Month: December 2020

Malaysia Royalty

Abdullah of Pahang, King of Malaysia

Malaysia has an extraordinary approach to monarchy, and Abdullah of Pahang is an extraordinary monarch ruling in extraordinary times. A series of political crises have rocked the south-east Asian country throughout 2020 against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has expounded the island nation’s hardships, forcing the king to take up a role that monarchs have not occupied for decades. But first, what is it that makes Malaysian monarchy so unique?

For starters, Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world to have an elective monarchy, in which the royal leaders are elected, rather than born into their power. In Malaysia that king is elected from amongst the nine Sultans, or rulers, of the Malay states on what is essentially a rotating 5-year basis. The king rules for half a decade before abdicating and ceding power to the next in line. Abdullah of Pahang was elected as king just days after his father’s abdication made him the ruler of Pahang. The monarchy has been a largely ceremonial role for the past few decades, but a string of national crises has forced Abdullah of Pahang to fill a power vacuum and take on a role that is unprecedented in the country’s modern history, highlighting the importance of having a monarchy in times of crises.

One coalition government ruled Malaysia for six decades, until the 2018 election when a new ruling party took its place. Two years after the election, the government collapsed and Abdullah of Pahang had to step in to decide upon a new Prime Minister, who has since held a tenuous position in parliament without a clear mandate but with a whole host of political figures looking to seize the opportunity to grab power. 2020’s coronavirus pandemic has compounded matters and elevated the king to a position in which he has emerged into the foreground of politics, having to throw his weight behind important policy matters such as the budget and pandemic response plans, so as to ensure that they get through the fractured parliament. However, he has not been one-sided, as he also firmly denied the Prime Minister the ability to declare a state of emergency under the pretence of the pandemic, but using it as a guise to pass a bill without it being put to parliamentary vote. Throughout the ordeal the King has repeatedly called for unity and for politicians to put the people before politics, something that many much larger countries have been unable to do.

 It is easy to forget the important role that monarchies play in times of crises, and Abdullah of Pahang symbolises the good that can come of retaining a regal figure within a country’s constitution. Politics has a habit of descending into chaos every now and then, but having a steady guiding hand of a good leader that can help to guide a country through its turmoil is invaluable when they put the good of the nation and its people first.

Princess Marie-Chantal

Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Thani and other contemporary royals rejecting the status quo

While most news outlets these days are dominated by reports of the more prominent royal family members internationally, there exists a growing number of contemporary regal relatives who are carving out non-traditional pathways to success. Amongst these modern monarchs are several influential athletes, like Qatari racing royal Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Thani; leading fashion designers, including Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece; and even hilarious comedians, just like Anglo-Turkish Naz Osmanoglu. Despite undertaking unconventional pursuits and vocations, these royals have established an influence beyond that of the crown in their respective fields. Although it is easy to showcase elements of ruling monarchs, these young royals clearly embody a modern-day attitude that demands to be paid attention too.

Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Thani

Since many of these young royals are not in direct succession to their respective thrones, they are able to incorporate certain elements of normalcy into their daily lives. In fact, many can pursue hobbies and vocations that everyday people also share. For example, Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Thani has turned his passion for racing and high-speed risks into a very influential vocation as the president of Qatar’s racing team. Alongside him, royals such as Jeremy Lascelles, the British music executive, and Princess Marie-Chantal have used their hobbies to fuel more creative pursuits and establish culturally significant legacies. These everyday recreations have helped forge a new and contemporary approach to monarchy in current society.

Central to the success of these contemporary royals has been their courage to trade or combine tradition with innovative and novel ways of life. A concept which has genuinely established a more current and relevant thread throughout the tapestry of age-old monarchs. Truly following their zest for life, royals such as Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Thani and Naz Osmanoglu demonstrate a more relatable variety of royals in the public eye. Rather than falling out of touch with the people that they lead, royals that can exhibit such relatability will resonate more soundly with the goals and ambitions of their nation’s people. Princess Marie-Chantal, for instance, represents a common struggle to have business and creative ambitions recognised with her clothing brand for children. It is through undergoing these ordinary experiences that today’s monarchy can become more relevant.

Thanks to these kinds of royals, we can see a shift in the fabric of the rigidity of traditional regal duties and attitudes. Truthfully, it is through Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al Thani, Naz Osmanoglu, and Jeremy Lascelles that our notions of monarchy can be redefined. We can now immerse ourselves in the compelling narratives of monarchs that reflect our own lives and interests. So, make it a point to indulge in these fresh, regal, and eye-opening perspectives to gain a greater insight into the relevance of a diverse 21st century monarchy.

