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For other senses, see monarch (disambiguation).

A monarch (see sovereign) is a type of ruler or head of state, whose titles and ascent are often inherited, not earned, and who represents a larger monarchical system which has established rules and customs regarding succession, duties, and powers. A nation ruled by a monarch is called a monarchy.

The word "monarch" derives from Greek monos archein, meaning "one ruler," and referred to an absolute ruler in ancient Greece. With time, the word has been succeeded in this meaning by others, like autocrat or dictator, and the word monarch in modern usage almost always refers to a traditional system of hereditary rulership (but see the discussion on elective monarchies below).


Possible definitions of the term

Which rulers are considered monarchs today is partially a matter of tradition, so there are no hard and fast rules. There are, however, a number of characteristics that are commonly, though not universally, distinguishing for monarchs:

  • Most monarchs hold their office for life, while most other rulers do not. A monarch may chose to resign his position through abdication, though this is a rare and dramatic practice.
    • Exceptions to this include the French co-prince of Andorra, who is not appointed for life (he is the French President, elected for a five year period by the French people), but still generally considered a monarch because of the use of a traditionally monarchical title. (Though, a purist might regard Andorra as a diarchy.) Similarly, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia is considered a monarch although only holding the office five years at a time. On the other hand, several life-time dictators around the world have not been considered monarchs.
  • Most monarchs are raised within a royal family where they are taught to expect and obey their future "duties," and they are, formally or informally, succeeded upon their death or abdication by members of their own family, usually their eldest son or eldest child. As a result, most stable monarchies have a long legacy of rule by a single family or bloodline.
    • Once again, Malaysia is an exception, as is the Vatican City (the Pope bears the title "Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City"). Also, the practice is not totally uncommon in systems which are not considered monarchical, such as family dictatorships.
  • Most monarchs hold titles that are traditional among monarchs (see below). While this is a fairly arbitrary characteristic, it might just be the best distinction between monarchs and non-monarchs at the moment.

Different types of monarchs

Monarchy is the form of government involving a monarch. It can be either absolute or constitutional, and constitutional monarchies may even restrict the powers of the monarch to the point where he is little more than a near-powerless figurehead, which is a common modern practice. The word monarchy can also be used about a country which has such a system. Normally however, such countries identify themselves more narrowly depending on the actual title used by the monarch – e.g., as a kingdom, grand duchy, or principality.

Elective monarchies were once common, although only a very small portion of the population was eligible to vote. As the impact of the feudal system diminished, many monarchs were eventually allowed to introduce hereditary succession, guaranteeing that the title and office will stay within the family. Today, almost all monarchies are hereditary monarchies in which the monarchs come from one royal family with the office of sovereign being passed from one family member to another upon the death or abdication of the incumbent. Existing elective monarchies include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the Holy See. The former system of the election of the doge in Venice is also widely known.

A sovereign is the monarch of a sovereign state. Although non-sovereign states have often had monarchs historically (not least within the Holy Roman Empire), all European monarchs since 1918 have been sovereigns. Outside Europe there still exist several monarchs of subnational entities however, most notably in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. A more obscure example is that of Kings of the French Wallis and Futuna territory. In a few cases a monarch is associated with a particular group (or nation) within a state, such as Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu of the Maori (the Maori Queen) and Osei Tutu II of the Ashanti.

European monarchical titles

In Europe, a monarch may traditionally bear any of several titles. Although monarchs have normally been male, each of these titles also has a female counterpart. This is used not only in the (historically rare) case that the monarch is female, but also for wives of monarchs (when there is need to distinguish between the two cases, terms like Queen regnant and Queen consort are used). The converse is not true however: the husband of a queen regnant is not automatically a king (e.g., the Duke of Edinburgh is not King Philip of the United Kingdom).

The more frequent use of the word monarch in recent years arises from this possibility of a male or female ruler. Formerly, the ruler was expected to be male, therefore a terminology of masculine words developed, the feminine words expressing a different role. The word monarch covers both sexes so is more acceptable in a general discussion in a gender-conscious culture.

