The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article treats the generic title monarch. For the origins of the word king and its English use, see Germanic king. For other meanings of the word, see Monarch (disambiguation)

A monarch is a type of ruler or head of state. The word derives from Greek monos archein, meaning "one ruler", and in ancient Greece it was used to designate an absolute ruler. With time, the word has been succeeded in this meaning by others, like autocrat or dictator, and the word monarch has become a more general term.

Which rulers are considered monarchs today is partially a matter of tradition, so there are no hard and fast rules. There are, however, a number of characteristics that are commonly, though not universally, distinguishing for monarchs:

  • Most monarchs hold their office for life, while most other rulers do not. They are usually raised within a royal family where they are taught to expect and obey this "duty." A monarch may chose to resign his position through abdication, though this is a rare and dramatic practice.
Exceptions to this include the French co-prince of Andorra, who is not appointed for life (he is the French President, elected for a seven year period by the French people), but still generally considered a monarch because of the use of a traditionally monarchical title. Similarly, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia is considered a monarch although only holding the office five years at a time. On the other hand, several life-time dictators around the world have not been considered monarchs.
  • Most monarchs are, formally or informally, succeeded upon their death or abdication by members of their own family, usually their eldest child. As a result, most stable monarchies have a long legacy of rule by a single family or bloodline.
Once again, Malaysia is an exception, as is Vatican City (the Pope bears the title "Sovereign of the State of Vatican City"). Also, the practice is not totally uncommon in systems which are not considered monarchical, such as family dictatorships.
  • Most monarchs hold titles that are traditional among monarchs (see below). While this is a fairly arbitrary characteristic, it might just be the best distinction between monarchs and non-monarchs at the moment.

Monarchy is the form of government involving a monarch. It can be either absolute or constitutional, and constitutional monarchies may even restrict the powers of the monarch to the point where he is little more than a figurehead, which is a common modern practice. The word monarchy can also be used about a country which has such a system. Normally however, such countries identify themselves more narrowly depending on the actual title used by the monarch – e.g. as a kingdom, grand duchy, or principality.

Elective monarchies were once common, although only a very small portion of the population was eligible to vote. As the impact of the feudal system diminished, many monarchs were eventually allowed to introduce hereditary succession, guaranteeing that the title and office will stay within the family. Today, almost all monarchies are hereditary monarchies in which the monarchs come from one royal family with the office of sovereign being passed from one family member to another upon the death or abdication of the incumbent. Contemporary elective monarchies include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the Holy See.

A sovereign is the monarch of a sovereign state. Although non-sovereign states have often had monarchs historically (not least within the Holy Roman Empire), all European monarchs since 1918 have been sovereigns. Outside Europe there still exist several monarchs of subnational entities however, most notably in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. A more obscure example is the that of Kings of the French Wallis and Futuna territory. In a few cases a monarch is associated with a particular group (or nation) within a state, such as Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu of the Maori (the Maori Queen) and Osei Tutu II of the Ashanti.


European monarchical titles

In Europe, a monarch may traditionally bear any of several titles. Although monarchs have normally been male, each of these titles also has a female counterpart. This is used not only in the (historically rare) case that the monarch is female, but also for wives of monarchs. (When there is need to distinguish between the two cases, terms like Queen regnant and Queen consort come in handy.) The converse is not true however: the husband of a Queen regnant is not automatically a King. (E.g., the Duke of Edinburgh is not King Philip of the United Kingdom.)

The normal monarch title in Europe – i.e., the one used if the monarch has no higher title – is Prince. It was a common title within the Holy Roman Empire, along with a number of higher titles listed below. Such titles were granted by the Emperor, while the titulation of rulers of sovereign states was generally left to the discretion of themselves, most often choosing King. Such titulations could cause diplomatic problems, and especially the elevation to Emperor was seen as an offensive action. During the 19th and 20th centuries most small monarchies in Europe disappeared to form larger entities, and so King has become the most common title today.

