25 of the World's Longest-reigning Monarchs

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 

longest reigning monarchs
Queen Elizabeth II of England is in the 70th year of her reign, still going strong and pretty in pink. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Some jobs are meant to be short-term, temporary gigs and some are meant to last a lifetime. Athelstan of the House of Wessex was the first king of England and he had one of those jobs.

Athelstan ruled from 895 to 939 C.E., and, because he defeated the last of the Viking invaders and was responsible for consolidating Britain, his actions — and his life — still impact the British monarchy today. And to put his life in perspective, Athelstan was the 30th great-granduncle to Queen Elizabeth II, who is currently one of the world's longest-reigning monarchs of all time.

Read more about Queen Elizabeth below and learn the fascinating stories of 25 of the world's longest-reigning monarchs. The dates of rule of each are noted in parentheses.

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1. Sobhuza II, Swaziland (Eswatini) (1899-1982), 82 years

When the king of Swaziland (now Eswatini) died at age 23, his 4-month-old son ascended to power and spent the remainder of his life, first as Paramount Chief and later King of Swaziland, navigating the ambiguities and conflicts of his country's place in the world. Swaziland at the time was part of the British Protectorate, and Sobhuza II's responsibilities and reach as king were viewed through different lenses by his people and by the British. The people of Swaziland saw him as one who could both maintain tradition and keep the British at bay.

longest reigning monarchs
Commonwealth delegates Kghari Seghela, chief of the Bakwena tribe (left), Sobhuza II, Paramount Chief and later King of Swaziland (center), and future King of Lesotho Moshoeshoe II arrive at Waterloo Station to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth April 15, 1953 in London, England.
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2. Louis XIV, France (1643-1715), 72 years

Louis XIV, the son of Louis XIII of France and Anne of Austria, was only four years old when he ascended to the throne in May 1643. Although Louis XIV would end his reign in 1715, succeeded by his great-grandson Louis XV, his time on the throne was signified by outfitting Versailles into a luxurious palace, showing his unflagging support of the arts (the king himself trained in ballet, which was powerful political currency at the time) and starting several wars. He was an absolute monarch who referred to himself as the Sun King, imitating the Greek god of the sun Apollo in art and life, believing himself to the be the star of France's universe.

3. Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand (1946-2016), 70 years

A monarch who lived in modern times, Bhumibol Adulyadej reigned for 70 years as the ninth king in Thailand's Chakkri dynasty until his death in 2016 at age 88. He was born in the United States in 1927 as his father was studying at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Adulyadej's rule earned him the distinction of being Thailand's longest-reigning monarch. During his time at the helm, Bhumibol Adulyadej had little political power but become a symbol of unity and stability among Thai citizens for ushering the country through years of military coups.

longest reigning monarchs
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, shown here in 1984, ruled until his death in 2016.
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4. Elizabeth II, England (1952-present), 70 years ... and counting

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth was named Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and her coronation took place in 1953. In 2007, she became the longest-lived British monarch, and on Sept. 9, 2015, surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, to become the longest-reigning British monarch in history. During Queen Elizabeth's reign, she has worked with more than a dozen British prime ministers and U.S. presidents, as well as many other world leaders, even though at birth she was never meant to take the throne. In 1936, when her grandfather, King George V, died, her uncle Edward VIII was slated for the monarchy. Edward, however, abdicated the throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. This meant that Elizabeth's father, George VI (brother of Edward VIII), took the throne, which passed to Elizabeth upon his death.

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5. Johan II, Liechtenstein (1858-1929), 70 years

As far as records go, Johan II takes third for longest-reigning monarch in Europe (Louis XIV is in the top spot and Queen Elizabeth II comes in second). Johan II, ruler of Liechtenstein, neither married nor had children during his reign, which was passed to his brother Francis I upon Johan II's death. He did, however, institute a series of crucial reforms that resulted in the country's independence, the dissolution of its army and its declaration as a neutral state. He also set up a parliamentary government and the country's banking system. He created museums and art galleries and supported the arts and sciences.

6. K'inich Janaab' Pakal, Mayan Civilization (615-683 C.E.), 68 years

Also known as Pakal the Great, K'inich Janaab' Pakal was the longest-reigning king of the ancient Mayan world. He ascended to the throne at 12 years old during an uncertain and precarious time and is believed to have been assisted by his mother, from whom his right to rule passed. During his rule of Palenque, an ancient Maya city located about 500 miles (800 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City in modern-day Chiapas, he built the Temple of the Inscriptions — stunning architecture that would one day encapsulate his sarcophagus.

