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A Monarchy is a form of government in which supreme power is absolutely or nominally lodged with an individual, who is the head of state, often for life or until abdication, and "is wholly set apart from all other members of the state." The person who heads a monarchy is called a monarch. It was a common form of government in the world during the ancient and medieval times.

There is no clear definition of monarchy. Holding unlimited political power in the state is not the defining characteristic, as many constitutional monarchies such as the United Kingdommarker and Thailandmarker are considered monarchies.

Hereditary rule is often a common characteristic, but elective monarchies are also considered monarchies (the pope, sovereign of the Vatican City Statemarker, is elected by the College of Cardinals) and some states have hereditary rulers, but are considered republics (such as the stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, or the Great Council of Chiefs in Fiji). A 1914 edition of Bouvier's Law Dictionary states that "Monarchy is contradistinguished from republic," and gives this definition:

Currently, 44 nations in the world have monarchs as heads of state, 16 of which are Commonwealth realms that recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state.
[[File:World Monarchies.png|thumb|600px|


The word monarch ( ) comes from the Greek μονάρχης (from μόνος, "one/singular," and ἀρχων, "leader/ruler/chief") which referred to a single, at least nominally absolute ruler. With time, the word has been succeeded in this meaning by others, such as autocrat or dictator. In modern use the word monarch generally is used when referring to a traditional system of hereditary rule, with elective monarchies often considered as exceptions.

Characteristics and role

Today, the extent of a monarch's powers varies:

Most states only have a single monarch at any given time, although two monarchs have ruled simultaneously in some countries (diarchy), as in the ancient Greek city-state of Spartamarker, and there are examples of joint sovereignty of spouses or relatives (such as William and Mary in the Kingdoms of England and Scotland).

A regent may rule when the monarch is a minor, absent, or debilitated.

Monarchy, especially absolute monarchy, sometimes is linked to religious aspects; many monarchs once claimed the right to rule by the will of a deity (Divine Right of Kings, Mandate of Heaven), a special connection to a deity (sacred king) or even purported to be divine kings, or incarnations of deities themselves (imperial cult).

In Islam, a caliph is a head of state who is both a temporal leader (of the caliphate, Islamic state) and a religious one (leader of the Ummah, community of believers). Many monarchs have been styled Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith); some hold official positions relating to the state religion or established church.

Monarchs have various titles, including king or queen, prince or princess (Sovereign Prince of Monaco), emperor or empress (Emperor of Japan, Emperor of India), or even duke or grand duke (Grand Duke of Luxembourg) or duchess. Many monarchs also are distinguished by styles, such as "Majesty", "Royal Highness" or "By the Grace of God."

Monarchs often take part in certain ceremonies, such as a coronation.

Monarchies are associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule, in which monarchs rule for life (although some monarchs do not hold lifetime positions, such as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysiamarker, who serves a five-year term) and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their children or family when they die. Most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family, the center of the royal household and court. Growing up in a royal family (when present for several generations it may be called a dynasty), and future monarch were often trained for the responsibilities of expected future rule.

Different systems of succession have been used, such as proximity of blood, primogeniture, and agnatic seniority (Salic law). While traditionally most modern monarchs have been male, many female monarchs also have ruled in history; the term queen regnant may refer to a ruling monarch, while a queen consort may refer to the wife of a reigning king. Form of governments may be hereditary without being considered monarchies, such as that of family dictatorships. or political families in many democracies.

Some monarchies are non-hereditary. In an elective monarchy, the monarch is elected, but otherwise serves as any other monarch. Historical examples of elective monarchy include the Holy Roman Emperors (chosen by prince-electors, but often coming from the same dynasty), and the free election of kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Modern examples include the pope of the Roman Catholic Church (who rules as Sovereign of the Vatican City Statemarker and is elected to a life term by the College of Cardinals) and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.

Monarchies have existed throughout the world, although in recent centuries many states have abolished the monarchy and becomes republics. Advocacy of republics is called republicanism, while advocacy of monarchies is called monarchism. The principal advantage of hereditary monarchy is the immediate continuity of leadership, usually with a short interregnum (as seen in the classic phrase "The King is dead. Long live the King!").

In some cases monarchs are dependent on other powers (see vassals, suzerainty, puppet state, hegemony). In the British colonial era indirect rule under a paramount power existed, such as princely state under the British Raj.

