In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, and became one of only two British monarchs to have completed 60 years on the throne – but more on that later. A 60-year reign is an impressive achievement, especially back in the days when a crown was a hard thing to keep hold of. So, we’re looking at the longest reigning monarchs in the British Isles, including monarchs who reigned over England, Scotland and Wales individually, as well as combinations of the countries. Find out more in our Top 10 Longest Reigning British Monarchs.
10. David II of Scotland
One of the kings to have a particularly difficult reign was David II of Scotland, who had to defend his country against English forces, backed by his brother-in-law Edward III during the Second Scottish War of Independence. He was forced into exile in France and captured by the English before the Treaty of Berwick finished the conflict in 1357 (the English had another war to be getting on with, and that would take up a hundred years). The war lasted for a large part of David’s reign, which was from 1329 to 1371 (41 years, 260 days) so it was a troubled time for a king that started his reign when he was only 5 years old. He also had to deal with the problem of his infertility, which failed to provide an heir to the throne. He was married to “Joan of the Tower” at the age of just 4 but they produced no children in the 34 years they were married. His next marriage was similarly fruitless, leading him to divorce his new wife on the grounds of infertility (but she had already borne children in her own first marriage, suggesting the problem was all his). He died suddenly, aged 46 – a king that reigned for most of his short life but never very happily.
9. Elizabeth I
Queens seem to be made of stronger stuff than their male counterparts, with three of them appearing on this list (not a bad ratio, considering there have only been 6 official queens since 1066) and Elizabeth herself was keen to prove this point, famously saying “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king”. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and consequently fell in and out of favor with the King depending on who he was married to at the time. The chances of her becoming monarch were always slight, with Henry constantly trying to produce a male heir and even when the line of succession was allowed to run through Henry’s daughters, she was still second in line behind her older sister Mary (their brother Edward had also taken his turn on the throne but had died young). Still, Elizabeth’s reign is rightly known as a glorious one, with the defeat of the Spanish Armada led by her brother-in-law (these brother-in-laws are not to be trusted!) as well as exploration of the New World and, of course, the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe. She died in 1603 at the age of 69, after 44 years, 127 days on the throne.
8. Llywelyn The Great
In case you can’t tell from the lack of vowels, this is a Welsh king who reigned for around 45 years from 1195 to 1240. The length of his reign is disputable not just because it was so long ago, but also because Wales was not a united kingdom at the time. Llywelyn was a prince of Gwynedd and he had to fight for control of that territory before he could extend his reach any further. He was established as the leader of Gwynedd by 1200 and next annexed Powys in 1208. By the time of his death in 1240, much of Wales was under his control either directly or through a ruler who recognised Llywelyn’s power. But his position as leader of Wales was never formalised, and historians debate just how “great” he really was.
7. William I
Known as “William the Lion”, this Scottish king notched up 48 years and 360 days on the throne from 1165 to 1214 (not to be confused with William I of England, whose reign started a hundred years earlier). He was posthumously given the nickname “Lion” because his standard was a red lion – the same one that is now incorporated into the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom. As well as being King of Scotland, he was also Earl of Northumberland, but had to give up that title to Henry II of England, which would cause William to spend much of his reign fighting to get it back. He joined the Great Revolt against Henry and later clashed with Henry’s son John as well. Another Scottish monarch that spent his reign fighting the English.
6. Edward III
The English king that saw no problem in supporting a war against his brother-in-law (the aforementioned David II) himself came from a complex family background. Edward was the son of Edward II, whose reign was largely a disaster and who was eventually overthrown by his own wife and her lover. The 14-year-old Edward was crowned king after his father’s forced abdication but the power remained with his stepfather-of-sorts Roger Mortimer until Edward deposed him at the age of 17 and his reign began in earnest. It would last 50 years and 147 days, if you include the Mortimer period, and was seen as a time of prosperity and stability, even though it covered both the Black Death and the start of the Hundred Years’ War. He also outlived his beloved son, the Black Prince, and so on Edward’s death, the throne passed to his grandson, Richard II. Sadly his reign would be even more turbulent than Edward II’s.