A monarchy is a form of government where the ruler, known as the monarch, holds the ultimate authority and serves as the head of state. The idea of monarchy dates back to ancient times, and the word “monarchy” itself comes from the Greek words “monos” meaning “one” and “arkhein” meaning “to rule”.
In simple terms, a monarchy is a country headed by a single ruler. Most often this is a king/queen, so a monarchy is usually called a kingdom.
Other terms: Grand Duchy (e.g., Luxembourg); Principality (e.g., Monaco); City-state (Vatican City).
Monarchy was a common form of government in the world in ancient and medieval times.
The world’s foremost monarchy is none other than the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The great Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the throne through her royal lineage, embodies the archetype of the monarch. Elizabeth II governed not only the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, but was also head of state of fifteen other countries known collectively as the Commonwealth of Nations. These countries include Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Barbados, Canada, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
A monarch is a person who holds the highest position in a monarchy, which is a type of government where a single person, typically a hereditary ruler, has the ultimate political power.
Monarchs can be in charge of the government, the state, or both, depending on the specific rules of their country’s government.
The title that a monarch holds depends on the country and type of government. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the monarch is known as the King or Queen, while in Monaco, the monarch holds the title of Prince or Princess. Other examples include Emperor or Empress (used in Japan and India) and Duke or Duchess (in Luxembourg).
Sometimes, monarchs may also hold official positions related to a national religion or church, such as being called the “Defender of the Faith.” Ultimately, the role and title of a monarch vary depending on the country and system of government in place.
Female monarchs usually have the title “reigning queen”.
“Queen consort” is the title of the wife of the reigning king.
A regent is a person who rules the state in the place of a minor monarch or if the monarch is absent or weakened.
Today, the role of most monarchs is ceremonial. The monarch acts as a center of national identity, unity, and pride, provides a sense of stability and continuity, and often upholds the ideal of voluntary service. Often not playing a political or executive role, he or she continues to play a very important role in the life of the nation.
Although the monarch is still the head of state and the emblem of state power, the governance of the country often passes to another institution, such as the parliament. There are a few exceptions to this rule, especially in the Middle East.
The main types include the following:
Hereditary monarchy is a form of government where the title of the ruler is passed down from one generation to the next through bloodline. This means that if a monarch, such as a king or queen, were to pass away or abdicate their position, the crown would be inherited by their eldest child, or in the absence of children, by a brother or cousin.
One of the defining characteristics of a hereditary monarchy is the continuity of governance, where the transition of power from one ruler to the next is relatively smooth and quick, often marked by the famous phrase “The king is dead. Long live the king!” This means that there is usually only a short period of interregnum, or gap between the reigns of two monarchs.
Most monarchs are born into royal families, also known as dynasties, and grow up in the royal house and court. As a result, future monarchs, or heirs to the throne, are taught from a young age about the responsibilities and duties that come with being a ruler. They learn how to lead, govern, and make decisions that will affect the welfare of their people.
Elected monarchies are a relatively uncommon type of monarchy where the monarch is chosen through an election or appointment process, instead of inheriting the throne. In some cases, an elected monarchy may be a formalization of hereditary rule, where the election serves as a way to legitimize the new ruler.
Historically, there have been several examples of elected monarchies, including the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the case of the Holy Roman Empire, the monarch was elected by a group of electors, who were usually nobles from different regions of the empire. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, on the other hand, used a unique system of election by the nobility known as the “free election.”
Today, there are only a few remaining elected monarchies. Malaysia, for example, has a constitutional monarchy where the king is elected from among the hereditary rulers of nine states. Samoa also has an elected monarchy, where the head of state is chosen by the Legislative Assembly. Another modern example is the United Arab Emirates, which has a Federal Supreme Council composed of the seven emirs of the country, who elect a president and vice-president from among their ranks.
The most famous example of an elected monarchy today is the papacy, where the College of Cardinals elects the pope to serve as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the sovereign of the Vatican City State. This system has been in place for centuries, and is steeped in tradition and ceremony.
Certain rules govern the inheritance of the crown in monarchical states. In some cases, the order of succession is determined by gender rules. For example, in Ancient Egypt, matrilineage determined the royal lineage for over three thousand years, but the rule was mostly male-dominated. In some monarchical systems, a woman can only become a monarch if the male line is exhausted.
