The Longest Reigning Monarchs in History

Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit in London.
Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II smiles during a visit in London | Shutterstock

Queen Elizabeth II may be the longest reigning monarch in British history, but does she take the top spot internationally? Not quite…

6. Franz Joseph I

Reign length: 67 years, 355 days

Franz Joseph became Emperor of Austria in December 1848. He would later be crowned King of Hungary, going down in history as the longest-reigning ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His era was marked by territorial disputes and nationalistic tensions throughout his lands, while his personal life was rocked by tragic incidents.

One was the dramatic death of his only son, Archduke Rudolf, in an apparent suicide pact with his mistress Mary Vetsera in 1889. It triggered an international media sensation, devastating Franz Joseph and his beloved wife Elisabeth. She would herself die in shocking circumstances in 1898, stabbed by an anarchist while on holidaying in Geneva.

The premature death of Franz Joseph’s son would prove to have serious historical consequences. It passed the line of succession to Franz Joseph’s brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig. His own death in 1896 meant that the new heir presumptive became Karl’s son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 directly led to the start of World War One.

5. K’inich Janaab Pakal

Reign length: 68 years, 33 days

K’inich Janaab Pakal ruled the Maya city-state of Palenque from July 615. As monarch, Pakal the Great expanded the reaches of Palenque and oversaw epic construction projects that would result in some of the most iconic monuments of the Maya civilisation.

A prime example is the Palace of Palenque, a sprawling labyrinth of rooms, courtyards and sculptures. But perhaps the most well-known of all Palenque’s landmarks, and the reason millions of people know of this monarch without even realising it, is the Temple of the Inscriptions.

This stepped pyramid contains Pakal’s sarcophagus, whose lid bears a depiction of the seated leader surrounded by intricate mythological imagery. The lid has become one of the most talked-about pieces of “evidence” among ancient aliens theorists, who believe it shows Pakal operating the controls of a spaceship. In fact, mainstream historians agree that it depicts the king’s journey to the underworld, but the notoriety of the ‘Palenque Astronaut’ continues unabated.

4. Johann II

Reign length: 70 years, 91 days

Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in Europe, but this principality boasts one of the biggest tenures of any monarch in history. It was in November 1858 that Johann II became Prince of Liechtenstein, and so he would remain all the way until his death in 1929.

While the sheer length of his reign makes Johann II a significant royal both for Liechtenstein and the world, the man himself remains something of an enigma. He was a withdrawn, introverted man who was reluctant to get involved in social events. He never married or had any children. Shunning publicity, he nevertheless loved the arts and was known as a generous and thoughtful patron of cultural projects. In fact, his unwavering support for scientific, artistic and charitable causes earnt him the moniker Johann the Good. His lack of offspring meant that he was succeeded by his younger brother, Franz I.

3. Elizabeth II

Reign length: 70 years 91+ days (and counting)

Given the length of her reign and her towering significance in British culture, it’s strange to think that Elizabeth II wasn’t expected to become queen when she was born. Her uncle, Edward VIII, infamously abdicated the throne after he fell in love with divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. This led to his younger brother, Elizabeth’s father, taking the crown as George VI. His death in February 1952 ushered in the second Elizabethan age, which has lasted over seven decades.

Queen Elizabeth II’s time on the throne has encompassed countless pivotal moments in the nation’s history, with 14 British Prime Ministers serving during her reign. The first head of state to open two Olympic Games in two countries (Montreal 1976 and London 2012), she also became the first reigning British monarch to set foot in Russia in 1994.

Some other pieces of royal trivia: Elizabeth II has owned more than 30 corgis since becoming queen, as well as a cocker spaniel called Bisto. She also speaks fluent French, and has given official addresses in the language.

2. Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great

Reign length : 70 years, 126 days

Often reported to have been one of the world’s richest royals, Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand also has the distinction of being the only monarch to have been born in the United States. Specifically, Cambridge, Massachusetts – a consequence of his father being a Harvard student at the time. Bhumibol ascended to the throne in June 1946 under dramatic and mysterious circumstances, when his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, was found dead from a gunshot wound in his bed.

Debates raged over what happened. Some said it was suicide, though the king’s former secretary and two underlings would later be executed for his alleged murder.

In any case, Bhumibol would go on to enjoy the second-longest reign of any monarch. One of his abiding passions was jazz, and he was in fact a serious saxophonist and composer who performed with some of the all-time jazz greats. Bhumibol even started his own jazz band which would conduct long jam sessions at the palace and tour Thai universities and other venues. Unsurprisingly, he was dubbed the literal “king of jazz” by some journalists.

1. Louis XIV

Reign length: 72 years, 110 days

In May 1643, Louis XIV began his long and legendary tenure as the King of France. It was a reign that exemplified the idea of the absolute monarch, with Louis elevated to mythical status as the “Sun King”.

While Louis lived in eye-watering splendour, he took his duties as a king very seriously. Choosing to dispense with a chief minister, he oversaw the smallest details of government, spending hours every day attending meetings, poring over official documents and writing letters. Married to a Spanish royal for diplomatic reasons, Louis also had squeezes in countless affairs, producing a legion of illegitimate offspring.

A darker thread of his reign was the state persecution of the Huguenots, the community of French Protestants whose right to practise their faith was revoked by the king. Loutish, violent soldiers were even posted in the homes of the Huguenots, in order to intimidate and bully the families into converting to Catholicism. Meanwhile, the Sun King’s era was also marked by a series of gruelling wars. While he did oversee French expansion in Europe, Louis would himself concede on his deathbed that he had “loved war too much”.