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For related meanings see also Monarch (disambiguation)

A monarchy, (from the Greek monos, "one," and archein, "to rule") is a form of government that has a monarch as Head of State. The distinguishing characteristic of monarchies is that the Head of State holds their office for life, unlike in a republic, where a president is normally elected for a certain amount of time.

The term monarchy is also used to refer to the people and institutions that make up the royal establishment, or to the realm in which the monarchy functions. Elective monarchies, distinguished by the monarchs being appointed for life, have in most cases been succeeded by hereditary monarchies. In the hereditary system, the position of monarch involves inheritance according to an order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin back to a historical dynasty or bloodline. In some cases the royal family may claim to hold authority by virtue of God's choosing, or other religious-based authority.

In most countries with monarchies, the monarch serves as a symbol of continuity and statehood. Many states have a strong convention against the monarch becoming involved in partisan politics (the Central African Empire was an exception). In some cases, the symbolism of monarchy alongside the symbolism of democracy can lead to division over the apparently contradictory principles.



Monarchies are one of the oldest forms of government, with echoes in the leadership of tribal chiefs. Many monarchies began with the monarch as the local representative and temporary embodiment of the deity: (King of Babylon). The monarch often ruled at the pleasure of the deity and was overthrown or sacrificed when it became apparent that supernatural sanction had been withdrawn: emperors of China, Mayan kings, Achaemenid kings of Persia. Other monarchs derived their power by acclamation of the ruling or of the warrior caste of a clan or group of clans: kings of the Franks, Roman emperors. Even where law is simply the monarch's will, the king must rule by custom.

Since 1800, many of the world's monarchies have ceased to have a monarch and become republics, or become parliamentary democracies. Democratic countries which retain monarchy have by definition limited the monarch's power, with most having become constitutional monarchies. In England, this process began with the Magna Carta of 1215, although it did not reach democratic proportions until after the Glorious Revolution in 1689. Among the few states that have absolute monarchies are Swaziland, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. In Jordan and Morocco, the monarch retains considerable power. There are also recent (2003) developments in Liechtenstein, wherein the regnant prince was given the Constitutional power to dismiss the government at will.

Types of monarchy

In an absolute monarchy, the monarch has power over every aspect of the state, and a constitution may be granted or withdrawn. Modern versions tend to survive only in societies with sufficient technology to allow the concentration and organization of power, but not to allow education and rapid communication to flourish. The economic structure of such monarchies is that of concentrated wealth, with the majority of the population living as agricultural serfs.

In some cases, a hereditary monarchy exists, but actual power resides in the military. This has often historically been the case in Thailand and Japan. In Fascist Italy a monarchy coexisted with a fascist party for longer than such co-existences occurred in Romania, Hungary or Greece. Spain under Francisco Franco was officially a monarchy even though there was no monarch on the throne; upon his death, Franco was succeeded as head of state by King Juan Carlos.

There have also been situations in which a dictator or a group has proclaimed himself monarch in a republican state, thus starting a self-proclaimed monarchy with no historical ties to a previous dynasty. The most famous example of this was Napoleon Bonaparte who made himself Emperor of France after assuming control of the French Republic.

On several occasions throughout history, the same person has served as monarch of separate independent states, in a situation known as a personal union. An empire was traditionally ruled by a monarchy whose leader may have been known by different titles in his different realms. Several former colonies of the British Empire, such as Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand, continue to recognize the British Monarch as their own, under a separate title for each country. In other cases, such as England and Scotland, a personal union was the precursor to a merger of the states.


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

The order of succession in most European monarchical states of the 21st century is by primogeniture, meaning the eldest son of the monarch is first in line, followed by his male, then female siblings in order of age. In earlier times, the succession was often unclear and this led to a number of wars. Currently, there is some controversy over the succession laws of some monarchies in the European Union (EU), such as that of the United Kingdom (UK) or the Scandinavian monarchies, which require their monarch to be of a certain faith (in the UK under the Act of Settlement 1701). This has been challenged as violating EU rules that prohibit religious disqualification for positions of state authority.

Some autocratic states can appear to have introduced inheritance for the head of state without declaring themselves to be monarchies, such as Syria and North Korea. See family dictatorship.

Destruction of monarchies

Monarchies can come to an end in several ways. There may be a revolution in which the monarchy is overthrown; or, as in Italy, there may be a referendum in which the electorate decides to form a republic. In some cases, as with England and Spain, the monarchy has been overthrown and then restored. Countries may regard themselves as monarchies without a named monarch, as Spain did from 1947 to 1975, and Hungary from 1920 to 1944.

