Queen Elizabeth II passed away Thursday after reigning for over 70 years as the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She was 96. She succeeded her father, George VI at the age of 25. Her son, Charles is now King Charles III. Unlike his mother, who became queen at a very young age, Charles is 73.
It is unlikely that Charles III will make the top-ten list, or that any king or queen will ever reign as long as Queen Elizabeth II at least any time soon. Prince William is already 40 years old (born 1 year and 1 day after me, in fact).
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Here is a list of the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarchs, beginning with Queen Elizabeth II.
#1. Queen Elizabeth II — Feb 6th, 1952 – Sept 8th, 2022 (70 years, 214 days)
Age Of Ascension: 25 years, 291 days.
Seventy years on the throne is a long time, and Queen Elizabeth II oversaw a time of great social and technological change. With the rapid expansion of globalization, the personal computer, and the internet. The world of 2022 barely resembles the world of 1952.
15 separate Prime Ministers served under Queen Elizabeth II, starting with Winston Churchill in his last term (who said of the young lady “All the film people in the world, if they had scoured the globe, could not have found anyone so suited to the part”) and ending with newly-elected Liz Truss, who Queen Elizabeth II formally appointed just two days before her death.
In Cape Town, on her 21st birthday, Queen Elizabeth II pledged: “My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” Suffice to say, it was a long life of service.
What To Watch: The Crown (Netflix TV series) The Queen (2006)
#2. Queen Victoria I — June 20th, 1837 – January 22nd, 1901 (63 years, 216 days)
Age Of Ascension: 18 years, 27 days.
Victoria was even younger than Queen Elizabeth II when she donned the crown, though old enough to deftly rule her subjects. The history of the English monarchy is littered with child kings who, unfortunately, always came with a power vacuum in toe.
Victoria reigned for over 63 years, long enough to have an entire era named after her. The Victorian Era calls to mind all sorts of things, including classic romance novels, buttoned-up dress codes, and a pre-modernity just on the cusp of the world we know.
Victoria oversaw a time of change on par with Queen Elizabeth II reign—a time of industrialization and social change that ended just before the two bloody Great Wars that defined the first half of the 20th century.
Queen Victoria was 81 when she died in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
What To Watch: Mrs. Brown (1997)
#3. King George III — October 25th, 1760 — January 29th, 1820 (59 years, 96 days)
Age Of Ascension: 22 years, 143 days.
King George III reigned almost as long as Victoria, ruling over Great Britain and Ireland for 59 years. He was king in 1801 when Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom.
Like Victoria, George III ruled across centuries, spanning the second half of the 18th century and the opening decades of the 19th. At the time of his death in 1820, he was the longest-reigning monarch in English history.
George’s reign was marked by numerous wars across the globe. Under George III the American colonies won their independence in the Revolutionary War, though, unlike the revolutionaries, George was an abolitionist who abhorred slavery in any form. His armies later defeated the would-be emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, after decades of war.
George III and his wife Charlotte had fifteen children—nine sons and six daughters—and the king never took a mistress. The devoted father and husband suffered from mental illness and acute mania beginning in the 1780s that would recur throughout the rest of his life.
What To Watch: The Madness Of King George (1994)
#4. James VI of Scotland — July 24th, 1567 — March 27th, 1625 (57 years, 246 days)
Age Of Ascension: 1 year, 35 days.
James Charles Stuart was King of Scotland while still a baby, and remained King of Scotland until March 24th, 1603 when the crowns of Scotland and England—while still sovereign nations—were joined.
The son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James was also the grandson of King Henry VII who ruled over England and Ireland, making him a potential heir to all three kingdoms.
He succeeded Queen Elizabeth II I and the “Golden Age” of the Elizabethan Era continued under his reign, though James was met with political strife in England, including an assassination attempt in 1605 known as the Gunpowder Plot, led by radical Catholics who sought to restore Catholicism to the English monarchy. The conspirators, led by Robert Catesby, intended to install James’s nine-year-old daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, on the throne and end the persecution of Catholics.
