Monarchy is a form of government where the head of state, a monarch, is appointed for life, usually through heredity. In an absolute monarchy the monarch has uninhibited power. Most monarchies today are constitutional monarchies where the monarch's role is mostly ceremonial. In some contexts and languages a constitutional monarchy is a separate term - where the monarch is limited by a constitution, but still has certain powers - from a parliamentary monarchy where all power resides with parliament in practice if not theory. The narrow meaning of constitutional monarchy was a common transitional form in the 19th century but has mostly died out with very few exceptions.
|“||Lordship for many is no good thing. Let there be one ruler, one king.||”|
Monarchies have a complex history over a very long range of time. Evidence of kingdoms has been found throughout Eurasia, Africa and the Americas for millennia.
Evidence suggests that the role of priest and monarch were often combined and some traditions considered their rulers living gods. In monotheistic countries the "divine right to rule" or being "chosen by God" have often been cited as the basis of monarchical power and these societies have been closely related to theocracies.
In some cases societies are understood in anthropological terms of being matriarchal or patriarchal. In many cases societies or nation states have regarded a central male leader as the norm.
Where nation states have always required a leader and have had serious problems where a leader fails to eventuate, regime change has occurred where usurpers have taken over what had appeared to be inherited roles. Historical Byzantium, and current United Kingdom have had houses where particular families have had claim to the throne. The cycle of dynasties and their being overtaken by rival claimants is central to Chinese philosophy and has been enshrined in the concept "mandate of heaven". In essence this concept means that a good ruler inspires loyalty and his country prospers as long as he has the mandate of heaven. Once the mandate is gone, the country fails and the loyalty falters, sweeping new dynasties and rulers to power.
Intermarriage between monarchies was complex and consistent through all countries of Europe well into the nineteenth century. At the outbreak of the First World War, one of the favourite grandsons of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Wilhelm II of Germany, found himself unable to use his good relationship with his cousin the Russian czar to avoid war. And that's only mentioning three of the ruling houses claiming to rule over empires at the time. Marriage, selling territories and wars also led to incredibly complex arrangements of territory. House Liechtenstein (the ruling house of — you guessed it — Liechtenstein) used to hold large territories in Bohemia which were only expropriated after World War II. In fact, no member of the house resided in what is now Liechtenstein until 1938. House Hohenzollern, on the other hand, held some territory in what is now Baden Württemberg even before their first member got anywhere near Brandenburg. Branch lines of the Hohenzollern at some time ruled in Bayreuth, Nuremberg and other places. The threat of one Hohenzollern, distantly related to the ones ruling in Berlin, becoming king of Spain was a large contributing factor in the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, the relationship — through adoption — of that Hohenzollern to the House of Bonaparte ruling in France notwithstanding.
Before the advent of secularism, it was a lot more common for members of the clergy to serve as monarchs. For instance Salzburg was ruled by a Prince-Archbishop during the time of Mozart. However, with the introduction of secularism by Napoleon's conquests, this has been rare in Europe, with a notable surviving example being the Pope in the Vatican City.
The devolution of monarchies to different governance in some countries was as early as pre first world war, while a significant number changed as a result of the First and Second World Wars.
Size of kingdoms/monarchies has ranged from very localized rulers in Europe, to the height of European imperial monarchies of the 17th to 19th century where empires stretched to all corners of the globe; such as the British Empire, Russian Empire, and Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Royal guards are soldiers or law enforcement officers assigned to serve and protect the royal family and their property. While they typically wear ceremonial uniforms, they usually have authority to use force to prevent crime; and might do so against any antisocial behaviour on site. In some countries, such as Sweden, they are not a specific unit; instead the assignment is shared between different branches of the military.
|“||The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left — the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds.||”|
—King Farouk of Egypt, overthrown in 1952
In most monarchies, there are some palaces and royal properties which are, to some extent, open to the public, see also Castles and Grand houses. Royal paraphernalia may be on display in palaces and museums, one example being the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. In some countries, such as Thailand and Spain, the official residence of the monarch is mainly used for ceremonial purposes and not the monarch's actual residence, so visitors may be able to explore parts of the palace.
Royal families make occasional public appearances.
- 1 [dead link] Lesotho. Constitutional monarchy in with the king as head of state, and the prime minister as head of government. Surrounded by South Africa.
