A monarchy, (from the Greek "monos arkhein" -- "one ruler") is an absolutist form of government, ruled by a monarch. A distinguishing characteristic of modern monarchies is that the position of monarch often involves inheritance in some form - although this is not always the case. (The Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy are examples of elective monarchies). The term monarchy is also used to refer to the people and institutions that make up the royal establishment, or to the realm in which the monarchy functions.
In most countries with monarchies, the monarch serves as a symbol of continuity and statehood. Many states have a strong convention against the monarch becoming involved in partisan politics. In some cases, the symbolism of monarchy alongside the symbolism of a republic cause the combination to be divisive. For example, there is the case of Australia where the question of retaining a monarch as head of state touches on divisive and controversial questions of national identity.
Monarchies are one of the oldest forms of government, with echoes in the leadership of tribal chiefs. Many monarchies began as absolute monarchies, in a society with technologies that allow the concentration and organization of power but not enough for education and rapid communication to flourish. The economic structure of such monarchies is that of concentrated wealth, with the majority of the population as agricultural serfs. Other monarchies, notably among the Germanic peoples, began as ad-hoc coalitions between clans, forming the natural basis for elective monarchies, the elections often taking place at the Thing. In such a system territorial magnates (and free men) could have more influence.
Since 1800, many of the world's monarchies have become republics. Most countries which retain monarchy have limited the monarch's power, with most having become constitutional monarchies. England's monarchy was famously limited by the Magna Carta of 1215. Swaziland is the only country that retains an absolute monarchy, although the Middle Eastern monarchies certainly lean further in that direction than those in Europe; however we should also note recent (2003) developments in Liechtenstein.
In some cases, a hereditary monarchy exists, but actual power resides in the military. This has often historically been the case in Thailand and Japan. In Fascist Italy a monarchy coexisted with a fascist party for longer than such coexistences occurred in Rumania, Hungary, Greece and Yugoslavia.
On several occasions throughout history, the same person has served as monarch of separate independent states, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and several other countries today. In some cases, such as England and Scotland a personal union was the precursor to a merger of the states.
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 parliament. The order of succession in most European monarchical states of the 21st century is by primogeniture. In earlier times, the succession was often unclear and this lead to a number of wars.
Monarchies can come to an end in several ways. There may be a revolution in which the monarchy is overthrown; or, as in Italy, there may be a referendum in which the electorate decides to form a republic. In some cases, as with England and Spain, the monarchy has been overthrown and then restored. Countries may regard themselves as monarchies without a named monarch, as Spain did in 1947-1975.
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 national king is elected for a five year term from and by the nine sultans who are the hereditary rulers of the states of the Malay peninsula.
Note that monarchy also has echoes of autocratic executives in commercial enterprises, especially private or family-controlled companies.
Monarchical states today (2003) include :
- Andorra (official title is "co-prince")
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Australia, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, Coral Sea Islands Territory, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island and the Northern Territory.
- The Bahamas
- Bhutan (traditional title is "druk gyalpo")
- Brunei Darussalam (official title is "sultan")
- Canada, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon Territory
- Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands
- Japan (official title is "emperor")
- Kuwait (official title is "emir")
- Liechtenstein (official title is "prince")
- Luxemburg (official title is "grand duke")
- Malaysia (official title is "paramount ruler")
- Monaco (official title is "prince")
- The Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba
- New Zealand, Cook Islands and Niue
- Norway, Bouvet Island, Jan Mayen and Svalbard
- Oman (official title is "sultan")
- Papua New Guinea
- Qatar (official title is "emir")
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Samoa (official title is "chief," traditional title is "o le Ao o le Malo")
- Saudi Arabia
- Solomon Islands
- Tibet (in exile; the Dalai Lama enjoys monarch-like status)
- United Arab Emirates (official title is "president")
- United Kingdom, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena and Her Dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands
- Vatican City (official title is "pope")
Compare: theocracy, democracy, oligarchy, feudalism, empire