Kingdoms and Monarchs of the World

Updated January 16, 2023 | Factmonster Staff

Monarchies used to rule the world. From the beginning of all human society in Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago, to the end of the British Empire in the mid-20th century, kings and queens controlled the most powerful countries on the globe. From Turkey to Tonga and Japan to Jordan, royal families have overseen the development of their countries throughout history as heads of state, rulers, and figureheads.

But in the 21st Century, monarchies have greatly diminished in both power and number. Where there were once over a hundred monarchies in the world, now 43 remain and only seven exist as absolute monarchies with bonafide power. Rather than rulers, some monarchs have become cultural icons whilst others have merged into the background as socialites or charitable campaigners. In order to survive in a changing world, monarchies have had to evolve.

What is a Monarchy? 

When referring to a country, the word monarchy describes a system of governance. In a monarchy, a country is ruled by a monarch who is the head of state and sole decision-maker over a country’s affairs. Monarchs are appointed by a hereditary bloodline and not through an election, as would be the case in an elective democracy.

Monarchies are the oldest form of government, with the earliest evidence showing they existed during Ancient Egypt in 3100 BCE. Here monarchs were called pharaohs, but throughout history, they have gone by various names like khan, tsar, sultan, king, and queen. There are many different forms of monarchy, but in a true, absolute one, the monarch holds ultimate power.

Types of Monarchies

The purest form of monarchy is an absolute monarchy. An absolute monarch, like those in Oman or Saudi Arabia, has the final say in decision-making. They may delegate tasks or authority, but ultimately what the monarch says goes. This was common across ancient and medieval societies, existing as the default method of governance for centuries. Now, only eight countries remain in this form with other monarchies holding various levels of diminished power.

The other common form of monarchy is a constitutional monarchy. In constitutional monarchies, the power of a monarch is prescribed by the constitution of the country they rule over. Decision-making is either shared with someone else, often an elected official, or removed from them almost entirely to a symbolic level. Multiple countries exist somewhere along this scale with the most famous being the United Kingdom. In the UK, the monarchy technically still has the powers to overrule the government but they are never used due to the principles of democracy.

Other forms of monarchy exist but are far less common. A federal monarchy exists as a group of states, that have the same monarch as a head of the federation but are actually governed by a non-monarchical system such as a parliament. There are also mixed monarchies which are countries that have elements of a monarchy combined with multiple different forms of government.

What Countries Still Have Monarchies?

Source: Getty Images

Forty-three countries still have monarchies in some form with a monarch as a head of state. Most monarchies began to be replaced after the French Revolution and by the 1900s, even the British Empire was in decline as it fast became symbolic of fading old world order.

Europe, once a melting pot of different royal families, is now a center of democracy with most monarchies located in areas like the Middle East. Within those that remain, some are weakening in popularity and influence whereas others remain as strong as ever.

Adorra - Constitutional Monarchy 

Monarchs: Prince Emmanuel Macron and Archbishop Joan Enric Vives Sicília

Andorra has perhaps one of the most complex systems of monarchy in the world. Andorra is a parliamentary democracy with an elected prime minister. However, due to its founding constitutional ties to France and Spain, both the president of France and Bishop of Urgell act as co-princes and heads of state for Andorra. Therefore, it is technically a constitutional democracy.

Antigua and Barbuda - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Antigua and Barbuda is part of the Commonwealth as a former colony of the British Empire. Some former colonies have or are beginning to formally renounce the British royal family as their head of state, therefore removing their status as a monarchy. However, Antigua and Barbuda are yet to do so and therefore they remain a constitutional monarchy, with King Charles as a symbolic figurehead. In actuality, they are a parliamentary democracy.

Australia - Constitutional Monarchy 

Monarch: King Charles III

Australia is ruled by an elected prime minister with an elected parliament. As a former British colony that has decided to maintain its status as a monarchy, they remain a constitutional monarchy. Modern Australia was founded by British colonists and their leaders regularly reinforced their support for keeping the UK’s monarch as their head of state.

