7 Child Monarchs from History and How They Changed the World
When we think of a king or queen, more often than not we conjure an image of someone who is a little… advanced in years. But the truth is, not all monarchs have to wait as long as King Charles, who at 73 years old became the oldest person to accede to the British throne. Plenty of monarchs were crowned before they could even walk or talk. Amazingly, one before he was even born! Here’s a list of some of the youngest child monarchs to have ever been crowned, and what they did with their reigns.
1. Shah Shapur II: Youngest Monarch Crowned Before Birth
The award for youngest-ever child monarch should probably go to Shah Shapur II , emperor of the Sasanian Empire of Persia from 309 AD to 379 AD. He was the tenth Sasanian King to take the throne and also won the award for being the longest-reigning monarch in Iranian history. He ruled for an impressive 70 years.
Even more impressive is the fact he ruled for his entire life. From the moment he was born until the moment he died he was king. Why was he crowned so young? Well, that’s a messy story. Shapur’s father, Hormizd II, died in 309 AD. He was quickly succeeded by his son, Adur Narseh. Unfortunately for Narseh, he was pretty unpopular with the empire’s nobles, and they quickly assassinated him.
Hormizd’s second son was blinded when he tried to take the throne, and his third son was imprisoned and later fled to the Roman Empire. With royal blood quickly becoming thin on the ground, it was decided the royal throne would be reserved until Shapur was born.
Some legends state that Shapur was crowned while still in the womb, making him the only royal ever to have been crowned in utero. This story has been challenged over the years, with various historians pointing out that the Persians wouldn’t crown a baby without knowing its sex first.
Whether or not the story is true, Shapur’s legacy is still an impressive one - not only famed for being the youngest ever king, but fondly remembered for bringing in the Sasanian golden era and as being one of the most successful of all the Sasanian kings.
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The coronation of the infant Shapur II, illustration circa 1525 ( Public Domain )
2. Alfonso XIII, Last King of Spain, Had to Wait 16 Years
It could be argued that Alfonso XIII of Spain competes with Shapur II for the title of youngest-ever boy king. Much like Shapur, Alfonso’s father died not long before his birth, and it was decided that the throne would be reserved until Alfonso was born.
Alfonso XIII was born at the Royal Palace of Madrid on May 17, 1886, six months after the death of his father. The instant Alfonso left the womb, he became king. Supposedly as soon as he was born, he was carried on a silver tray (still in his birthday suit) to meet the Spanish prime minister at the time, Praxedes Mateo Sagasta.
Alfonso then had to wait until he was 16 before he could truly take power. Unfortunately, his reign wasn’t quite as illustrious as Shapur’s. Spain’s defeat during the 1921 Moroccan war was widely blamed on his intervention. Over time, his rule became increasingly unpopular. When the Socialist and Republican parties won the Spanish parliament in 1931, they quickly turned on him. Parliament demanded that Alfonso abdicate and abolish the monarchy. Instead, he refused to step down and simply fled the country, never to return. The monarchy was abolished in his absence.
King Alfonso XIII and his mother, Queen Regent Maria Cristina. Oil painting, 1898 ( Public Domain )
3. John I of France and Navarre: The Posthumous King
John I was born on November 15, 1316. Like the first two entries on this list, he was born king after his father, Louis X had died several months prior. John is the only French king to have had the title from birth, and the only one to have held the title his entire life.
This would be a great claim to fame, if it wasn’t for the act he was also France’s shortest-reigning king. Sadly, John I only lived for five days. As he only reigned for 5 days, there’s not much else to say about poor John.
His cause of death wasn’t recorded (medieval Europe had a tragically high child mortality rate ), but there were rumors of his being poisoned. Many people had a lot to gain from his death, not least his uncle Philip V of France, who took the throne, and it was widely believed that Louis X had also died under strange circumstances.
Tomb effigy of John I the posthumous, one of the youngest and shortest-lived monarchs (Phidelorme / CC BY SA 4.0 )
4. Mary, Queen of Scots: Crowned at 6 Days Old
It isn’t just kings who were crowned at early ages. Mary, Queen of Scots , is widely believed to have been the youngest ever queen. Unlike the previous entries on the list, she wasn’t crowned straight after her birth. Mary had to wait six whole days.
Mary was born on December 8, 1542 in Scotland to King James V and his French wife, Mary of Guise. Just six days after she was born, James died and Mary was declared Queen of Scotland. The cause of her father’s death isn’t known, but it is often attributed to either drinking dirty water or as a result of a nervous collapse after the Battle of Solway Moss, one of many battles between England and Scotland.
Obviously, Scotland couldn’t have a baby calling the shots, so a series of regents ran the country until Mary came of age. For most of this time, this was Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise who ruled in her stead.
In the meantime, Mary was shipped off to her mother’s homeland to receive a proper education. She returned at the age of 18, ready to take her rightful palace on the throne. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for her.
Mary married her half-cousin Henry Stuart, Lord of Darnley in 1561. This turned out to be a mistake. Darnley quickly grew bored of being king consort and demanded to be made co-sovereign, Mary’s equal. No one wanted this and so, Darnley's existence became increasingly problematic.
Mary held several meetings to discuss how to solve her “husband problem”. The problem fixed itself in 1567, when Darnley was assassinated. Many believed it was one of Mary’s political allies, Lord Bothwell , who did the deed.
The death of her husband was Mary’s undoing. She was kidnapped by Lord Bothwell on April 24, 1567. No one knows what happened between the two, but Mary married her husband’s suspected murderer a few weeks later on May 15th. She had believed it would be a politically popular marriage.
