Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Queen Elizabeth is the 3rd longest reigning monarch; The problem with definitions

 A few days ago Queen Elizabeth passed Johann II of Liechtenstein to be the third longest reigning monarch (see here). 

A summary of the top 4:

4) Johann II, Liechtenstein ruled from Nov 12 1858 until his death on Feb 11, 1929. When he became King he was 18. He was king for 70 years, 91 days. 

3) Queen Elizabeth II (thats a two, not an eleven) ruled from Feb 2, 1952 until now. When she became Queen she was  25. I am writing this on May 10 at which time she ruled 70 years, 94 days. 

2) Bhumibol Adulyadej (Thailand) ruled from June 9, 1946 until Oct 13, 2016. When he became King he was 19. He was king for 70 years, 126 days. 

1) Louis XIV ruled from May 14, 1643 until Sept 1, 1715. When he became King he was 4 years and 8 months. He was king for 72 years, 110 days. 

Johann, Elizabeth, and Bhumibol started their reigns a bit young (they would have to to have ruled so long) but their first day of their reign they knew what the job was, what they are supposed to do etc. 

Here is my complaint: Louis XIV being king at the age of 4 years 8 months should not count (someone who proofread this post wondered if 4 years 9 months would count. No.) Shouldn't we define the reign of a king as the point at which he can make real decisions as king? Or something like that. 

For the record of the longest marriage there is a similar problem. The three longest marriages are legit in that the people got married at a reasonable age (I think all were married after they were 17). The fourth longest marriage of all time involved two people that were married when they were 5. That should not count (see here).

Is there a way to define monarch's reigns and also marriage length so that it corresponds to our intuitions? 

In Math we can use rigorous definitions but in English its harder. 


  1. Until Louis XIV turned 13 his mother ruled the country as regent, which was a formal position, so it's reasonably easy to draw a line here. It might be harder with a monarchy where the equivalent of a regency for a child monarch was informal, though.

  2. If this article was proofread, how does it still say Elizabeth II reigned from June 9, 1946? I believe our monarch then was still her father King George VI.

  3. On this theory shouldn't you disqualify Elizabeth II as a monarch entierly given she has no monarchical power? I wouldn't be surprised if Louis XIV had more legal (and, indeed, actual) authority at 4 years old than Elizabeth does today. Sure, he couldn't send the country to war or anything but if he demanded someone give him some piece of property they owned did they feel obliged? Would people get punished for disrespecting or criticizing him?

    1. This is a very pertinent observation!
      No one's going to be bothering a figurehead monarch; so those guys can typically lead an untroubled life.
      Lives of monarchs with real power are fraught with danger; either they lead wars or are in jeopardy of assassination.
      Tons of leaders with legal authority have been assassinated (Caesar, Franz Ferdinand, Lincoln etc) but perhaps very few of the figurehead ones.

  4. You raise another interesting question. The Monarchy has changed so much that perhaps there should be diff categories: Those that actually had power and those that didn't. Perhaps there should be a different name for what Queen Elizabeth and similar people. figurehead-monarchs is accurate but to long. And of course you will have the problem of determinng WHICH monarchs are in which categories as there are intermediary levels of power.

  5. For the purposes of tracking official record-holders (which is arguably a somewhat silly enterprise anyway), I think it makes sense to use official records, rather than some fuzzy intuition about what the quantity in question "should" be. If we adopt your suggestion, then should the beginning of a marriage be measured according to when the partners "thought of themselves as married" (which could conceivably begin before the official wedding date and end before the marriage formally ends)? Similarly, when tabulating the oldest people, do you really want to step into the minefield of marking the start of their lives from the moment of "fetal viability" (which could change as medical technology changes)? The only way to have a chance of having verifiable record holders is to base them on verifiable records rather than on unobservable states.

    1. I agree that saying who is REALLY a monarch and who is REALLY married would be hard and people may disagree. I looked over the list of monarchs who had long reigns to see who was `really a monarch' and its hard to tell. Hirohito was a monarch before WW II but not after. Even so, if the Japanese want to call him `emperor' its not my place to disagree.

      Having said that, a 4-year old monarch doesn't seem quite like a monarch, and 5-years olds getting married doesn't seem quite like a marriage. I do not seriously recommend trying to change the definitions to fit mine (and most people's) intuitions.

      Here is hoping that Queen Elizabeth lives long enough to claim the top spot, so it will be in the hands of someone who is clearly legit.