Difference Between Monarchy and Constitutional Monarchy

Monarchy vs Constitutional Monarchy

Though going by the name they seem to be similar, there is difference between monarchy and constitutional monarchy, which is detailed in this article. Before going to the difference, let’s see what is monarchy and what is constitutional monarchy. With civilization, many needs arose in the human society. The need of order and structure being one of the most essential ones, people began to realise the importance of a governing body that would structure the society in a way that benefits all. Thus, governments were born. Many types of governments are born today as a result. Monarchy and constitutional monarchy being two of the most easily confused ones, it is important to realize and discern the difference between monarchy and constitutional monarchy.

What is Monarchy?

Monarchy can be described as a form of government where sovereignty rests upon a single individual who is the monarch. This may be either actual or nominal, depending upon the level of involvement, autonomy or the restrictions that the monarch holds in governance. There are many forms of monarchy; absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, hereditary monarchy and elective monarchy being the most popular ones. However, when one says monarchy, it is often assumed that this is the absolute monarchy that is being discussed here. Another name for absolute monarchy would be traditional monarchy, where all decision making powers rests upon a single individual, the monarch.

Until the 19th century, monarchy has been the most common and the most popular form of governance in the world. However, today, absolute monarchy is no longer prevalent. What exists today in place of the monarchy is the constitutional monarchy. 44 sovereign nations in the world feature monarchs acting as heads of state out of which 16 of are Commonwealth realms of which Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. All existing monarchies in the world are constitutional ones, however, monarchs of countries such as Oman, Brunei, Qatar,Saudi Arabia and Swaziland appear to possess more power than any other single authority in their respective nations.

Difference Between Monarchy and Constitutional Monarchy

What is Constitutional Monarchy?

A democratic government that consists of a constitution with a monarch who functions as a non-party political head of state within the limits set by the constitution, written or unwritten can be described as a constitutional monarchy. The monarch although holding certain powers does not set public policy or choose political leaders. Political scientist Vernon Bogdanor defines constitutional monarchy as “a sovereign who reigns but does not rule.”

The British constitutional monarchy consists of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The current monarch Queen Elizabeth II has limited powers in non-partisan functions such as bestowing honours and appointing the Prime Minister. However, she is by tradition, commander-in-chief of the British Armed Forces.

The monarchy of Canada forms the foundation of the judicial, legislative and executive branches of the national and each provincial government. It is the core of its Westminster-style parliamentary democracy and federalism. The current monarch of the monarchy of Canada is Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth II

What is the difference between Monarchy and Constitutional Monarchy?

Despite the similarities implied by their names, monarchy and constitutional monarchy are two different forms of governments that function in completely different ways.

• Monarchy is the umbrella under which constitutional monarchy among several others fall. However, when one mentions monarchy, it is often absolute monarchy that is implied.

• In a constitutional monarchy, the power of the monarch is limited. In a monarchy, the power of the monarch is absolute.

• An absolute monarch is not legally bound. A monarch in a constitutional monarchy is bound by the constitution of the country.


Photo By: Ricardo Stuckert/PR (CC BY 3.0)

Further Reading:

  1. Difference Between Dictatorship and Monarchy
  2. Difference Between Democracy and Monarchy