21

After a lot of googling, I'm still not sure about this. Finding the longest reigning monarchs is easy enough, but I'm less sure about the one who lived the longest.

A good candidate would appear to be Harold Fairhair (ca. 850 to ca. 932) but his dates of birth and death are not certain. Next would appear to be Alfonso I of Portugal (1106 or 1109 or 1111 to 1185).

Did any European monarch of the middle ages live longer than these two? If not, who is the longest lived European monarch where we are reasonably certain of their dates of birth and death?

By middle ages, I mean from around 500 AD to around 1500 AD.

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    Would it be OK to change your date range criteria for the Middle Ages to the traditional one (476-1453)? – Spencer Jan 31 '18 at 15:08
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    @Spencer: Depending on where you come from and your level of historical education, 500-1500 is the "traditional one". Also OP wrote "around". – DevSolar Jan 31 '18 at 15:12
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    The description for the 'middle ages' tag on the question actually has associated dates listed as well. – justCal Jan 31 '18 at 16:26
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    @Spencer : I was taught 476-1492 – WoJ Jan 31 '18 at 21:54
  • @Spencer. If you want to post an answer for someone a little before 500 AD, that's fine. 476 AD is close enough. – JLK Jan 31 '18 at 23:17
29

Among the rulers we're pretty certain about:

William IV of Henneberg-Schleusingen lived for ~84 years. Note that Henneberg-Schleusingen was a princely state within the Holy Roman Empire, so whether he counts as "monarch" depends on your definitions. In any case this was the tail end of the Middle Ages - his reign started in 1480, but it was early modern when he died on 24 January, 1559.

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, was less long lived, but indisputably a sovereign monarch and reigned squarely within the medieval period. He died on 19 August 1493, a month before turning 78. The Emperor was famous for "winning" wars by outliving his enemies. Somewhat usually, the dates of both his death and birth are known with some certainty.

Not strictly speaking a sovereign, but often described as a monarch anyway, is Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was 82 years old when she passed away on 1 April 1204. She was queen consort of France and then England, but only a suo jure duchess. Aquitaine was legally part of France, and in practice her husbands felt entitled to govern the duchy by right of marriage. Nonetheless, Eleanor (who occasionally served as regent in England too) appears to have asserted her own authority, and governed Aquitaine between 1168 and 1173 when she resided in the duchy.

Joanna of Brabant was even more long lived than Eleanor - 84 when she died on 5 December 1355. Unlike Eleanor she never became queen of any sort, but after the death of her husband she governed Brabant alone. Joanna went as far as to accompany her army into the field.

On a related note, Simon I of Lippe died around 83 years old on 10 August 1344. His great-great-great grandson Bernard VII the Bellicose was just as long lived, and claims the longest reign ever. But this was long before Lippe became a principality or even a county.


In practice, poor record keeping meant that we don't know the exact year of birth of many rulers, let alone the actual date. Filling in the gaps between fragmentary and sometimes contradictory sources have resulted in quite a few claims of improbably long lived characters, for example the Harold Fairhair mentioned in the question.

One particularly egregious example is John VI Kantakouzenos, for whom an incredible 116 year lifespan was once calculated. This is of course quite improbable, and none other than Edward Gibbons noted in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that:

But if he were of the age of his companion Andronicus the younger, he must have lived 116 years; a rare instance of longevity, which in so illustrious a person would have attracted universal notice.

Modern scholars estimate John VI to have been born around 1295, i.e. about 88 when he died in 1383. Wikipedia claims it was as early as 1292, which is evidently the basis for the 91 years claim asserted in @MAGolding's answer. But either way is basically just guessing in the absence of a documented birth.

Another almost centenarian example is Enrico Dandolo, the blind Doge of Venice. It's a little iffy whether he counts as a monarch, but he was supposedly 98 when he died in 1205. As the legends go, he was already 84 when elected, and led an army on the crusades at the age of 94. For obvious reasons modern historians are quite sceptical, and his real birth date remains unknown.

A similar but less extreme example is Grand Duke Kęstutis, which Wikipedia confidently asserts was born in 1297. This would make him leading armies into battles at an improbable 85, when he was defeated by a nephew. In reality, since Wikipedia also states his elder brother Narimantas was born "born in 1277 or just before 1300", even though their father Gedminias was born "ca. 1275", all of these dates should probably be taken with a liberal side of salt.

