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Monarchy Definition

kingdom; rule by a hereditary sovereign; form of government with a monarch at its head; monarchical state (Wikipedia) - Monarchy For other uses, see Monarchy (disambiguation). Monarchy
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A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is actually or nominally embodied in a single individual (the monarch). Forms of monarchy differ widely based on the level of legal autonomy the monarch holds in governance, the method of selection of the monarch, and any predetermined limits on the length of their tenure. When the monarch has no or few legal restraints in state and political matters, it is called an absolute monarchy and is a form of autocracy. Cases in which the monarch''s discretion is formally limited (most common today) are called constitutional monarchies. In hereditary monarchies, the office is passed through inheritance within a family group, whereas elective monarchies use some system of voting. Each of these has variations: in some elected monarchies only those of certain pedigrees are eligible, whereas many hereditary monarchies impose requirements regarding the religion, age, gender, mental capacity, and other factors. Occasionally this might create a situation of rival claimants whose legitimacy is subject to effective election. Finally, there have been cases where the term of a monarch’s reign is either fixed in years or continues until certain goals are achieved: an invasion being repulsed, for instance. Thus there are widely divergent structures and traditions defining monarchy.

Richard I of England being anointed during his coronation in Westminster Abbey, from a 13th-century chronicle.

Monarchy was the most common form of government until the 19th century, but it is no longer prevalent. Where it exists, it is now usually a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch retains a unique legal and ceremonial role, but exercises limited or no political power: under the written or unwritten constitution, others have governing authority. Currently, 44 sovereign nations in the world have monarchs acting as heads of state, 16 of which are Commonwealth realms that recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. All European monarchies are constitutional ones, with the exception of the Vatican City, but sovereigns in the smaller states exercise greater political influence than in the larger. The monarchs of Cambodia, Japan, and Malaysia "reign, but do not rule" although there is considerable variation in the degree of authority they wield. Although they reign under constitutions, the monarchs of Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland appear to continue to exercise more political influence than any other single source of authority in their nations, either by constitutional mandate or by tradition.

  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 History
  • 3 Characteristics and role
    • 3.1 Powers of monarch
    • 3.2 Person of monarch
    • 3.3 Role of monarch
    • 3.4 Titles of monarchs
    • 3.5 Dependent monarchies
  • 4 Succession
    • 4.1 Hereditary monarchies
    • 4.2 Elective monarchies
  • 5 Current monarchies
  • 6 See also
  • 7 Notes and references
  • 8 External links


The word "monarch" (Latin: monarcha) comes from the Greek language word μονάρχης, monárkhēs (from μόνος monos, "one, singular", and ἄρχω árkhō, "to rule" (compare ἄρχων arkhon, "leader, ruler, chief")) which referred to a single, at least nominally absolute ruler. In current usage the word monarchy usually refers to a traditional system of hereditary rule, as elective monarchies are rare nowadays.

HistoryKing Sigismund I the Old reigned as King of Poland from 1506 until 1548King George III of the United Kingdom, Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1762

Tribal kingship is often connected to sacral functions, so that the king acts as a priest, or is considered of Divine ancestry. The sacral function of kingship was transformed into the notion of "Divine right of kings" in the Christian Middle Ages, while the Chinese, Japanese and Nepalese monarchs continued to be considered living Gods into the modern period.

Since antiquity, monarchy has contrasted with forms of democracy, where executive power is wielded by assemblies of free citizens. In antiquity, monarchies were abolished in favour of such assemblies in Rome (Roman Republic, 509 BC), and Athens (Athenian democracy, 500 BC).

In Germanic antiquity, kingship was primarily a sacral function, and the king was elected from among eligible members of royal families by the thing.

Such ancient "parliamentarism" declined during the European Middle Ages, but it survived in forms of regional assemblies, such as the Icelandic Commonwealth, the Swiss Landsgemeinde and later Tagsatzung, and the High Medieval communal movement linked to the rise of medieval town privileges.

The modern resurgence of parliamentarism and anti-monarchism began with the temporary overthrow of the English monarchy by the Parliament of England in 1649, followed by the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1792. Much of 19th century politics was characterized by the division between anti-monarchist Radicalism and monarchist Conservativism.

Many countries abolished the monarchy in the 20th century and became republics, especially in the wake of either World War I or World War II. Advocacy of republics is called republicanism, while advocacy of monarchies is called monarchism.

Characteristics and roleA 19th century portrayal of Emperor Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan.

Monarchies are associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule, in which monarchs rule for life (although some monarchs do not hold lifetime positions: for example the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia serves a five-year term) and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their child or a member of their family when they die. Most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family, the center of the royal household and court. Growing up in a royal family (when it continues for several generations it may be called a dynasty), future monarchs were often trained for the responsibilities of expected future rule.

