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

Europe's royals

June 1, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II may be the longest-reigning monarch in Europe - but she's not the only one. There are six other countries with monarchs, and all of them are of pensionable age.

Queen Elizabeth II (center) with (from left) Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, King Harald of Norway, Queen Margrethe of Denmark and Queen Sofia of Spain
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/dpaweb

Lilibet was the childhood pet name of Queen Elizabeth II - and she's apparently still called that by some of her close friends. She and other members of the British royal family, who represent the crown at official functions, are by far the best-known royal "firm" in Europe.

Nobility expert Rolf Seelmann-Eggebert says the reason for that is simple: "The British monarchy deploys more pomp than anyone else. You only have to think which other monarchs - apart from the Queen - you've ever seen wearing an actual crown," he told DW.

Elizabethhas been on the throne for 60 years, and, at the age of 86, is still going strong. "She's more popular than ever before," said her biographer, Kate Williams. Elizabeth apparently hopes to beat Queen Victoria's record as longest-reigning British monarch - 63 years and seven months.

Dutch Prince Friso, Princess Mabel and Queen Beatrix with newborn baby Countess Luana in 2005
A family photo from the Dutch royal familyImage: dapd

The seven kingdoms of Europe

But the British monarchy is not alone in Europe. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands are all constitutional monarchies. Kings and queens inherit their titles and are not elected - although all those countries are also stable parliamentary democracies. Historian Monika Wienfort explains that monarchies have survived in those countries that have experienced relative stability over the last 150 years.

"Where there were no overthrows, no revolutions, where the world wars had a different significance, monarchies still exist," she said.

Wienfort says Denmark is a good example of that. "The constitutional monarchy remains in place because the majority of people do not want to abolish it," she explained. That's also the case in the UK: Recent polls show that around 80 percent of Britons are in favor of the monarchy.

"We don't expect any revolutions to break out in Europe any time soon. That's why monarchies have a good chance for the future," said the historian.

King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden
King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia of SwedenImage: AP

One big family

All the kings and queens of Europe are over 60, and many of them are related to one another. The youngest is 66-year-old Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. All of Europe's royal dynasties are likely to be handed down to the next generation within the next ten or 20 years. In every case, there is already a successor lined up - but the younger generation are no longer marrying among "their own." Instead, like in the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton last year, they are marrying "commoners" - those without titles.

Wienfort explains that trend by the fact that the royal families are closer to the people nowadays - they go to normal universities and no longer feel so much pressure to marry into nobility.

That never used to be the case - royal and noble families of Europe used to intermarry. Most of Europe's monarchies are descended from just a couple of families, notably the German noble families of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Even the British Queen has German blood in her veins: King George V changed the family's name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor by royal proclamation in 1917, due to anti-German sentiment in World War I.

In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate in 1918 to make way for the Weimar Republic. Despite that, the Germans today are loyal fans of other European royals. Millions of Germans follow the private lives and scandals of the royals in the tabloid press. "They can readily identify with them," Wienfort said. "The royal families live normal lives: they marry, have children, they die. But they do so in public, and with a huge amount of pomp. How often do you get to see coaches, castles, beautiful clothes? Of course people are interested."

Author: Bernd Riegert / ji
Editor: Simon Bone