Monarchy: Modern European Rejection

In Europe since the Middle Ages, there have been several republican city-states, some of them very long-lived. One of them was Venice, whose Doge (supreme leader) was elected for life by the aristocrats. The Republic of Venice lasted 1100 years, from 697 to 1797, when the Doge was forced to abdicate by Napoleon.

The oldest larger European state with a continuous republican existence is Switzerland, dating back to the founding of the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1291. However, most other ones stayed monarchies until recently. When Oliver Cromwell took over England in 1653, he made England a republic, but after his death in 1658, England’s monarchy got restored. France became a republic in its revolution of 1789-1799, but its excesses provoke a monarchical reaction, and France then alternated between monarchy and republicanism before settling down in the latter state late in the 19th cy. In that century and up to World War I, most successful European nation builders preferred monarchies: Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania. Finland almost got a monarch, but that war got in the way.

Yet republicanism had an early success, the nation formed from Britain’s rebellious North American colonies late in the 18th century. Its first President, George Washington, was a very modest leader. Not only did he have no desire to become King George I, he rejected titles fancier than “Mr. President”, and he quit at the end of his second term. Some of the Founders recognized the radical nature of their political experiment; John Adams wrote a Defence of the Constitutions, 1787, drawing on Greco-Roman, Swiss, Dutch, and recent-city-state experience.

He included “monarchical republics”, where monarchs share power with legislatures in what we more usually call “constitutional monarchies” and sometimes “crowned republics”. But in many nations, as the years went by, the legislatures took over more and more of the business of governing until many monarchs became figurehead leaders and their nations de facto republics. Queen Elizabeth II is the best-known such monarch.

But after World War I, no new European nation got a monarch, and over the years, several monarchies came to an end: Portugal, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Russia. The only restored monarch has been King Juan Carlos I of Spain, on 20 November 1975. So active monarchy is essentially gone from Europe.

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