The Longest Reigning British Monarch

Queen Elizabeth II in purple holding a bouquet.
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On September 9th, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in the whole of British history. She came to the throne on February 6th, 1952 and, having previously become the oldest monarch ever to rule Britain, took the longest reigning title aged 89. She remains an overwhelmingly popular figure, both in Britain and around the world. She was crowned in 1953, and her long marriage to the Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, means she is the only reigning British monarch to experience a diamond wedding anniversary. In contrast, the longest ruling Prime Minister in Elizabeth’s reign was Margaret Thatcher at over eleven years, there have been twelve Prime Ministers, and seven popes. Elizabeth has outlasted many world rulers.

With a rule of sixty-three plus years there are several generations of Britons who have never known any other head of state, and her passing will be a particularly uncertain time for a country that has changed so much. With the exception of a small public relations blip in the 90s, she has adapted to change well and there is little precedent to follow.

Her life has been dedicated to fulfilling the role of Queen. When the royal family has had criticism, Elizabeth has mostly avoided it. She has certainly avoided outspoken comments and has supported her governments quietly behind the scenes. Prime Ministers, who have regular private meetings, speak highly of her and the relationships she has with them. When Britain was voting on whether to leave the European Union, newspapers tried to involve her, but she managed to stay out of the decision. The same occurred with a vote on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, although there never appeared to be any question of the country rejecting the queen as well as their neighbors.

The Former Longest Reining British Monarch

Elizabeth II took the title from Queen Victoria, also a ruler of the combined Britain. Queen Victoria took the throne on June 20, 1837, and died on January 22, 1901, for a total of 63 years, 7 months and 3 days. Unusually for a monarch with a long reign, both took the throne as adults, Victoria a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday, dying aged 81. Elizabeth was twenty-five when she succeeded; Victoria was her great, great grandmother. It's very common for monarchs with long reigns to have started when they were children, which makes Elizabeth's longevity all the more remarkable.

Victoria reigned over a far larger area than Elizabeth, as the British Empire was at its height, whereas Elizabeth is head of state in the UK and fifteen Commonwealth countries.

The Longest Reigning Monarch in Europe

While sixty-three years is a long period of rule, it’s not the longest in European history. That’s believed to belong to Bernard VII of Lippe, who ruled his state in the Holy Roman Empire for eighty-one years, two hundred and thirty-four days in the fifteenth century (and lasted despite earning the nickname The Bellicose). Close behind him is William IV of Henneberg-Schleusingen, whose over seventy-eight and a half year rule was also in a state of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Longest Reigning Monarch in the World

King Sobhuza II of Swaziland had an advantage when it came to long reigns because he inherited the throne while just four months old. He lived from 1899 to 1982 and clocked up eighty-two years and two hundred and fifty-four days; believed to be the longest period of rule in the world (and certainly the longest that can be proved).

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Wilde, Robert. "The Longest Reigning British Monarch." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). The Longest Reigning British Monarch. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The Longest Reigning British Monarch." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).