Bhutan Royal Palace

Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan

Bhutan is a tiny, mountainous country on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, bordering India to the south, east, and west, and Chinese Tibet to the north. Its latest census found it to have a population of just 672,425 people, but it is nevertheless home to one of the most intriguing royals of modern times, the Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Prior to his coronation, Jigme had, like so many royals from around the world, been schooled abroad, first in the United States of America and then the United Kingdom, where he studied Foreign Service and International Relations at the University of Oxford until 1998. Following his return to Bhutan he began engaging with more royal duties, including making a speech to the United Nations in 2002, accompanying his father, the king, on tours of the country, and attending the ceremonies celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Thai King along with royals from 25 other countries.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

In late 2005 the King announced his intent to abdicate in favour of his son, and in 2008 Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was officially crowned Druk Gyalpo, which literally translates to ‘Dragon King’. His coronation coincided with the centennial celebrations of Bhutan’s monarchy, when the country was united under a single crown following a series of civil wars between feuding valleys and skirmishes with the East India Tea Company, who, as the British Empire’s power on the Indian subcontinent, upheld a tenuous and often violent peace with the Himalayan nation over the course of a hundred years. However, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s ascension to the throne marked a pivotal moment in the country’s history, with one of the first orders of business for the new king was presiding over something extraordinary; the transition of Bhutan from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

In contrast to an absolute monarchy in which the reigning king or queen’s authority is absolute, a constitutional monarchy means that they have limited powers, usually in deference to a democratically elected parliament or national assembly. Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s ascension to the throne pronounced the democratisation of Bhutan’s society, and a series of land reforms that aimed to modernise the nation, providing its sparce population with better access to state land, basic amnesties, and agricultural support. It’s said that the King is heavily involved with the Bhutanese custom of Kidu, a tradition in which the monarch has a sacred duty to deal for their people, and as such travels around the country to consult his people on changes they think would benefit their lives. He is also reported to personally oversee rebuilding efforts when disaster has struck the country, showing a personal relation to his people that is rare in monarchs around the world.

Royalty in UK

Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret was a singular and revolutionary royal, whose uncensored, rebellious, and often tragic life provided a sharp contrast to that of her more guarded sister, Queen Elizabeth II. The subject of immense media scrutiny, she was one of the first royals to be the target of the sort of salacious tabloid meddling that so many of her modern kin must abide by. Nonetheless, a lively-spirited and unapologetic woman through-and-through, she forged a legacy that changed British royalty forever.

The most commonly acknowledged thing about Princess Margaret was her devil-may-care lifestyle. Reportedly her mornings would consist of reading the newspapers in bed whilst chain smoking and taking an hour-long bath, before presenting herself downstairs just after noon for a ‘vodka pick-me-up’ and a four-course lunch with her mother. She was renowned for her parties, and commonly acknowledged to have broken through perceived class boundaries by fraternizing with show business celebrities and the bohemian sub-culture of the 60’s and 70’s, all whilst maintaining an incredibly close relationship with her sister, the Queen of England.

No royal exploits drew quite as much media attention as Princess Margaret’s turbulent love life, a series of relationships that categorically changed the British public’s attitudes towards divorce, particularly in terms of the royal family. Her famed relationship with divorcee RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend was the subject of rigorous debate, culminating in an incredibly difficult decision for the Princess and a huge blow to the reputation of the Church of England. The church was sternly opposed to the remarriage of a divorcee whilst their previous spouse was still alive, and Princess Margaret was told that parliament would only allow her to marry Townsend if she revoked her place in the succession and everything that came with it, which she was not willing to do. This proved to be a tremendous scandal for the royal family, with public opinion overwhelmingly supporting Margaret. It is widely cited as the reason that royal attitudes towards marriage have softened, but also as a watershed moment for the nation’s attitudes towards divorce.

She married a photographer named Anthony Armstrong-Jones five years later, the first royal wedding to be broadcast on British television and host to over 2,000 distinguished guests. It was through this marriage that the Princess found a gateway into more bohemian circles, but after 18 years and two children together, the couple divorced. Again, this was subject to a huge amount of negative media attention, but is said to have paved the way for acceptance of royal divorce, something that three of the Queen’s four children have taken advantage of, including the heir to the throne. Regardless of scandal, Princess Margaret was an important figure in humanising the British monarchy, helping to bring it more seamlessly into modernity, and despite her rather difficult life she remains one of the most well-loved royals in modern history.

