Specifically, I would like to know who the most recent European monarch (or monarchs, if they lived roughly at the same time) is that actively engaged in combat whilst reigning: that is, used a sword, gun, or any other weapon himself during fighting. I do not mean merely "commanded his soldiers in battle" as a general would.

For example, I am under the impression that Richard III actually fought on horseback with sword (and lance?) at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, and was distinguished by his bravery. Surely, however, there must be a later example, at least from the Early Modern era.

Edit. This question is different from the older question, since the older question specifically did not require the monarch to use his weapon during the battle (the requirement there was to be an armed participant).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Feb 14, 2020 at 17:25

6 Answers 6


Perhaps Charles XII in 1713.

The king himself killed at least one Ottoman soldier with his sword in hand-to-hand combat when he and Roos came under attack by 3 Ottomans. During parts of the fighting, Charles was also actively sniping with a carbine against the assaulting enemy from a window in his sleeping quarters, positioned in the building where the Swedes had taken up their defense. The fighting lasted for over 7 hours and the Ottomans eventually used both artillery and fire arrows when the initial assaults were beaten back; the later method proved to be effective. The fire arrows set the building's roof on fire and forced the defenders to abandon it, the fighting then came to an abrupt end when the king tripped on his own spurs while exiting the burning house.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Feb 14, 2020 at 16:30

George VI of the United Kingdom served as a turret officer on HMS Collingwood and saw action at the Battle of Jutland, being mentioned in dispatches. This was of course before he became King.

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    Most male British royals take parts in whatever conflicts Britain participates. I think the current young princes (potential heirs) served in Afganistan for some time.
    – Alex
    Feb 13, 2020 at 21:50
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    True. However immediate heirs are rarely sent to combat. Wills was not in combat, and Harry probably isn't going to be king. George VI was probably only allowed to fight because he wasn't supposed to be king either. Feb 13, 2020 at 22:16
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    Thank you for the answer. I should have been clearer: I meant while reigning. That said, presumably George VI actually fired a gun, from the sound of this?
    – Noldorin
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:16
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    @Noldorin A turret officer would have been in command of one of the main guns of a battleship. So he would have been next to the gun and given the command to fire, though probably not actually pulled the "trigger" himself. That's definitely "in combat" from a navy point of view, and he is running exactly the same risks as any Ordinary Seaman. Feb 14, 2020 at 14:45
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    Turret officers, being officers, command. They don't serve the guns personally, but direct the fire and in turn receive direction from superiors and spotters. This is also in no way combat as a monarch, as George wasn't even Prince of Wales at the time, that honour belonging to his brother who would, briefly, be Edward VIII. George saw combat up close exactly because he was not first in line to inherit. One might as ell offer Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who commanded in WW2 and was likewise not in line to inherit. Feb 15, 2020 at 10:27

The Belgium King Albert I led his troops, but also fought along them, during the First World War. Wikipedia contains a small section on this:

During this period, King Albert fought alongside his troops and shared their dangers, while his wife, Queen Elisabeth, worked as a nurse at the front. During his time on the front, rumours spread on both sides of the lines that the German soldiers never fired upon him out of respect for him being the highest ranked commander in harm's way, while others feared risking punishment by the Kaiser himself, who was his cousin. The King also allowed his 14-year-old son, Prince Leopold, to enlist in the Belgian Army as a private and fight in the ranks

Other sources:

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    The linked article says "We don’t know too much about Albert’s specific combat record, but he quite frequently visited the troops along the line and organized defenses." It does not provide any evidence that he used a weapon at the frontline (as required by the question). It seems that you are answering a different question. Feb 15, 2020 at 15:55
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    @MoisheKohan King Albert was in direct command of the Belgian Army and served at the front during the Siege of Antwerp and the Battle of Yser. It was said that whenever he was on the front lines the Germans refused to fire on him out of respect for him being the highest ranked commander in harm’s way. There was also the fear of retribution from the Kaiser as King Albert I was his cousin.
    – user27618
    Feb 15, 2020 at 16:16
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    @JMS: Right, and hence, this is an answer to a different question, as I said. Feb 15, 2020 at 16:33
  • @MoisheKohan also no evidence on the contrary. At least his reputation and story telling was very focused on Albert I being the Soldier King.
    – nathan_gs
    Feb 17, 2020 at 10:43
  • @nathan_gs: This is not how science (including social sciences) works: If I make a claim that A is true then this is my responsibility to provide evidence that A is true; to state that "there is no evidence that A is false" would not be a scientific argument. Feb 17, 2020 at 14:53

The last in the world it was Abdulla, Khalifa of Sudan that was killed at Umm Diwaykara in 1899. Definitely, that was the most personal participation.

