25 of the Longest-Reigning Monarchs in History

These kings and queens held the throne for decades.
These kings and queens held the throne for decades. / Photo collage by Justin Dodd. Background: littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock; Frames: janniwet, Dragan Dejanovic, Prachaya Roekdeethaweesab, Frame Art/Shutterstock; Hirohito: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain; Victoria: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain; Louis XIV: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain; Pedro II: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain; Qianlong Emperor: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Heavy is the head that wears the crown—and no one wore that headpiece longer than the men and women on this list. From K'inich Janaab Pakal to Basil II to Elizabeth II, these are some of the longest-reigning monarchs in history.

1. Sobhuza II

Length of Reign: 82 Years

In December 1899, the king of Swaziland (now Eswatini) Ngwane V died at the age of 23. He was succeeded by his 4-month-old son, who would be given the royal name Sobhuza II and would continue to reign until his death in August 1982. But his record is complicated by Swaziland’s status as a British Protectorate for much of his reign. According to historian Bruce Lincoln, “he occupied an office that was riddled with ambiguities and contradictions, being understood—indeed, constructed—quite differently by the British and the Swazi. The former regarded Sobhuza as paramount chief, a title that signified his loss of autonomous authority ... In contrast, the Swazi saw him as their king (Nkosi) and lion (Ngwenyama), the bulwark of tradition and their chief protection against colonial rule.” As Lincoln notes, when the queen regent, Gwamile Mdluli, introduced Sobhuza II to the resident commissioner, she proclaimed he was “Sobhuza II, the paramount chief of Swaziland and king of the Swazi Nation.” In other words: paramount chief of the territory, but king of the people.

2. Louis XIV

Length of Reign: 72 Years

The son of France’s Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, Louis XIV was born in September 1638. He was just 4 when he took the throne in May 1643. The boy who would become known as the Sun King fled Paris during the civil war known as the Fronde, trained in ballet, turned Versailles from a hunting lodge into a palace, started a number of wars, and supported the arts. He died in September 1715, and was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV.

3. Johann II

Length of Reign: 70 years

Born in 1840, Johann II, prince of Liechtenstein, ruled from 1858 until his death in 1929. He was a patron of the arts and of science, but unlike many other rulers, Johann II was decidedly not a social butterfly; he largely avoided social events and never married. When he died after 70 years and 91 days on the throne, he was succeeded by his brother.

4. Bhumibol Adulyadej

Length of Reign: 70 years

Though he wasn’t formally crowned until 1950, King Bhumibol became the ninth king in Thailand’s Chakkri dynasty in 1946 after his brother, Ananda Mahidol, died (there was then an accession ceremony [PDF], but in Thailand the king doesn’t become full king until consecration). According to The New York Times, “Thais came to see this Buddhist king as a father figure wholly dedicated to their welfare, and as the embodiment of stability in a country where political leadership rose and fell through decades of military coups.” He reigned until his death in 2016 at the age of 88, making him Thailand’s longest-reigning monarch.

5. Elizabeth II

Length of Reign: 70 years

The reign of nonagenarian Queen Elizabeth II—who took the throne in 1952 and reigned until her death in 2022—saw 15 British prime ministers, 14 U.S. presidents, and 10 Soviet and Russian leaders. When she overtook her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch in September 2015, QEII said the milestone was “not one to which I have ever aspired,” adding, “Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones; my own is no exception.”

6. K'inich Janaab' Pakal

Length of Reign: 68 Years

Also known as Pakal the Great, this Maya king of Palenque ascended to the throne when he was 12 years old, ruling from 615 CE until his death in 683. Among his many achievements was beginning the construction of the Temple of Inscriptions (it served as his tomb and completed by his son and successor, Kan B’alam II).

7. Franz Joseph I

Length of Reign: 67 years

Born on August 30, 1830, Franz Joseph became emperor of the Austrian Empire on December 2, 1848, when he was 18 years old. Just a few years later, in 1853, a tailor attempted to assassinate Franz Joseph by stabbing him in the neck; a woman who saw the tailor rush the emperor cried out, causing Franz Joseph to turn and miss the worst of the strike. He would go on to rule until his death in 1916.

8. Constantine VIII

Length of Reign: 66 Years

Born in either 960 or 961, Constantine was made co-emperor when he was around a year old. This was relatively common among Byzantine Empire rulers because it helped shore up the line of succession—in fact, a little earlier, Constantine’s older brother Basil (more on him below) had been made co-emperor. In 963, when their father died, Basil and Constantine became rulers in name only (which is why most lists of Byzantine kings leave them out for this period). That continued until 976 when the real leader—at that point, John Tzimiskes—died, and the brothers were able to reinstate themselves. Though historians generally agree that Basil was the one in charge (one medieval biographer said that “Basil always gives an impression of alertness, intelligence, and thoughtfulness; Constantine appeared to be apathetic, lazy, and devoted to a life of luxury”), his heirless-death in 1025 meant Constantine ruled three years as senior emperor in his own right.

