Baby Kings: The Unusual History of Child Monarchs

Reading Time: 16 mins

Baby monarchs can be found in various civilizations across the globe, from ancient Egypt to medieval Europe and beyond. Often, these infant rulers inherited the throne due to the untimely death of their parents or other close relatives. In some cases, political intrigue and power struggles within the ruling elite also contributed to the rise of baby monarchs. 



Shah Shapur II (Sasanian Empire)

Shah Shapur II, also known as Shapur the Great, was a unique ruler in the history of the Sasanian Empire. Born in 309 AD, he was declared king even before his birth, making him one of the youngest monarchs in history. Shapur II's reign lasted for 70 years. Shapur II's story begins with the death of his father, Hormizd II, who left no clear heir to the throne. The nobles of the empire decided to crown the unborn child of one of Hormizd's wives, who was pregnant at the time. According to legend, the crown was placed on the mother's belly until Shapur II was born, symbolizing his status as king from the moment of his conception.

He is best known for his campaigns against the Roman Empire, which resulted in significant territorial gains, including the annexation of Armenia and parts of Mesopotamia. Shapur II also successfully defended the empire against invasions from Central Asian tribes, such as the Kushans and the Hephthalites. Shapur II's reign was marked by religious tolerance, as he allowed Christians and other religious minorities to practice their faith freely. He is also remembered for his contributions to art and architecture, including the construction of the impressive Arch of Ctesiphon, which still stands today.


Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, was born on December 8, 1542, in Linlithgow Palace, Scotland. She became queen at just six days old, following the death of her father, King James V of Scotland. Mary's early life was marked by political turmoil, as her mother, Mary of Guise, acted as regent during her minority. At the age of five, Mary was sent to France to be raised in the French royal court. In 1558, she married Francis, the Dauphin of France, who became King Francis II in 1559. Mary briefly held the title of Queen Consort of France, but her husband's untimely death in 1560 forced her to return to Scotland.

Mary's reign in Scotland was fraught with challenges, including religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In 1565, she married her cousin, Lord Darnley, but their turbulent relationship led to Darnley's murder in 1567. Mary was implicated in the crime, and she was subsequently forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, James VI. Mary sought refuge in England, but her presence posed a threat to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, due to her Catholic faith and potential claim to the English throne. After 19 years of imprisonment, Mary was executed on February 8, 1587, accused of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth.


Emperor Shang (China, Han dynasty)

Emperor Shang, born in 105 AD, was one of the youngest rulers in the history of China. He ascended to the throne at the tender age of 100 days, following the death of his father, Emperor He. As an infant ruler, Emperor Shang's reign was short-lived, and his mother, Empress Deng Sui, acted as regent during his time on the throne.

During Emperor Shang's brief rule, Empress Deng Sui managed the affairs of the Han Dynasty, focusing on maintaining stability and promoting economic growth. Despite her efforts, Emperor Shang's reign was marked by political intrigue and power struggles within the imperial court. In 106 AD, Emperor Shang passed away at the age of just one year, and his cousin, Emperor An, succeeded him as the ruler of the Han Dynasty.


Emperor Taishang (China, Ming dynasty)

Emperor Taishang, born in 1328, became the emperor of the Ming Dynasty at the age of six. His father, Emperor Hongwu, was the founder of the Ming Dynasty and had established a strong centralized government. As a young ruler, Emperor Taishang's reign was overseen by his mother, Empress Ma, and a group of trusted advisors. During Emperor Taishang's reign, the Ming Dynasty continued to consolidate its power and expand its territories. In 1333, at the age of nine, Emperor Taishang passed away, and his younger brother, Emperor Hongwu, succeeded him. 


Emperor Reizei (Japan)

Emperor Reizei, born in 950 AD, was a Japanese emperor during the Heian period. He ascended to the throne at the young age of 18, following the death of his father, Emperor Murakami. During Emperor Reizei's rule, the Fujiwara clan continued to strengthen their grip on power, with Fujiwara no Saneyori serving as the regent. Despite being the emperor, Reizei had little actual authority, as the Fujiwara clan made most of the political decisions. Emperor Reizei abdicated the throne in 967 AD, after just 11 years of rule, in favor of his younger brother, Emperor En'yū. He lived the remainder of his life as a Buddhist monk, passing away in 1011 AD.


Puyi: The Last Emperor of China

Puyi, also known as Henry Pu Yi, was born in 1906 and became the last emperor of China at the age of just two years old. During Puyi's early years on the throne, his father, Prince Chun, served as regent, while the powerful Empress Dowager Cixi maintained significant influence over the imperial court. In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and Puyi was forced to abdicate the throne in 1912, bringing an end to over 2,000 years of imperial rule in China.

Puyi's life took several twists and turns following his abdication. He briefly regained the throne in 1917, only to be removed again after just 12 days. In 1934, Puyi became the puppet emperor of the Japanese-controlled state of Manchukuo, ruling under the name Emperor Kangde. His reign in Manchukuo lasted until the end of World War II in 1945. After the war, Puyi was captured by Soviet forces and later handed over to the Chinese Communist government. He spent ten years in a reeducation camp before being released and eventually became a citizen of the People's Republic of China. Puyi passed away in 1967, marking the end of an era for the Chinese monarchy.


