Tragic Tales of History’s Seven Shortest Reigning Rulers: Lady Jane Grey, Empress Yuan, Tsar Michael II, and others

Fareeha Arshad

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The Execution of Lady Jane GreyWikimedia Commons

The period when rulers could come in power either by descent or by influence was a dangerous yet dramatic time to be alive. History bears testimony to the rulers who survived only to bring great developments into their kingdoms: some built empires and dynasties, while others left no place on the earth undevoured. Yet, there were a few unfortunate rulers who were killed because of an inevitable conspiracy — with no luck at all from their side.

History also reveals a handful of rulers who, in their short tenure, left nothing but tragedies of their short lives.

1. Empress Yuan, who ruled for less than five hours

The only child of Emperor Xiaoming, Empress Yuan, ruled China for a few hours in 528 AD. After poisoning her own son, Empress Dowager Hu brought her fifty-days-old granddaughter to power. Empress Yuan was nothing but a baby puppet on strings for her grandmother, who declared to the world that Yuan was not an Empress but an ‘Emperor’ and hence (s)he deserved the throne.

However, because a baby could not rule the country, Hu replaced Yuan with a three-year-old child, Yuan Zhao, whom she could still control. This series of indecisiveness and ridiculous events caused the nation to revolt against Hu. The Empress, along with the new Emperor, was dragged out of the castle and cast into the Yellow River — where they drowned.

Regardless of what happened to her grandmother, Empress Yuan was never heard of again.

2. Tsar Michael II, who ruled for sixteen hours

On the 15th of March 1917, Michael II woke up to find himself titled Tsar — after his brother had renounced to the throne. As much as anybody else would have loved waking up to this dream, it wasn't something Michael was happy to look forward to — especially not when the Russian Revolution was in full swing. Knowing that his rule wouldn’t last long, he followed his brother’s footsteps and gave up the throne within sixteen hours of being appointed as the Tsar.

Michael made it clear that he would come back to power only if universal suffrage elected him. Michael then moved back to his villa wanting to live a normal and happy life. However, the odds were not in his favour. After giving up the throne, he was arrested and taken under a year-long house arrest until, on 12th June 1918, Michael was shot in cold blood by a secret police agent, Gavril Myasnikov.

3. Minshinzaw, who ruled for eighteen hours

In the year 1152, Minshinzaw, the royal heir of Pagan (now Myanmar) married a foreign woman. When the King heard this news, he cast his own son out of his kingdom. Minshinzaw then settled on unoccupied land and created a small kingdom of his own. He developed canals and dams that increased the land’s harvest and focussed on the kingdom’s education system. Within a decade, Minshinzaw had created a very prosperous kingdom from scratch.

After fifteen years of Minshinzaw’s exile, the Pagan ruler passed away. In order to take care of the legacy his father had left behind, Minshinzaw returned to his land where his younger brother, Narathu, had already set his eyes on their deceased father’s kingdom. He was ready to go to any lengths to take its reigns. It was, in fact, Narathu who had suffocated their father in his sleep and didn't hesitate to repeat the act on his oblivious brother. Needless to say, Minshinzaw didn't even make it through his first night as the newly appointed ruler. He died in his sleep.

4. King John I, who ruled for five days

Also called John the Posthumous, John I was born to Louis X of France, five months after his death. In order to keep the succession line unadulterated, the French rulers waited until John was born. Immediately after his birth on 15th November 1316, John was appointed as the sovereign ruler of France. He was the only French ruler who was unrivalled throughout his life — yet ruled only for five days after which he passed away.

After his death, many conspiracy theories came forward on his mysterious death, most of which revolved around his possible murder or his replacement by a commoner. However, there was never solid proof for any of the theories. He was succeeded by his uncle, Philip V.

5. King Thong Lan, who ruled for seven days

Boromrachathirat I, the ruler of Ayutthaya, an ancient kingdom in Thailand, got sick. He passed away during the preparation for battle. When the news of the King’s death reached the fifteen-year-old heir, Thong Lan, he was forced to take his father’s place.

Not much later, the local ally ruler, Ramesuan heard of the young ruler. He gathered his army and headed towards Ayutthaya. When he reached the palace, he dragged Lan forcefully out of the palace to a Buddhist temple and wrapped him in a velvet sack. The innocent Lan was beaten to death by his deceased father’s friend within seven days after he had unwillingly come into power.

6. Lady Jane Grey, who ruled for nine days

Lady Jane Grey is always remembered in British History as the monarch with the shortest reign. She was the eldest daughter of the Duke of Suffolk, Henry Grey, and the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Despite being fifth in the line of succession, she was given a personal preference because of her standing as a Protestant. Though Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter and Edward’s half-sister, was next in line for the throne, she was not favoured due to being a devout Catholic.

On the 6th of July 1553, after King Edward passed away, Lady Jane became the Queen of England, at the age of sixteen, with her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, by her side. However, within a week’s time, the country revolted against this decision and demanded the true and direct royal ruler to come into power. Lady Jane and her husband were arrested in the Tower of London and were beheaded on the 12th of February 1554.

7. Gordian I and Gordian II, who ruled for twenty-one days

Rome witnessed the rise of six emperors in the year 238 AD — of which five fell. Despite the brief periods during which each emperor ruled, none was shorter than the reign of the father-son duo, Gordian I and Gordian II.

The eighty-year-old Gordian I was a doting father who refused to do anything without his beloved son — even if that meant ruling ancient Rome. He was unaware that this relentless love of his would, one day, cost his son’s life. Twenty-one days after coming into power, a rebel army attacked Gordian II, who was ultimately killed. On hearing the news of his precious son’s death, Gordian II ended his own life by hanging himself.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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