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...nothing is as dangerous as leaving for a long time the power on [one] citizen's hands. The nation becomes used to obeying him and he becomes used to ordering them; from there arises usurpation and tyranny.
—Simón Bolívar

Monarchy involves the vesting of hereditary state power in one person. Monarchs usually bear the title of "King" or "Queen," but "Prince" or "Grand Duke" will do the trick ("Emperor" or "Caliph" may count as pretentious[1][2]). There may be limits on a monarch's powers, perhaps due to tradition,[note 1] to a body of nobles who have regional power (as in much of feudal Europe), or to a parliament (originally more of the same sort of nobles) to which the monarch is actually subservient (as in modern European constitutional monarchies). However, historically, monarchies were absolute[3] with unlimited power — a nice, clear, simple constitutional setup for simpler times. Monarchies are (excluding revolutions) hereditary: the descendants of the monarch are born to rule, and this is where they differ from dictatorships. This hereditary factor can lead to problems, since the ruling family (or families) often show their great regard for royal blood[4] by interbreeding a bit too closely for genetic comfort. Besides, an inspiring and successful hero-monarch may have indolent descendants more interested in (say) butterfly-collecting than in important matters such as national aggrandizement and personal prestige.

The philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE), who received his higher education in republican Athens but subsequently went and worked for the royal family of Macedon, regarded monarchy as the best form of government, though he considered its corruption (tyranny) the worst. However, Aristotle took as his model for states the Greek city-state, very different from the modern-day nation-state (think current monarchies like Liechtenstein, Monaco, Luxembourg, Brunei, Vatican City…).

Note that, despite the (quite justified) general revulsion towards most forms of strong monarchy in the modern world, the monarchical concept (in the form of chiefs, chiftains, and Mafia Godfathers) survived quite successfully for most of history, while at the same time, the working class struggled for survival. In periods before and after the Middle Ages, many of those successes were achieved thanks to the blood, toil, tears, and sweat of common people who risked their lives and did all the hard work — sometimes allying themselves with a popular monarch against an oppressive aristocracy. In the century before the First World War of 1914-1918, many European, and several Asian, monarchies survived by accepting constitutional limits. During the interbellum period, several of these states reverted to royal dictatorships, including Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Thailand, which is one reason for the association of monarchism with the authoritarian right.

That said, monarchy is not necessarily backward or ultra-conservative, any more than republics are necessarily left-wing or progressive; there are a number of democratic constitutional monarchies, just as there are repressive ones. At its best (or at least when done right), a monarchy can help instill a sense of continuity and community to its realm, with the monarch him/herself serving as a mediator between different democratic bodies; ideals like noblesse oblige,[note 2] not to mention the notion that royals live in "gilded cages", also provide additional checks and balances to power. There have been plenty of liberal, if not impressively democratic, monarchs. One example is King Juan Carlos I of Spain (reigned 1975-2014), who spearheaded the dismantling of Francisco Franco's fascist polity.

Outside the Arabian peninsula, monarchs (and even royal families) these days tend to leave the governing to the competent and get on with their real job of serving as public-relations figureheads.[5]

Types of monarchies[edit]

  Absolute monarchies
  Semi-constitutional monarchies (in which the monarch retains a higher amount of power)
  Constitutional monarchies
  Commonwealth realms
  Non-sovereign monarchies

Constitutional monarchy[edit]

A constitutional monarchy, unlike an absolute monarchy, is one in which the monarch's powers are limited by a constitution. This is why a crowned republic is technically a form of constitutional monarchy. Examples include Spain and Thailand. Unlike a crowned republic, the rest of the government can be in various forms. Thailand, for instance, is a military dictatorship,[6] and the monarchy is theoretically considered to be "above politics".[7]

The term can be quite vague, and often the monarchy is near-powerless or near-autocratic. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, but the constitution of the nation grants the king of Morocco broad powers to issue decrees, call for new elections, and make military decisions.[8] Thus, Morocco is an example of a constitutional monarchy that still has a strong monarch nonetheless.