In other cases the monarch's power is limited, not due to constitutional restraints, but to effective military rule. In the late Roman Empire, the Praetorian Guard several times deposed Roman Emperors and installed new emperors. The Hellenistic kings of Macedon and of Epirus were elected by the army, which was similar in composition to the ecclesia of democracies, the council of all free citizens; military service often was linked with citizenship among the male members of the royal house.

Military domination of the monarch has occurred in modern Thailandmarker and in medieval Japan (where a hereditary military chief, the shogun was the de facto ruler, although the Japanese emperor nominally ruled). In Fascist Italy the Savoy monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel III coexisted with the Fascist single-party rule of Benito Mussolini; Romania under the Iron Guard and Greece during the Axis occupation were much the same way. Spain under Francisco Francomarker was officially a monarchy, although there was no monarch on the throne. Upon his death, Franco was succeeded as head of state by the Bourbon heir, Juan Carlos I, who proceeded to make Spain a democracy with himself as a figurehead constitutional monarch.

A self-proclaimed monarchy is established when a person claims the monarchy without any historical ties to a previous dynasty. Napoleon I of France declared himself Emperor of the French and ruled the First French Empire after previously calling himself First Consul following his seizure of power in the coup of 18 Brumaire. Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Empire declared himself "Emperor." Yuan Shikai crowned himself Emperor of the short-lived "Empire of Chinamarker" a few years after the Republic of Chinamarker was founded.

In a personal union, the same person serves as monarch of separate independent states.

Sometimes titles are used to express claims to territories that are not held in fact (for example, English claims to the French throne) or titles not recognized (antipopes). A pretender is a claimant to an abolished throne or to a throne already occupied by somebody else. Abdication is when a monarch resigns.

Unique or unusual situations exist in several countries:


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

In an elective monarchy, monarchs are elected or appointed by some body (an electoral college) for life. For example, Pepin the Short (father of Charlemagne) was elected King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish leading men; Stanisław August Poniatowski of Poland was an elected king, as was Frederick I of Denmark. Germanic peoples had elective monarchies, and the Holy Roman Emperors were elected by prince-electors, although this often was merely a formalization of what was, in reality, hereditary rule. Three elective monarchies exists today, Malaysiamarker and the United Arab Emiratesmarker are twentieth-century creations, while one (the papacy) is ancient.

In a hereditary monarchy, the position of monarch is inherited by one's relatives according to a statutory or customary order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin back to a historical dynasty or bloodline.

Sometimes the order of succession is affected by rules on gender. Matrilineality determined the royal lineage in Ancient Egypt for over three thousand years, but many more males reigned than females. Agnatic succession bars females. In some systems a female may rule as monarch only when the male line dating back to a common ancestor is exhausted.

In 1980, Swedenmarker became the first European monarchy to declare equal (full cognatic) primogeniture, meaning that the eldest child of the monarch, whether female or male, ascends to the throne. Other kingdoms (such as the Netherlandsmarker in 1983, Norwaymarker in 1990, and Belgiummarker in 1991) have since followed suit. Sometimes religion is affected; under the Act of Settlement 1701 all Roman Catholics and all persons who have married Roman Catholics are ineligible to be the British monarch and are skipped in the order of succession.

Primogeniture, in which the eldest child of the monarch is first in line to become monarch, is the most common system. In the case of the absence of children, the next most senior member of the collateral line (for example, a younger sibling) becomes monarch. Other systems include tanistry, which is semi-elective and gives weight to merit and Salic law. In complex cases, especially in the Middle Ages, the system of primogeniture competed with the sometimes conflicting principle of proximity of blood, and outcomes were idiosyncratic. In some monarchies, such as Saudi Arabiamarker, succession to the throne usually first passes to the monarch's next eldest brother, and only after that to the monarch's children (agnatic seniority).

Appointment by the current monarch is another system, used in Jordanmarker. In this system, the monarch chooses the successor, who may or may not be a relative.

See also

Notes and references

  1. "Bouvier, John, and Francis Rawle. Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia. 1914. 2237-2238.
  2. Other examples of joint sovereignty include Tsars Peter I and Ivan V of Russia and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Joanna of Castile of the Crown of Castile. A current example of constitutional diarchy is Andorra.
  3. Examples include Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea, the Somoza family in Nicaragua, François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti, Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell in the Commonwealth of England.
  4. For example, the Kennedy family in the United States and the Nehru-Gandhi family in India. See list of political families.
  5. SOU 1977:5 Kvinnlig tronföljd, p.16.

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