5. Henry III
Henry III had even more longevity than his great-grandson Edward III. With a reign that stretched from 1216 to 1272, he managed 56 years and 29 days on the throne, despite not being as popular as his son Edward I (or Edward III, either). But he succeeded his father, King John, whose unpopularity is legendary so anyone must have seemed like a good king after that. He was another very young king, taking the throne at 9 years old, in the middle of a civil war between the King and the barons (the First Barons’ War). His reign started out in difficult times and continued to be difficult, with more trouble from the barons in 1263 (unimaginatively called the Second Barons’ War). He died at the age of 65, having been through 56 years of difficulties.
4. James IV
Some of our monarchs reigned over England only, others over the whole United Kingdom. But only one has different lengths of reign depending on which country you’re talking about. James IV of Scotland was on the throne for a mighty 57 years, 246 days from 1567 to 1625 but partway through that, he picked up the English throne as well for no better reason that there was no-one else to do it. After all of Henry VIII’s effort to ensure a male line, his three children had each died childless. So when the last of them died – Elizabeth I- the throne passed to Henry’s great-great-nephew James. His reign in England (as James I) was only averagely long, at 22 years but his early accession to the Scottish throne (our youngest yet, at a year and a month) ensures that he makes the list . He is also notable as the monarch that Guy Fawkes tried to assassinate in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which is marked every day in the UK with fireworks and bonfires.
3. George III
Meanwhile, George III is notable as the king who was mad, as immortalized in the film “The Madness of King George III“. He suffered from a kind of psychosis – possibly porphyria- which may have been related to the inbreeding common amongst the royal families of Europe at the time. It was also possibly triggered by the death of his youngest and favorite daughter, Princess Amelia. He was declared unfit to rule in 1810 and so his son (later George IV) took over as Prince Regent. George III reigned from 1760 to 1820, so had an impressive reign of 59 years and 96 days but was only actively ruling for a part of that. His reign had a mixed military record, with his armies defeating Napoleon but losing to the colonists in America who wanted independence for their new nation. He was a popular king at the time, but ultimately is remembered for the insanity that overtook him towards the end of his life.
2. Elizabeth II
Rather like the first Queen Elizabeth, the current Queen was born unlikely to take the throne. As the granddaughter of George V, she was always a princess but as the child of his second son, Albert, it would have taken an extraordinary event to push her into the line of succession. That extraordinary event took place in 1936 when Edward VIII, George V’s elder son, abdicated, passing the throne to his brother. Albert – now George VI – ruled for 16 years before his death in 1952 passed the throne on again to Elizabeth. Again, like the first Elizabeth, her reign has seen amazing advances – the conquest of Everest, the moon landings, the birth of the internet and more. Her record currently stands at 61 years and 336 and if she survives until next September, she will take the lead as the longest-serving British monarch ever.
1. Queen Victoria
Which leads us to the one woman currently in her way – the legendary Queen Victoria.Along with the two other queens on the list, Victoria oversaw a time of innovation – where railways were invented and built, and the welfare state was first dreamed of. She reigned from 1837 to 1901 – that’s 63 years and 216 days. She built an empire, visited Great Exhibitions and saw great works of literature published for the first time. She may have a reputation as being “not amused” but she was a great monarch, and Britain’s longest-serving one.