Last week, we started our discourse on Monarchy, wherein, we discussed the history, characteristics and roles of monarchs. Today, we shall conclude our discourse on Monarchy, starting with the powers of monarchs. Please, read on.
Powers of the monarch
In an absolute monarchy, the monarch rules as an autocrat, with absolute power over the state and government. For example, there is the right to rule by decree, promulgate laws, and impose punishments.
Absolute monarchies are not necessarily authoritarian. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch’s power is subject to a Constitution. In most current constitutional monarchies, the monarch is mainly a ceremonial figurehead symbol of national unity and state continuity.
Although nominally sovereign, the electorate (through the legislature) exercises political sovereignty. Constitutional monarchs’ political power is limited. Typical monarchical powers include granting pardons, granting honours, and reserve powers, examples, to dismiss the prime minister, refuse to dissolve parliament, or veto legislation (“withhold Royal Assent”).
They often also have privileges of inviolability and sovereign immunity. A monarch’s powers and influence will depend on tradition, precedent, popular opinion, and law. Semi-constitutional monarchies exhibit fewer parliamentary powers or simply monarchs with more authority.
The term “parliamentary monarchy” may be used to differentiate from semi-constitutional monarchies.
Monarchical reign has often been linked with military authority. In the late Roman Empire, the Praetorian Guard several times deposed Roman Emperors and installed new emperors. Similarly, in the Abbasid Caliphate, the Ghilmans (slave soldiers) deposed Caliphs once they became prominent, allowing new ones to come to power.
The Hellenistic kings of Macedon and of Epirus were elected by the army, which was similar in composition to the ecclesia of democracies, the Council of all free citizens; military service was often linked with citizenship among the male members of the royal house.
The military has dominated the monarch in modern Thailand and in medieval Japan (where a hereditary military chief, the shōgun, was the de facto ruler, although the Japanese Emperor nominally reigned).
In Fascist Italy, the Savoy monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel III coexisted with the Fascist single-party rule of Benito Mussolini; Romania under the Iron Guard and Greece during the first months of the Colonels’ regime were similar. Spain under Francisco Franco was officially a monarchy, although there was no monarch on the throne.
Upon his death, Franco was succeeded as Head of State by the Bourbon heir, Juan Carlos I, and Spain became a democracy with the king as a figurehead constitutional monarch.
Personalities of monarch
Most monarchies only have a single person acting as monarch at any given time, although two monarchs have ruled simultaneously in some countries, a situation known as diarchy. Historically, this was the case in the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, 17th-century Russia, and the Empire of Austria-Hungary from 1867 till its collapse in the wake of World War I.
In a personal union, separate independent states share the same person as monarch but each realm retains separate laws and government. The 16 separate Commonwealth realms are sometimes described as being in a personal union with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch; however, they can also be described as being in a shared monarchy.
A regent may rule when the monarch is a minor, absent, or debilitated. A pretender is a claimant to an abolished throne or a throne already occupied by somebody else.
Abdication is the act of formally giving up one’s monarchical power and status. Monarchs may mark the ceremonial beginning of their reigns with a coronation or enthronement.
Role of monarch
Monarchy, especially absolute monarchy, is sometimes linked to religious aspects; many monarchs once claimed the right to rule by the will of a deity (Divine Right of Kings, Mandate of Heaven), or a special connection to a deity (sacred king), or even purported to be divine kings, or incarnations of deities themselves (imperial cult).
Many European monarchs have been styled Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith); some hold official positions relating to the state religion or established church. In the Western political tradition, a morally based, balanced monarchy was stressed as the ideal form of government, and little attention was paid to modern-day ideals of egalitarian democracy.
The monarch would also be subject to both natural and divine law, and to the Church in matters of religion. In Dante Alighieri’s De Monarchia, a spiritualised, imperial Catholic monarchy is strongly promoted according to a Ghibelline world-view in which the “royal religion of Melchizedek” is emphasised against the priestly claims of the rival papal ideology. In Saudi Arabia, the king is the Head of State, who is both the absolute monarch of the country and the custodian of the two Holy Mosques of Islam.
