Royal Families Around the World.

Date01 May 2021
AuthorDavison, Charles

Around the world, monarchs hold different roles in government and more.

Canadians live in a "constitutional monarchy". So, we are somewhat familiar with how our system has evolved to the point where the Queen is mainly a figurehead at the top of our government. Over many centuries, the British, and then Canadian, systems moved away from the King or Queen holding absolute power over their subjects. Now, the sovereign's role is representative and symbolic in almost all respects.

What might surprise many Canadians are examples from around the world where monarchs still hold actual--sometimes absolute, unchecked--power over their citizens and subjects. Wikipedia lists 44 countries (as of 2019) around the world which are considered monarchies. Many of those countries are members of the Commonwealth. And most of them, like Canada, have the Queen as their ceremonial and symbolic Head of State. Among the others, the actual roles and powers of the royal persons vary widely.

Ceremonial Royals

Most of the remaining monarchies of Europe (mainly Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden) are like the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries. The states are fully democratic and the sovereigns usually play only symbolic roles. Perhaps the most notable recent exception is that of King Juan Carlos of Spain. He was instrumental in restoring democracy to that country after the death of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. More recently, he has abdicated and gone into exile because of allegations of corrupt financial dealings while he was in power. In some smaller European nations--for example, Monaco and Lichtenstein--a prince is Head of State. He shares actual power with elected legislative assemblies.

Since the end of the Second World War, the monarchy in Japan--where there is still an Emperor ("Emperor of God"--Tenno)--has also been limited to a ceremonial role. Before 1945, however, the Emperor still wielded significant authority and the Japanese revered him as having directly descended from heaven. Many considered the Emperor to be personally responsible for Japanese war decisions. After the war, there was talk of putting him on trial for war crimes. The Emperor was instrumental in arranging the Japanese surrender in 1945, and one of the main conditions was that his powers and authority would remain intact. Ultimately, the Allies agreed to allow the Emperor to stay in place but only on the basis he would cede real power...

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