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Monarchies in Europe

Related subjects: Politics and government

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A map of Europe exhibiting the continent's republics (blue) and monarchies (red).

There are twelve monarchies in Europe today. Europe's monarchies are: the Principality of Andorra, the Kingdom of Belgium, the Kingdom of Denmark, the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Principality of Monaco, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Norway, the Kingdom of Spain, the Kingdom of Sweden, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the State of the Vatican City. Ten of these are states where the head of state (a monarch) inherits his or her office, and usually keeps it for life or until they abdicate. As for the other two: in the Vatican City (an elective monarchy, styled a theocracy), the head of state, the pope, is elected at the papal conclave, while in Andorra (technically a semi-elective diarchy), the joint heads of state are the elected President of France and the appointed Bishop of Urgell.

Most of the monarchies in Europe are constitutional monarchies, which means that the monarch does not influence the politics of the state: either the monarch is legally prohibited from doing so, or the monarch does not utilise the political powers vested in the office by convention. The exceptions are Liechtenstein, which is usually considered a semi-constitutional monarchy due to the large influence the prince still has on politics, and the Vatican City, which is a theocratic absolute elective monarchy. There is currently no major campaign to abolish the monarchy (see monarchism and republicanism) in any of the twelve states, although there is a significant minority of republicans in many of them (e.g. the political organisation Republic in the United Kingdom). Currently seven of the twelve monarchies are members of the European Union: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

At the start of the 20th century, France, Switzerland and San Marino were the only European nations to have a republican form of government. The ascent of republicanism to the political mainstream started only at the beginning of the 20th century, facilitated by the toppling of various European monarchies through war or revolution; as at the beginning of the 21st century, most of the states in Europe are republics with either a directly or indirectly elected head of state.

Current monarchies


Belgium has been a kingdom since 21 July 1831 without interruption, after it became independent from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands with Léopold I as its first king. Belgium is the only remaining popular monarchy in the world: The monarch is formally known as the "King of the Belgians", not the "King of Belgium". While in a referendum held on 12 March 1950, 57.68 per cent of the Belgians voted in favour of allowing Léopold III, whose conduct during World War II had been considered questionable and who had been accused of treason, to return to the throne; due to civil unrest, however, he opted to abdicate in favour of his son Baudouin I on 16 July 1951. The current monarch is Albert II.

The crown of Christian IV, part of the Danish Crown Regalia.


In Denmark, the monarchy goes back to the prehistoric times of the legendary kings, before the 10th century. Currently, about 80 per cent support keeping the monarchy. The current monarch is Margrethe II. The Danish monarchy also includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland which are parts of the Kingdom of Denmark with internal home rule. Due to this status, the monarch has no separate title for these regions.


Luxembourg has been an independent grand duchy since 9 June 1815. Originally, Luxembourg was in personal union with the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of the Netherlands from 16 March 1815 until 23 November 1890. While Wilhelmina succeeded Willem III in the Netherlands, this was not possible in Luxembourg due to the order of succession being based on Salic law at that time; he was succeeded instead by Adolphe. In a referendum held on 28 September 1919, 80.34 per cent voted in favour of keeping the monarchy. The current monarch is Henri.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands originally became independent as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, which lasted from 26 July 1581 until 18 January 1795, when the Netherlands became a French puppet state as the Batavian Republic. The Batavian Republic existed from 19 January 1795 until 4 June 1806. It was transformed into the Kingdom of Holland on 5 June 1806; since then, the Netherlands have been a kingdom. They were subsequently annexed to the French Empire in 1810. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was established on 16 March 1815. With the independence of Belgium on 21 July 1831, the Netherlands again took a new form, as the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Nowadays, about 70 to 80 per cent of the Dutch are in favour of keeping the monarchy. The current monarch is Beatrix.


Norway was united and independent for the first time in 872. Norway was part of the Kalmar Union from 1397 until 1524, then part of Denmark–Norway from 1536 until 1814, and finally part of the Union between Sweden and Norway from 1814 until 1905. Norway became completely independent again on 7 June 1905. Support for establishing a republic lies around 20 per cent. The current monarch is Harald V.


Spain came into existence as a single, united kingdom under Charles I of Spain on 23 January 1516. The monarchy was briefly interrupted by the First Spanish Republic from 11 February 1873 until 29 December 1874. The monarchy was abolished again on 14 April 1931, first by the Second Spanish Republic – which lasted until 1 April 1939 – and subsequently by the dictatorship of Generalísimo Francisco Franco, who reigned until his death on 20 November 1975. Monarchy was restored on 22 November 1975 under Juan Carlos I, who is also the current monarch. Today, there is a large number of organisations campaigning in favour of establishing a Third Spanish Republic; however, only 25 per cent of Spaniards are in favour of establishing a republic.


