Article related image

6 of the Longest, Shortest, and Strangest Reigns in History

Election season may feel like it never truly ends in America, but at least we have elections. The same can’t be said for much of the world throughout history, with many kings and queens lording over their subjects for decades on end — a practice that shaped countless countries and produced no shortage of fascinating records. Here are six of the longest, shortest, and strangest reigns in political history.

Longest Reign: Sobhuza II

King Sobhuza II standing at a microphone with people sitting behind him.
Credit: Dubber/ullstein bild via Getty Images

At 82 years and 254 days, Sobhuza II’s tenure as both Paramount Chief and Ngwenyama (male ruler or king) of Swaziland is the longest verified reign of any monarch in recorded history. Also known as Nkhotfotjeni, he was born in the royal residence on July 22, 1899, and became king following the death of his father, King Ngwane V, just a few months later. He had some help, however — his uncle and grandmother handled most duties until he came of age in 1921.

Swaziland — located in Southern Africa and officially known as the Kingdom of Eswatini since 2018 — is among Africa's smallest countries and is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies. King Sobhuza was known as the Bull of Swazi, a nickname granted in honor of how, shall we say, prolific he was: He had at least 70 wives, hundreds of children, and more than 1,000 grandchildren at the time of his death on August 21, 1982. Following a power struggle, his son Mswati III ascended to the throne four years later and remains King of Eswatini to this day.

Shortest Reign: Louis XIX

King Louis XIX of France holds an unfortunate Guinness World Record: shortest reign of a monarch in history. He reigned over France for a mere 20 minutes in 1830 following the abdication of his father, Charles X, before he himself stepped down as part of the July Revolution. (Legitimists — supporters of the Bourbon dynasty — didn't accept this, however, and considered him the rightful king for the rest of his life.)

Some consider Louis XIX's record to be a shared one, however. Luís Filipe, Prince Royal of Portugal, was fatally wounded in the same attack that killed his father, King Carlos I, on February 1, 1908 and survived 20 minutes longer. The 20-year-old was technically king for those few minutes, but never formally declared ruler, and his younger brother Manuel II became the last King of Portugal on that fateful day instead. His reign wasn’t especially long, either: Portugal became a republic as a result of the October 5, 1910 revolution and Manuel spent the remainder of his life exiled in England.

Shortest U.S. Presidency: William Henry Harrison

Portrait drawing of William Henry Harrison.
Credit:Library of Congress/ Unsplash

At the time he was elected in 1841, William Henry Harrison was the oldest person to assume the presidency — a distinction he held for 140 years. The fact that he was 68 may partially explain why it was a bad idea for him to deliver the longest inaugural address in American history on a cold, wet day without a hat or overcoat after arriving to the ceremony on horseback. His nearly 8,445-word speech took him nearly two hours to deliver, but his day didn’t end there: Harrison then spent three hours in the White House receiving line, continued his horseback journey as part of the inaugural parade, and attended three balls that night.

He fell ill a few weeks later and died (reportedly of pneumonia, though there’s some debate) on April 4, exactly one month after taking office. His last words were “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” That he was succeeded by Vice President John Tyler seems obvious today, but at the time the precise wording of the Constitution was considered unclear; it wasn’t until the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 that this practice was made official despite several other Vice Presidents becoming President under similar circumstances in the intervening century. At only 32 days, Harrison’s term was (and is) the shortest of any U.S. President.

Queen of Superlatives: Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in a convertible outside Buckingham Palace.
Credit: Lorna Roberts/ Shutterstock

No list would be complete without her, and longest-reigning current monarch isn't the queen's only record. She's also Britain’s longest-lived and -reigning king or queen, the longest-serving woman head of state in history, and the first British monarch to celebrate her Sapphire Jubilee (65th anniversary). She previously had Diamond (60 years), Golden (50 years), Ruby (40 years), and Silver (25 years) Jubilees; next year will mark the Platinum Jubilee celebrating a full 70 years on the throne. She’s also the only monarch to not only be the subject of an award-winning Netflix series about herself but to also watch it.

45-Minute Head of State: Pedro Lascuráin

A month-long presidency is short, but it's nothing compared to the tenure of Pedro Lascuráin. Mexico’s 38th president set an unfortunate record of his own by being in office for a mere 45 minutes on February 19, 1913 following a coup that overthrew his predecessor, Francisco I. Madero. As foreign secretary, Lascuráin was third in the line of succession following the vice president and attorney general; because both of those men had likewise been ousted, Lascuráin was appointed president for just enough time to make General Victoriano Huerta — the architect of the coup — interior secretary and then immediately resign so that Huerta could replace him. This odd maneuvering was also Huerta’s idea, as he believed it would make his rise to power look more legitimate in the eyes of Mexican citizens.

Longest U.S. Presidency: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt seated in front of a number of television and radio station microphones .
Credit: Fotosearch/Getty Images

Only one President of the United States has served more than two terms: Franklin D. Roosevelt, who eschewed the tradition established by none other than George Washington of stepping down after eight years. It wasn't until shortly before the 1940 Democratic Convention in Chicago that FDR decided the third time was the charm, reasoning that the outbreak of World War II in Europe presented unprecedented challenges for an incoming President. He won reelection in his third consecutive landslide later that year (449 electoral votes to challenger Wendell Willikie's 82).

Roosevelt faced even less internal opposition from fellow Democrats four years later, and won a fourth term just as easily; after years of declining health, however, he died in office just months after beginning that term. It wasn’t until the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951 that a President serving two terms became law rather than tradition, but breaking with the norm has hardly hurt FDR’s legacy: He’s consistently ranked alongside Washington and Abraham Lincoln as being one of the greatest Presidents in American history.

You Might Be Interested In