Vatican City

Pope Francis

Perhaps the world’s most intriguing and complex royalty resides in the planet’s smallest nation: the Vatican City, over which Pope Francis reigns as absolute monarch. The Vatican actually presided over most of the Italian peninsula for almost 1,000 years as the Papal State, until almost all of its land including Rome was conquered by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Neither side wanted to spark a holy war, so over the course of six decades, five Popes were confined to life within St Peter’s and the Papal residency, refusing to acknowledge the nation of Italy as a legitimate country. That was until Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty in 1929, which, in exchange for recognising Italy as a legitimate nation and absolute neutrality in matters of politics and warfare, officially gave the land of Vatican Hill to the Holy See.

The Holy See (which is also a legally registered corporate entity but let’s keep this simple) actually refers to the throne and jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. So, as ruler of the nation of Vatican City, the elected Pope is also the King of the world’s only democratic absolute theocratic monarchy. The Vatican has everything that an ordinary nation would require, its own bank and currency, police force and jails, stamps, and car license plates, all within an area that can be circumnavigated by foot in about forty minutes. It also has its own citizens, albeit only around 500 that are all male thanks to the rules of the Catholic church. This means that citizens are anointed by the King, the Pope, whilst they are in the service of the Vatican, rather than relying upon the more traditional method of procreation as a means of transferring citizenship.

Pope Francis

The current ruler of the Vatican City is Pope Francis, the first monarch to hail from the Americas or the Southern Hemisphere, and even the first from outside of Europe to sit upon the throne of the Holy See since the 8th century. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he took his Papal name from Saint Francis of Assisi, who has come to be associated with patronage of animals and the natural world, much in keeping with the Pope’s focus during his reign. He is a fierce advocate for action on climate change and has been a vocal critic of high-capitalism, consumerism, and overdevelopment. A former bouncer, caretaker, and chemist in a food laboratory, he is known for his relaxed approach to the Papacy, his humility, and as a fairly revolutionary figure in the church’s history, advocating for LGBT rights and relaxing the strict Catholic rules to bring them more in line with the realities of the modern world. He even released a prog-rock album in 2015 that received fairly good reviews.

Tonga Royal Palace

King Tupou VI of Tonga

King Tupou VI of Tonga helms one of the world’s earliest monarchies in the world. Despite ascending to the role relatively recently, King Tupou has had a great influence on elevating Tonga’s voice internationally on important issues such as marine conservation and climate change. Recognised as a unique nation in the Pacific, Tonga maintains a distinct and noteworthy hold over its monarchical government despite the threat of contemporary pressures.

Born on July 12, 1959, King Tupou’s ascension to the throne was precipitated by the death of his older brother King George Tupou V in 2012. Carrying the legacy of many majestic Tongan rulers, King Tupou VI took over from his late brother, as there were no other legitimate heirs to carry on the line of direct succession. The record of Tonga’s kingdom dates to as early as 900AD, although the shape and composition of this royal authority was split over several tribes among the islands of Tonga. It was not until 1845, that the first King George Tupou united all the Tongan islands and declared the island nation a constitutional monarchy. Crucially, this action allowed the Tongan kingdom to adopt western styles of royal command and titles.

King Tupou

In contemporary times, the role of the monarchy in Tonga has been resolved to a more ceremonial position. King Tupou VI has the power to promulgate laws, appoint the prime minister and dissolve parliament; an authority that the King has had to exercise recently due to unrest among the Tongan people in relation to the government’s performance. While King Tupou VI had not anticipated taking over from his late brother, he had developed the necessary knowledge and expertise to handle such a position prior to taking up official duties. His early education was conducted in the United Kingdom, where he attended the University of East Anglia. Later, King Tupou VI joined the naval arm of the Tonga Defence Force, where he earned the ranks of Lieutenant-Commander.

Among one of King Tupou VI’s most important duties is his representation of Tonga’s interests abroad. Significantly, to the ongoing welfare of Tongan people, this has been demonstrated through international engagement made regarding climate change, in particular rising sea levels. King Tupou VI has been a massive proponent in gaining awareness and support for this complex issue. He has met with many foreign dignitaries from across the Australasian, Asian and European regions to promote vital sustainability goals to ensure that these particular climate change concerns do not become a reality for the island nation of Tonga.

The institution of monarchy in Tonga is a revered and honoured establishment. King Tupou VI continues to serve his people admirably, as many of his ancestors have done before him. While Tonga faces increasing challenges from the onset of climate change, and conflicts in their democratic framework, the monarchy of Tonga remains an important source of continuity for the country.

Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg

The world’s only remaining sovereign grand duchy presides in the small European nation of Luxembourg. Although small in land size, this country’s influence on the global scale has seen it rise to become one of the key actors in the administration of European justice and finance. Embodying all of this significant international authority, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg bears the ultimate responsibility of reigning over this beautiful, picturesque country.

Born on April 16, 1955 at Betzdorf Castle in Luxembourg, Grand Duke Henri ascended to the throne officially in late 2000. His reign was precluded by education from the University of Geneva and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Rarely seen, the European nation of Luxembourg still falls within the domain of a grand duchy. This form of monarchy was used as the official denotation for European countries that were smaller than most other continental kingdoms, although larger than other sovereign duchies in the time of the Holy Roman Empire. All of the previous grand duchies of Europe have now been absolved and united with greater realms. Hence, in the 21st century only Luxembourg presides over this distinct and traditional emanation of monarchism.

As Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Henri holds mostly ceremonial power. However, some constitutionals duties such as the ability to appoint the prime minister, dissolve government, promulgate laws and accredit ambassadors still subsist. Luxembourg as a country faces many noteworthy challenges despite its innocuous size. Principally, the region has vital weight in relation to the decisions of European politics, having been one of the foremost voices leading the union of Europe after World War II. Due to this noted historical importance, Luxembourg has become the home to the headquarters of the Court of Justice for the European Union.

Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Of great significance, under Grand Duke Henri’s reign, Luxembourg has also emerged as a leader in the finance sector. This has developed Luxembourg’s economy greatly, with it enjoying incredibly low unemployment rates and the highest average income in Europe. Despite this economic prosperity, Luxembourg faces some unique challenges. The country’s population growth is extremely depleted, which has resulted in a dependence on foreign engagement in the area. However, Grand Duke Henri is well equipped to represent his country in addressing these concerns. As an educated businessman with a strong sense of cultural identity, his role as the final representative of Luxembourg has found the country in good stead, despite some developmental setbacks in recent years.

Grand Duke Henri has been at the forefront of his country’s many international achievements. As a trilingual speaker, family man and budding conservationist, Grand Duke Henri characterises the many traits that the people of Luxembourg would like the rest of the world to be aware of in relation to their remarkable country. Fully embracing the country motto, “we want to stay what we are,” Grand Duke Henri demonstrates that monarchy has a place in the contemporary environment.


Emperor Naruhito of Japan

Emperor Naruhito of Japan sits at the head of the world’s oldest continuous monarchy. The Chrysanthemum Throne has, according to Japanese legend, reigned over the island nation since it was founded in 660BC, and its current occupant is the 126th monarch of the land, an astonishing achievement when one considers the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is the 61st ruler of England and Britain.

The Japanese Emperor has historically been viewed as a divine being, believed to be descended from the Shinto deity Amaterasu. Although the Imperial figurehead was stripped of much of their powers following the Second World War, the Emperor still occupies a special place in the heart of his people, a symbol of unity and a particular era of the nation’s ongoing history. As such, when Naruhito ascended the throne in 2019, more than half a million petty criminals were pardoned to symbolise the opportunity for citizens to cleanse their spirits and start anew.

Naruhito himself is an intriguing figure, with a history of breaking new ground for Japanese royalty, beginning with his upbringing. Traditionally, the children of the Emperor and Empress are sent away for their childhood, but Naruhito was raised by his parents along with his two siblings. He was also the first Japanese royal to study abroad when he undertook a degree in history at Oxford University in Britain. His fascination with history is centred around a particularly niche and unassuming topic: roads.

It is said that this rather unorthodox passion was sparked during his childhood when he came upon the remains of an ancient roadway in the palace grounds, but it is a passion that he pursued through his bachelors and masters education. Whilst studying at Oxford he wrote his thesis on the navigation and traffic of the river Thames in the 18th century, but his interest in roads, as well as his other hobbies, gives a deeper insight into his attitudes towards the role of royalty in the modern world.

Speaking about his lifelong fascination with roads, Naruhito philosophised that, “On roads you can go to the unknown world. Since I have been leading a life where I have few chances to go out freely, roads are a precious bridge to the unknown world, so to speak.” Such candid explanation of one’s innermost thoughts is rare for a royal, but his words echo what many members of regal households must feel, speaking to the duality of the throne as both advantageous and limiting, as both leader of and subject to, the will of the people. Naruhito is also reported to have given up his practice of the violin in favour of the viola, saying that the former is “too much of a leader, too prominent.”

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