How does the UK’s Royal Family compare with others around the world? | World News

How does the UK’s Royal Family compare with others around the world? | World News


The number of dignitaries from around the globe who came to the Queen’s funeral underscored the significance of the British family compared to others around the world.

But they are far from the only monarchy, and many other royal families have equally important places in the hearts of their subjects, due to the customs they embody and the longstanding cultural relationships they share with the people they reign over.

Here are how some of the royal families around the world compare to that in the UK:


The oldest continuous, verifiable, monarchical line still in existence is that of Japan’s emperors.

There is evidence of an unbroken hereditary line since the early 6th century, with the date usually put at 539CE (539AD).

Japanese Emperor Naruhito comes from a line of emperors that is the longest continuous surviving monarchy in the world. Pic: AP

The first emperor in the historical records, Kinmei, ruled until 571 according to the ancient text The Chronicles of Japan.

But Japanese legend says there were 25 previous emperors, which some have claimed takes the line back to 660BCE (660BC).

The continuity of power of Japan’s royal family, called the Yamato Dynasty, is said to be closely linked to Japan’s strong sense of tradition that continues to shape the country’s culture, infrastructure, and public policy and also its highly hierarchical social structure.

Another extremely old royal line is that of Cambodia, which was formed with the foundation of the Khmer Empire in the 9th century, when the famous city of Angkor rose out of the jungles of the southeast Asian country.

While the historical sources are vaguer, with much of the records being from stone inscriptions, some experts say there is evidence of a continuous line.

When the Khmer Empire collapsed in the 15th century, the king at the time was reduced to being monarch of Cambodia and the line has been unbroken since then, despite several periods when the royal family’s power has been stripped or limited by communist or colonial rule.

In Europe, the British Royal Family vies for having the longest continuous line, with the English line going back to Alfred the Great, who united the Anglo-Saxons to create the nascent England. In Scotland, the line goes back to Kenneth McAlpin, who united the tribes of Alba, creating the nascent nation north of the border.

Historians will take differing views on the length of the English and Scottish lines, as, for a start, both lines were merged with the Act of Union in 1707, when the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were replaced by the Kingdom of Great Britain. Also, there are differing views on the foundation dates for England and Scotland, with many historians saying England was not created until 927, under Aethelstan. The origins of Scotland are harder to say for certain, with Donald II the first to be referred to as the King of Alba and the country only gradually being called Scotia or Scotland as time went on.

There are several other royal families, however, who have been around for virtually as long as the British one.

Denmark is sometimes described as the oldest royal family in Europe, because the foundation of the nation can be traced back to the rule of Gorm the Old, from 936 to 958.

The 42 generations since Gorm have been documented, leaving the current queen, Margrethe, with a strong claim to have not just the oldest line, but the inheritance of being the now longest reigning monarch in the world, after the death of Elizabeth II of the UK.

Queen Margrethe of Denmark, whose reign is now Europe's longest following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Pic: AP
Queen Margrethe of Denmark, whose reign is now Europe’s longest following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Pic: AP

Sweden and Norway’s monarchs can also trace their lines back at least 1,000 years.

A number of other royal families also claim long lines, but there have been substantial periods during which the countries they now rule didn’t exist, or the family lived and ruled elsewhere or a much smaller territory.

Rights of succession

Since 2013, any first-born child is the heir to the British throne, regardless of whether they are male or female.

It replaced a concept known as male-preference primogeniture, under which the first-born male in the line of succession would inherit the throne, regardless of whether they had older sisters.

The system changed after the passing of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 which replaced male-preference primogeniture with absolute primogeniture for those in the line of succession born after 28 October 2011.

It meant that, at the time, whoever was the oldest child of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge would become next in line to the throne after William himself.

In the end, Prince George was born, who would have been next in line under the previous system anyway. But, it meant that when Princess Charlotte was born, she was next in line instead of Louis, who was born after – something that was not available to Princess Anne after the births of her two younger brothers Andrew and Edward, who were above her in the line of succession.

Princess Charlotte during a visit to Cardiff Castle
Princess Charlotte is now third in line to the throne, rather than fourth, which she would have been until the Succession to the Crown Act in 2013

The system of succession varies hugely from monarchy to monarchy, however.

Sweden was the first European royal family to adopt absolute cognatic primogeniture, as inheritance by the eldest child is known.

At the time, in 1980, the oldest son of the first in line to the throne, the baby Prince Carl Philip, was due eventually to become king.

The change of rules left Carl Philip demoted. His older sister, Victoria, became heir to the throne and she is still due to take over from her father, now King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden. Pic: AP
Prince Carl Philip was demoted from heir, to second in line to the throne after Sweden introduced absolute primogeniture. Pic: AP

The move was controversial, despite being popular among ordinary Swedes, with the king said to have been unhappy, but unable to do anything about it as Sweden is a constitutional monarchy run by a government.

In addition to changing the right of succession to females, the act of parliament that brought it in limited the potential number of claimants to the throne, so that only the descendants of Carl XVI Gustaf could inherit.

It meant that if the royal house were to become extinct, the parliament was not required to appoint a new royal house to the throne, leaving Sweden destined to become a republic.