9. Basil II

Length of Reign: 65 Years

Basil II, born in 957 or 958, was crowned co-emperor in 960 of the Byzantine Empire and with his brother took control in 976 when he was around 18. As emperor, Basil used war to expand the Byzantine Empire and kept its coffers full. However, as with Constantine, there is a debate to be had about Basil’s length of reign—historian Robert Bartlett writes in Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe, “Romanos II had his young son Basil crowned on 22 April 960, which was Easter day. Since Basil died on 15 December 1025, he had, from one point of view, a reign of more than 65 years. Modern historians, however, date his reign from 976 to 1025, starting it from the time that his co-emperor and guardian, and the real ruler, John Tzimiskes, died."

10. Victoria

Length of Reign: 63 years

When she was born, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was fifth in line to the throne; it was only after the death of her father, grandfather, most of her uncles, and some of her cousins that she became Queen Victoria. Just 18 when she ascended the throne in 1837, she reigned for nearly 64 years, surviving multiple assassination attempts, making the white wedding dress a must, and becoming such an icon that she gave name to the Victorian era. Her reign ended with her death in 1901. She remains the second-longest reigning monarch in British history.

11. James I

Length of Reign: 62 Years

James I, king of Aragon, also went by James the Conqueror—which makes sense when you consider that he added the Balearic Islands and Valencia to his kingdom during his time on the throne, which began in 1213. He also enacted an important maritime law and supported arts and education; as Henry John Chaytor wrote in A History of Aragon and Catalonia, “the University of Montpellier owed much of its development to his support; he founded a studium in Valencia in 1245 and secured privileges for it from Pope Innocent IV ... Nor were architecture and art neglected; the cathedral of Lérida was built and consecrated during his reign.” He died in 1276.

12. Hirohito

Length of Reign: 62 Years

Born to future Japanese emperor Yoshihito in 1901, Michinomiya Hirohito was notable even before he became emperor: He went abroad to Europe in 1921, the first Japanese crown prince to do so. That same year, he began serving as regent for his father, who was ill. In 1926, Yoshihito died, and Hirohito officially became the 124th emperor of Japan, adopting Showa—meaning “enlightened harmony” or “enlightened peace”—as the name of his reign. (After they die, Japanese emperors are traditionally named after the name they took for their reign, which is why Hirohito is often referred to as Emperor Showa.)

During World War II, Japan allied with Nazi Germany. After the triumph of the Allied Powers, however, Hirohito broke with tradition, releasing a radio address that announced Japan’s surrender. Later, he would eschew precedent again to travel Europe and briefly touch down in the United States, where he met Richard Nixon—making him, in Nixon’s words, “the first reigning monarch of Japan in your long history to step on foreign soil.” He also wrote several books about one of his passions, marine biology.

Hirohito died in 1989; he remains Japan’s longest-reigning monarch.

13. Kangxi Emperor

Length of Reign: 61 Years

The second emperor of China’s Qing Dynasty, Kangxi (whose birth name was Xuanye) was around 7 when he began his reign after his father’s death from smallpox. Because he was so young, advisors to his father ruled as his regents, but Kangxi officially took over in his teens. Kangxi added territory to China during his rule, took a number of journeys in the south of the country, and opened some of its ports to allow foreign trade. He also encouraged education and was a patron of the arts. He died in 1722; according to Britannica, “Kangxi is usually counted among the ablest monarchs ever to govern the vast Chinese empire. He reigned for 61 years and laid the foundation for a long period of political stability and economic prosperity in China.”

14. Qianlong Emperor

Length of Reign: 60 Years

Grandson of Kangxi, Qianlong Emperor (born Hongli) reigned nearly as long as his grandfather: He began his rule in 1735, when he was 24, and reigned until 1796. During that time, he expanded China’s territory and sponsored the creation of the Sikuquanshu or Siku Quanshu, a massive catalog of all the books in China. In addition to serving as a patron for artists, he wrote poetry and practiced calligraphy himself. Qianlong Emperor died in 1799.

15. Friedrich Günther

Length of Reign: 60 Years

Friedrich Günther became prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (an area in modern Thuringia, Germany) in 1807, when he was just 13, following the death of his father; his mother acted as regent until he turned 21. He ruled until his death in 1867.

16. Christian IV

Length of Reign: 59 Years

Technically, this king of Denmark and Norway ascended the throne after his father’s death in 1588—but since he was only 11 years old, the kingdom was actually ruled by a council of regents until Christian was crowned in 1596. During his reign, he constructed a number of new towns and iconic buildings; disastrously got his country involved in the Thirty Years War; and lost an eye in a naval battle with Sweden. He was married twice and had more than 20 kids with five different women. He died in 1648 and was succeeded by one of his sons, Frederik III.

