The 10 Oldest Monarchs in British History | History Hit

The 10 Oldest Monarchs in British History

Amy Irvine

05 Jun 2023
King William IV, painted in 1833 by Martin Archer Shee
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Royal Collection object 404385 / Public Domain

Whilst many monarchs throughout history are famed for ascending the throne when very young (from Tutankhamun to Queen Victoria), many ascended at a later age, bringing with them a wealth of experience and a unique perspective.

Upon his mother Queen Elizabeth II’s death on 8 September 2022, King Charles III became the oldest person to accede to the British throne (at age 73), having also been the longest-serving heir apparent and Prince of Wales in British history. Charles III was 48 years older than his mother was when he officially ascended the throne, and nearly 10 years older than the previous record holder, King William IV. 

Here we take a look at 10 of Britain’s oldest monarchs, based on the age they took the throne. (It’s worth noting that up until 2011, the crown passed to the eldest son of the deceased monarch, meaning there have been many more kings than queens in British history. The oldest queen to ascend the throne was Queen Mary I, who ascended in 1553 aged 37.)

King Charles III: ascended 2023, aged 73

Charles III was born at Buckingham Palace on 14 November 1948, and became heir apparent aged 3 when his mother, Elizabeth II, acceded to the throne in 1952. He was educated at Cheam and Gordonstoun schools and later attended the University of Cambridge. After serving in the Royal Air Force and Navy for 5 years, he married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and they had two sons, Princes William and Harry. They divorced in 1996, and Charles married his long-term partner, Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

As heir apparent, Charles undertook official duties and founded The Prince’s Trust, sponsored The Prince’s Charities, and was involved with over 800 other charities and organisations. He famously supports organic farming, the prevention of climate change, and architectural conservation, and has authored and co-authored multiple books.

King Charles III following the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, 19 September 2022

Image Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

King William IV: ascended 1830, aged 64

King William IV was born on 21 August 1765, and was monarch from 1830-1837. His reign was marked by political and social reforms, and was dominated by the Reform crisis, leading to the passing of the Reform Act of 1832 (which expanded voting rights and greatly increased the role of public opinion in the political process). He also supported the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

Despite his limited time on the throne, King William IV played a significant role in advancing social and political progress in Britain. He died on 20 June 1837, only a month after his niece, the future Queen Victoria, had come of age, thus avoiding another regency.

King Edward VII: ascended 1901, aged 59

Born 9 November 1841, King Edward VII was the eldest son and second child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Named after his father, he was known to his family and close friends as Bertie. During his mother’s reign, he undertook public duties but was excluded by his mother from acting as her deputy until 1898, due to worries over his high society lifestyle.

Known for his affable nature and diplomatic skills, Edward VII played a vital role in fostering international relations and strengthening alliances. He helped navigate various political complexities, and – fluent in French and German – made visits abroad that helped facilitate the Anglo-French entente cordiale, which aimed to secure peace in Europe. He was related to nearly every Continental sovereign and became known as the ‘Uncle of Europe’.

Edward VII played an active role in encouraging military and naval reforms, was a patron of the arts, and embraced the luxurious Edwardian era lifestyle. Despite his short reign (1901-1910), Edward VII was a popular and influential monarch.

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King George IV: ascended 1820, aged 57

King George IV was born on 12 August 1762, and reigned as both King of the UK and Hanover from 1820-1830. Known for his extravagant lifestyle and opulent taste, George IV played a significant role in shaping the British Regency period. He was a patron of the arts, commissioning grand architectural projects such as the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and transforming Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

During his reign, George notably undertook royal visits – including to Ireland and Hanover in 1821 (which hadn’t been visited by its ruler since the 1750s), and to Scotland in 1822, not visited by the monarch since Charles II’s Scottish Coronation in 1651.

However, his reign was also marred by personal and political scandals, including his tumultuous relationship with his estranged wife, Queen Caroline. Despite his mixed reputation (due to his extravagance and marriage difficulties), George IV left a lasting cultural and architectural impact. His fondness for pageantry also helped develop the monarchy’s ceremonial side.

King George I: ascended 1714, aged 54

Born 28 May 1660, King George I was the first monarch of the House of Hanover and reigned as the King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714-1727. George I was initially a German prince and ascended to the British throne after the Act of Settlement established the Protestant succession. His reign was characterised by a transition from the Stuart dynasty to the Hanoverian dynasty.

Although George I faced some opposition and political challenges, his reign brought stability to Britain and marked the beginning of a new era, laying the foundation for the Hanoverian line of monarchs and playing a role in shaping Britain’s constitutional monarchy.

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King James II: ascended 1685, aged 51

King James II was born on 14 October 1633, and reigned as the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1685 until his deposition in 1688. A controversial figure due to his Catholic faith in a predominantly Protestant nation, his attempts to promote Catholicism and assert absolute rule led to political and religious tensions.

The birth of his Catholic heir, James Francis Edward Stuart, further intensified the opposition against him, and in 1688, he was overthrown in the ‘Glorious Revolution‘, which brought William of Orange to power. James II’s reign marked a significant shift in British history towards constitutional monarchy and religious toleration.

King Harold II: ascended 1066, aged 45

King Harold II, also known as Harold Godwinson, was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. He was born around 1020, and reigned for a brief period from 6 January to 14 October 1066, following the death of his predecessor, Edward the Confessor.

His reign was marked by significant challenges, including defending his kingdom against external threats. One of the most pivotal events of his reign was the Battle of Hastings, where he faced William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. Harold was defeated, and his death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England and the start of Norman domination.

One of the most decisive scenes portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry as then King of England, Harold Godwinson is slain at the Battle of Hastings (1066), circa 1070.

Image Credit: Myrabella

King George V: ascended 1910, aged 44

Born on 3 June 1865, King George V was King of the UK and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 until his death in 1936. He played a pivotal role in the monarchy during a time of significant global changes, including World War One and the dissolution of empires. He successfully navigated the challenges of the war, providing stability and leadership.

George V was known for his efforts to connect with the common people, promoting social welfare and the welfare of the working class. His reign witnessed the transition to a more modern and democratic Britain.

King George II: ascended 1727, aged 43

Born on 30 October 1683, King George II was the last British monarch to have been born outside of Great Britain.

George II faced significant political and military challenges during his reign, including conflicts such as the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. Despite his limited influence on policy decisions, George played a vital role in stabilising the monarchy and promoting the Hanoverian dynasty.

His reign also witnessed advancements in the arts, literature, and the expansion of the British Empire.

King Edward VIII: ascended 1936, aged 41

Born on 23 June 1894, King Edward VIII‘s reign was one of the shortest in British history, lasting from 20 January to 11 December 1936, when his decision to abdicate the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée, caused a constitutional crisis. This unprecedented event shook the monarchy and led to his younger brother, King George VI, assuming the throne.

Amy Irvine