AskDefine | Define monarchy

Dictionary Definition

monarchy n : an autocracy governed by a monarch who usually inherits the authority

User Contributed Dictionary



monarch + -y



  1. A government with a hereditary head of state (whether as a figurehead or as a powerful ruler).
    • An absolute monarchy is a government ruled by one person, termed a monarch and bearing a title based on their position.
    • A constitutional monarchy is ruled by a Parliament or other representative body and has a monarch as a figurehead with little or no real power.

Coordinate terms


form of government with a hereditary head of state

Extensive Definition

A monarchy, from the Greek μονος, "one," and αρχειν, "to rule," is a form of government in which a monarch, usually a single person, is the head of state. Monarchy is one of the oldest types of government and has been in continuous existence for most of recorded history.
In most monarchies, the monarch holds their position for life and passes the responsibilities and power of the position to their children or family when they die. In a few republics the head of state, often styled president, might remain in office for life, but most are elected for a term of office, after which he or she must step down or seek re-election, and any successors must then also be elected. There are currently 30 monarchs reigning over 44 extant sovereign monarchies in the world; the disconnect in numbers between monarchs and countries is explained by the fact that the sixteen Commonwealth realms - vast geographic areas including the trans-continental realms of Canada and Australia - are separate realms of one Sovereign in personal union; and one other monarchy, Andorra, has two non-resident foreign (French and Spanish) co-monarchs, one of which is part of the government of a republic (the French one).
The term monarchy is also used to refer to the people (especially the dynasty, also known as royalty) and institutions that make up the royal or imperial establishment, or to the realm over which the monarch reigns. Monarchs serve as symbols of continuity and statehood. Today, the extent of a monarch's actual powers varies from monarchy to monarchy. In constitutional monarchies, wherein sovereignty rests formally with the crown but politically with 'the people' (usually the electorate, as represented by a parliament), the monarch now usually serves largely ceremonial functions, except in times of crisis. Many monarchies are constituted by tradition or by codified law, so that the monarch has little real political power; in others the monarch holds some power but is limited from exercising it by popular opinion or precedent; in still others the monarch holds substantial power and may exercise it without limit. However, the majority of monarchs today are bound by rule of law rather than rule of human will.
Monarchy is one of the oldest forms of government, with echoes in the leadership of tribal chiefs. Many monarchs once claimed to rule by divine right, or at least by divine grace, ruling either by the will of the god(s) or even claiming to be (incarnated) gods themselves (see theocracy). Monarchs have also been selected by election (either in a broad popular assembly, as in Germanic tribal states; or by a small body, such as in the Holy Roman Empire, and as in Malaysia and the UAE today; or by dynastic succession; or by conquest; or a combination of any number of ways). In some early systems the monarch was overthrown or sacrificed when it became apparent that divine sanction had been withdrawn.
Since 1800, most of the world's monarchies have been abolished by dismemberment or annexation, or have been transformed into republics; most current countries that are monarchies are constitutional ones. Among the few states that retain aspects of absolute monarchy are Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and the Vatican City (the papal city-state, an electoral theocracy). In Jordan and Morocco, the monarch also 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. Nepal had several swings between constitutional rule and direct rule related to the Maoist rebel movement and killings by a suicidal crown prince. In December 2007 the Nepalese government agreed to abolish the country's monarchy after the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. The monarchy was formally abolished on the 28 May, 2008.

