Once the most common form of government on the planet, monarchy has waned over the last few centuries. Many countries have done away with kings and queens altogether, while others have simply curtailed the power of their monarchs with constitutions, parliaments and other checks and balances.
Whether they stay on as figureheads or as vital participants in their nations’ governments, there are still many monarchs in the world — and some of them have been in power for a long time. Here’s a glimpse of the world’s current and longest-reigning rulers:
Both the longest-reigning sovereign in the world and in Thailand’s history, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, aka Rama IX, officially ascended the throne in 1946. His coronation was delayed four years after a coup. The authority of the monarchy was restored by Thailand’s 1949 constitution. King Adulyadej has four children and he is also believed by Forbes magazine to be one of the world’s wealthiest monarchs.
Since she ascended the throne in 1952, the number of territories in which Elizabeth is acknowledged as queen has varied. She remains the reigning monarch of 16 sovereign nations today. These include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and several of the Virgin Islands. Charles, the Prince of Wales, is Queen Elizabeth’s heir apparent.
Sultan of the Kingdom of Kedah since 1958, Abdul Halim was also elected to serve as the yang di-pertuan agong or supreme ruler of Malaysia from 1970 to 1975. He was elected for a second term as Malaysia’s sovereign in 2011, becoming the first person in its history to hold this office twice.
Adetona was elected to serve as Awujale of Ijebuland, or ruler of Ijebu Kingdom in Nigeria in 1960 when he was 26 years old. There are an estimated 222,000 people in the kingdom, which is really just a local government area situated on Nigeria’s coast.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei
Though Brunei remained a British protectorate until 1984, Bolkiah was officially crowned sultan in 1967 following his father’s abdication. Bolkiah also serves as Brunei’s prime minister. In 2006, the constitution was revised, declaring the sultan “infallible.” The U.S. State Department accuses Bolkiah’s government of severely restricting freedom of speech and press, but he is also credited with developing the nation’s economy and many respected social programs. Bolkiah’s palace is said to have 1,188 rooms and 290 bathrooms; the palace occupies more than 200,000 square meters.
Zwelithini’s authority as the reigning king of the Zulu nation is acknowledged by the South African constitution. He became king at age 20 in 1968 and spent the next three years in exile to avoid assassination. When he returned to his homeland, the official coronation took place in 1971. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, King Zwelithini has played an active role in South African politics. He has fathered more than 27 children, one of whom will presumably be chosen as his heir.
Sultan Qaboos came to power after overthrowing his father’s rule in 1970 and then defeating communist rebels with the aid of Iran, Jordan and Great Britain. He rules the Sultanate of Oman as an absolute monarch, though he has permitted parliamentary elections. Sultan Qaboos is known for adhering to a strictly neutral foreign policy, maintaining relations with Iran even while being an ally to the U.S. and Great Britain.
Queen Margrethe ascended to the throne upon the death of her father, King Frederick IX, in 1972. She is the first female monarch of Denmark since the 15th century. Though she is officially the head of the Danish government, the queen does not have an active role in Danish politics, nor does she express public opinions. Her formal powers are exercised by the Council of State.
Sultan Al-Qasimi has ruled the Sharjah Emirate since 1972. A well-known historian and scholar, Al-Qasimi authored several publications which cover history, literature and theater. He also received countless honorary doctoral degrees.
His father died in a plane crash when he was just 9 months old, and Carl Gustaf later succeeded his grandfather to the throne. According to Sweden’s 1974 constitution, the king’s duties are only ceremonial in nature, but he is a known advocate for environmental causes. He is honorary chairman of the World Scout Federation and also presents Nobel prizes each year in Stockholm.