In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, and became one of only two British monarchs to have completed 60 years on the throne – but more on that later. It’s an impressive achievement, especially as in the old days, holding the throne was hard. As such, we are compiling the longest-reigning monarchs in the British Isles, which includes monarchs who ruled over each country individually, as well as countries that ruled together. Find out more in our Top 10 Longest Reigning British Monarchs.
10. David II of Scotland
David II of Scotland had a particularly difficult reign during the Second Scottish War of Independence when he was forced to defend his country against English forces backed by his nephew, Edward III of England. The English forced him into exile in France and captured him before the Treaty of Berwick ended the conflict in 1357 (the English had another war to fight, and it would take another hundred years to do so).
As David’s reign lasted for 41 years and 260 days (1329-1371), the war lasted most of his reign and was a difficult time for a king just 5 years old when he took the throne. In addition, he was not able to provide an heir because of infertility.
He was married to “Joan of the Tower” when he was 4, but they never had children during their 34-year marriage. It wasn’t until his next marriage that he was able to bear children, which led him to divorce his wife on the grounds of infertility (but she had already given birth to children during her first marriage, suggesting the problem was all his). He was 46 years old when he died – a king who ruled for most of his short life but was never very happy.
9. Elizabeth I
Queens seem to be made of stronger stuff, with three of them appearing on this list (not a bad ratio considering there have been only 6 monarchs since 1066) and Elizabeth herself was keen to prove this. Famously saying: It is true that my body is as feeble as a weak woman, but I am as strong and as brave as a king”.
Because she was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the King was able to favor her or disregard her depending on the person he was with at the time. In the end, her chances of becoming monarch were always slim, as Henry continually sought a male heir.
Even when Henry let his daughters inherit, she was still second in line behind her older sister Mary (their brother Edward had also succeeded to the throne but died before her). Elizabeth’s reign is rightly remembered, however, for its defeat of the Spanish Armada led by her brother-in-law (brothers-in-law should not be trusted! ), as well as exploration of the New World and works by Shakespeare and Marlowe.
She died in 1603 at the age of 69, after 44 years, 127 days on the throne.
8. Llywelyn The Great
This is a Welsh king who reigned from 1195 to 1240, so if you can’t tell from the lack of vowels, he was a monarch for 45 years. It’s difficult to estimate how long his reign lasted not only because it was so long ago, but also because Wales at the time wasn’t a part of the United Kingdom.
Llywelyn was a prince of Gwynedd and had to fight for control of his territory before he could expand. Having established himself as King of Gwynedd by 1200, he annexed Powys in 1208.
As of his death in 1240, much of Wales was either under his direct control or under the control of a ruler who had recognized Llywelyn’s power. However, his role as leader of Wales was never formally recognized, and historians debate just how “great” he truly was.
7. William I
The Scottish monarch is known as “William the Lion,” and his reign lasted 48 years and 360 days (not to be mistaken with William I, who ruled England a century earlier). After he died, the nickname “Lion” was bestowed upon him because the standard of his regiment was a red lion – the same lion that is now seen on the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom.
He was also King of Scotland and Earl of Northumberland but was forced to hand over this title to Henry II of England, which would take most of William’s reign to obtain. During the Great Revolt, he clashed with Henry’s son John as well. He also fought the English during his reign.
6. Edward III
The English king who supported a war against his brother-in-law (David II) came from a complex family background. He was the son of Edward II, whose reign was largely a disaster and who was eventually overthrown by his own wife and lover.
As a 14-year-old, Edward was crowned king after his father’s forced abdication, but power remained in his stepfather Roger Mortimer until Edward deposed him at the age of 17 and began his reign in earnest.
It lasted 50 years and 147 days, if you include the Mortimer period, and was considered a time of prosperity and stability, even though it included the Black Death And the start of the Hundred Years’ War.
He also outlived his beloved son, the Black Prince, and so upon his death, the throne passed to his grandson, Richard II. Sadly, Richard II’s reign would be even more turbulent than Edward II’s.
5. Henry III
Henry III lived even longer than his great-grandson Edward III ruled from 1216 to 1272, lasting 56 years and 29 days despite not being as popular as his son Edward I (or Edward III).
He succeeded his father, King John, whose unpopularity is legendary, so anyone must have appeared to be a good king after that. He was another very young king, taking the throne at 9 years old, in the middle of a civil war between the King and the barons (the First Barons’ War).
His reign was difficult from the start and worsened with the Second Barons’ War in 1263 (unimaginatively referred to at the time). At 65, he died after 56 years of difficulties.
4. James IV
Some of our monarchs ruled over only England, others over the whole of the United Kingdom. There is only one monarch with different reign lengths according to the country.
From 1567 to 1625, King James IV of Scotland ruled for a mighty 57 years, 246 days, but he also attained the English throne for no better reason than the fact that there was no one else.
Henry VIII’s three sons each died without children despite his efforts to ensure a male lineage. After Elizabeth I, Henry’s great-great-nephew died, the throne became the property of James, Henry’s great-great-nephew.
Even though his reign in England (as James I) was only averagely long, at 22 years, his early accession to the Scottish throne (at just over a year and a month) ensures that he makes the list.
Additionally, he is remembered in the UK on every firework and fireworks holiday because he was the monarch that Guy Fawkes attempted to assassinate in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
3. George III
Meanwhile, George III is notable as the king who was mad, as immortalized in the film “The Madness of King George III“. He likely suffered from a form of psychosis, possibly related to the inbreeding that was common in European royal families at the time.
In addition, Princess Amelia, his beloved youngest and favorite daughter, may have contributed to it. When he was declared unfit to rule in 1810, his son George IV (later King George IV) became Prince Regent.
During his reign, George III governed from 1760 to 1820, so he enjoyed a 59-year and 96-day long reign, but he was only active for part of it. During his reign, his armies defeated Napoleon but lost to the colonists in America who wanted independence for their new nation.
In spite of being a popular king at the time, he ended up being remembered for his insanity in his final years.
2. Elizabeth II
As with the first Queen Elizabeth, the current Queen is unlikely to inherit the throne. The granddaughter of George V, she was always a princess, but since she was the child of his second son, Albert, it would have taken an extraordinary event to push her into the succession.
Edward VIII, George V’s elder son, abdicated in 1936, passing the throne to his brother. Before his death in 1952, Albert – now George VI – ruled for 16 years before passing the throne to Elizabeth.
Again, like the first Elizabeth, her reign has seen amazing advances – the Conquest of Everest, the moon landings, the birth of the internet, and more. If she survives until next September, she will become the longest-serving monarch in British history at 61 years and 336 days.
1. Queen Victoria
The only woman standing in her way is the legendary Queen Victoria. In addition to the other two queens on the list, Victoria oversaw a time of innovation – when railways were invented and built, as well as the Welfare state Was first dreamed of.
The monarch reigned between 1837 and 1901 – a period of 63 years and 216 days. The first great works of literature were published by her, she visited Great Exhibitions and built an empire.
Although she had a reputation for not being amused, she was Britain’s longest-serving monarch, as well as one of the world’s greatest monarchs.