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A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally 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).
The word monarch is derived from the Greek μονάρχης (from μόνος, "one/singular," and ἄρχων, "leader/ruler/chief" through the Latin: monarcha (mono: "one" + arch "chief") which referred to a single, at least nominally, absolute ruler. In current usage the word monarchy generally refers to a traditional system of hereditary rule, as elective monarchies are rare in the modern periode. dix
Most states have at most one monarch at any given time, although a regent may rule when the monarch is a minor, not present, or otherwise incapable of ruling. Two monarchs have ruled simultaneously in some countries, as in the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta or the joint sovereignty of spouses or relatives (e.g. William and Mary of Kingdom of England and Scotland, Peter and Ivan of Russia, Charles and Joanna of Castile, etc.).
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 Mamlakahs), 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.
Monarchy is associated with political or sociocultural in nature hereditary rule; most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family (over a period of time called 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 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 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. Great Britain and 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 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. Other kingdoms (the Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991 and Denmark in 2009) have since followed suit.
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 then 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.
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 the most common title for male rulers and Queen has become the most common title today for female rulers.
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 1925–1979, Iran was ruled by an Emperor that used the title of "Shahanshah" (or "King of Kings" in Persian). 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 ever female head of state as well as Asia's first head of state.[dubious ]
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 Darussalam's 1959 constitution, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah 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 of Brunei. As the prime minister, the Sultan presides over the cabinet.
Monarchs in the Americas
The concept of monarchy existed in the Americas long before the arrival of European colonialists. 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. Many of the leaders were queens, but this was not understood by the Europeans, who had no knowledge of the indigenous history or languages, much less an understanding of matrilineality
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 America Indian 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 Portuguese royal house ruling as emperor between 1822 and 1889, under Emperors Pedro I and Pedro II.
These American emperors were deposed due to complex issues, including pressure from the highly republican United States, which had declared itself independent of the British monarch in 1776. The British, worried about U.S. colonial expansion, invasion following the American Civil War, and the fact that the U.S. had aided the Mexican republican rebels in overthrowing Maximilian I, pushed for the union of the Canadian provinces into a country in 1867. With Confederation, Canada became a self-governing nation which was considered a kingdom in its own right, though it remained subordinate to the United Kingdom; thus, Victoria was monarch of Canada, but not sovereign of it. It was not until the passing of the Statute of Westminster that Canada was considered to be under a distinct Canadian Crown, separate to that of the British, and not until 1953 that the Canadian monarch, at the time Elizabeth II, was titled by Canadian law as Queen of Canada.
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.
Male Title Female Title Realm Latin Examples Emperor Empress Empire Imperator (Imperatrix) Brazil, Mexico, Sapa Inca, Japan King Queen Kingdom Rex (Regina) Canada, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Saint Kitts and Nevis
Titles and precedence
The normal monarch title in Europe — i.e., the one used if the monarch has no higher title — is prince or princess, by convention. As an absolute ruler, a monarch can choose a title. However, titles are usually defined by tradition and diplomatic considerations.
Note that some of these titles have several meanings and do not necessarily designate a monarch. A Prince may be a person of royal blood (some languages uphold this distinction, see Fürst). A Duke may be a British peer. In Imperial Russia, a Grand Duke was a son or grandson of the Tsar or Tsarina. Holders of titles in these alternative meanings did not enjoy the same status as the monarchs of the same title.
Within the Holy Roman Empire, there were even more titles that were used occasionally for monarchs although they were normally noble; Margrave, Count Palatine, and Landgrave. A monarch with such a low title was still regarded as more important than a noble Duke.
The table below lists titles in order of precedence. According to protocol any holder of a title of monarchy took precedence over all holders of a lower title. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was arguably the most powerful monarch of her time, but at banquets was seated below all the Emperors until she took the title of Empress of India.
