Holding significant power at a young age, child monarchs have often helped shaped the destiny of their realms.
From King Tutankhamun of ancient Egypt to King Louis XIV of France, these young rulers faced unique challenges and opportunities. Some encountered political turbulence and were caught in power struggles, whilst others displayed remarkable leadership and implemented transformative reforms. These different experiences highlight the complexities and responsibilities that come with holding power at such a tender age.
Here we look at 8 child monarchs who had varying degrees of impact, but who each left a lasting legacy through their actions and the changes they implemented.
King Tutankhamun, Ancient Egypt (r. 1332-1323 BC)
Perhaps the most famous child monarch in the world, King Tutankhamun, also known as the ‘Boy King’, became the 13th Pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty aged 9, following the death of his unpopular father, Akhenaton. Due to his young age, he had powerful advisers around him to help him rule, including General Horemheb and Grand Vizier Ay.
Tutankhamun reversed many of his father’s decisions, notably conducting religious restoration (allowing people to worship the old gods again, and repairing damaged temples), and moving the Egyptian capital back to Thebes.
Tutankhamun reigned for roughly 9-10 years, and died around the age of 18-19, possibly from malaria. He was buried in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and succeeded by his vizier, Ay. Although his reign was short-lived, his tomb, discovered in 1922 by Egyptologist Howard Carter, provided valuable insights into ancient Egyptian culture and history.
Henry VI, England (r. 1422-1461 and 1470-1471)
Henry VI had a tumultuous reign marked by political instability and conflict. Ascending to the throne as an infant (aged 9 months), he inherited a united kingdom at the peak of its power on the European mainland. Yet over the course of his reign he witnessed the decline of his domain into vicious baronial infighting: the start of the power struggle between the rival houses of Lancaster and York, known as the Wars of the Roses.
Henry VI was the only English king to be also crowned King of France, due to the Treaty of Troyes. Known for his pious nature and lack of political acumen, Henry VI was susceptible to manipulation. Although he was interested in public affairs and had a desire to attempt to reconcile his warring subordinates, his inability to prevent powerful individuals influencing him – each with their own agendas – caused him to make poor decisions that helped plunge his kingdom into anarchy.
However, despite his weaknesses as a ruler (the last Lancastrian monarch), his reign had a profound impact on the future of England and the dynastic struggles that shaped its history.
Mary, Queen of Scots, Scotland (r. 1542-1567)
Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland aged just 6 days old after the death of her father, James V, though the kingdom was initially ruled by regents (including by her mother), while Mary spent most of her childhood in France.
Aged 6, Mary was betrothed to Francis, heir to the French crown. They married in 1558 but Francis died in 1560, a year after becoming king, thus Mary returned to Scotland, and assumed the throne aged 18. Her reign was marked by political and religious turmoil.
Mary later married Lord Darnley, a Catholic, yet after his murder, went on to marry the Earl of Bothwell – the man suspected of murdering Darnley. Scottish nobles turned against Mary and she was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James in 1567.
Mary fled to England to seek help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, yet, seeing her as a threat to the throne, Elizabeth kept Mary under house arrest at a variety of properties for the next 19 years. After being implicated in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, Mary was executed in 1587, aged 44.
Louis XIV, France (r. 1643-1715)
Louis XIV, also known as the ‘Sun King’, became the King of France aged 4 after the death of his father, and went on to become one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history, reigning for 72 years. Renowned for his absolute monarchy and his grandiose style (epitomised by the opulent Palace of Versailles), Louis XIV centralised power, expanded French territory, and fostered the arts and sciences.
Fuelled by growing discontent and inequality, the French Revolution led to the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. However, monarchy and revolutionary forces continued to clash, and Louis XVI’s attempts to flee the country in 1791 further eroded his already fragile support. Eventually France declared itself a republic and Louis XVI was put on trial for treason and executed by guillotine, marking the end of 1,000 years of continuous French monarchy and start of the ‘Reign of Terror’.
His reign left a lasting impact on the France, shaping its political, cultural, and architectural landscape, and establishing it as a dominant European power during the 17th century.
Peter the Great, Russia (r. 1682-1725)
Peter the Great became the Tsar of Russia aged 10. He was a visionary monarch, and during his reign, he implemented a series of reforms aimed at modernising Russia, including cultural, educational, and military changes that helped transform and Westernise the country into a major modern European power.
Along with introducing Western fashion and customs, Peter also expanded Russian territory – establishing a new capital (Saint Petersburg) – and strengthened Russia’s naval power. Peter’s reforms laid the foundation for Russia’s future development, positioning it as a significant global player.
Queen Victoria, UK (r. 1837-1901)
When she was born, Victoria was fifth in line to the throne, yet after various heirs died, Victoria ascended the throne aged 18 upon the death of her uncle, William IV. Her reign was a transformative period in British history. Known as the Victorian era, it witnessed significant advancements in industrialisation and scientific and technological progress, as well as changes in various aspects of society.
Victoria’s reign coincided with the Industrial Revolution, resulting in tremendous economic growth and urbanisation. The British Empire also expanded greatly under her rule, becoming the largest empire in history. Victoria’s longevity on the throne, along with her conservative values and personal influence, shaped the political, social, and cultural landscape of the era.
Alfonso XIII, Spain (r. 1886-1931)
King Alfonso XII died 6 months prior to his heir being born, thus King Alfonso XIII of Spain reigned from his birth in 1886 until the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. Whilst his mother ruled as regent while he gained his education Alfonso’s coronation took place when he was aged 16 in 1902 amid much political turmoil, with the teenage king dealing with 8 prime ministers in 4 years.
His reign was also marked by social unrest and economic challenges. Alfonso XIII faced multiple crises, including the loss of Spain’s colonies, military uprisings, and political corruption scandals. Alfonso played a limited role in governing, with power often shifting between various political factions. The monarchy’s power and influence continued to diminish during his rule, and Alfonso was forced to set up a military dictatorship. This ultimately led to his own exile, rebellions, the Spanish Civil War, and the reign of General Franco.
Despite the challenges, Alfonso XIII’s reign witnessed advancements in infrastructure, industry, and culture, leaving a mixed legacy.
Pu Yi, the Last Emperor of China (r. 1908-1912, 1917-1924)
Pu Yi became the Emperor of China aged 2 in 1908. His reign marked the end of the Qing dynasty and the beginning of a turbulent period in Chinese history when, just 3 years later, revolution overthrew the imperial system and established the Republic of China.
Pu Yi was allowed to continue his luxurious lifestyle in Beijing’s Forbidden City, but was eventually expelled and fled to Japan. He was later briefly restored as a puppet emperor by the Japanese during their occupation of Manchuria, then captured by Russians at the end of World War Two. After being kept in Siberia for 5 years, he was returned to China and thrown in prison as a war criminal.
Nearly a decade later, Pu Yi was pardoned, living the rest of his life as a gardener until his death from cancer in 1967.