The authorities were tipped off ahead of time and found the now-infamous Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder intended to blow up the House of Lords. Some of the conspirators fled England; others were shot and killed or arrested and sentenced to death. They were hanged, drawn, and quartered.
What To Watch: Gunpowder (HBO mini-series)
#5. Henry III — October 28th, 1216 — November 16th, 1272 (56 years, 19 days)
Age Of Ascension: 9 years, 27 days
King Henry III’s reign was one of the more conflicted in English history. A Plantagenet monarch who inherited the throne as a child from the widely disliked King John (memorialized as the evil Prince John in Robin Hood fables), Henry began his rule without the experience necessary to handle the radical changes taking place in English society, including the rise of a parliamentary system.
Henry III was the longest-reigning monarch of Medieval England, a record that would not be broken by an English king until the reign of King George III (discounting James VI who was Scottish).
The Magna Carta, which introduced a form of democracy to the land for the first time in European history, was signed in 1215 and fundamentally altered the relationship between the nobles and the king. Henry faced plenty of struggles during his long reign, including a second Baron’s rebellion and conflict with the Catholic church and Rome, confused policies over the status of the Jews in England, and various other controversies.
He was a deeply pious man who practically worshipped Edward the Confessor. In fact, he was so obsessed with religion that his journeys were often delayed because of his desire to partake in mass several times a day. On a journey to the French court, King Louis IX banned priests from Henry’s route in order to speed his arrival. Despite his religious fervor, Henry’s reign is often described as the Plantagenet’s bloodiest.
He married Louis IX’s sister, Eleanor of Provence (not to be confused with Henry II’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine) who bore him five children.
What To Watch: Henry III – England’s Most Pious King (YouTube Documentary)
#6. Edward III — January 25th, 1327 — June 20th, 1377 (50 years, 147 days)
Age Of Ascension: 14 years, 73 days
The son of the royal failure Edward II, Edward III is credited with restoring royal authority to the English crown and a series of military victories that expanded English lands on the continent.
Edward was crowned at 14 after his father was deposed by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer. Mortimer became the de facto ruler of England until, at age 17, Edward led a successful coup d’état and gained control of the government. This was just the first of many military victories for the young king.
In 1337, Edward III declared himself the rightful heir to the French throne as well, sparking what would come to be known as The Hundred Year’s War.
Edward ingratiated himself with the nobles, creating the new title of Duke and fostering a greater sense of camaraderie between lords and the crown. He revived—and appropriated—the Welsh myths of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, though ultimately he founded the Order of the Garter rather than an actual Round Table.
Much of Edward’s reign can be seen as a time of renewed national identity, with some moves away from French as the official language of the state, including an order that English be used in courts of law. In 1363, Parliament was opened in English for the first time.
What To Watch: Henry V (1989) — it’s not about Edward but it is about the war he started and a damn fine Shakespeare film.
#7. William I of Scotland — December 9th, 1165 — December 4th, 1214 (48 years, 360 days)
Age Of Ascension: circa 24 years
William, I was not a king of England but ruled over Scotland for 48 years, and was a thorn in the side of England’s King Henry II.
In the Battle of Alnwick, following a treaty between Scotland and France, William charged the English troops himself, hollering “Now we shall see which of us are good knights!” before being unhorsed and captured, dragged away in chains to Newcastle before being shipped off to Normandy, leading to the occupation of Scotland by English troops.
Eventually, he was returned to Scotland and swore fealty to Henry II in 1175. The Treaty of Falaise also gave Henry II the right to choose William’s bride. He married Ermengarde de Beaumont, great-granddaughter to Henry I. It was not a happy or fruitful marriage, and William sired many bastards, mostly with Isabel d’Alene.
