20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies

Steve - August 15, 2019

The most common form of government worldwide until the twentieth century, with forty-five sovereign nations still possessing such heads of state, monarchy denotes a system of government under which a single individual holds supreme authority and from whom all power is derived. Whilst some monarchs are elected, and others serving less autocratic functions in today’s modern world, most monarch’s positions are hereditary and for life. Becoming the ire of liberals and progressives from the Enlightenment onward, history is littered with failed efforts by royal families to cling onto their power at the expense of the common citizen and the eventual triumph of the people as they brought down their dynastic overlords.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Execution of Louis XVI, engraved by Isidore Stanislas Helman after Charles Monnet (c. 1794). Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 20 monarchies that were ultimately abolished by the subjects they sought to rule:


20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Romulus marking the city’s boundaries with a plow, by Agostino, Ludovico, or Annibale Carracci (c. the 16th century). Wikimedia Commons.

20. For its first two-hundred-and-fifty years, the ancient city of Rome was operated under a monarchy until the transformation of the Roman Kingdom into the Roman Republic in 509 BCE

Although limited information is available regarding the Roman Kingdom, according to ancient historians Livy, Plutarch, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Rome was founded in 753 BCE by Romulus who reigned as its ruler by virtue of being its creator. Governing himself for a period of thirty-seven years, Romulus was succeeded by a succession of six other Kings of Rome, reigning for a combined 206 years until 509. Although imbued with the formal powers of a monarch, invested with the supreme military, executive, and judicial authority, immune from prosecution or replacement, the Kings of Rome were not monarchs in the more common understanding of the position.

Rather than inheriting their title via lineage, nor winning via right of conquest, the Kings of Rome, despite their name and its modern connotations, were, in fact, elected. Chosen for life, any citizen of Rome was eligible to be installed and granted absolute authority and dominion over Rome. Coming to an abrupt conclusion during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the king’s son, Sextus Tarquinius, raped the noblewoman Lucretia. Resulting in an uprising against the royal family, Tarquinius was deposed, his family exiled from Rome, and a new system of government – the Roman Republic – was instituted to preside over the great and powerful city for almost the next five hundred years.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Portrait of King Charles I in his robes of state, by a follower of Anthony van Dyck (c. 1636). Wikimedia Commons.

19. The English monarchy was deposed and replaced with the Commonwealth of England in 1649

Following the protracted First and Second Civil Wars, lasting from 1642-1646 and 1648-1649 respectively, the victorious Parliamentarians dispensed limited mercy to their captive enemies in the hopes of ending the horrific cycle of bloodshed. Executing several prominent Royalists, these reprisals culminated in the trial of King Charles I on charges of high treason. Reasoning the monarch had misused his position and the powers afforded him for his own political and personal gain, in so doing making himself a “tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy”, Charles was convicted, sentenced to death, and beheaded on January 30, 1649.

Just days later, on February 7 Parliament voted down the notion of continuing the monarchy, instead passing an act to abolish the position of king on March 17. Proclaiming the Commonwealth of England, despite investing power in Parliament as a formal republic this new system was hardly less authoritarian and, following the declaration of the Protectorate in 1653, Oliver Cromwell ruled as a de facto king until his death by natural causes in 1658. Enduring a period of turbulence and lacking leadership, on May 8, 1660, Charles II was invited to return by the Convention Parliament and restore the interrupted monarchy to end the short-lived political exercise in England.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
“Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre, wearing his grand royal costume in 1779”, by Antoine-François Callet (c. 1789). Wikimedia Commons.

18. The French Revolution saw the overthrow and eventual execution of Louis XVI of France in 1793

Following costly failure in the Seven Years’ War, which saw the loss of France’s North American colonies, the royal family grew increasingly unpopular domestically. Whilst Louis XIV had emboldened the people and overseen great victories, Louis XV presided over general decline and was widely mocked for his sexual excesses. Following his passing in 1774, the reign of his grandson, Louis XVI, only served to worsen the situation. Bankrupting the nation aiding the Americans in their War of Independence whilst simultaneously failing to embrace the Industrial Revolution, he was eventually forced to accept radical political reforms in a desperate bid to maintain power.

