Long lives the queen

Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign is more than just record-breaking — it’s shaped the United Kingdom’s culture for generations.

As Britain’s longest-reigning monarch ever approached her 92nd birthday next month, she’s the only monarch most Britons can remember.

Elizabeth became queen in 1952, and was formally crowned a year later. That means more than 80 percent of Britons were born after Elizabeth’s ascession. (The actual number is likely higher, since this population projection is more than a year old.)

As the endearingly crown-shaped annotation on this graph shows, almost all surviving residents of the U.K. were born either during Elizabeth’s reign or just a few years before it. If the country’s longest-living monarch stays on the throne another five or 10 years, these numbers will only rise.

Elizabeth took the crown at age 25 and has lived for a long time. She’s only the fifth post-Restoration monarch to live past 75 (and the fourth to do so while reigning). But some of her predecessors also had long lives and reigns — most notably Queen Victoria’s 64 years on the throne and George III’s 60 years.

Unlike some of her predecessors, Elizabeth has been removed from the day-to-day politics of the kingdom. But her personal and institutional popularity mean she can serve as “Britain’s great unifier.” Despite exercising only ceremonial powers today, Britain’s monarchs have received great deference from the country’s elected prime ministers — and for a 12 prime ministers, the “monarch” has only meant Elizabeth. (A 13th, Winston Churchill, served under both Elizabeth and her father George VI.)

Three of Britain’s last four prime ministers were born after Elizabeth’s ascession; the fourth, Gordon Brown, beat her by just a year. Even prior leaders such as John Major and Margaret Thatcher lived the majority of their lives under Queen Elizabeth.

The result is a country and political class that has only ever known a female monarch. That’s unusual for Britain, but — due to the long reigns of Elizabeth and Victoria — not that unusual.

Through March 2018, Britain’s various prime ministers have averaged around 60 percent of their lives under kings and 40 percent under queens:

That includes people such as Tony Blair and the Marquess of Salisbury who lived most or all of their lives under reigning queens — but also men like William Pitt the Younger, whose entire life was spent under kings.

The last prime minister to live more than half his or her life under a king was Alec Douglas-Home, P.M. from 1963 to 1964. Douglas-Home was the last of a string of prime ministers to live a majority of their lives under kings, beginning with Stanley Baldwin (in office 1936-1937). Seven prime ministers from Benjamin Disraeli (prime minister in 1868 and 1874-1880) through H. H. Asquith (1908-1916) lived a majority of their lives under queens. Disraeli was the earliest-serving prime minister in British history who eventually lived a majority of his or her life under a queen.

Here’s another graphic that visualizes the lifespan and terms in office of every British prime minister, against the gender of the country’s reigning monachs:

In total, 11 prime ministers have never lived during the reign of a queen, all of them in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Three prime ministers have only lived during a queen’s reign, all of them modern prime ministers under Elizabeth II: Blair, David Cameron and current prime minister Theresa May. But they are unlikely to remain that way, since the 91-year-old Elizabeth will likely be succeeded by her male heir apparent, Prince Charles. Men are also second- and third-in-line for the throne: Charles’ son Prince William and grandson Prince George.

Despite the current line of succession, queens may become more common in Britain if the monarchy endures for centuries more to come. That’s because of a 2011 agreement that ended Britain’s long-running law of male-preference primogeniture. Under that system, women can only inherit the throne if there are no close male claimants. Now the first-born child will stand to become monarch, regardless of their gender.


I scraped data on monarchs and prime ministers from Wikipedia, and cleaned up the data extensively. Fortunately, you don’t have to wade through that process if you want to do your own analysis on either British monarchs or prime ministers. I’ve posted clean spreadsheets on my Github page. I’ve also posted the code used to create these graphs there.