Title Female counterpart Realm Latin Description
Pope n/a* Papacy Papa Monarch of the Papal States and later Sovereign of the State of Vatican City; considered senior to Emperors in diplomatic relations
Emperor Empress Empire Imperator Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Russia (Tsar), France, Austria, German Empire (none left in Europe after 1918), Empress of India (ceased to be used after 1947 when India was granted independence from the British Empire).
King Queen Kingdom Rex Common in larger sovereign states
Viceroy Vicereine Viceroyalty ' Historical: Spanish colonial empire, British Empire
Grand Duke Grand Duchess Grand duchy Magnus Dux Today: Luxembourg. Historical: Lithuania, Baden, Finland et al.
Archduke Archduchess Archduchy Arci Dux Historical: Unique only in Austria, Archduchy of Austria. title used for member of the Habsburg dynasty.
Duke Duchess Duchy Dux
Prince Princess Principality Princeps Today: Monaco, Liechtenstein

*As popes must be Catholic priests, a celibate office forbidden to women, there is no female equivalent. Legends of female popes (see Pope Joan) refer to them as "pope." Some European languages have a feminine form of the word pope, such as the French papesse, used among other things for the High Priestess tarot card.

Note that some of these titles have several meanings and do not necessarily designate a monarch. A Prince can be a person of royal blood (some languages uphold this distinction, see Fürst). A Duke can be a British peer. In Imperial Russia, a Grand Duke was a son or grand-son of the Tsar. Holders of titles in these alternative meanings did not enjoy the same status as actual monarchs of the same title. (Within the Holy Roman Empire, there were even more titles that were occasionally used for monarchs although they were normally noble: Margrave, Count Palatine, Landgrave. An actual monarch with such low titles still outranked a noble Duke.)

Today, there are seven kingdoms, one grand duchy, and two principalities in Europe, excluding the peculiar case of Andorra and the non-recognized principality of Sealand.

Other monarchical titles

In China, "king" is the usual translation for the term wang, which designated the sovereign before the Qin dynasty and during the Ten Kingdoms period. During the early Han dynasty, China had a number of small kingdoms, each about the size of a county and subordinate to the Emperor of China.

When a difference exists, male titles are placed to the left and female titles are placed to the right of the slash.

By region

General monarch titles

from country to country. Traditionally, agnatic primogeniture, succession going to the eldest son of the monarch, has been most common; if the monarch had no sons, the throne would pass to the nearest male relative. Some countries however accepted female rulers early on, so that if the monarch had no sons, the throne would pass to the eldest daughter. (This, cognatic primogeniture, was the rule that let Elizabeth II become Queen.) In 1980, Sweden became the first European monarchy to abolish this preference for males altogether, declaring equal primogeniture or full cognatic primogeniture, so that the eldest child of the monarch now ascends to the throne, be that child male or female. Other kingdoms (Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991 and the Netherlands) have followed.

In some monarchies, e.g. Saudi Arabia, succession to the throne has passed to the monarch's next eldest brother, and only to the monarch's children after that. In some other monarchies, the monarch chooses who will be his successor, who need not necessarily be his eldest son, e.g. Jordan.

Current monarchs

NOTE: The table comprises all sovereign monarchs of the world today, but is severely incomplete with regard to the non-sovereign monarchs.