And Khalifa > Sultan = Emperor, so in the feudal sense, he was higher than any king.

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    Thanks for the answer. Definitely not European though!
    – Noldorin
    Feb 13, 2020 at 23:33
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    On the one hand, Sudan was then under British, and thereby European, occupation. On the other hand, Abdulla's reign was not recognized as such by many other states. Source: Google+Wikipedia (I'm no expert!).
    – PatrickT
    Feb 16, 2020 at 7:47
  • @PatrickT The source question demanded the person to be a monarch. I.e., a person having a power. The power of Khalifa in Sudan was greater than that of the queen in England or even the czar in Russia of that period. That was the second Khalifa of a special branch of the Muslim religion. So, he was not a self-proclaimed unknown guy... As for recognition: The world was bigger then. Sudan had contacts with its enemies - Egypt and England. and neighbours, that belonged to different religions, also enemies. How could they get recognition? In XX century already his father would be recognized.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 16, 2020 at 10:17
  • @PatrickT Yeah, but let's be honest, that's quibbling. Sudan is not geographically or culturally Europe, and this guy was certainly not an ethnic European.
    – Noldorin
    Feb 17, 2020 at 4:12
  • Also, I don't believe it's justifiable to compare titles across completely different cultures and regions. Queen Elizabeth and Tsar Nicholas ruled over far, far greater territories, and both were also emperors, which was the very highest title one could have in European civilisation. Sure, they didn't rule in absolute monarchies, because Europe had moved beyond that staged (essentially), but there you go.
    – Noldorin
    Feb 17, 2020 at 4:17

Napoleon was wounded at the Battle of Ratisbon on April 23, 1809:

Napoleon was wounded in his ankle by a small artillery round. The shot had been fired at great distance and did not severely hurt the Emperor, but caused a contusion.

We happen to know roughly where Napoleon was when wounded (about 900 metres from the Regensburg city walls), because he sat on the Napoleonstein, within sight of his troops so as to not threaten morale, while the wound was treated.

enter image description here

In his memoirs, written while on St. Helena, Napoleon also claimed that at Wagram, July 5-6, 1809:

At the battle of Wagram a ball tore my boot and stocking, and grazed the skin of my left leg.

At the same Battle of Ratisbon, where Napoleon stormed the city walls in hope of harassing or capturing Archduke Charles' baggage and siege train, it was sufficient for Jean Lannes to simply pick up a siege ladder and threaten to storm the walls personally to motivate his troops to successfully force the breach.

"Well, I will show you that I was a grenadier before I was a marshal, and still am one!" - from John H. Gill's Thunder on the Danube

enter image description here

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    @LаngLаngС: Now close? Napoleon would have had to be within 400 yards I expect to be hit by musket fire, even spent. Feb 13, 2020 at 18:44
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    Thanks for the answer. I would say this "kind of counts". Napoleon certainly wasn't a king, though he was an emperor (albeit not one of noble descent). Evidently he didn't make use of a weapon himself whilst Emperor of the French, though the fact he was wounded counts for something...
    – Noldorin
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:18
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    @Noldorin: My pleasure. However, I believe your "distinction" between kings and emperors is misplaced. (1) To be meaningful, I believe you should be looking for sovereigns rather than monarchs. Those are the family lines held to be "acceptable for royal marriage" and would include the many houses of "Imperial Princes" in the H.R.E. (2) The proper title of the Hapsburg Emperors was King of the Romans, and for many centuries they were also King of Bohemia as a personal possession in addition to Carpathia. Feb 14, 2020 at 14:25
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    "Carinthia" not "Carpathia" above. Feb 14, 2020 at 14:38
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    True, but it wasn’t what entitled him to be Emperor if the French, nit by a long shot.
    – Noldorin
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:51

While it's clearly not the last, as shown by Thomas By's answer, I just recalled an interesting and late example of medieval-style chivalric bravery in battle. In 1525 (a good 40 years after Richard III of England in the Battle of Bosworth Field), Francis (François) I of France apparently fought in the front lines at the Battle of Pavia against the Imperial-Spanish forces (specifically Charles de Lannoy's contingent). Indeed, this was brave but sufficiently imprudent as to get himself captured by the Spanish forces! The date of the battle places this event in the Early Modern era as far as just about any historian is concerned, and I think is interesting because both traditional medieval weapons (lances, pikes) and guns (arquebuses) were prominent in the battle.

I cite the Encylopaedia Britannica entry on the Battle of Pavia:

Showing impeccable personal courage but limited judgment, King Francis led his armored cavalry in a medieval-style charge with couched lances. Unfortunately his horsemen rode in front of his cannon, making it impossible for the artillery to fire on the enemy.

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