To most political observers, the concept of monarchy has seemed quaint — at best — for more than a century. With few exceptions it is a concept that an age of revolutions and upheaval has either abolished or reduced to a ceremonial role.
Yet only weeks ago, a controversy over whether British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had fairly obtained Queen Elizabeth II’s consent to suspend Parliament ahead of the looming Brexit deadline shined a rare light on how even in the liberalized U.K., the monarch’s position as head of state involves more than pomp and tabloid attention.
While in America the British royals certainly win the most attention of any monarchy, kings and queens still officially rule over much of Europe in places like Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. Beyond the West, in Africa, the Arab world and the Orient, there are still many monarchs who hold a great deal of power and are daily players in their nations’ politics.
There is another club of lesser-known blue-blooded individuals. A group that history has stripped of their official titles and stations, but who continue to have loyal supporters dedicated to restoring them to the former glory and power once held by their families. Formally known as “pretenders to the throne,” dozens — if not hundreds — of men and women who today would be sovereigns had their noble ancestors not found themselves on the wrong side of history continue to cling to their titles and responsibilities as heads of their royal households. Many also have bands of admirers and, in some cases, even small political parties doing all they can to advocate for their restoration.
The Kings That Time Forgot
Crown Prince Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky claims the throne of the former Soviet satellite of Georgia. Now a republic, Georgia’s centuries-old monarchy was abolished in a takeover by Tsarist Russia in 1801. A series of rebellions to throw off Russian rule all ended in failure, and the monarchy remained defunct through the Soviet period.
Yet since Georgia regained independence in 1991, a return of the monarchy has been a matter of public discussion. Restoration was advocated during a political crisis in 2007 by Patriarch Ilia II, head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, and he has continued to call for a return of the monarchy.
The fact that the throne was forcibly wrested from Georgia by Russia, and continued internal strife, gives supporters of the monarchy hope that a return to power might indeed still be achievable.
“Many [Georgians] believe that only a restored throne can stabilize the ongoing social and political tensions in our country,” Joseph Bichikashvili, who spoke on behalf of the Chancellery of the Royal House, told Hamodia. “Our nation is perfectly aware that Georgians have never, ever been against their own monarch, and what happened in 1801 was just a rough violation made by a foreign country. Therefore Georgians believe that what was once illegally abolished must necessarily be restored.”
Crown Prince Nugzar is 69 years old and is a prominent poet in his homeland who serves as director of the theater of cinema artists in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
Mr. Bichikashvili said that in his present role, the Crown Prince continues to reflect the “dignity, honor, nobleness and generosity” that the long-empty throne of Georgia represents.
“[People] can see in him a real reflection of splendor of his ancestors who, always ,through the entire history of Georgia, were in honest service of own nation,” he said.
Mr. Bichikashvili expressed lofty hopes for how monarchy could improve modern day Georgia, quelling ethnic rivalries and bringing peace to troubled regions.
“Monarchy will bring an order, good government, prosperity, safety, peace of mind, longevity, wealth, and the good life in our mutual country,” he said. “Monarchy, of course, isn’t perfect — nothing is — but it can make an impressive contribution to the wellbeing of society by providing strength and stability, a calm and dignified center, luster, continuity, unity, traditions, oneness, and even greatness. Perhaps this is because it is patterned after the order of Heaven where the Supreme Creator is the King above all kings.”
Georgia is far from the only presently crownless nation that has a serious push for monarchical restoration.
Public opinion polls have shown strong support for Crown Prince Alexander to reign as king of the Balkan state of Serbia. An organization known as the Association for the Kingdom of Serbia, which claims 18,000 members, was founded in 2016 specifically to lobby for the cause.
Alexander missed the throne by only one generation, as his father, King Peter II, reigned over the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The family fled to London when Nazi forces occupied the country and, in 1945, Peter was deposed by the communist regime led by Josip Tito. Like many in his position, Alexander grew up amid a succession of exiles and at different times attended school in England, Switzerland and the United States. He eventually served as an officer in the British army before pursuing a career in international business.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain and a decade of war and strife that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia, Alexander and his family were once again able to return to their homeland. In 2001, they were granted ownership of their ancestral palace in Belgrade, where they have lived ever since.
Like many European royals, Alexander, now 74 years old, is a descendant of Britain’s Queen Victoria and maintains close ties to his cousins in Buckingham Palace. He has made well-known his desire to serve as a constitutional monarch on several occasions and has touted the system’s advantages.
“The king is above daily politics; he is the guardian of national unity, political stability and continuity of the state. In constitutional parliamentary monarchies, the king is the protector of public interest: there is no personal or party interest,” he said in a statement in 2006. “The Crown is positive for our democracy. The Crown respects and protects everyone. The Crown strengthens our democracy. The Crown brings credibility. The Crown reconciles. I am proud of Serbia and wish to serve to our country.”