Bahamas - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

The Bahamas became part of the British Empire in 1718 after they started to crack down on the rise in piracy surrounding the islands. From that moment, the country became an absolute monarchy with the monarch of England as the head of state. They gained independence in 1973 and set up their own parliamentary system but retained the monarchy of the UK as part of their constitution.

Bahrain - Semi-Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa

Bahrain has an interesting mix of power dynamics. They have a monarchy that wields substantial power, but they also have parliamentary elections. However, over half of that parliament is made up of members of the royal family, the Al Khalifa, including the prime minister. Therefore the Bahrain monarchy actually still holds major influence, distinguishing it from a fully constitutional monarchy but not so far as to be absolute.

The Al Khalifa’s have ruled over Bahrain since 1783 and, unlike many constitutional monarchies, have often used their powers to intervene in the country’s governance. For example, after the country’s first elections in 1973, the then Emir overruled the result and dissolved parliament. As they are a Sunni Muslim family, there is a history of friction between them and Shia political parties, sometimes resulting in public protests.

Belgium - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Philippe

The Belgian monarchy is a relatively recent invention as far as European history is concerned. Before 1830, Belgium as it is today was a collection of states owned by France and the Netherlands. After the Belgian Revolution in 1830, those states broke free from their respective rulers and formed the sovereign state of Belgium.

The new country chose to install a constitutional monarchy and their congress nominated Leopold I as their first king. Since then, the monarchy has defaulted to a hereditary system of succession. As with other monarchies in Europe, the political power of the Belgian royal family has greatly diminished since its first founding.

Belize - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Belize was first discovered by Spanish conquistadors in 1506. Before then it was inhabited by the Aztecs and other native tribes. Spain tried to settle the area but found it difficult due to the hostile natives and lack of resources. This left the door open for other colonial powers and the British became the first to found a settlement there in 1716.

Ever since, the British monarch has been their head of state, remaining after they gained independence in 1981. Now they have a parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister as head of government.

Bhutan - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

The Wangchuk family was a dominant force in Bhutan’s history during the 1800s. In 1907, they were chosen to be the new monarchs of Bhutan and they ruled as an absolute monarchy until 2008. Monarchs are called the Druk Gyalpo which translates as Dragon King.

By 2008, Bhutan wanted to speed up its modernisation. The Wangchuk family agreed to install an elected parliament and prime minister who would take over most of the administrative duties. As such, they became a constitutional monarchy.

Brunei - Absolute Monarchy

Monarch: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

Brunei has been an absolute monarchy for centuries. Throughout occupation by other countries like Japan and Britain, the status of the monarchy has endured. In 1962, a small revolt was quashed that sought to bring down the monarchy, and ever since, the country has technically been under martial law. The Sultan holds absolute power and rules as the prime minister.

Cambodia  - Elective Monarchy

Monarch: King Norodom Sihamoni

The Cambodian monarchy has existed since 68 AD and is therefore one of the oldest in the world. It was abolished for a period between 1970 and 1993 and returned as an elective monarchy, whereas before it was absolute.

As one of the world’s only elective monarchies, the king is elected for life by a group of senior political and religious figures. However, only those descended from royal blood and over the age of 30 can be considered. So in this sense, it is semi-hereditary.

Canada - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Canada remains one of the largest countries by population to exist as a constitutional monarchy. As an ex-colony of the UK, the British monarch remains their symbolic head of state as their government is actually operated under a parliamentary democracy. As with many ex-British colonies, the status as a monarchy is a controversial subject and there is a possibility in the future that Canada votes to remove their head of state.

Denmark - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Queen Margrethe II

After their foundational constitution in 1849, Denmark chose to install a constitutional monarchy. Much like the UK, the monarch holds no real power and their duties are purely ceremonial. Queen Margrethe II is the current longest serving and only female monarch after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Eswatini - Absolute Monarchy

Monarch: King Mswati III

Eswatini has a deeply ingrained tradition of monarchy. The king, or ngwenyama meaning lion, has executive constitutional control and appoints the country’s prime minister. In a unique format, the king rules alongside his mother; the ndlovukati or she-elephant.