17. George III

Length of Reign: 59 Years

Before Liz and Vicky, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch was King George III, who ascended the throne in 1760. He studied science (becoming the first king to do so), had a massive library that he made available to scholars, founded the Royal Academy of Arts, and was interested in agriculture (on some of his estates he was apparently called “Farmer George”). But George III is perhaps best-known for losing the American Revolution and for his bouts of mental illness, which have long been blamed on a metabolic condition called porphyria, but a 2017 study in PLOS ONE suggested was actually acute mania. He became “permanently deranged,” according to the British monarchy’s website, in 1810, and his eldest son served as prince regent from 1811 until George III’s death in January 1820.

18. Honoré III

Length of Reign: 59 Years

Prince Honoré III of Monaco ascended the throne in 1733, when he was 14, after this father’s abdication. He ruled for nearly 60 years until he was deposed in 1793 as a result of the French Revolution. He died in 1795.

19. Louis XV

Length of Reign: 58 Years

There was no expectation that Louis XV would ever become king when he was born at Versailles in 1710, but the deaths of his grandfather, father, and two older brothers (all also named Louis) made him heir apparent when he was a toddler. Following the death of his great-grandfather, “Sun King” Louis XIV, in 1715, Louis XV became the king of France, with the duke of Orléans ruling as regent. Louis XV began attending cabinet meetings at age 10. As an adult, however, he wasn’t particularly interested in governing; his true passions included botany and women (among his mistresses were Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry). Though at one point known as “Louis the Beloved,” he embroiled France in several costly wars that killed his popularity and helped lead to the French Revolution. Louis XV died in 1774 after reigning for 58 years.

20. Pedro II

Length of Reign: 58 Years

Born Dom Pedro de Alcântara in 1825, Pedro II became the second—and final—emperor of Brazil when he was 5 after his father abdicated to return to Portugal and help his daughter regain the throne there. Brazil was ruled by a regency until 1840, when Pedro II was deemed old enough to take over; he was crowned in 1841. Nicknamed "the Magnanimous,” he was popular through most his reign, bringing stability to Brazil and expanding its territory and its infrastructure. He ruled until 1889, when he was forced to abdicate due to a coup, and exiled.

21. Ludovico I

Length of Reign: 58 Years

Ludovico I ruled as marquess of Saluzzo in present day Piedmont, Italy, from 1416, when he was 11, until his death at age 70 in 1475.

22. Nicholas I

Length of Reign: 58 Years

Nicholas I became the crown prince of Montenegro following the assassination of his uncle, Danilo II, in 1860. Under Nicholas’s rule, Montenegro doubled in size and became a sovereign state. In 1900, he dubbed himself “Royal Highness,” and, five years later, under pressure from the populace, instituted a constitution. He decreed himself king in 1910. Later, he involved Montenegro in both the Balkan War and World War I. Nicholas I went into exile in 1916 and was deposed in 1918 after having ruled for 58 years; he died in France in 1921.

23. Honoré I

Length of Reign: 58 Years

You can chalk the length of this reign up to how young Honoré I was—a mere 9 months—when he became lord of Monaco in 1523 due to his father Lucien Grimaldi’s assassination. His uncle Augustin was appointed regent; he died when Honoré I was a teen and another family member, Etienne, took over. Honoré I supposedly left the work of governing to him until Etienne died in 1561. During his reign, Honoré I welcomed Pope Paul III to Monaco and fought in several battles. He died in 1581 and was succeeded by his son, Charles.

24. Wilhelmina I

Length of Reign: 57 Years

Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria became Wilhelmina I, queen of the Netherlands, after her father’s death in 1890; because she was just 10, her mother acted as her regent until 1898, when she was officially inaugurated. She helped keep the Netherlands neutral throughout World War I, but was forced to flee to England when Germany invaded the country in 1940. From there, she governed in exile, living through the Blitz and using radio broadcasts on Radio Oranje to communicate with her subjects back home. She returned to the Netherlands in 1945 and opted to abdicate in 1948 so her daughter, Juliana, could reign. Wilhelmina I died in 1962 [PDF].

25. James VI (and I)

Length of Reign: 57 Years

James VI was a little over a year old when he was crowned king of Scots in 1567 following the forced abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots; regents ruled in his stead until he was a teenager. In 1603, he also became James I of England following the death of Queen Elizabeth I—what came to be known as “the union of the crowns”—and shortly thereafter dubbed himself king of Great Britain. James went south and, after that, returned to Scotland just once. In 1604, James commissioned the Bible that bears his name. He died in 1625.

Honorable Mention: Phiops II

According to Guinness World Records, “The longest documented reign of any monarch is that of Phiops II (also known as Pepi II or Neferkare) a 6th-Dynasty pharaoh of ancient Egypt.” The 3rd century BCE Egyptian historian Manetho is more precise, saying that “Phiôps ... began to reign at the age of 6, and continued until his hundredth year”—over a decade longer than even Sobhuza.

But how reliable is that account? To most historians today, not very. In 1988, Johns Hopkins egyptologist Hans Goedicke explained that, apart from one possibly misread number in a decree, the independent evidence suggests a reign of 64 years, and at some point a scribe accidentally turned a 60 into a 90. Still, 64 years would put him ahead of Victoria.

Austin Thompson contributed to this story.