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During periods of political instability it is not rare for monarchs to be deposed, new monarchs declared, and the original monarch to reclaim their throne a few months later. During this time the deposed monarch is often actively fighting a civil war - still commanding armies and controlling territory.

Much rarer is where monarchs have a long period (many years) in which they were effectively unable to act as monarch of the nation - either in prison, exile or similar - and were then able to reclaim their throne. I know of two significant examples:

Are there any other historical examples or rulers who were able to reclaim their throne after a significant (many years long) gap? Which monarch had the longest gap in rulership?

  • The father of Mehmed II also did this though I think it was only four years. – gktscrk Sep 9 at 17:10

13 Answers 13

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Norodom Sihanouk was crowned King of Cambodia on 3 May 1941. At the time, Cambodia was a colony of France, so he was not really a head of state yet. But he remained king, and therefore head of state, of Cambodia when the country became independent on 9 November 1953. He then abdicated on 2 March 1955.

After that point, Norodom Sihanouk was appointed prime minister and effectively ruled the country, but he was not formally the monarch or the head of state: the monarch and head of state was his father Norodom Suramarit.

After his father died on 3 April 1960, Norodom Sihanouk's mother Sisowath Kossamak became Queen of Cambodia. Her son Sihanouk became head of state, but was not formally crowned king.

On 9 October 1970, following a coup, Sisowath Kossamak was deposed as queen and Norodom Sihanouk was deposed as head of state, and Cambodia became the Khmer Republic. Norodom Sihanouk went in exile.

In 1975, after a civil war, Cambodia became Democratic Kampuchea. Norodom Sihanouk was formally the head of state of Democratic Kampuchea from 17 April 1975 until April 1976, after which he was under house arrest, then went again into exile.

Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Norodom Sihanouk returned to Cambodia in November 1991. The constituent assembly declared him head of state again in 1993, and on 21 September 1993 a new constitution went into force, making Cambodia a kingdom with Norodom Sihanouk as its king. He then reigned (with very limited political power) until his second abdication in 2004.

If you only count the times when Norodom Sihanouk was formally a monarch, there was a 38-year gap (1955–1993). If you count all the times when he was head of state, the largest gap is a less impressive, but still significant 17 years (1975-1993).

(Apologies for only referencing Wikipedia, but I don't think any of the facts that are relevant to this question are in dispute. If I have inadvertently misrepresented Cambodia's complex history, please correct me.)

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    The long story of Norodom Sihanouk is painted in the extraordinary play "L'histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge", written in French, played in French in 1986, and played in khmer in 2011-2013. – Stef Sep 9 at 18:05
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    Good answer, and no need to apologise to Wikipedia snobs - it's a good website! – Graham Laight Sep 11 at 14:35
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This is a little stretch from your question, but Simeon II of Bulgaria ruled as

Tsar of Bulgaria from 1943 to 1946, before later serving as Prime Minister of Bulgaria from 2001 to 2005.

This is an impressive gap of 55 years, with the obvious caveat that he didn't "reclaim his throne", coming back to power as the elected prime minister of a Republic and not as a king.

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    Prime Minister of a republic isn't even Head of State. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 8 at 15:30
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    @PieterGeerkens Yet it is rulership. – Evargalo Sep 8 at 15:33
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    Probably doesn't count per the question, but it is pretty interesting, and a long interim. – T.E.D. Sep 8 at 15:43
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    (speaking as the person posing the question) - I agree it doesn't coun, but yes! A fascinating instance - thanks for sharing. – Neil Tarrant Sep 9 at 8:38
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    Tzar Simeon 2 was ~ 8 years old when he was sent in exile. He became much more of an actual ruler as a prime minister. In modern Bulgaria, the prime minister is the real "ruler", the president (de jure head of the state) has very limited power. – fraxinus Sep 9 at 10:03
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Vlad Tepes, 14 years

Vlad III first ruled as Voïvode of Vallachia for of couple of months in 1448, then from 1456 to 1462 (after a first gap of 5 and a half years), and reclaimed his throne again in late 1476, after a second gap of 14 years.

He died shortly after, but his nickname of Dracula found its way to posterity and pop culture.

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    I don't think he really died ;-) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 9 at 8:29
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Makes me wonder if Voldemort would be an acceptable answer... – Evargalo Sep 9 at 9:04
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    Or, on the other side of the spectrum, wait till the Rapture when Rēx Iūdaeōrum will resume His rule! – Peter - Reinstate Monica Sep 9 at 10:03
  • This could lead to another question: Which monarch had the largest number of gaps (of any length) in their reign? – Darrel Hoffman Sep 10 at 13:34
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    @Evargalo Here you go. I expanded it to non-monarch heads of state, so it might open the field a bit for some surprises. – Darrel Hoffman Sep 10 at 14:07
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Two 5th century BC Agiad Kings of Sparta had lengthy breaks in their reigns: Pleistoanax and his son (and successor) Pausanias.

Pleistoanax - break of 19 or 20 years (reigned 458 - 446 or 445 BC, and then 426 - 409 BC)

Pausanias - break of approx. 18 years (reigned c.445 - 426 BC, and then 408 to 395 BC)

Pleistoanax, son of the regent Pausanias of Battle of Plataea fame (and later infamy), was deposed in 446 or 445 BC, supposedly for accepting a bribe from the Athenians to withdraw his army in Attica. His son, still a minor, took over and reigned for around 20 years. In 426 BC, his father was restored following 'advice' from the oracle at Delphi (this advice a result of bribery, according to Pleistoanax's opponents).