Different systems of succession have been used, such as proximity of blood, primogeniture, and agnatic seniority (Salic law). While most monarchs have been male, many female monarchs also have reigned in history; the term queen regnant refers to a ruling monarch, while a queen consort refers to the wife of a reigning king. Rule may be hereditary in practice without being considered a monarchy, such as that of family dictatorships or political families in many democracies.

The principal advantage of hereditary monarchy is the immediate continuity of leadership, (as seen in the classic phrase "The King is dead. Long live the King!").

Some monarchies are non-hereditary. In an elective monarchy, monarchs are elected, or appointed by some body (an electoral college) for life or a defined period, but otherwise serve as any other monarch. Three elective monarchies exist today: Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates are 20th-century creations, while one (the papacy) is ancient.

A self-proclaimed monarchy is established when a person claims the monarchy without any historical ties to a previous dynasty. Napoleon I of France declared himself Emperor of the French and ruled the First French Empire after previously calling himself First Consul following his seizure of power in the coup of 18 Brumaire. Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic declared himself "Emperor" of the Central African Empire. Yuan Shikai crowned himself Emperor of the short-lived "Empire of China" a few years after the Republic of China was founded.

Powers of monarchKing Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarch.

Today, the extent of a monarch''s powers varies:

  • In an absolute monarchy, the monarch rules as an autocrat, with absolute power over the state and government—for example, the right to rule by decree, promulgate laws, and impose punishments. Absolute monarchies are not necessarily authoritarian; the enlightened absolutists of the Age of Enlightenment were monarchs who allowed various freedoms.
  • In a constitutional monarchy the monarch is subject to a constitution. The monarch serves as a ceremonial figurehead symbol of national unity and state continuity. The monarch is nominally sovereign but the electorate, through their parliament/legislature, exercise usually limited political sovereignty. Constitutional monarchs have limited political power, except in Japan, where the constitution grants no power to the Emperor. Typical monarchical powers include granting pardons, granting honours, and reserve powers, e.g. to dismiss the prime minister, refuse to dissolve parliament, or veto legislation ("withhold Royal Assent"). They often also have privileges of inviolability, sovereign immunity, and an official residence. A monarch''s powers and influence may depend on tradition, precedent, popular opinion, and law.
  • In other cases the monarch''s power is limited, not due to constitutional restraints, but to effective military rule. In the late Roman Empire, the Praetorian Guard several times deposed Roman Emperors and installed new emperors. The Hellenistic kings of Macedon and of Epirus were elected by the army, which was similar in composition to the ecclesia of democracies, the council of all free citizens; military service often was linked with citizenship among the male members of the royal house. Military domination of the monarch has occurred in modern Thailand and in medieval Japan (where a hereditary military chief, the shogun, was the de facto ruler, although the Japanese emperor nominally ruled). In Fascist Italy the Savoy monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel III coexisted with the Fascist single-party rule of Benito Mussolini; Romania under the Iron Guard and Greece during the first months of the Colonels'' regime were much the same way. Spain under Francisco Franco was officially a monarchy, although there was no monarch on the throne. Upon his death, Franco was succeeded as head of state by the Bourbon heir, Juan Carlos I, who proceeded to make Spain a democracy with himself as a figurehead constitutional monarch.
Person of monarchPostcard of ruling monarchs, taken in 1908 between February (accession of King Manuel II of Portugal) and November (death of Guangxu Emperor).

Most states only have a single person acting as monarch at any given time, although two monarchs have ruled simultaneously in some countries, a situation known as diarchy. Historically this was the case in the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta or 17th-century Russia, and there are examples of joint sovereignty of spouses or relatives (such as William and Mary in the Kingdoms of England and Scotland). Other examples of joint sovereignty include Tsars Peter I and Ivan V of Russia and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Joanna of Castile of the Crown of Castile.

Andorra currently is the world''s sole constitutional diarchy or co-principality. Located in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, it has two co-princes: the Bishop of Urgell (a prince-bishop) in Spain and the President of France (inherited ex officio from French kings). It is the only situation in which an independent country''s monarch is democratically elected by the citizens of another country.

In a personal union, separate independent states share the same person as monarch, but each realm has its own crown or monarchy. The sixteen separate Commonwealth realms are sometimes described as being in a personal union with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch, however, they can also be described as being in a shared monarchy.

A regent may rule when the monarch is a minor, absent, or debilitated.

A pretender is a claimant to an abolished throne or to a throne already occupied by somebody else.