Romania, another former communist-bloc nation that forced out its sovereign, King Michael, has also shown significant interest in restoring its monarchy. Michael lived most of his life in exile in Switzerland, but never abdicated the throne, and his daughter, Princess Margareta, who is known as the custodian of the crown, remains a popular figure. In recent years, a movement with many young supporters has grown, eliciting support from several of Romania’s leading politicians.
Even in Serbia and Romania, while restoration is within the realm of the realistic, it can hardly be considered likely. There are quite a few other nations with pretenders and small movements that seem far less plausible.
France famously downgraded its king and queen to the egalitarian title of “citizen” before beheading them in the bloodbath known as the French Revolution. After the defeat of Napoleon, the nation would hover between monarchy and republicanism for the most of the 19th century, but it has been free of a monarch of any sort since 1870.
Yet today, France has three separate lines of pretenders: descendants of the Bonaparte line, a “Legitimist” heir who is the inheritor to head the House of Bourbon which led France until the Revolution and then again briefly after it, and an Orleanist, the oldest male descendant of “citizen king” Louis Philippe I, who led a constitutional monarchy from 1830-1848. The Orleanist claimant, known as Prince Jean, Count of Paris, is the favorite of France’s now-fringe monarchist movement. His father, Prince Henri, was active in French politics and held out what many thought was reasonable hope of restoration during the tenure of Charles de Gaulle. But Versailles today remains a museum, not a seat of power.
Another seemingly ambitious campaign is the Russian monarchist movement, much of which lends it support to Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna. Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II, and all of his family were infamously murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, leaving a somewhat remote line of successors to claim the throne. Just like many, if not most, members of this unique club, the Grand Duchess is married to another pretender, Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia. For optimistic pretenders, such a marriage goes beyond status and similarities in background, as the traditions of many royal houses disqualify heirs who have married partners of lesser nobility.
Despite the tumultuous history that Russia has had since the revolution that toppled the Romanovs in 1917, many feel that efforts to revive images of imperial era glory championed by President Vladimir Putin could make the time ripe for a comeback.
In the meantime, Dr. Russell Martin, a professor of history at Westminster College in Pennsylvania who serves as spokesman for the Imperial House’s Chancellery, said that the Grand Duchess remains at her country’s disposal.
“Her Imperial Highness sincerely — I’ve met few people more genuinely sincere — wants only to find ways to be useful to her country and her countrymen,” he told Hamodia. “Her Imperial Highness does not deny her dynasty’s past, though she often thinks the past has been distorted by those who are enemies of monarchy or Russia, but at the same time she wants to call attention to the glittering culture that Russia was and is today.”
Dr. Martin said that the right to benefit from the heritage of the Romanov house inherently belongs to the Russian people, and that whether her status is officially recognized or not, the Grand Duchess remains committed to perpetuating her inheritance.
“The Grand Duchess understands herself to be the continuator not only of her family’s dynastic traditions, which she takes enormously seriously, but also to be a preserver of the best parts of the human spirit and creativity that have found expression in the Russian land and in all the lands that once were part of the Russian Empire. Keeping alive those dynastic and national heritages is her main purpose — her calling — by virtue of the Laws of Succession that have placed that responsibility and burden upon her,” he said.
While the Bolshevik regime that followed the monarchy was indeed even more bloody and autocratic, restoration of the Romanov house, which is widely associated with political repression and anti-Semitism, would seem to be facing a steep hill in historical memory. Yet advocates of monarchy have pointed out that even if the tsars were considered tyrannical, the number of political prisoners held in Imperial Russia was in the hundreds, while under Lenin that number multiplied to tens of thousands, and under Stalin to millions — a sign of the limits of monarchy versus other power structures.
One monarchical tradition that is undeniably alive and well among modern pretenders is contention over dynastic succession. Even though in most cases struggles for legitimacy translate into little more than the right to nominal leadership of the royal “house” and sometimes significant financial and property claims, few pretenders are without a rival for their position. And the more time that elapses with a throne vacant, the more complicated establishing the rightful heir seems to become.
The Russian Grand Duchess’ claim to lead the Romanov dynasty is shared by German Prince Karl Emich of Leiningen and 96-year-old Prince Andrew Romanov, an artist and author who has lived much of his life in America.
Crown Prince Nugzar’s claims are no less uncontested. While he is the rightful heir to the Gruzinsky dynasty, the Georgian throne is also claimed by the House of Mukhrani, led by his former son-in-law Prince David Bagration. There was much excitement when the two branches were united by marriage, and even now that Nugzar’s daughter and Prince David have divorced, some support their son Prince Georgi as the rightful heir.
Timeless Value for a Modern World
While monarchism receives little attention from modern students of government, several scholars and political theorists have done their utmost to explain its virtues.
