The Different Physical Sizes Of Historical Rulers

How tall were leaders in the past? As in the 21st century, historical famous leaders' height varied considerably, as did definitions of how tall or short a person was. But whether big or small, all of these rulers cast a shadow that exceeded their physical height.

Physical shapes and sizes were often useful political tools for hereditary monarchs and elected officials alike to validate their authority. But though society has used sizes to celebrate or denigrate those in power, these features never impacted a leader's ability to rule. From an enormous medieval king who stood head and shoulders above his subjects, to a short president of Mexico who had giant influence, historical leaders prove that a person's physical appearance or size does not determine their skills.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte
    Photo: Paul Delaroche / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Height: 5'7"

    Although Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, is usually depicted as a short man whose modest size fueled his desire to conquer the world, he wasn't as short as everyone believes: at 5 feet, 7 inches tall, he was by no means small. 

    If Napoleon's height was average, why did everyone believe he was tiny? French measurements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were different from British ones, leading many on the other side of the English Channel to believe he was smaller than he actually was. Because Britain was locked in a conflict with Napoleon's France, British propagandists and caricaturists depicted him as small in order to mock him.

  • Benito Juárez
    Photo: José Escudero y Espronceda / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Height: 4'6"

    Benito Juárez served as the president of Mexico from 1861 to 1872. The child of indigenous parents, he rose to Mexico's highest office in an era that viewed native communities through a prejudiced lens.

    Juárez was also one of the shortest leaders on record to grace the world stage. He may have been short in stature, but his standing in Mexico remains gigantic - Juárez was a national hero.

  • Edward IV of England
    Photo: Simon François Ravenet / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Height: Almost 6'4"

    Edward IV was one of the tallest British kings on record. At more than 6 feet tall, he was a commanding presence. His reign began against the backdrop of military conflict: he seized the crown from Henry VI in 1461.

    Edward's physique helped his image as a warrior-king.

  • Queen Victoria
    Photo: Charles Knight / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Height: 5'0"

    The Empress of the British Empire may have claimed a towering position in the world - but she was a petite person. Queen Victoria stood at around 5 feet tall. 

    As a young woman, Victoria was also quite slender. The 18-year-old queen had a 22-inch waist.

  • Peter the Great
    Photo: Paul Delaroche / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Height: 6'7"

    Tall and imposing, Peter the Great was Russia's bear of a czar. His height would have been even more noticeable in the early modern world. Average heights for men and women in the 1600s and 1700s were shorter than their medieval and modern counterparts.

    Peter was so well known for his height that many contemporaries believed he stood more than 7 feet tall. 

  • Henry VIII of England
    Photo: Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Height: 6'2"

    Though remembered for his large waistline later in life - which was caused, in part, by inactivity and a rich diet following a jousting incident - Henry was also quite tall: he stood at more than 6 feet tall.

    While decked out in armor, however, Henry would have look even taller and more imposing. In one suit of armor, Henry's height increased to 6 feet, 4 inches tall. But such armor was heavy: one suit made for him in 1520 weighed around 94 pounds .