The English used in this article may not be easy for everybody to understand. (January 2012)
A hereditary monarchy is a type of government where a monarch (usually a king or queen) becomes the monarch because he or she is related to the last monarch. It is the most common sort of monarchy, and is the form used by almost all of the world's monarchies today.
Types of Hereditary monarchyEdit
In a hereditary monarchy, all the monarchs come from the same family, and the crown is passed down from one member of the family to another. The hereditary system can be more stable, and can command loyalty, but at other times has seen great bloodshed over the question of succession.
When the king or queen of a hereditary monarchy dies or quits the throne (abdicates), the crown is generally passed to one of his or her children, often to the oldest. When that child dies, the crown will be then passed to his or her child, or, if he or she has no child, to a sister, brother, niece, nephew, cousin, or some other relative. Hereditary monarchies most usually arrange the succession by a law that creates an order of succession. This way, it is known beforehand who will be the next monarch.
Nowadays, the order of succession in hereditary monarchies is often based on the idea of primogeniture (oldest born), but there have been other methods that were much more common in the past.
In the past, there were differences in systems of succession, often depending on whether only men can succeed, or whether both men and women could succeed.
Agnatic succession means women are not allowed to succeed, or pass the succession from their fathers to their children. Agnates are relatives who have a common ancestor in an unbroken male line, from father to father.
Cognatic succession means both men and women can succeed. Women usually are only allowed succeed if there is no male in the family. For example, in the United Kingdom, Princess Anne comes after her younger brothers (and her nephews and nieces) in the line of succession.
In the 1970s, Sweden changed from agnatic succession to "fully-cognatic" succession. This means the line of succession is based on age, not sex. This meant that when Princess Victoria of Sweden was born, she could never become queen, and when her younger brother was born he became crown prince (heir to the throne) -- but then the law changed, and Victoria became crown princess.
An elective monarchy can sometimes seem to be a hereditary monarch. For example, only members of one family may be allowed to be elected; or before the monarch dies, they might have his chosen heir (son, daughter, brother, sister, or other relative) elected.
In Europe, the Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy, but for many hundreds of years, only the head of the Habsburg family was elected. In 1806, the Holy Roman Emperor abolished the empire and instead became the Emperor of Austria-Hungary, a hereditary monarch.