Elective monarchy

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An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by an elected monarch, in contrast to a hereditary monarchy in which the office is automatically passed down as a family inheritance. The manner of election, the nature of candidate qualifications, and the electors vary from case to case. Historically it is not uncommon for elective monarchies to transform into hereditary ones over time, or for hereditary ones to acquire at least occasional elective aspects.

Evolution[edit]

Many, if not most, kingdoms were officially elective historically, though the candidates were typically only from the family of the deceased monarch. Eventually, however, most elected monarchies introduced hereditary succession, guaranteeing that the title and office stayed within the royal family and specifying, more or less precisely, the order of succession.

Today, almost all monarchies are hereditary monarchies in which the monarchs come from one royal family with the office of sovereign being passed from one family member to another upon the death or abdication of the incumbent.

Historical examples[edit]

Europe[edit]

Macedon[edit]

The 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 often was linked with citizenship among the male members of the royal house.

Rome[edit]

In the ancient Kingdom of Rome, the kings were elected by the Assemblies. Once the Roman kings were overthrown, there remained an absolute prohibition for royal establishment in the Roman constitution, a prohibition which formally remained in place during imperial times, both Roman and Byzantine, although in practice the empire was an absolute monarchy. Therefore the office of Roman and Byzantine emperor remained vaguely elective (albeit with the election procedure never strictly defined, but generally understood to be a matter for the Senate) and heredity never was, and could never be, formally established in law. In order to bypass this prohibition and ensure dynastic continuity, many reigning Byzantine emperors had their heirs crowned co-emperor so that the throne could not be considered vacant at their own death and thus the need for succession by election would not arise.

Serbia[edit]

In medieval Serbia a strong level of collective parliamentarism was being evolved, which elected the Prince. The rulers often in respect to tradition remained a member of the dynasty, even more so with the recognition as a Kingdom in 1077 and the title's restoration after loss in 1217 which strengthened the Monarch's authority, however they were elected all the way until even the Imperial period. It was only in the Byzantine-modelled later Serbian Despotate that the monarchy was de facto transferred into a hereditary monarchy.

Holy Roman Empire[edit]

The Holy Roman Empire is perhaps the best-known example of an elective monarchy (although it eventually became unofficially hereditary);[1] after the 15th century, the emperor was elected from within the House of Habsburg by a small council of nobles called prince-electors. The secular electoral seats were hereditary. However, spiritual electors (and other prince-(arch)bishops) were usually elected by the cathedral chapters as religious leaders, but simultaneously ruled as monarch (prince) of a territory of imperial immediacy (which usually comprised a part of their diocesan territory). Thus the prince-bishoprics were elective monarchies too. The same holds true for prince-abbeys, whose prince-abbesses or prince-abbots were elected by a college of clerics and imperially appointed as princely rulers in a pertaining territory.

Scandinavia[edit]

Originally, the Kings of Sweden were elected by all free men at the Mora Thing. Elective monarchy continued until 1544, when the Riksdag of the Estates designated the heirs of King Gustav Vasa as the heirs to the throne. The Danish monarchy was also officially elective, although the eldest son of the reigning monarch was usually elected. This continued until 1660, when a hereditary and absolute monarchy was instituted by Frederick III. Though the monarchy of Norway was originally hereditary, it too became elective in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Candidates had to be of royal blood, but the kingship was elected by a council of noblemen, rather than automatically passing to the eldest son. In 1905 Prince Carl was elected King of Norway, after the male population in an election decided Norway should still be a monarchy.

Poland-Lithuania[edit]

The Republic at the Zenith of Its Power. Golden Liberty. The Royal Election of 1573, by Jan Matejko

In Poland, after the death of the last Piast in 1370, Polish kings were initially elected by a small council; gradually, this privilege was granted to all members of the szlachta (Polish nobility). Kings of Poland and Grand Princes of Lithuania during the times of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795) were elected by gatherings of crowds of nobles at a field in Wola, today a neighbourhood of Warsaw. Since in Poland all sons of a noble were nobles, and not only the eldest, every one of an estimated 500,000 nobles could potentially have participated in such elections in person - by far the widest franchise of any European country at the time. During the election period, the function of the king was performed by an interrex (usually in the person of the primate of Poland). This unique Polish election was termed the free election (wolna elekcja).

