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Think of royalty, and one image probably enters your mind: Queen Elizabeth II, smiling at her subjects from beneath her pastel-colored hat. While Britain’s royals might be the world’s most famous ruling family, they’re certainly not the only one. Get to know nine other modern-day monarchies from around the globe, so the next time someone mentions a king or queen, you can ask “which one”?
Sandwiched between Tibet and India, the mountainous nation of Bhutan is known for two things: being the happiest country in the world and its youthful royal family. The House of Wangchuk has officially reigned over Bhutan since the country’s reunification in 1907, but their royal roots extend back centuries.
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk is the current King of Bhutan, a position he acquired in 2006 after his father’s abdication. His wife Jetsun Pema is the youngest living queen in the world — their wedding was one of the biggest events Bhutan has ever seen, with more than 50,000 people attending the final day of festivities.
The couple have two sons, the eldest of which will one day take on the role of Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King). This is the moniker for the King of Bhutan in the Dzongkha language — as Bhutanese people refer to their country as Drukyul, the "land of the thunder dragon," the head of state is therefore the Druk Gyalpo, the Dragon King.
Cambodia has not one, but two, royal houses: the House of Norodom and the House of Sisowath. Whenever a reigning monarch dies, a council of senior figures is invited to choose Cambodia’s next King via a unique system called an elective monarchy. The candidates hail exclusively from the Norodom or Sisowath bloodline.
Yet both are two factions of the same family. The schism occurred in the late 19th century, when two sons of King Ang Doung, Norodom and Sisowath, were played off against one another by the French colonizers. When the French turned Cambodia into a protectorate in the early 1860s, Sisowath (a claimant to the throne) was exiled to Saigon, and they placed his more compliant half-brother Norodom on the throne instead. After Norodom died in 1904, Sisowath gave his support to the French, and he was placed on the throne.
The Sisowaths held power from 1904 to 1941, but the Norodoms have been back on the throne since 1941. The elective system was introduced in 1993, as part of the post-Khmer Rouge reconstruction. The current King of Cambodia is Norodom Sihamoni, who spent most of his early life in the Czech Republic, where he acquired a passion for filmmaking and ballet.
France might be a republic, but ironically, the president of France is technically a monarch himself. Current president Emmanuel Macron is one of two co-princes of Andorra, France’s tiny neighbor in the Pyrenees. The other co-prince is a bishop from Urgell, Spain.
This unusual arrangement is known as a diarchy – a system created in 1278 to quell a land dispute between the Catalan church and the French overlords, who both had vested interests in Andorra. In 1993, Andorra transitioned into a constitutional monarchy, but the symbolic heads of state remain the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell. (Thankfully, they seem to get on much better these days.)
As the world’s only remaining Grand Duchy, Luxembourg stands out on this list. Instead of a king, Luxembourg has a grand duke, who is similar to a constitutional monarch in all but name; the current Grand Duke, Henri, ascended to the throne in 2000.
Luxembourg’s ruling family, the House of Nassau, were originally a branch of nobility from the Netherlands. In fact, Luxembourg was politically united with its neighbor until 1890, when the crown of Luxembourg was passed to a male cousin of the Dutch royals because the country’s law did not allow women to succeed to the throne. Though that law wasn’t officially changed until 2011, two of Luxembourg’s grand dukes during the 20th century were actually duchesses.
Until earlier this year, this verdant Arabian country boasted the longest serving leader in the Middle East. The previous Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said, reigned for 50 years, presiding over an era of relative religious freedom and rapidly improving living standards. The Al Said dynasty goes back much further than that, however – they have ruled the Sultanate of Oman since the 18th century. Qaboos bin Said died in January 2020, naming his cousin Haitham bin Tariq Al Said as his successor. In his first public speech, Haitham has promised to continue his predecessor’s peaceful reign and outward-looking foreign policy.
Landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, eSwatini is Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Known as Swaziland until 2018 (when Mswati III decreed the country’s name would change with immediate effect), eSwatini is ruled by a king known as Ngwenyama, or “Lion”. He holds power over the executive, legislature, and judiciary, which he shares with the King Mother, as local custom dictates.
The current monarch of eSwatini, Mswati III, ascended the throne in 1986 aged just 18, making him the youngest world leader at the time. The King Mother — the Ndlovukati (she-elephant) —rules alongside him, and holds special ritualistic powers. Those include control over traditional medicines and ceremonies, which play a key role in the culture of eSwatini.
Morocco has had a royal family, who claim descent from the Prophet Mohammed, since A.D. 789. From the 17th century onwards, the Alaouite dynasty has steadfastly ruled over the North African nation. Morocco’s royals are revered, with roads, squares, bridges, and everything in between named in their honor. Not at all camera shy, King Mohammed VI and his family are often seen in public sporting sumptuous kaftans and djellaba robes. He’s said to be the richest king in Africa, with his personal wealth estimated at $5.7 billion in 2015 and numerous official residences scattered across the country at his disposal.
Even for a royal wedding, the marriage of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan in 1993 was one of the most ostentatious – the image of Queen Rania cutting their massive wedding cake with a sword certainly trumps most cake-cutting photos.
This glamorous power couple represent the House of Hashemite, which has ruled over the historic Kingdom of Jordan for nearly 100 years. Like the Moroccan Alaouites, the Hashemites claim lineage from the Prophet Mohammed, with King Abdullah II being a 43rd-generation descendant. Continuing the line, Abdullah II and Queen Rania have four children, including 26-year-old Crown Prince Hussein, who is the heir apparent. The family are dedicated to a plethora of philanthropic activities, including global education, improving the quality of life in Jordan, peace in the region, and aiding Syrian refugees.
With nearly 170 paradisiacal South Pacific islands to watch over, the King of Tonga has his work cut out for him. The monarchy of Tonga was officially established in 1845, but in practice, Tonga has been ruled by a line of T’ui kings since the 10th century – making it one of the world’s longest-surviving dynasties. The current King, Tupou VI, was crowned in 2015 with an elaborate ceremony that fused Tongan traditions with those imported to the islands by Christian missionaries. People from all over the world flew in to attend the celebrations, which included street parties, traditional drinking ceremonies, and copious amounts of food.