“Monarchical governments, especially if they have some constitutional element, have better records of maintaining stable environments,” Dr. Lee Walter Congdon, author and former professor of history at James Madison University, told Hamodia. “Monarchies are systems that won’t be totally changed by votes, and as such provide more stability to let people live their own lives than democracy.”
Despite that fact that all of today’s Western monarchies are largely figureheads, Dr. Congdon, who specializes in Hungarian history and has often discussed the advantages of monarchy, says that their value, while reduced, still persists to some extent.
“The idea of monarchy has always been a symbol of leadership that is above politics, which it still is today,” he said. “So many countries today are torn by partisan struggles. A monarch gives a sense of unity and shared heritage.”
Discussion on the virtues of monarchy need not be relegated to political theories batted around in patrician, oak-paneled club rooms, where egalitarian thinkers would most likely wish to confine them.
Last year, Dr. Mauro Guillen, a professor of international management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, released an in-depth statistical study of 137 nations showing that a monarchy generally has a higher standard of living than a republic.
“I was surprised myself,” Dr. Guillen told Hamodia regarding his paper’s results. The economist went on to discuss the theory behind the apparent fact that citizens of monarchies are better off than those living under governments whose heads have all been elected.
“Monarchies limit the power of politicians and reduce social conflict which undermines economic growth,” he said. “A lot of people think of monarchies as anachronistic, but if you move away from focusing on the human being who might be the monarch and look at it as an institution and the political culture it creates, you have a system with more checks and balances that prevent politicians from becoming corrupt or getting carried away with their agendas.”
Dr. Guillien pointed to the present Brexit crisis as a prime example of what he sees as monarchy providing stability during a time of national stress.
“Brexit is an absolute mess, and right now you have some real loose cannons in power, but I believe the situation would be 10 times worse without the Queen,” he said.
The economic theory at the core of the study pins itself on the idea that strong protection of property rights is the most essential ingredient in a healthy market, as these incentivize investment and foster growth. In its 40 pages, the paper argues that monarchies have done a better job of this than republics.
Another piece of evidence is the relative moderation of monarchies in the Arab world and their greater resilience during the “Arab Spring” turmoil as compared to their republican counterparts.
The paper also shows that constitutional monarchies have far outperformed absolute monarchies. Dr. Guillen cautions that the culture of unity and stability he feels monarchy can bring will only occur in a country that has an established tradition of a hereditary sovereign, saying that attempting to re-create such a system in the United States or Switzerland “would not work.”
The man considered by many to be the intellectual grandfather of modern monarchism, Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, was himself the heir to a defunct Austrian aristocratic line. A prolific writer, he was a master of many languages and was known for his encyclopedic knowledge. Until his death in 1999, he traveled the world warning of the dangers of mass rule and attempting to demonstrate through many books, papers and lectures that monarchs have historically been more effective guarantors of personal liberty than their elected counterparts. In one of his major works, Liberty or Equality, he argues that it is chiefly the drive of the modern world to artificially impose an egalitarian society that robs man of his personal freedoms. He dedicates an entire section to his theory that Nazism was only able to rise to power as a result of the dissolution of monarchical rule in much of Europe following the First World War.
Pretenders to the throne are hardly exclusive to the age of revolutions and democracy. They seem to stretch back as far as the concept of monarchy itself.
The term “pretender,” despite its mocking ring in modern English, is actually not a pejorative. In its original Latin and French forms, the word simply means “one who presents a claim.” The most famous heir to carry that title was likely “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” Charles Edward Stuart, known as “the young Pretender.” Deprived of what he saw as his birthright by the Glorious Revolution, which removed his grandfather, James II, from the English throne, in 1745 he raised an army of Scottish highlanders in an attempt to regain the crown for the Stuart dynasty.
What became known as the Jacobite Rebellion gained a romantic place in the annals of “last stands,” but it failed and Bonnie Prince Charlie returned to exile in France. Today’s Stuart claimant to the British throne would be Franz, Duke of Bavaria, but his family has long relinquished their linkage to the Court of St. James, focusing only on its claim to the German principality it held until 1918.
Few modern-day pretenders seem to be scheming to raise armies to reclaim their thrones, and few monarchist movements have become mainstream.
Dr. Congdon said that while he feels restoring crowns would improve many modern nations, he is skeptical this would come about.
“This is the age of the masses, and it’s hard to see how that could change,” he said. “It’s a shame that the age of monarchy seems to have largely ended. What replaced it is the republic, which I see as a step down from constitutional monarchy. There is much to say for republics, but few seem able to resist the dangers of mass democracy.”
Yet even recent history suggests that not all hope is lost for pretenders or monarchists.
Spain was without a king for more than 40 years following its Civil War and the rule of the Franco regime, but in 1975, Juan Carlos was restored to the throne, which is now occupied by his son, Felipe VI.