Henry VI: The Child King of England

Henry VI, born in 1421, became the King of England at the young age of nine months old, following the death of his father, King Henry V. As an infant ruler, Henry VI's reign was overseen by a group of regents, including his uncles, John, Duke of Bedford, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. During Henry VI's early years on the throne, England was embroiled in the Hundred Years' War with France. The regents continued to wage war on behalf of the young king, but their efforts were met with limited success. As Henry VI grew older, he struggled to assert his authority and maintain control over his kingdom.

Henry VI's reign was marked by political instability, including the rise of powerful noble factions and the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars between the rival houses of Lancaster and York. In 1461, Henry VI was deposed by Edward IV, the leader of the House of York. However, he briefly regained the throne in 1470, only to be deposed again the following year. Henry VI died in 1471, likely murdered while imprisoned in the Tower of London. 


Ivan VI: The Infant Emperor of Russia

Ivan VI, born in 1740, became the Emperor of Russia at the age of just two months old, following the death of his great-aunt, Empress Anna. As an infant ruler, Ivan VI's reign was overseen by his mother, Anna Leopoldovna, who served as regent, and a council of advisors. Ivan VI's time on the throne was short-lived, as political intrigue and power struggles plagued the Russian court. In 1741, just one year into his reign, Ivan VI was overthrown in a coup led by his cousin, Elizabeth, who seized the throne and became Empress of Russia.

Following his deposition, Ivan VI was imprisoned in various locations for the remainder of his life. He spent much of his time in isolation, and his mental health deteriorated as a result. In 1764, at the age of 23, Ivan VI was killed by his guards during an attempted rescue by a group of conspirators.


Alfonso XIII: The Posthumous King of Spain

Alfonso XIII, born in 1886, became the King of Spain immediately upon his birth, as his father, King Alfonso XII, had passed away several months earlier. As an infant ruler, Alfonso XIII's reign was overseen by his mother, Queen Maria Christina, who served as regent until he reached the age of 16. During Alfonso XIII's early years on the throne, Spain faced numerous challenges, including political instability, economic struggles, and the loss of its remaining overseas colonies. As he grew older, Alfonso XIII attempted to modernize the country and improve its international standing.

In 1931, after a series of political crises and the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic, Alfonso XIII went into exile. He never abdicated the throne, but he didn't return to Spain either. Alfonso XIII passed away in 1941, and his grandson, Juan Carlos I, would eventually become the king after the end of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in 1975.


Charles II: The Bewitched King of Spain

Charles II, born in 1661, was the last Habsburg ruler of Spain. He ascended to the throne at the age of four, following the death of his father, King Philip IV. Due to his young age and poor health, Charles II's reign was overseen by his mother, Queen Mariana of Austria, and a series of advisors.

Charles II's reign was marked by political and economic decline, as well as a series of wars and territorial losses. His physical and mental disabilities, likely the result of generations of inbreeding within the Habsburg family, earned him the nickname "The Bewitched." Charles II was unable to produce an heir, which led to the War of the Spanish Succession following his death in 1700.


Louis XIV: The Sun King of France

Louis XIV, born in 1638, became the King of France at the age of four, following the death of his father, King Louis XIII. As a young ruler, Louis XIV's reign was initially overseen by his mother, Queen Anne of Austria, and his chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin. When Louis XIV reached the age of 23, he took full control of the government and embarked on a mission to strengthen and expand his kingdom.

Louis XIV's reign, which lasted for 72 years, is known for its opulence and extravagance, as well as its centralization of power. He built the magnificent Palace of Versailles, which served as the center of French political and cultural life. Louis XIV's rule was marked by a series of wars, aimed at expanding French territory and influence throughout Europe. His aggressive foreign policy and heavy taxation to fund these wars, however, led to economic difficulties and growing discontent among the population.


Louis XV: The Well-Beloved King of France

Louis XV, born in 1710, ascended to the French throne at the age of five, following the death of his great-grandfather, Louis XIV. As a child ruler, Louis XV's reign was overseen by a regency council, led by his great-uncle, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. Louis XV began to rule independently at the age of 15, and his reign was marked by a series of highs and lows.

Louis XV initially enjoyed popularity and was known as "The Well-Beloved." He pursued policies of economic and administrative reform, as well as military successes in the War of the Austrian Succession. However, his later years were marred by a series of setbacks, including the Seven Years' War, which led to the loss of French territories in North America and India. His reign also saw growing discontent among the population, due to high taxation and the influence of his mistresses on political decisions.


James II: The Fiery King of Scotland

James II, born in 1430, became the King of Scotland at the age of six, following the death of his father, King James I. As a young ruler, James II's reign was initially overseen by a regency council, which was composed of various Scottish nobles. He began to rule independently at the age of 18, and his reign was marked by his efforts to strengthen the monarchy and consolidate power.