Name Born Title Since Succession Next in line
Bhumibol Adulyadej 1927 King of Thailand 1946 Maha Vajiralongkorn
Elizabeth II 1926 Queen of Antigua and Barbuda
Queen of Australia
Queen of the Bahamas
Queen of Barbados
Queen of Belize
Queen of Canada
Queen of Grenada
Queen of Jamaica
Queen of New Zealand
Queen of Papua New Guinea
Queen of Saint Kitts and Nevis
Queen of Saint Lucia
Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Queen of the Solomon Islands
Queen of Tuvalu
Queen of the United Kingdom
1952 Cognatic primogeniture The Prince of Wales
Tunku Abdul Halim 1924 Sultan of Kedah (in Malaysia) 1958 Hereditary
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV 1918 King of Tonga 1965
Hassanal Bolkiah 1946 Sultan of Brunei 1967
Goodwill Zwelethini 1948 King of the Zulus (in South Africa) 1968
Qaboos 1940 Sultan of Oman 1970
Jigme Singye Wangchuk 1955 King of Bhutan 1972
Margrethe II 1940 Queen of Denmark 1972 Cognatic primogeniture Crown Prince Frederik
Carl XVI Gustaf 1946 King of Sweden 1973 Equal primogeniture Crown Princess Victoria
Ahmad Shah 1930 Sultan of Pahang (in Malaysia) 1974 Hereditary
Hamad ibn Muhammad ash-Sharqi 1949 Emir of Fujairah (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1974
Juan Carlos I 1938 King of Spain 1975 Hereditary The Prince of Asturias
Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah 1926 Emir of Kuwait 1977
Ismail Petra Sultan of Kelantan (in Malaysia) 1979 Hereditary
Beatrix 1938 Queen of the Netherlands
Queen of Aruba
Queen of the Netherlands Antilles
1980 Equal primogeniture The Prince of Orange
Alhaji Muhammadu Kabir Usman ? Emir of Katsina (in Nigeria) 1981
Rashid ibn Ahmad Al Mu'alla 1930 Emir of Umm al-Qaiwain (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1981
Iskandar 1932 Sultan of Johor (in Malaysia) 1981 Hereditary
Humayd ibn Rashid Al Nuaimi 1931 Emir of Ajman (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1981
Fahd 1923 King of Saudi Arabia 1982 Election by family Crown Prince Abdullah
Mswati III 1968 King of Swaziland 1982
Sultan III ibn Muhammad al-Qasimi 1939 Emir of Ajman (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1987
Hans-Adam II 1945 Prince of Liechtenstein 1989 Hereditary Hereditary Prince Alois
Akihito 1933 Emperor of Japan 1990 Crown Prince Naruhito
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum 1946 Emir of Dubai (one of the United Arab Emirates) 1990 Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Harald V 1937 King of Norway 1991 Equal primogeniture Crown Prince Haakon Magnus
Muwenda Mutebi 1955 King of Buganda (in Uganda) 1993
Albert II 1934 King of the Belgians 1993 Equal primogeniture The Duke of Brabant
Solomon Gafabusa Iguru 1949 King of Bunyoro-Kitara (in Uganda) 1994
Jacques Chirac 1932 French Co-prince of Andorra 1995 Election by the French people (term ends in 2007) None
Hamad bin Khalifa Emir of Qatar 1995
Letsie III 1963 King of Lesotho 1996
Mizan Zainal Abidin Sultan of Terengganu (in Malaysia) 1998 Hereditary
Abdullah II 1962 King of Jordan 1999 Choice by predecessor Prince Hussein
Mohammed VI 1963 King of Morocco 1999
Henri 1955 Grand Duke of Luxembourg 2000 Agnatic primogeniture Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume
Sharafuddin Idris Shah Sultan of Selangor (in Malaysia) 2001 Hereditary
Joan Enric Vives Sicília 1949 Episcopal Co-prince of Andorra 2001 Appointed None
Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin 1943 Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) 2001 Election among local monarchs The Sultan of Terengganu, if rotation is upheld
Raja of Perlis (in Malaysia) 2000 Hereditary
Gyanendra 1947 King of Nepal 2001
Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah 1950 King of Bahrain 2002
Norodom Sihamoni 1953 King of Cambodia 2004 Election by 9-member "throne council"
Tomasi Kulimoetoke II ,

Soane Patita Maituku , Visesio Moeliku ,

Lavelua of Wallis and Futuna

(a French territory in the Pacific Ocean)

2004 3 traditional monarchs of Wallis and Futuna. Choosen by tribe commission - official ruler is the Administrator-Superior of Wallis and Futuna and the President of the Territorial Assembly of Wallis and Futuna
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan 1948 Emir of Abu Dhabi and president United Arab Emirates 2004
Albert II of Monaco 1958 Prince of Monaco 2005 Primogeniture Princess Caroline of Monaco
Pope Benedict XVI 1927 Pope (Sovereign of the State of Vatican City) 2005 Election by College of Cardinals

In addition to these, there are a few former monarchs who have abdicated or been deposed still alive, as well as several pretenders, claiming thrones that do not exist at the moment. Also, Paddy Roy Bates styles himself Prince of Sealand, although no country recognizes him as a sovereign.

See also

External links

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