09 September 2015

Long May She Reign

On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became longest reigning monarch in British history, finally surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria with 63 years 216 days on the throne. She still has a ways to go before becoming the longest reigning monarch in European history; Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria ruled for 67 years 355 days and Louis XIV of France ruled for an incredible 72 years 110 days. Of course, Louis became king when he was only four. There are three secrets to a record-breaking long reign:

- Inherit the throne at a young age. Elizabeth was 25; Victoria was barely 18.
- Don't be overthrown. Although there were periods of strong republicanism during Victoria's reign, the monarchy was never seriously in danger, and it never has been during Elizabeth's reign. (Two of the ladies in this list would have been at the top if they had not surrendered their thrones or decided to abdicate.)
- (And this is a big one) Live a long time. Victoria lived to a greater age than either of her parents and than seven of her nine children. Only Princess Louise (91) and Princess Beatrice (87) lived longer. She survived her two half siblings by several decades. Elizabeth has far surpassed her father, who died at age 56, and her only sibling Princess Margaret, who passed away at 71. All of Elizabeth's four children are still living so it will yet be awhile before we know their longevity (the oldest Prince Charles will be 67 in two months) but we do know that she still has 12 years to go before she outlives her mum Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who lived to 101!

On this historic occasion (and since this is a blog about female royals), I thought we'd take a look at the top ten longest reigning Queens Regnant

From Canadian Archives
via Wikimedia Commons
1. Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (63 years and still going)
Born to the second son of a King, Elizabeth was not expected to ascend the throne. When her uncle abdicated, her father became king and she became his heir at age 10. She succeeded him at 25--although she never would have if her younger sister had been born a boy; gender-blind accession has only just been adopted in the U.K. {UPDATE: As of February 2018, Elizabeth has reigned more than 66 years.]

2. Victoria of the United Kingdom (63 years)
Although born to the fourth son of a King, Victoria's odds of inheriting the throne were oddly good. Her father's older brothers had not proven successful at having legitimate children; between the three of them, they had only produced one legitimate child who lived past infancy, but she died at age 21. her father died shortly after her birth, so like Elizabeth, she had no brothers to surpass her in the line of succession. Victoria succeeded her uncle when she was 18. (Read my post Victoria's Secrets)

3. Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (57 years)
Wilhelmina was the child of her father's old age. He was 63 when she was born. Her half-brothers were all older than she was, but the two who lived to adulthood never married; when the youngest one died at age 32, Wilhelmina became the heir at age four. She succeeded their father just eight years later, and reigned through both World War I and World War II. She opted to abdicate due to failing health. Had she remained on the throne until her death, she would have been the longest reigning European monarch in history at 72 years.

By Charles de Steuben
via Wikimedia Commons
4. Joanna of Castile (50 years)
Better known as Juana La Loca, Joanna was the daughter of the famous Ferdinand and Isabella. Due to the deaths of two brothers and her older sister, Joanna succeeded her mother as Queen of Castile at age 24. However, her early reign was fraught with conflict between her husband and her father; she herself was confined to a convent due to her alleged mental illness. Her father served as her regent for a decade. Then, upon his death, she inherited his Kingdom of Aragon, too. Within a year, her son took over, making her co-monarch but really in name only. One of her sister's was the unfortunate first wife of England's King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon.

5. Elizabeth I of England (44 years)
The daughter of the second of King Henry VIII's six wives, Elizabeth had a challenging youth. As a toddler, she was declared a bastard by her own father and during the reign of her older half-sister, the Catholic Mary, she had suppress her Protestantism to stay out of prison and/or avoid execution. When she succeeded Mary, she was 25 but, having had such a poor example of matrimony set for her or not wanting to have someone take over her kingdom, she opted never to marry earning the sobriquet of the Virgin Queen and ensuring that she would be the last of her dynasty. When she died, she was succeeded by her father's older sister's great-grandson, who also happened to the the son of her mortal enemy, Mary Queen of Scots, whom she had had executed for treason 16 years earlier. (Read my post about Elizabeth's relationships with her female relatives: Killing Queens)