James II's rule was characterized by his attempts to reduce the influence of powerful Scottish nobles, such as the Douglas family. He earned the nickname "Fiery Face" due to a prominent birthmark on his face and his fiery temperament. James II's reign saw the expansion of the Scottish navy, as well as the construction of several castles and fortresses. His reign came to an abrupt end in 1460, when he was killed in an accident involving the explosion of a cannon during the Siege of Roxburgh Castle.


James V: The Renaissance King of Scotland

James V, born in 1512, ascended to the Scottish throne at the age of one, following the death of his father, King James IV. As a child ruler, James V's reign was overseen by a regency council, which included his mother, Margaret Tudor, and various Scottish nobles. He began to rule independently at the age of 16, and his reign was marked by his efforts to modernize Scotland and promote the arts.

James V's rule was characterized by his patronage of the arts and his interest in the Renaissance, which was sweeping across Europe at the time. He invested in education, architecture, and the development of a strong central government. James V also sought to maintain a balance of power between Scotland, England, and France, which led to a series of diplomatic and military engagements. His reign ended in 1542, following a military defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss, and he died shortly thereafter.


Ladislaus the Posthumous: The King of Hungary and Bohemia

Ladislaus the Posthumous, born in 1440, became the King of Hungary and Bohemia after the death of his father, King Albert II of Germany, who died before Ladislaus was born. As a posthumous child, Ladislaus faced a challenging and tumultuous reign from the very beginning. Ladislaus was crowned King of Hungary at the age of four months and King of Bohemia at the age of three years. His reign was overseen by regents, including his mother, Elisabeth of Luxembourg, and later, George of Poděbrady and John Hunyadi. 

During his reign, Ladislaus faced threats from the Ottoman Empire, as well as internal conflicts among the nobility. Despite these challenges, Ladislaus' rule saw some efforts to strengthen the kingdoms, such as the establishment of the University of Pressburg (now Bratislava) in Hungary. Ladislaus died suddenly at the age of 17, leaving a contested legacy and a power vacuum in both Hungary and Bohemia.


John I: The Posthumous King of France

John I, born in 1316, became the King of France immediately upon his birth, as his father, King Louis X, had died several months earlier. John I's reign was short-lived, as he died just five days after his birth, making him the youngest and shortest-reigning king in French history. Due to his extremely brief reign, John I's impact on French history was minimal. His death, however, led to a succession crisis, as his uncle, Philip V, claimed the throne despite the potential legitimacy of John I's posthumous sister, Joan II of Navarre. This crisis ultimately contributed to the Hundred Years' War between France and England.


Sobhuza II: The Long-Reigning King of Swaziland

Sobhuza II, born in 1899, became the King of Swaziland (now Eswatini) at the age of four months, following the death of his father, King Ngwane V. As a young ruler, Sobhuza II's reign was initially overseen by a regency council, led by his grandmother, Queen Labotsibeni, and his uncle, Prince Malunge. Sobhuza II began to rule independently in 1921, and his reign was marked by his efforts to modernize and maintain the independence of his kingdom.

Sobhuza II's reign was characterized by his diplomacy and negotiation skills, as he sought to preserve Swaziland's sovereignty during the colonial era. He worked closely with British authorities, eventually leading Swaziland to gain independence from Britain in 1968. Sobhuza II's rule also saw the development of infrastructure, education, and healthcare in the country. His reign lasted for an impressive 82 years, making him one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history. Sobhuza II passed away in 1982, leaving a lasting legacy as a modernizing and unifying force in Swaziland.


Afonso V: The African Explorer King of Portugal

Afonso V, born in 1432, became the King of Portugal at the age of six, following the death of his father, King Duarte I. As a child ruler, Afonso V's reign was overseen by a regency council, led by his mother, Queen Leonor, and later by his uncle, Prince Pedro. Afonso V began to rule independently at the age of 14, and his reign was marked by his interest in exploration and expansion.

Afonso V's rule was characterized by his support for Portuguese exploration and colonization efforts in Africa. He sponsored several expeditions to the African continent, earning him the nickname "The African." Afonso V's reign also saw military engagements, such as the conquest of Ceuta and the War of the Castilian Succession. However, his later years were marred by political and financial difficulties, leading to his abdication in 1477 in favor of his son, John II. Afonso V died in 1481, leaving a mixed legacy as a ruler who expanded Portugal's influence in Africa but faced challenges at home.


Sebastian: The Ill-Fated King of Portugal

Sebastian, born in 1554, became the King of Portugal at the age of three, following the death of his grandfather, King John III. As a child ruler, Sebastian's reign was overseen by a regency council, which included his grandmother, Queen Catherine, and later, his great-uncle, Cardinal Henry. Sebastian began to rule independently at the age of 14, and his reign was marked by his zeal for military conquests and religious fervor.

Sebastian's rule was characterized by his desire to launch a crusade against the Muslim kingdoms of North Africa. In 1578, he led a disastrous military campaign in Morocco, known as the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, where he was killed, and his army was defeated. Sebastian's death led to a succession crisis in Portugal, as he had no direct heirs, eventually resulting in the Iberian Union, where Portugal was ruled by the Spanish Habsburgs for 60 years.



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