Monarchical System of Government Explained

A monarchy is one of the oldest systems of government run by a single leader called a monarch. Kings, queens, emperors, sultans, czars, and pharaohs are all examples of monarchs. Many monarchs are addressed with particular styles or manners of address, like Majesty, Royal Highness, By the Grace of God, Tennō Heika (literally His Majesty the heavenly sovereign).

Born to Rule

Monarchs were usually born with the power to rule for life. Often, one family ruled a country or kingdom for hundreds of years. When the ruler died, an heir—usually a son or daughter—inherited the throne. The same family ruled the country or kingdom until no more family members were left.

The benefit of this form of government was that the transfer of power was relatively smooth. Usually, the people did not have to worry or wonder who would be in charge next. The disadvantage was of course, that the people had no say in that matter, and often the new king or queen was not qualified for the job.

History has it that most early monarchs were men, but at some point women ruled, too. When the pharaoh Thutmose I died in 1479 B.C.E., his son should have taken his place. However, his son was too young to rule. So his daughter Hatshepsut (haht-SHEP-soot) took control and was pharaoh for fifteen years. Later Egyptians did not like the idea of a female ruler. So, they tried to remove her name from their monuments and historical records.

Monarchies Long Ago

Long ago, most governments were monarchies, Monarchs in Europe ruled over kingdoms that spread far and wide. In China, powerful emperors ran monarchies known as dynasties. These dynasties lasted for centuries. Strong monarchs also ruled the people of early Mexico and Central America.

However, monarchs were not always the best leaders. As the British historian Lord Action said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While some monarchs ruled fairly and responsibly, other monarchs ran their country strictly for their own benefit. They did not serve the people they ruled. They taxed the people to pay for things the people did not want or use, such as wars or palaces. This abuse of power led people to demand change.

In the 1700s and 1800s, the people in a number of countries overthrew their monarchs. Citizens of several nations staged revolutions. They overthrew the ruling monarch and created a new government that would serve the people instead of the crown. Russia’s monarchy was one of the last to be overthrown. In 1917, the Russian people forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. The era of monarchies had come to an end.

Modern Constitutional Monarchies

In the 1900s, monarchs ruled much of the world. However, today, monarchs rule few countries. One of the most famous modern monarchs is Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. She took over the throne in 1952 after her father died.

Queen Elizabeth is greatly respected by her people. However, she is not the sole ruler of the country. She is the constitutional monarch of the United Kingdom. This means that she has some powers and duties as “head of state” but she does not have absolute power as her ancestors had in past centuries. Instead, her powers are defined by the country’s constitution. Today, the queen shares leadership with the British Parliament and prime minister. Parliament is the group of elected officials that make the laws for the country. The prime minister is elected by Parliament and then appointed by the queen.

Today, several countries boast of constitutional monarchies including Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Jordan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. Monarchs in these countries hold varying degrees of power but are bound in most cases by the constitutional laws made by the elected officials of their nations.