The normal monarch title in Europe – i.e., the one used if the monarch has no higher title – is Prince. It was a common title within the Holy Roman Empire, along with a number of higher titles listed below. Such titles were granted by the Emperor, while the titulation of rulers of sovereign states was generally left to the discretion of themselves, most often choosing King. Such titulations could cause diplomatic problems, and especially the elevation to Emperor was seen as an offensive action. During the 19th and 20th centuries most small monarchies in Europe disappeared to form larger entities, and so King has become the most common title today.

Title Female counterpart Realm Latin Description
Pope n/a* Papacy Papa Monarch of the Papal States and later Sovereign of the State of Vatican City; considered senior to Emperors in diplomatic relations
Emperor Empress Empire Imperator Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Russia (Tsar), France, Austria, German Empire (none left in Europe after 1918), Empress of India (ceased to be used after 1947 when India was granted independence from the British Empire). The Japanese monarchy is now the only monarchy to still use the title.
King Queen Kingdom Rex Common in larger sovereign states
Viceroy Vicereine Viceroyalty Historical: Portuguese Empire (India, Brazil), Spanish colonial empire, British Empire
Grand Duke Grand Duchess Grand duchy Magnus Dux Today: Luxembourg. Historical: Lithuania, Baden, Finland et al.
Archduke Archduchess Archduchy Arci Dux Historical: Unique only in Austria, Archduchy of Austria. Title used for member of the Habsburg dynasty.
Prince Princess Principality Princeps Today: Monaco, Liechtenstein
Duke Duchess Duchy Dux  

*As popes are usually Catholic priests (technically not a requirement, see Pope - Election), a celibate office forbidden to women, there is no female equivalent. Legends of female popes (see Pope Joan) refer to them as "pope." Some European languages have a feminine form of the word pope, such as the French papesse (to pape) or German Päpstin (to Papst), used, among other things, for the High Priestess tarot card.

Note that some of these titles have several meanings and do not necessarily designate a monarch. A Prince can be a person of royal blood (some languages uphold this distinction, see Fürst). A Duke can be a British peer. In Imperial Russia, a Grand Duke was a son or grand-son of the Tsar. Holders of titles in these alternative meanings did not enjoy the same status as actual monarchs of the same title.

Within the Holy Roman Empire, there were even more titles that were occasionally used for monarchs although they were normally noble; Margrave, Count Palatine, Landgrave. An actual monarch with such low titles still outranked a noble Duke.

Today, there are seven kingdoms, one grand duchy, and two principalities in Europe, excluding the peculiar case of Andorra.

Monarchical titles in use by non-monarchs

It is not uncommon that people who are not generally seen as monarchs nevertheless use monarchical titles. There are three cases of this:

  • Claiming an existing title, challenging the current holder. This has been very common historically. For centuries, the British monarch used, among his other titles, the title King of France, despite the fact that he had no authority over French territory. There have also been numerous antipopes.
  • Retaining the title of an extinct monarchy. This can be coupled with a claim that the monarchy was in fact never, or should never have been, extinct. An example of the first case is the Prince of Seborga. Examples of the second case are several deposed monarchs or otherwise pretenders to thrones of abolished monarchies, e.g., Leka, Crown Prince of Albania who is styled by some as the "King of Albania." Retaining the title of an extinct monarchy can, however, be totally free of claims of sovereignty, as when Juan Carlos I of Spain includes "King of Jerusalem" in his full title. When it comes to deposed monarchs, it is customary to style them as if they were still monarchs (e.g., HM Constantine II, King of the Hellenes), although some republicans may be offended by this custom.
  • Inventing a new title. This is common by founders of micronations, and also may or may not come with a claim of sovereignty. When it does, it is most often disregarded by state leaders. A notable example is Paddy Roy Bates, styling himself the "Prince of Sealand," but not recognized as such by any national government, thus failing at least the constitutive condition for statehood (see Sealand for a fuller discussion of his claims).

