Monarchy is a form of government where the head of state, a monarch, is de jure 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.
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.
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 favorite grandsons of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm II, found himself unable to use his good relationship with his cousin the 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) originally held large territories in Bohemia and was 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 and 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 devolvement 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.
In most monarchies, there are some palaces and Royal properties which are, to some extent, open to the public.
Royal families make occasional public appearances.
- Morocco a constitutional monarchy in the narrow sense of the term with the king holding a number of powers but not unlimited power
- 1 Swaziland. Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, where the King, titled Ngwenyama rules together with a Queen Mother, the Ndlovukati, who resides in Lobamba.
- 2 Brunei. An absolute monarchy ruled by a sultan, who is one of the richest monarchs in the world due to considerable oil wealth.
- 3 Cambodia.
- Indonesia contains many regional monachies.
- 4 Japan. Retaining 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.
- 5 Jordan. The Jordanian king holds broad but not unlimited power and has been seen as comparatively moderate and western aligned even before the signing of the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
- 6 Kuwait. Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy ruled by an emir. The level of democracy is slightly higher than most Middle Eastern monarchies.
- Malaysia: Constitutional monarchy; most of the day-to-day affairs of state are handled by the Prime Minister. The king (Yang di-Pertuan Agung) is the Head of State, and the position rotates between 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).
- 7 Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, having reigned since 9 June 1946, more than 69 years. 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.
- 8 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 arguably make the House of Saud the 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 had many sons) when they got onto the throne.
- United Arab Emirates - A federation of seven different emirates, each 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.
All European microstates except San Marino are monarchies.
- 9 Andorra. Ruled by "two princes", the Bishop of Urgel and the President of France. The role of co-prince was originally held by the Count of Foix, which was later acquired by the House of Navarra, which came to be the ruling house of France and hence all French heads of state (including Republican ones) have taken this now largely ceremonial role since.
- 10 Belgium. The Belgian monarchy is a unifying entity in a divided country. One Belgian King - Leopold II - famously ruled Congo as his private property in extremely brutal fashion before it was put under the control of 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.
- 11 Kingdom of Denmark. Denmark is one of the world's oldest continuous monarchies, with roots in the Viking Age.
- 12 Principality of Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy with broad powers for the prince, but also the unique possibility of forced abdication through plebiscite.
- 13 Luxembourg. The Grand Duke of Luxembourg was originally identical to the King of the Netherlands, however in 1890 Luxembourg passed under the rule of a cadet branch as the rules on female inheritance of the throne were different at the time.
- 14 Principality of 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 neighboring 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 criticized by the EU and Council of Europe as undemocratic.
- 15 Kingdom of the Netherlands. Despite being one of the longest lived Republic in early modern Europe, the Netherlands cemented their increasingly de facto 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.
- 16 Kingdom of Norway. Norway is 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.
- 17 Kingdom of Spain. After experimenting with short-lived Republican systems and a monarchy in name only during Franco's last years, Spain has become a monarchy again under Juan Carlos and now his son, of the house of Bourbon.
- 18 Kingdom of Sweden. Sweden is a hereditary monarchy since the 16th century, with the throne being held by the House of Bernadotte since 1814. The House of Bernadotte goes back to one of of Napoleon Bonaparte's Marshals of France. 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.
- 19 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 occasionally open to the public. Other residences include Sandringham House, Windsor Castle, Holyrood Palace and Balmoral Castle. These other residences are generally easier to visit (open more days and less queues), and also of interest is the former Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh where the Queen's bedroom can be seen.
- 20 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.
- The Queen of Britain is the Head of State in many former British colonies including Australia, New Zealand and some smaller island countries.
- Canada is part of the British Empire and Commonwealth; as in realms such as Australia, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is represented by a Governor General. Rideau Hall, the viceroy's official Ottawa residence (with 88 acres of surrounding grounds) is a designated National Historic Site of Canada which is open to the public for guided tours. Quarters are also reserved for the viceroy at the historic Citadel in Quebec City.
- Many of the now-independent former British colonies in the Caribbean have the British Queen as their head of state.
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 recently abolished monarchies, 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.
Extant sights connected to former monarchies
- 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.
- ʻIolani Palace. Prior to US intervention in its internal politics, Hawai'i was a monarchy with rulers of such delightful names as "Kamehameha" and thus the islands are the only state in the US with a former royal residence
- Palace of Versailles. The center of the French Monarchy 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.
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.