  • 5
    "Bernard the Bellicose" is a pretty great epithet. – Michael Seifert Feb 1 '18 at 20:32
  • Very tempted to accept your answer but need to consider MAGolding's also. Frederik II is a good candidate (dates certain, definitely a monarch). – JLK Feb 11 '18 at 0:11
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    Extra point for the typically snarky quote from Gibbon. – RedSonja Feb 12 '18 at 12:00
  • @JLK Yes, he has assembled a comprehensive list. Just be aware many claims of longevity are quite dubious or disputed, being asserted (by wikipedia) for figures with no reliably documented dates. Examples I've already mentioned like the mysterious 91 for John VI aside, even Justinian's birth year is actually disputed, with 483 considered more likely than the cited 482. Likewise Stephan Nemanja's alleged 1113 birth as the "youngest son of Zavida", contradicts his brother Miroslav Zavidović being born in the "second half of the 12th century." Though wiki usually added a "c." to these dates. – Semaphore Feb 12 '18 at 13:03
  • @Semaphore. About the age of Emperor John VI. After abdicating in 1354 he became a monk with the name of Joasaph and died in 1383. John Uros Nemanjic was ruler of Thessaly with the title of Emperor of the Serbs and the Romans from c. 1370- c. 1372. He abdicated, became a monk with the name Joasaph, and died in 1422/23. 1422/23 minus 116 is 1306. So perhaps 2 emperors named John who retired as monks named Joasaph have been confused by those who claimed John VI lived to be a centenarian. – MAGolding Jul 14 '18 at 4:35
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Assuming we're not restricted to Christian rulers:

Muhammad I (Ibn al-Ahmar), 1195-1273, the first Nasrid Sultan of Granada (part of modern-day Spain) lived ~78 years. Nominally he was an on-and-off vassal of Castile, but other than paying tribute he was de facto a sovereign monarch. During his lifetime, all other Muslim states in Spain got conquered by the Christian Kingdoms of Spain. Granada alone survived partly due to his maneuvering and playing his larger neighbors against each other.

Interestingly, he was succeeded by his son Muhammad II (b.1235, r.1273-1302) who was also long-lived at 67 years (through obviously not contender for the longest-lived in Europe). The long reigns of these two Sultans laid the foundation of their dynasty. The small emirate would survive against all odds for several more centuries until 1492. Interestingly again, most of the following rulers had short reigns due to palace coups and dynastic infighting.

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    Europe is Europe, Christian or Muslim, so your answer is fine. – JLK Jan 31 '18 at 23:33
6

The oldest medieval European monarch lived to be about 91 years as far as we know, though there is a slight possibility of older European medieval monarchs up to centenarians

[Gediminas (c. 1275-1341) Great Prince or Grand Duke (or maybe Great King) of Lithuania, only lived to be about 66, but many of his descendants lived much longer.]

46) King William the Lion of Scotland (c. 1143-1214) lived to be about 71.

45) Rene (1409-1480) Duke of Anjou & Lorraine, Count of Provence, and briefly King of Naples, lived to be 71 years, 6 months, and 22 days old.

44) Charlemagne (742-814) Emperor and King of the Franks, lived to be 71 years, 7 months, and 26 days old.

43) Abd-ar-Rahman III (889/91-961) caliph of Cordoba, lived to be 70 to 72.

42) Empress Zoe (c. 978-June 1050) was Empress from 1028 to her death, sharing power and the imperial title with her three husbands and her sister at various times, and living to be about 72.

41) Wladyslaw II The Elbow High (1261-1333) King of Poland, lived to be 71 or 72.

40) Vladimir II Monomakh (1053-1125) Grand Prince of Kiev, lied to be about 72.

39) Boleslaus III (c. 965-1037). Duke of Bohemia twice, lived to be about 72.

38) Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (25 March 1259-13 February 1332) lived to be 72 years, 9 months, and 19 days old.

37) Brian Boru (c. 941-1014) King of Munster 978-1014 and High King of Ireland 1002-1014, lived to be about 73 when killed.

36) Mael Sechnaill mac Domnail (949-1022) King of Mide 976-1022 and High King of Ireland 979-1002 and 1014-1022, lived to be about 73.