Abdication is when a monarch resigns.

Monarchs often take part in certain ceremonies, such as a coronation.

Role of monarch

Monarchy, especially absolute monarchy, sometimes is linked to religious aspects; many monarchs once claimed the right to rule by the will of a deity (Divine Right of Kings, Mandate of Heaven), a special connection to a deity (sacred king) or even purported to be divine kings, or incarnations of deities themselves (imperial cult). Many European monarchs have been styled Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith); some hold official positions relating to the state religion or established church.

In the Western political tradition, a morally-based, balanced monarchy is stressed as the ideal form of government, and little reverence is paid to modern-day ideals of egalitarian democracy: e.g. Saint Thomas Aquinas unapologetically declares: "Tyranny is wont to occur not less but more frequently on the basis of polyarchy than on the basis of monarchy." (On Kingship). However, Thomas Aquinas also stated that the ideal monarchical system would also have at lower levels of government both an aristocracy and elements of democracy in order to create a balance of power. The monarch would also be subject to both natural and divine law, as well, and also be subject to the Church in matters of religion.

Ghezo, King of Dahomey, was under pressure from the British to end the slave trade.

In Dante Alighieri''s De Monarchia, a spiritualized, imperial Catholic monarchy is strongly promoted according to a Ghibelline world-view in which the "royal religion of Melchizedek" is emphasized against the sacerdotal claims of the rival papal ideology.

In Saudi Arabia, the king is a head of state who is both the absolute monarch of the country and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Islam (خادم الحرمين الشريفين).

Titles of monarchs

Monarchs can have various titles. Common European titles include including king or queen, prince or princess, emperor or empress, or even duke, grand duke, or duchess. Some early modern European titles included margrave, elector, and burgrave. Lesser titles include count, princely count, or imam (Use in Oman). Slavic titles include knyaz and tsar, a word derived from the Roman imperial title Caesar. Arabic-language titles used in the Arab and Muslim worlds include caliph, sultan, emir and sheikh. Historically, Mongolic or Turkic monarchs have used the title khagan.

Many monarchs are addressed with particular styles, such as "Majesty", "Royal Highness" or "By the Grace of God".

Sometimes titles are used to express claims to territories that are not held in fact (for example, English claims to the French throne) or titles not recognized (antipopes). Also, after a monarchy is deposed, often former monarchs and their descendants are given titles (the King of Portugal was given the hereditary title Duke of Braganza).

Dependent monarchies

In some cases monarchs are dependent on other powers (see vassals, suzerainty, puppet state, hegemony). In the British colonial era indirect rule under a paramount power existed, such as the princely states under the British Raj.

In Botswana, South Africa, Ghana and Uganda, the ancient kingdoms and chiefdoms that were met by the colonialists when they first arrived on the continent are now constitutionally protected as regional and/or sectional entities. Furthermore, in Nigeria, though the dozens of sub-regional polities that exist there are not provided for in the current constitution, they are nevertheless legally recognised aspects of the structure of governance that operates in the nation. In addition to these five countries, peculiar monarchies of varied sizes and complexities exist in various other parts of Africa.


The rules for selection of monarchs varies from country to country. In constitutional monarchies the rule of succession generally is embodied in a law passed by a representative body, such as a parliament.

Hereditary monarchiesKing Leopold I, an elected founder of the hereditary monarchy of Belgium.

In a hereditary monarchy, the position of monarch is inherited according to a statutory or customary order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin through a historical dynasty or bloodline. This usually means that the heir to the throne is known well in advance of becoming monarch to ensure a smooth succession.

Primogeniture, in which the eldest child of the monarch is first in line to become monarch, is the most common system in hereditary monarchy. The order of succession is usually affected by rules on gender. Historically "agnatic primogeniture" or "patrilineal primogeniture" was favoured, that is inheritance according to seniority of birth among the sons of a monarch or head of family, with sons and their male issue inheriting before brothers and their issue, and male-line males inheriting before females of the male line. This is the same as semi-Salic primogeniture. Complete exclusion of females from dynastic succession is commonly referred to as application of the Salic law (see Terra salica).

Before primogeniture was enshrined in European law and tradition, kings would often secure the succession by having their successor (usually their eldest son) crowned during their own lifetime, so for a time there would be two kings in coregency – a senior king and a junior king. Examples include Henry the Young King of England and the early Direct Capetians in France.

Sometimes, however, primogeniture can operate through the female line. In some systems a female may rule as monarch only when the male line dating back to a common ancestor is exhausted.

