© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
Having been born in the Antipodes, I was raised a subject of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As Australia was so poor, we had to share her with quite a few other countries (which, apparently, couldn't afford their own queen either, given the manner in which she was accustomed to living!): Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and last, and certainly least (says the irreverent Aussie), the United Kingdom. Apparently, a little bit of queen goes a long way.
From my early school days I remember learning the following:
William the first was the first of our kings
Not counting the Ethelreds Egberts and things
He had himself crowned and anointed and blessed
In ten-sixty - I needn't tell you the rest.
An alternate—and seemingly more correct—fourth line is, "At Westminster Abbey in 1066". Twenty eight more lines follow, and you can find them all (including variations and related rhymes) by searching the internet for the first line.
In 2009, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Normandy, France. While touring Caen, my first stop was Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey) and the adjoining abbey church Saint-Etienne, which William the Conqueror started building in 1064. He was buried there in 1087 and at his graveside I paid my respects telling him that he wouldn't believe how the Brits had let things go since his day. And except for the Channel Islands, they didn't even own Normandy anymore! And as for their international cricket team, what can I say!
For the purposes of this essay, I consider royalty to be the monarchs, their spouses, and their issue (direct descendants). [A well-known saying goes something like this, "The primary duty of the wife of a king/prince/lord/etc. is to bear him an heir and a spare!] Of course, not all monarchs inherited their position; some simply took it, which in many cases is what they thought God had really intended!
Now if you want to know about all those second- and third-tier courtiers, see Burke's Peerage, "founded by John Burke in London in 1826, records the genealogy and heraldry of the Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Landed Gentry of the United Kingdom, the historical families of Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, the Imperial, Royal and Mediatised families of Europe and Latin America, the Presidential and distinguished families of the United States, the ruling families of Africa and the Middle East and other prominent families worldwide."
According to Wikipedia, "As of July 2013, there are 26 active sovereign monarchies in the world – kings, queens, sultans, emperors, emirs and others – who rule or reign over 43 countries in all."
Although I am most familiar with the British royal family, after 35 years of international travel I've experienced a bit of life under, read about, talked to subjects of, and gotten more than a little interested in, a number of other families. These include: Danish Royal Family (complete with an Aussie Crown Princess, Mary), Dutch Royal Family, Japanese Imperial Family, Jordanian Royal Family, and Thai Royal Family.
A few monarchies are absolute, in which case, a statement from the king of "Off with his head!" may well result in that happening, really! Most are constitutional. According to Wikipedia, "The most recent[update] country to transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy was Bhutan, in 2007-8."
Royalty's Function in Today's Society
There's no denying that despite the typically high cost of supporting a royal family — all the way down to the under-butlers, assistants to the assistant cooks, gardeners' apprentices, and the man whose puts the paste on Prince Charles' toothbrush — in many cases, there is a huge payback from related tourism. For example, required sites during one's first trip to London include the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Horse Guards on the Mall, Westminster Abbey, and The Tower of London, and if you go a little bit out of the city, Windsor Castle and, my favorite by far, Hampton Court Palace.
The head of a royal family is the country's Head of State, which in constitutional monarchies, is a non-political role. In times of crisis, this role can be most important. For example, it is impossible to think how Thailand might be today after all those military coups, if it hadn't been for the presence of the extremely popular and long-serving King Bhumibol. The Emperor of Japan has also played key roles over time especially in the ending of WWII in the Pacific. And during the bombing of London in WWII, the appearance in the streets of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth gave the people hope.
Many countries, including democracies, do not have what we Americans call—in fact demand—Separation of Church and State. The Head of State in a monarchy is often the head of that country's National Church. For example, in the UK it's the Church of England; in Denmark, the monarch is the supreme authority of the Church of Denmark, but not the head; in Norway, the monarch is High Protector of the Church of Norway; in Japan, the Emperor is the highest authority of the Shinto religion. Some constitutions prohibit a monarch or Crown Prince or Princess from marrying "outside the faith". (Count the number of Catholic Queens of England of late!)
A Head of State might also be the commander-in-chief of a country's military; Norway is one example. [For a tale of how a king should not design a naval ship, read about the King of Sweden's Vasa, a must-see if you get to Stockholm.]
If you've watched enough British TV series, you'll have seen examples of businesses that provide services to certain members of the royal family and their official residences. As such, they are entitled to announce things like, "Moat builders" or "Beheading axe makers", "By appointment to His Majesty …" Such approval requires a Royal warrants of appointment; click here to read about such for various royal families. Clearly, qualifying for such a right lends huge prestige to the supplier.
Who's the King of the Castle?
The title of a ruler varies; for example:
- Kingdom: King and Queen. The king of Persia (and Iran) was a Shah, his wife a Shahbanu. Egypt had its Pharaoh and Great Royal Wife. However, Cleopatra, who ruled in her own right, is generally called Queen.
- Empire: Emperor and Empress, although the head of the British Empire did not carry that title, per se. That said, Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. Russia has its Tsar (Czar) and Tsarina. Even though Japan is no longer an empire, it still has an emperor (sometimes referred to as a Mikado).
- Duchy: Duke and Duchess, as in Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy, so has a Grand Duke.
