A monarch is the person at the head of a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically either inherits the throne by birth or who is elected monarch and who typically rules for life or until abdication. Monarchs may be autocrats (absolute monarchy) or ceremonial heads of state who exercise little or no power or only reserve power, with actual authority vested in a parliament or other body (constitutional monarchy).


Monarchs have various titles — king or queen, prince or princess (e.g., Sovereign Prince of Monaco), Malik or Malikah (e.g., Maliks of Middle eastern Mamlakas), emperor or empress (e.g., Emperor of Japan, Emperor of India), Shah of Iran, archduke, duke or grand duke (e.g., Grand Duke of Luxembourg). Prince is sometimes used as a generic term to describe any monarch regardless of title, especially in older texts.

Many monarchs are distinguished by titles and styles. They often take part in certain ceremonies, such as a coronation.

Monarchy is political or sociocultural in nature and is generally (but not always) associated with hereditary rule. Most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family (whose rule over a period of time is referred to as a dynasty) and trained for future duties. Different systems of succession have been used, such as proximity of blood, primogeniture, and agnatic seniority (Salic law). While traditionally most monarchs have been male, female monarchs have also ruled in history; the term queen regnant refers to a ruling monarch, as distinct from a queen consort, the wife of a reigning king.

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 Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia and the pope of the Roman Catholic Church, who serves as Sovereign of the Vatican City State and is elected to a life term by the College of Cardinals.

Monarchies have existed throughout the world, although in recent centuries many states have abolished the monarchy and become 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, with a usually short interregnum (as illustrated in the classic phrase "The [old] King is dead. Long live the [new] King!"). However, this only applies in the case of autocratic rule. In cases where the monarch serves mostly as a ceremonial figure (e.g. most modern constitutional monarchies) real leadership does not depend on the monarch.

A form of government may in fact be hereditary without being considered monarchy, such as family dictatorship or political families present in some nominally democratic countries.


A particular case is the French co-prince of Andorra, a position held by the elected President of France. Nonetheless, he is still generally considered a monarch because of the traditional use of a monarchical title (even though Andorra is, strictly speaking, a diarchy.) Similarly, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia is considered a monarch despite only holding the office for five years at a time. On the other hand, several life-time dictators around the world have not been formally classified as monarchs, even if succeeded by their children, but that may be more to do with international political sensitivities than with semantics.


Hereditary succession within one family has been most common. The usual hereditary succession is based on some cognatic principles and on seniority, though sometimes merit has played a part. Thus, the most common hereditary system in feudal Europe was based on cognatic primogeniture where a lord was succeeded by his eldest son or, if he had no son, by either his brother, his daughters or sons of daughters. The system of tanistry was semi-elective and gave weight also to merits and capability.

The Quasi-Salic succession provided firstly for male members of the family to succeed, and secondarily males descended from female lines. In most feudal fiefs, females (such as daughters and sisters) were allowed to succeed, should the male line fail, but usually the husband of the heiress became the real lord and most often also received the title, jure uxoris. Spain today continue this model of succession law, in the form of cognatic primogeniture. In more complex medieval cases, the sometimes conflicting principles of proximity and primogeniture battled, and outcomes were often idiosyncratic.

As the average life span among the nobility increased (thanks to lords limiting their personal participation in dangerous battles, and generally improved sustenance and living conditions among the wealthy), an eldest son was more likely to reach majority age before the death of his father, and primogeniture became increasingly favoured over proximity, tanistry, seniority and election.

Later, when lands were strictly divided among noble families and tended to remain fixed, agnatic primogeniture (practically the same as Salic Law) became more usual: the succession would go to the eldest son of the monarch, or, if the monarch had no sons, the throne would pass to the nearest male relative through the male line, to the total exclusion of females.

In some countries however, inheritance through the female line was never wholly abandoned, so that if the monarch had no sons, the throne would pass to the eldest daughter and to her posterity. (This, cognatic primogeniture, was the rule that let the United Kingdom's Elizabeth II become Queen.)

In 1980, Sweden became the first monarchy to declare equal primogeniture or full cognatic primogeniture, meaning that the eldest child of the monarch, whether female or male, ascends to the throne.[1] Other kingdoms (Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991, Denmark in 2009 and the United Kingdom in 2012.

In some monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, 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). In some other monarchies (e.g. Jordan), the monarch chooses who will be his successor, who need not necessarily be his eldest son.

Whatever the rules of succession, there have been many cases of a monarch being overthrown and replaced by a usurper who would often install his own family as the ruling monarchy.


Monarchs in Africa

A series of Pharaohs ruled Ancient Egypt over the course of three millennia (circa 3150 BC to 31 BC) until it was conquered by the Roman Empire. In the same time period several kingdoms flourished in the nearby Nubia region, with at least one of them, that of the so-called A-Group culture, apparently influencing the customs of Egypt itself. From the 6th to 19th centuries Egypt was variously part of the Byzantine Empire, Islamic Empire, Mamluk Sultanate, Ottoman Empire and British Empire with a distant monarch. The Sultanate of Egypt was a short lived protectorate of the United Kingdom from 1914 until 1922, when it became the Kingdom of Egypt and Sultan Fuad I changed his title to King. After the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 the monarchy was dissolved and Egypt became a republic.