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Pic: AP
Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden became heir to the throne, because she was the oldest child. Pic: AP

Since Sweden’s move, as well as the UK, many other European countries have followed suit in introducing absolute primogeniture, such as the Netherlands (1983), Norway (1990), Belgium (1991), Denmark (2009), and Luxembourg (2011).

Male-preference primogeniture still exists however, in countries like Spain and Monaco.

Another form of succession, called Salic law, or agnatic succession, exists in other countries, such as Lichtenstein and Japan.

This restricts the pool of potential heirs to males of the father’s line, and altogether excludes females from the dynasty.

Japan's Princess Aiko. Pic: AP
Japan’s Princess Aiko will never inherit the throne because Japan only allows male heirs to inherit. Pic: AP

That has the potential to impact the future of Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne, as the current Emperor has one daughter, Aiko, who is not destined to inherit the throne, despite being his only child.

Instead, the heir is Emperor Naruhito’s brother Akishino, Crown Prince Fumihito, whose son Prince Hisahito will take over if his father dies before the current emperor.

In Japan, where women are becoming increasingly assertive, despite deep-rooted social norms, the principle of agnatic succession is becoming a topic of frequent debate.

Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed al Maktoum on his horse Yamamah competes in the World Equestrian Games in France in 2014. Pic: AP
Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed al Maktoum on his horse Yamamah competes in the World Equestrian Games in France in 2014. Pic: AP


Probably the world’s most famous heir apparent, other than Prince William, is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

He is heir to the absolute monarchy that is the Saudi Kingdom, and is due to take over affairs in his country after the death of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, his father, the country’s King and prime minister.

The 37-year-old has been hailed as a reformer in the highly conservative country, having been said to have introduced regulations restricting the powers of the religious police and improving women’s rights, such as the removal of the ban on female drivers and weakening the male-guardianship system.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pic: AP
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is probably the most powerful royal in the world. Pic: AP

But he has also been widely condemned for prolonging Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian regime, with allegations the country he now effectively rules has been involved in torture, arbitrary jailings, and killings, including the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who had criticised the Saudi government – something Saudi Arabia denies.

A number of the other Arab royal family heirs have high-profile roles.

The heir to the Emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum is a multiple world champion at the World Equestrian Games and has an Instagram account with more than 14 million followers.

Japanese Crown Prince Akishino. Pic: AP
Japanese Crown Prince Akishino will inherit the throne, despite being uncle to the emperor’s daughter. Pic: AP

Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan is, like Prince Harry, a captain in his armed forces and trained for a period with his country’s special forces. As the heir to the Hashemite dynasty, he is said to be able to trace his lineage back to Mohammed, and later, the rulers of Mecca.

One of the younger heirs is Moulay Hassan, Crown Prince of Morocco, who represented his father at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. The 19-year-old speaks four languages and even before last week’s events, had represented his country at a number of international events.

Another young heir is 18-year-old Princess Catharina-Amalia of the Netherlands, who, when she inherits, is also due to be head of state in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

Princess Catharina-Amalia of the Netherlands attends King's Day celebrations in April 2022. Pic: AP
Princess Catharina-Amalia of the Netherlands attends King’s Day celebrations in April 2022. Pic: AP

After graduating from school, like William and Harry, she also undertook a gap year, during which she refused to accept her right to €1.6m a year in income, instead undertaking an internship at the Orange Fund and volunteering.


Many people would be content with the four main residences the Queen previously used before her death: Buckingham Palace; Balmoral; Sandringham and Windsor.

But the UK’s monarch has a number of other official buildings they can use, such as Holyrood House and Hillsborough Castle.

Yet only one of these is specifically a palace. And Buckingham Palace is big, but it is not the biggest royal palace in the world.

The front of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. Pic: AP
The front of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. Pic: AP

That honour goes to one in Austria, the Hofburg Palace, which, at 2.5 million sq ft, is the largest by floor area and the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty, which as rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the losing parties in the First World War, came to an end in its aftermath.

Hofburg Palace is still in use – by the President of Austria – but is no longer royal.

The largest royal palace still in use is that of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah.

His Istana Nurul Iman Palace is said to be the world’s biggest home, at 2.15 million sq ft of space. But it is largely that – a home – rather than a ceremonial palace.

Said to boast 1,788 rooms and 257 bathrooms, a 110-car garage, horse stables, a banquet hall, swimming pools and a mosque that can accommodate 1,500 people, the palace has a tendency to impress visitors.

The Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid

In Europe, the biggest is that belonging to the Spanish royal family, the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is 1.45 million sq ft. The Spanish royals generally choose not to live there, opting to reside in Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid and only using the palace for ceremonial events.

Buckingham Palace (830,000 sq ft) is the second largest lived in palace in Europe, but still eclipsed by others around the world – including by the Istana Negara, the official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the monarch of Malaysia.

With an interior square footage of around 1,000,000 sq ft and a complex size of 95ha, it is in fact relatively new, having only been moved into in 2011, replacing its predecessor which was a little smaller.


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Jorge Oliveira