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The shortest reigns in English royal history

jane grey

On 6 February 2022, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, 70 years on the throne. On 9 September 2015, Elizabeth passed Queen Victoria’s record for the longest reigning British monarch. While Elizabeth and Victoria both have lengthy reigns, there are some English monarchs who have had rather short reigns.

These are the shortest reigns of monarchs of England that are not disputed. 

5. Mary I (5 years, 121 days)

Queen Mary I was the only surviving child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. A devout Catholic, Mary was kept from her mother after her parents’ marriage was annulled and was forced to serve in her half-sister’s household as a lady-in-waiting. Mary came to the throne after her brother, King Edward VI, died in 1553 and left his throne to Lady Jane Grey. Mary’s supporters overturned the young Lady Jane Grey in less than two weeks. Mary worked to return England to Catholicism, a move which earned her the moniker “Bloody Mary” that persists to this day. Mary died in 1558, childless, from what historians now think was ovarian cancer. 

4. James II (3 years, 309 days) 

King James II was the last Catholic King of England. The younger son of King Charles I, he lived most of his formative years in exile in France, and returned to England with the restoration of the monarch in 1660. His brother, King Charles II, did not have any legitimate children, so James inherited the throne. His reign was marked by a push for religious tolerance, especially for Catholics. James was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and his elder daughter, Queen Mary II, and her husband, King William III, were chosen to be co-monarchs. 

3. Richard III (2 years, 57 days) 

King Richard III remains one of the most divisive monarchs in England history to this day. The younger brother of King Edward IV, he played a significant role in his brother’s reign. After his brother died and his nephews disappeared from the Tower of London, Richard claimed the throne. He was defeated by Henry Tudor’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and was the last Yorkist King and the final person in the Plantagenet line. 

His body was found under a Leicester car park in 2012, and was reburied in Greyfriars Church in Leicester. 

2. Edward V (78 days)

King Edward V, also known as the elder of the Princes in the Tower, was the son of King Edward IV. Edward was never crowned, and was a pawn in the power struggles won by his uncle, who became King Richard III. Edward, and his younger brother, Richard, were taken into the Tower of London by their uncle who said he was protecting them. However, just 78 days after the death of his father, the young Edward was deposed. Soon afterwards, he was seen in the Tower for the final time. The mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower has never been solved. 

1. Lady Jane Grey (9 days)

Lady Jane Grey, also known as the Nine Days’ Queen, holds the record for the shortest reign in English history. King Henry VIII’s son, King Edward VI, decided to name the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as his successor upon his death at the age of 15. Descended through Edward’s aunt, Princess Mary and Charles Brandon, Jane was given a Humanist education. She married Lord Guildford Dudley in 1553. 

Edward drafted a will that altered the line of succession, bypassing his Catholic half-sister, Mary. Although Mary had forces behind her, the Privy Council proclaimed Jane Queen of England and Ireland on 10 July 1553, but by 19 July, they had switched their allegiance to Mary Tudor. Jane was charged with high treason and convicted. Jane was beheaded at the Tower of London on 12 February 1554, and is buried in the Church of St. Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower.

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