With all the attention around Britain’s forthcoming Royal Baby, you’d think the U.K. had a monopoly on monarchs -- infant or otherwise. In reality, there are 26 monarchies in the world, a fascinating network of kings, queens, sultans, emperors and emirs who rule or reign over 43 countries in all.
It goes without saying, of course, that most royal families have a considerably lower international profile than the Windsors. That has a lot to do with Britain’s imperial history: Sixteen countries, including Canada and Australia, are still technically subjects of the British monarchy, which also once ruled much of the world.
Beyond Queen Elizabeth II, the other monarchies vary widely in how much power they hold, how they're seen, how their family got there and even in what they're called. Here’s a quick tour of the world's 25 other royal families, plus its two elected monarchies, in Malaysia and the Vatican. We've divided them into monarchs who rule -- who have real, direct political power -- and those, like the Windsors, who merely reign.
Monarchs who rule
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, which makes Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz the king and prime minister. His deputies, Salman and Muqrin, are also from the ruling House of Saud, and the king-appointed cabinet includes more members of the royal family. While the monarchy is hereditary now, future Saudi kings will be chosen by a committee of Saudi princes, per a 2006 decree. (There are plenty of them: according to some estimates, the ruling family includes as many as 30,000 people.)
Kuwait: Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, age 84, has ruled Kuwait since 2006, when the previous emir died, setting off a minor succession crisis because the next-in-line was physically unable to recite the oath of office, possibly because of age-related health issues. Sabah took over instead; he rules the oil-rich nation as emir and head of the royal family, which has been in some form of power since the early 1700s.
Qatar: Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is a recent addition to this list, having taken over in June after his father's peaceful abdication. The al-Thani family is known for ostentatious wealth and for working aggressively to expand their country's regional, oil-funded influence. They've ruled Qatar since 1825 and underwent a series of forced abdications in the 20th century, typically instigated by sons or nephews eager to take the throne.
United Arab Emirates: As its name suggests, the United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven districts, each of which is governed by a hereditary monarch who bears the title of emir. Traditionally, the emir of Abu Dhabi is also the federation president. Today that's Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who's been in charge since his father died in 2004. He is thought to have personal wealth of about $5 billion.
Swaziland: King Mswati III has been the absolute monarch of this small southern African country since inheriting the crown from his father in 1986, when he was barely 18 years old. His formal title is Ngwenyama, an honorific that also means lion.
Brunei: Sir Hassanal Bolkiah has been Brunei’s sultan and prime minister since 1967, and he appoints virtually all of Brunei’s ruling bodies, including the Legislative Council and the Supreme and Sharia Courts. His 1,800-room palace, the Istana Nurul Iman, is considered the world’s largest private residence.
Oman: Sultan Qaboos bin Said has ruled Oman, its government, its treasury and its military since he overthrew his father in a 1970 palace coup. His family has ruled since the 1700s, although it lost its East African territory in the 1800s.
Bahrain: The al-Khalifa family, which is Sunni, has ruled over this small and majority-Shiite island nation since 1783. The current monarch, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, took over in 1999 and in 2002 changed his title from emir to king. Though the constitutional monarchy grants Shiites some role in the government, it's not much, and pro-democracy protests have roiled the country since 2011.
Jordan: King Abdullah II has ruled since 1999, and though he isn’t technically the head of government -- Jordan has an appointed prime minister -- he has very real political powers, including the ability to veto any law and dissolve parliament at will. His successor, Crown Prince Hussein, is 19 years old.
Morocco: King Mohammed VI voluntarily shrank some of his powers when, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, he enacted a series of reforms to Morocco’s government, a constitutional monarchy. While he still has significant powers -- including appointing the prime minister and members of the government -- he can no longer dissolve the parliament or call for new elections.
The Vatican: Yes, the pope is considered the monarch of this European city-state. Here's a video explaining it:
Monarchs with some political power
Monaco: Prince Albert II has ruled since 2005 and holds a large political role, despite the fact that Monaco has an elected legislature. He gets to appoint the minister of state, for instance, but only from a list of three preselected candidates.