Crowned republic[edit]

A crowned republic is a form of constitutional monarchy. It is a democracy with a figurehead monarch, such as the UK and Japan.[9] The monarch usually has no more political power than any other citizen who is not a politician in that country. This often happens in the situation that a country that absolutely adores its monarchy transitions to democracy (Japan gave up its military to keep it). Monarchs in crowned republics may have no formal power as granted by the constitution (e.g. Japan) or a considerable amount of theoretic power that is never used under normal circumstances. In the UK, basically any political appointments are theoretically done by the monarch "on the advice of" Parliament or the Prime Minister and all laws have to receive "royal assent", but in practice those are formalities. Similarly, in Spain the King remains the supreme commander of the armed forces. Those powers can become important in periods of constitutional crisis, as seen by Juan Carlos of Spain's response to the coup attempt of 1981.Wikipedia

Absolute monarchy[edit]

An absolute monarchy (not to be confused with hereditary dictatorship) is when the monarch has total control of the entire government. Present examples of this are Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and historical examples include France from the reign of Louis XIV to the French Revolution and Prussia from the reign of Frederick William I. They are often theocratic, usually because religious orthodoxy gives a ruler further control over their governments and subjects. [10]

Non-sovereign monarchy[edit]

A non-sovereign monarchy is a form of government in which the monarch of the polity is subject to a higher authority.[11] This situation usually happens when a certain cultural or ethnic group is permitted to be semi-autonomous under their own monarchy. One such example of a non-sovereign monarch is King Goodwill Zwelithini, who is leader of the Zulu nation in South Africa.[12] New Zealand also has a king within its borders who represents the Maori people.[13] The UAE is somewhat unique in that it is a federation of seven monarchies, the highest ranking two of whom take the position of prime minister and president.[14]

List of sovereign monarchies[edit]

Charles III.
Margrethe II of Denmark.
Mswati III of eSwatini.
Emperor Naruhito of Japan.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
  • United Kingdom, under Charles III.
  • Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and nine others are in personal union with the UK
  • AndorraWikipedia, co-ruled by the Bishop of Urgell (in Spain) and the President of France. This is the world's only ruling co-principality, although the Bishop does most of the work.
  • Bahrain, a constitutional monarchy under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of the House of Khalifa.[15]
  • Belgium, under King Philippe of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (related to the British royal family, though obscured by George V changing his name to Windsor during World War I because he was embarrassed to have 3 German surnames at the time)
  • BhutanWikipedia, under King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of House of Wangchuck. He is the second-youngest reigning monarch; only Emir Tamim bin Hamad is younger, and only by one year. Similar to Juan Carlos II, Jigme Khesar presided over increasing democratization of the country under the Kidu, a tradition where the King's duty is to protect his people.
  • Brunei, an absolute monarchy under Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of the House of Bolkiah.[16]
  • Cambodia, under King Norodom Sihamoni of the House of Norodom.
  • Denmark, under Queen Margrethe II of the House of Glücksburg.
  • eSwatini, under King Mswati III, another absolute monarchy.
  • Japan, under Emperor Naruhito of the Yamato Dynasty; the only country left to have an Emperor. Since 1947 the emperor is a ceremonial figure with no political power.[17]
  • Jordan, a constitutional monarchy under King Abdullah II of the House of Hashim - claiming descent from the family of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Kuwait, under Emir Sabah al-Ahmad of the House of Al-Sabah.
  • LesothoWikipedia, under Letsie III of the House Moshesh.
  • Liechtenstein, under Prince Hans-Adam II of the House of Liechtenstein, who unusually for a European monarch still has significant powers.[18]
  • LuxembourgWikipedia, a constitutional monarchy under Grand Duke Henri of the House of Bourbon-Parma. Between 1830 and 1890, the King of the Netherlands was also the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, until the rule that forbid women holding the Grand Duchy meant that Queen WilhelminaWikipedia had to give the title to a relative of hers.
  • Malaysia, under King Abdul Halim of Kedah; he is also the Sultan of the state of Kedah. Uniquely, each of the nine Malay states has a hereditary ruler; five of those are Sultanates. The King is elected by and among the other hereditary state rulers.
  • MonacoWikipedia, under Prince Albert II of the House of Grimaldi, who like Liechtenstein's is a European monarch who still has significant powers.[19]
  • MoroccoWikipedia, under King Mohammed VI of the House of Alaouite - claiming descent from the family of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • The Netherlands, under King Willem-Alexander of the House of Orange-Nassau.
  • North Korea in all but name under Kim Jong-un...though this is technically a hereditary dictatorship (but an extra creepy one).
  • Norway, under King Harald V of the House of Glücksburg.
  • OmanWikipedia, under Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.
  • Qatar, under Emir Tamim bin Hamad of the House of Thani; another absolute ruler, and the youngest ruling monarch. Like his father, he is a pragmatic Islamist, who would rather use Islam for political points rather than policy.
  • Saudi Arabia, under King Salman of the House of Saud. An absolute ruler, but one who combines elective with hereditary credentials.
  • Spain, under King Felipe VI of the House of Bourbon.
  • Sweden, under King Carl XVI Gustaf of the House of Bernadotte.
  • Thailand, under King Vajiralongkorn of the Chakri Dynasty. A constitutional monarchy since 1932. The king is largely ceremonial, but power is currently held by a military junta.[20]
  • TongaWikipedia, under King Tupou VI of the House of Tupou.
  • United Arab Emirates, an "elective" absolute monarchy. Each of the seven city-states has its own hereditary emir. The UAE President is elected by his fellow rulers for a five-year term, but there are no term limits and the office has always been held by the emir of Abu Dhabi. The office of UAE Prime Minister has always been held by the emir of Dubai or his heir.
  • The Vatican under Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio). He is both Pope of the Catholic Church and the absolute monarch of Vatican City (modern popes typically delegate responsibility for the day-to-day running of the city to others, but retain the authority to rescind such delegations of power and more generally run things however they see fit); as Pope, he's elected by the Cardinals, and once elected, he holds absolute power, even if the ruling oligarchy bitches about his reforms (there is no such thing as a recall election). The Vatican City also qualifies as a theocracy.

