While a handful of monarchies continue to thrive today, other countries decided in favor a different form of government. We take a look back at some of the world's greatest monarchies and how their rulers lost their thrones.
The House of Savoy
King Umberto II, Crown Prince Victor Emmanuel, Marie-Jose of Belgium, Princess Maria Gabriella, and Princess Maria Pia.
The fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century paved the way for a modern Italy. But the flourishing city-states remained divided throughout the Renaissance Era. In the 19th century, a liberal revolution put a king on the throne of a unified Italy—Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy. His role as king was mainly as a figurehead, with a parliamentary government in place.
The coronation of the Shah of Iran
The Pahlavi Dynasty ruled for less than a century, with only two leaders installed between 1925 to 1979. The noble line trailed behind a history of 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy.
By the time Mohammad Reza Shah took power after his father’s abdication, he was running a country under foreign powers. In the mid-1970s, the Shah and his government became too ambitious for their own good, wanting to start a new civilization, which angered the Islamic leaders. These leaders pushed for a return to old Islamic traditions and launched what was called the Islamic revolution. The uprisings spread throughout the dynasty’s final two years and brought down its leader in 1979. The former Shah left the country to seek immediate treatment for his cancer. His son, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, continues to live in Maryland with his three daughters.
House of Glücksburg
King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie with two of their five children.
King Constantine II of Greece had only been on the throne for barely four years when he faced a coup, followed by an unsuccessful counter-coup. During his short-lived reign, he married the sister of Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Princess Anne-Marie. The couple had two young children by the time the family was driven out of Athens by a group of military officers in 1967.
In 1974, the monarchy was abolished while Constantine was in England, where his first cousin Prince Philip is prince consort. In the process, he and his family lost their titles, properties, and passports. Forty-six years later, Constantine and Anne-Marie moved back to Greece and now live as commoners.
The Romanov family
We’re more or less familiar with the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family’s unfortunate demise. The monarch’s decline began with the simultaneous rise in poverty and inflation. The Tsar was accused of making poor decisions, while his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, was spurned for her German relations.
Social uprisings broke out in St. Petersburg and when the ruler and his family attempted to return to the palace, they were denied access. In 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate, and a provisional government was established. Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, and some staff members relocated to the Ural Mountains. In July 1918, the Romanovs were brutally executed by Bolsheviks.
Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, ruled his kingdom at the age of two years and 10
Puyi continued to live in his Beijing palace, but later in life, he left to begin a new life in a Japanese colony in Tianjin. On March 9, 1932, the Japanese installed him as a puppet leader for the Japanese-controlled state in North East China.
When government power was transferred to the Communist Party, Chairman Mao Zedong befriended the former emperor and allowed him to live in Beijing until his death in 1967.
House of Bourbon
Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI
Financial turmoil, political conflict, and social unrest sparked the French Revolution, which aimed to overthrow the monarchy in the process and establish the First Republic of France. In the center of all this was King Louis XVI, and his infamous queen, Marie Antoinette. The monarchy was no match for the French Revolution and soon, the king and queen were imprisoned. On September 1792, the monarchy was abolished and the following year, Louis was convicted on charges of treason, tried, and condemned to death by guillotine. His wife met the same fate nine months later.
House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Kohary branch)
Simeon II returns to Bulgaria with his wife, Spanish aristocrat Margarita Gomez Acebo.
When the ruler of Bulgaria, Boris III died, he left the kingdom to his six-year-old son, Simeon II. A regency made up of three men took the crown in Simeon’s place—Simeon’s uncle Prince Cyril, former war minister Nikolai Michov, and former premier Bogdan Filov. When the Soviet Red Army took power, the regents were arrested and executed. While there were plans of forming a succeeding regency, the monarchy had already lost its momentum and dissolved.
Exiled, Simeon grew up and was educated in Egypt (coincidentally where Victor Emmanuel III was at the time). He took up further studies in Madrid and later returned to visit Bulgaria in 1996, almost 50 years after being forced out.
House of Yi
Emperor Sunjong of Korea
Centuries of dynasty rule paint Korea’s history and when the Joseon Dynasty took its turn, its rulers made serious changes. The capital was moved several times, from Hanyang or “Hanseong,” where the main palace was established on the foot of Mount Bugak to Gaeseong. Another important development was the introduction of the Korean alphabet or “Hangeul” during the reign of King Sejong.
The royal family’s downfall began with the power struggle between Japan and China, with Korea at stake. The 26th Joseon king, Gojong, declared the then-unified country an empire and himself as emperor. The Korean empire lasted for 13 years until the country eventually became first a protectorate and then an annex of Japan. This was the last straw for Emperor Gojong, who was forced to abdicate. His fourth son, Sunjong, reigned in his place, but the Japanese government rendered him powerless.