- 2 Morocco. A constitutional monarchy in the narrow sense of the term with the king holding a number of powers but not unlimited power. The ruling house claims descent from the prophet Muhammad, a not too uncommon claim in the Muslim world.
- 3 Eswatini. Also known as Swaziland, Eswatini is an absolute monarchy, where the King, titled Ngwenyama rules together with a Queen Mother, the Ndlovukati, who resides in Lobamba.
- Although South Africa is a republic, it also recognises a Zulu King, who is based in the city of Nongoma.
- Nigeria is a republic at the national level, though many tribes continue to be governed by a traditional monarch. Benin City was formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Benin, and continues to house the Oba of Benin, who is still regarded as the symbolic head of the Edo people.
- Ghana is a republic at the national level, but still has traditional monarchs governing some of their ethnic groups. The city of Kumasi was the capital of the Ashanti Empire, and continues to be home to the Asantehene, who is the leader of the Ashanti people.
- 4 Bahrain. Absolute monarchy, but nevertheless one of the more progressive Islamic countries in the Gulf, being home to the Gulf's sole surviving synagogue. Although the majority of Bahrain's population is made up of Shia Muslims, the royal family is Sunni Muslim.
- 5 Bhutan. Constitutional monarchy with broad powers for the king, who remains head of government, albeit with a democratically elected legislature. Unlike many other countries, Bhutan does not prioritise economic growth, and instead uses a unique "Gross National Happiness" model to guide its development.
- 6 Brunei. An absolute monarchy ruled by a sultan, who is one of the richest monarchs in the world due to considerable oil wealth.
- 7 Cambodia. Constitutional monarchy with the prime minister as head of government. It was overthrown in 1970 in the midst of the Cambodian Civil War, and was restored in 1993.
- Although modern Indonesia is a republic, it is also home to many regional monarchies, the most notable ones being based out of the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo.
- 8 Japan. Headed by an emperor ("Tennō") rather than a king, the Japanese monarchy can be traced back more than 1500 years. The role of the emperor changed in many directions over the long course of history, sometimes acting just as a figurehead and sometimes also revered as a deity. Japan is now a constitutional monarchy, with executive power being vested in the Prime Minister. However, unlike other countries, the Japanese emperor is explicitly given no powers by the constitution that he or she exercises independent of elected politicians.
- 9 Jordan. The Jordanian king holds broad but not unlimited power. Jordanian kings have been seen as comparatively moderate and Western-aligned even before the signing of the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
- 10 Kuwait. Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy ruled by an emir. The level of democracy is slightly higher than most Middle Eastern monarchies.
- 11 Malaysia. Constitutional monarchy; most of the day-to-day affairs of state are handled by the Prime Minister. The king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is the Head of State, and the position rotates among the sultans of the 9 royal states every 5 years. The king's former palace, the former Istana Negara at Jalan Istana, is open to the public for visits. Most Malaysian states also have a sultan, whose palace normally can be viewed from outside the compound but not entered by the public. Some states, such as Negeri Sembilan, have an old palace (Istana Lama) that is no longer used by the ruler and can be visited (in the case of Negeri Sembilan, it is in Seri Menanti).
- 12 Oman. Absolute monarchy ruled by the Sultan.
- 13 Qatar. Absolute monarchy ruled by the Emir, who is also one of the world's richest people due to considerable oil and natural gas wealth.
- 14 [dead link] Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the world's longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history until his death in 2016. Although a constitutional monarchy, with the Prime Minister wielding the most authority in government, Thailand is also notable for very strict laws against insulting the monarchy or royal family. Even banknotes are protected from disrespectful treatment as they bear the image of the king. King Bhumibol had often intervened in the case of military coups or the organizers of coups have claimed to act on his behalf. Whether his son and successor will be able to occupy a similar position remains to be seen. Bangkok's Grand Palace is the king's official residence, though the king does not actually live there and uses it only for ceremonial purposes. Visitors may purchase tickets to walk through the grounds of the Grand Palace, but may not enter the buildings. The Grand Palace is also home to Thailand's royal temple, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which is the most important pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists from all over the country.