Male version Female version Realm Adjective Latin Examples Emperor Empress Empire Imperial Imperator (Imperatrix) Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Imperial China, First and Second French Empire, Austria, Mexico, Brazil, 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), Japan (the only remaining enthroned emperor in the world). King Queen Kingdom Royal Rex (Regina) Common in larger sovereign states Viceroy Vicereine Viceroyalty Viceregal Proconsul Historical: Spanish Empire (Peru, New Spain, Rio de la Plata, New Granada), Portuguese Empire, (India, Brazil), British Empire Grand Duke Grand Duchess Grand Duchy Grand Ducal Magnus Dux Today: Luxembourg; historical: Lithuania, Baden, Finland, Tuscany et al. Archduke Archduchess Archduchy Archducal Arci Dux Historical: Unique only in Austria, Archduchy of Austria; title used for member of the Habsburg dynasty Prince Princess Principality, Princely state Princely Princeps Today: Monaco, Liechtenstein; Andorra (Co-Princes). Historical: Principality of Albania, Serbia Duke Duchess Duchy, Dukedom Ducal Dux There are none left currently. Though historical examples include Normandy. Count Countess County Countly, comital Comes Most common in the Holy Roman Empire, translated in German as Graf; historical: Barcelona, Brandenburg, Baden, numerous others Baron Baroness Barony Baronial Baro There are normal baronies and sovereign baronies, a sovereign barony can be compared with a principality, however, this is an historical exception; sovereign barons no longer have a sovereign barony, but only the title and style Pope Females cannot hold the office of Pope Papacy Papal Papa Monarch of the Papal States and later Sovereign of the State of Vatican City
The pope is the Bishop of Rome (a celibate office always forbidden to women), in English however, reports of female popes such as (Pope Joan) refer to them as pope and Popess is used, among other things, for the second trump in the Tarot deck; some European languages also have a feminine form of the word pope, such as the Italian papessa, the French papesse, and the German Päpstin.
Titles by region
When a difference exists below, male titles are placed to the left and female titles are placed to the right of the slash.
Region Title Description and use Africa Almami Fulani people of west Africa Asantehene Ashanti, title of the king of the Ashanti people in Ghana Chieftain Leader of a people Eze Igbo people of Nigeria Kabaka Baganda people of Buganda in Uganda Malik King of Morocco Mwami In both Rwanda and Burundi during the Tutsi domination of these countries, now the acknowledged ruling sections of only their fellow Tutsis Oba Yoruba and Bini peoples of Nigeria Omukama Bunyoro, title of some kings in Uganda Pharaoh Emperor of Ancient Egypt Sarki King of the Hausa people Asia Arasan/Arasi Tamil Nadu (India), Sri Lanka Chakrawarti Raja India Sri Lanka Chogyal "Divine Ruler"; ruled Sikkim until 1975 Datu title of leaders of small kingdoms during Ancient Philippines Druk Gyalpo Hereditary title given to the king of Bhutan Emperor of China Engku or Ungku Malaysia, to denote particular family lineage akin to royalty Gat Honorary title of the leaders in the Philippines Hang Limbu King of East Nepal Limbuwan Hari Filipino title for king Huángdì Imperial China Emperor Hwangje States that unified Korea Maha Raja Used in India and Sri Lanka Maha Raju Used in Andhra Pradesh (India) Meurah Title used in Aceh before Islam Lakan title used by the rulers of the Kingdom of Tondo (now part of the Philippines) Padshah
Emperor of Iran or Hindustan (India) Preah Karuna Preah Bat Sâmdech Preah Bâromneath King of Cambodia Khmer, the title literally means "The feet of the Greatest Lord who is on the heads (of his subjects)" (This royal title does not refer directly to the king himself but to his feet, according to traditions). Patabenda Sub- king Sri lanka Phrabat Somdej Phrachaoyuhua King of Thailand (Siam), the title literally means "The feet of the Greatest Lord who is on the heads (of his subjects)" (This royal title does not refer directly to the king himself but to his feet, according to traditions.) Qaghan Central Asian Tribes Racha Thailand same meaning as Raja Raja Malaysia, Raja denotes royalty in Perak and certain Selangor royal family lineages, is roughly equivalent to Prince or Princess. Raja Nepal King Raja pre-colonial Philippines Rani Nepali Queen Rao or Maharao Used in Indian states Rawal or Maharawal Used in northern and western India, Yaduvanshis. Susuhunan or Sunan The Indonesian princely state of Surakarta. Saopha Shan, king of Shan, today as a part of Myanmar Sayyid Honorific title given throughout the Islamic regions. Title given to males accepted as descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Syed/Sharifah in Perlis if suffixed by the royal clan name, is roughly equivalent to Prince or Princess. Shogun Japanese military dictator, always a Samurai Sultan Aceh, Brunei Darussalam, Java, Oman, Malaysia, Sultan is the title of seven (Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Selangor, and Terengganu) of the nine rulers of the Malay states. Sumeramikoto,Okimi Japan, king Tengku Malaysia, Tengku (also spelled Tunku in Johor), Negeri Sembilan