Other monarchical titles

In China, "king" is the usual translation for the term wang, which designated the sovereign before the Qin dynasty and during the Ten Kingdoms period. During the early Han dynasty, China had a number of small kingdoms, each about the size of a county and subordinate to the Emperor of China.

When a difference exists, male titles are placed to the left and female titles are placed to the right of the slash.

By region

General monarch titles


Succession from one monarch to another varies from country to country. Traditionally, hereditary succession within members of one family has been most common. The usual hereditary succession has based on some cognatic principles and on seniority, though also merits have influenced. Thus, the most common hereditary system in feudal Europe was based on cognatic primogeniture, where a lord was succeeded by his eldest son, and failing sons, by either daughters or by sons of daughters. The system of tanistry was semi-elective and gave weight also to merits and capability. The Quasi-Salic succession provided firstly male members of the family to succeed, and secondarily males also from female lines. In most feudal fiefs, females (such as daughters and sisters) were allowed to succeed, brothers failing, but usually the husband of the heiress became the real lord and most often also got title, iure uxoris. Great Britain and Spain are today continuing this old model of succession law, in form of cognatic primogeniture. In more complex medieval cases, the sometimes conflicting principles of proximity and primogeniture battled, and outcomes could have been idiosyncratic. As the average life span increased (lords limited their own participation in dangerous battles, and society's more wealthy had increasingly better sustenance and living conditions, which improved general health among princes), primogeniture began to win the battle against proximity, tanistry, seniority and election.

Later, when lands were strictly divided among noble families and tended to remain fixed, agnatic primogeniture (practically the same as Salic Law) became the most usual: succession going to the eldest son of the monarch; if the monarch had no sons, the throne would pass to the nearest male relative through male line.

Some countries however accepted female rulers early on, so that if the monarch had no sons, the throne would pass to the eldest daughter. (This, cognatic primogeniture, was the rule that let Elizabeth II become Queen.)

In 1980, Sweden became the first European monarchy to abolish this preference for males altogether, declaring equal primogeniture or full cognatic primogeniture, so that the eldest child of the monarch now ascends to the throne, be that child male or female. Other kingdoms (Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991 and the Netherlands) have followed.

In some monarchies, e.g. Saudi Arabia, succession to the throne has passed to the monarch's next eldest brother, and only to the monarch's children after that (= agnatic seniority). In some other monarchies (e.g. Jordan), the monarch chooses who will be his successor, who need not necessarily be his eldest son.

Current monarchs

NOTE: The table comprises all sovereign monarchs of the world today, but is severely incomplete with regard to the non-sovereign monarchs.