Restoration of monarchies[edit]

The 20th century saw a large number of monarchies dismantled. Notable examples are Korea (1910, annexed by Japan; later freed and broken up into a communist state and an anti-communist state in 1945), Imperial China (1911, became the Republic of China and later the People's Republic of China); the Russian Empire (1917, became the Soviet Union and then after the Cold War the Russian Federation); German Empire (1918, became a democratic republic, then something else entirely for a short time, then divided into a dictatorship + a democratic republic, and finally united as a democratic republic); Austria-Hungary (1919), and the Ottoman Empire (fell apart as consequence of defeat in World War I, 1923). After the end of World War II several more joined the club: Bulgaria (1946); Yugoslavia (1943); Italy (1946); and Romania (1947). Greece and a few African and Asian states (Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Vietnam) became republics (dictatorships, to be exact) during the second half of the 20th century.

There have not been serious proposals to restore the monarchies in any of those countries, except Cambodia (where Hun SenWikipedia has been ruling as an autocrat since the end of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror and the royal family has been one of the two entities vying to wrest power from him). However, the former Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria was elected Prime Minister of that country in 2001 as the head of a liberal party, the Simeon II National Movement.Wikipedia He won some awards for his efforts, but was voted out at the next election, and the election after that his party was voted right out of parliament. Following the breakup of Austria-Hungary, emperor Karl abdicated the throne of Austria but refused to step down as King of Hungary, since the monarchy was popular among Hungarians. He was exiled but made two attempts to reestablish himself on the throne before his death in 1922. In the lead-up to World War II, the former Allies started to come around to the idea of putting his son on the throne as a counterweight to the rising tide of fascism, but by then it was too little, too late.

Pretenders to abolished thrones have support among fringe minority groups of "monarchists" and "royalists"[note 3] who believe that restoring their country's monarchy will also restore some fabled former glory. While it can perhaps restore "might" in eyes of their counterparts in another countries, a question arises: at what price? British taxpayers give Queen Elizabeth a budget approximately equivalent to $56 million USs,[21] roughly one dollar per person per year. It is not a great burden for taxpayers, but illustrates the point that royal families do live decadent lifestyles by using (some kind of) charity. It is certainly true that that money could be spent for health care, education, etc. However, the amount of tourism money the Royal family generates, at about 767 million dollars, outweighs the cost of supporting them by 15 times [1] and the Crown Estates generate billions of dollars a year on their own [2]. Furthermore, the same could be said for the support of executive households in republics, which also reaches expensive amounts. Furthermore, former Presidents - even if they don't hold any actual political power even while in office - are often afforded some rather expensive perks; some are even paid the full salary and given full presidential protection for life. A royal family may be expensive, but at least you normally don't have to pay five kings and former kings at the same time.

