While there's a lot of gray, leaders tend to fall into two categories: good and bad. There are dictators who oppress their people, and there are benevolent kings who improve the lives of their subjects. The following monarchs are considered some of the greatest in history, remembered for their outstanding accomplishments, positive contributions, and enduring legacies.
1. Peter the Great of Russia
Peter the Great, also known as Peter I, was the Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725. He is known for his efforts to modernize and westernize Russia, as well as his significant military victories and territorial expansion. Peter implemented a series of reforms that transformed Russia from a largely medieval society into a modern state with a strong navy, army, and centralized government. He also established St. Petersburg as the new capital of Russia and initiated a cultural revolution that led to the growth of art, literature, and education. Peter the Great's legacy continues to influence Russian history and culture to this day.
2. Caesar Augustus
Augustus was born in 63 BC as Gaius Octavius and rose to power after the assassination of his great-uncle Julius Caesar. He was a skilled politician and military commander, and under his leadership, Rome experienced a period of relative peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana. Augustus undertook numerous changes, such as enhancing infrastructure, fortifying the armed forces, and founding a governance framework that served as the cornerstone of the Roman Empire. While facing certain disputes and objections to his autocratic leadership, Augustus is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant individuals in Roman history.
3. King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden
King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, also known as Gustavus Adolphus, was a military leader who rose to power in 1611. He led Sweden during the Thirty Years War and is regarded as one of Sweden's greatest kings. Gustavus Adolphus was known for his military innovations, such as the use of artillery and his innovative military tactics. He supported the arts and sciences while making substantial contributions to the Swedish economy. Despite his numerous achievements, Sweden suffered a significant loss when he died in battle in 1632. Nonetheless, Gustavus Adolphus remains a beloved and celebrated figure in Swedish history.
4. Emperor Meiji of Japan
Emperor Meiji was the 122nd emperor of Japan and ruled from 1867 to 1912. He played a significant role in transforming Japan from a feudal society into a modern, industrialized nation. During his reign, he implemented a number of sweeping reforms, including the abolition of the samurai class and the adoption of a new constitution. He also promoted the growth of industry, education, and modernization, playing a pivotal role in Japan's ascent as a significant global force. Meiji is widely celebrated as one of Japan's most esteemed leaders, and his era is recognized as the Meiji era, a period marked by substantial changes and advancement for Japan.
5. Queen Isabella I of Castile
Queen Isabella I of Castile, was a powerful queen who ruled over a united Spain alongside her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon. She is remembered for her role in the Spanish Inquisition and for funding Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. She was also a patron of the arts and a supporter of education, contributing to the creation of the University of Salamanca. Despite her accomplishments, she faced criticism for her treatment of Jews and Muslims during the Inquisition.
6. Emperor Kangxi of China
Emperor Kangxi was the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty of China and is widely considered to be one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. He ruled for 61 years, from 1661 until his death in 1722, during which he expanded and consolidated the power of the Qing Dynasty, which lasted until 1912. Emperor Kangxi was known for his military successes, cultural achievements, and his efforts to promote religious tolerance and understanding. He is also known for his creation of the Kangxi Dictionary, which is still considered one of the most important Chinese dictionaries ever produced. Under his leadership, China enjoyed a period of relative peace and prosperity, and his legacy is still celebrated in China today.
7. King Louis XIV of France
King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, was a monarch of France from 1643 to 1715. He inherited the throne at the age of four and ruled for 72 years, making him the longest-reigning monarch in European history. Louis XIV is known for his absolutist style of governance, where he held complete power over France and centralized it under his rule. He is credited with modernizing the French army, promoting the arts, and expanding France's territorial boundaries. He built the Palace of Versailles, which became a symbol of his power and wealth. However, his reign was also marked by several wars and conflicts, which drained the country's resources and left it in debt. Despite this, Louis XIV remains an important figure in French history, and his legacy can still be seen in French culture and politics today.
8. Queen Victoria of England
Queen Victoria was the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901. She was the 2nd longest-reigning monarch in British history, ruling for 63 years. During her reign, Britain underwent significant social, economic, and technological changes, and Victoria played an important role in shaping the country's political and cultural landscape. She was a symbol of stability and continuity during a period of great transformation, and her reign is known as the Victorian era. Victoria was also a wife and mother, and her family life was a subject of great interest to the public.
9. King Charlemagne of the Franks
King Charlemagne of the Franks, also known as Charles the Great, was a skilled military strategist who expanded his kingdom and became the ruler of a vast empire covering much of modern-day France, Germany, and Italy in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. He was also a patron of learning and the arts, establishing schools and libraries throughout his empire and advocating for education. Charlemagne was a devout Christian and played a significant role in the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, and his legacy as a powerful ruler and patron of education and the arts has endured throughout the centuries.
10. Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II, also known as Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, reigned as Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms from February 6, 1952, until her passing in 2022. During her lifetime, she was queen regnant of 32 sovereign states and was head of state of 15 realms at the time of her death. With a reign of 70 years and 214 days, she had the longest verified reign of any female head of state in history and the longest reign of any British monarch. Throughout her reign, Elizabeth II played a crucial role in world history, overseeing the transformation of the British Empire into the Commonwealth, the rise of the European Union, and the decline of traditional royal powers. She was also known for her dedication to public service and commitment to the well-being of the British people, promoting numerous philanthropic causes and advocating for education, the arts, and the environment.
These monarchs were exceptional leaders who made significant contributions to their countries' development, prosperity, and cultural advancement. Their legacies continue to inspire and influence their respective countries and the world at large. While there were undoubtedly more great monarchs throughout history, these individuals stand out as some of the best and most influential leaders the world has ever seen.
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