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Encyclopedia > Kingdom (politics)

For related meanings see also Monarch (disambiguation)

A monarchy, (from the Greek "monos archein", meaning "one ruler") 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 his office for life, unlike in republics, where presidents are generally 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.

This article is part of the
series on Politics
Political philosophy
aristocracy, autocracy,
democracy, despotism,
monarchy, oligarchy,
plutocracy, theocracy
and tyranny.

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the pleasure of the deity and was overthrown or sacrificed when it became apparent that supernatural sanction had been withdrawn: emperors of China, Mayan kings, Achaemenid kings of Persia.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.

Some monarchs rule absolute monarchies, where a constitution may be granted or withdrawn, in a society with technologies that allow the concentration and organization of power but not enough for education and rapid communication to flourish. The economic structure of such monarchies is that of concentrated wealth, with the majority of the population as agricultural serfs. Such monarchies may rule by divine right yet without executive power: emperor of Japan. Other monarchies, notably among the Germanic peoples, began as ad hoc coalitions between clans, forming the natural basis for elective monarchies, the elections often taking place at the Ting. In such a system territorial magnates (and free men) could have more influence.

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 English Civil War. Among the few states that have absolute monarchies are Swaziland, 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.

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.

There have also been situations in which a dictator 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 of former colonies of the British Empire, such as Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand, continue to recognize the British Monarch as their own, albeit 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), which require their monarch to be of a certain faith (in the UK under the Act of Settlement). 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 in 19471975 and Hungary did between 1920 and 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 Democratic constitutional monarchies and Absolute monarchies)

Monarchical states today (2003) include:

* All Commonwealth Realms under the British Monarch, though the monarch is given different titles in each.

The Tibet government in exile is formally a monarchy with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama enjoying monarch-like status.

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

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • The Monarchist League (http://www.monarchy.net)
  • Theodore's Royalty and Monarchy Page (http://www.royaltymonarchy.com)

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

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