She was dead wrong. The marriage was so unpopular that it resulted in a Scottish rebellion that ultimately forced Mary to flee her country and into the arms of her English cousin, Queen Elizabeth I . Rather than protect her cousin, Elizabeth locked Mary up for the next 18 years. Ultimately, Mary was tied to a plot to take out Elizabeth and she was executed in 1587, aged 44. For poor Mary, it was all downhill after day 6.
Mary, Queen of Scots, became one of the youngest child monarchs, and perhaps the youngest queen, when she was crowned at six days old. Painting by Benjamin Haydon ( Public Domain )
5. King Sobhuza II: The Longest Reigning King
John I and Shapur may have ruled their entire lives, but they have nothing on the reign of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland. Sobhuza has had the longest reign of any monarch in history, starting from when he was one year old until his death at the age of 83.
Ingwenyama Sobhuza was born in 1899 in Zombodze. When his father, Ngwane V, died later that same year, Sobhuza was crowned king. Much like other entries on this list, Sobhuza had to wait a while before he could actually begin calling the shots.
While he was enjoying his schooling, Sobhuza’s grandmother, Labotsibeni Mdluli, acted as regent. Sobhuza took power, becoming the paramount chief of the Swazi at the age of 22 in 1921. Sobhuza proved to be a capable king and a true patriot.
It was under this rule that Swaziland finally gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1968. After this, the British government recognized him as King of Swaziland (Eswatini). What followed was a period of drastic change. In 1973, Sobhuza repealed his country's constitution, dissolved parliament, and made himself an absolute ruler.
He used his new powers to revert his country's governance to a tribal mode of rule. There was an electoral college of eighty members who were chosen by forty local councils called tinkhundla. Under this new form of rule, the Swazi economy saw a massive boom. Swaziland is rich in natural resources and during his reign, Sobhuza clawed back his country's mineral wealth from its foreign owners.
Sobhuza II, King of Eswaitini and Paramount Chief of the Swazi, was not only one of the youngest monarchs, but also the longest-reigning. As photographed in 1945 ( Public Domain )
6. Pope Benedict IX: The Youngest Pope
Many people just think of the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church, but he is also technically an absolute monarch. The Vatican is a country, and the Pope is its supreme judge, legislator, and executive.
We tend to think of popes as being old men with tall, pointy hats, but this hasn't always been the case. Pope Benedict IX became pope in 1032 AD at the age of 12 years old, making him the youngest pope ever and remarkably young for a monarch in general.
Back then, the pope wasn’t just a religious leader, he was the monarch of a land called the Papal States. How did Benedict IX become the pope at such a young age? Through saintly good behavior? Of course not, it was through bribery.
Benedict was the son of Count Alberic III of Tusculum and was closely related to several previous popes. In particular, he was the nephew of Benedict VIII and John XIX, as well as the grandnephew of John XII. Benedict became pope when his father bribed the Romans.
It is safe to say Benedict was an unpopular choice. While there is little hard evidence remaining, Benedict was accused of all kinds of shocking behavior. In particular, he was accused of unspeakable acts of violence, rape, and murder. He was even described as a “demon from hell” and a “disgrace to Peter’s chair”.
This unpopularity led to an unsuccessful attempt on his life, which forced him to flee his city and be replaced by Sylvester III in 1044. This didn't last long, and Benedict returned in 1045 with an army. He soon retook his seat and resumed his papacy. He then essentially sold his papacy later that same year to his godfather, Gregory VI.
Amazingly, he then changed his mind, raising another army and retaking the papacy he had just sold in 1047. This makes Benedict not just the only pope to have had more than one papacy, but also the only pope to have had three! His ultimate fate is unknown to this day.
Pope Benedict IX was one of the youngest monarchs, as well as one of the youngest popes. The illustration is from The Lives and Times of the Popes, 1842. ( Public Domain )
7. Tutankhamun: Ancient Egypt’s Boy King
No list of the youngest monarchs would be complete without mention of King Tutankhamun , the boy king. The 11th pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt, it is believed Tutankhamun came to power at the age of 9 in the 14th century BC and ruled for 10 years.
While ten years may not sound long, his reign is recognized as a significant period of positive change in ancient Egypt. Of these changes, the most important was probably his reversal of the reforms brought in by his unpopular father, the ‘heretic king’, Akhenaten .
Akhenaten had made sweeping changes to Egyptian society by making his god, Aten, Egypt's primary god, and placing himself at the center of worship. Tutankhamun swiftly reinstated the old gods to their former glory and restored Thebes as Egypt’s capital.
King Tut died mysteriously around the age of 19. No one is sure how he died, but it is believed it happened after he went to battle or in a chariot accident.
Today, King Tut is remembered less for what he did during his reign and more for his contribution to archaeology. Over 3,200 years after his death, the British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered King Tut’s final resting place in the Valley of the Kings.
It turned out to be one of the best-preserved Egyptian burial sites ever discovered and a historical gold mine. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb has shaped our understanding of ancient Egypt and its customs.
A painted, wooden figure of King Tutankhamun found in his royal tomb. ( Public Domain )
Consider the stereotype that all monarchs are stuffy old men and women broken. Throughout history, there have been many monarchs who were crowned at tender ages. Some went on to have hugely successful reigns, during which their countries prospered.
Others weren’t quite so successful. Some died before they ever had a chance to make a change, and some were just outright disasters. When we look at what a mess of the world adult leaders have made over the years, maybe we shouldn’t judge the youngest child monarchs too harshly.
Top Image: Many child monarchs were commanding empires before they could walk or talk! Source: liyasov / Adobe Stock
By Robbie Mitchell
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