We have always been fascinated by royalty. The intrigue, the splendor, the sudden successions and overthrows are all great topics of discussion. All of these also led to the crowning and ascension of some of the youngest people to ever be considered and named heads of state. Looking back at British history, here are the youngest monarchs to ascend the throne and who did their country good.
10. Charles II (30 years old)
A beautiful painting of King Charles II
Charles II wasn’t known for his diplomatic or military achievements. For the most part, he was known for his playful attitude and roguishness. Despite this, looking at his reign shows outstanding achievements in the face of adversity. The Great Fire of London, for instance, happened during his reign and it took a man of considerable fortitude to rebuild the ravaged city. It was here that being a patron of the arts and sciences came into play. The man who spearheaded the effort was an architect who enjoyed the direct patronage of Charles II. He issued a permit that finally allowed women to take the stage and play parts in plays. Science also flourished under his regime. He founded the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory, both of which are still in existence today. Despite the lack of empire expansion and military achievements, the focus on culture, science and art were commendable, garnering Charles II a spot on this list.
9. Queen Elizabeth II (26 years old)
A photo of Queen Elizabeth II taken in 2007
Queen Elizabeth II is the current reigning monarch of Great Britain. She holds the distinction of being the only female member of the royal family to have ever served in the British army when she insisted on serving during the Second World War as a truck driver; she wanted to help the war effort in a direct manner. When she ascended the throne, she was not only the Queen of England but also queen of the entirety of the United Kingdom, Australia (For more information on Australia, read The Guide to Australia
), Canada, New Zealand, South Africa (Want to know more about S. Africa, see South Africa: The Multitude Rainbow Country
), Pakistan and Sri Lanka. She also holds the distinction of being the only monarch to circumnavigate the globe — a testament to her commitment towards involvement in the international community. She is arguably the most well-traveled and longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. Her commitment to the crown is so ingrained that she continues to refuse to abdicate despite the nagging concerns about her health. Given this level of commitment, it would not be surprising if she does end up surpassing the length of Queen Victoria’s reign in 2015.
8. Queen Elizabeth I (25 years old)
Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen
The Elizabethan Era is widely recognized as a golden age in British history. All things cultural were prolific. Playwrights, poets and dramatists all contributed to the flourishing of English culture under her reign. This should not be taken to mean, however, that she is responsible for this cultural flowering. She was never a particularly staunch supporter of the arts.
Her real triumphs come in the form of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, which was a turning point in European history, as it shifted the balance of power from Spain towards England, thereby raising and cementing the reputation of the latter as a power in the continent. It was also during her reign that the establishment of the Church of England became firm, an endeavor her father began, culminating in her excommunication from the Catholic Church, which meant that England was no longer beholden to Rome.
Her reign was truly unifying in that it helped establish some semblance of national pride for the English. Although military victories under her reign were rare, they came at the right time. More than this, her political maneuverings also allowed her to rule for a period of time that no one at that point in history could have anticipated given her gender. She was able to take control of the throne and establish herself as the sovereign, unlike other monarchs who continually had to contend with different factions of the nobility trying to usurp them. This allowed for a period of some political stability, especially when compared to the reigns of other monarchs. For these reasons and more, Queen Elizabeth I belongs to this list.
7. Canute (22 years old)
A 13th century portrait of Canute the Great
One of the lesser known kings, Canute was responsible for a period of relative prosperity during the infancy of the British Empire. He initiated efforts to strengthen the currency, helping with the economic growth of the empire. The British Empire was the largest during his reign until the Imperial era, which brought colonies with it. He was also a king who was in tune with the needs of his constituency and was responsive once aware of these needs. He addressed the needs of the common people and enjoyed relative popularity during his reign. His foreign dealings were also relatively pleasant. Canute seems to be the total package from an era in history where not much is heard about able rulers, especially from the monarchies or the British Isles.
6. Alfred the Great (22 years old)
The statue of Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great was a very capable ruler who strengthened the army and navy, while simultaneously instituting legal reforms and dabbling in propping the culture of the empire. He saw the weaknesses of his current army and decided to work through it, ensuring that fortresses could not be taken by a foreign enemy, thereby providing said enemy with a distinct tactical advantage. Although his endeavor to substantially innovate the navy was not particularly successful, he was probably the first king who made it a point to have some semblance of naval power.