- Principality: Liechtenstein has a Prince, as does Monaco. The co-principality of Andorra has two co-Princes, one a Roman Catholic Bishop from Spain; the other the President of France. Arab emirates have their emir and emira. And sultanates have their sultan and sultana.
A King's wife is usually called a Queen, although the full title is sometimes Queen Consort.
A Queen who rules in her own right is a Queen Regnant. Her husband is typically called Prince Consort, although King Consort has existed. (Examples are Victoria and Elizabeth II, and their respective husbands, Albert and Phillip.)
If for whatever reason, the wife of a King isn't called Queen, she might be Princess Consort. (Since Prince Charles' marriage to Camilla, there has been lots of discussion about whether or not she could become Queen on his ascent to the British throne. As such, she might be a candidate for this title.)
Lines of Succession
Historically, and still the case in some royal families, when the head of the royal family dies or abdicates, the next in line is the oldest living son, and (typically) then down the line of daughters. This is called primogeniture. According to Wikipedia, "The United Kingdom passed legislation to establish gender-blind succession in 2013 but delayed implementation until the 15 other countries which share the same monarch effect similar changes in their succession laws."
Japan uses strict agnatic primogeniture. As the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess have only one child, a daughter, there are debates as to whether she will ever become Head of State.
Giving it All Up
Apparently, life at the top isn't all it's cracked up to be, and some rulers abdicate, either by choice or by force. In the past couple of years, a number of long-term monarchs have stepped down:
- In the Netherlands, Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander, the first Dutch king in more than 120 years. Her mother, Juliana, did likewise for her, and her grandmother, Wilhelmina, abdicated in favor of Juliana. After her abdication, Beatrix reverted to being a mere Princess.
- In Spain, King Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe VI. It seems that the former king retains the title of King.
- In Belgium, King Albert II stepped down in favor of his son Philippe. He too retains the title of King. (Albert's father, Leopold III, also abdicated.)
In the English-speaking world, probably the best known and talked about is the abdication of Edward VIII (whose names were Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David). According to Wikipedia, "In 1936, a constitutional crisis in the British Empire was caused by King-Emperor Edward VIII's proposal to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who was divorced from her first husband and was pursuing a divorce of her second." The crisis had much to do with Edward's being head of the Church of England, which, at that time, did not permit divorced people to remarry if their former spouses were still alive. On abdication, the once-King became His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor.
Norodom Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia, abdicated twice. He finally became His Majesty, The King Father.
When the head of the royal household dies or abdicates, what title does their spouse have? If the departed ruler is a woman, their spouse would not have had the title King or Emperor, for example, so they retain their existing title. In the case of departing men, their spouses need to be distinguished from the wife of any in-coming male ruler.
The best-known case in the English-speaking world is Queen Elizabeth II's mother, the former Queen Elizabeth. She simply became known as "Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother." Strictly speaking, she was a dowager Queen. The title empress dowager is equivalent. A living queen dowager is Noor, widow of Jordan's King Hussein, and an American born in Washington DC.
More than a few royals are remembered—some fondly and others not so—long after their passing. In some cases, thousands of years after. Here's a list of those that immediately came to my mind, in no particular order (a few of them might be considered rulers who were not royals, in some sense):
And last, but certain not least, there's THE King, Elvis Presley.
These rulers are joined by some equally famous ones from fiction:
More on fictional monarchs can be found here.
Odds and Ends
For a very funny take on Queen Elizabeth I, see Black Adder II. Likewise for Black Adder the Third, which revolves around the butler to the Prince of Wales, the Crown Prince of England.
If you are interested in reading about a couple of "royal" oddities, take a look at the following:
- The Channel Islands, and how the loyal toast there is to, "The Queen, our Duke"; and
- Hutt River Province, where Prince Leonard claims to rule an independent sovereign state in Australia. For more about micro nations, click here.
Having dual citizenship, I carry two passports when I travel abroad. Being born into the British Commonwealth, I am still a subject of Her Majesty. However, I never did swear any oaths to her (at least none that I can repeat here). However, when I became a US Citizen (see my essay from April 2010), I swore the following: I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen. Furthermore, should She ever grant me my well-deserved knighthood, I won't be able to use the title Sir within the US.
A few humorous notes: My son once told me that Marie Antoinette was misunderstood when she spoke of the starving peasants. Apparently, what she meant to say was, "Let them eat cake, with ice cream!" And from various sources, when told that "The peasants are revolting!" the reply was, "They certainly are!"
And in my usual, irreverent Aussie style, I recall how we kids sang a variation on our national anthem, which started like this: "God save our gracious cat, feed it on bread and fat, God save our cat." (Interestingly, the US has a popular song, "My Country 'Tis of Thee", which uses the same tune.
By the way, William the Conqueror's name was actually Guillaume. But you know how those immigration officials are! No sooner had he landed at Hastings, and they asked him his name, they said, "Thank you very much for sharing that with us, but we'll call you Bill; OK?"
Whenever I visit my dear friend Günter in his native Germany, and we sit outside in nice weather, eating and drinking, he often says, "Oh it's good to be king!" Of course, since my name, Rex, is Latin for King, I know just what he means.