Types of monarchy

In an absolute monarchy, the monarchy has absolute power over every aspect of the state, if not of social life in general, and has the power to grant or withdraw a constitution; a constitutional monarch is subject to the constitution like other citizens, though in some cases he has certain constitutional privileges such as inviolability.
An elected monarchy was popular in various states of Northern Europe even up until the Middle Ages. When Charlemagne was a child, his father was elected King of the Franks. Stanislaw of Poland was an elected king, as was Frederick I of Denmark. The tradition of an elected monarchy is very ancient and still exists today in the office of the Pope. In Antiquity, there were various traditions of elected monarchs of various titles, usually rendered as king, especially in not fully sedentary societies such as the Germanic tribes (before they established a sedentary kingdom in territories of the former Roman empire). Often there was a mix of conflicting principles and interests, the ruling house tending to reserve succession for itself, with the nobility rivaling it. Actual succession often depended on popular assent and/or the support of the armed forces, which could take their role of king-maker as far as deposing an incompetent or 'criminal' ruler- or even pure mutiny to seize the throne. The Hellenistic kings of Macedon and of Epirus were elected by the army (a body that was very close in composition to the ecclesia of democracies, the council of all free citizens; military service was often linked with citizenship) among the male member of the royal house. In Macedon this tradition continued until the kingdom was dissolved by the Romans after the Third Macedonian War.
Most of today's hereditary monarchs serve as living national symbols of their nation-state. Most constitutional monarchs retain reserve powers, and other constitutionally defined roles and responsibilities. Many are also constitutional monarchs who can dissolve parliament and call for new elections (usually at the request of the prime minister). Though the latter may technically still propose legislation, the conventions of constitutional monarchy disallow them from doing so, as well as from wielding power in the unlimited manner of ancient monarchies, unless in the face of a constitutional, governmental, or some other crisis.
In some ancient hereditary monarchies, power often resided with the military, as often has been the case in Thailand and Japan (where its eventually hereditary military chief, the Shogun, developed into a de facto monarch, nominally under the Emperor), with an (at least) nominally 'prime ministerial' office (separate Head of government), which may tend to become hereditary itself, in the Hindu kingdom of Nepal even formally styled a hereditary Maharajah. In Fascist Italy a monarchy coexisted with a fascist party for longer than such co-existences occurred in Romania or Greece. Spain under Francisco Franco (his "Spanish State") was officially a monarchy, even though there was no monarch on the throne; upon his death, Franco was succeeded as Head of state by the Bourbon heir to the throne, King Juan Carlos I.
There have also been situations in which a dictator proclaimed himself monarch of a previous republic, thus starting a self-proclaimed monarchy with no historical ties to a previous dynasty. The most famous example of this was general Napoleon I Bonaparte, who crowned himself first Emperor of the French after legally assuming political control of the French Republic (which in his lifetime has succeeded to the absolutist kingdom) as First Consul for life; a blatant operetta-imitation of his empire was that of dictator Bokassa I in the very poor Central African Empire. Also, Yuan Shikai crowned himself Emperor of the short-lived "Empire of China", a few years after the Republic of China was founded.
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, traditional or self-assumed titles in his different realms. Several former colonies of the British Empire, such as Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand etc., are now independent realms, which, along with the United Kingdom, continue to recognize one person as their respective sovereign head of state, with a distinctive title in each nation (King/Queen of Canada, Jamaica and so forth); these countries, including the UK, are known as Commonwealth Realms. In other cases, such as England and Scotland, a personal union was the precursor to a merger of the states. Often a personal union between nation states ends in complete separation, e.g. Norway, first in union with Denmark and later with Sweden, then finally opting for its own monarchy again. Similar to that after 816 years of personal union with Hungary, Croatia had in 1918 opted for separation and entry into the kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Some republics can be called 'virtual monarchies' as they appear to have introduced de facto inheritance for the Head of state, usually establishing a 'dynasty' by making his son (informally) designated heir, without constitutionally declaring themselves monarchies. These nations may be republics in theory, but dynastic monarchies in practice. The 'Roman Empire' in Latin existed only in the territorial sense, legally it was always a republic, theoretically the Principate was not hereditary monarchy, and even the Byzantine Empire had republican features. In the twentieth century, de facto monarchies existed in Nicaragua and Haiti. Today, formal constitutional republics like North Korea (communist single-party state) and Syria have been called de facto monarchies; however, one father-son succession without a constitutional mechanism is more an appearance than an actual de facto monarchy, the next succession may just as well be determined otherwise by the real king makers (a dead dictator ceases to dictate) and democratic republics too have produced de facto successions -albeit often not along strict lines such as primogeniture- and even three or more generation 'dynasties' (as India's Gandhi family), except that these only rule when their party is in power. See also family dictatorship.
Although in theory a monarch is the sovereign ruler of a state, historical developments often produced more complicated realities: when a state loses its true sovereignty, while internally retaining its monarchic constitution, its monarchy will often become similarly dependent on the greater power, e.g. as a feudal vassal under a suzerain, or in the colonial era become redefined as an actor in indirect rule, under a paramount power (such as each princely state in the British raj). Successions in such dependent states were often subject to the assent of the dominant power, which then often reserved the right to dethrone (and replace) a 'disloyal' incumbent..