Upsetting the nobility, Louis sought to roll back these changes. However, by 1789, following a harsh winter resulting in food shortages, the French people had endured enough. Launching the French Revolution, first the feudal privileges of the Ancien Régime were torn down before, in 1791, the absolute monarchy that had ruled France for 948 years was limited to a constitutional function. Insufficient to satisfy public anger and discontent, on September 21, 1792, the French First Republic was proclaimed, followed swiftly by the execution of Louis XVI on January 21, 1793. Spawning the “Reign of Terror” under the Directory, France would endure twenty-five years of reform and dictatorship before the eventual restoration of its monarchy in 1815.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Portrait of Charles X, King of France, by Thomas Lawrence (c. 1825). Wikimedia Commons.

17. The Bourbon Restoration would last only fifteen years before being overthrown and replaced with the July Monarch

Restored briefly in 1814 prior to Napoleon’s return during the Hundred Days, following the Battle of Waterloo the year after the House of Bourbon was formally returned to power. Crowning the Count of Provence, brother to the executed Louis XVI, as Louis XVIII, his reign saw the monarchy tread a careful line between the legacies of the Revolution and desires of republicans. Permitting both a Parliament and a constitutional charter, the carefully planned and balanced efforts of Louis XVIII were swiftly underdone by his successor. Succeeded in 1824 by his brother, who took the regnal name Charles X, France endured an abortive return to the archaic days of absolutism.

An ardent reactionary, supportive of the ultra-royalist factions and the Catholic Church, Charles sought to impose widespread censorship of the press and limitations on the authorities of Parliament. Issuing on July 25, 1830, the St. Cloud Ordinances – a series of degrees re-establishing absolutism under authoritarian government controls – Charles had woefully overplayed his hand. Triggering riots across Paris, the July Revolution saw the fall of the House of Bourbon and its replacement with the more liberal House of Orléans, who in turn would be overthrown in 1848 upon the proclamation of the French Second Republic.


20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Portrait of Amadeo I as King of Spain, by Vicente Palmaroli (c. 1870-1873). Wikimedia Commons.

16. The Spanish monarchy was briefly abolished under the First Spanish Republic before being restored the following year

Facing a succession of difficulties throughout his short tenure, including the Ten Years’ War and the Third Carlist War, Amadeo I of Spain was compelled to abdicate the throne on February 11, 1873. Combining the Congress of Deputies and Senate into a joint session to determine the path forward, despite possessing an overwhelming majority of monarchists, on the same day the First Spanish Republic was proclaimed with the National Assembly assuming the powers of the crown. Stunning the nation, the Cortes Generales was duly tasked with writing a federal constitution for the new republic.

Rapidly exposing the rifts within the fragile nation, the preferences of various parties quickly tore the assembly apart and induced a state of anarchy in Spain. Triggering three simultaneously civil wars in the beleaguered nation – the Third Carlist War, the Cantonal Revolution, and the Petroleum Revolution – the absence of any united position, and indeed a lack of genuine republicans, rapidly undermined the viability of the political endeavor. Ending on December 29, 1874, when Brigadier Martínez-Campos declared for a restoration of the monarchy under Alfonso XII, Martínez-Campos brought with him the ironclad support and respect of the armed forces, in so doing collapsing the ineffective republic and returning the House of Bourbon to the throne.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, aged approximately 61, as photographed by Alphonse Liébert (c. 1887). Wikimedia Commons.

15. The transformation of the Empire of Brazil into a republic was launched more out of desperation than popular anger

Despite enjoying notably prestige, growing into an emerging power on the international stage, the abolition of slavery under the Golden Law on May 13, 1888, triggered a seismic shift in Brazilian politics. Signed into law by Princess Isabel whilst Pedro II was receiving medical treatment in Europe, despite not resulting in predicted widespread economic disruption, the act served to push ultraconservatives and wealthy farmers opposed to the change towards republicanism. Granted titles and honors in an effort to curry favor, whilst simultaneously extending enormous loans at favorable rates to farmers and reconstituting the National Guard, these actions increasingly garnered alarm among civilian observers.

Reorganizing the National Guard in August 1889, in an effort to increase loyalty and control within the body, republicans saw their window of opportunity to take action rapidly diminishing. Launching an uprising, supported by dissenting elements of the military on November 15, 1889, Pedro II failed to respond to the threat believing it was insignificant. Proclaiming the First Brazilian Republic on the same day in Rio de Janeiro, abolishing the position of emperor and exiling the imperial family two days later, a provisional government was concurrently formed under a new republican organization.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Photographic portrait of King David Kalakaua, by James J. Williams (c. 1882). Wikimedia Commons.

