Six Rulers Who Didn't Spend Much Time in Office

Ever since I read The Other Boleyn Girl a couple years ago, I've been strangely obsessed with the Tudors. I read all of the Philippa Gregory books in that series and just finished up The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson. It's a fictionalized account about wife #6, Catherine Parr, and her trials and tribulations as Henry's object of affection.

Of course, reading books like this always sends me running to the Internet to learn more. I like to know how much of the book is fiction and what probably has some truth to it. But researching one person in the whole Tudor dynasty is like eating a Lays potato chip – you can't eat just one. I quickly found myself spiraling into Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey, who only ruled for nine days (although some accounts say 13 days). I figured nine days was probably one of the shortest reigns in the history of the monarchy, and while that's true, it's by far not the shortest reign of any ruler. I thought we'd look at a few of the people who held the highest rank in their country… if only for 20 minutes (seriously).

Louis XIX

This one's disputed, but since the time frame is so ridiculously small I had to include it. Louis was married to the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Louis XIX was actually Louis XVI's nephew, making Louis XIX and his wife, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, cousins. His father, Louis XVI's brother, was Charles X. Got all of that? In the July Revolution of 1830, the people of France demanded that Charles give up the throne because they hated his policies and felt they were too repressive. He reluctantly granted the wish of the people and abdicated, making Louis XIX the new king. However, the people didn't want Charles' descendants in power either, and, perhaps remembering how her parents' reign ended, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte pleaded with her husband to abdicate as well. And he did, 20 minutes after becoming King of France. It's disputed because some historians think it's too short of a time frame to recognize.

Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia

Michael had a long way to go to the throne at the time of his birth – he was fourth-in-line after his father and two older brothers. When his grandpa was assassinated in 1881, his father took over as Emperor. When he died in 1894, eldest brother Nicholas became Nicholas II. The next-eldest brother, George, died in 1899 of tuberculosis, leaving just Emperor Nicholas II and Michael left. Nicholas II had no sons to pass the crown to, so it was starting to look like Michael would someday be Emperor. Then, on August 12, 1904, Nicholas II and Alexandra had a son, placing Michael second-in-line again.
However, under pressure from generals and others, Nicholas II abdicated the throne and also named his brother as the new Emperor. He bypassed his son because Alexei had hemophilia, which was not curable at the time.
Michael was proclaimed Emperor Michael II… for about 16 hours. He signed a document the next day stating that he would only reign if the Russian people wished to uphold the monarchy. The monarchy was overthrown and so was Michael's stint as Emperor. In July 1918, he was murdered less than a week before his brother. Nicholas II was also murdered along with his wife and children (including the famous Anastasia, who was rumored to have made it out alive). Photo from

Pope Urban VII or Pope-elect Stephen

Depending on how you number the Popes, one of these guys had the shortest reign in the history of Popes. Pope Stephen hasn't been recognized as a Pope since 1961, though, so I thought I'd give you both stories.

Stephen was elected to succeed Pope Zachary in 752. However, before he could be ordained, he died of apoplexy. So, his "reign" was only three days, if you can consider it a reign.

Urban VII (that's him in the picture) was Pope for just shy of two weeks in September 1590. He died of malaria just 13 days into his term, but while he was in office he managed to enact the first known public smoking ban: he threatened to excommunicate anyone who smoked, chewed or sniffed tobacco in the porchway or inside of a chuch.

Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev

Dipendra was kind of King of Nepal by default for three days in 2001. On June 1, he murdered his family at a royal dinner, including his father who was the King of Nepal at the time. The story is that Dipendra was angry that his mother would not let him marry the bride of his choice due to ages-long feuding between the two families. After killing his parents, brother and sister, he turned the gun on himself. He lingered in a coma for three days and was officially proclaimed King of Nepal in his hospital bed. He died three days later and his uncle, Prince Gyanendra, became King. Some people believe that Gyanendra actually slaughtered the whole family so he could become King. His wife and son were in the same room as the royal family during the massacre, but managed to escape without mortal wounds. Photo from BBC News

John I (aka John the Posthumous)

John I was King of France for the five days that he was alive. His father, Louis X, died in June 1316. The reason is disputed – could have been dehydration, could have been poisoning. When he died, his wife Clémence was pregnant. John I was born November 15, 1316, and died on the 20th, succeeded by his Uncle Philip. As with the royal family of Nepal, many people suspect that King Louis X's brother first poisoned Louis and then had his infant son killed so he could become King. In the 1350s, a man popped up in Provence claiming to be John I, but he was quickly put in prison and died there. Hmmmm.

Lê Trung Tông

Lê Trung Tông became King of Vietnam after his dad, Lêi Dai Hành, died in 1005. He was one of 10 brothers, so there was some heated "discussion" over who should become King. In fact, for eight months, the princes fought amongst themselves. The war was mainly between two of the brothers, but one of them was finally defeated and killed, leaving Lê Trung Tông as the victor. At least, for three days. His half brother, Lê Long Dinh, sent an assassin to climb over the wall of the palace and kill the King. He did, and Lê Long Dinh reigned from 1005-1009.

Lady Jane Grey

Finally, we'd better address the Lady who started my research. When Edward VI, Henry VIII's only son, died on July 6, 1553, at the age of 15, things were thrown into an uproar. On his deathbed, Edward had named the descendants of his aunt as the heirs to the throne. Essentially, this meant that Henry VIII's sister's grandchildren would be the next to rule so - try to keep this straight – Lady Jane Grey was King Henry VIII's grand-niece and King Edward VI's second cousin. I think. Someone correct me if I have figured that out wrong. Anyway, Edward, who was Protestant, did this because letting his half-sister Mary take the throne would have meant a Catholic England. However, by bypassing his half-sister, Edward was going against the Third Act of Succession passed by Parliament. That Act restored his half-sisters to the line of Succession, which would have made his oldest half-sister Mary the new Queen upon Edward's death.
Initially, Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England to respect Edward's wishes. Mary was enraged by this and gathered enough backing to ride into London with a large group of supporters. Parliament had no choice but to declare Mary the rightful Queen. As Queen, Mary had Jane Grey, her cousin, beheaded. Jane Grey was only 16 (or 17, according to some reports).

Of course, there are plenty of other examples of short-reigning Kings, Queens, Popes, Emperors and Presidents. Which ones do you know of?

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Honorable mention should probably go to a slightly longer short-reigning Pope, John Paul I, who lasted thirty-three days and may have been assassinated for proposing to clean up corruption in the Vatican Bank.
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Down in Argentina, there were three Presidents who held office for just three days: General Arturo Rawson (June 4-7, 1943); Ramón Puerta (December 21-23, 2001) and Eduardo Camaño (December 31, 2001-January 2, 2002).
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