A major proponent of returning to monarchies was the Austrian, aristocratic, reactionary, socio-political theorist Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.[note 4] Kuehnelt-Leddihn believed that most democracies would eventually lead to totalitarianism by the majority, to the point where he claimed that Nazism was actually a democratic left-wing movement primarily inspired by the French Revolution.[22] He also claimed that monarchies would be better able to fight other radical movements such as fascism, which is kind of hilarious when one considers Fascist Italy and Francisco Franco's Spain and the nature of the countries that largely blew fascism to bits. (Kuehnelt-Leddihn promoted these ideas at the freedom-loving National Review for roughly 35 years, and is one of the reasons why the magazine is no longer taken seriously.)

Another case for monarchies was made by would-be Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who later became a Bavarian MEP in the European Parliament.[23] In contrast to Kuehnelt-Leddihn, he had a healthy respect for democracies and republics, while also condemning the sort of royal decadence that led to the French Revolution. While the actual defense of monarchism incorporates some conservative ideas,[note 5] at least the would-be monarch also attempted to reconcile it with socialism. Compared to Kuehnelt-Leddihn, this comes across as more palatable, although the man himself for all his support for human rights and the European Union had a soft spot for Franco over accepting refugees.[note 6]

Previously abolished monarchies back in the saddle[edit]

That said, some monarchies have managed to reclaim the throne after a Republican interlude. Perhaps the most notable example is England, which went right back from the "Commonwealth" under "Lord Protector" (read, "military dictator") Oliver Cromwell right back to monarchy shortly after the death of Cromwell. Spain even managed to unseat the Bourbons twice (the "Spanish Republic" of the Spanish Civil War was the second Spanish Republic) and endure decades of Francisco Franco only to get yet another Bourbon king upon the death of Franco. Given that Juan Carlos has mostly played his hand well and his successor has not yet done anything truly stupid or offensive, the third Spanish Republic is probably some ways off. Sweden and Norway have both undergone periods where they were governed by different monarchies only to reassert independence under their own monarch later on. Sweden even cycled through three dynasties in the 19th century, ultimately putting a French marshal on the throne rather than going republican. The Netherlands were founded as a Republic, but the Stadholder was a monarch in all but name during the 18th century and it was thus only natural that he be made king in name as well as fact when reinstated during the Congress of Vienna. Albania was a monarchy in medieval times, but was part of the Ottoman Empire and then a republic upon independence until president Ahmed Bey Zogu declared himself king Zog I in 1928.[24] French president Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte likewise upgraded himself to emperor Napoleon III, restoring his family's rule for a few years.

Newly appointed monarchies[edit]

While monarchy is supposed to be imposed by God, there have a fair number of countries who decided to create a monarch. Often but not always these are new countries. This goes back to the Old Testament: in 1 Samuel 8:5-22 the Israelites beg Samuel for a king even after he tells them all the horrible things a king will do: they argue, "Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles." (20)

The newly independent Belgium hunted around for a king and even got a rejection from the son of French ruler Louis-Philippe before picking a German aristocrat, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, as their first king in 1831.[25] Another German, Prince Otto Friedrich Ludwig of Bavaria, became the first king of modern Greece in 1832.[26]

Monarchy in the United States[edit]

George III.

Despite their claims to be a Bibul-luvin' people, the Americans are causing baby Jesus to cry. They not only refuse to adopt a monarchic system of government, but rejected the divinely-appointed monarchy of George III. This is in direct conflict with Deuteronomy 17:15, in which God tells His people, "Be sure to appoint a King over you."

Thus, any American Republican, Teabagger, libertarian, or otherwise who claims to be a Christian is a liar, depending on the extent of Biblical literalism they adhere to. If they are true believers, they should be campaigning for a divine intervention to appoint a King an emperor of the United States. Anything else is a foul, anti-Christian heresy.