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.
Elective monarchies, distinguished by the monarchs being appointed for life, have in most cases been succeeded by hereditary monarchies, but both secular sovereign nation cases at present - those of Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates - are 20th-century creations. 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 ruling family may claim to hold authority by virtue of the associated god's choosing, as reflected in the style-phrase "by the Grace of God," or other religion-based authority.
The order of succession in most European monarchical states of the 21st century is by primogeniture, meaning that either the eldest child of the monarch or the eldest son of the monarch is first in line. Currently, there is some controversy over the succession laws of some monarchies such as that of the United Kingdom (UK), Canadian, or the Scandinavian monarchies, which require their monarch to be of a certain faith (in the Commonwealth Realms under the Act of Settlement 1701). This has been challenged as violating European Union rules that prohibit religious disqualification for positions of state authority, as well as a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. , successions in dependent states could be subject to the assent of the (colonial or other) dominant power, which then often reserved the right to dethrone (and replace) a 'disloyal' incumbent.

Titles as political statements

Official styles and titles of monarchs often reflect the ambitions and ideals of the governments they head or represent and actual historical ties or claims to territories no longer under their administration or even extinguished as political units.
Some titles are specifically designed to express a relative rank, usually higher if self-assumed, as in the case of King of Kings and various equivalents, or Tipu Sultan who assumed the rank Padshah Bahadur when declaring his new Muslim empire Khudadad independent from the Mughal Padshah, it has no other meaning then 'in rank above Padhsah'. Some monarchic titles suggest a unique exalted rank, even universal supremacy, such as the Caliph, and yet there may be parallel dynasties, e.g. a branch of the Umayyad in Cordoba while the Oriental caliphate had been take over by the Abassids (in Baghdad). Other titles are perceived as carrying a protocolary rank, so granting (often as a reward for a loyal vassal) or assuming (as an assertion) a higher title can mean a 'promotion' regardless of political reality.
Additional elements in the full style may refer to the legitimation of the throne, either directly as by a phrase like "by the Grace of God," or indirectly by referring to a legitimating function, such as protecting the official religion, e.g. for a Muslim ruler by the style Commander of the faithful. The Protestant Successors to Henry VIII of England have all retained the "Defender of the Faith" originally granted by the Pope to Henry VIII before the 'annulment crisis' led to the Anglican Schism.
Thus Queen Elizabeth II is "by the Grace of God, Queen" in fifteen of her sixteen realms, only Papua New Guinea omitting this phrase from her title there. During Spain's transition to a constitutional monarchy under Isabella II, her Style was changed from the 'Long Form' which included "by the Grace of God" and some 20 states to "By divine grace and the constitution, queen of the Spains".
The kings and queens of England and Great Britain retained the title King of France until the union with Ireland to form the United Kingdom in 1801, during the reign of King George III. The kings and queens of Spain retained a long list of kingdoms, that didn't include Spain until Isabella II in 1837. The Council of Ministers authorized in 1987 Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, to also use "historical titles," presumably including the crusader relict King of Jerusalem, which passed through several dynasties, none of which actually had any authority in the obliterated former realm.

