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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.
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.
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.
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.
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire is perhaps the best-known example of an elective monarchy. However, from 1453 to 1740, a Habsburg was always elected emperor, becoming unofficially hereditary. During that period, 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.
Kingdom of Jerusalem
In the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, the kingship was partially elected and partially hereditary. During the height of the kingdom in the mid-12th century there was a royal family and a relatively clear line of succession. Nevertheless, the king was elected, or at least recognized, by the Haute Cour. Here the king was considered a primus inter pares (first among equals), and in his absence his duties were performed by his seneschal.
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.
The Scandinavian kingdoms were united under the Danish crown by Margaret I of Denmark in 1389, but many of her successors had the united kingdoms split up as Sweden elected a different king than Denmark and Norway upon succession. The election was usually contested through a Danish invasion of Sweden until Christian II of Denmark after his reconquest of Sweden had all those voting against him executed in the Stockholm Bloodbath (1520), which ended all support for the Danish king on the Swedish throne.
In 1810, the Swedish Riksdag elected the French Marshall Jean Bernadotte to be the new Crown Prince, since it was apparent that the Swedish branch of the House of Holstein-Gottorp would die with the childless King Charles XIII. Bernadotte eventually ascended the throne as Charles XIV John of Sweden and founded the still current House of Bernadotte. In this case the elective aspect in the choice of Monarch was especially prominent, since Bernadotte was a French commoner with no previous connection to Sweden and not the most remote of Dynastic claims to the Swedish throne - his being chosen derived solely from urgent political and military considerations of the crisis time of the Napoleonic Wars.
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).
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.
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."
Second French Empire
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected President of the French Second Republic in 1848 and then organized a coup d'état in 1851 and took the throne as Napoleon III, the Emperor. Since he was well known to be the nephew and heir of Napoleon I, voters were well aware all along that they might be electing an Emperor rather than a President.
A system of elective monarchy existed in Anglo-Saxon England (see Witenagemot), Visigothic Hispania, 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.
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. This practice has continued to the present day.
Asia and Oceania
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 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 sixth 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.
The Kingdom of Hawaii was a constitutional elective monarchy until its overthrow.
In the United Arab Emirates, the hereditary emirs of the emirates elects one of themselves as president of the federation.
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. 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.
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 from among 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:
- John of England, chosen by a council of nobles and royal advisors at the death of his brother, Richard I because the heir by strict primogeniture, Arthur of Brittany, was a child at that time.
- Henry IV of England, chosen by Parliament to replace Richard II. Richard was childless, and the Earl of March, the next in line to the throne, was a young child at the time, so Parliament bypassed him in favour of Henry, who had led the revolt against Richard.
- Michael of Russia, chosen by a Zemsky Sobor (national assembly) after the extinction of the Rurikid dynasty and the end of the Time of Troubles. The resulting Romanov dynasty was an old boyar house with the close ties to the former royalty, and Michael's father, Feodor Romanov, was at the time a Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia under the monastic name of Filaret, in effect holding a position of interrex. Later, Patriarch Filaret, a skilled politician in his own right, became effectively a co-ruler and sometimes a regent for his weak and not very healthy son.
- William III and Mary II of England, chosen by Parliament to replace James II. While Mary was James' daughter, and William and Mary were succeeded by Mary's younger sister Anne, the male descendants of James II were explicitly bypassed in the orders of succession of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
- John I, then Master of the Order of Aviz, was elected by the Council of the Kingdom King of Portugal on 6 April 1385 in the aftermath of 1383–1385 Crisis, his half-brother Ferdinand I had died without a male heir in October 1383, strenuous efforts were made to secure the throne for Princess Beatrice, Ferdinand's only daughter and Queen consort of Castile and León or her uncles Infante John, Duke of Valencia de Campos and Infante Denis, Lord of Cifuentes, but the Council elected the younger and yet illegitimate son of Peter I.
- Louis-Philippe of France, elected King during the July Revolution.
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 ruling chiefs themselves are elected by the chieftain. Male candidates are determined based on matrilineal clan. 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 Negara of 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 and the associated Vatican City State, where the Pope is elected in a conclave by the College of Cardinals, generally from among their number.
- Samoa was established as an elective monarchy upon its independence in 1962. The Constitution of Samoa stipulates successors to the two original heads of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II and Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole, who were one of the four paramount chiefs (Tama-a-Aiga), are to be elected for five-year terms by the Fono, the Samoan parliament. 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, although 47 out of the 49 seats in the Fono are reserved for matai, or chiefs (the other two are reserved for non-Samoans). Thus Samoa could possibly be considered a parliamentary republic; however, the head of state is still referred to as "His Highness", nor does the Constitution expressly declare that the form of government has been changed. The incumbent, Tufuga Efi, is also one of the four paramount chiefs and the son of Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole.
- 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.
- Nigerian traditional rulers (or "royal fathers", e.g., the Obas, Ezes and Emirs) are usually chosen by a council of kingmakers.
- 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. 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. Likewise, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE is a position held by the emir of Dubai
- 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.
- Wallis and Futuna (territories of the French Republic) have traditional heads of the three regions who are elected.
In popular culture
- The governmental system on the planet of 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.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire the Iron Islands, which is based on Viking culture, used to have Kings determined by a Kingsmoot of the Captains, though this practice ended thousands of years before the series begins. When Aegon the Conqueror conquered the Iron Islands he allowed them to elect their ruler, having wiped out the previous ruling House. In A Feast for Crows, on Balon Greyjoy's death his brother the Priest Aeron "Damphair" calls a kingsmoot to prevent another of Balon's brothers, Euron "Crow's Eye", from taking control of the Iron Islands. However Euron is able to win the support of the Ironborn and is crowned King.
- Earlier in the history of ASOIAF, there have been cases of Great Councils to decide succession over rule of the Seven Kingdoms. About 65 years before the series began, a Great Council was called on the death of Maekar I to decide succession. His oldest son's daughter was passed over, and his second son's son Maegor was too young to rule and was feared to have inherited his father's madness. The Council eventually elected Maekar's youngest son, who became Aegon V.
- "The Emperor: Qualifications". The Holy Roman Empire. Heraldica.
- Holland, James (2003). Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940–1943. Miramax Books. ISBN 1-4013-5186-7.
- Hamilton, Alexander (1962). The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 9. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08903-1.
- Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa
- Official website of the head of state of Samoa
- "The Allegiance Institution Law". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, DC. 20 October 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
- Worsøe, Hans H. "Official Denmark - The Royal House". The Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
- "The Noble Republic, 1572-1795". Poland - The Historical Setting. Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
- Jędruch, Jacek (1998). Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 1493-1993. EJJ Books. ISBN 0-7818-0637-2. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
- "Norway's elective monarchy". The New York Times. November 16, 1905. Retrieved 2008-01-03.