HM Queen Elizabeth II

HM Queen Elizabeth

1.   On 9th September 2015, in the twilight of England’s second, ‘Elizabethan Age’, the old guard was changed and we witnessed a royal event that may never by repeated.  Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is the most successful of a very illustrious league comprised of 53 crowned monarchs.  Elizabeth was born on 21st April 1926 and at the time of writing, she is 89 years old which makes her the oldest person to sit on England’s throne.  Moreover, since her succession on 6th February 1952, HM Queen Elizabeth II has survived more than six decades of immense change to become the longest reigning Sovereign in England’s history.

To date, this remarkable Lady has served Britain and the Commonwealth for 63 years and 229 days {or 23,239 days}.  Without doubt, Elizabeth II has witnessed and absorbed more changes than any other King or Queen of England/Britain.  Her monarchy has been exposed to the most intense, microscopic scrutiny but she has always responded with dignity and resolve.  Elizabeth has four children and her eldest son, Prince Charles, has served or perhaps endured, a longer term than any predecessor as heir to the throne.

 

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

2.  Alexandrina Victoria was born in Kensington Palace on 24th May 1819 and she succeeded to the throne on 20th June 1837, following the death of her Uncle who was King William IV; she was just 18 years old.  Victoria’s remarkable tenure continued for 63 years and 216 days {or 23,226 days} and when she died on 22nd January 1901, Victoria was 81 years old.  She was interred in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, within sight of Windsor Castle.  Victoria had nine children and most of them played significant roles in shaping European monarchies.  Two of her grandchildren, Britain’s George V and Germany’s Wilhelm II, were on opposing sides during the First World War.

 

King George III sits third in this test of longevity

3.    The long reign of George III was notorious for the King’s occasional bouts of insanity, which were probably a symptom of porphyria.  George came to the throne on 25th October 1760 when he was 22 years old.  His son the Prince of Wales, with whom he was often in conflict, served as Regent during the incidents of ‘madness’ but George III remained in power notionally until his death on 29th January 1820 when he was 81 years old, a feat that seemed highly unlikely during the early part of his life.  His reign of 59 years and 96 days puts him third in this list of elite rulers.  George survived several attempts to assassinate him and in 1762, he purchased Buckingham House {now Buckingham Palace} in St. James Park for £21,000.  Despite his German antecedents, George was the most patriotic monarch imaginable, which perhaps explains his extreme disappointment at the loss of the American colonies after 1781.

 

Tomb effigy of Henry III

Tomb effigy of Henry III

4.    One has to regress nearly 800 years for the fourth longest reign in England’s history.  Henry III was the son of King John; he was born on 1st October 1207 and he came to the throne nine years later on 19th October 1216, following the sudden death of his father.  Henry was more suited to the religious life than that of a king but his troubled reign continued for 56 years and 29 days.  His greatest legacy is undoubtedly Westminster Abbey, which he had rebuilt in the form that we see today.

 

Tomb effigy of Edward III

Tomb effigy of Edward III

5.    Next comes the great medieval Warrior-King Edward III who was born in Windsor Castle on 13th November 1312.  His succession, which was a rather clumsy, political affair, occurred on 25th January 1327 when Edward was 14 years old and his reign continued for 50 years and 147 days until his death at the age of 64 on 21st June 1377.  King Edward’s monarchy was quite extraordinary.  He led England into the early stages of the ‘Hundred Years War’ against France and in 1348, his country experienced the first devastating outbreaks of Bubonic Plague.  In the same year Edward founded the ‘Order of the Garter’ and he nominated Saint George as its Patron Saint; it is now the oldest order of chivalry in the world.

 

Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I

Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I

6.    Sixth place goes to England’s most illustrious and celebrated monarch, Queen Elizabeth I who was born on 7th September 1533.  She was 25 years old when she came to the throne on 17th November 1558, following the death of her much troubled half-sister Mary I.  During an incredible tenure of 44 years and 127 days, Elizabeth survived numerous attempts on her life and plots against her monarchy.  She rejected all offers of marriage, defied Catholic Europe and defeated the huge Armada sent by Philip II of Spain.  The Court of Elizabeth I is still the most famous and prestigious in world history.

 

Henry VI

Henry VI

7.    During the 15th century, the English crown changed hands five times as the Wars of the Roses ripped the country apart.  The turbulent and interrupted reign of King Henry VI was symptomatic of this violent era.  Henry was only 8 months old when he succeeded to the throne on 31st August 1422, making him the youngest Sovereign in English history.  He was later deposed for a short period by Edward IV and his reign of 38 years and 347 days was brought to a violent end on or around 21st May 1471, when he was almost certainly murdered in the Tower of London.  Henry’s greatest legacy is his twin foundation at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge.

 

Aethelred 'the Unready' taken from the Chronicle of Abingdon

Aethelred ‘the Unready’ taken from the Chronicle of Abingdon

8.    It may surprise you to know that eighth position is taken by a monarch who died nearly 1000 years ago.  The reign of Aethelred ‘the Unready’ began on 18th March AD978 and continued over 38 years and 36 days until his death on 23rd April 1016.  His kingship was disrupted and bedevilled by Viking raids and wars; it was interrupted in 1013 when Aethelred fled to Normandy for a while.

 

Henry VIII

Henry VIII

9.    Next in line is a giant of a man in every sense.  Born in Greenwich Palace on 28th June 1491, Henry VIII was 17 years old when he came to the throne on 21st April 1509.  His grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort served as Regent until Henry reached his 18th birthday, later that year.  During a phenomenal reign of 37 years and 281 days, Henry made more changes to England’s political, geographic and religious landscapes than any monarch before or since.  Henry VIII was 55 years old when he suffered a rather ignominious death on 28th January 1547.

 

King Henry I ' {Bleauclerc'}

King Henry I ‘ {Bleauclerc’}

10.    King Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, was nicknamed ‘Bleauclerc’, meaning fine scholar.  He was born at Selby in Yorkshire in September 1068 and was thus, the first Norman King to be born in England.  He came to the throne on 2nd August 1100 at the age of 31 following the ‘accidental’ death of his elder brother William II.  Henry’s tenure lasted 35 years and 120 days.  When Henry I died at the age of 67, reportedly after eating lampreys {eel-like fish}, England erupted in a civil war between supporters of his daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen.

 

An idealistic portrayal of the killing of Lady Jane Grey

An idealistic portrayal of the killing of Lady Jane Grey

At the other end of the scale, we should not forget the least influential of all English monarchs, Lady Jane Grey whose story is perhaps the most tragic in our history.  On 10th July 1553, Lady Jane was pronounced Queen, a situation brought about by her own father and her wicked father-in-law.  After nine days only, Jane’s ‘reign’ was terminated after the appointment of the legitimate heir, Queen Mary I.  After being confined in the Tower of London for the next 7 months and despite being innocent of any known offence, Lady Jane was executed in order to preserve the status quo; she was 16 years old.

The price of monarchy has always been high.  Whilst our current Queen has been forced to endure intrusions that were unthinkable less than a century ago, her predecessors suffered more from the machinations of resentful and over-ambitious subjects who craved ultimate power.