and Kedah is roughly equivalent to Prince or Princess Tennō or Mikado Japan Veyndhan, ko/Arasi Tamil Nadu (India) Wang Pre-Imperial China. "King" is the usual translation for the Chinese term wang 王. Wang The king of Korea that control over all of Korea. It is called 'Im-Geum-nym' or 'Im-Geum' Yang di-Pertuan Agong Monarch of Malaysia who is elected every five years by the reigning kings of the Malaysian constituent states, all of whom also serve as the only electoral candidates in each of the elections Europe Autocrator Greek term for the Byzantine Emperor Ban Medieval Romania (Wallachia, Oltenia), Medieval Bosnia Basileus Greek King Despot Medieval Romania, Serbia (originating from Byzantium) Domn Medieval Romania (Moldova, Wallachia) Fejedelem Ancient/Medieval Hungarian Germanic king Giray Crimean King Imperator The Ruler of Imperial Russia Jupan Romania Kung Sweden Kaiser Imperial Germany Knyaz Kievan Rus', Serbia, Bulgaria, Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Generally translated as "prince" or "duke". Kralj Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia Kunigaikshtis (Kunigaikštis) duke as in Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In official Old Belarusian language documentation the title has been Knyaz (Belarusian: Князь) or grand duke, Vialiki kniaz (Belarusian: Вялікі князь) Mbret Albanian King Mepe/Dedopali Georgian King, Queen Rí Gaelic king. Also Ruiri (regional overking), Rí ruirech (provincial king of overkings), and Ard Rí (pre-eminent Rí ruirech) Tsar/Tsaritsa Bulgaria, pre-imperial Russia, Serbia Vezér Ancient Hungarian Voivode, Voievod Serbian/Hungarian/Romanian Title Župan Serbia, Croatia Middle-East Shah Persian/Iranian and Afghanistan King Shahenshah Persian/Iranian "King of Kings" or Emperor Sheikh Arabic leader, King or Prince (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE) Malik Arabic King, (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan) Emir Arabic Prince, (Kuwait, Qatar, UAE) Sultan/Sultana Arabic King (Oman and Ottoman Empire) Oceania Chieftain Leader of a tribe or clan. Houʻeiki, matai, aliʻi, tūlafale, tavana, ariki, Patu-iki Usually translated as "chief" in various Polynesian countries. Mo'i Normally translated as King, a title used by Hawaiian monarchs since unification in 1810. The last person to hold that title was Queen Lili'uokalani. Tuʻi or Tui Kings in Oceania: Tonga, Wallis and Futuna, Nauru South America Imperador Emperor of Brazil.
Use of titles by non-sovereigns
It is not uncommon that people who are not generally seen as monarchs nevertheless use monarchical titles. There are at least five cases of this:
- Claiming an existing title, challenging the current holder. This has been very common historically. For centuries, the British monarch used, among his other titles, the title King of France, despite the fact that he had had no authority over French territory since the fifteenth century. Such as any one of the numerous antipopes who have claimed the Holy See.
- Retaining the title of an extinct monarchy. This can be coupled with a claim that the monarchy was in fact never, or should never have been, extinct. An example of the first case is the Prince of Seborga. Examples of the second case are several deposed monarchs or otherwise pretenders to thrones of abolished monarchies, e.g., Leka, Crown Prince of Albania who is styled by some as the "King of The Albanians." Retaining the title of an extinct monarchy can, however, be totally free of claims of sovereignty, for example it was customary of numerous European Monarchies to include "King of Jerusalem" in their full titles. When it comes to deposed monarchs, it is customary to continue the usage of their monarchical title (e.g., Constantine II, King of the Hellenes) as a courtesy title, not a constitutional office, for the duration of their lifetime. However the title then dies with them and cannot be used by anyone else unless the crown is restored constitutionally. Monarchs who have freely abdicated lose their right to use their former title. However where a monarch abdicated under duress (e.g., Michael I of Romania), it is customary to see the abdication as invalid and to treat them as deposed monarchs entitled to use their monarchical style for their lifetime.
- Inventing a new title. This is common by founders of micronations, and also may or may not come with a claim of sovereignty. When it does, it is disregarded by state leaders. A notable example is Paddy Roy Bates, styling himself the "Prince of Sealand," but not recognized as such by any national government, thus failing at least the constitutive condition for statehood (see Sealand for a fuller discussion of his claims). Another known example is that of Norton I, who invented the title "Emperor of the United States of America" and later declared himself "Protector of Mexico."
- Usage of a monarchical title by a fictional character. This is common in fairy tales and other works geared to children, as well as works of fantasy. Examples include Princess Leia and Princess Summerfall Winterspring.
- Honorific nicknames in popular music and other aspects of popular culture, such as "King of Rock and Roll".
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