On this day in 1982, the world’s longest-ruling monarch, Sobhuza II, King of Swaziland, died. Sobhuza II was king of Swaziland for 82 years, 254 days—the longest precisely dated monarchical reign on record and the longest reign of any monarch since antiquity.
Born Nkhotfotjeni on 22 July 1899, Sobhuza was named after the Swazi word for “stone lizard,” because his father had been living among the stones like a lizard ever since war was imminent between the Boers and the Swazis. When his father died some four or five months later, Nkhotfotjeni succeeded Ngwane V, his father and predecessor, as Paramount Chief of Swaziland, on 10 December 1899 and was given the kingly name Sobhuza II. Young Sobhuza was a mere infant at the time and his grandmother, Labotsibeni Mdluli, acted as regent until 22 December 1921, when he was coronated.
When Swaziland gained independence from Great Britain in 1968, the existing tribal government decided to fashion itself into a constitutional monarchy of sorts. As such, in 1968, after Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain, Sobhuza was made King of Swaziland. This arrangement existed until 12 April 1973, at which time Sobhuza repealed the constitution, dissolved parliament, and installed himself as absolute ruler.
As king, Sobhuza was largely a pacifist who was against violence. He negotiated Swaziland’s independence from Britain without bloodshed and worked to unify African leaders. It was under his reign that Swaziland became a member of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity. Nonetheless, as king, Sobhuza also attempted to gain control over KaNgwane, a homeland set up by the South African apartheid government.
The king also maintained the tribal practice of keeping many wives. According to the Swaziland National Trust Commission, he married 70 wives and fathered between 200 and 600 children between 1920 and 1970, who produced more than 1000 grandchildren by the time Sobhuza died. When King Sobhuza II died in 1982, his many children made choosing a successor a considerable challenge. Sobhuza had appointed Prince Sozisa Dlamini, one of the king’s closest advisors, to serve as an official member of the monarchy advising a regent after his death. The first regent was Queen Dzeliwe, who was deposed by Dlamini after a power struggle and replaced with Queen Ntombi, with Ntombi and Sobhuza’s young son, Mswati, designated as Crown Prince. In 1986, Mswati was crowned king, continuing the proud tradition of Sobhuza and his fathers before him.
King Sobhuza, whose 82-year, 254-day reign is unmatched, is the longest serving monarch since antiquity in documented history. Only Pepi II Neferkare of Ancient Egypt and Taejo of the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo are claimed to have reigned longer, though no evidence is available in either case.