What To Watch: Braveheart (1995) — Not a movie about William but I don’t think there are any, so watch one about William Wallace instead!
#8. Llywelyn of Gwynedd of Wales — 1195 — April 11th, 1240 (circa 44-46 years)
Age Of Ascension: circa 22 years
Similar to William I, Llywelyn the Great (as he was known) was not a king of England, but rather Wales.
It was not an easy path to power for the young king, who had to wrest the crown from his uncles—illegitimate children of his grandfather, Owain Gwynedd, who died in 1170. Since his father was the only legitimate son of Owain and had died when Llywelyn was an infant, he was the rightful heir. But by 1175, when Llywelyn was but a wee lad still, his uncles had divided the land between them.
He defeated his uncle Dafydd at the Battle of Aberconwy in 1194. His uncle Rhodri died the following year. Gwynedd was ruled by both Llywelyn and his cousin Gruffudd ap Cynan, who paid homage to King John. He was given the title ‘the Great’ by English chronicler, Matthew Paris.
Historian J.E. Lloyd explains: “Among the chieftains who battled against the Anglo-Norman power his place will always be high, if not indeed the highest of all, for no man ever made better or more judicious use of the native force of the Welsh people for adequate national ends; his patriotic statesmanship will always entitle him to wear the proud style of Llywelyn the Great.”
Suffice it to say, Welsh politics were complicated, with many rival chieftains vying for power over largely autonomous regions. It’s a bloody tale also. While Llywelyn died from old age and was succeeded by his son, Dafydd, his grandson Llywelyn the Last was not so lucky. After a long campaign against the Welsh by Edward I (known as The Longshanks), the prince was killed in battle, though by all accounts he was tricked and deceived by his enemies who then cleaved his head from his body and sent it to London. Wales was conquered by the English and its people refused to recognize any new Prince of Wales, referring to Llywelyn as “The Last.”
What To Watch: The Last Prince Of Wales (YouTube documentary) even though it’s about Llywelyn the Last rather than the Great.
#9. Elizabeth I — November 17th, 1558 — March 24th, 1603 (44 years, 127 days)
Age of Ascension: 25 years, 71 days
The first Queen Elizabeth II remains one of the greatest English monarchs of all time, ruling over England during the “Golden Age” where writers like Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Like Victoria, she gets an entire Era named after her: The Queen Elizabeth II Era.
She was the last of the five Tudor monarchs, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn—though she succeeded her Catholic sister Mary I when she died childlessly.
Queen Elizabeth II ruled for 44 years and never married, leading to comparisons with the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II played up her status as a virgin (though it’s not clear she was one, she was never pregnant).
Queen Elizabeth II reign was long and covered an enormous amount of societal change. She signed the charter for the East India Company and oversaw the first English settlement in America—the Roanoke Colony that mysteriously vanished.
With no heirs, Queen Elizabeth II I left the question of succession up to her advisors rather than naming a successor. As we know, the throne passed to James VI of Scotland who would rule even longer than Queen Elizabeth II, though never gain her fame or cult of personality.
What To Watch: Elizabeth (1998)
#10. David II of Scotland — June 7th, 1329 — February 22nd, 1371 (41 years, 260 days)
Age Of Ascension: 5 years, 94 days
David II was King of Scots until he died in 1371. He fought against King Edward III in the Second War of Scottish Independence. After losing the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, he fled to France for nearly a decade before returning to Scotland in 1341.
That was not the end of his warring with England, however, as he supported France in the Hundred Years War and continued to wage a war for Scottish independence until 1357 and the Treaty of Berwick. At this point, David II had been in English prison for eleven years but was freed for a 100,000 merk ransom.
Despite a tumultuous reign, David II left the Scottish monarchy in a stronger position than when he took the throne. He died childless, the last male of the House of Bruce, and was succeeded by his nephew Robert II.
What To Play: Crusader Kings II, a strategy game in which David II is the monarch of Scotland