Traditionally, the king would oversee the administrative duties and the mother would be seen as a spiritual leader of the nation. The mother would have genuine power to oppose and mediate with the king. In the second half of the 20th century, this tradition was diminished and the mother has become largely symbolic.

Grenada - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Grenada is a former British colony and upon gaining independence became a member of the Commonwealth, retaining the British monarch as a ceremonial head of state.

Jamaica - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Like all other Commonwealth countries, Jamaica is a former British colony and therefore retains the British Monarch as a head of state. However, in June 2022, Jamaica declared its intention to become a republic and remove the monarchy from its governmental systems. This will only occur after a two-thirds majority vote in their parliament and a public referendum.

Japan - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Emperor Naruhito

The Japanese monarchy is the oldest in the world. The first Emperor, Jimmu, is said to have reigned from 660 BC to 585 BC. Although many of the early Emperors are presumed to be legendary, the monarchy still remains the oldest.

Throughout history, the Emperor’s power has fluctuated from absolute to inconsequential as different people fought over Japan’s leadership. Now, the Emperor is purely ceremonial and represents the unity of the nation.

Jordan - Semi-Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Abdullah II

Like Bahrain, Jordan has a king who has more power than a conventional constitutional monarch, but there is a government beneath him that also has the power to independently make decisions. The current monarch is part of the Hashemite family who has ruled over the ancient city of Mecca since the 10th century.

Kuwait - Semi-Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Emir Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah

Kuwait is sometimes described as anocratic, meaning there are elements of a democracy such as elections but one person wields most of the power. In this sense, it is a semi-constitutional monarchy because Kuwait has a parliament but also an Emir who appoints the prime minister.

Lesotho - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Letsie III

Before colonization, Lesotho was called Basutoland and was a tribal territory. After being colonized and gaining independence, Lesotho implemented a constitutional monarchy and actively restricted the monarch’s power and ability to intervene in decision-making.

Liechtenstein - Semi-Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Prince Hans-Adam II

Most of the executive powers in Liechtenstein are possessed by the elected parliament, though the prince retains the ability to block legislation and call referendums. On the other side of Liechtenstein’s governance is a direct democracy. Here citizens of Liechtenstein can propose new legislation and amendments to the constitution. In essence, there is a mix of power-sharing between citizens, the monarch, and the government with an imbalance favoring the latter.

Luxembourg - Constitutional Monarchy  

Monarch: Grand Duke Henri

Luxembourg is a grand duchy as opposed to a kingdom or emirate. This is because Luxembourg was formed out of the Duchy of Luxembourg, meaning rather than a king they have a grand duke. Executive power is held jointly by the Grand Duke and the cabinet.

Malaysia - Constitutional Elective Monarchy

Monarch: Agong Abdullah

Malaysia is a federation, meaning that it is a sovereign country made up of multiple constituent states. On the whole, the country is run by an elected parliament but there is a monarchical head of state.

The rulers of the nine Malaysian states that make up the federation, who are all monarchies themselves, elect a new head of state every five years. The nine states have agreed to rotate the position between themselves every election cycle.

Monaco  - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Prince Albert II

Since 1297, the House of Grimaldi has ruled over the Monaco area. The relationship with France has been complex over the years but since the 19th century Monaco has had independence. The monarch is constitutional but wields significant power and consults with the French government before appointing a new prime minister.

Morocco - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Mohammed VI

The King of Morocco is considered to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. In the past, this meant they commanded ultimate power across the country. But in 2011, constitutional reforms drastically reduced the monarch’s power and greatly increased those of the prime minister. Now the monarch performs ceremonial duties and maintains international relations.

