The other side of the story – Our shortest reigning Monarchs

In just a short while, The Queen will overtake the record set by Queen Victoria and go on to become the longest reigning Monarch in British history. But while Her Majesty has been blessed with a long reign, filled with prosperity and happiness, there are others who have not been as fortunate. Fate did not smile upon these rulers, whose time on the throne was cut short by unforeseen circumstances, and who have gone down in history for the brevity of their reign. Here is the other side of the story: a list of the five shortest reigning Kings and Queens of England.


King James II and VII was deposed in 1688 – he was the last Catholic ruler of England.

James II and VII – 3 years, 309 days

James II and VII of England and Scotland ascended the throne on 6 February 1685, after his older brother King Charles II died without a legitimate heir. James was the younger son of King Charles I and had spent a great deal of time in exile in France following his father’s execution. Upon the restoration of the Monarchy and the ascension of his brother in 1660, James returned to England, where he married Anne Hyde. The pair had two children – Mary and Anne, both future Queens of England. Around 1668, James secretly converted to Catholicism, although both his daughters continued to be raised in the Protestant faith. A few years later, James married Mary of Modena, and three years after James’ ascension, she gave birth to a son – James, Prince of Wales. However, the public were unhappy with the King’s religious policies, and the birth of a Catholic heir only alarmed them further. King James was deposed during the Glorious Revolution on 11 December 1688, by his son-in-law, the future King William III. Once again, he went into exile in France, where he remained until his death 13 years later.

Richard III – 2 years, 57 days

The youngest son of Richard Plantagenet and direct descendant of King Edward III, Richard III notoriously came to the throne on 26 June 1483 after deposing his young nephew, Edward V (more on him later). As a result, Richard was an unpopular ruler from the very beginning of his reign. He failed to earn the support of members of the gentry, including Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham conspired against him and plotted the return from exile of Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian claimant to the throne. To make matters worse, Edward, Prince of Wales, the only child and heir of King Richard died within a year of his reign. Richard’s wife, Queen Anne, passed away shortly afterwards, leaving the King without the possibility of siring more children. King Richard’s brief reign came to an end on 22 August 1485, when he was defeated by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard’s death marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and ushered in the Tudor era.

Edward VIII – 326 days

Edward VIII ruled for just under a year in 1936. He came to the throne on 20 January, immediately after the death of his father, King George V, and, within months of his ascension, proposed marriage to the American Wallis Simpson. The marriage proposal caused a national crisis – Mrs. Simpson, a divorcee, was married at the time of the proposal, and was planning to leave her husband for the King. In 1936, the Church of England forbade the remarriage of divorced people whose ex-spouses were still living. King Edward was informed that the British public would not accept Wallis Simpson as their Queen, and that, as the Head of the Church of England, he was expected to abide by its laws. However, Edward was adamant, and on December 10 of the same year, he abdicated in favour of his younger brother, King George VI, the father of the present Queen. After his abdication, Edward was given the title of Duke of Windsor. He married Wallis Simpson the following year, and the two spent their rest of their lives in exile in France.

Edward VIII was one of two Monarchs never to have been crowned. The other, who ruled for an even shorter period than he did, was also called Edward…

Edward V – 78 days

King Edward V with his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. This portrait was painted centuries after the young King's death.

King Edward V with his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. This portrait was painted centuries after the young King’s death.

Edward V came to the throne at the tender age of 12, following the untimely death of his father, King Edward IV on 9 April 1483. The young boy was in Ludlow when he heard of the King’s death. As he was travelling back to London for his coronation, he was confronted by his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future King Richard III), who insisted on accompanying him into the city. On Richard’s orders, Edward was held in the Tower of London to wait for his coronation. He was joined there by his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, and the two boys waited for Edward’s coronation. However, before the event could take place, it was declared that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid. It now meant that all children produced from the union, including the two Princes in the Tower, were illegitimate. Richard was acknowledged as the rightful King of England on 26 June, and Edward’s short reign came to an unfortunate end. Shortly afters Richard’s ascension, the two boys mysteriously disappeared from the Tower, giving rise to one of the most puzzling mysteries in history.

Jane – 9 days

Infamous for her nine-day reign, Lady Jane Grey has gone down in history as the shortest reigning British Monarch. Lady Jane was a descendant of King Henry VII through his youngest daughter Mary and a cousin of King Edward VI. While on his deathbed, the young King Edward nominated the Protestant Jane as his successor, in a bid to keep the throne from his half-sister Mary, who was a Catholic. Lady Jane was officially proclaimed Queen on 9 July 1553 and took up residence in the Tower of London. However, Edward’s sister Mary was determined to take the throne for herself and marched to London with an army. When she arrived in the city, the Privy Council switched their allegiance to Mary, and on 19th July, she was declared Queen. Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, were executed for high treason on 12 February 1554.

During her brief stint on the throne, Lady Jane Grey was not acknowledged as Queen in all parts of the country. Her reign is disputed by certain historians, and as a result, her name in not often included in the list of Kings and Queens.

Photo credit: John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and ell brown via photopin cc