A person who claims to be the legitimate heir to a deposed monarchy is called a pretender.

See also abolished monarchies for a list of recently abolished monarchies.

Unusual examples

Sometimes, component members of federal states are monarchies, even though the federal state as a whole is not; for example each of the emirates that form the United Arab Emirates has its own monarch (an emir).

Another unique situation is Malaysia, in which the national king, called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or Paramount Ruler, is elected for a five year term from and by the nine sultans who are the hereditary rulers of the States of the Malay peninsula.

In addition to his spiritual role, the Pope is the monarch of the Vatican City. He is elected by (and customarily from among) the College of Cardinals. (Since the Catholic episcopate is celibate, naturally there can be no official hereditary succession to the papal throne.)

Andorra has two co-princes, of which one is the Bishop of Urgell in Spain, and the other is the President of France—a unique case where an independent country's monarch is democratically elected by the citizens of another country.

Current monarchies

(see also List of countries by system of government)

State Title Extent Currently Notes
Andorra Co-prince Constitutional principality Jacques Chirac and Joan Enric Vives Sicília Under suzerainty of the Bishop of Urgell and count of Foix.
Bahrain King Semi-constitutional kingdom Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifah Known as "emir" until 2002.
Belgium King of the Belgians Constitutional kingdom Albert II
Bhutan Dragon King Absolute kingdom Jigme Singye Wangchuck
Brunei Sultan Constitutional sultanate Hassanal Bolkiah
Cambodia King Constitutional kingdom Norodom Sihamoni Reinstituted in 1993.
Denmark King/Queen Constitutional kingdom Margrethe II of Denmark Also queen of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Act of Succession revised in 1953 to allow for female monarchs.
Japan Emperor Constitutional Akihito Figurehead since Japanese defeat in World War II.
Jordan Hashemite King Semi-constitutional Hashemite kingdom Abdullah II Monarchy established by United Kingdom in 1921.
Kuwait Emir Semi-constitutional emirate Jaber Al-Sabah Known as "sheikh" until 1961.
Lesotho King Constitutional kingdom Letsie III Known as "Paramount Chief" until 1965.
Liechtenstein Prince Semi-constitutional principality Hans-Adam II Some powers delegated to Prince Alois.
Luxembourg Grand Duke/Duchess Constitutional grand duchy Henri Ruled by the king of the Netherlands until 1890.
Malaysia Yang di-Pertuan Agong or "Paramount Ruler" Constitutional federation Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Position rotates between nine rulers of the Malay states.
Monaco Sovereign Prince Semi-constitutional principality Albert II
Morocco King Semi-constitutional kingdom Mohammed VI Morocco currently occupies Western Sahara.
Nepal King Absolute kingdom Gyanendra Dissolved the parliament in 2005 due to Nepalese civil war, vowing to return democratic rule within three years.
Kingdom of the Netherlands King/Queen Constitutional kingdom Beatrix Also queen of Aruba and Netherlands Antilles.
Norway King Constitutional kingdom Harald V Also king of Bouvet Island, Jan Mayen, and Svalbard.
Oman Sultan Absolute sultanate Qaboos
Qatar Emir Absolute emirate Hamad bin Khalifa
Samoa Chief or "o le Ao o le Malo" Constitutional kingdom Malietoa Tanumafili II
Saudi Arabia King Absolute kingdom Abdullah Saudi Arabia was unified in 1932.
Spain King/Queen Constitutional kingdom Juan Carlos I Also king of Canary Islands, Ceuta, and Melilla, and holds the title King of Jerusalem. Monarchy was restored in 1975.
Swaziland King (also Indovuzaki (lit. She-Elephant) or Queen Mother) Absolute kingdom Mswati III (and Ntombi) Currently democratizing.
Sweden King Constitutional kingdom Carl XVI Gustaf
Thailand King or Rama Constitutional kingdom Bhumibol Adulyadej
Tonga King/Queen Absolute kingdom Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
United Arab Emirates President Constitutional federation Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan Position rotates between seven rulers of the Trucial states.
United Kingdom King/Queen Constitutional kingdom Elizabeth II Also queen of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. See Commonwealth Realm below.
Vatican City (Holy See) Sovereign of the Vatican City, most commonly "Pope" Absolute theocracy Benedict XVI
Commonwealth Realm: The following sovereign states are part of the Commonwealth of Nations, and recognize the British monarch as the sovereign head of state. With the exception of the United Kingdom itself, there is a Governor-General that represents the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. See also List of Titles and Honours of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
State Governor-General
Antigua and Barbuda Sir James Carlisle
Australia Michael Jeffery
the Bahamas Dame Ivy Dumont
Barbados Sir Clifford Husbands
Belize Sir Colville Young
Canada Michaëlle Jean
Grenada Sir Daniel Williams
Jamaica Sir Howard Cooke
New Zealand, Cook Islands, Niue Dame Silvia Cartwright
Papua New Guinea Sir Paulias Matane
Saint Kitts and Nevis Sir Cuthbert Sebastian
Saint Lucia Dame Pearlette Louisy
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves
Solomon Islands Sir Nathaniel Waena
Tuvalu Filoimea Telito
Other regions
Territory Title Currently Notes
Ankole (Uganda) Omugabe Ntare VI Due to constitutional reform in 1993, the government of Uganda restored several traditional monarchies.
Buganda (Uganda) Kabaka and Nnabagereka Muwenda Mutebi II and Sylvia Nagginda Due to constitutional reform in 1993, the government of Uganda restored several traditional monarchies.
Bunyoro (Uganda) Omukama Iguru Due to constitutional reform in 1993, the government of Uganda restored several traditional monarchies.
Busago (Uganda) Kyabazinga Henry Wako Muloki Due to constitutional reform in 1993, the government of Uganda restored several traditional monarchies.
Sigave (Wallis and Futuna) King Visesio Moeliku The Council of the Territory of Wallis and Futuna consists of three kings and three members appointed by the high administrator on the advice of the Territorial Assembly.
Tibet (occupied by the People's Republic of China) Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso The current Dalai Lama leads a theocratic government in exile, located in Dharamsala, India. He is attempting a process of democratization.
Toro (Uganda) Omukama Rukidi IV Due to constitutional reform in 1993, the government of Uganda restored several traditional monarchies.
Tu'a (Alo) (Wallis and Futuna) King Soane Patita Maituku The Council of the Territory of Wallis and Futuna consists of three kings and three members appointed by the high administrator on the advice of the Territorial Assembly.
Uvea (Wallis and Futuna) King Tomasi Kulimoetoke II The Council of the Territory of Wallis and Futuna consists of three kings and three members appointed by the high administrator on the advice of the Territorial Assembly.
Zululand (South Africa) King Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu Although the king does not hold any direct political power, he is provided a stipend by the government of South Africa, and holds considerable sway over more traditionalist Zulu people in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.