Demise 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 or Greece, the electorate decides to form a republic by constitutional referendum. In some cases, as with England and Spain, the monarchy has been overthrown and later restored. After the abdication of Napoleon I, which ended the First Empire, the French restored the royal Bourbon dynasty which had been abolished by the republic within which Napoleon had established the Empire. At the same time, his emperorship was "revived" outside France, as a "golden cage" principality was created for him on the island of Elba, so in a sense the empire was succeeded by a kingdom and an emperor without an empire.
Dependent monarchies have been abolished by their dominant power, often for the purposes of being fully annexed, split or merged with another. In Uganda, for example, local tribal monarchies were abolished when the country became a unitary state.
One recent monarchy to be abolished was the former Commonwealth Realm monarchy of Mauritius in 1992. In 1999 Australians voted to keep their status as a constitutional monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II. The most recent monarchy to be abolished was that of Nepal. In December 2007 the Nepalese government agreed to abolish the country's monarchy after the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. Nepal officially became a federal democratic republic on May 28, 2008.
Countries may regard themselves as monarchies even without an actual monarch on the vacant throne, as Spain did from 1947 to 1975, and Hungary from 1920 to 1946.
A person who can be taken into consideration as future monarch in case of restoration of monarchy (or who even claims to be the legitimate heir to the throne of a deposed or in the royalist view suspended monarchy) is called a pretender, but that term also applies to a rival claimant of a filled throne, such as the several Russians who claimed to be a Tsar simultaneously.
See also abolished monarchy for a list of recently-abolished monarchies and the Republican Monarchist Debate.

Unusual Monarchies

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 federal king, called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or Paramount Ruler, is elected for a five year term from and by the hereditary rulers (mostly sultans) of nine of the federation's constitutive States, all on the Malay peninsula.
In addition to his ecclesiastical role as Supreme Pontiff of all Christians worldwide in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope is ex officio the absolute monarch of Vatican City, the last truly sovereign Prince of the Church. 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.) Notwithstanding this, the papacy has at times been under the control of powerful Italian families. Several popes have been succeeded by near relatives (officially described as Nepotes, literally 'nephews').
Andorra is the world's only co-principality: it had two co-princes: the Bishop of Urgell in Spain (thus a Prince-Bishop), and the President of France—a unique case where an independent country's Monarch is democratically elected by the citizens of another country, which is not even in full personal union.
Since 1947, the Emperors of Japan have reigned as neither sovereign, nor the de jure head of state. Emperor Hirohito having ceded sovereignty to the people shortly after World War II, the Japanese monarchy is bound by supreme law as opposed to constitutional convention under the provisos of the Constitution of Japan.
Samoa was often disputably described as a monarchy. The Constitution designated the o le Ao o le Malo, rendered as Head of State for life with a royal style, but the last incumbent, Malietoa Tanumafili II, a past member of one of the three princely families, died and has been succeeded by an elected leader for a five year term. It has since been stated as a constitutional presidency.

Monarchy and Oligarchy

Currently 44 nations in the world have monarchs as heads of state, 16 of which are Commonwealth Realms that formally recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state and Prince Charles as heir.

Current subnational and trans-national traditional monarchies

Not only are the Monarchs of constitutive Monarchies part of the federal establishment of both present elective monarchies (Malaysia, mainly sultanates, and the UAE, so named after its emirates), in many other modern states -often republics- tribal and other traditional states persist, with a dynasty that retains a court and often local prestige and influence; some are officially installed with the consent of the official government (as some of the many in Indonesia- waiting for the go-ahead can mean years of vacancy on the throne), others are merely condoned, or even in exile. Within Africa a great percentage of these ancient African Monarchies have active Power and Rule independently alongside the National Governments there respective Empires and Kingdoms in Africa; including internal Kingdoms Government and Kingdoms Judicary systems. Most have there own internal Warrior Armies and have the power to call upon the National Government Forces; if the situation is so needed. Vice-Versa the National or Trans-National Governments can call upon the Monarchies for support in times of Tribal conflicts, to command Peace, due to the Kingdoms massive influence with the People of the respective Kingdoms and Tribal Nations. Many of these Kingdoms Empires are crossed-border covering parts of two or more Countries, some Empires covers parts of complete regions, and a few the Continent itself, with 1000s of Royal Kingdoms within and under the respective Empire of a multiple or Tribal Nations Kingdoms, covering populations of 100s of millions in collective Populations on the African Continent.
In many countries that are legally republics, an heir to the throne is recognized by the royalist part of the nation. A list of such countries is available in the pretender article.