And don't think it hasn't been tried. 19th Century San Francisco resident Joshua NortonWikipedia believed the US should have a monarch, and so selflessly crowned himself Emperor Norton I of America and Protector of Mexico. He became a local celebrity, although his proclamations were ignored outside of San Francisco, which followed them willingly. Many regarded him as mad, but harmlessly so, because "he had shed no blood, robbed no one, and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line." His finest moment consisted of protecting Chinese immigrants from an angry mob.[27]

It didn't stop there. In the 21st century, a small political faction centered on Silicon Valley, the Neoreactionaries, has been calling for a US monarchy.[28][29] In this new-fangled tech-friendly monarchy, the King will be an autocratic leader on the lines of Steve Jobs, because being good at running a tech company, where almost every problem can be solved by reading the friendly manual (RTFM), is a skill transferable to running a country, where almost no problem can be. Neoreactionaries expound their theories in massive online screeds, composed during their copious free time, which shows how good they are at getting dates. However, once installed, His Majesty will immediately cull his key supporters to prevent any rivals from seizing power themselves give them all horses and fancy titles, which will make them much more attractive. The King will also expel all undesirables, as defined by traditionally reactionary attitudes to race, gender and sexual orientation. What a contrast to Emperor Norton!

Monarchy in Britain[edit]

Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who's really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it's like having a neighbour who's really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown. [...] They serve entirely to enshrine classism in the British nonconstitution. They live in high luxury and low autonomy, cosplaying as their ancestors, and are the subject of constant psychosocial projection from people mourning the loss of empire.
—Patrick Freyne[30]

The monarchy of the UK has evolved into the perfect genotype for modern royals, they being neither intelligent enough to think they can run the country, nor stupid enough to think they can run the country — i.e., against the Dunning-Kruger effect, they're not bright enough to rule and they can see they're not up to it.

Charles III is a possible exception as he often expresses his views on all matters, being a supporter of environmentalist causes and renewable energy,[31] and… also a great supporter of homeopathy.[32] Stay alive, Liz.

Notable British monarchs[edit]

Richard II.
Henry VIII.
Charles I.
Queen Victoria.
Edward VIII.

King Arthur was almost certainly fictional.

Alfred the Great (871-899) of Wessex, stopped western England from being conquered by the Vikings and burned some cakes.

William I the Conqueror (1066-1087) came from Normandy (now in northern France) and invaded the fuck out of England. His funeral began the British custom of lining monarch's coffins with lead. His corpse was decayed so badly that priests tried to stuff his corpse into a too-small coffin. When his "swollen bowels burst, and an intolerable stench assailed the nostrils of the by-standers and the whole crowd."[33][34]

Richard I (1189-1199) was a dashing military leader played by Sean Connery, notable for spending much of his reign at the Crusades.

John (1199-1216) has gone down in history as a Bad King. He was the enemy of legendary outlaw Robin Hood. Following a revolt by England's barons, he was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.[35]

Edward I (1272-1307) conquered Scotland and did horrible things to Mel Gibson.[36]

Edward II (1307-1327) wasn't much use, although ironically his weakness helped establish England's parliament. He lost Scotland again and proved useless against the French (the English still considered themselves king of France).[37] Because of his relationship with Piers Gaveston he has become something of a gay icon, despite being deposed and allegedly executed with a red hot poker up his bum.[38]

Edward III (1327-1377) had a 50 year reign and warred a lot, but his biggest place in history was being the first English monarch to be commonly known by an ordinal, to differentiate him from his predecessors Ed and Eddy. This also explains why earlier Edwards (Edward the Confessor etc) didn't get a number (the idea of continuing regnal numbering for non-confusing kings didn't really take off until the 16th century, but the three Edwards kept their numbers).[39]

Richard II (1377-1399) has gone down in history as a bit rubbish, thanks largely to Shakespeare. He came to the throne aged 10 and when he was just 14 he had to deal with the Peasants' Revolt when an army of peasants from Kent under the leadership of Wat Tyler marched on London; he promised nice things then betrayed them and had the revolt crushed, thus going down in infamy in working-class and Marxist history.[40]

Henry VIII (1509-1547) was a murderous lecher. He founded the Church of England and is perhaps the most portrayed British king in film and TV.[41]

James I (and James VI of Scotland) (1603-1625) was a man of learning and a power-mad dictator who believed in the Divine Right of Kings, i.e. the notion that the monarch is appointed by God.[42] He ruled both England and Scotland after 1603 but is best known for the King James Version, the bible translation he commissioned which is praised by some for its poetic qualities and by others as the actual literal word of God. Despite his homophobic views he expressed as King, he was known to have several male lovers in his private life.[43][44]

Charles I (1625-1649) lost his head in a tight situation although he's now a saint.