35) Albert (c. 1338-1412) King of Sweden 1364-1389 and Duke Albert III of Mecklenburg-Schwerin 1384-1412, lived to be about 73 or 74.

34) Emperor Michael I Rhangabe (c. 770-844) lived to be about 74.

33) Lewis II the German (c. 202-876), the first King of Germany, lived to be about 74.

32) Robert II Stewart of Scotland (1316-1390) lived to be 74 years, 1 month, and 17 days old.

31) Edgar II Aetheling (c.1051-c.1126) was the rightful heir of King Edward the Confessor in January 1066, but ambitious and powerful nobleman Harold II Godwinson was elected king by the nobles. After Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings Edgar was elected King in October 1066 but submitted to William the Conqueror in December 1066. Edgar was alive in 1125 aged about 75, and there is a small possibility that he might possibly have been alive in 1158 and 1166, aged over 100.

30) Emperor Basil I (811-886) lived to be 74 or 75.

29) Mieszko III the Old (c.1126/27-1202) High Duke of Poland, lived to be about 75.

28) Ottokar I (c. 1155-1230) Duke and King of Bohemia, lived to be about 75.

27) Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1350-1245) lived to be 75 years and 24 days old.

26) King John I of Portugal (1358-1433) lived to be 75 years, 4 months, and 3 days old.

25) Queen Joanna (6 November 1479-12 April 1555) of Castile, etc. known as Juana la Loca, was Queen Regnant of Castile, etc. for 50 years, though her husband, her father, and her son ruled for her. She lived to be 75 years, 5 months, and 6 days old, though some would put that in the Renaissance era.

24) Empress Theodora (980-1056) not only was Co Empress from 1042 to 1050, but also sole Empress and actual ruler from January 1055 to 31 August 1056, dying age 75 or 76.

23) King Alfonso I (1106/09/11-1185) of Portugal lived to be between 73 and 79 years old.

24) Emperor Justin I (450-527) lived to be 77 years, 5 months, and 30 days old.

23) Emperor Frederick III (21 September 1415-19 August 1493) lived to be 77 years, 10 months, and 28 days old.

22) Eric of Pomerania (1381/82-24 September 1459) was King Eric III of Norway (1389-1442), King Eric (XIII) of Sweden (1396-1439), King Eric VII of Denmark (1396-1439), and Duke Eric I of Pomerania (1449-1459). He lived to be about 77 to 78 years old.

21) Emperor Romanus I Lecapenos (c.870-948) lived to be about 78 years old.

20) Durad brankovic (1377-1456) Despot of Serbia, lived to be 78 or 79 years old.

19) Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates (c.1002-1801) lived to be about 79.

18) Berenger I (c. 845-924) rival Emperor and rival King of Italy, lived to be about 79 years old when he was murdered.

17) Wladyslaw II Jagiello (1352/62-1434) Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland lived to be about 72 to 82 years old. Son of Algirdas.

16) Sancho VII (1154-1234) King of Navarre, lived to be 79 years, 11 months, and 21 days old.

15) Boris I Michael (died 902) Khan and Prince of Bulgaria (852-889), lived to be about 80 years old.

14) King Malcolm II (c. 954-1034) of Scotland lived to be about 80 years old.

13) Vytautis The Great (c. 1350-1430) Grand Duke of Lithuania, son of Kestutis, lived to be about 80.

12) Mieszko I tanglefoot (c. 1130-1211) High Duke of Poland, lived to be about 81.

11) Algirdas (C. 1296-1377) Grand Duke of Lithuania, lived to be about 81.

10) Sigismund the Old (1467-1548) King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, lived to be 81 years, 3 months, and 0 days old, though perhaps in Renaissance times.

9) Gruffudd ap Cynan (c. 1055-1137) King of Gwynedd, lived to be about 82.

8) Svitrigaila (in or before 1370-1452) Grand Duke of Lithuania, son of Algirdas, lived to be about 82 or more.

7) King John II (1398-1479) of Aragon, etc. lived for 80 years, 6 months, and 22 days.

6) Emperor Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus Augustus (c. 482-565) lived for about 83 years.

5) Edward Balliol (c. 1283-1367), briefly King of Scotland 3 times, lived to be about 84 years old.

4) Kestutis (c. 1297-1382) Grand Duke of Lithuania (brother of Algirdas) lived to be about 85.