In 1980, Sweden became the first European monarchy to declare equal (full cognatic) primogeniture, meaning that the eldest child of the monarch, whether female or male, ascends to the throne. Other kingdoms (such as the Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991, and Denmark) have since followed suit. The United Kingdom adopted absolute (equal) primogeniture on the 25th of April 2013, following agreement by the prime ministers of the sixteen Commonwealth Realms at the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Sometimes religion is affected; for example the British monarch, as head of the Church of England, is required to be in communion with the Church, although all other former rules forbidding marriage to non-Protestants were abolished when equal primogeniture was adopted in 2013.

In the case of the absence of children, the next most senior member of the collateral line (for example, a younger sibling of the previous monarch) becomes monarch. In complex cases, this can mean that there are closer blood relatives to the deceased monarch than the next in line according to primogeniture. This has often led, especially in Europe in the Middle Ages, to conflict between the principle of primogeniture and the principle of proximity of blood.

Other hereditary systems of succession included tanistry, which is semi-elective and gives weight to merit and Agnatic seniority. In some monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, succession to the throne usually first passes to the monarch''s next eldest brother, and only after that to the monarch''s children (agnatic seniority).

Elective monarchies

In an elective monarchy, monarchs are elected, or appointed by some body (an electoral college) for life or a defined period, but otherwise serve as any other monarch. There is no popular vote involved in elective monarchies, as the elective body usually consists of a small number of eligible people. Historical examples of elective monarchy include the Holy Roman Emperors (chosen by prince-electors, but often coming from the same dynasty), and the free election of kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. For example, Pepin the Short (father of Charlemagne) was elected King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish leading men; Stanisław August Poniatowski of Poland was an elected king, as was Frederick I of Denmark. Germanic peoples had elective monarchies.

Three elective monarchies exist today. The pope of the Roman Catholic Church (who rules as Sovereign of the Vatican City State) is elected to a life term by the College of Cardinals. In Malaysia, the federal king, called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong ("Paramount Ruler") is elected for a five-year term from and by the hereditary rulers (mostly sultans) of nine of the federation''s constitutive states, all on the Malay peninsula. The United Arab Emirates also has a procedure for electing its monarch.

Appointment by the current monarch is another system, used in Jordan. It also was used in Imperial Russia; however, it was changed to semi-Salic soon, because the unreliable realization of the appointment system resulted in an age of palace revolutions. In this system, the monarch chooses the successor, who is always his relative.

See also: jure uxoris Current monarchies
  Absolute monarchy   Semi-constitutional monarchy   Constitutional monarchy   Commonwealth realms (constitutional monarchies in personal union)   Subnational monarchies (traditional)
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Currently there are 44 nations in the world with a monarch as head of state. They fall roughly into the following categories:

