A hereditary monarchy is a form of government and succession of power in which the throne passes from one member of a ruling family to another member of the same family. A series of rulers from the same family would constitute a dynasty. It is historically the most common type of monarchy and remains the dominant form in extant monarchies. It has the advantages of continuity of the concentration of power and wealth and predictability of who one can expect to control the means of governance and patronage. Provided that a monarch is competent, not oppressive, and maintains an appropriate dignity, it might also offer the stabilizing factors of popular affection for and loyalty to a ruling family.[1] The adjudication of what constitutes oppressive, dignified and popular tends to remain in the purview of the monarch.[1] A major disadvantage of hereditary monarchy arises when the heir apparent may be physically or temperamentally unfit to rule.[2] Other disadvantages include the inability of a people to choose their head of state, the ossified distribution of wealth and power across a broad spectrum of society, and the continuation of outmoded religious and social-economic structures mainly for the benefit of monarchs, their families, and supporters.[3]

In most extant hereditary monarchies, the typical order of succession uses some form of primogeniture, but there exist other methods such as seniority and tanistry (in which an heir-apparent is nominated from among qualified candidates). Research shows that hereditary regimes, in particular primogeniture, are more stable than forms of authoritarian rule with alternative succession arrangements.[4][5][6][7][8][9]


Emperor Naruhito is the hereditary monarch of Japan. The Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world.[10]

Theoretically, when the monarch of a hereditary monarchy dies or abdicates, the crown typically passes to the next generation of the family. If no qualified child exists, the crown may pass to a brother, sister, nephew, niece, cousin, or other relative, in accordance with a predefined order of succession, often enshrined in legislation. Such a process establishes who will be the next monarch beforehand and avoids disputes among members of the royal family. Usurpers may resort to inventing semi-mythical genealogies to bolster their respectability.[11]

Historically, there have been differences in systems of succession, mainly revolving around the question of whether succession is limited to males, or whether females are also eligible (historically, the crown often devolved on the eldest surviving male child, as ability to lead an army in battle was a requisite of kingship[citation needed]). Agnatic succession refers to systems where females are neither allowed to succeed nor to transmit succession rights to their male descendants (as according to the Salic law).[12] An agnate is a kinsman with whom one has a common ancestor by descent in an unbroken male line. Cognatic primogeniture allows both male and female descendants to succeed, but males are usually given preference. In absolute primogeniture, the eldest child can succeed to the throne regardless of sex; this system was adopted in 2011 by the monarchies in the Commonwealth (though not retrospectively affecting the order of succession).[13] Another factor which may be taken into account is the religious affiliation of the candidate or the candidate's spouse, specifically where the monarch also has a religious title or role; for example, the British monarch has the title of supreme governor of the Church of England and may not profess Roman Catholicism.[14]

Elective hereditary monarchy


Elective monarchy can function as de facto hereditary monarchy. A specific type of elective monarchy known as tanistry limits eligibility to members of the ruling house. But hereditary succession can also occur in practice despite any such legal limitations. For example, if the majority of electors belong to the same house, then they may elect only family members. Or a reigning monarch might have sole power to elect a relative. Many late-medieval countries of Europe were officially elective monarchies, but in fact pseudo-elective; most transitioned into officially hereditary systems in the early modern age. Exceptions include the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

See also



  1. ^ a b Sharma, Urmila Sharma & S. K. (2000). Principles and Theory of Political Science. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 412. ISBN 9788171569380. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  2. ^ Flesch, Carl F. (2006). Who's Not Who and Other Matters. Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie Pu. p. 69. ISBN 9781843862444.
  3. ^ Robertson, Geoffrey (25 September 2008). "A hereditary head of state and a system based on sexism and religious discrimination have no place in the 21st century". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  4. ^ Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter (2000). "The constitutional economics of autocratic succession". Public Choice. 103 (1/2): 63–84. doi:10.1023/A:1005078532251. ISSN 0048-5829. S2CID 154097838.
  5. ^ Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter (2004). "Autocratic succession". Encyclopedia of Public Choice. 103: 358–362. doi:10.1007/978-0-306-47828-4_39. ISBN 978-0-306-47828-4.
  6. ^ Kokkonen, Andrej; Sundell, Anders (May 2014). "Delivering Stability—Primogeniture and Autocratic Survival in European Monarchies 1000–1800". American Political Science Review. 108 (2): 438–453. doi:10.1017/S000305541400015X. hdl:2077/38982. ISSN 0003-0554. S2CID 53132563.
  7. ^ Acharya, Avidit; Lee, Alexander (2019-11-01). "Path Dependence in European Development: Medieval Politics, Conflict, and State Building". Comparative Political Studies. 52 (13–14): 2171–2206. doi:10.1177/0010414019830716. ISSN 0010-4140. S2CID 29515121.
  8. ^ Kokkonen, Andrej; Sundell, Anders (2019-06-11). "Leader Succession and Civil War". Comparative Political Studies. 53 (3–4): 434–468. doi:10.1177/0010414019852712. ISSN 0010-4140. S2CID 197804359.
  9. ^ "Tracking the "Arab Spring": Why the Modest Harvest?". Journal of Democracy. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  10. ^ D.M. (2 June 2017). "Why is the Japanese monarchy under threat?". The Economist. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  11. ^ For example: Mitchell, Brian (2001). Finding Your Irish Ancestors: Unique Aspects of Irish Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 12. ISBN 9780806351001. Retrieved 11 December 2017. To legitimise the rise to power of new tribal or dynastic groups Gaelic genealogists often forged a link between the usurper and the dynasty they had overthrown.
  12. ^ Fischer Drew, Katherine, ed. (23 May 2012). The Laws of the Salian Franks. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-8122-0050-8.
  13. ^ Corcos, Christine (1 January 2012). "From Agnatic Succession to Absolute Primogeniture: The Shift to Equal Rights of Succession to Thrones and Titles in the Modern European Constitutional Monarchy". Michigan State Law Review: 1653. Retrieved 22 March 2024.
  14. ^ Act of Settlement 1700(c.2), Article II, retrieved 14 May 2010; Union with Scotland Act 1706 (c.11), Article II, retrieved 14 May 2010; Union with England Act 1707 (c.7), Article II, retrieved 14 May 2010