- 15 Saudi Arabia. In contrast to most of the world's de facto dictatorships, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of few countries that does not even claim to be democratic. The enormous oil reserves and custodianship over Islam's two holiest sites arguably make the House of Saud the richest and most powerful royal dynasty in the world. Their rules of succession are also somewhat uncommon, as the last few royal successions have seen power handed down from older to younger brother and not father to son as is customary in most other monarchies. This is not for lack of sons either, as most of the recent kings were well into old age (and had many sons) when they got onto the throne. Under the arrangement made during the reign of King Salman the crown-prince (as of 2020, his son, Muhammad bin Salman or "MbS") has taken over many of the roles of day-to-day governance and is seen as the "face" of the Saudi regime.
- 16 United Arab Emirates. An oil-rich federal monarchy consisting of seven emirates, each of which is an absolute monarchy with its own king (or Sheikh). The king of Abu Dhabi is the president of the UAE, and the king of Dubai is the prime minister of the UAE. Both of them are among the richest royals in the world due to considerable oil wealth.
- 17 Andorra. Ruled by two princes, always the incumbents in the roles of Bishop of Urgell and President of France. The French role of co-prince used to be held by the Count of Foix, then later by the House of Navarre, which came to be the ruling house of France. Every French head of state since, whether monarch or president, has also been co-prince.
- 18 Belgium. The Belgian monarchy is a unifying entity in a divided country. One Belgian king — Leopold II — ruled Congo as his private property in extremely brutal fashion before it was put under the control of the Belgian parliament. The ruling house of Belgium was chosen almost at random from minor German nobility upon the independence of Belgium in 1830 but it has managed to hold onto the throne while other seemingly more prestigious dynasties faltered and fell.
- 19 Denmark. Denmark is one of the world's oldest continuous monarchies, with roots in the Viking Age.
- 20 Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy with broad powers for the prince, but also the unique possibility of forced abdication through plebiscite.
- 21 Luxembourg. The Grand Duke of Luxembourg used to be to the King of the Netherlands, however in 1890 Luxembourg passed under the rule of a cadet branch because the rules on female inheritance of the throne were different from those of the Netherlands.
- 22 Monaco. Originally a minor noble house from Genoa, the Grimaldis managed to conquer Monaco in the Middle Ages and have reigned over it since with only a short interruption during the Napoleonic wars. Even though Monaco is on good terms with the European Union and neighbouring France (using the euro and being part of the Schengen agreement), the relatively broad powers of the prince as guaranteed by the constitution have been criticised by the EU and Council of Europe as undemocratic.
- 23 Netherlands. Despite being one of the longest lived republics in early modern Europe, the Netherlands cemented their monarchical tendencies after the Napoleonic Wars with the person who would have under normal circumstances become Stadtholder of the United Provinces instead ascending to the newly-created Dutch throne (then including what is now Belgium) after experiments with a Bonapartist "Kingdom of Holland" and an earlier "Batavian Republic" were swept aside.
- 24 Norway. Norway has been independent since 1905, though the monarchy can be traced back to the Viking Age. Main attractions are the Royal Palace in central Oslo, and Oscarshall on Bygdøy.
- 25 Spain. After experimenting with short-lived republican systems and being a monarchy in name only during Francisco Franco's last years, Spain became a constitutional monarchy under Juan Carlos of the House of Bourbon. The constitution grants an unusually large amount of reserve powers to the monarch and Juan Carlos has exercised his formal role as commander in chief of the armed forces during a coup attempt in the 1980s. His son, Felipe VI, has also deviated from the practice of monarchs like the UK's Elizabeth II of not commenting on day-to-day political issues in public. Unlike Elizabeth II, who professed no public opinion on Scottish independence (despite the monarchical leanings of even many separatists), Felipe VI professed firm opposition to Catalan independence, perhaps in part due to the largely republican leanings of the separatists.
- 26 Sweden. Sweden has been a hereditary monarchy since the 16th century, with the throne since 1814 being held by the House of Bernadotte, which descends from Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of France under Napoleon. King Carl XVI Gustaf has reigned since 1973, the longest of any known Swedish king. Ten Royal Palaces are, to some extent, open to the public. Most of them are located in or around Stockholm, such as Stockholm Palace and Drottningholm. See also Swedish Empire.
- 27 United Kingdom. In addition to the United Kingdom, the British monarch is also head of state of numerous Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Buckingham Palace in Westminster is open to the public in August and September. Other residences include Sandringham House, Windsor Castle, Holyrood Palace and Balmoral Castle. These other residences are generally easier to visit (open more days and fewer queues), and also of interest is the former Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh where the Queen's bedroom can be seen. While the role of the monarch is mostly seen as ceremonial, all prime ministers since Winston Churchill have met with the Queen for regular consultation and that mere fact may give her a lot of "soft power" over what government officials think and do. The monarch also in theory retains the power to veto any bills that have been passed by Parliament, though the last monarch to exercise this power was Queen Anne in 1707. The current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the longest-reigning incumbent monarch in the world.