Name Born Title Since Succession Next in line
Bhumibol Adulyadej 1927 King of Thailand 1946 Maha Vajiralongkorn
Elizabeth II 1926 Queen of Antigua and Barbuda
Queen of Australia
Queen of the Bahamas
Queen of Barbados
Queen of Belize
Queen of Canada
Queen of Grenada
Queen of Jamaica
Queen of New Zealand
Queen of Papua New Guinea
Queen of Saint Kitts and Nevis
Queen of Saint Lucia
Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Queen of the Solomon Islands
Queen of Tuvalu
Queen of the United Kingdom
Duke of Normandy
Lord of Mann
1952 Cognatic primogeniture The Prince of Wales
Tunku Abdul Halim 1924 Sultan of Kedah (in Malaysia) 1958 Hereditary
Constantine II 1940 King of Greece 1964 Equal primogeniture Crown Prince Pavlos
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV 1918 King of Tonga 1965
Hassanal Bolkiah 1946 Sultan of Brunei 1967
Goodwill Zwelethini 1948 King of the Zulus (in South Africa) 1968
Qaboos 1940 Sultan of Oman 1970
Jigme Singye Wangchuk 1955 King of Bhutan 1972
Margrethe II 1940 Queen of Denmark 1972 Cognatic primogeniture Crown Prince Frederik
Carl XVI Gustaf 1946 King of Sweden 1973 Equal primogeniture Crown Princess Victoria
Ahmad Shah 1930 Sultan of Pahang (in Malaysia) 1974 Hereditary
Hamad ibn Muhammad ash-Sharqi 1949 Emir of Fujairah (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1974
Juan Carlos I 1938 King of Spain 1975 Hereditary The Prince of Asturias
Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah 1926 Emir of Kuwait 1977
Ismail Petra Sultan of Kelantan (in Malaysia) 1979 Hereditary
Beatrix 1938 Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands 1980 Equal primogeniture The Prince of Orange
Alhaji Muhammadu Kabir Usman ? Emir of Katsina (in Nigeria) 1981
Rashid ibn Ahmad Al Mu'alla 1930 Emir of Umm al-Qaiwain (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1981
Iskandar 1932 Sultan of Johor (in Malaysia) 1981 Hereditary
Humayd ibn Rashid Al Nuaimi 1931 Emir of Ajman (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1981
Mswati III 1968 King of Swaziland 1982
Sultan III ibn Muhammad al-Qasimi 1939 Emir of Ajman (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1987
Hans-Adam II 1945 Prince of Liechtenstein 1989 Hereditary Hereditary Prince Alois
Akihito 1933 Emperor of Japan 1990 Crown Prince Naruhito
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum 1946 Emir of Dubai (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1990 Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Harald V 1937 King of Norway 1991 Equal primogeniture Crown Prince Haakon Magnus
Muwenda Mutebi 1955 King of Buganda (in Uganda) 1993
Albert II 1934 King of the Belgians 1993 Equal primogeniture The Duke of Brabant
Solomon Gafabusa Iguru 1949 King of Bunyoro-Kitara (in Uganda) 1994
Jacques Chirac 1932 French Co-prince of Andorra 1995 Election by the French people (term ends in 2007) None
Hamad bin Khalifa Emir of Qatar 1995
Letsie III 1963 King of Lesotho 1996
Mizan Zainal Abidin Sultan of Terengganu (in Malaysia) 1998 Hereditary
Abdullah II 1962 King of Jordan 1999 Choice by predecessor Prince Hussein
Mohammed VI 1963 King of Morocco 1999
Henri 1955 Grand Duke of Luxembourg 2000 Agnatic primogeniture Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume
Sharafuddin Idris Shah Sultan of Selangor (in Malaysia) 2001 Hereditary
Joan Enric Vives Sicília 1949 Episcopal Co-prince of Andorra 2001 Appointed None
Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin 1943 Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) 2001 Election among local monarchs The Sultan of Terengganu, if rotation is upheld
Raja of Perlis (in Malaysia) 2000 Hereditary
Gyanendra 1947 King of Nepal 2001
Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah 1950 King of Bahrain 2002
Norodom Sihamoni 1953 King of Cambodia 2004 Election by 9-member "throne council"
Tomasi Kulimoetoke II ,

Soane Patita Maituku , Visesio Moeliku ,

Lavelua of Wallis and Futuna

(a French territory in the Pacific Ocean)

2004 3 traditional monarchs of Wallis and Futuna. Chosen by tribe commission - official ruler is the Administrator-Superior of Wallis and Futuna and the President of the Territorial Assembly of Wallis and Futuna
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan 1948 Emir of Abu Dhabi, President and Sheikh of United Arab Emirates 2004
Albert II of Monaco 1958 Prince of Monaco 2005 Primogeniture Princess Caroline of Monaco
Pope Benedict XVI 1927 Pope (Sovereign of the State of Vatican City) 2005 Election by College of Cardinals Election by College of Cardinals upon death
Abdullah 1924 King of Saudi Arabia 2005 Election by family Crown Prince Sultan
Patsy Dan Rodgers King of Tory Island, off the coast of the Republic of Ireland Consensus by the islanders

See also

External links

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