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Constitutional monarchy

A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution. Constitutional monarchy differs from absolute monarchy (in which a monarch holds absolute power) in that constitutional monarchs are bound to exercise their powers and authorities within the limits prescribed within an established legal framework. Constitutional monarchies range from countries such as Monaco, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, where the constitution grants substantial discretionary powers to the sovereign, to countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Sweden and Japan, where the monarch retains no formal authorities.

In addition to acting as a visible symbol of national unity, a constitutional monarch may hold formal powers such as dissolving parliament or giving royal assent to legislation. However, the exercise of such powers is largely strictly in accordance with either written constitutional principles or unwritten constitutional conventions, rather than any personal political preference imposed by the sovereign. In The English Constitution, British political theorist Walter Bagehot identified three main political rights which a constitutional monarch may freely exercise: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. Many constitutional monarchies still retain significant authorities or political influence however, such as through certain reserve powers, and may also play an important political role.

The oldest constitutional monarchy dating back to ancient times was that of the Hittites. They were an ancient Anatolian people that lived during the Bronze Age whose king or queen had to share their authority with an assembly, called the Panku, which was the equivalent to a modern-day deliberative assembly or a legislature. Members of the Panku came from scattered noble families who worked as representatives of their subjects in an adjutant or subaltern federal-type landscape.

Although Queen Anne was the last monarch to veto an Act of Parliament when, on 11 March 1708, she blocked the Scottish Militia Bill, Hanoverian monarchs continued to selectively dictate government policies. For instance King George III constantly blocked Catholic Emancipation, eventually precipitating the resignation of William Pitt the Younger as prime minister in 1801. The sovereign's influence on the choice of prime minister gradually declined over this period, King William IV being the last monarch to dismiss a prime minister, when in 1834 he removed Lord Melbourne as a result of Melbourne's choice of Lord John Russell as Leader of the House of Commons. Queen Victoria was the last monarch to exercise real personal power, but this diminished over the course of her reign. In 1839, she became the last sovereign to keep a prime minister in power against the will of Parliament when the Bedchamber crisis resulted in the retention of Lord Melbourne's administration. By the end of her reign, however, she could do nothing to block the unacceptable (to her) premierships of William Gladstone, although she still exercised power in appointments to the Cabinet, for example in 1886 preventing Gladstone's choice of Hugh Childers as War Secretary in favor of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

As originally conceived, a constitutional monarch was head of the executive branch and quite a powerful figure even though his or her power was limited by the constitution and the elected parliament. Some of the framers of the U.S. Constitution may have envisioned the president as an elected constitutional monarch, as the term was then understood, following Montesquieu's account of the separation of powers.

Today slightly more than a quarter of constitutional monarchies are Western European countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Monaco, Liechtenstein and Sweden. However, the two most populous constitutional monarchies in the world are in Asia: Japan and Thailand. In these countries the prime minister holds the day-to-day powers of governance, while the monarch retains residual (but not always insignificant) powers. The powers of the monarch differ between countries. In Denmark and in Belgium, for example, the Monarch formally appoints a representative to preside over the creation of a coalition government following a parliamentary election, while in Norway the King chairs special meetings of the cabinet.