7. Franz Joseph I, Austria-Hungary (1848-1916), 68 years

Upon his 18th birthday, Franz Joseph I was named emperor of the Austrian Empire, a move that fueled hopes of a resurgence in goodwill toward the monarchy due, in no small part, to Franz Joseph's youthful appearance. In 1853, an attempted assassination occurred when a tailor tried to stab the ruler in the neck as he was out for a stroll. Franz Joseph was, however, saved from taking the brunt of the attack by a woman nearby who cried out upon seeing a weapon. No motive was ever uncovered. Franz Joseph went on to rule as emperor of Austria, and in 1867 accepted a dual post as king of Hungary, ruling until his death in 1916. Notably, two years before his death in 1916, Franz Joseph led Austria-Hungary into World War I.

longest reigning monarchs
Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary (right) rides through Vienna with German Emperor Wilhelm II in 1911.
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8. Constantine VIII, Byzantine Empire (960-1028 C.E.), 68 years

About the time he was due to celebrate his first birthday in about 960, Constantine VIII was named co-ruler of the Byzantine Empire, along with his brother Basil. Although the brothers had little actual political sway, they were able to make a power grab in 976, when they wrested control from the empire's acting leader. Constantine VIII is remembered as being more interested in luxurious and leisurely pursuits than his brother Basil, who used war to bankroll and expand the empire. Nonetheless, Constantine VIII remained co-emperor of the Byzantine Empire until his death in 1028.

longest reigning monarchs
Victoria (1819-1901) ruled as the Queen of England from 1837-1901.
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9. Victoria, England (1837-1901), 64 years

One of the longest-reigning monarchs in British history, Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 at age 18. During her reign, Queen Victoria survived several assassination attempts to usher in the "Victorian era," so-named for the monarch. The Victorian era was marked by sweeping advancements in science and technology, including the smallpox vaccine and the telegraph.

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10. James I, Aragon (1213-1276), 63 years

A kingdom called Aragon sounds like a fantasy realm in which dragons roam, but it was a real-life place on the Iberian peninsula that now encompasses present-day Portugal and Spain. In 1212, James I led the medieval kingdom's army, along with a neighboring army, as it invaded and defeated regional kingdoms. In 1213, James I began his 63-year rule, which became the longest of any Iberian monarch. During his reign, James I brought the Balearic Islands and Valencia under Iberian rule and began decades of expansion.

11. Hirohito, Japan (1926-1989), 63 years

Michinomiya Hirohito, Japan's 124th emperor, is known for being the longest-reigning monarch in the country's history. Before accepting the throne, he traveled extensively throughout Europe, which was an unusual move at the time. After his father's death in 1926, Hirohito adopted Shōwa — meaning "enlightened harmony" — as the chief tenet of his reign. During World War II, he allied the country with Nazi Germany, but later surrendered the country after a defeat by the Allied powers. He then became the first Japanese monarch to visit the United States and wrote several books on marine biology before his death in 1989.

12. Kangxi Emperor, China (1661-1722), 61 years

At age 7, Kangxi became the second emperor of the Chinese Qing Dynasty after his father died of smallpox. Kangxi's reign began in earnest during his teen years, and he is best remembered for the significant expansion of the Chinese empire into areas of Mongolia, Tibet and Heilong Jiang. He also worked to open international trade ports, which helped usher in an era of economic prosperity. Kangxi supported the arts and believed that education was important; he was fascinated by map-making and European painting techniques.

13. Christian IV, Denmark and Norway (1588-1648), 60 years

Christian IV became King of Denmark and Norway at the tender age of 11, but was not officially crowned until 1596, when he was 19. He is remembered for his multiple forays into unsuccessful wars against Sweden, as well as the disastrous Thirty Years War. When he wasn't warring, Christian IV had an eye for architecture, constructing several new towns and still-beloved buildings, including Frederiksborg Castle. His private life was productive; he married twice and had 20 children with five different women before his death in 1648.

14. Friedrich Günther, Schwarzburg, Germany (1807-1867), 60 years

In 1807, when he was just 13 years old, Friedrich Günther became prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, which is now an area in modern-day Thuringa, Germany. His ascension to the throne followed the death of his father, but it was his mother who made the crown's decisions until the fresh-faced ruler turned 21. Günther ruled for the rest of his life and became known as the final head of the House of Schwarzburg.

longest reigning monarchs
Chinese emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) is pictured on the 10 yuan banknote.
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15. Qianlong, China (1735-1796), 60 years

The grandson of long-time Chinese ruler Kangxi, Qianlong also reigned over China for decades. At age 24, in 1735, Qianlong began a series of notable acts that included the creation of the Sikuquanshu or Siku Quanshu, a vast catalog of all the books known to be in existence in China. Some suspect this was a natural outgrowth of Qianlong's personal interests in calligraphy and poetry, and his efforts as a patron of the arts. Until his reign ended upon his death in 1796, Qianlong worked to successfully expand China's territory with the New Province, known as the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang today.

16. Honoré III, Monaco (1733-1793), 59 years

There are monarchs who roll up their sleeves and monarchs who would rather observe from a distance. Honoré III, who ascended the Monégasque throne at age 13, spent the majority of his time as ruler fighting in the Royal French Army during the War of the Austrian Succession, although Monaco took an officially neutral stance. During his reign, he improved Monaco's economy through trade, which was largely dependent on the growth of citrus fruits, and established the country's first printing press and newspaper.