Venice[edit]

The Republic of Venice employed an elaborate system whereby a Great Council, consisting of over 2000 Venetian aristocrats, elected a head of government, known as a doge, who served for life. The Republic was therefore controlled by the city's wealthy noble elite. The title doge derives from the Latin dux and corresponds to the English word duke.

Malta[edit]

In 1800, leaders in Malta drafted a Declaration of Rights which was presented to the British Admiral Sir Alexander Ball, stating that they agreed to come "under the protection and sovereignty of the King of the free people, His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" - regarding the rule of the British King preferable to that of Napoleon's France and of the Knights of Malta, the two other choices available to them at the time. The Declaration further stated that "his Majesty has no right to cede these Islands to any power...if he chooses to withdraw his protection, and abandon his sovereignty, the right of electing another sovereign, or of the governing of these Islands, belongs to us, the inhabitants and aborigines alone, and without control."[2]

Macedonia[edit]

A short-lived autonomous state during World War II, the Principality of Pindus and Voivodship of Macedonia, also was an elective monarchy.

Other examples[edit]

A system of elective monarchy existed in Anglo-Saxon England (see Witenagemot), Visigothic Spain, and medieval Scandinavia and in the Principality of Transylvania. Medieval France was an elective monarchy at the time of the first Capetian kings; the kings however took the habit of, during their reign, having their son elected as successor. The election soon became a mere formality and vanished after the reign of Philip II of France.

At the start of the 20th century, the first monarchs of several newly independent nations were elected by parliaments: Norway is the prime example. Previously, following precedent set in newly independent Greece, new nations without a well-established hereditary royal family often chose their own monarchs from among the established royal families of Europe, rather than elevate a member of the local power establishment, in the hope that a stable hereditary monarchy would eventually emerge from the process. The first king of Belgium, as well as the now-deposed royal families of Greece, Bulgaria, Albania (unsuccessfully) and Romania, were originally appointed in this manner.

Africa[edit]

In Africa, the Mali Empire functioned as both a constitutional and elective monarchy. The mansa, or emperor, had to be approved by the Great Assembly known as the Gbara, despite hereditary claims. The Kingdom of Kongo was a purer example of an elective monarchy, where blood claims had even less pull. Nobles elected a king's successor, and it was common for the successor to be of a different family as his predecessor. This form of elective monarchy existed in the kingdom from its inception in around 1400 until its complete disintegration in the early 20th century. In the pre-colonial period, a number of West African rulers, such as the kings and chieftains of the Yoruba people, were elected from amongst the various royal families of their polities by colleges of noblemen known as kingmakers.

Asia and Oceania[edit]

The ancient Korean kingdom of Silla elected its first king by a conference of tribal and village elders in 57 BC; later, the monarchy of Silla became hereditary in nature.

In the Mongol Empire, the Great Khan was chosen by the Kurultai.

In the Islamic World the Caliphs, successors to Muhammad, were originally elected by consensus of the community. The first four Caliphs were elected in this fashion as Sunni Muslims believed Muhammad had originally intended before Muawiyah, the fifth caliph, turned the Caliphate into what is known as the Umayyad Dynasty, a hereditary monarchy. In Sunni Islam, the first four elected caliphs were remembered as the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. They were elected by a process known as Shura.

Other monarchs, such as the former Shah of Iran, have been required to undergo a parliamentary vote of approval before being allowed to ascend to the throne.

In 1858, the central tribes of North Island elected Potatau te Wherowhero as their monarch. The Tainui tribal elders have continued this tradition and the New Zealand Maori Kingitanga movement alive to the present.

In the United Arab Emirates, the hereditary emirs of the emirates elects one of themselves as president of the federation.

The Americas[edit]

An attempt to create an elective monarchy in the United States failed. Alexander Hamilton argued in a long speech before the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that the President of the United States should be an elective monarch, ruling for "good behavior" (i.e., for life, unless impeached) and with extensive powers. Hamilton believed that elective monarchs had sufficient power domestically to resist foreign corruption, yet there was enough domestic control over their behavior to prevent tyranny at home.[3] His proposal was resoundingly voted down in favor of a four-year term with the possibility of reelection. In his later defense of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, he often hints that a lifetime executive might be better, even as he praises the system with the four-year term.

The Empire of Haiti, established in 1804, was also elective.[citation needed]

Election[edit]

In a hereditary monarchy, election may occasionally be used to fill a vacant throne. For example, the royal family may become extinct; depending on how precisely the succession to the throne is defined in law, several candidates with equally, or almost equally, strong claims could emerge, with an election being held to choose between them. This differs from a formally elective monarchy in that it is an extraordinary measure, and with the new monarch the succession again becomes hereditary.