Sweden’s monarchy goes back as far as the Danish one, to the semi–legendary kings before the 10th century, since then it has not been interrupted. However, the unification of the rivalling kingdoms Svealand and Götaland (consolidation of Sweden) did not occur until some time later, possibly in the early 11th century. The current royal family, the House of Bernadotte, has reigned since 1818. The current monarch is Carl XVI Gustaf.

United Kingdom

The monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be defined to have started either with the Kingdoms of England (871) or Scotland (843), with the Union of the Crowns on 24 March 1603, or with the Acts of Union of 1 May 1707. It was briefly interrupted by the English Interregnum, with the Commonwealth of England existing in its stead from 30 January 1649 until 15 December 1653 and from 26 May 1659 until 25 May 1660 and The Protectorate taking its place from 16 December 1653 until 25 May 1659. The current monarch is Elizabeth II.

Support for establishing a republic instead of a monarchy was around 18 per cent in the United Kingdom in 2006, while a majority thinks that there will still be a monarchy in the United Kingdom in ten years' time, public opinion is rather uncertain about a monarchy still existing in fifty years and a clear majority believes that the monarchy will no longer exist in a century since the poll was done. Public opinion is, however, certain that the monarchy will still exist in thirty years. About 30 per cent are in favour of discontinuing the monarchy after Elizabeth's death; within Scotland republicanism has increased significantly, with the prospect of future Scottish independence. Reports have also claimed that the monarchy may seriously struggle to survive in Scotland after Elizabeth and Prince Charles's reign as head of state. The monarch of the United Kingdom is also the monarch of the fifteen other Commonwealth realms, none of which are in Europe. Some of these realms have significant levels of support for republicanism.

European microstates


Andorra has been a co-principality since the signing of a paréage in 1278, when the count of Foix and the bishop of La Seu d'Urgell agreed to share sovereignty over the landlocked country. After the title of the count of Foix had been passed to the kings of Navarre, and after Henry of Navarre had become Henry IV of France, an edict was issued in 1607 which established the French head of state as the legal successor to the count of Foix in regard to the paréage. Andorra was annexed by the First French Empire together with Catalonia in 1812–1813. After the Empire's demise, Andorra became independent again. The current joint monarchs are Bishop Joan Enric Vives Sicília and President François Hollande of France.


Liechtenstein formally came into existence on 23 January 1719, when Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor decreed the lordship of Schellenberg and the countship of Vaduz united and raised to the dignity of a principality. Liechtenstein was a part of the Holy Roman Empire until the Treaty of Pressburg was signed on 26 December 1805; this marked Liechtenstein's formal independence, though it was a member of the Confederation of the Rhine and the German Confederation afterwards. While Liechtenstein was still closely aligned with Austria-Hungary until World War I, it realigned its politics and its customs and monetary institutions with Switzerland instead. Having been a constitutional monarchy since 1921, Hans Adam II demanded more influence in Liechtenstein's politics in the early 21st century, which he was granted in a referendum held on 16 March 2003, effectively making Liechtenstein a semi-constitutional monarchy again. However, the constitutional changes also provide for the possibility of a referendum to abolish the monarchy entirely. The current monarch is Hans-Adam II, who turned over the day-to-day governing decisions to his son and heir Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein on 15 August 2005.


Monaco has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297. From 1793 until 1814, Monaco was under French control; the Congress of Vienna designated Monaco as being a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1815 until 1860, when the Treaty of Turin ceded the surrounding counties of Nice and Savoy to France. Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, part of Monaco until the mid-19th century before seceding in hopes of being annexed by Sardinia, were ceded to France in exchange for 4,000,000 French francs with the Franco-Monegasque Treaty in 1861, which also formally guaranteed Monaco its independence. Until 2002, Monaco would have become part of France had the house of Grimaldi ever died out; in a treaty signed that year, the two nations agreed that Monaco would remain independent even in such a case. The current monarch is Albert II.

Vatican state

The Vatican City was not a sovereign state until the 20th century. In the 19th century the annexation of the Papal States by the Kingdom of Sardinia, and the subsequent establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, were not recognised by the Vatican. However, by the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the Kingdom of Italy recognised an independent Vatican City state, and vice versa. Since then, the elected monarch of the Vatican City state has been the current pope.

Succession laws

   equal primogeniture
   male primogeniture, to be changed to equal primogeniture
  male primogeniture
   agnatic primogeniture

The succession order is determined by primogeniture in most European monarchies. Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden now adhere to equal primogeniture, whereby the eldest child inherits the throne, regardless of gender; Monaco, Spain and the United Kingdom have the older system of male-preference primogeniture, while Liechtenstein uses agnatic primogeniture.