14. The Republic of Hawaii was an abortive effort to wrest independence from an increasingly autocratic dynasty

Winning recognition from European powers, the Kingdom of Hawaii, formed in 1795 following the unification of the Pacific islands under Kamehameha I, suffered after the heirless death of King William C. Lunalilo in 1874. Prompting the election of a new dynasty headed by David Kalākaua to fill the vacant throne, by 1887 the unpopular ruler faced insurrection. Forced, under threat of deposition by an armed group of three thousand residents, to sign a new constitution stripping Kalākaua of most of his authority, the “Bayonet Constitution” subsequently redistributed the power to the legislative branch.

Succeeded by his sister in 1791, who ascended in the midst of an economic crisis, Liliʻuokalani sought to restore the power of the monarchy and rescind the four-year-old constitution. Launching a campaign to this effect, the alarmed populace struck back, removing the queen from office in 1893 and instituting a provisional government under a Committee of Safety. Formally abolishing the monarchy on July 4, 1894, despite a failed effort in January 1895 to restore the Kalākauan monarchy the Republic of Hawaii would nonetheless be a short-lived endeavor, suffering annexation at the hands of the United States of America just four years later to become the Territory of Hawaii.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Acclamation photograph of King Manuel II, by Agencia Geral de Gravura de Lisboa (c. 1908). Wikimedia Commons.

13. The Portuguese monarchy was abolished in 1910

Lasting from 1139 until 1910, the Kingdom of Portugal enjoyed a prolonged period of imperial glory during the Age of Exploration, amassing a vast colonial empire including most notably Brazil. Transitioning from the House of Braganza to the House of Braganza-Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1668 following the Portuguese Restoration War, after the independence of Brazil – its most valuable colony – in 1825, Portugal sought to compete in Africa for further possessions. Failing in this effort, on January 11, 1890, Portugal was forced to acquiesce to the “British Ultimatum”, ordering the withdrawal of the Portuguese from certain territories in Africa desired by the British Empire.

Regarded as a national humiliation, domestic support for republicanism skyrocketed. Culminating in the Lisbon Regicide, on February 1, 1908, King Carlos I and the Prince Royal Luís Filipe were assassinated whilst returning home from the Ducal Palace. Succeeded by Manuel II, the second son of Carlos, the nineteen-year-old’s reign would fare little better. Remaining immensely unpopular, his rule was cut short by the October 5 Revolution just two years later. Resulting in the collapse of the monarchy and formation of the Republic of Portugal, with a new constitution promulgated the following year, Manuel was forced to flee into exile in Great Britain following his removal.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Photograph of Sun Yat-Sen in the 1910s; author unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

12. The Xinhai Revolution saw the collapse of the Qing dynasty and creation of the ill-fated Republic of China

Established in 1636, the Qing dynasty reigned for almost three centuries as the last imperial dynasty of China, establishing during this time the territorial composition of the modern-day country. Peaking during the Qianlong Emperor’s reign in the mid-to-late eighteenth century, in the years following corruption and decay settled in as the nation crumbled from its former glory. Failing to resist the imperial powers of Europe, who imposed a series of “unequal treaties” upon China and seized control of many ports, the latter half of the nineteenth century saw a series of revolts against Imperial authority.

Losing the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, in 1901 the Qing Empire was forced to sign the Boxer Protocol, humiliating and subjugating the proud nation. Spurring revolutionaries to seek change, notably led by Sun-Yat-sen, the Wuchang Uprising in October 1911 proliferated to trigger the Xinhai Revolution. Ending with the forced abdication of six-year-old Emperor Puyi on February 12, 1912, following a brief civil war, the consequently formed Republic of China signaled the end to thousands of years of imperial governance and the hopeful introduction of democracy. However, the republican moment would be short-lived, with armed uprisings dragging the country into factional conflict, which, interrupted only by the Second World War, concluded with the near-total destruction of the republic and its replacement with the authoritarian People’s Republic in 1949.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Portrait of Nicholas II of Russia; author and date unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

11. The Provisional Government inadvertently laid the foundations of the Bolshevik dictatorship

Stemming the political fallout from defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, which had triggered the Russian Revolution of 1905, with the October Manifesto, Tsar Nicholas II gradually attempted to claw back ceded autocratic power in the years preceding the First World War. However, following a disastrous performance in the conflict, leaving the Russian Army in a pitiful condition, the February Revolution was launched on March 8, 1817, to seek redress. Compelling the abdication and abolition of the Russian monarchy, the Imperial Parliament, the Duma, which had been formed following the 1905 Revolution, assumed control and formed a provisional government.