Netherlands - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Willem-Alexander    

The House of Orange-Nassau, a provincial ruling family in France and Germany, has played a key role in the history of the Netherlands for centuries. They have provided monarchs for the country since 1815 after the constitution was drawn up and included a monarch with limited powers.

New Zealand - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

New Zealand gained independence from the UK in 1840 and adopted a parliamentary governance system. The British Monarch remains as their head of state, although recently there has been increased debate about their removal.

Norway - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Harald V

The Norwegian Monarchy dates to around 885 AD after Harald Fairhair united the smaller kingdoms within Norway’s boundaries. During this time, the Kings of Norway held absolute power but since the new constitution, the monarch has seen their role evolve into a ceremonial one. They reserve their executive powers but the government dictates the running of the country.

Oman - Absolute Monarchy

Monarch: Sultan Haitham bin Tariq

Oman is perhaps the most traditional form of monarchy left in the world. It is one of the most absolute monarchies in existence with the Sultan maintaining control over all areas of the country, including the judiciary system. The current Sultan is part of the Busaid family who has ruled Oman since the mid-18th century. The first Sultan came to power in 1749 but before that, a series of Imams ruled from 751 AD.

Papua New Guinea - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Like other Commonwealth countries, Papua New Guinea retained the British Monarchy as its head of state. Along with Belize, Papua New Guinea is the only other country in Asia to have King Charles III as a head of state.

Qatar - Semi-Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

Although Qatar has an elected parliament, therefore technically making them a constitutional democracy, the Emir still holds a large amount of power. The parliament in Qatar has spaces for 45 officials, of those 30 are elected but 15 are directly appointed by the Emir. Therefore, there are possible scenarios where the Emir could manipulate the country’s leadership to favor his outlook. The first elections in Qatar were held in 2021.

Saint Kitts And Nevis - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

St Kitts and Nevis is the most recent Caribbean country to declare independence from Britain. After doing so in 1983, they retained the British monarch as their head of state and now have a parliamentary system of governance.

Saint Lucia - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Saint Lucia gained independence in 1978 and, like most other commonwealth nations, kept the British Monarch as their head of state.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines gained independence from the UK in 1979 and retained the British Monarchy as their official head of state. They operate under a parliamentary democracy.

Saudi Arabia - Absolute Monarchy

Monarch: King Salman

Political participation in Saudi Arabia is severely restricted for those not within the Al Saud royal family. It is an authoritarian country where elections and political parties are banned. The monarch has absolute power, but they are duty-bound to rule within Sharia law and therefore are somewhat restricted in the decisions they make. There is opposition to the Al Saud dynasty that originates from Sunni Islamic groups, liberal activists, and the Shi’ite minority population.

Solomon Islands - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain in 1978, adopting a constitutional monarchy and therefore taking the British Monarch as head of state.

Spain - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Felipe VI

The Spanish Monarchy has seen many iterations. From the Visigoths to the Habsburgs and Bourbons, Spanish royalty has changed between families and bloodlines numerous times. It stood for centuries until April 1931 when left-wing Spanish Republicans deposed the reigning monarch and installed a republican system of governance.

In 1936, right-wing nationalists took up arms against the prevailing government, led by Francisco Franco who was a monarchist. In 1939, the nationalists were victorious and Franco restored the monarchy in 1947. At first, Franco named himself head of state but later appointed Juan Carlos I, the grandchild of the first deposed king, as monarch.

Juan Carlos was eager to see Spain transition from dictatorship to democracy and so installed a reformist as president in 1977. By this point, Franco had resigned all power and Spain was on the path to wide-ranging political liberalization. Barring a failed coup in 1981, Spain has existed as a constitutional monarchy, where power is limited for  the monarch and is invested in the prime minister.

Sweden - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Carl XVI Gustaf

Before 1100, Sweden was the home of various Viking tribes who each had their own kings. Around the 9th century, Sweden began to conglomerate into a unified nation as Christianity began to spread. King Olof Skotkonung is the first well-documented King of Sweden in a form that most closely resembles the country today, ascending in 995 AD.