17. George III, England (1760-1820), 59 years

Before Queen Victoria and current British ruler Queen Elizabeth were on the royal scene, George III was known as England's longest-reigning monarch. He ascended the throne to Great Britain and Ireland in 1760 after his grandfather's death. He married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the daughter of a German duke, for the union's political strength. The marriage was a productive one, bringing 15 children into palace life. His reign is notable for Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War, as well as Britain's resistance to Napoleon's France. George III is believed to have had an acute mental illness, which stayed with him the last 10 years of his life.

18. Honoré I, Monaco (1523-1581), 58 years

To be a long-reigning monarch, it's best to start early — and Honoré I did it in spades. He was named the Lord of Monaco in 1523, at just 9 months old, after his father Lucien Grimaldi was assassinated. Honoré I was assisted, naturally, in the decision-making by a series of regents and reportedly left the governing to one of these regents. During the final 20 years of his life, however, Honoré I took on more of the day-to-day operations, and became known for both a series of battles and for inviting Pope Paul III to Monaco.

19. Nicholas I, Montenegro (1860-1918), 58 years

When Nicholas I became the Crown Prince of Montenegro in 1860, it was a small nation without purchase on the world stage. Under his rule, however, Montenegro doubled in geographical size and became not only a sovereign state, but a country with considerable diplomatic power. After years of popular reign, Nicholas I became increasingly despotic, but reluctantly installed a constitution in 1905 that limited his power. After an unsuccessful entrée into World War I, Nicholas I went into exile in Italy until his death in 1918.

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20. Pedro II, Brazil (1831-1889), 58 years

Pedro II became the second emperor of Brazil when he took up the throne in 1831 at 5 years old and, by age 10, had been officially declared as ruler. He was seen as a benevolent ruler and became adept at leveraging Brazil's natural resources to bolster its then-struggling economy. Pedro II turned the country's focus from sugar production to coffee beans and made significant progress in constructing a network of railroad, telegraph and cable lines. By the time of his death in 1889, his popularity had waned because of his anti-slavery actions and support of the Masons, the latter of which upset the Roman Catholic Church.

21. Wilhelmina I, Netherlands (1890-1948), 58 years

longest reigning monarchs
Wilhelmina I (1880-1962) was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 until her abdication in 1948.
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As Queen of the Netherlands, Wilhelmina made clear her opposition to the German Occupation at the beginning of World War II. Although she fled, along with members of her cabinet, to London, she became the symbol of Dutch resistance through a BBC radio broadcast that reached the Netherlands, known as Radio Orange. She famously aired the phrase, "Knock the Kraut on the head," which raised morale for her people. In 1948, she abdicated the throne and lived a private life until her death in 1962.

22. Ludovico I, Italy (1416-1475), 58 years

Not much is known about Ludovico I, who was the marquess of Saluzzo, Italy, until his death in 1476, a reign that encompassed much of the 15th century. Ludovico I is remembered for facilitating a prosperous era for Saluzzo residents and forging positive relationships with neighboring areas — all of this well before the Italian Wars took hold. The historic city center of Saluzzo, situated on a hill with views of cultivated plains and nearby mountains, has become a popular tourist destination for its cobblestone streets, historic churches and medieval palace.

23. Louis XV, France (1715-1774), 58 years

Louis XV, born in 1710, was never expected to become king of France. By the time he reached his fifth birthday, however, his grandfather, father and two older brothers had died, making him the heir apparent. By age 10, he was attending cabinet meetings, but his interest in being a ruling monarch flagged over time as he focused on botany and a series of mistresses. Although known for a time as "Louis the Beloved," his entrée into several expensive wars and the French Revolution caused his popularity to wane.

24. James VI, Scotland (1567-1625), 57 years

As the only son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI ascended the Scottish throne in 1567 after his mother's forced abdication. While a board of regents ruled until he reached his teens, James VI believed in royal absolutism, which is a monarchy without constitutional limits and one in which a royal believes themself to be a divine ruler on Earth. In 1603, he also became James I of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I and this duality became known as "the union of the crowns" as he strove to bring the two countries under one rule.

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25. Athelstan, England (895-939 C.E.), 44 years

Athelstan was the first king of England (not to be confused with the monk Athelstan on the History Channel's "Vikings" — a character who is a fictional amalgamation of his time). The real-life Athelstan, who died in Gloucester, England, in 939 at age 47, was a warrior who beat back invading Danes and Scots to expand and then create the kingdom now called England. Throughout Athelstan's reign he founded churches across the realm, brought about legal and social reform and created a cosmopolitan court comprised of intellectuals from throughout Europe. He also used strategic family marriages to forge strong contacts with mainland Europe and, after sending military aid to Norway, was known as "Athelstan the Good."

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