Resulting in a fractured peace, with the Provisional Government holding state power and a network of socialist Soviets controlling the lower classes, the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin demanded an end to Russia’s involvement in the war. With the Provisional Government electing to continuing fighting, on November 7 the militant arm of Bolsheviks – the Red Guards – launched an insurrection. Overthrowing the republican government and signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the oppressive authoritarianism of the new regime precipitated the onset of the Russian Civil War soon after, out of which the Bolsheviks would emerge ultimately victorious to institute the Soviet Union.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Head and shoulders portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II, by T.H. Voigt (c. 1902). Wikimedia Commons.

10. After enduring calamitous defeat in the First World War the German monarchy was abolished and the Kaiser forced to flee

Instituted after the creation of the German Empire in 1871, following the proclamation by the King of Prussia, William I, combining Prussia and the North German Confederation into a single entity, the House of Hohenzollern reigned as the foremost dynastic monarchs of a new nation consisting of twenty-six constituent states, many possessing their own royal families. Becoming involved in colonialism, claiming leftover territories overlooked during the Scramble for Africa, the German Empire successfully grew to the third-largest colonial empire. However, in so doing, especially via its dramatic acquisition of a powerful navy, the fledgling empire rapidly became perceived as an enemy by other powerful nations.

Joining the Triple Alliance and entering into World War One, Germany ultimately suffered an unconditional and humiliating defeat in the four-year conflict. Inflicting immeasurable hardships upon its populace, a series of mutinies – notably the Kiel – in October 1918 finally triggered an inevitable uprising against the throne. Spreading throughout the nation, on November 9, 1918, a republic was proclaimed, with Emperor Wilhelm II forced to flee the country. Transitioning in August 1919 into the Weimar Republic under a democratic constitution, the political experiment would last less than fifteen years before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the transformation of the nation into a de facto monarchy until 1945.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Grand Duke Charles of Austria, the future Emperor Charles I of Austria; date unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

9. Emperor Charles I was nevertheless removed following the abolition of the monarchy and declaration of the First Austrian Republic

Like their German counterparts, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was formed following the fusion of the dual monarchies of Austria and Hungary under the House of Habsburg as part of the Compromise of 1867. Becoming the second-largest country in Europe and one of the foremost powers on the continent, the constitution of the enormous state begun to unravel with the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Prompting civil unrest and dire relations with its neighbors, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Bosnian Serbs, Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against the Kingdom of Serbia on July 28, 1914, triggered an onslaught that would become the First World War.

Siding with Germany and the Ottoman Empire in the conflict, Austria-Hungary suffered severe economic degradation and a succession of military defeats, culminating in their eventual surrender. Prompting the dissolution of the unified state, with Hungary ending their relationship with Austria on October 31, 1918, Emperor Charles I, although declining to abdicate, was compelled to surrender his powers of government in November 1918. Becoming insignificant despite refusing to renounce and vacate his title, following the promulgation of the First Austrian Republic on September 10, 1919, his position was formally abolished nevertheless.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Photograph of the 36th and last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire: Mehmed VI (c. 1918). Wikimedia Commons.

8. In 1922, the Ottoman Sultanate was formally abolished and replaced with modern-day Turkey

Beginning with the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, ushering into being the Second Constitutional Era and renewing the Constitution of 1876 following its abandonment just two years after promulgation by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Restoring the Ottoman parliament and enabling open elections, the years which would follow saw a succession of coups and counter-coups, including in 1909 (twice), 1912, and 1913. Entering into World War One with an attack on Russia on October 29, 1914, although achieving early victories, most notably at the Battle of Gallipoli, in accordance with the Armistice of Mudros Constantinople was occupied in 1918 by Allied forces and the Ottoman Empire prepared for partition.

Emboldening the Turkish national movement, in 1919 these revolutionaries launched the Turkish War of Independence. Resulting in the victory of Turkish forces against Allied proxies, namely Greece and Armenia – although in so doing continuing to commit genocide against ethnic Armenians, a process which had begun during the First World War – a Grand National Assembly was formed to determine the future of the nation. Formally abolishing the Ottoman Sultanate on November 1, 1922, ending a dynasty which had ruled uninterrupted since 1299, the Sultan was declared persona non grata throughout Turkey and forced into exile.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Prince Umberto during his visit to the troops during a visit to the Italian Corps of Liberation, Sparanise and Polipo, Naples, Italy (c. 1944). Wikimedia Commons.