3) Stefan Nemanja (c.1113-1190) Grand Prince of Serbia, lived to be about 86.

2) Emperor Flavius Anastasius Augustus (c.431 to 518), lived for about 87 years including some in the middle ages.

1) Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (c. 1292-1383) lived for about 91 years. Louis XIV is famous for being succeeded by his great grandson. In 1376, 22 years after John VI abdicated in 1354, his grandson Andronikos IV (1348-1385) and probably also great grandson John VII (1370-1408) were crowned - they didn't invite ex emperor John VI to the ceremony but threw him in prison instead. Some historians believe John VI was a few years younger.

Not monarchs:

Queen Brunhilda (c.543-613), born a Visigothic princess, was never a monarch. But she did serve as regent for her son King Childebert II (570-595) of Austrasia from 575 to 583, for her grandson King Theudebert II (586-612) from 595 to 599, and for her great grandson King Sigebert (601-613) in 613. Even though she was killed when only about 70 years old, I can imagine that some people believed she must have been a lot older.

Enrico Dandolo (c. 1107-1205) Doge of Venice, lived to be about 98 and led the 4th Crusade aged about 97.

Albert Azzo I, Margrave of Milan, ancestor of the Welfs and of the House of Este, died 20 August 1097. He was allegedly born either 10 July 1009 (dying age 88 years 1 month, and 10 days) or in 997 (dying age 99 or 100). Emperor Frederick I was his great great grandson.

Liudolf (c.(805/820-866) Duke of Saxony, married about 830 to Oda (died 913), daughter of Billung. Oda may have become a child or teenage mother, but their older son Bruno (c. 830/840-880) indicates Oda could have been born about 800-825). Oda was allegedly 107 when she died in 913, thus allegedly born 805/806. Her grandson Henry I became King of Germany in 919 and her great grandson Otto the Great became emperor in 962.

There were many monarchs whose lifespans are little known.

For example, there are many websites and books that claim that Llywarch Hen ("The Old"), an ancient British noble and/or monarch of a small kingdom died in 500 aged 150. But Wikipedia, using more reliable sources, guesses he was born around 534 and died around 608 thus aged about 74.

I don't have time now but I will later add many other examples of celtic monarchs who might have lived very long.

More celtic monarchs who may have lived long.

Morgan Hen ("The Old") who united the Welsh kingdoms of Glywysing and Gwent into the kingdom of Morgannwg or Glamorgan, supposedly reigned from 942-974. One manuscript of the Annales Cambriae says in the year 973/974/975 "and Morgan died", supposedly Morgan Hen. A much later and less reliable source claims Morgan died in 1001 aged 129! Morgan was the maternal grandson of Rhodri Mawr (c. 820-878) and thus should have been born about 860-900, and been aged about 70 to 115 if he died when the Annales Cambriae says.

Morgan Hen's great great grandson Iestyn ap Gwrgant lived from circa 1045 to 1093 according to Wikpedia. Descended from Morgan Hen in four generation gaps, he should have been born about 960 to 1060 and aged about 30 to 130 during the Norman invasion about 1090. Much later legend claimed that after being dethroned he died as a monk aged 121!

King Arthur is supposed to be been killed at the Battle of Camlann, which the Annales Cambriae date to 537/538/539, and Geoffrey of Monmouth to 542, however reliable those dates may be.

Some late medieval stories claim that Arthur was almost a century old when he died. That seems unlikely, but Anastasius (c. 431-518) lived to be 87, official and general Petrus Felix Liberius (c. 465-c.554) lived to be about 89, Justinian (c. 482-565) lived to be 83, and the official and general Narses (478/479/480 to 566/574) lived to be 86 to 96.

http://historum.com/medieval-byzantine-history/127012-arthur-s-age-death.html1

Arthur's contemporary Maelgwn Gwynedd who died in 547/548/549 according to the Annales Cambriae may have lived to be quite old. The statement that the reign of Maelgwyn was 146 years after his great grandfather Cunedda was old enough to lead a migration to Gwynedd suggests that the generations between Cunedda and Maelgwn were very long and/or that Maelgwn lived to be very old, while the dates of Maelgwn's descendants down to his great great great great grandson Cadwallader suggests that the generations between Maelegwn and Cadwallader were very short and/or that Maelgwn lived to be very old.

