1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Beyond Queen Elizabeth: Europe's monarchies

Silke Wünsch
June 3, 2022

Principalities, kingdoms, duchies — the 12 European monarchies are as diverse as the continent. There are queens and kings, of course, but also a bishop and a president. Let's not forget the Vatican!

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (C) stands with from left, Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Britain's Prince Louis of Cambridge, Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Britain's Princess Charlotte of Cambridge , Britain's Prince George of Cambridge, Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, smile while looking up at the sky from Buckingham Palace Balcony.
Queen Elizabeth II and the British royals watch a special flypast for her platinum jubilee celebrationsImage: Daniel Leal/AFP

The kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses of Europe are often celebrities who stage dream weddings and live in luxurious castles. They ruled for centuries but many lost their power in the early 20th century, and especially after the First World War when democratic aspirations were realized. Great noble families either lost importance or simply died out, the sovereignty of parliaments subverting the divine right of kings and queens. Nonetheless, royal culture lives on across Europe.  


The largest of Europe's microstates in terms of size is nestled in a high valley of the Pyrenees between France and Spain. The Principality of Andorra is unique in that it is headed by two co-princes who are not members of the nobility: Spain's Bishop of Urgell, the only prince-bishop in the world, and the French President, who is considered the legal successor of the former French kings.

The dual rule dates back to a dispute in the 13th century between the Bishop of Urgell, at the time the feudal lord over the territory, and a wealthy French noble family that wanted to be independent of the Church. The dispute was settled, the parties agreed on co-rule. The form of government is a parliamentary monarchy, and the two current heads of state are Joan Enrico Vives i Sicilia (Bishop of Urgell) and France's current president, Emmanuel Macron.

French President Emmanuel Macron (third from left) beside the Bishop of Urgell, Co-Prince of Andorra with a group of smiling men and women, all in dark blue coats
French President Emmanuel Macron (third from left) beside the Bishop of Urgell, Co-Prince of Andorra Image: Batard Patrick/ABACA/picture alliance

Tourism is an important sector in mountainous Andorra, especially in winter. Day tourists flock to the principality all year round, not least because shops sell alcohol and tobacco products at cheap prices.


King Philippe has been the Belgian head of state since 2013. He is not called King of Belgium, but King of the Belgians. The Belgians are not his subjects but simply his fellow countrymen.

Another Belgian peculiarity is that the heir to the throne is not automatically enthroned when the predecessor dies or abdicates — they must first take the constitutional oath.

Philippe is married to Queen Mathilde, who is 13 years his junior. They have four children: Crown Princess Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brabant, Princess Eleonore, and the two princes Gabriel and Emmanuel.

Belgium's royal family, a woman , a man and four children of different ages pose outdoors
Belgium's royal family during a visit to Bokrijk-Park in the northeast of the countryImage: Dirk Waem/BELGA/dpa/picture alliance

Tabloids today find little to write about concerning the Belgian royal family, which was different during the rule of Philippe's parents King Albert II and Queen Paola.

Queen Paola never missed a party in the wild 1960s; the Belgian royals were surrounded by rumors of extramarital affairs, including the inevitable paparazzi photos. King Albert II has meanwhile acknowledged having an illegitimate daughter, who is in her 50s today. 

Today's royal family is down-to-earth and takes its job seriously. Crown Princess Elisabeth stands out more for her casually elegant style than for scandalous stories.


Founded in 980 A.D., the Danish royal house is one of the oldest monarchies in the world. In addition to the small country in northern Europe, the national territory includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Queen Margrethe II has ruled the country since 1972.

Her family goes back to Harald Bluetooth, the first Viking king.

Her eccentric appearance is her trademark. No matter her age, she favors colorful and expansive robes, bustles through receptions and laughs loudly and often. One of her most famous items of clothing is a brightly colored raincoat she takes everywhere, even on an outing with the Norwegian royal couple.

She may have largely given up smoking in public, but cigarettes are her addiction. She paints and exhibits in galleries and museums. Her whole family is involved in charity work.

Queen Margrethe II. in 2015
Queen Margrethe II. of DenmarkImage: BAX LINDHARDT/AFP/Getty Images

Margrethe's husband, Prince Henrik, passed away in 2018, but the 82-year-old queen is still as fit as a fiddle and is set to celebrate her 50th anniversary on the throne in 2022.

Her sons, Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim, have added to the family a large gaggle of grandchildren.