Following attempts by Denmark to gain control of Sweden in the 14th century, King Gustav I managed to win Sweden’s independence and consolidated what is now known as modern-day Sweden. He is regarded as the father of the Swedish nation. Up until 1974, the monarch still held some power but the constitutional amendment transferred the remainder of this to the Swedish parliament.

Thailand- Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch:  King Vajiralongkorn

Up until 1932, Thailand had been ruled by absolute monarchs, and the king was seen as uniquely righteous. In 1932, a bloodless coup led by the anti-imperialist Khana Ratsadon party removed power from the monarch and installed a constitutional monarchy.

Throughout the next 90 years, Thailand saw 20 different constitutions but the monarchy remained in place after every single one. Now Thailand operates with an elected national assembly and a prime minister with a monarch who carries out symbolic duties.

Tonga - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch:  King Tupou VI

For most of its history, Tonga has existed as a group of islands controlled by various tribal chiefs. In 1845, a young strategist and warrior named Tāufaʻāhau unified all the islands of Tonga for the first time. Because he was baptized by western missionaries, he installed a western form of democratic rule and created a constitutional monarchy.

Tonga became a protected state by the British Empire and a Commonwealth nation but retained its own line of hereditary succession, rather than adopting British monarchs as heads of state. The monarchy in Tonga remains popular amongst Tongan citizens.

Tuvalu - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

Tuvalu gained independence from the UK in 1978, becoming a Commonwealth nation under a parliamentary democracy. Referendums were held in 1986 and 2006 on the issue of abolishing the monarchy from Tuvalu but both occasions saw healthy support for keeping the current system.

United Arab Emirates   - Semi-Constitutional Elective Monarchy

Monarch: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The UAE is technically a constitutional monarchy in that the monarch is chosen through an election and not via hereditary laws. The leader of the country holds executive power over all aspects of the country’s operations, although they do take counsel from the seven territories (sheikhdoms) that make up the UAE.

The election of the new head of state is also conducted between the sheiks of the seven sheikhdoms, meaning that in reality, the level of democracy is very low. In practice, the UAE is ruled as an absolute monarchy and has authoritarian characteristics.

United Kingdom  - Constitutional Monarchy

Monarch: King Charles III

The British Monarchy is perhaps the most famous and well-known monarchy in the history of the world. King Athelstan became the first monarch to rule over the unified territory that most closely resembles modern-day England in 924 AD. Following that moment, the monarchy began a tumultuous journey that saw various revolutions, civil wars, foreign pretenders, and crises over the span of 1000 years.

In 1215, the Magna Carta was signed which limited the powers of the British monarch, effectively reducing Britain from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. Over the centuries, this power has been gradually watered down by interventions from parliament until the UK ended up with the monarchy seen today. All of the monarch’s powers are ceremonial with policies made and enacted by parliament.

Vatican City - Absolute Elective Monarchy

Monarch: Pope Francis I

Vatican City has a unique monarchical system. The Pope is the official head of state and holds absolute power over judicial and legislative matters. Upon death or abdication, a new Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals through four rounds of balloting. As the Vatican City is also a theocracy, the Pope rules in the name of God and guides the Pope throughout their tenure.

What Is the Future of Monarchies? 

Monarchies still exist in reasonable numbers across the world. However, most monarchs no longer wield any significant or meaningful power over the countries that they rule. In areas like Asia and the Middle East, absolute monarchies are more common and their relative stability means that countries such as Saudi Arabia are unlikely to change systems any time soon.

The British Monarchy is still the most extensive monarchy but is inconsequential to the daily operations of all the countries it is head of state for. In fact, many Commonwealth nations are seeking to or thinking about abolishing the British Monarchy from their political systems altogether. So, the future is somewhat unknown but there is a high chance that globally, monarchies will continue to diminish in both number and authority.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the power inheritance of monarchies, then why not step into the chaotic world of military coups?

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