- 28 Vatican City. The Pope is an elected monarch as Bishop of Rome and as the ruler of the world's smallest country. Tourists can visit the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican Museum.
- 29 Tonga. Constitutional monarchy ruled by a king, with the prime minister as head of government. The only indigenous monarchy in the Pacific that managed to survive colonial rule.
- The Queen of the United Kingdom is the Head of State in many former British colonies including Australia, New Zealand and some smaller island countries. An appointed Governor-General represents the Queen in each of these countries, with a Governor representing her in each Australian state.
- Canada and several other smaller countries in the Americas were part of the British Empire and are still part of the Commonwealth. In Canada, Belize and several Caribbean nations such as Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas, the British monarch is the Head of State, but Parliament runs the country. The crown is represented by a Governor General in each country, and a Lieutenant-Governor in each Canadian province.
- Rideau Hall, the Governor General's official Ottawa residence (with 88 acres of surrounding grounds) is a designated National Historic Site of Canada and is open to the public for guided tours. Some events — like cricket matches on the grounds, various awards ceremonies, or the annual Governor General's Garden Party — are also open to the public, though many require booking in advance. Quarters are also reserved for the Governor General at the historic Citadel in Quebec City.
Many monarchies have only survived through buildings, written records, and archaeological remnants. In some cases, traces on the ground might be all that is left, and museums or interpretative materials are the only understanding a tourist might gain.
There may not even be known survivors or descendants over time, and it is left to archaeologists and historians to piece together the evidence.
In monarchies abolished in the 20th century, such as Austria, Bulgaria and Greece, the royal dynasty usually has survivors, of variable social status. In some countries pretenders (claimants to a deposed or abolished throne or heirs to dynasties that are out of power) and former monarchs have been or still are important political figures. Napoleon III of France started out as a common citizen who just "happened to be" nephew and heir apparent to Napoleon I when running for President, before he became emperor in name as well as fact. Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia/Germany meanwhile had no such luck, as his father — the deposed Wilhelm II — was still alive and explicitly forbade him from running for President even though the political right in the Weimar Republic asked him to in the 1920s. Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria meanwhile managed to be elected head of government after he had "reigned" his country as a toddler during World War II. Otto von Habsburg, the last crown-prince of Austria-Hungary, was forbidden by Austrian law to return to Austria until he officially renounced all claims to the throne in 1961, but he ran for the European Parliament from Germany where he had a long political career. He was buried with full honors in Vienna, marking something of a reconciliation between the Second Austrian Republic and the Habsburg family.
Extant sights connected to former monarchies
- 30 Schloss Neuschwanstein. Built on orders of Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was later deposed on grounds of insanity and drowned in Starnberger See shortly after his deposition, this is perhaps the most famous royal residence of any kind in Germany and serves as the basis for the Disney logo and popular portrayals of royal chateaus. The Wittelsbach dynasty was only elevated to king status under Napoleon (also acquiring the territory of Franconia in that era) but had been one of the longest ruling and oldest documented noble families by the time the 1918/19 revolutions deposed Ludwig III.
- 31 ʻIolani Palace. Prior to joining the US, Hawai'i was a monarchy with rulers of such delightful names as "Kamehameha" and, thus, the islands constitute the only state in the US with a former royal residence
- 32 Palace of Versailles. The centre of the Kingdom of France from its construction under "sun king" Louis XIV to the women's march on Versailles in 1789 that forced Louis XVI to return to Paris where he would be executed by the revolutionaries in 1793.
- 33 Moscow Kremlin (Моско́вский Кремль), Kreml (Central Moscow, Russia). F-W 10:00-17:00. Kremlin (Кремль) is a Russian word meaning "fortress", and most old Russian cities have one of those. The Moscow Kremlin is by far the largest and most famous one. It was the residence of the Russian czars until Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg in 1712. Catherine the Great had a new residence built in the Kremlin in 1773. The Kremlin has been used as a metonym for the Soviet and Russian governments. The Grand Kremlin Palace was commissioned by Czar Nicholas I in 1838 as an imperial residence, and today serves as the official residence of the President of Russia.