Montenegro’s story might give even more hope. Following nearly half a century as part of communist Yugoslavia, followed by 10 years of regional strife, in 2006, the small Balkan nation voted to secede from Serbia and declare independence. In 2011, the royal status of its Crown Prince Nicholas was given official recognition, and he now shares some of the powers of the nation’s presidency.
While hesitant to embrace restorative movements, Dr. Guillen says that the advantages that a well-crafted constitutional monarchy, rooted in the country’s traditions, are difficult to replicate without someone on the throne.
“Monarchy by its nature creates a narrative of unity,” he said. “Some have done a better job of this than others, but as a cultural institution it is a place the people can look to as a symbol of the values of the country … I believe there should be some form of democracy as well, but where a culture of monarchy exists, they have a much better record of success than most people might think.”
Royalty on Earth is a Reflection of the Royalty of Heaven
by Avraham Y. Heschel
Everyone was going to greet the king. The saintly Amora Rav Sheishes, though blind, rose and joined the gathering crowds.
When a Tzadoki mocked the concept of someone who couldn’t see attending, Rav Sheishes assured him that he knew more about what would be transpiring than the Tzadoki.
As the first troop passed by and the noise level of the boisterous crowd grew loud, the Tzadoki declared, “Now the king is coming.”
Rav Sheishes disagreed. “The king is not coming.”
A second troop passed, and when the noise level rose again, the Tzadoki stated once more that the king was coming. Again, Rav Sheishes declared — correctly — that the king was not coming.
A third troop passed by, and the crowd subsequently became quiet.
“Now it is certain that the king is coming,” Rav Sheishes said.
“How do you know this?” the Tzadoki demanded.
“The royalty on earth is a reflection of the royalty of Heaven,” Rav Sheishes explained. He then quoted the pesukim in Melachim I (19:11-12) that describe how, when Eliyahu stood on Har Chorev, the Shechinah did not appear to him from within great powerful wind, the earthquake, nor the subsequent fire, but only when, after all that, a still, thin sound followed (Brachos 58a).
The same Gemara also teaches us — and this is the halachah in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 224:8) — that upon seeing a non-Jewish king one recites a brachah, blessing Hashem “Who gave of His glory to people of flesh and blood.”
The Gemara further states in the name of Rabi Yochanan that a person should always exert himself and run to meet kings of Yisrael, and not only kings of Yisrael, but even non-Jewish kings — because if he merits, in Olam Haba he will be able to discern the difference between Melech Hamoshiach and the non-Jewish kings. Rashi adds that this in turn will help a person appreciate how much greater honor those who performed mitzvos will receive in the World to Come compared to the honor received by other nations in this world.
These eternal words of Chazal tell us much about the majesty of a true monarchy and the role that even a non-Jewish monarchy plays in our own avodas Hashem.
Accepting the yoke of Malchus Shamayim is a fundamental element of our obligation as Torah Jews throughout the year. On Rosh Hashanah, there a special emphasis on recognizing and internalizing the reality that the Ribbono shel Olam is our eternal, omnipresent and Al-mighty King.
Living in democratic societies, which are far more likely to protect their religious liberties, has clear advantages for Torah Jews. But when it comes to other areas, these societies present significant drawbacks.
For Jews residing under the dominion of a monarch who was an absolute ruler, whether it was an emperor, tsar, kaiser, king or sultan, the fact that they lived in the shadow of a “reflection of the royalty of Heaven” doubtless helped them at least to grasp the concept of what a melech was all about. When they learned a parable in Chazal about a mortal king, it was something they could easily relate to. Concepts such as subjugating themselves to an authority greater than they and having a sense of reverence for a royal figure were essential parts of their daily lives.
Nowadays, we have to struggle with these most fundamental concepts. For most of world Jewry, the very notion of a monarch is totally foreign to them.
While her role is primarily ceremonial, at the very least our brethren in the United Kingdom can relate to the concept of showing respect for a queen. For the rest of us, we don’t even have this much.
Cognizant of the fact that it was the people who elected him and it will be the people who decide whether to reelect him, Americans neither fear nor feel any obligation to show respect for their president, nor do Israelis for their prime minister.
(This has spilled over in other ways as well. Respect for parents and elders, a mainstay of civilized society for generations, has all but disappeared in secular society.)
All this leaves us struggling not only to fathom what royalty is really all about but, along with it, to internalize such concepts as awe, reverence and subjugating ourselves to our Creator.
So despite all the colossal failures of the monarchy and all the horror stories of abusive rulers, there is much about the system of monarchy that we miss.
On Rosh Hashanah, we plead to Hashem: “Reign over the entire world with Your glory.” On that glorious day, we will also merit the reestablishment of malchus beis Dovid, the epitome of all that is right in a monarchy.