovis I, held the title of Queen of All the Franks. It is perhaps fitting then, that both the wives of Clovis I and Clovis II would become saints. Clotilde is unquestionably one of the most significant women of the Dark Ages, due in large part to her influence on her more-famous husband. For one thing, she played a critical role in her husband’s conversion to Christianity. Her husband had prayed that, if his wife’s God helped him in battle against the Alamanni, he would be baptized. He did indeed win the decisive Battle of Tolbiac in 496, and kept his half of the bargain. This conversion had considerable significance, given France’s long history as a Catholic country for the next 1,500+ years! She is the patron saint of queens, widows, brides adopted children, parents, the lame, and even those in exile.
3. St. Alfred the Great (849 – October 26, 899)
Alfred reigned as King of Wessex, the most important kingdom in Dark Ages Britain, from April 23, 871 to October 26, 899. During his reign, Alfred was made Roman consul by Pope Leo IV around 853, made London a metropolis and, according to legend, founded Oxford University in 882. He also defeated the Great Heathen Army, a Viking army from Denmark, at the battle of Edington in 878. Alfred ultimately became the first king in Great Britain to style himself as “King of the Anglo-Saxons.”
Some Catholics regard him as a saint, despite never officially being recognized as such by the Roman Catholic Church. He is, however, venerated by The Anglican Communion. His feast day is October 26.
2. St. Stephen I (967 /969/975 – August 15, 1038)
Stephen I reigned as the first King of Hungary from 1001 to 1038. If being the first king of a country is not significant enough in its own right, he also played a major role in spreading Christianity in the region over which he ruled. Not long after his death, King Stephen became Saint Stephen, canonized by Pope Gregory VII on August 20, 1083. As such, to Hungarians the world over, he is one of their most popular saints, with his feast day celebrated as a national holiday. In 1811, renowned composer Ludwig van Beethoven even composed a commemorative work honoring the great king.
1. St. Charlemagne (c. 742 – January 28, 814)
Charlemagne reigned as King of the Franks from October 9, 768, until his death on January 28, 814. He was also King of the Lombards from July 10, 774 until his death. During his long reign, Charlemagne accomplished so many significant achievements that he is known as the “Father of Europe.” He restored the Roman Empire in the West when he became the first “Holy Roman Emperor,” by being crowned by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day of 800. This title lasted for over a thousand years, until 1806.
He also ushered in the Carolingian Renaissance, which included the building of his palace in Aachen, and the support of such intellectual writers as Einhard and Alcuin. He won numerous military victories, and even nearly married the East Roman Empress Irene. As such, Charlemagne is by far the most influential king or queen ever canonized as a saint.
Yet, in his case, the canonization is not officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Why not? Well, because the man who canonized Charlemagne in 1165 was Antipope Paschal III, who reigned in opposition to the legitimate pope, Alexander III.
Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny is the author of Meteors That Enlighten The Earth, available at Amazon.com now.