- 34 Peterhof Palace (Peterhof). The "Russian Versailles", which Peter the Great had built in the 18th century.
- Hermitage Museum (Saint Petersburg/Center). Nowadays one of the foremost art museums in the world, this used to be the residence of the Russian emperors until the revolution.
- 35 [dead link] Catherine Palace (Tsarskoye Selo). One of the grandest and most famous imperial palaces in Russia, commissioned by Catherine I of Russia. Located near the Alexander Palace, which was the last imperial residence of Russia before Nicholas II was overthrown in the Russian Revolution.
- 36 Hofburg (Vienna/Innere_Stadt). Until the end of World War I, this was the residence of the Austro-Hungarian emperors. In addition to the Austrian president's offices, there are several museums here, including several showcasing the Habsburg dynasty.
- 37 Forbidden City (Beijing/Forbidden City). Think of Beijing, and this might be the first thing that comes to your mind. China's former imperial palace with its 980 buildings is one of the largest museums in the country. Next to the southern gate towards the Tiananmen Square is the famous picture of Mao Zedong.
- 38 Gyeongbokgung (Seoul/Jongno). Korea (at least the southern part) may not be ruled by an emperor any longer, but there are still many impressive palaces left in Seoul, which include the five royal palaces. The most famous of them is Gyeongbokgung where the royal change of guards is reenacted three times daily.
- 39 Changdeokgung (Seoul/Jongno). Another royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, the kings actually spent more time here than at the more formal Gyeongbokgung. The only Korean royal palace to have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Paço Imperial (Rio_de_Janeiro/Centro#Palaces). Brazil was part of the Portuguese Empire, and was an empire in its own right during the 19th century. Paço Imperial served as the working place for the emperors and Paço de São Cristóvão as their residence.
- Petrópolis. Former summer capital of the Empire of Brazil, named after its founder, Emperor Dom Pedro II. Its main attraction is the former Summer Palace of the Brazilian Emperors, now a museum, specializing in Brazilian Imperial history and memorabilia.
- Potsdam and Berlin. Potsdam with its Sanssouci and Berlin with many sites that did not survive World War II and the East Germany (though the Stadtschloss is being rebuilt on the site of the East German "Palast der Republik") were residences of the Hohenzollern dynasty, originally from what is now Baden Württemberg who came to rule Brandenburg-Prussia and later the whole German Empire until Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate following the defeat in World War I. While the Prussians famously spent vastly more on "practical" stuff like a powerful military than on their palaces, those they did build play in the same league of their peers.
- 40 [dead link] Topkapı Palace. The royal palace of the Ottoman Empire, located in Istanbul
- 41 Prague Castle. Former royal residence of the kings of Bohemia, and today the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.
- 42 Palazzo Pitti (Florence). Former residence of the famed Medici banking family, who also served as the Grand Dukes of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
- 43 Royal Palace of Caserta (Caserta). One of the largest royal palaces in Europe, and the seat of the former Kingdom of Naples.
- 44 Narayanhiti Palace (Kathmandu). Former royal palace of Nepal, which was turned into a museum after the monarchy was abolished in 2008. One of the newest royal palaces that is open to visitors, having only been built in 1963, and thus has a much more modern design than most other palaces.
- 45 [formerly dead link] Mysore Palace (Mysore). One of the most famous palaces in India, former seat of the Maharaja of the Kingdom of Mysore.
- 46 Red Fort (Delhi). Constructed under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who also ordered the construction of the famed Taj Mahal, the Red Fort served as the main residence of the Mughal emperors until they were deposed by the British in 1857.
- 47 Palaces of Isfahan. Isfahan was the capital of the Persian Empire under the Safavid Dynasty, 1501-1722, and has several palaces and a number of other fine buildings dating from that period.
- 48 Dresden Castle (Residenzschloss Dresden). The residence of the electors (until 1806) and then Kings (until 1918) of Saxony. Dresden as a whole is littered with statues and buildings dedicated to former rulers or built on their behest.
- 49 Registan (Samarkand). This was Tamerlane's palace and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In most monarchies, the royal family is revered by many citizens, and negative statements might be taboo. In more authoritarian countries such as Thailand, insults against the royal family are criminalized and subject to a heavy fine, prison term, or both.