Congratulations Britain: God is clearly on your side, and paying attention every time you sing the national anthem.
For today is an historic day. Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne on 6 February 1952. As of today, she’s reigned for 63 years and 216 days, tying with the record set by her great great grandmother Queen Victoria. That means that, as long as she doesn’t unexpectedly snuff it, at some point today she’ll become the longest reigning monarch in British history.
No one else who has occupied the throne of any of the British nations has ever come close. To put Queenie’s record in perspective, it’s more than four times as long as her dad George VI reigned (15 years, 53 days), and two and a half times as long as her granddad George V (25 years, 259 days). It’s equivalent to 1.4 Elizabeth I’s, or 1.7 Henry VIII’s.
Here’s a bar chart of the top five, along with a selection of other key British, English and Scottish monarchs:
That Macbeth was around for longer than Shakespeare told you he was, wasn’t he?
While we’re at it, here’s a pie chart, showing quite how much big a figure Elizabeth II now is in the history of the English monarchy. She’s reigned for 6.6 per cent of the time since the Norman Conquest – which, given it was nearly a millennium ago, is really not bad going:
At the other end of the scale, the shortest reigning English monarch that generally makes the standard lists* was Edward V. He lasted just 78 days, so good queen Liz has lasted roughly 298 times longer than he did.
The prince in the tower, though, was never actually crowned, so it’s not clear he really counts. If he counts, why shouldn’t Lady Jane Grey, who only reigned, possibly, for nine days?
If we’re restricting ourselves to crowned monarchs only, we find that Elizabeth’s reign has gone on for 82 times the length of that of Harold II, who only lasted 282 days before getting an arrow in the eye. It’s also 29 times that of Richard III, who despite the speed and efficiency with which he did away with his nephews, lasted just 788 days before ending up in that car park.
She’s been on the throne a long time. That’s the point here.
At 89 years and 139 days, Elizabeth is already the world’s oldest monarch, as well as Britain’s longest lived. The next big milestone will come on 27 may 2024 when, aged 98, she will become the longest reigning monarch of a major European power ever.
The one to beat in that category is Louis XIV of France: he reigned for more than 72 years from 1643 to 1715. (Mind-blowingly, between 1610 and 1774, France went through just three kings. Over the same period, Britain went through 10, plus a couple of Cromwells.)
If the Queen makes it until October 2034 she’ll hit another record, surpassing King Sobhuza II of Swaziland to become the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the world. Sobhuza had a bit of an advantage on this one: in 1899 he inherited the throne aged just four months and lived to be 82.
If Queen Elizabeth makes it that far she’ll be 108 years old. It’s unlikely she’ll break this record, but, given that her mother made it to 101, it’s not impossible.
There’s one other barrier to doing this, however: she also has to outlive King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who’s reigned since 1946. And he has an advantage, as he’s two years younger than the queen.
Could go either way.
* There are a fair few individuals that don’t feature on the traditional list of monarchs but who seem, nonetheless, to have claimed the title: Matilda, Philip II of Spain, Louis VIII of France. But these guys over complicate things a bit so in the name of sanity we’ve decided to ignore them.