Did you know there’s a royal family that claims to have started in the Bible? And that one family once ruled an entire continent? It’s amazing how much power a family can gain and how quickly it can all be lost at the hands of a few rebels, with years of tradition wiped out in days. From current queens to tragic tsars, it’s all here. Find out more about the families of the ruling elite in our Top 10 Royal Dynasties.
10. House of Windsor
Compared to some dynasties on the list, this royal family is a newcomer, having only lasted 96 years so far. But they are both powerful and famous and it seems unlikely that they will lose power anytime soon. Head of the house is Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and it was her grandfather, George V, that established the house in 1917, having previously been descended from the German House of Saxe-Coburg. There have been some troubles to hit the family in the last 25 years or so, with two of the Queen’s sons divorcing and one of those ex-wives getting killed in a car crash – an event that the Queen was criticized over, thanks to her lack of immediate response. But the 21st century has brought a resurgence of popularity to the monarchy, with thousands lining the streets for both the Royal Wedding (of Prince William to Kate Middleton) and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. With the birth of Prince William’s son George this year, the line is secure for the next three generations and it looks like the Windsors will be in power for a long time still.
9. The Tudor Dynasty
Providing those heirs is so very important to the royals, a lesson that at least two of Henry VIII’s wives found when they were either divorced or beheaded for their failure to produce a son. The Tudor Dynasty was another relatively short-lived one – 118 years – but it was incredibly powerful, and there were huge cultural shifts during it. The most obvious is Henry’s Reformation, brought about partly by his urge to rid himself of his wife, but the artistic and exploratory breakthroughs in his daughter Elizabeth’s reign cannot be ignored either. Henry VII inherited a kingdom that had been broken by constant Civil War and was only just emerging from the Middle Ages. 118 years later, Elizabeth died, leaving us the works of Shakespeare and passage to America. An impressive amount of progress under Tudor rule.
8. The Qajar Dynasty
Sometimes to gain power, you have to be a little bit ruthless. But Mohammed Khan Qajar of Persia (now Iran) wasn’t just a little bit ruthless – he massacred and maimed entire populations on his quest to eliminate his rivals. His efforts finally paid off in 1796, when he was proclaimed Shah of Persia but it was a short-lived victory, as he was assassinated the following year. His dynasty, however, would last a further 128 years despite the disastrous reign of his successor, which saw Persia defeated by Russia and forced to concede land to them. By 1848, the throne had passed to Nasser-e-Din, the great-great-great-nephew of Mohammed Khan and it was he that proved to be the most competent Qajar leader, building universities and enhancing Persian culture. But it was a slow decline for the Qajars after that and they were eventually deposed in 1925 by Reza Khan.
7. The Ming Dynasty
If you were playing a word-association game and someone said “dynasty” it’s a fair guess that someone else would say “Ming.” The Chinese dynasty is one of the most famous in history but they still only lasted 276 years, which is but a moment compared to some on this list. Established in 1368 by the Hongwu Emperor, it was to be a model of efficiency and power, with an army of over 1 million troops. During the reign of the Ming emperors, Chinese culture flourished and there were significant developments in art and literature, including the emergence of the Four Masters of the Ming Dynasty (Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming and Qui Ying). However, the good times couldn’t last forever and war and economic breakdown led to rebellion. In 1644, Beijing was captured by the rebels, Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide and the Ming Dynasty came to an end.
6. The Romanov Dynasty
Most dynasties die out naturally, but the Romanovs of Russia were overthrown violently and any trace of their line murdered in cold blood, although rumors persist that one survived. The tsars were increasingly unpopular in Russia coming into the 20thcentury, living in luxury while their subjects starved, and the tsarina Alexandra did nothing to help matters with her dependence on spooky “wiseman” Rasputin. Eventually, in 1917, the Romanovs were overthrown by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and the whole family were taken to Yekaterinburg where they were shot. Still, for a long time there were rumors that daughter Anastasia had managed to escape the slaughter and there was even an impostor claiming to be her. But she was proved to be a fake, and it seems the Romanovs really did die out in 1918, after 305 years of Russian rule.