Crown Prince Frederik and his wife Mary, who is popular in Denmark, have four children.

His brother Joachim has two sons from his first marriage, and another prince and a princess with his second wife, Marie.

Fun fact: the brothers' wives not only have the same name, they look very much alike, and their birthdays are only one day apart.


The Principality of Liechtenstein is unique because the prince and the people share state power.

For 300 years, the prince regnant's family has ruled over the small realm, which lies between western Austria and Switzerland.

The family is committed to sustainability, and promotes culture and science.

The current head of state, Prince Hans-Adam II, has been in office since 1989. His wife Marie died in August 2021. Heir to the throne Alois, the eldest of the sovereign's four children, is married to Crown Princess Sophie of Bavaria.

Prince Maximilian and his elegant Princess Angela are the more glamorous couple, however. She is from Panama, has African roots and is a successful businesswoman. Since their wedding in 2000, she has been part of the European high nobility, but not pursued by the tabloids. She keeps her private life under wraps, like the rest of the family does.

Liechtenstein Royals, Hans-Adam II. a man next to three girls in traditional costume
Hans-Adam II., the reinging prince of Liechtenstein, in VaduzImage: Gian Ehrenzeller/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

At the same time, they are in no way aloof toward their approximately 35,000 subjects. You might meet run across the family at the hair salon, in a café or on a hike. The family is cordial and down-to-earth, and the sovereign is sometimes greeted with "Hoi Förscht" (Hello Prince).

The family and the people of Liechtenstein gather to officially celebrate the national holiday every year at Vaduz Castle, followed by an aperitif in the Rose Garden and a large public festival in the capital Vaduz.


The head of the country is His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri, Prince of Nassau, Prince of Bourbon-Parma. In short: Henri.

He has been in office since 2000 and his position is for the most part representative. He cannot pass laws — but he can proclaim them. He can dissolve parliaments and appoint ministers, but he has no political responsibility, true to the principle: "The Grand Duke rules, but he does not govern."

His wife, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, is always at his side, a so-called "commoner" whose family comes from Cuba. She is an advocate for education, helps people with reading and spelling difficulties (her son Louis suffers from dyslexia) and is committed to fighting violence against girls and women.

While Henri is very popular with the people, Maria Teresa made negative headlines with accusations in the 2019 Waringo Report of bullying palace staff. The public prosecutor's office investigated the case, resulting in a state crisis of sorts. To this day, the couple denies the accusations.

Luxemburg Grand Duke Henri and Maria Teresa
Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa Image: Harald Tittel/dpa/picture alliance

The couple have five children. The eldest son is the Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg, married to Princess Stephanie, a Belgian count's daughter. Their son Prince Charles turned 2 in May 2022, to the delight of the tabloids.


The microstate on the Cote d'Azur in the south of France is a symbol of wealth, luxury and glamour, certainly since 1956, when Prince Rainier married the US actress Grace Kelly. As Princess Gracia Patricia, she beamed from the front pages of tabloid publications, her husband the prince paled beside her.

The couple had three children: Caroline, Stephanie and Albert. In 1982, she died in a car accident. Her children — the daughters in particular — kept tabloid reporters busy in the 1970s and 80s.

 Monaco Royals  Prinz Albert II. and Charlene with children, wiman and a amn with a young boy and a young girl
The Monaco royals, Prinz Albert II., his wife Charlene and their twins Gabriela and JacquesImage: Pascal Le Segretain/ABACA/picture alliance

Today, Prince Albert II is sovereign prince of Monaco, and the head of the House of Grimaldi. The prince and parliament work together. Albert married Charlene Wittstock, a former swimmer from South Africa 20 years his junior. The couple has twins.

The Netherlands

The Dutch love their head of state. Every year, they celebrate "Koningsdag" on the king's birthday, a fun festival for everybody that also has the royal family travelling around the country, visiting communities in the provinces.

In honor of the royal family, the House of Oranje-Nassau, the color orange abounds on that day.

King Willem-Alexander has been in office since 2013, succeeding his popular mother Beatrix. He is married to Maxima, an Argentine with Spanish, Basque and Italian roots.

They have three children: Crown Princess Amalia and Princesses Alexia and Ariane.