7. The King of Italy, along with his entire family, was sent into perpetual exile upon foundation of the Republic of Italy

Existing as a title for varying periods throughout history, the Kingdom of Italy was formally reconstituted in the 1860s following Italian unification under Victor Emmanuel II and the House of Savoy. Perceived as closely collaborating with the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, following the liberation of Italy in 1944, in a desperate bid to repair the unpopular image of the monarchy King Victor Emmanuel III transferred much of the powers of the crown to his only son, Umberto, whilst retaining his formal title. Umberto, in a deliberate act of insurance, had been kept apart from politics during the rule of Mussolini, with Royalists hoping he was less tainted by association.

Unsuccessful, in 1946 a referendum was prepared to ask the people of Italy whether or not they would prefer the replacement of the monarchy with a republic. Abdicating on May 9 with the hope his departure and Umberto II’s ascension might improve the survival chances of the House of Savoy, Victor Emmanuel’s sacrifice was in vain. The referendum, held on June 2 and 3, passed by 54.3 to 45.7 percent, with Umberto forced to abdicate on June 12. Adding insult to injury, under the Constitution of the Italian Republic, passed in 1948, members of the House of Savoy were expelled from Italian soil for all eternity.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Official photograph of Crown Prince Ahmad Fuad of Egypt, later King Fuad II of Egypt, taken shortly after his birth (c. January 16, 1952-July 26, 1952). Wikimedia Commons.

6. The Kingdom of Egypt and its monarch were formally abolished following the Free Officers Movement

Established following the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence by the United Kingdom in 1922, the Kingdom of Egypt was an independent state only in the legal sense. Although established under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty who reigned as its monarchs, until 1936 Britain retained control over much of the government and would continue to do so, albeit to a lesser extent, between 1936 and 1952. Enduring a persistent political struggle under his reign, Faud I contested with the Wafd Party – a nationalist political organization opposed to British domination of the Middle Eastern nation – as well as the Muslim Brotherhood following its foundation in 1928.

Succeeded by Farouk I in 1936, although negotiating a withdrawal of the majority of British troops, Farouk’s reign was deeply unpopular. Plagued by corruption and ineffective government, defeat for the nation in the Arab-Israeli War culminated in the Egyptian Revolution in 1952. Led by the Free Officers Movement, the palace was surrounded, with Farouk ordered on July 26 to abdicate and go into exile or be executed. Replaced as a formality by his infant son, Faud II, the following year the Egyptian monarchy was legally abolished and replaced by the Republic of Egypt under President Muhammad Naguib.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Emperor Bảo Đại of Vietnam (c. 1953). Wikimedia Commons.

5. Emperor Bảo Đại of Vietnam was eventually cast down following the end of colonial controls and formal independence of the nation

The thirteenth and final ruler of the Nguyễn dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam, Bảo Đại reigned as Emperor of Annam – a protectorate within French Indochina covering approximately the central two-thirds of the present-day nation – from 1926 until 1945. Spending the earliest years of his reign in education in France, ascending formally to the throne in 1932, Bảo Đại oversaw a turbulent period in his country’s history. Occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, Bảo Đại collaborated with the Imperial forces and declared the independent Empire of Vietnam as part of Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1945.

However, with Japanese defeat in the conflict, Bảo Đại was left exposed. In August of the same year, at the persuasion of Hồ Chí Minh, the emperor abdicated his title in the face of growing public resentment. However, following French reassertion of colonial dominance over the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in 1949 Bảo Đại returned as Chief of State, becoming a monarch in all but name once more. Surviving until the French defeat in the Indochina War at Điện Biên Phủ, following a fraudulent referendum which claimed more votes in favor of a republic than there were registered voters, in 1955 Bảo Đại was ousted for good and exiled to France.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
The last Sultan of Maldives, Muhammad Fareed Didi, who would later become the first and only King of Maldives until abolition in 1968. Wikimedia Commons.

4. Attempting to survive the process of decolonization, Maldives nevertheless proclaimed itself a republic just three years later and abolished the crown Muhammad Fareed Didi sought to cling onto

Comprising almost twelve hundred islands, the Maldives, situated off the coast of the Indian subcontinent, held great strategic importance throughout history. Located on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean, from the 16th century the Portuguese, Dutch, and French all vied for control over the islands until, in the 19th century, the British proclaimed a protectorate over the territory. Gaining independence from the United Kingdom on July 26, 1965, in line with broader British policy of decolonization, Muhammad Fareed Didi sought to maintain his authority and transitioned his title from that of Sultan to King.