By Fotograaf Onbekend / Anefo en)
via Wikimedia Commons
6. Margrethe II of Denmark (43 years and still going)
The current Queen of Denmark was born at a time when women could not accede to the Danish throne, so she was not even in the line of succession. The law was changed when she was 13. Since her father only had daughters, the old succession rules would have meant that her uncle would have taken the crown instead of her. As with her colleague across the sea, Margrethe has weathered her share of abdication rumors, but barring seriously poor health, I doubt she would step down. She appears to be going strong at 75 years old. (Read my Today's Princess post about Margrethe.) [UPDATE: As of January 2018, Margrethe II has now reigned more than 46 years. She is now in the #5 spot, having surpassed Elizabeth I in 2017.]

7. Maria Theresa of Austria (40 years)
Women were also banned from succession in 18th-century Austria. When Maria Theresa's father insisted that his daughter be declared his heir, others paid lip service. After her succession at age 28, they no longer held their tongues leading the War of Austrian Succession. She lost some of her territory and her husband was proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor in her stead, but she maintained her role as Empress of Austria. Later, however, her eldest son was named co-ruler with her. Maria Theresa was even more prolific; she had 16 children, including 11 daughters who bore the first name Maria. The youngest of these grew up to be Queen Marie Antoinette of France.

8. Joanna I of Naples (39.5 years)
Joanna's reign was marked by almost constant warfare among her family. She succeeded her grandfather on the throne after he chose her as heir over his younger sons. Since female monarchs were not considered appropriate in the 14th century, she spent the next four decades fighting her uncles and their descendants, making marriage choices for herself and her younger sister that she hoped (foolishly) would bring stability. They had seven husbands between them. As if she didn't have enough problems, she also got caught up in the dispute over which Pope was the real Pope. Despite four marriages, Joanna had no children of her own and was succeeded by a cousin who was also her sister's son-in-law. (Read my post about Joanna and her sister: The Problem with Maria)

9. Maria I of Portugal (39 years)
Like so many of our queens regnant, Maria had no brothers. She and all four of her sisters were named Maria Francisca plus a bunch of other names, but she was the only one to use just Maria as her name. She was given the title Princess of Beira at her birth, a title originally given to the eldest surviving daughter of Portuguese king (like Princess Royal in Britain and Madame Royal in France), but which is now used for the heir apparent no matter the gender. At 25, she married her uncle (a common practice among the Iberian royal families and the Habsburgs at that time) and had six children with him. Seventeen years later she succeeded her father and although her husband was styled as king, she held all of the authority as both Queen of Portugal and of Brazil. During the upheaval of the Napoleanic wars, the entire dynasty decamped to Brazil and for the next century, the Braganzas were split back and forth between the two continents. She is remembered both as Maria the Pious for her religious devotion and as Maria the Mad for her declining mental health. Due to her illness, her son served as her regent for the last eight years of her reign.

By Franz Xaver Winterhalter
via Wikimedia Commons

10. Isabella II of Spain (35 years)
Everyone knows Isabella I (wife of Ferdinand), but her 19th century namesake is less well-known outside of Spain. Despite four marriages (one to a cousin and two to his nieces), her father had no other children who survived infancy. At her mother's insistence, her father set aside Salic Law (which banned women from the throne) on his deathbed thereby disinheriting his brother. So, Isabella inherited the throne when she was not quite three and, like Maria Theresa above, her accession led to war. She married a double first cousin, who many thought was gay, and rumors about the legitimacy of her nine children abounded. Her reign was often politically troubled and she was finally deposed 35 years later, officially abdicating a couple of years after that. The first Spanish republic was formed, leading to a century of alternation between monarchy, republic, and dictatorship. She spent her exile in France, eventually leaving her husband. Had she remained on her throne until her death, she would be our record holder at 73 years.