In recent times, several countries have adopted more gender-neutral succession laws. Sweden was the first monarchy in Europe to adopt equal primogeniture in 1980, allowing the eldest child to ascend the throne regardless of gender. The Kingdom of the Netherlands followed suit in 1983, Norway in 1990, and Belgium in 1991.
In some cases, religion can also affect the succession to the crown. For instance, according to the Act of Settlement of 1701, all Catholics are ineligible to become British monarchs and are skipped in the line of succession.
Throughout history, many monarchs have held absolute power over their countries. However, it’s important to note that unlimited political control is not a defining feature of all monarchies. For example, there are constitutional monarchies such as Thailand and the United Kingdom, where the monarch’s role is largely ceremonial.
Monarchs typically rely heavily on their nobility for support and loyalty, offering honors and privileges within the state in exchange for cooperation. While hereditary rule is a common feature of many monarchies, it’s not always the case in elected monarchies such as the Vatican.
In most cases, monarchies are governed by a single ruler, but there have been instances throughout history where countries had two monarchs sharing power simultaneously. For example, the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta had a system of dual rule. Additionally, some monarchies have been jointly ruled by spouses or relatives, such as William and Mary, who co-ruled the kingdoms of Scotland and England.
Although a monarchy is a system of government with a single sovereign, it has taken several forms and had different characteristics, depending on culture and circumstances. Legitimation, levels of power, exercise of authority, roles and responsibilities, and succession were determined more by the historical era and local culture than by the ruler’s desires and preferences. As civilization progressed, nobles, elected representatives, foreign influence, and the satisfaction of the ruled subjects had a huge impact on the form and nature of the institution, although ruling monarchs were still considered absolute power.
There are different forms of monarchies, depending on how much state power the monarch possesses and how the office is inherited.
Absolutely monarchies are a type of government where the monarch has complete and total authority. In these systems, the monarch holds all the power, making them the head of state and the head of government. This means that there are no checks and balances on the monarch’s power, and they are free to make decisions without input from anyone else.
While absolute monarchies are rare in the modern world, they have played a significant role in history. Many of the monarchies in Europe during the medieval period were absolute monarchies. These monarchies were often justified by the concept of the “divine right of kings,” which held that the monarch was appointed by God and had a duty to rule as they saw fit.
Today, Saudi Arabia is an example of an absolute monarchy. In this system, the House of Saud holds significant power and control. The executive branch is hereditary, while the legislative and judicial branches are appointed by royal decree. Those appointed by the monarch can only be dismissed by the monarch themselves.
Despite their power, absolute monarchies have often faced challenges from their people. In many cases, the lack of input from the people has led to unrest and discontent. As a result, many absolute monarchies have either evolved into constitutional monarchies or have been replaced by other forms of government.
Constitutional monarchies, also known as limited monarchies, are countries where the monarch’s powers and functions are restricted by a constitution and a central government body, such as parliament. The role of the monarch in such a system is largely symbolic, with their powers and actions being guided by the constitution and the laws established by the government.
In modern constitutional monarchies, the monarch is typically the head of state, while the government, headed by a prime minister, is responsible for day-to-day governance. While the monarch may still have certain ceremonial and symbolic duties, such as representing the country abroad or signing bills into law, their role in governing the country is limited.
Examples of constitutional monarchies include countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Japan. In these countries, the monarch is largely seen as a unifying figurehead, representing the state and its people, while the government holds the real power to make decisions and implement policy.
The idea of constitutional monarchy has been around for centuries, with some historians tracing its roots back to the Hittites, an ancient people who lived in the Bronze Age. In the Hittite system, the king or queen shared power with a council of nobles, a precursor to modern parliaments. Over time, other countries developed similar systems, with the first formal constitutional monarchy being established in Britain in the 17th century. Today, constitutional monarchies remain a popular form of government around the world.
These are states in which there is a legislative body with powers, but at the same time the monarch retains great power, more than in a constitutional monarchy. A well-known example is Jordan, where the king has considerable power, but the country is quite democratic.
You might think that the monarchical type of government is a thing of the past. However, many countries around the world still use the monarchical system.