Despite the hazy accounts of his interactions with foreign powers, these were certainly far-ranging. There is some speculation that he even went so far as to attempt to establish contact with India. His efforts to cultivate relationships with neighboring groups, such as the Celts, are also of note. He even sent fairly frequent tributes to the Pope. His greatness is not just limited to militaristic achievements, but is also embodied by his efforts to come up with some form of standardized law that was sensitive to the subtle differences in culture between those he ruled. This allowed for a uniform law to be passed that didn’t seek to actively oppress any particular group. He took it upon himself to try to actively encourage a culture of learning by importing learned scholars; he even put himself through school. He translated several important works as well as had his own literary efforts.
5. Edward IV (20 years old)
A painting depicting King Edward IV
The War of the Roses a period in British history marked with strife and factionalization was. The leader, who emerged after this turmoil was finally settled, was Edward IV. It’s only fitting as he was somewhat personally responsible for the destruction of the Lancasters in a series of spectacular battles, not a single one of which he lost. He took it upon himself to fix the social order of English society, ensuring that the law was followed and held paramount. He was a capable leader who inspired faith so it should come as no surprise that most of his allies and subjects remained loyal to him until his death in 1483.
4. Queen Victoria (18 years old)
The longest reigning queen, Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria is possibly best known for being the "grandmother of all Europe," or for being the longest reigning monarch in British history. It was during her reign that the reforms that led to the system of government Britain has today were instituted. These reforms were necessary steps that led to the gradual shift of the United Kingdom to a constitutional monarchy. This allowed members of the royal family to serve a symbolic purpose, rather than directly control state matters. The focus on the monarchy as a unifying and symbolic force, rather than the out-of-control hedonistic behaviors that often characterized court life in the past, helped her become more relatable to her subjects. She was extremely popular and it was during her reign that the British Empire reached its peak.
3. Henry VIII (18 years old)
The great king of England, King Henry VIII
Like Alfred the Great, Henry VIII also took great interest in building naval power, equipping ships with cannons and building spectacular vessels. While he did not pay much attention to establishing military culture as we know it today, he was invested in building the British naval force. More than that, he was also an artist, endeavoring to write poetry and compose music. He also renovated, improved or built buildings that house some of the more important institutions of British society to this day, such as the Trinity College of Cambridge, a testament to his commitment to education.
While Henry VIII’s claim to fame was being married six times, the underlying achievement of his reign was simply the establishment of the Church of England. As head of both church and state, both in name and in practice, Henry VIII was probably the British monarch that comes closest to wielding absolute power. This move took most of the power and wealth away from the Church and gave it to the nobility, something unheard of during that era. This change’s impact was felt beyond his reign or the Tudor dynasty. To this day, the effects of his reign are still felt and are largely responsible for the way British history evolved.
2. Edmund I (17 years old)
A portrait of King Edmund I
Edmund I’s reign wasn’t as amazing as those of the other British monarchs on this list. Nevertheless, he is responsible for a brief period of monastic revival by negotiating some form of peace with his Scottish neighbors. This ensured the safety of English borders from Scottish invasion. During his reign, monasteries, which were the centers of culture at that point in history, were able to flourish and reestablish themselves. Given that ransacking and constant warfare was the norm during those times, it is quite an achievement that he was able to secure peace for his people during his reign. Clearly, he belongs on this list.
1. Edward III (14 or 15 years old)
King Edward III, the youngest king of England
The youngest monarch on the list, Edward III enjoyed popularity during his reign and enforced discipline and efficiency on the military, making England a force to be reckoned with. It was during his reign that the Hundred Years War began, which led to a succession of British monarchs laying claim to the French throne. Also during his reign, a definition of "treason" was agreed upon and that the institution of "Justice of the Peace" was instated. He also restructured the nobility by creating the title "duke" and encouraging a more inclusive atmosphere when it came to his peers, in total contrast to the exclusivity imposed by his predecessors. The Order of the Garter was also created during his reign and the ideals of chivalry were at its peak. These things were arguably the ideals and characteristics that so often define that particular era of history for contemporary society and, as such, Edward III earns his spot on the list.
The history of the British monarchy has been a bit rocky to say the least. There were pretenders and usurpers. There were intrigues and conspiracies. While most of the time, the perception is that the young are often victimized by such circumstances, this list shows that sometimes it is the young who brings out the greatest changes that there could be. Sometimes, youth is exactly what is necessary in order to fix society, implement reforms or in the case of these British monarchs, change the course of history.