With the upcoming coronation of Charles III ascending the throne of the United Kingdom on May 6th, the topic of monarchy is as timely as ever. Not least because there are many, even if less known, current European monarchs, from Felipe of Spain to Harald of Norway to Albert of Monaco.
Over the centuries monarchies have undergone many changes. For example, there are very few absolute monarchies today. Parliamentary monarchies predominate instead. Also declining are constitutional monarchies. Let’s start by understanding the differences between these types.
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The different types of monarchy
As we have seen, there is no single type of monarchy. Absolute monarchy means a government ruled by a single individual with unlimited powers over the people. This type of monarchy usually occurs by direct office, that is, by descent. In absolute monarchy, the sovereign decides in every context of government, with the help of ministers and advisers.
Among present-day European kings and queens, there is no absolute monarch. In Europe, the only example of an absolute monarchy is the Vatican City, currently ruled by Pope Francis.
Parliamentary monarchy is a form of government in which the king neither reigns nor rules, but is a symbolic figure whose powers are very limited. Power is held by parliament and the government. The classic example of parliamentary monarchy is the United Kingdom.
Finally, in constitutional monarchy, the sovereign rules but has limited powers established by a constitution. Which are, however, broader than those he would enjoy in a parliamentary monarchy. The legislative function is exercised collectively by the sovereign and parliament. The sovereign also holds executive power, but this is entrusted to a government, which depends on the will of the monarch. An example of this is the Principality of Monaco.
The current European monarchies
There are several European countries in Europe today that have monarchy as a form of government, although in many states the figure of the monarch is primarily symbolic.
1. United Kingdom
Among European countries ruled by a monarchy, the United Kingdom is certainly the most famous. The form of government is a parliamentary monarchy, in which the Head of Government is the Prime Minister.
Despite this, with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who wore the British crown for over 70 years, her son Charles III became king.
The English monarchy is one of the oldest in the world, so much so that some historians say it dates back as far as the year 927.
Among current European kings perhaps the second best known is Philip VI of Bourbon, who in Spain heads a parliamentary monarchy.
Here the monarchy began in 1479 and has a glorious history of sovereignty behind it. For several centuries the royals of Spain headed a vast colonial empire. Today the king’s role is one of representation and guarantor of unity and democracy.
3. The Principality of Monaco
In contrast, the Principality of Monaco is a hereditary constitutional monarchy with a single-chamber system of government.
The current ruler and head of state is Albert II of Monaco, son of Rainier III and former actress Grace Kelly. His son Jacques, fathered by former swimmer Charlène Wittstock, is heir to the throne.
4. The Principality of Andorra
Andorra is also a principality. It is ruled by two co-princes: the bishop of the Catalan diocese of Urgell and the president of the French Republic.
In fact, therefore, succession to the country’s throne occurs ex officio when these two figures change. As of today, therefore, heading the state of Andorra are Monsignor Joan Enric Vives i Sicília and Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
Together with the Republic of San Marino, Andorra is the only country in the world to have two heads of state.
The case of Belgium is particular. The Belgian monarchy, which is parliamentary in nature, does not see an immediate transfer of power in the event of the death of the predecessor. The new king or queen is elected only following the constitutional oath of office.
The Belgian monarchy has always conformed to the principles of the liberal revolution. The current king is Philip, a descendant of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, one of Germany’s historic noble dynasties.
This is a lineage closely related to that of England. The Windsor family, in fact, is none other than the same house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to which King George V – during World War I – decided to change the name to Anglicize it.
6. The Netherlands
The Netherlands is ruled by the French-origin Orange-Nassau lineage, from which comes the orange that is the official color of the state. The current king, as of 2013, is William Alexander: he took over from his mother Beatrice and is the country’s first male ruler since 1890.
Leading the small state of Luxembourg is not a king but a Grand Duke. He is Henry Albert Gabriel Felix Mary William of the Bourbon house of Parma-Nassau-Weilburg.
Grand Duke Henry, along with his cousin the King of Spain, is the last Bourbon to sit on a European throne. Both are distant descendants, as well as the last heirs, of King Louis XIV of France, the famous Sun King. The monarchy in Luxembourg is parliamentary in nature and has existed since 963.
8. The Principality of Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a tiny state in central Europe. The country has a population of less than 40,000 and, despite the idyllic landscape in which it is nestled, is visited very little by European tourists and is almost unknown to global tourists.
Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s constitutional monarchies, albeit in the form of a principality. The regency of the kingdom began in 1608, and the current ruler is Prince John Adam II. However, decision-making powers and representative duties passed to his son Louis in 2004.
Prince father John Adam II is a writer as well as a ruler. In fact, in 2009, he published a volume entitled The State in the Third Millennium. The prince is also the chairman of LGT Bank Group and has the staggering wealth of about 3 billion euros.
European royal families include that of King Harald V, ruler of Norway since 1991. It is a parliamentary monarchy with very ancient origins: in fact, the Viking kingdom of Norway dates back to 872.
In fact, this monarchy is often considered the youngest in Europe, as after centuries of foreign rule it only gained absolute independence in 1905. To this day the king has mainly ceremonial functions, although formally he still appoints ministers. Harald V is second cousin to Queen Margaret II ruler of Denmark.
The list of monarchical European countries also includes Denmark, a very old parliamentary monarchy, among the oldest in the world.
In fact, the royal lineage was founded in 933 with the coronation of Harold I Blue Tooth. The current ruler is Queen Margaret II, much loved and appreciated by the Danish people.
Finally, monarchical European countries include Sweden, whose ruler is Charles XVI Gustaf. The monarchy, now constitutional in nature, began in 945, and various lineages have alternated over the years. The current ruling family is the Bernadotte dynasty, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810.
King Carl XVI Gustaf is best known internationally for awarding the Nobel Prize, a royal duty the monarch cherishes and performs annually in person at a ceremony held in Stockholm.
Another curiosity about the Swedish ruler concerns his fairy tale wedding: when he married Silvia Sommerlath in 1976, the news made a huge stir, as it was Europe’s first royal wedding between an heir to the throne and a commoner.