Charles II (1660-1685) was fun to have around.

James II (and VII) (1685-1689) was deposed for being too Catholic, setting up years of Jacobite rebellions by his followers.[45]

Willliam III (1689-1702) was the very Protestant king who took over from James II in 1689, sharing the throne with his wife Mary II. His victory over the Catholic King James in what's now Northern Ireland remains a point of contention there, with "King Billy" still a folk hero to Ulster Unionism.[46][47]

George III (1760-1820), whilst considered at the time to have been mad, is now thought to have suffered from a skin disease called porphyria which caused him extreme discomfort, although he may also have suffered from mania or other mental illness.[48] This however fails to explain why, in the course of a country walk, he supposedly addressed a tree in the mistaken belief that it was the King of Prussia — a nation also renowned for the mental instability of its ruling classes; sadly, some sources cast doubt on the tree story.[49]

George IV (1820-1830) was a genius at spending money, accruing millions in debt. He favoured extravagant building projects, fine clothes, eating and drinking. The last two somewhat undermined his sartorial ambitions, as he ended up with a 50-inch waist. He rarely appeared in public because of the derision caused by his spherical shape. he married in secret but later had the marriage annulled, and married a second time to pay his debts. He loathed his second wife and may have poisoned her.[50][51]

Victoria (1837-1901) is one of the most iconic of British monarchs for her refusal to be amused and her love of her German husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Edward VII (1901-1910) mostly spent his time fornicating, drinking, and smoking. (Win!)

George V (1910-1936) apparently spent all his time stamp collecting, shooting at birds and shouting at passersby, whom he took for Bolshevik revolutionaries, from the windows of Buckingham Palace.

Edward VIII (1936), aka. the Duke of Windsor, is now well known for his affair with Mrs. Simpson and for being a Nazi sympathizer, although it was largely kept from the British public at the time.[52] Thank goodness he stepped down...

...paving the way for George VI (1936-1952), the shy stutterer who didn't want or expect the job, but had to do it anyway, since monarchy is the last remaining form of indentured servitude (as Logue says in The King's Speech).

And finally Elizabeth II (1952-2022), who showed no sign of packing it in, much to the annoyance of her successor Charles III.

Constitutional role[edit]

The monarch still has a variety of constitutional powers in the UK and some other Commonwealth countries. In most of these the monarch typically does as directed by the Prime Minister (or occasionally other ministers or parliament). But occasionally the monarch's constitutional powers allow actions against democratically elected representatives: notable is the dismissal of Gough Whitlam as Australian prime minister in 1975, which was done by someone in the palace acting on Queen Elizabeth II's behalf.[53]

Powers include:

  • Appointing the prime minister, which is normally done after an election on the basis of who has the most MPs, but in situations where there is no overall control, this could prove controversial - by its nature, it can't be delegated to the PM.[54]
  • Appointing Privy Council - the Privy Council was originally a body of advisers to the monarch, and now exercises a variety of functions supposedly on the monarch's behalf. It includes various politicians, religious leaders, and members of the royal family. Appointments are made under the advice of the government. It meets in secret and performs a number of functions including approving some public appointments, issuing royal charters for universities and other bodies, and issuing some secondary legislation.[55]
  • Royal assent - all primary legislation must be approved by the monarch. The last time the monarch refused was in 1708.[56]
  • Other appointments - judges and other roles are theoretically appointed by the monarch, but there are more rigorous selection procedures for many positions than just the king picking his favourite.[57]
  • Suspend parliament - in 2019 Boris Johnson asked the Queen to suspend parliament for a few weeks to stop it voting against him; the Queen initially complied but this was later overruled when a court decided he had no right to ask her.[58] The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 also gave the monarch the right to dissolve parliament, triggering a general election, but there is a strong constitutional principle that this is only done on the advice of the Prime Minister.[59]