Dutch Royals, from left to right crown Princess Amalia, Queen Maxima, Princess Alexia, king Willem-alexander and Princess Ariane
The Dutch royal family Image: Koen Van Weel/ANP/dpa/picture alliance

But even the "Oranjes" are not entirely free of scandal. The entire country was irritated when the royal couple took a trip to Greece in October 2020 despite rising COVID numbers. To appease the outraged citizens, they cut short the vacation, flew home and apologized in a video message. Never before have members of the Dutch royal family shown remorse like Maxima and Willem-Alexander.


King Harald V has ruled Norway since 1991. He has been married to Sonja Haraldsen since 1968.

In 2021, the couple celebrated their 30th crown anniversary. Their two children are Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Martha Louise. Haakon married Mette-Marit, a commoner and single mother of an illegitimate son, which made headlines shortly before their wedding in 2001.

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit had two more children together: Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway and Prince Sverre Magnus of Norway.

Norway Royals, several men and women stand on a balcony, waving
Norway's Royal Family Image: Lise Aserud/NTB/dpa/picture alliance

While King Harald and Sonja quietly go about the business of fulfilling their representative duties, the crown prince and crown princess are under more media scrutiny, from Mette-Marit's weight problems, alleged tax waste and time and again, Mette-Marit's wild past and drug use when she was young.  

The Norwegian royal family is close to the Danish and Swedish royal families. Mette-Marit and Swedish Crown Princess Victoria are best friends.


King Felipe VI has been in office since 2014. He succeeded his father Juan Carlos, who abdicated in the wake of various scandals, including allegations of bribery.

Felipe, his wife Letizia and their two daughters Leonor and Sofia come across as a true picture-book family.

Getting there was not easy. His parents had already rejected two of his former girlfriends by the time Felipe met and fell in love with Letizia Ortiz, a journalist.

Accompanied by a lot of media hype, the Spanish royal couple tied the knot on May 22, 2004. The media focused on beautiful Letizia, whose slim figure repeatedly gave rise to rumors of anorexia.

Private details are sparingly revealed to the public.

Spanish royals King Felipe, Queen Letizia, Princess Leonor and Princess Sofia pose outdoors
Spain's King Felipe, Queen Letizia and the princesses Leonor and SofiaImage: Casa De S.M. El Rey/EUROPA PRESS/dpa/picture alliance


The Swedish royal family maintains close ties with Germany.

The reigning queen could be straight from a fairy tale: At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, a German hostess by the name of Silvia Sommerlath met Carl Gustav, Crown Prince of Sweden. The couple married in 1976.

Carl Gustav has been King of Sweden since 1973. In 1980, the country became the first monarchy to amend the law on succession to the throne and introduce a gender-neutral succession system.

Carl XVI. Gustaf and Silvia of sweden, a man and a woman
Carl XVI. Gustaf and Silvia of SwedenImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

Carl Gustav and Silvia have three children: Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine. All three married non-royals, which gives the family a touch of being closer to the Swedish people.

The royal family is very popular, and photographers adore the growing flock of little princesses and princes who easily steal the show from adults, like in this photo on the King's 76th birthday on April 30, 2022 when all eyes were on the grandchildren.

United Kingdom

When  Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, she was 96 and had reigned for seven decades, weathering war and crisis.

She became the British queen at the age of 25 and was Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

Her coronation in 1953 was a huge media spectacle, watched on television by 300 million people worldwide.

Queen Elizabeth II, woman smiling
Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her platinum jubilee in June 2022Image: Jonathan Brady/AP Photo/picture alliance

The media never lost interest in the British queen, following every scandal in the family, every tragedy, whether her sister Margaret's escapades or the drama surrounding her son Prince Charles and Lady Diana, the fatal accident involving the popular princess, a fire at Windsor Castle, a sex scandal involving her son Prince Andrew, the separation of her grandson Harry from the family, and finally the death of her husband Prince Philip in 2021.

Her son, the longest-waiting heir apparent, becomes King Charles III.

Vatican City

Vatican City is recognized as the smallest country on earth. With an area the size of about 60 soccer fields, it is located within the Italian capital of Rome and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its head of state is the Pope, who is also the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis, a man stands on a balcony decorated with flowers, waving
Pope Francis waves from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's SquareImage: YARA NARDI/REUTERS

Pope Francis has been Pope since 2013. The form of government is a so-called elective monarchy: The head of state is elected by the cardinals and loses office only by death or resignation. The pope has legislative, executive and judicial powers. There is no separation of powers with another democratic institution, such as a parliament — that makes Vatican City an absolute monarchy.


This article was originally written in German and updated on September 8, 2022, to include the news about Queen Elizabeth's death.