Summary: In about 2400 words, this entry defines constitutional monarchy, discusses its origins and development, summarizes democratic challenges to monarchy, and explores monarchy in contemporary democracy.
The entry defines a constitutional monarchy as a government under a hereditary head of state with primarily ceremonial duties, but sometimes with legally limited political functions. Through the nineteenth century, most modern states were nondemocratic monarchies. During the course of the twentieth century, however, most of these nations transformed into democratic republics with ceremonial heads subordinate to the elected government.
Constitutional monarchies developed after the modern state was created in the seventeenth century, and derives its roots in historical kingship. We must go all the way back to myth and legend to discover the origin of kingship because this idea is older than recorded history. Early kings were usually battle heroes--the idea of hereditary kingship developed later. By the 1800s, constitutional monarchies were so widely accepted that newly established nations would import kings if they did not have their own ruling family. The entry provides many examples.
In response to democratic challenges during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, constitutional monarchies changes in three distinct ways: through evolution, revolution and empire dissolution. The entry details the cases of England, Sweden, Japan, Thailand, Eastern Europe, Belgium, France, and Spain and draws some generalizations. The head of state in modern democracies with hereditary monarchs is primarily nonpolitical, but plays an important symbolic role. this type of governmental organization is common. In fact, the United States and France are actually the only democracies whose head of state is also the head of government. In this concluding section, the entry provides numerous examples of contemporary symbolic monarchs.