History is filled with emperors and rulers that enjoyed long, sometimes prosperous reigns. This list is not about them. Instead, we’re counting down the kings and queens whose rule was cut short long before they could do anything noteworthy for their kingdoms. In fact, other than the dubious distinction of being the shortest-lived rulers ever, most of them would have no major impact on the course of history.
10. Yuan Shikai – 83 Days
Yuan Shikai came into power in the last years of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, before it was overthrown by the popular Xinhai Revolution of 1911. By 1912, he had negotiated the position of the president with the revolutionaries, in exchange for the abdication of the last Qing emperor – a five-year-old child named Pu Yi. It’s a long story.
As president, Shikai attempted to pass reforms that gave him sweeping powers in the new republic, as the new parliamentary system severely weakened his hold on the government. In November 1915, he declared himself the new emperor of China, even floating his own new dynasty called Hongxian.
The power grab wasn’t received well by the various provinces across China, two of which rose up in open rebellion. Yuan Shikai was forced to give up the throne in March 1916, after reigning for less than three months.
9. Edward V – 78 Days
Edward V succeeded Edward IV as the King of England in April 1483, during one of the most tumultuous times in the country’s history. Now known as the Wars of the Roses, it was a bloody civil war between two royal factions – Lancaster and York – that lasted for over three decades. At the time of succession in April 1483, Edward V was merely 12 years old, making him one of the youngest monarchs in England’s history.
While the conflict would take many forms in the coming years, Edward V’s story would tragically end barely two and a half months after his succession. He was declared illegitimate by his protector and subsequent king of England, Richard III, in June 1483, and sent to the Tower of London, along with his younger brother. No one knows exactly what happened to them there, though it’s assumed that they were murdered on the order of the king.
8. Gordian I And II – 22 Days
Back in 238 AD, the Roman empire was ruled by Maximinus Thrax – a widely-hated monarch whose military campaigns and strict taxation policies were despised by almost everyone in the empire. In early April, the northern-African province called Africa Proconsularis rose up in revolt, electing its 80-year-old governor, Gordian I, and his son Gordian II as the new joint emperors of Rome.
The accession was formally supported by the Roman senate in early April, though that wouldn’t help much, as Gordian II was militarily defeated and killed by another Roman governor allied with Maximus. When he got to know about his son’s death, Gordian II committed suicide on May 12, ending the joint reign that lasted only 22 days.
7. Lady Jane Grey – 9 Days
Lady Jane Grey’s reign in England began more than six decades after the Wars of the Roses, which ended with the military victory of Henry VII and the rise of the Tudor dynasty. While she didn’t have the best claim to the throne – as she was only first cousin to King Edward VI after his death in 1553 – she was a Protestant. The Reformation was still ongoing across Europe, and Edward VI was instrumental in steering England towards Protestantism.
Lady Jane Grey was crowned on July 10, 1553, though sadly, her reign would end in tragedy almost as soon as it began. On July 19, nine days after her accession, the throne was seized by Edward VI’s sister, Mary, who had a better claim to the throne. As she was a staunch Catholic allied with the other Catholic factions of Europe, her reign is still remembered for mass persecution of Protestants across England. As for Lady Jane Grey, she was charged with treason against the crown in November and executed by beheading in February 1554.
6. Sayyid Khalid Bin Barghash Al-Busa’id – 3 Days
Sayyid Khalid Bin Barghash Al-Busaid was the grandson of the founding father of Zanzibar, Seyyid Said bin Sultan, who ruled over much of East Africa during the first half of the 19th century. By the time Khalid got the throne in August 1896, Zanzibar was functioning as a protectorate of the British empire.
Around 20 years old at the time, he was loved and supported by the populace, though not the British, who instead elected his pro-British cousin, Hamed bin Thuwein. The reign wouldn’t last, however, as he mysteriously died on August 25. Sensing an opportunity, Khalid declared himself Sultan on August 25.
Obviously, that wasn’t taken too well by the Brits, and a Royal Navy contingent was sent to resolve the situation, so to speak. On August 27, it began a massive bombardment of the palace and defending artillery batteries, killing around 500 Zanzibari soldiers in a matter of 45 minutes, before the garrison was forced to surrender. Khalid himself had to flee and find asylum at a German consulate – then a British rival in the region.