Thailand: King Bhumibol Adulyadej has reigned for a remarkable 67 years, beating England’s Queen Elizabeth, who has served since 1952. He holds a number of little-used, but still important, constitutional powers, including the ability to veto legislation and pardon criminals. Bhumibol is also an interesting figure on his own merits: The 85-year-old king is an accomplished jazz musician and has patented a waste water aerator.
Liechtenstein: In a rare move among Western European countries, Liechtenstein actually voted to increase the powers of Prince Hans Adam II in the early aughts. The prince can veto any legislation and dissolve the parliament at will, among other powers. Technically, these official duties have been transferred to his son, Prince Alois, but Hans Adam remains chief of state.
Tonga: King George Tupou V took the throne from his father in 2006 and promptly promised to cede most of his powers to the country’s prime minister. Tonga had been an absolute monarchy, but violent, pro-democracy rallies shortly before Tupou’s coronation caused huge damage in the capital and killed eight people.
Bhutan: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk is the Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan, which means Dragon King. Jigme formally took the throne in 2008, two years after his father’s abdication. The coronation was delayed to give 26-year-old Jigme more administrative experience. Reforms in the late 1990s reduced the king's powers. The Wangchuck monarchy is just over 100 years old, having unified the small Himalayan country under its rule with help from the British Empire.
Ceremonial or figurehead monarchs
Norway: Norway’s King Harald V has a number of important-sounding but entirely ceremonial roles, including appointing the Norwegian cabinet and the prime minister -- with the approval of the parliament, of course. The monarchy is hereditary, and 40-year-old crown prince Haakon Magnus will take over from his father.
Sweden: Sweden is one of the few monarchies that allows female succession, which means Princess Victoria Ingrid Alice Desiree will become queen at the end of her father’s reign, so far of 40 years. King Carl XVI Gustaf, the current monarch, is a ceremonial figure.
The Netherlands: The Netherlands’ King Willem-Alexander took the throne only three months ago, after his mother Beatrix gave up her reign of 33 years. The Netherlands has a bicameral parliament, so the monarch doesn’t rule directly. But King Willem-Alexander still has an important role as the president of the Council of State, an advisory body with roots in the 16th century. No law may be submitted to parliament unless it goes to the council first.
Spain: Spain's 75-year-old King Juan Carlos I has little power now, but he was instrumental in bringing democracy to Spain. The dictator Francisco Franco named Juan Carlos to succeed him, but shortly after Franco's death, the new king dismantled the Francoist regime and kickstarted the process that would lead to Spain's 1978 constitution. Three years later, Juan Carlos also gave a televised address that shut down the attempted "23-F" coup.
Greenland: Greenland is part of a the Kingdom of Denmark, though it has governed itself through an elected parliament since 1979. Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II is still the queen in name there, however; the 73-year-old queen has reigned since 1972 and is to eventually pass the throne to her son Frederik.
Luxembourg: Luxembourg styles itself as a “Grand Duchy,” not a kingdom, so Henri Guillaume goes by the title Grand Duke Henri. He represents, in the words of the official government Web site, “a symbol of stability, a single figure at the head of state, above the daily political business.”
Belgium: Belgium’s 53-year-old King Philippe inherited a divided country when he was sworn in July 21, hours after his father abdicated. His position is symbolic but important, given Belgium’s current political climate: Philippe has advocated for greater unity between the country’s warring Flemings and Francophones.
Lesotho: King Letsie III has reigned formally since 1996, and informally since 1990, when his father was in exile. He is a “living symbol of national unity,” per the national constitution, and he has no political powers.
Cambodia: King Norodom Sihamoni was tapped to take over from his father in 2004, when Thailand’s Royal Throne Council picked him from a pool of eligible male royals. Sihamoni's post is a symbolic one, but he had earlier served in real political roles, including as Cambodia’s ambassador to UNESCO.
Malaysia: The structure of the monarchy in Malaysia is ceremonial and unique. Each state has a hereditary leader, called a sultan; every five years, the sultans elect one of their members to serve as king. Since 2011, Tuanku Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah has held the throne.
Japan: Japan's Yamato dynasty traces its origins back to 660, making it the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The 79-year-old Emperor Akihito has reigned since 1989 and is, according to legend, the 125th emperor in his line, though there's some debate as to the exact count of emperors. His seat is called the Chrysanthemum Throne and sits in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.