Britain has a long history of people saying "I'm the real king, not that bloke with the crown!" In the late medieval period, in the aftermath of the bloody and confusing Wars of the Roses, these included the picturesquely named Lambert SimnelWikipedia and Perkin WarbeckWikipedia. Lambert Simnel (no relation to the cakeWikipedia[60]) reportedly bore a close physical resemblance to family members of the recently deceased Edward IV (reigned 1461 to 1470 and 1471 to 1483) so in 1487 when Lambert (possibly not his real name) was around 10, his teacher Richard Simon started claiming he was a son of Edward or had some other good claim to the throne, changing his story several times. The same year, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, decided to make Lambs the figurehead of a Yorkist rebellion against the Lancastrian King Henry VII, but after it failed Henry pardoned Lambert (who was still only a boy) and gave him a job in the royal kitchens as a spit-turner (presumably not the most pleasant of jobs, standing next to a fire turning a crank for hours); he later became a falconer before disappearing from history entirely.[61][62]

Perkin Warbeck was another Yorkist (and also not a cakeWikipedia); he claimed to be one of the "Princes in the Tower", sons of Edward IV who are generally believed to have been murdered by Richard III. He led a few small military rebellions against Henry VII, who was suprisingly lenient, initially pardoning Perkin once the latter admitted he was a fake, but eventually Henry's patience ran out and Perks was hanged in 1499.[63]

Not all pretenders are fakes. People obsessed with royalty love to compile lists of who would be king or queen if the line of succession hadn't taken an irregular kink, for instance with the deposing of Richard II or the Wars of the Roses. If you really like Richard III (the hunchback child-murderer) then Simon Abney-Hastings, 15th Earl of LoudounWikipedia (b. 1974) is his legitimate heir.[64]

The most famous pretenders were genuinely descendents of the Catholic James II of England (James VII of Scotland), who as mentioned above was unceremoniously deposed in 1689, one of the most glorious and memorable dates in British history.[65] Hence they are known as Jacobites, because Jacobus=James in Latin.[citation needed] James the non-IIIrd, the Old Pretender was James II's son; he was supported by Catholic monarchs in Europe during the War of the Spanish Succession, culminating in the failed 1715 invasion/uprising. His son was Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led another unsuccessful invasion in 1745 as part of the War of the Austrian Succession.[66]

Charlie's son Henry non-IX didn't have any children, but that didn't stop Jacobitism, which was bizarrely popular for a long time. Initially it had the glamor of a secret tradition like the Freemasons, with coded toasts to the "King over the Water" and "Slainthe Mhor", which means "big health" in Scottish Gaelic but alludes to the fact that Charlie escaped Scotland disguised as a woman called Morag.[67] Later with the revival of tartanry and similar bullshit in the 19th century it ceased to be something you could be executed for and became fashionable.[68] This was despite the fact that most Scots were opposed to practical aspects of Jacobitism like Catholicism and absolute monarchy (the legacy of James's ancestor James I and VI), as well as being very suspicious of Charlie's constituency, the savage Highlander.[69]

Royal etiquette[edit]

According to the most influential commentary on the modern British Constitution, Monty Python's Brand New Papperbok (sic), it was advised never to say to the Queen:

"You don't look like you do on the stamps!"

Even if it's true. NB: Licking her head is also frowned upon, especially since she died.

See also[edit]

Types of government:




  1. The Chinese "Mandate of Heaven," for instance, provided both a justification for the Emperor's duties and a convenient excuse to depose said ruler if he's not doing a good job at it.
  2. The idea that those in the nobility actually try to do something deserving of their position.
  3. Such groups tend to be all over the political spectrum, from far-right reactionaries to even socialists.
  4. Yup, a nobleman supporting monarchy - I bet you never saw that coming... More to the point, he was yet another product of the venerable Austro-Hungarian Empire that also gave us Friedrich August von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises of Austrian school fame/infamy [delete whatever is inappropriate], as well as some guy with a mustache.
  5. The essay actually tries to justify the phrase "by the grace of God" stopping short of "Divine Right of Kings."
  6. Granted, he called Franco "a dictator of the South American type."