There are plans to change this in Spain through a rather complicated processes, as the change entails a constitutional amendment. Two successive parliaments will have to pass the law by a two-thirds majority and then put it to a referendum. As parliament has to be dissolved and new elections have to be called after the constitutional amendment is passed for the first time, the previous Presidente del Gobierno José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero indicated he would wait until the end of his first term in 2008 before passing the law, although this deadline passed without the referendum being called. The amendment enjoys strong public support.

There have also been suggestions to change the order of succession in the United Kingdom; however, as the Queen of the United Kingdom is also the Queen of the fifteen other Commonwealth realms, a change has to be agreed and made by all of the Commonwealth realms together, and since the need for change is not imminent yet (as Charles, Prince of Wales will succeed his mother Elizabeth II, and Charles' oldest son Prince William, Duke of Cambridge will succeed him in turn, with no older sisters who would be skipped under the current male primogeniture laws), the change has repeatedly been postponed to a later time. While the Equality Bill was at first expected to both abolish the preference for male heirs as well as the barring of Catholics from the throne at some point in 2008, this was later changed because of the complexity of agreeing simultaneous legislation in 16 states, and it seemed that there were no concrete plans to change the order of succession in the close future. It was later reported that the marriage between Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton might drive change. The heads of government of all sixteen states of which the monarch of the United Kingdom is head of state agreed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011 to go ahead and change the rules to equal primogeniture (also abolishing the ban against marrying a Roman Catholic).

Liechtenstein has an even older system of succession (agnatic primogeniture/Salic law), which completely excludes women from the order of succession unless there are no male heirs of any kind present, and was criticised for this by a United Nations committee for this perceived gender equality issue in November 2007.

The co-princes of Andorra are elected and appointed (the president of the French Republic and the Bishop of La Seu d'Urgell, respectively).

The absolute monarch of Vatican City, the Pope Benedict XVI, is elected by the College of Cardinals.

Luxembourg also used agnatic primogeniture until 20 June 2011, when equal primogeniture was introduced.

Table of monarchies in Europe

State Type Succession Incumbent Born Age Reigns since First-in-line
 Andorra co-principality special case:
two co-princes
J. E. Vives i Sicília
( Bishop of Urgell)
24 July 1949 63 y. 12 May 2003 None; appointed by the pope
François Hollande
( President of France)
12 August 1954 58 y. 15 May 2012 None; successor elected by the French in 2017
 Belgium kingdom absolute primogeniture Albert II 6 June 1934 78 y. 9 August 1993 Heir apparent: Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant (eldest child)
 Denmark kingdom absolute primogeniture Margrethe II 16 April 1940 72 y. 14 January 1972 Heir apparent: Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark (eldest son)
 Liechtenstein principality agnatic primogeniture Hans-Adam II 14 February 1945 68 y. 13 November 1989 Heir apparent: Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein (eldest son)
 Luxembourg grand duchy absolute primogeniture Henri 16 April 1955 57 y. 7 October 2000 Heir apparent: Guillaume, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg (eldest child)
 Monaco principality male-preference cognatic primogeniture Albert II 14 March 1958 55 y. 6 April 2005 Heiress presumptive: Caroline, Princess of Hanover (elder sister)
 Netherlands kingdom absolute primogeniture Beatrix 31 January 1938 75 y. 30 April 1980 Heir apparent: Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange (eldest child)
 Norway kingdom absolute primogeniture Harald V 21 February 1937 76 y. 17 January 1991 Heir apparent: Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway (only son)
 Spain kingdom male-preference cognatic primogeniture Juan Carlos I 5 January 1938 75 y. 22 November 1975 Heir apparent: Felipe, Prince of Asturias (only son)
 Sweden kingdom absolute primogeniture Carl XVI Gustaf 30 April 1946 66 y. 15 September 1973 Heiress apparent: Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden (eldest child)
 United Kingdom kingdom male-preference cognatic primogeniture
(absolute primogeniture planned)
Elizabeth II 21 April 1926 86 y. 6 February 1952 Heir apparent: Charles, Prince of Wales (eldest son)
 Vatican City theocracy elective monarchy Franciscus 17 December 1936 76 y. 13 March 2013 None; successor elected in papal conclave
I^ Caroline is, as the ruling prince's eldest sister, the current heiress presumptive.

II^ The monarch of the United Kingdom is also the sovereign of the fifteen other Commonwealth realms:  Antigua and Barbuda,  Bahamas,  Barbados,  Grenada,  Jamaica,  Saint Kitts and Nevis,  Saint Lucia and  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean;  Belize in Central America;  Canada in North America; and  Australia,  New Zealand,  Papua New Guinea,  Solomon Islands and  Tuvalu in Oceania.

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