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Charlemagne or Charles the Great (748-814) was King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, and the first Holy Roman Emperor. Due to his military accomplishments and conquests, he has been called the "Father of Europe". Aachen Domschatz Bueste1.jpg
Charlemagne or Charles the Great (748–814) was King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, and the first Holy Roman Emperor. Due to his military accomplishments and conquests, he has been called the "Father of Europe".

King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. A king is an absolute monarch if he holds the powers of government without control, or the entire sovereignty over a nation; he is a limited monarch if his power is restrained by fixed laws; and he is an absolute, when he holds the whole legislative, judicial, and executive power, or when the legislative or judicial powers, or both, are vested in other people by the king. Kings are hereditary sovereigns when they hold the powers of government by right of birth or inheritance, and elective when raised to the throne by choice.


The term king may also refer to a king consort, a title that is sometimes given to the husband of a queen regnant, but the title of prince consort is more common.


The English term king is derived from the Anglo-Saxon cyning, which in turn is derived from the Common Germanic *kuningaz. The Common Germanic term was borrowed into Estonian and Finnish at an early time, surviving in these languages as kuningas . It is a derivation from the term *kunjom "kin" (Old English cynn ) by the -inga- suffix. The literal meaning is that of a "scion of the [noble] kin", or perhaps "son or descendant of one of noble birth" (OED).

The English term translates, and is considered equivalent to, Latin rēx and its equivalents in the various European languages. The Germanic term is notably different from the word for "King" in other Indo-European languages (*rēks "ruler"; Latin rēx , Sanskrit rājan and Irish ríg ; however, see Gothic reiks and, e.g., modern German Reich and modern Dutch rijk).


The English word is of Germanic origin, and historically refers to Germanic kingship, in the pre-Christian period a type of tribal kingship. The monarchies of Europe in the Christian Middle Ages derived their claim from Christianisation and the divine right of kings, partly influenced by the notion of sacral kingship inherited from Germanic antiquity.

The Early Middle Ages begin with a fragmentation of the former Western Roman Empire into barbarian kingdoms. In Western Europe, the kingdom of the Franks developed into the Carolingian Empire by the 8th century, and the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England were unified into the kingdom of England by the 10th century.

With the breakup of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the system of feudalism places kings at the head of a pyramid of relationships between liege lords and vassals, dependent on the regional rule of barons, and the intermediate positions of counts (or earls) and dukes. The core of European feudal manorialism in the High Middle Ages were the territories of the former Carolingian Empire, i.e. the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire (centered on the nominal kingdoms of Germany and Italy). [4]

In the course of the European Middle Ages, the European kingdoms underwent a general trend of centralisation of power, so that by the Late Middle Ages there were a number of large and powerful kingdoms in Europe, which would develop into the great powers of Europe in the Early Modern period.

Contemporary kings

Currently (as of 2023), seventeen kings are recognized as the heads of state of sovereign states (i.e. English king is used as official translation of the respective native titles held by the monarchs).

Most of these are heads of state of constitutional monarchies; kings ruling over absolute monarchies are the King of Saudi Arabia, the King of Bahrain and the King of Eswatini. [5]

MonarchHouseTitleKingdomReign beginAgeMonarchy est.
Harald V, King of Norway Glücksburg konge Kingdom of Norway January 17, 19918711th c.
Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden Bernadotte konung Kingdom of Sweden September 15, 19737712th c.
Felipe VI, King of Spain Bourbon rey Kingdom of Spain June 19, 2014561978 / 1479
Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands Orange-Nassau koning Kingdom of the Netherlands April 30, 2013561815
Philippe , King of the Belgians Saxe-Coburg and Gotha koning / roi / König Kingdom of Belgium July 21, 2013631830
Salman, King of Saudi Arabia Saud ملك malik Kingdom of Saudi Arabia January 23, 2015881932
Abdullah II, King of Jordan Hashim ملك malik Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan February 7, 1999621946
Mohammed VI, King of Morocco Alaoui ملك malik Kingdom of Morocco July 23, 1999601956
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain Khalifa ملك malik Kingdom of Bahrain February 14, 2002741971
Vajiralongkorn, King of Thailand Chakri กษัตริย์ kasat Kingdom of Thailand October 13, 2016711782
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan Wangchuck འབྲུག་རྒྱལ་པོ་ druk gyalpo Kingdom of Bhutan December 9, 2006441907
Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia Norodom ស្ដេច sdac Kingdom of Cambodia October 14, 2004701993 / 1953
Tupou VI, King of Tonga Tupou king / tu'i Kingdom of Tonga March 18, 2012641970
Letsie III, King of Lesotho Moshesh king / morena Kingdom of Lesotho February 7, 1996601966
Mswati III, King of Eswatini Dlamini ngwenyama Kingdom of Eswatini April 25, 1986551968
Charles III, King of the United Kingdom Windsor King United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Commonwealth realms September 8, 202275927 / 843
Frederik X, King of Denmark Glücksburg Konge Kingdom of Denmark and its autonomous territories January 14, 202455710

See also

Titles translated as "king"