In many countries that are legally republics, there is an heir to the throne who is recognized by part of the nation. A list of such countries is available in the pretender article.

See also

External links

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Monarchies of the World

Andorra | Antigua and Barbuda | Australia | Bahamas | Bahrain | Barbados | Belgium | Belize | Bhutan | Brunei | Cambodia | Canada | Denmark | Grenada | Jamaica | Japan | Jordan | Kuwait | Lesotho | Liechtenstein | Luxembourg | Malaysia | Monaco | Morocco | Nepal | Netherlands | New Zealand | Norway | Oman | Papua New Guinea | Qatar | Saint Kitts and Nevis | Saint Lucia | Saint Vincent and the Grenadines | Samoa | Saudi Arabia | Solomon Islands | Spain | Swaziland | Sweden | Thailand | Tonga | Tuvalu | United Arab Emirates | United Kingdom

Crowns 1937 Imperial State Crown of King George VI
European & World Crowns

Crown of Bavaria | Crown of Christian IV (Denmark) | Crown of Christian V (Denmark) | Crown of Charlemagne (France) | Royal Crown of Serbia | Crown of Empress Eugenie (France) | Crown of Frederick I (Prussia) | Crown of Louis XV (France) | Crown of Napoleon (France) | Crown of Wilhelm II (Prussia) | Crown of St. Stephen (Hungary) | Crown of St Wenceslaus (Bohemia) | Crown of the Polish Kingdom (Poland) | Kiani Crown (Persia) | Imperial Crown of Austria | Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire | Imperial Crown of Russia | Iron Crown of Lombardy | Monomakh's Cap (Muscovy) | Pahlavi Crown (Iran) | Papal Tiara

English, Scottish & British Crowns (by chronology)

Crown of Scotland | St. Edward's Crown | Crown of Mary of Modena | State Crown of George I | Crown of Frederick, Prince of Wales | Coronation Crown of George IV | Crown of Queen Adelaide | Imperial State Crown | Small diamond crown of Queen Victoria | Crown of Queen Alexandra | Crown of George, Prince of Wales | Crown of Queen Mary | Imperial Crown of India | Crown of Queen Elizabeth | Crown of Charles, Prince of Wales

See also: Coronation | Crown Jewels | Heir Apparent | Heir Presumptive | King | Monarchy | Queen | Regalia | Royal Family
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