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Who Are the Longest-Reigning Monarchs in British History?

Updated on August 19, 2017
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.

Elizabeth II - Now and Then

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It happened at 6:30 on the evening of September 9, 2015

Sixty-three years and 217 days earlier, Elizabeth Windsor was just your run-of-the-mill heir apparent to the throne of a commonwealth empire made up of 53 member states. She was 25 and had no way of knowing she'd outlast the last woman who'd found herself England's sovereign at the age of 19. Victoria had been only a few miles away from her uncle when he passed away, leaving her Queen. Elizabeth was two continents and three time zones away when she learned that her father's passing meant she was no longer just a princess.

Victoria was only the sixth woman to rule the kingdom in its history stretching back approximately fourteen centuries. Victoria also had a six year head start on the length of her reign, but the odds were in Elizabeth's favor for beating her record. Modern medicine had increased a woman's life expectancy by 40 years between 1837 and 2015.



Victoria's Ascension

George III

That's First and Second. Who Was Third?

George III - 59 years, 3 months, 2 days - England's longest reigning king.

And why should we care? Well, maybe because he was the English king who lost the American colonies leading to the establishment of the United States of America. His reign, especially the final decade, was marked by periods of significant insanity. Losing a continent will do that. But historical scholars have found evidence that he may have had a hereditary condition where the body cannot manufacture haemoglobin for the blood resulting in damage to the nervous system. Still, the trigger for the condition is usually emotional stress.

He officially lost the colonies on July 4, 1776, though his diary entry for that date stated, "Nothing of importance happened today." As much as we Americans find humor in that, we must remember news of the day, in that day, could take weeks to arrive.

Historians have not been any kinder to the third George in a row. Even without being incapacitated by illness, George III is generally remembered as incompetent if for no other reason than his mishandling the American colonies to the point of revolution, resulting in a war he ended up losing. It was also on his watch that Parliament assumed more of the powers to govern, making the monarch virtually a figurehead for the first time. It was Parliament that eventually appointed his son, the Prince of Wales, to serve as Regent until his death in 1820.

In all fairness, George III's last attack and descent into permanent madness had nothing to do with whether or not he had the ability to rule his kingdom. It was the personal tragedy of losing his youngest child, Princess Amelia, aged 27. His successor, King George IV, saw the restoration to great military power of the United Kingdom of Great Brittan and Ireland (as it had become known on 1 January 1801). The accumulation of vast overseas territories during his and his brother William IV's era formed the worldwide empire of the next person to sit on the throne, the second longest-reigning sovereign, Victoria.

Interestingly, the fourth and fifth-longest reigning monarchs were also thirds like George III: Henry III and Edward III. So the odds are, if you want a long reign in Great Britain, either be a woman (three of the top ten were women: Elizabeth II, Victoria, and Elizabeth I) or be Something the Third.

Baroness Mary Soames

Footnote:

In can be concluded that queens and kings who sit on the throne of Great Britain for a long time seem to accomplish historically significant things - both good and bad.

Henry III's 56-year reign was known for advancements in learning, architecture, and art. He was responsible for major renovations of Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey, and cathedrals at St. Alban's, Salisbury, Lincoln and Wells. He also founded the first colleges in Oxford University, Merton and Balliol universities between 1249 and 1264.

Edward III enjoyed victories over the French at Crecy and Poitiers but died with fewer French holdings than he had at his coronation. His lasting accomplishment was creating The Most Noble Order of the Garter, which exists to this day as the highest honor a sovereign can bestow on an individual for their service to the throne and the country.

In 1987, Queen Elizabeth II decided women should be eligible to be among the 24 holders of the Garter. There are never more than 24 living recipients at a time. Baroness Mary Soames, the youngest daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, was the first, and so far the only, female to hold this honor until her death in 2014.


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 6 weeks ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Anita: This is the only article that I included George III in. I'm interested in your research and reading the hub you write about it!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 7 weeks ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you, Coffeequeen. (Love that handle!) I so appreciate the folks on HP who still read hubs!!!

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 7 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      I love the Monarchy. Your article was really interesting to read.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks, Au fait, for the comment and adding to the discussion of this topic. Charles probably will one day be king. Doubt it will be lengthy reign just based on the longevity of who he follows. William could sit on the throne for decades - hope he does.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 months ago from North Texas

      This is the best known monarchy around the world and quite popular here in the states as well as in Europe and Australia. I think the majority of Brits will want to keep it for the sake of tradition. The royals do bring GB a lot of tourism and spread good will around the world. Prince Phillip has turned 96! And Elizabeth is 91. Suspect it won't be long and it will be King Charles . . .

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 18 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Frank: This one was too much fun to write. I could do research every day on British history and never get tired of it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 18 months ago from Shelton

      What a wonderful Hub.. I still think British Royalty fascinates the world.. it bridges past generations... I knew she was the longest reign.. I can remember her in every decade I was alive... thanks for sharing :) Frank

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Billy: I've gotten hooked on British History since I discovered the writer, Phillipa Gregory. She's addictive!

      We were on a tour of the UK last September when the date passed and it was all over the news, papers, everywhere, so I kind of got caught up in it.

      Thanks for the read and the comments.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I had no idea she was the longest reigning...very interesting. As for why should we care? I guess, just speaking for me, I feel a kinship to England and I just naturally care what is happening in their country...and so many of my writer friends live there, so there's another reason. :)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Greensleeves: Thanks for the background note to put the video in context. I highly recommend the movie, The Young Victoria - of course taken with a grain of salt as with any film about history. Sometimes Hollywood just can't help themselves from playing with the facts.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 19 months ago from Essex, UK

      Re-the comment by emge, the majority in the UK do still support the monarchy, and given that they have no real power today and are therefore not particularly controversial or seen as any threat to democracy, there is no reason why they should not continue in their constitutional role for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, people like the pageantry and tradition - though with an increasing immigrant population who bear less allegiance and less identification with British history, maybe that will change in future.

      A brief note on the significance of Victoria's slightly brutal put down of her mother in the video. She had been very much controlled by her domineering mother in her formative years, even sleeping in the same room as her, and no doubt she saw her ascendency to the throne as an opportunity to finally assert her independence and authority.

      Finally, thanks for a fair minded objective view of George III. I love the quote about the Declaration of Independence: 'Nothing of importance happened today.' :)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      emge: Well, this generation has done about all anybody could do to kill it by now. Maybe William and Kate will keep it going. So far, they've beheaded one and one up and quit, so who knows?

    • emge profile image

      Madan 19 months ago from Abu Dhabi

      Interesting hub. Overall British royalty no longer interests the world as earlier. I wonder how long they will last

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image
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      Kathleen Cochran 19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      A few edits added, for those who've already read this hub!