When Pleistoanax died in 409 BC, Pausanias became king again but was deposed in 395 BC for poor military leadership. He died in exile sometime after 380 BC.


Other source:

Anton Powell (ed.), 'A Companion to Sparta' (2017)

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Some honorable mentions:

Kavad I only had a break of three years, but was definitely supposed to be forgotten after he was temporarily deposed in 496.

The Zhengtong Emperor of the Ming dynasty was deposed in 1449 after being captured by the Mongols. This reduced his value as a hostage, and he was released relatively quickly. He took the throne again seven years later after his successor had died, reigning as Tianshun emperor until 1464.

After Waldemar of Brandenburg had died in 1319, an impostor appeared in 1348 (29 years later) and succeeded in getting his title and country "back" (until 1350). Somewhat unusual for an impostor, he survived being found out and - although losing his land - was able to continue living a relatively comfortable life.

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Another possible contender would be Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd four times.

He was deposed after his second reign in 1081 and imprisoned. He may have regained the throne of Gwynedd as early as 1088, though his biography claims in one place that he was imprisoned for 12 years and in another that he was imprisoned for 16 years, thus escaping and regaining power in 1093 or 1097. See the Wikipedia article on his [Escape from captivity and third reign].

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruffudd_ap_Cynan#Escape_from_captivity_and_third_reign[1]

Unlike some of the other examples, the kings of Gwynedd ruled as well as reigned.

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Stanisław Leszczyński was installed by Sweden as a King of Poland in 1704 and ruled until 1709 when Poland forced Sweden out. He was reelected as the king of Poland after the death of August II Mocny, in 1733 and ruled until 1736, when a Russian invasion deposed him. This gives him a respectable 27 year long break in ruling.

Poland had an elective monarchy between 1572 and 1791, with the monarch officially being elected for life, however multiple monarchs abdicated, not always of their own will, which led to this situation.

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Ptolemy VIII of Egypt had a break of 18 or maybe 20 years in his reign. Wikipedia is confused about how long the gap was.

The page for Ptolemy VIII says he was deposed in 164BC and restored in 144BC - gap is about 20 years.

The Pharaoh list page says he was deposed in 163BC and restored in 145BC - gap is 18 years.

Another site's king list says deposed in 163BC and restored in 145BC - also 18 years.

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Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland, nine years.

At the time of the execution of Charles I in 1649, England had already overthrown the monarchy (taking Ireland with it), and so Charles II did not become king of England or Ireland at that time. But Scotland had not, and so he was king of Scotland from 1649 (though not crowned until January 1651) until England defeated the Scottish royalist forces in 1651. He then resumed his kingship of Scotland at the Restoration in 1660, nine years later, when he became king of England, Scotland and Ireland.

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  • King Charles II would have downvoted this answer. He consistently dated his reign as starting on his father's death in 1649. For example, see this 1660 declaration. It is dated "In the twelfth year of our Reign". – Patricia Shanahan Sep 12 at 0:53
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George II of Greece, 11 Years

George II of Greece was deposed in 1924 and regained the throne in 1935, so I guess that's about eleven years. He was the second cousin of Prince Philip of England and the drama of their family's chaotic royal standing in Greece is often alluded to in shows like The Crown.

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Definitely not as long, but notable: Napoleon I and Louis XVIII

Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, was deposed on April 2nd, 1814, abdicated on the 4th, and after being exiled to Elba, returned to France in February 1815 and took power back on March 20th, 1815 (so the gap is less than a year).

It didn't last long, of course, as he abdicated (again) on June 22nd after losing the battle of Waterloo. He was exiled (again), but this time didn't return.

Of course, conversely, Louis XVIII which was made King of France on April 6th, 1814 after Napoleon's (first) abdication, fled when Napoleon came back (March 20th, 1815), was restored after Napoleon's (second and final) abdication and the short-lived and disputed reign of Napoleon II, on July 8th, 1815. Here the gap is even shorter (the period is called the "Hundred Days").

So we had, in a bit over a year:

  • Napoleon
  • Louis XVIII
  • Napoleon again
  • Louis XVIII again
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    You forgot that both times Napoleon I abidicated in the name of his son Napoleon II who thus was more or less the monarch of France for a few days before being deposed. So Napoleon II should be between Napoleon I and Louis XVIII both times. – MAGolding Sep 9 at 19:41
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Michael I of Romania was king from 20th of July 1927 until 8th of June 1930 and then was put back into power on the 6th of September 1940 resulting in an overall break of 3743 days

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Thutmose III

He became pharaoh after the death of his father (probably in 1479 BC). His step mother Hatshepsut ruled in his place as a regent (since Thutmose III was only 2). Some time later (possibly 7 years) Hatshepsut named herself pharaoh and became the de facto ruler of Egypt. Hatshepsut likely remained pharaoh until her natural death (probably 1458 BC). Which gives a 21 to 14 years gap in the rule of Thutmose III.

That said, it is possible Thutmose III was a coregent through some or even all of Hatshepsut's reign.

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