Alternatively, the monarch may be deposed, as in a revolution. While sometimes a monarch may be forced to abdicate in favour of his or her heir, on other occasions the royal family as a whole has been rejected, the throne going to an elected candidate. Examples include:

Current uses[edit]

Currently, the world's only true elective monarchies are:

  • Malaysia, where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Supreme Head of State) is elected to a five-year term. Nine hereditary rulers from the Malay States form a Council of Rulers who will determine the next Agong via a secret ballot. The position has to date been de facto rotated amongst the State rulers, originally based on seniority.
    • Additionally, the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan is itself an elective monarchy, where the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan is selected by a council of ruling chiefs. The system was partially the basis for the federal monarchy.
    • The Sultan of Perak is selected from amongst the most senior male princes descending from the 18th Sultan of Perak, Sultan Ahmadin. The Sultan, Raja Muda (Crown Prince), and Raja Di-Hilir (Deputy Crown Prince) are selected by the Dewan Undangan Negeri Perak. A son of the reigning Sultan cannot become Raja Muda if there is a more senior prince descendent from the previous Sultan; this is possible should the senior prince relinquish his right to become Raja Muda.
  • Cambodia, where the king is chosen for a life term by The Royal Council of the Throne from candidates of royal blood.
  • The Holy See, where the Pope is elected in a conclave by the College of Cardinals, generally from among their number.

Similar forms[edit]

  • Andorra could be considered a semi-elective principality. Andorra's two heads of state are Spain's Bishop of La Seu d'Urgell and, since 1589, the king of France. As the French monarchy has long since been eliminated, the position of co-prince of Andorra falls to the democratically elected President of France. However, the Andorran authorities or people have no say in the election of the President of France, leaving Andorra in the unique position of having a monarch who is democratically elected by the citizenry of another state.
  • Swaziland has a form of quasi-elective monarchy. In Swaziland, no king can appoint his successor. Instead, the royal family decides which of his wives shall be "Great wife" and "Indovukazi" (She-Elephant / Queen Mother). The son of this "Great Wife" will automatically become the next king. The eldest son is never appointed successor as he has other ceremonial roles.
  • Saudi Arabia's throne, while hereditary, is not determined by a succession law but rather by consensus of the House of Saud as to who will be Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; consensus may change depending on the Crown Prince's actions. Since 2007, the process of establishing the consensus of the House has been institutionalized in the form of the Allegiance Council, comprising the most powerful senior princes, which has the power to disapprove the King's nominee for Crown Prince and substitute its own by simple majority vote.[4] In effect, this makes the Saudi monarchy elective within the House of Saud, as the king's eldest son has not become Crown Prince since the death of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1953.
  • United Arab Emirates has a president. This is a de facto hereditary position belonging to the Emir of Abu Dhabi. Thus, although elected by the Supreme Council, the president is essentially hereditary - the emir of Abu Dhabi holds the position.
  • The Maori King Movement in New Zealand chooses a Maori monarch, elected by the kaumatua of various New Zealand iwi (tribes). However, every Maori monarch to date had been succeeded by a son or daughter, making the position hereditary in effect.
  • Samoa was an elective monarchy from the first day of independence in 1962. The Samoan Constitution stipulates the successor to the two original heads of state are to be elected for five-year terms by the Fono, the parliament of Samoa and articles 18 and 45 of the Constitution provide, respectively, that any Member of Parliament may be elected head of state, and that any Samoan citizen may be elected to Parliament.[5] Samoa is now considered a parliamentary republic however, the head of state is still referred to as "His Highness",[6] and the Constitution does not outwardly declare that the form of government has been changed.

In popular culture[edit]

The governmental system on the planet Naboo in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I and II) is that of an elective monarchy, with candidates chosen from an early age at a special school, and with different rulers (kings and queens) like that of a standard democratic parliamentary or congressional system.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Emperor: Qualifications". The Holy Roman Empire. Heraldica. 
  2. ^ Holland, James (2003). Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940–1943. Miramax Books. ISBN 1-4013-5186-7. 
  3. ^ Hamilton, Alexander (1962). The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 9. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08903-1. 
  4. ^ "The Allegiance Institution Law". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, DC. 20 October 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa
  6. ^ Official website of the head of state of Samoa

External links[edit]