The idea of hereditary rule may seem somewhat outdated today, but until recently it was the norm. Some of those monarchs were extremely popular amongst their subjects, while others less so – Edward VIII made himself fairly unpopular when he gave up his thrown to marry his mistress, while the present attention surrounding Richard III masks the fact that he was not always the most popular person with his subjects. And of course, many countries are still ruled by monarchs today, even if these are mostly ceremonial roles; it’s one of those reigning monarchs who comes in at number one when we are – who are history’s most popular monarchs?
1) Queen Elizabeth II (1952-present)
On the thrown since 1952, Queen Elizabeth II has steered the nation through occasional phases of republicanism to ensure that the royal family’s popularity has never been higher in modern times that it is today. There have been tough times, notably the annus horribilis of 1992, but the Queen’s stock has never been higher than it is today.
2) Augustus Caesar (16 January 27 BC — 19 August 14 BC)
Ok, not a monarch, but an Emperor – of Rome, no less. Under him, Rome’s infrastructure and its military were improved, while its taxation process was made more efficient and fair. Despite his military background, his later use of diplomacy helped to bring about the Pax Romana: Roman Peace. This only ended when he was assassinated and the conspirators fought among themselves.
3) Suleiman the Magnificent (reigned from 6 November 1494 — 7 September 1566)
Ruling for 69 years, he was the longest reigning of the Ottoman sultans. Under him, the empire reached its peak, conquering Belgrade, Rhodes, and most of Hungary, before being repelled at Vienna. Turning back east, he absorbed most of the Middle East and North Africa, controlled the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. He reformed the government, law, taxation, and education, defining the empire and Turkish culture for centuries. A patron of the arts and sciences, he is credited with bringing about the Ottoman Golden Age.
4) James I of England (24 March 1603 — 27 March 1625)
He was called the “wisest fool of Christendom” because according to contemporaries, he was clumsy, clownish, and spouted all sorts of nonsense. Despite this, he managed to write many books and poems, encouraging the flourishing of art and literature — the most notable being the King James Bible. He also managed to unite England and Scotland. Under him, the colonization of the Americas began, as did the country’s growth in international trade through the British East India Company.
5) Gustavus II Adolf of Sweden (30 October 1611 — 6 November 1632)
Regarded as a great military commander, he launched Sweden as a super power during the Thirty Years War. Under him, Sweden went from a middling kingdom to one second only to Spain and Russia. His tactics were so radical that historians call him the “father of modern warfare.” By successfully leading his Protestant army against Catholic Spain and France (the super powers of the day), he also balanced the religious landscape of Europe, ending Catholicism’s domination of the north.
6) John III Sobieski (2 February 1676 — 17 June 1696)
Another military genius, he was equally fluent in the sphere of politics. He acquired a Poland and Lithuania that had been devastated by the Turks, who were advancing onto the rest of Europe. He successfully repelled them at Vienna, essentially defining the borders between Christian Europe to the west and north, and the Islamic states to the east and south. The Turks called him the “Lion of Lechistan” after their defeat at Vienna, while the rest of Europe called him the “Savior of Christendom.”
7) Louis XIV of France (14 May 1643 — 1 September 1715)
The Sun King ruled his country for 72 years, making him the longest reigning monarch on record. Under him, France started to modernize, throwing off the yoke of feudalism and freeing many from servitude to the land. Though he spent lavishly, he also invested in the military, making France the super power of Europe. Under him, the arts and sciences flourished, making France the standard by which culture and other fine things were measured.
8) Frederick II of Prussia (31 May 1740 — 17 August 1786)
Frederick the Great ruled for 46 years, and many believe that German imperialism was born with him. His original love was philosophy, art, and literature, but his father would have none of it. To escape, Frederick ran away with his best friend, but was caught and forced to watch the other boy executed.
It changed him. Frederick reorganized the military and government, allowed commoners to acquire government posts, expanded his territory, and defeated great odds during the Seven Years’ War. After his battles, he settled down to become a patron of the arts and sciences, bringing the Enlightenment to Prussia. Unfortunately, he also became the rallying cry for Germany after their defeat in World War I and was glorified by the Nazis as their ideal.
9) Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (20 June 1837 — 22 January 1901)
She ruled for 67 years, making her the longest ruling British monarch, as well as the first to see her powers severely curtailed by parliament. Despite her popularity, she spent the latter half of her reign away from the public gaze mourning her dead husband. She oversaw England’s entry into the Industrial Revolution, the expansion of its territories, and herself as Empress of India.
10) Emperor Meiji the Great (3 February 1867 — 30 July 1912)
When he ascended to the throne at 14, Japan was isolated, primitive, feudal, and terrified of invasion. Realizing his country needed the West to avoid being colonized, Meiji embraced western values and opened the country to trade. By the end of his reign, Japan transformed itself into a modern, industrialized nation equal to those of Europe.