  1. The notion of a king being below an emperor in the feudal order, just as a duke is the rank below a king, is more theoretical than historical. The only kingdom title held within the Holy Roman Empire was the Kingdom of Bohemia, with the Kingdoms of Germany, Italy and Burgundy/Arles being nominal realms. The titles of King of the Germans and King of the Romans were non-landed titles held by the Emperor-elect (sometimes during the lifetime of the previous Emperor, sometimes not), although there were anti-Kings at various points; Arles and Italy were either held directly by the Emperor or not at all. The Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires technically contained various kingdoms (Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Lombardy–Venetia and Galicia and Lodomeria, as well as the Kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia which were themselves subordinate titles to the Hungarian Kingdom and which were merged as Croatia-Slavonia in 1868), but the emperor and the respective kings were the same person. The Russian Empire did not include any kingdoms. The short-lived First French Empire (1804–1814/5) included a number of client kingdoms under Napoleon I, such as the Kingdom of Italy, the Kingdom of Westphalia, the Kingdom of Etruria, the Kingdom of Württemberg, the Kingdom of Bavaria, the Kingdom of Saxony and the Kingdom of Holland. The German Empire (1871–1918) included the Kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony, with the Prussian king also holding the Imperial title.
  2. Pine, L.G. (1992). Titles: How the King became His Majesty . New York: Barnes & Noble. p.  86. ISBN   978-1-56619-085-5.
  3. History Crunch Writers. "Aztec Emperors (Huey Tlatoani)". History Crunch - History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  4. see e.g. M. Mitterauer, Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path, University of Chicago Press (2010), p. 28.
  5. The distinction of the title of "king" from "sultan" or "emir" in oriental monarchies is largely stylistics; the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the State of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are also categorised as absolute monarchies.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emperor</span> Type of monarch

The word emperor can mean the male ruler of an empire. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife, mother/grandmother, or a woman who rules in her own right and name. Emperors are generally recognized to be of the highest monarchic honor and rank, surpassing kings. In Europe, the title of Emperor has been used since the Middle Ages, considered in those times equal or almost equal in dignity to that of Pope due to the latter's position as visible head of the Church and spiritual leader of the Catholic part of Western Europe. The emperor of Japan is the only currently reigning monarch whose title is translated into English as "Emperor".

A monarch is a head of state for life or until abdication, and therefore the head of state of a monarchy. A monarch may exercise the highest authority and power in the state, or others may wield that power on behalf of the monarch. Usually a monarch either personally inherits the lawful right to exercise the state's sovereign rights or is selected by an established process from a family or cohort eligible to provide the nation's monarch. Alternatively, an individual may proclaim oneself monarch, which may be backed and legitimated through acclamation, right of conquest or a combination of means.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Holy Roman Emperor</span> Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Duke</span> Noble or royal title in some European countries and their colonies

Duke is a male title either of a monarch ruling over a duchy, or of a member of royalty, or nobility. As rulers, dukes are ranked below emperors, kings, grand princes, grand dukes, and sovereign princes. As royalty or nobility, they are ranked below princes and grand dukes. The title comes from French duc, itself from the Latin dux, 'leader', a term used in republican Rome to refer to a military commander without an official rank, and later coming to mean the leading military commander of a province. In most countries, the word duchess is the female equivalent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coronation</span> Ceremony marking the investiture of a monarch

A coronation is the act of placement or bestowal of a crown upon a monarch's head. The term also generally refers not only to the physical crowning but to the ceremony wherein the act of crowning occurs, along with the presentation of other items of regalia, marking the formal investiture of a monarch with regal power. Aside from the crowning, a coronation ceremony may comprise many other rituals such as the taking of special vows by the monarch, the investing and presentation of regalia to the monarch, and acts of homage by the new ruler's subjects and the performance of other ritual deeds of special significance to the particular nation. In certain Christian denominations, such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism, coronation is a rite. As such, Western-style coronations have often included anointing the monarch with holy oil, or chrism as it is often called; the anointing ritual's religious significance follows examples found in the Bible. The monarch's consort may also be crowned, either simultaneously with the monarch or as a separate event.

An elective monarchy is a monarchy ruled by a monarch who is elected, in contrast to a hereditary monarchy in which the office is automatically passed down as a family inheritance. The manner of election, the nature of candidate qualifications, and the electors vary from case to case. Historically, it was common for elective monarchies to transform into hereditary ones over time or for hereditary ones to acquire at least occasional elective aspects.

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<i>Basileus</i> Greek title roughly meaning monarch

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lands of the Bohemian Crown</span> Incorporated states in Central Europe during the medieval and early modern periods

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">East Francia</span> Country in Western Europe (843–962)

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kingdom of Germany</span> 10th-century kingdom of Germany

The Kingdom of Germany or German Kingdom was the mostly Germanic-speaking East Frankish kingdom, which was formed by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, especially after the kingship passed from Frankish kings to the Saxon Ottonian dynasty in 919. The king was elected, initially by the rulers of the stem duchies, who generally chose one of their own. After 962, when Otto I was crowned emperor, East Francia formed the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire, which also included the Kingdom of Italy and, after 1032, the Kingdom of Burgundy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monarchies in Europe</span> Countries in Europe which are monarchies

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monarchy of Italy</span> System of government in Italy from 1861 to 1946

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The order of precedence among European monarchies was a much-contested theme of European history, until it lost its salience following the Congress of Vienna in 1815.