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Bokassa I.
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Caliph of ISIL.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Absolute monarchy.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Royal blood.
  5. Hepburn, A. Roman Holiday. J. Paramount Pictures, 1953.
  6. How Thailand Became the World’s Last Military Dictatorship The Atlantic
  7. What the Turmoil in Thailand Reveals About the Thai Monarchy Council on Foreign Relations
  8. The Government and Political System in Morocco
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Crowned republic.
  11. See the Wikipedia article on Non-sovereign monarchy.
  12. Zulu king wants South Africa land reform to exclude his territories] Reuters.
  13. Māori King accused of being manipulated by chief advisor Radio New Zealand.
  14. What Type Of Government Does The United Arab Emirates Have? World Atlas
  15. Bahrain country profile, BBC
  16. See the Wikipedia article on Politics of Brunei.
  17. See the Wikipedia article on Emperor of Japan.
  18. See the Wikipedia article on Politics of Liechtenstein.
  19. See the Wikipedia article on Politics of Monaco.
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Politics of Thailand.
  21. Amid tight budget, queen is pinching pennies along with rest of Britain, Washington Post
  22. Because "men are born and remain free and equal in rightsWikipedia" is fascist, everyone!
  23. "Monarchy vs. Republic"
  24. See the Wikipedia article on King of Albania.
  25. See the Wikipedia article on Monarchy of Belgium.
  26. See the Wikipedia article on Otto of Greece.
  27. Encyclopedia of San Francisco: Emperor Norton
  28. Finley, Klint (22 November 2013). "Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries". TechCrunch.
  29. Traditional Monarchy is Neoreactionary
  30. Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is complete by Patrick Freyne (Mar 8, 2021, 23:00) The Irish Times.
  31. Environmental and Social Responsibility,
  32. Prince Charles branded a 'snake oil salesman' by scientist, The Guardian
  33. An exploding king: Why Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was lined with lead by Bryan Pietsch (September 21, 2022 at 1:39 p.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  34. The Death of William the Conqueror by James Grout, Encyclopaedia Romana.
  35. See the Wikipedia article on John, King of England.
  36. See the Wikipedia article on Edward I of England.
  37. See the Wikipedia article on Edward II of England.
  38. Edward II: Derek Jarman's striking reflection on homophobia, Alex von Tunzelmann, The Guardian, 16 Aug 2012
  39. How many King Edwards has England had? Why I am irrationally enraged by regnal numbering, John Elledge, New Statesman, 17 May 2016
  40. See the Wikipedia article on Peasants' Revolt.
  41. TV and film's top eight portrayals of King Henry VIII, The Independent
  42. On the Divine Right of Kings, James I, 1609, from Works, Ch 20.
  43. See the Wikipedia article on Personal relationships of James VI and I.
  44. King James and the History of Homosexuality, Michael Young, 2016
  45. See the Wikipedia article on James II of England.
  46. William III, BBC History
  47. The Battle of the Boyne, BBC History
  48. What was the truth about the madness of George III?, Lucy Worsley, BBC News Magazine, 15 April 2013
  49. See the Wikipedia article on George III of the United Kingdom.
  50. George IV: The Royal Joke?, BBC History
  51. King George IV on Britroyals
  52. New clues to Edward VIII's 'Nazi links', BBC
  53. Gough Whitlam dismissal: what we know so far about the palace letters and Australian PM's sacking, The Guardian, 14 July 2020
  54. Appointment of prime ministers and the role of the King, Institute for Government
  55. See the Wikipedia article on Council (United Kingdom).
  56. Royal Assent, Glossary, Parliament UK website
  57. What is the role of the monarchy?, University College London, Constitution Unit
  58. Johnson's suspension of parliament unlawful, supreme court rules, The Guardian, 24 Sep 2019
  59. Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022: Progress through Parliament, UK Parliament website, 28 March 2022
  60. See the Wikipedia article on Lambert Simnel.
  61. Rebellion of Lambert Simnel, Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899), Tudor History, Ch IV
  62. Lambert Simnel, Spartacus
  63. The pretender to the English throne was hanged on November 23rd, 1499, Rachel Goble, History Today, Volume 49 Issue 11 November 1999
  64. See the Wikipedia article on Alternative successions of the English and British crown.
  65. 1066 and All That. W. C. Sellar, R. J. Yeatman, 1930
  66. See the Wikipedia article on Jacobitism.
  67. Jacobite secret symbolism and the Jacobite toast, Slainthe Mhor!, Anne McDonald, Scotland Study Centre, Oct 11, 2016
  68. Sir Walter Scott, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, The University of Edinburgh/FutureLearn
  69. Scotland's Empire: The Origins of the Global Diaspora, T. M. Devine