West Africa hosted the Kanem Empire (700 - 1376) and its successor, the Bornu principality which survives to the present day as a part of the Federation of Nigeria. 1250 In East Africa, the Aksumite Empire and later the Ethiopian Empire (1270–1974) were ruled by a series of monarchs. Haile Selassie, the last Emperor of Ethiopia, was deposed in a communist coup.

Central and Southern Africa were largely isolated from other regions until the modern era, but they did later feature kingdoms like the Kingdom of Kongo (1400–1914).

The Zulu people formed a powerful Zulu Kingdom in 1816 until it was absorbed into the Colony of Natal in 1897. The Zulu king remains a hereditary title and an influential position, although has no direct political power.

As part of the Scramble for Africa, Europeans conquered, bought, or established African kingdoms and styled themselves as monarchs.

Currently the African nations of Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland are sovereign monarchies under dynasties that are native to the continent. Places like St. Helena, Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands are ruled by the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the King of Spain, while so-called sub-national monarchies of varying sizes can be found all over the rest of the continent e.g. the Yoruba city-state of Akure in south-western Nigeria is something of an elective monarchy, with its reigning Oba having to be chosen by an electoral college of nobles from amongst a finite collection of royal princes and princesses of the realm.

Monarchs in Europe

Prince 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 their own discretion, most often choosing King or Queen. Such titulations could cause diplomatic problems, and especially the elevation to Emperor or Empress was seen as an offensive action.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most small monarchies in Europe disappeared, merging to form larger entities, and so King is the most common title for male rulers and Queen has become the most common title today for female rulers.

As of 2012 in Europe there are twelve monarchies: seven kingdoms (Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), one grand duchy (Luxembourg), one papacy (Vatican City), and two principalities (Liechtenstein and Monaco), as well as the diarchy of Andorra.

Monarchs in Asia

In China, before the abolition of the monarchy in 1912, the Emperor of China was traditionally regarded as the ruler of "All under heaven". "King" is the usual translation for the term wang 王, 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 Empress or Emperor of China.

The Japanese monarchy is now the only monarchy to still use the title of Emperor. Between 1925 and 1979, Iran was ruled by an Emperor that used the title of "Shahanshah" (or "King of Kings" in Gelf).

Thailand and Bhutan are like the UK in that they are constitutional monarchies ruled by a King. Saudi Arabia and many other Middle Eastern monarchies are ruled by a Malik and parts of the United Arab Emirates, such as Dubai, are still ruled by monarchs.

Oman is led by Monarch Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. The Kingdom of Jordan is one of the Middle East's more modern monarchies is also ruled by a Malik. In Arab and arabized countries, Malik (absolute King) is absolute word to render a monarch and is superior to all other titles. Nepal abolished their monarchy in 2008. Sri Lanka had a complex system of monarchies from 543BC to 1815. Between 47BC-42BC Anula of Sri Lanka became the country's first female head of state as well as Asia's first head of state.[dubious – discuss]

In Malaysia's constitutional monarchy, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (The Supreme Lord of the Federation) is de facto rotated every five years among the nine Rulers of the Malay states of Malaysia (those nine of the thirteen states of Malaysia that have hereditary royal rulers), elected by Majlis Raja-Raja (Conference of Rulers).

Under Brunei's 1959 constitution, the Sultan of Brunei is the head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers, since 1962. The Prime Minister of Brunei is a title held by the Sultan. As the prime minister, the Sultan presides over the cabinet.

Cambodia has been a kingdom since the 1st century. The power of the absolute monarchy was reduced when it became the French Protectorate of Cambodia from 1863 to 1953. It returned to an absolute monarchy from 1953 until the establishment of a republic following the 1970 coup. The monarchy was restored as a constitutional monarchy in 1993 with the king as a largely symbolic figurehead.

Bhutan has been an independent kingdom since 1907. The first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) was elected and thereafter became a hereditary absolute monarchy. It became a constitutional monarchy in 2008.

Tibet was a monarchy since the Tibetan Empire in the 6th century. It was ruled by the Yuan Dynasty following the Mongol invasion in the 13th century and became an effective diarchy with the Dalai Lama as co-ruler. It came under the rule of the Chinese Qing Dynasty from 1724 until 1912 when it gained de facto independence. The Dalai Lama became absolute temporal monarch until incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China in 1951.

Nepal was a monarchy for most of its history until becoming a federal republic in 2008.

Monarchs in the Americas

The concept of monarchy existed in the Americas long before the arrival of European colonialists.[2][3] When the Europeans arrived they referred to these tracts of land within territories of different aboriginal groups to be kingdoms, and the leaders of these groups were often referred to by the Europeans as Kings, particularly hereditary leaders.[4]

Pre-colonial titles that were used included:

Cacique – Aboriginal Hispaniola and Borinquen
Tlatoani – Nahuas
Ajaw – Maya
Qhapaq Inka – Tawuantin Suyu (Inca Empire)
Morubixaba – Tupi tribes
Sha-quan – King of the world used in some Native American tribes

The first local monarch to emerge in North America after colonization was Augustin I, who declared himself Emperor of Mexico in 1822. Mexico again had an emperor, Maximilian I from 1863 to 1867. In South America, Brazil had a royal house ruling as emperor between 1822 and 1889, under Emperors Pedro I and Pedro II.

Between 1931 and 1983 nine other previous British colonies attained independence as kingdoms, all, including Canada, in a personal union relationship under a shared monarch. Therefore, though today there are legally ten American monarchs, one person occupies each distinct position.

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