The Seven Youngest English Monarchs (at Accession)

4. King Ethelred II

Age at accession: 9 years, 9 months, 15 days

Reign: 978–1013 and 1014–1016

Ethelred became king when his older brother was murdered. This was at a time when the Saxon English were embroiled in an ongoing struggle with the Danes. This conflict dominated both times that Ethelred was king. Sweyn of Denmark had defeated the English in the field and took the throne for himself. The English reversed the fortunes the following year, and Ethelred was back on the throne, where he stayed until he died, not yet 50 years old. During Ethelred’s reign, England began paying the Danegeld, or “Dane payment,” a monetary tribute to Danish forces to forestall further attacks. Historians through the years have added a description to Ethelred’s name, calling him Ethelred the Unready. This is a corruption of the original Saxon, which was closer to “unadvised,” meaning that the king hadn’t received very good counsel from his advisers in the face of the fierce Danish attacks.

3. King Edward VI

Age at accession: 9 years, 3 months, 16 days

Reign: 1547–1553

Edward was the only legitimate son of King Henry VIII. Edward’s mother was Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. It was Katharine Parr, Henry’s last wife, however, who was a mother figure for Edward, who also grew up with two older half-sisters, the future Queen Mary I and the future Queen Elizabeth I. Edward was king in name only; his father had set up a regency arrangement with his brother-in-law, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset. In reality, Somerset, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, and the Duke of Northumberland (John Dudley) ruled the country, setting it firmly on a Protestant footing with the publication of an English Prayer Book and an Act of Uniformity to support the move. Sadly, Edward contracted tuberculosis and died when he was just 15. Just before he died, he approved a new order of succession, bypassing Henry’s oldest daughter, Mary, in favor of Northumberland’s daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. She was queen in name only for just nine days, until Edward VI was more properly succeeded by Mary I.

2. King Henry III

Age at accession: 9 years, 17 days

Reign: 1216–1272

The son of King John, Henry also enjoyed one of the longest reigns of any English monarch. Technically, he was on the throne for 56 years; however, he was solely in charge for less than half of that time. Henry’s reign was dominated by leadership from others, notably the Earl of Pembroke and Hubert de Burgh. The activism of Simon de Montfort and the formation of the first Parliament occurred during Henry’s time on the throne; in the aftermath of the Battle of Lewes, Henry himself was taken prisoner. In the latter part of his reign, Henry ceded most of the power to his son, who succeeded him as Edward I.

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David White