An “estate monarchy” was a common form of government in Western European countries during the Middle Ages. This type of government was characterized by the participation of representatives from different social classes or “estates” in the governance of the country. The estates were typically composed of representatives from the clergy, nobility, and commoners, and they had the power to perform legislative and advisory functions. However, the monarch still held most of the power and had the final say in matters of governance.
The estates could offer advice and make laws, but the monarch had the ultimate authority. This type of government allowed for some degree of participation from the people, but it was ultimately controlled by the monarchy. As the power of the monarch became more centralized and the estates lost their influence, this form of government gave way to more centralized forms of government, such as absolute monarchies.
Today, the concept of an estate monarchy is not commonly used, but the idea of representative democracy and the separation of powers has evolved from the same principles of shared governance.
In England, the estate monarchy was established before the 13th century, with the top of society consisting of barons and the feudal classes playing a significant role in the country’s economic life. However, in the 1260s, a struggle against supreme power led to a civil war, which resulted in the creation of a “Model” parliament in 1295. This parliament consisted of large spiritual and secular feudal lords and marked the beginning of a class-representative monarchy in England.
Initially, the functions of the English parliament were to determine the amount of taxes and to control the highest officials. Over time, the parliament gained the right to participate in passing laws. Under Edward III in the 14th century, the English parliament was divided into two houses: the House of Commons, consisting of knights and burghers, and the House of Lords, consisting of barons or hereditary peers.
The English estate monarchy system allowed for the participation of representatives from different social classes in the governance of the country. While the monarch still held most of the power, the estates had the power to perform legislative and advisory functions. This form of government eventually gave way to a more centralized form of government, but the legacy of the estate monarchy can still be seen in the modern British parliament, which has both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
In France, the estate monarchy emerged during the reign of Philip IV in the 13th century. This representative body was composed of the clergy and the nobility, and later became known as the General States. The General States had limited power and was closely aligned with the royal power. Its purpose was to represent the interests of the king, and the king would often seek its opinion on laws, although their consent or approval was not necessary. Despite its limitations, the General States had the ability to make requests or protests to higher authorities, giving the people some degree of participation in the government. However, the power of the monarchy gradually increased, and the estates monarchy in France eventually gave way to the absolute monarchy of the 17th and 18th centuries.
In Russia, the estate monarchy was established in the 16th century under the rule of Ivan the Terrible. The first Sobor was convened in 1569, which brought together representatives from different social classes, including zemstvo councils, the Boyarskaya Duma, the Consecrated Cathedral, and elected representatives from citizens and nobles. However, unlike European powers, these bodies did not have the power to limit the tsar’s power. Instead, they were called upon by the tsar to discuss major national issues and make decisions in the areas of foreign and fiscal policies, as well as electing the head of state.
Despite not having the power to limit the tsar’s power, the Sobor played a significant role in Russian political life. It was convened by special order of the tsar and invited Boris Godunov, Vasili Shuisky, and Michael Romanov to ascend to the throne. The estate monarchy in Russia remained in place until the 1917 Russian Revolution, which led to the establishment of the Soviet Union and a new form of government.
A representative monarchy is a type of government where the monarch is mainly a symbolic head of state, while an elected government holds most of the real power. This means that the monarch’s role is mostly ceremonial, representing the country and its people in various official functions and events. The government, on the other hand, is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the country, including matters of policy and legislation.
The selection of the monarch usually follows a hereditary system, with the next in line chosen from the royal family. However, the people may have some role in the selection process, such as through an election or other means of consultation. In some cases, the monarch may also have some limited powers, such as the ability to appoint certain government officials or to act as a mediator or advisor to the government.
Representative monarchies are often associated with countries that have a strong tradition of monarchy, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and Japan. In these countries, the monarch serves as a symbol of national identity and continuity, while the government provides the democratic framework for decision-making and policy implementation. This balance between traditional and modern principles has allowed these countries to evolve and adapt over time, while maintaining a sense of stability and continuity.
Throughout history, the relationship between monarchy and military power has taken various forms. In some cases, a monarch’s power may be bolstered by the support of the military, while in others, the military may seize power from the monarch or limit their authority.
Overall, the relationship between monarchy and military power has been complex throughout history. While military support may provide a monarch with greater authority and stability, it can also lead to instability and conflict if the military seeks to assert its own power over the monarch.