  • Commonwealth realms. Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch of sixteen Commonwealth realms (Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). They have evolved out of the British Empire into fully independent states within the Commonwealth of Nations that retain the Queen as head of state, unlike other Commonwealth countries that are either dependencies, republics or have a different royal house. All sixteen realms are constitutional monarchies and full democracies where the Queen has limited powers or a largely ceremonial role. The Queen is head of the established Protestant Christian Church of England in the United Kingdom, while the other 15 realms do not have an established church.
  • Other European constitutional monarchies. Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden are fully democratic states in which the monarch has a limited or largely ceremonial role. There is generally a Christian religion established as the official church in each of these countries. This is a form of Protestantism in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, while Belgium, Luxembourg, and Andorra are Roman Catholic countries. Spain and the Netherlands have no official State religion. Andorra is unique among these monarchies, as it is, by definition, a diarchy, with the Co-Princeship being shared by the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell. This situation, based on historic precedence, has created a unique situation among monarchies, as both Co-Princes are not of Andorran descent, and one is elected by common citizens (of France, however, as Andorrans cannot vote in the French Presidential Elections).
  • European constitutional/absolute monarchies. Liechtenstein and Monaco are constitutional monarchies in which the Prince retains many powers of an absolute monarch. For example the 2003 Constitution referendum which gives the Prince of Liechtenstein the power to veto any law that the Landtag proposes and the Landtag can veto any law that the Prince tries to pass. The Prince can hire or dismiss any elective member or government employee from his or her post. However, what makes him not an absolute monarch is that the people can call for a referendum to end the monarchy''s reign. The Prince of Monaco has simpler powers but can not hire or dismiss any elective member or government employee from his or her post, but he can elect the minister of state, government council and judges. Both Albert II and Hans-Adam II have quite a bit of political power, but they also own huge tracts of land and are shareholders in many companies.
  • Islamic monarchies. These Islamic monarchs of Bahrain, Brunei, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates generally retain far more powers than their European or Commonwealth counterparts. Brunei, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia remain absolute monarchies; Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates are classified as mixed, meaning there are representative bodies of some kind, but the monarch retains most of his powers. Jordan, Malaysia and Morocco are constitutional monarchies, but their monarchs still retain more substantial powers than European equivalents.
  • East Asian constitutional monarchies. Bhutan, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand have constitutional monarchies where the monarch has a limited or ceremonial role. Bhutan, Japan and Thailand are countries that were never colonized by European powers, but have changed from traditional absolute monarchies into constitutional ones during the twentieth century. Cambodia had its own monarchy after independence from France, which was deposed after the Khmer Rouge came into power and the subsequent invasion by Vietnam. The monarchy was subsequently restored in the peace agreement of 1993.
  • Other monarchies. Five monarchies do not fit into one of the above groups by virtue of geography or class of monarchy: Tonga and Samoa in Polynesia; Swaziland and Lesotho in Africa; and the Vatican City in Europe. Of these, Lesotho and Tonga are constitutional monarchies, while Swaziland and Vatican City are absolute monarchies. Samoa falls into neither class, as one of the Four Paramount Chiefs of the country is elected to hold the position of O le Ao o le Malo, or "Chieftain of the Government". This position is not required by the Samoan constitution, which is why Samoa is officially classified as a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy. Swaziland is also unique among these monarchies, often being considered a diarchy. The King, or Ngwenyama, rules alongside his mother, the Ndlovukati, as dual heads of state originally designed to be checks on political power. The Ngwenyama, however, is considered the administrative head of state, while the Ndlovukati is considered the spiritual and national head of state, a position which more or less has become symbolic in recent years. The Pope is monarch of Vatican City by virtue of his position as head of the Catholic Church; he is an elected rather than hereditary ruler and is always a non-native of the territory.
See also
  • Abolished monarchy
  • Archontology
  • Big man
  • Criticism of monarchy
  • Diarchy
  • Family as a model for the state
  • Family dictatorship
  • Federal monarchy
  • King of Kings
  • Maharaja
  • Might makes right
  • Monarch
  • Monarchy in Ancient India
  • Order of succession
  • Personal union
  • Royal and noble ranks
  • List of current monarchs
  • List of living former sovereign monarchs
  • List of monarchies
  • List of monarchs by nickname
  • List of subnational monarchs
  • List of the richest royals
  • List of usurpers
Notes and references
  • ^ Stuart Berg Flexner and Leonore Crary Hauck, editors, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Ed., Random House, New York (1993)
  • ^ Examples include Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell in the Commonwealth of England, Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea, the Somoza family in Nicaragua, François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti, and Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
  • ^ For example, the Kennedy family in the United States and the Nehru-Gandhi family in India. See list of political families.
  • ^ Murphy, Michael Dean. "A Kinship Glossary: Symbols, Terms, and Concepts". Retrieved 2006-10-05. 
  • ^ SOU 1977:5 Kvinnlig tronföljd, p. 16.
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    • Crown of Charles X
    • Crown of Napoleon III
    • Crown of Empress Eugénie
    • Coronet of Crown Prince Carl (Norway)
    • Crown of Christian IV (Denmark)
    • Crown of Christian V (Denmark)
    • Crown of Eric XIV (Sweden)
    • Crown of Norway
    • Crown of the Queen of Norway
    • Crown of Zvonimir (Croatia)
    • Crown of Elisabeta (Romania)
    • Crown of Maria (Romania)
    • Crown of Greece
    • Steel Crown of Romania
    • Crown of Peter I (Serbia)
    • Diamond Crown (Bulgaria)
    • Crown of Martin of Aragon
    • Royal Crown of Spain
    • Crown of João VI (Portugal)
    • Crown of William I (Netherlands)
    • Crown of William II (Netherlands)
    • Holy Crown of Hungary (Hungary)
    • Crown of Stephen Bocskay
    • Papal tiara
    • Crown of Rus (Ukraine)
    • Crown of Faustin I (Haiti)
    • Empress Crown (Iran/Persia)
    • Great Crown of Victory (Siam/Thailand)
    • Kiani Crown (Iran/Persia)
    • Imperial Crown of Brazil
    • Imperial Crown of Mexico
    • Crown of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha of Sri Lanka
    • Pahlavi Crown (Iran/Persia)
    • Crown of Baekje (Korea)
    • Crown of Gaya (Korea)
    • Crown of Silla (Korea)
    • Crown of Hawaii
    • Crown of Tahiti
    • Crown of Madagascar
    • Crown of Ranavalona III
    • Silver crown of Emperor Tewodros (Ethiopia)