5. Dipendra – 3 Days
Born in 1971, Dipendra was the direct heir to the Nepalese throne through his father, King Birendra. On June 1, 2001, he was at the center of one of the most shocking royal feuds in history, when he entered the royal palace with an automatic rifle and shot down ten members of his family, before shooting himself with the same gun. He spent three days in a coma before his death on June 4.
No one knows the precise motives behind the massacre, though a family dispute related to his marriage might have played a role. In a weird turn of events, the state’s privy council moved to accede him to the throne while he was in the hospital, making him the king of Nepal for about three days.
4. Victoria Kamamalu – 1 Day
Victoria Kamamalu was the granddaughter of Kamehameha I – the founder and first king of the Kingdom of Hawaii – from her mother’s side. In the line of succession, Victoria was below a long list of people including uncles, cousins, and brothers. She was elected as the head of the King’s privy council and Queen regent – known as Kuhina Nui in the Hawaiian constitution – in 1855.
Victoria would accidentally come into power on Nov 30, 1863, after her brother – King Kamehameha IV – died unexpectedly without leaving a direct heir. As Kuhina Nui and head of the royal council, she proclaimed her brother, Lot Kamehameha, as the new king after only one day of ruling, making her one of the shortest-lived monarchs in history.
3. Modi – 1 Day
The Jin Dynasty was a short-lived imperial house during 12th and 13th-centuries China, ruling over large parts of northern China and led by the ethnically-Manchurian Jurchen people. It was a time of almost constant warfare in China, as the Jin empire faced threats on multiple fronts, like the powerful Song dynasty ruling in the south.
In 1232, they were invaded by a combined contingent of Mongol – led by Genghis Khan’s son Ogedei – and Song soldiers. While Emperor Aizong attempted to repel the invasion, his tiny force was no match. The capital Kaifeng was overrun and sacked in 1233, forcing Aizong and his remaining forces to flee to Caizhou.
When the Mongols surrounded the city, Aizong decided that the best course of action was giving up. On February 9, 1234, he passed the throne to his general – Wanyan Chenglin – and committed suicide to avoid capture. Now called Emperor Modi, the last Jin emperor was killed by Mongol soldiers before the day was up, earning him the unofficial title of the shortest-reigning emperor in Chinese history.
2. Mikhail Alexandrovich Romanov – 1 Day
On March 2, 1917, as the Russian Revolution was nearing its last phase, Tsar Nicholas II gave up his throne in favor of his brother, Mikhail Alexandrovich. It was a surprising – even if ultimately futile – decision, as he was expected to pass it to his son, Alexei. While state policy was clear on respecting the will of the abdication tsar, the events of the revolution had complicated the issue a bit, as most of the revolting factions were against the preservation of the monarchy in any form.
For about a day, Mikhail remained in power as the new tsar, before explicitly refusing the throne on March 3. It would matter little in the grand scheme of things, however, as he’d be the first of 18 Romanovs to be executed by the Bolsheviks in June 1918.
1. Louis XIX – 20 Minutes
Louis Antoine was the nephew of the last French king before the revolution, Louis XVI. Born in 1775, he’d grow up to witness the most brutal phase of the revolution, when almost the entire royal family was executed by the guillotine. A hardcore Royalist, he’d go on to lead counter-revolutionary forces during the post-revolution Vendee Uprising, along with fighting on the side of other European powers in the Napoleonic Wars.
When the French monarchy was restored in 1815, Louis’s father, Charles Phillippe, was elected as the new king. Unfortunately, at least for the monarchy, there was another revolution in 1830 – now called the July Revolution – triggered by conservative and royalist policies adopted by Charles’s government.
In the face of growing pressure and revolts in the capital, Charles abdicated the throne to his son, Louis, on August 2, 1830. Perhaps sensing that it wasn’t the best time to be a monarch in France, Louis further abdicated power to his nephew, Henry V, within 20 minutes of his father’s abdication.