Functions of monarchies
A monarchy consists of distinct but interdependent institutions- a government and a state administration on the one hand, and a court and a variety of ceremonies on the other that provide for the social life of the members of the dynasty, their friends, and the associated elite. Monarchy thus entails not only a political- administrative organization but also a “court society”, a term coined by the 20th Century German-born sociologist, Norbert Elias to designate various groups of nobility that are linked to the monarchical dynasty (or “royal” house) through a web of personal bonds.
All such bonds are evident in symbolic and ceremonial proprieties. During a given society’s history, there are certain changes and processes that create conditions conducive to the rise of monarchy. Warfare was the main means of acquiring fertile land and trade routes.
Some of the most prominent monarchs in the ancient world made their initial mark as warrior-leaders. Thus, the military accomplishments of Octavian (later Augustus) led to his position as emperor and to the institution of monarchy in the Roman Empire. Infrastructural programs and statebuilding also contributed to the development of monarchies.
The need, common in arid cultures, to allocate fertile land and manage a regime of fresh water distribution (what the German American historian Karl Wittfogel called hydraulic civilization) accounted for the founding of the ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Babylonian monarchies on the banks of rivers.
The monarchs also had to prove themselves as state-builders. Monarchy also results from the wish of a society be it a city population, tribe, or multi-tribal “people” to groom an indigenous leader who will properly represent its historical achievements and advance its interests.
Monarchy, therefore, rests on the cultural identity and symbolism of the society it represents, and in so doing, it reifies that identity within the society while also projecting it to outsiders.
Perhaps most importantly, successful and popular monarchs were believed to have a sacred right to rule: some were regarded as gods (as in the case of the Egyptian pharaohs or the Japanese monarchs), some were crowned by priests, others were designated by prophets (King David of Israel), and still others were theocrats, leading both the religious and political spheres of their society—as did the caliphs of the Islamic state from the 7th Century. Coming from these varying backgrounds, leaders first rose to power on the grounds of their abilities and charisma.
Accordingly, monarchies proved capable of adapting to various social structures while also enduring dynamic cultural and geopolitical conditions. Thus, some ancient monarchies evolved as small city-states while others became large Empires, the Roman Empire being the most conspicuous example.
In some cases, monarchs are dependent on other powers (see vassals, suzerainty, puppet state, hegemony). In the British colonial era, indirect rule under a paramount power existed, such as the princely states under the British Raj.
In Botswana, South Africa, Ghana and Uganda, the ancient kingdoms and chiefdoms that were met by the colonialists when they first arrived on the continent are now constitutionally protected as regional or sectional entities. Territorial monarch Monarchies pre-date polities like nation states and even territorial states.
A nation or constitution is not necessary in a monarchy since a person, the monarch, binds the separate territories and political legitimacy (e.g. in personal union) together. Monarchies though have applied state symbols like insignia or abstracts like the concept of the Crown to create a state identity, which is to be carried and occupied by the monarch but represents the monarchy even in absence and succession of the monarch.
In a hereditary monarchy, the position of monarch is inherited according to a statutory or customary order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin through a historical dynasty or bloodline.
This usually means that the heir to the throne is known well in advance of becoming monarch to ensure a smooth succession. Primogeniture, in which the eldest child of the monarch is first in line to become monarch, is the most common system in hereditary monarchy.
The order of succession is usually affected by rules on gender.
In an elective monarchy, monarchs are elected or appointed by somebody (an electoral college) for life or a defined period but then, reign like any other monarch.
There is no popular vote involved in elective monarchies, as the elective body usually consists of a small number of eligible people. Historical examples of elective monarchy are the Holy Roman Emperors (chosen by prince-electors but often coming from the same dynasty) and the free election of kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
For example, Pepin the Short (father of Charlemagne) was elected King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish leading men; nobleman Stanisław August Poniatowski of Poland was an elected king, as was Frederick I of Denmark. Germanic peoples also had elective monarchies.
Thought for the week
“When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.” (Montesquieu).
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