02-02-2018. Legendary British ruler Vortigern might have lived to be very old. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 455, written centureis later, says:

A.D. 455 . This year Hengest and Horsa fought with Wurtgern the king on the spot that is called Aylesford. His brother Horsa being there slain, Hengest afterwards took to the kingdom with his son Esc.

The Historia Brittonum, also written centuries later, dates the beginning of Vortigern's reign to 425, while the Pillar of eliseg, also centuries later, claims that Vortigern married the daughter of Magnus Maximus (c.335-388) usurping emperor from 383 to 388. If all those statements are accurate Vortigern might possibly have been a septuagenarian or older.

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    +1 but, honestly, this answer is too long. :-) – Denis de Bernardy Feb 3 '18 at 23:09
  • +1 A really comprehensive list so I have a dilemma knowing which answer to accept. Just one thing - the age calculation for John II (Nr. 7) seems off. – JLK Feb 11 '18 at 0:06
5

Not technically a monarch, but FWIW Bernard VII the Bellicose, of Lippe, pops up as the longest ever ruling medieval nobleman. Born in 1428, he "ruled" from a few months later in 1429 (there was a regency at first) until his death in 1511 - aged 82 years.

3

Sigismund I the Old (1467 to 1548), King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, was born within the time period specified and lived to be 81.

Mieszko I Tanglefoot (circa. 1130 to 16th May 1211) was High Duke of Poland for just one year at the end of his life, dying at the age of about 81.

One monarch worth a mention is Eric of Pomerania, King of Denmark 1396–1439, Norway 1389–1442 and Sweden 1396–1439. He was born in 1381 or 1382 and died the 24th of Sept. 1459, making him between 76 and 78 years old.

A more marginal case is Edgar Ætheling, disputed King of England in 1066 after the death of Harold at Hastings. He quickly submitted to William the Conqueror, though, and died at around the age of 75 in about 1126.

Even more marginal, but worth a mention for spending the last 28 years of his long life as a prisoner, is Robert Curthose (circa. 1051 to 3rd Feb. 1134), Duke of Normandy and claimant to the throne of England following his younger brother William II's death. He was thwarted by his youngest brother, Henry I, and died a prisoner at around the age the age of 83.

2

Louis XIV, 1638-1715, died a few days short of his 77th birthday; but that is probably Early Modern Era rather than Middle Ages.

Edward I (Longshanks), 1239-1307, lived to be several days older than 68 years and is definitely Middle Ages.

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    Louis XIV clearly falls outside the dates specified both in the question and in the tag. In a comment which has since disappeared (deleted?), you asked for dates or else the question would be closed as 'unclear what you are asking'. Why threaten someone with closure like that when half of your answer doesn't follow the guidelines? – JLK Jan 31 '18 at 23:23
  • @JLK: I posted the answer before the dates were edited in. I fully expected dates to be forthcoming, and consequently did not VtC; my judgement turned out to be correct. I mentioned the expected consequences of not supplying a date range because I thought NOT doing so would be potentially disingenuous on my part. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 31 '18 at 23:33
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    @JLK: Note that the Enlightenment is often judged to have started about the time of Louis' death, and so it is not impossible that a casual mention of the Middle Ages might have been intended to extend up to that date. The actual supplied end date of 1500 is well after any reasonable start date for the Renaissance, so clearly is merely a specification of the asker's period of interest rather than anything more fundamental. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 31 '18 at 23:35
2

If you believe largely self-reported ages, there were around 15-17 popes in the Middle Ages who lived to 80 or older at death, as see this list of popes. This includes Pope St Agatho who is somewhat unbelievable supposed to have been age 104 when he died in 681, although quite possibly one shouldn't count popes as monarchs prior to the creation of the Papal States in 756. Rather more believably, Celestine III (1106-1198) died at 92. The number of octogenarian popes becomes less surprising when you remember that, in an elective monarchy, advanced age is often a key qualification for a compromise candidate, since each party hopes to be stronger for another election in the near future. This was clearly the case with popes like Celestine V (1215-1296) who was elected in 1294 (and in his case they didn't even need to wait for his death...he resigned later in 1294).

On the other hand, it is also the case that ages of popes are inherently harder to validate than those of most monarchs because most of them were not born into powerful families where there would be primary documentary evidence for the period of their youth.

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