External links, References and Sources

monarchy in Afrikaans: Monargie
monarchy in Arabic: ملكية
monarchy in Min Nan: Kun-ông-chè-tō͘
monarchy in Bosnian: Monarhija
monarchy in Breton: Rouantelezh
monarchy in Bulgarian: Монархия
monarchy in Catalan: Monarquia
monarchy in Czech: Monarchie
monarchy in Welsh: Brenhiniaeth
monarchy in Danish: Monarki
monarchy in German: Monarchie
monarchy in Estonian: Monarhia
monarchy in Modern Greek (1453-): Μοναρχία
monarchy in Spanish: Monarquía
monarchy in Esperanto: Monarkio
monarchy in Basque: Monarkia
monarchy in French: Monarchie
monarchy in Irish: Monarcacht
monarchy in Galician: Monarquía
monarchy in Korean: 군주제
monarchy in Hindi: राजतन्त्र
monarchy in Croatian: Monarhija
monarchy in Indonesian: Monarki
monarchy in Icelandic: Konungsveldi
monarchy in Italian: Monarchia
monarchy in Georgian: მონარქია
monarchy in Hebrew: מונרכיה
monarchy in Latin: Monarchia
monarchy in Latvian: Monarhija
monarchy in Luxembourgish: Monarchie
monarchy in Lithuanian: Monarchija
monarchy in Hungarian: Monarchia
monarchy in Macedonian: Монархија
monarchy in Malay (macrolanguage): Monarki
monarchy in Dutch: Monarchie
monarchy in Japanese: 君主制
monarchy in Norwegian: Monarki
monarchy in Norwegian Nynorsk: Monarki
monarchy in Occitan (post 1500): Monarquia
monarchy in Low German: Monarkie
monarchy in Polish: Monarchia
monarchy in Portuguese: Monarquia
monarchy in Romanian: Monarhie
monarchy in Quechua: Qhapaq suyu
monarchy in Russian: Монархия
monarchy in Sicilian: Munarchìa
monarchy in Simple English: Monarchy
monarchy in Slovenian: Monarhija
monarchy in Serbian: Монархија
monarchy in Finnish: Monarkia
monarchy in Swedish: Monarki
monarchy in Thai: ราชาธิปไตย
monarchy in Turkish: Monarşi
monarchy in Ukrainian: Монархія
monarchy in Yiddish: קעניגרייך
monarchy in Chinese: 王國

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Caesarism, Stalinism, absolute monarchy, absolutism, aristocracy, autarchy, authoritarianism, autocracy, autonomy, benevolent despotism, coalition government, colonialism, commonwealth, constitutional government, constitutional monarchy, country, czarism, democracy, despotism, dictatorship, domain, dominion, dominion rule, duarchy, duumvirate, dyarchy, empire, federal government, federation, feudal system, garrison state, gerontocracy, heteronomy, hierarchy, hierocracy, home rule, kaiserism, kingdom, limited monarchy, martial law, meritocracy, militarism, military government, mob rule, mobocracy, monarchism, monocracy, nation, neocolonialism, ochlocracy, oligarchy, one-man rule, one-party rule, pantisocracy, paternalism, patriarchate, patriarchy, police state, principality, pure democracy, regency, representative democracy, representative government, republic, royalism, self-determination, self-government, social democracy, sovereignty, state, stratocracy, technocracy, thearchy, theocracy, totalitarian government, totalitarian regime, totalitarianism, triarchy, triumvirate, tyranny, welfare state
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