England has a long and storied history of kings stretching back over a thousand years. Determining who the oldest king of England was requires looking back through the various dynasties that have ruled the island nation throughout its history. While records from the early medieval period are scarce, historians have been able to piece together likely ages of the various English monarchs.
Several kings stand out as possible contenders for the title of oldest king of England:
Alfred the Great
Alfred, also known as Alfred the Great, was King of Wessex from 871 to 899 and King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886 to 899. He was born in 849 and died in 899 at around 50 years old. Alfred is known for defeating the Great Heathen Army of Viking invaders and promoting education and the English culture. Given his relatively early time period, the limited records make it difficult to determine his exact age when he died. Some estimates place him as old as 52 or 53 when he passed away, making him one of the oldest kings of his time.
William the Conqueror
William I, commonly known as William the Conqueror, ruled from 1066 until his death in 1087. William was born in 1028 and was around 59 years old when he passed away. He is most famous for leading the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and ushering in a new era of Norman rule.
Henry I was King of England from 1100 until his death in 1135. He was born in 1068 and was around 67 years old when he died. Henry seized the throne following the death of his brother William II and consolidated power through political and military means. He expanded the reach of the English monarchy and implemented major governmental reforms.
Edward I was King of England from 1272 until his death in 1307. He was born in June 1239 and died at age 68 in July 1307, making him one of the older kings at the time of his death. Edward is remembered for reforming common law and summoning the first English parliament. He also waged war against Wales and Scotland, seeking to expand English domination.
Determining the Oldest King
In reviewing the likely contenders, two kings stand out for having possibly been the oldest kings when they died – Henry I and Edward I. Both ruled during periods where record keeping had improved enough to give reasonable estimates of their ages. They died in their late 60s, quite elderly for the medieval era.
To better understand their relative ages, here is a summary table:
|King||Born||Died||Age at Death|
Based on these records, Edward I appears to have been the older king, dying in 1307 at around 68 years old. He outlived Henry I by almost exactly one year.
Some historians argue that Henry I may have been older when he died. There is a little more uncertainty around his exact birth year, with some estimates placing it as early as 1050. Were that accurate, it’s possible Henry I may have been as old as 85 when he passed away. However, most evidence points to 1068 as the more likely date.
Barring the discovery of new evidence about the ages of earlier kings, Edward I seems the most likely contender for oldest king of England. He lived to around 68 or 69 years old at a time when that was quite elderly, especially for the strained life of a medieval monarch.
Why Living Long Was Difficult
Reaching such an advanced age was very rare for English kings during the medieval period. Life expectancy was much lower than today, generally estimated to be around 30-40 years for men in that era.
There were many factors that made longevity difficult:
- Health care was very primitive and lacked effective medicines.
- Poor sanitation and disease outbreaks frequently occurred.
- Wars and injuries commonly proved fatal.
- Famines and food shortages were common.
- Accidents posed risks in everyday life.
The demands of being a medieval king also contributed to the early deaths of many:
- Battles and military conflicts took a lethal toll.
- Political intrigue and assassinations were common.
- Stress and exhaustion from rule shortened life.
- Courtly excess with overeating and alcohol likely impacted health.
Given these challenges, for a king to live into his late 60s required significant luck and physical robustness. Edward I must have had good genes and avoided catastrophic injuries to make it to such an advanced age.
What Led to Longer Lifespans
The reigns of Henry I and Edward I occurred toward the end of the medieval period. After this time, lifespans gradually extended further into modern times. Some key factors enabled this:
- Better agriculture and transport allowed improved nutrition.
- Advancements in medicine and health knowledge.
- Greater availability of skilled physicians.
- More peaceful times decreased wartime deaths.
- Improvements in living conditions and hygiene.
Such changes didn’t occur quickly, but over the centuries the odds of living into one’s 60s, 70s, and beyond crept up across society. Along with this came greater potential for English kings to have lengthy reigns.
Still, Edward I stands out for achieving such an advanced age when living even to 50 was difficult. This likely reflects a combination of good health, safety precautions, and avoiding the perils of battle during his later years as king.
Later Long-Lived Kings
While no English king matched Edward I’s longevity for centuries, there are a few other notably aged monarchs after the medieval period:
James VI and I
James became King James I of England in 1603 after ruling Scotland as James VI since 1567. He was born in 1566 and died in 1625 at the age of 58. James ruled over both England and Scotland for 22 years until his death.
William IV was King of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1837. He was born in 1765 and died in 1837 at the age of 71. William had a long naval career before unexpectedly becoming king in his 60s after his older brother died without an heir.
George III was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 until his death in 1820. He was born in 1738 and died at the age of 81, nearly blind and increasingly unstable mentally. George’s long reign saw the American Revolution as well as the union of Britain and Ireland.
Oldest in Recent Times
In more recent centuries, better healthcare has enabled British monarchs to live even longer lives on average. Some of the oldest British kings and queens include:
- Queen Victoria – Lived to age 81, ruling from 1837 to 1901
- King Edward VII – Lived to age 68, ruling from 1901 to 1910
- Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother – Lived to 101, queen consort from 1936 to 1952
- Queen Elizabeth II – Current queen, born in 1926 at age 96
Queen Elizabeth II recently surpassed the longevity record of Queen Victoria. If she lives several more years, she will likely achieve the longest reign and lifespan of any British monarch.
However, the record for oldest king remains held by Edward I over 700 years ago. His exceptional lifespan in the context of medieval challenges remains an impressive achievement.
Examining the ages of English kings reveals that King Edward I was likely the oldest, living until around 68 or 69 years old in 1307. This reflects an exceptionally long life given poor health and safety in medieval times.
Later improvements in living standards, medicine, and sanitation enabled monarchs to increasingly live into their 60s, 70s, and beyond. But no one matched the longevity of Edward I until recent centuries. His age demonstrates the wisdom, luck, and physical vigor needed for medieval rulers to maintain such lengthy reigns and lives.