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I am interested in designing a system of government in which a constitutionally-bound monarch has a far more active role in government than being limited to ceremonial duties. I don't want to have the role of the ministry to be arbitrary, but I also don't want to create a government in which the citizens must rely on an absolute monarch to be purely benevolent.

Are there any real world examples or classifications of a monarchy in which the reigning monarch possesses a great deal of powers or more powers than the traditional constitutional monarchy? Or perhaps an example of a government in which the ministers still ultimately serve the monarch?

Some of the powers of the head of state I'm interested in would be largely involved with being Commander and Chief of military forces. Some lesser powers the monarch might possess could be having the ability to issue punishments for certain crimes.

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    $\begingroup$ See Queen Elizabeth II’s dad. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Jan 21, 2020 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ It is an extremely common arrangement. Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, or William II, German Emperor and King of Prussia... They had extensive powers but they were not heads of government. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 21, 2020 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: True, and useful. And even in the modern world, very powerful presidents such as Mr. Macron of France, Mr. Putin of Russia, Mr. Erdoğan of Turkey or Mr. Xi of the People's Republic have Prime Ministers who do they day-to-day governing. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 21, 2020 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP there are also somewhat weird examples of a (less than a) figurehead monarch who came back into power: Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Bulgaria was the reigning monarch of Bulgaria for a time. Political regime change booted him and the royal family and the monarchy was abolished. Decades later, after the previous regime fell, Simeon II didn't have any power as a monarch but he went into politics and became a prime minister. So...even a figurehead can still exert power in the right way. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 22, 2020 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: And Otto von Habsburg, who used to be crown prince of Austria-Hungary back in the day, had a late-life renaissance and was a very influential MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for two decades (1979-1999). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 22, 2020 at 8:56

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The British monarchy provides an interesting example. Although the Queen of England is a constitutional monarch as per tradition in the UK there is no written constitution and many royal powers remain technically active even if they are never applied in practice.

As things stand with Queen Elizabeth there is little likelihood of any major constitutional issues, however given the existing law and in the unlikely event that Queen Elizabeth had a mind to create problems the UK government would find itself in a difficult position.

No Act of parliament can become law unless it has received royal assent so there is no legal way for the Government to pass laws without royal approval. Although the Queen always signs Acts of parliament failure to do so would result in a constitutional crisis.

High Court judges are appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Lord Chancellor. However if she had a mind to do it she might not accept the advice and might appoint whoever she chose.

Members of the armed forces in the UK also swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown (The Queen).

So technically the Government doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to the monarch. Parliament could be dismissed by the Queen and would have no legal recourse. In practice should such a bizarre situation arise the Queen would almost certainly be removed from office, however such actions would technically be illegal. The result would effectively be a revolution and either the establishment of a new monarch (illegally) or the declaration of a republic (illegally).

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much the plot of Charles III. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 22, 2020 at 2:33
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British Monarchy is more than a figurehead

I would expand on Slarty's answer and say that the British model is worth a look, but as a specific example look at Australias Constitutional Crisis.

In this event, the Queen (through her representative Governor General Kerr) changed Australias government, which was democratically elected, replacing the Prime Minister with the Opposition leader. This was a major intervention, essentially resulting in replacement of all ministers and a complete reversal of many policies and resulting in a long Conservative rule.

It was sudden, with no warning, and the pretext was only to pass an 'Appropriation Bill', solely called upon in one private meeting with between the Opposition leader and Governor General (in fact, the morning of, in which the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam went to the Governors House in the afternoon, only to find his government was replaced, missing this private meeting by mere minutes).

It has remained controversial to this day, but a constant ever-present reminder that the Queen or her representative, at any time, can replace the government with little to no notice, to even the surprise of the people. You can't get much more powerful than that.

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While the British example is well addressed, there are others to examine.

Another example to look at is the modern Spanish monarchy. Within the framework of the Law, when asked by the govt and applying the current law, the monarch

  • can withhold assent to bills
  • can summon & dissolve the Cortes
  • can propose a candidate for presidency, or can appoint or remove a president
  • is supreme commander of the armed forces
  • can exercise the right to clemency
  • can take a pretty active role in international diplomacy

Another, rather stronger, example is that of Jordan. Here, the monarch

  • can assent to or directly veto legislation; overriding the monarch's veto requires a supermajority in both houses of Parliament
  • can suspend or dissolve Parliament at will and call for new elections
  • can rule in their place until new elections are held
  • is supreme leader of the armed forces

Others to look at are the monarchies of Monaco, where the prince retains real executive, legislative and judicial powers; and Lichtenstein, whose princes recently expanded their royal powers.

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It sounds like you are looking for the actual way many monarchies ran until fairly recently (say 1700 to 1945).

Some form of parliament or permanent bureaucracy (ministries) ran things but under the guidance of the monarch. The monarch's guidance were real priorities but rarely absolutes. Just because Germany's (WW1 monarch) Wilhelm II really wanted a big navy like his Grandma over in England had, didn't mean the army was neglected, it just meant scrimping everywhere else.

When one side or the other moved too far from the general consensus, replacements occurred. We tend to only remember the times when the royal strenuously resisted replacement eg Louis in France before Napoleon or Charles before Cromwell in England.

A better model to base your monarch's powers on may be presidents in countries beside the USA.

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United Arab Emirates is kind of complicated like this.

You should probably just read the wikipedia article but in short it's a federation of seven different monarchies, and there's a Federal Supreme Council that votes on who the President and Vice-President should be, and there's also a Prime Minister who has a cabinet, and it just goes on and on.

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Sure. While most constitutional monarchies extant today have relegated the monarch to a cultural icon with purely formal and ceremonial duties, a few strong monarchies, checked but not controlled by an elected body, still exist. Examples include the Kingdoms of Bhutan and Jordan, the Emirate of Kuwait, and the principalities of Monaco and Liechtenstein. In these countries, there is an elected representative and legislative body, however the monarchy retains key practical powers in the executive and/or legislative realms of governance, including presiding over lawmaking bodies, introducing legislation, veto power, appointing key government positions, etc. The model of the American President as chief executive has led to many nations retaining a monarch with similar power, while separating the legislative and judicial powers historically united under royal control.

One does have to recognize that this state of affairs is by its very nature a compromise, and historically speaking, most monarchs that have ceded lawmaking power to an elected body have seen that body use its power to further reduce the monarch's in cultural shifts toward popular government. Of the nations that recognize a monarch as head of state, most are former British possessions that recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their formal head of state, however their governments (most of them modeled on the Westminster parliamentary system) are totally self-sufficient and separate from that of the United Kingdom, and the Queen's role in these other countries is basically a face to put on money (if that). Most of the rest are Western European nations who have seen the monarchy reduced to cultural icon status in the wake of key disagreements between the monarchy and government that forced action.

The fate of the majority of monarchies in world history as of the beginning of the 20th Century were sealed by the spread of Communism in Europe and Asia, and the counter spread of Western-style democracy (or at least initially-deferential dictatorships) by the US and NATO in Central America and Africa; by the time the tides of the Cold War receded, most royal scions of the territories involved were deposed, dead and/or in exile, and the countries adopted various versions of an elected head-of-state/head-of-government, whether parliamentary or presidential.

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