- 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.
||Monarch of the Papal States and later Sovereign of the State of Vatican City; considered senior to Emperors in diplomatic relations
||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).
||Common in larger sovereign states
||Historical: Spanish colonial empire, British Empire
||Today: Luxembourg. Historical: Lithuania, Baden, Finland et al.
||Historical: Unique only in Austria, Archduchy of Austria. title used for member of the Habsburg dynasty.
||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.
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.
NOTE: The table comprises all sovereign monarchs of the world today, but is severely incomplete with regard to the non-sovereign monarchs.
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.