When you picture a royal monarch seated on the throne, you’re probably imagining some strapping royal hunk or bejeweled and beautiful lady seated neatly in a tall throne and wearing a golden crown, right? Would you ever picture a baby taking the throne? Probably not, but it's a thing that's certainly happened throughout history. In fact, some of the youngest people who became monarchs were less than a year old at the time of their ascension. Some were even crowned in utero, but that didn’t necessarily mean they could rule the moment they were born. Until they came of age, baby kings and queens were supported by a regent – someone who would legally rule until the minor monarch came of age – often comprised of mothers, uncles, aunts, or grandparents. Sometimes, these regents did well in keeping the kingdom afloat until the child could take control of the throne, other times, greed and power overtook their desire to rule.
So, were all young inheritors of the throne always successful? Sadly, no. However, there were notable monarchs – like Sobhuza II of Swaziland and Liu Zhao of China – who fared better, made strong impacts on their kingdoms, and often ruled for lengthy periods, leaving behind a strong country and many descendants. Others did what they could during their often short-lived rules.
They placed a crown on his mother’s pregnant belly to name their leader: Shah Shapur II of Persia. Despite the disasters that befell his elder brothers who were next in line – like murder and blinding – Shah Shapur II became a great king of the Persian Dynasty when he came of age. He raided enemy forces as retaliation, led an expedition through Britain to defeat strong Arab forces, and, after Constantine I died, he retook Armenia. He was known as a strong military leader, though a tyrant to Roman forces. When he died in 379 CE, he left his Persian country stronger than he inherited it, as well as still holding control of Armenia.
Age: Dec. at 70 (309-379)
Birthplace: Firuzabad, Fars, Iran
The Queen of Scots, Mary Stuart, was pronounced Queen at six days old in 1542 CE. Since she was too young to take the throne, several regents – including her mother, the French Mary of Guise – would rule in her stead until she reached adulthood. At the age of five, she was initially betrothed to her great uncle’s son, Prince Edward of England. However, Scotland didn’t approve of the betrothal, and Mary was kept hidden in safe houses to avoid being taken away and forced into the marriage, which is now known as “The Rough Wooing.” Instead, she was sent to France to be raised and educated, and she became betrothed to Prince Francis, the son of the French King Henry II and Catherine de Medicis. Eventually, Mary did become Queen of France for a brief period; however, her rule was short lived, lasting only two years.
Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, and, although the once Catholic country was now staunchly Protestant, Mary was able to rule and create an atmosphere of religious tolerance. She had six years of (mostly) peaceful rule before she was – for a number of complicated political reasons that included an injudicious marriage – imprisoned for 18 years for an assassination attempt on England's Queen Elizabeth I, for which she was eventually put to death.
Age: Dec. at 45 (1542-1587)
Birthplace: Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, United Kingdom
In 88 CE, at the tender age of nine, Liu Zhao – who would become Emperor Hedi, known as the “Harmonious Emperor” – became the fourth Emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. Given his age at the time of his ascension to power, Liu Zhao's grandmother and her brother, his great-uncle, controlled the Empire for much of his youth. It was under the direction of these two regents, in fact, that Emperor Hedi helped his people survive several natural disasters including droughts, reoccurring floods, and locusts. At the same time, Hedi, again with help from his elders, lessened taxes in order to alleviate the common people's stress. He also gave them permission to hunt on the his lands, and he opened government-only grain stores to give to the hungry people.
However, as he grew up, Emperor Hedi became resentful of his grandmother and great-uncle and had them removed (some say murdered) by his loyal courtier eunuchs. From there, following on his father’s original promise to the eunuchs, Hedi gave them land and hereditary titles, which they could pass onto adopted sons, thereby remaining a part of history despite their impotence. Regardless of the fact that he potentially had his own grandmother killed, Emperor Hedi is fondly remembered for all the good things that happened during his reign.
Age: Dec. at 20 (93 BC-73 BC)
In 1995 – upon the death of his father – King Oyo of Toro succeeded the throne at a mere three years old. Uganda is broken up into four historical kingdoms, Bunyoro, Buganda, Ankole, and Toro; King Oyo's ancestral territory is the last of these. After receiving the throne in his toddler years, Oyo's aunt, mother, and Princess Elizabeth Bagaaya (Ugandan President Museveni) all served as regents to help him rule until he came of age. As ruler, King Oyo has lobbied for donations to be used for social welfare and economic projects. He’s focused heavily on education, health, and culture. Moreover, as a young king, he’s received support and mentoring from other leaders. Plus, the people of his kingdom really like King Oyo, since he’s young and willing to do things and try strategies that older, more established Kings won’t.