However, with the political mood of the new nation aligned against the throne, on November 15, 1967, the Maldivian parliament voted forty to four against the continuation of a constitutional monarchy and in favor of a republic. Holding a referendum on the matter on March 1, 1968, an overwhelming 93.34 percent agreed with the parliament and supported a republic. Formally declared later that year on November 11, the monarchy was abolished, ending the eight-hundred-and-fifty-three-years-old system of government, and replaced by a presidential system. Although enduring a prolonged and violent dictatorship, today the Maldives has finally become the republic envisioned half a century ago.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon and later Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (c. 1960). Wikimedia Commons.

3. Whilst only abolishing the British monarchy on the island of Sri Lanka, the formal elimination of the crown following independence decades earlier marked an important transition

Accelerated by the Second World War, on February 4, 1948, the Colony of Ceylon achieved independence from the United Kingdom after more than a century of British rule. Becoming an independent country in the Commonwealth of Nations, the Dominion of Ceylon continued nevertheless to share the British monarchy, first George VI and subsequently Elizabeth II, as its head of state. With the election of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960 as the world’s first female elected head of government, Ceylon entered into a period of sustained reform and effort to avoid conflict between the Tamils and Sinhala communities.

Faced with an attempt by the far-left People’s Liberation Front to overthrow the government and institute a communist dictatorship in 1971, the rebellion was suppressed with the assistance of India. Prompting political upheaval, the following year a new constitution was proposed to address the situation. Changing the nation’s name to Sri Lanka, the country formally became a republic, in so doing abolishing the position of the British monarchy within the island country. Failing, however, to end domestic problems, Sri Lanka would endure a twenty-six-year civil war which would cost the lives of more than one hundred thousand.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Photograph of the former King of Greece, Constantine II (c. 1987). Wikimedia Commons.

2. The Greek monarchy was struck down upon the establishment of a Greek republic in 1974

Created at the London Conference of 1832, convened with the intent to establish a stable government in Greece following the Greek War of Independence the previous decade and the assassination of the interim Governor the year prior, the short-lived First Hellenic Republic was replaced with the Kingdom of Greece. Instituted under a hereditary monarchy, Prince Otto of Bavaria of the House of Wittelsbach was invited to take the throne, reigning for the first thirty years until his deposition. Struggling to find a replacement, holding a referendum after which all popular candidates rejected the crown until Prince Vilhelm of Denmark of the House of Glücksburg, who had received just six votes, eventually accepted.

Holding a further referendum in 1920 to restore Constantine I, who had been forced to go into exile during the National Schism in 1917, just four years later the monarchy was abolished by public vote upon the creation of the Second Hellenic Republic. Restored once more in 1935 following another referendum, approved by 97.9 percent of voters, a fourth vote on the subject was granted in 1946 which saw the monarchy survive by 68.4 percent of the popular vote. Removed by the Greek military junta in July 1973, following a rigged referendum abolishing the monarchy yet again, a fairer and more balanced public vote was called in 1974 which supported abolishing the Greek monarchy for good and establishing an enduring republic.

20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (c. before 1979). Wikimedia Commons.

1. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the abolition of the Iranian monarchy, and the nation’s transition into a theocratic Islamic republic has influenced the politics of the Middle East ever since

First becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1906, continuing a longstanding tradition of Iranian kingdoms throughout history, despite reverting towards autocracy between 1925 and 1941 the Iranian National Assembly successfully reasserted its authority and restored parliamentary democracy. However, after the National Assembly voted to nationalize the oil industry, British and American intelligence agencies orchestrated a coup in 1953 against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and reaffirmed an autocratic monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Becoming a one-party state governed by executive unilateralism, by the late-1970s the domestic situation in Iran was febrile.

Leaving the country to seek medical treatment for terminal cancer on January 16, 1979, within days the Shah’s government had collapsed as a result of the Second Iranian Revolution. Instituting by force a provisional government, who voted on February 11 to abolish the monarchy, a referendum was held on April 1 to determine the future of the nation. Voting in favor of a theocratic-republican constitution, in December Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was appointed Supreme Leader – the same month Prince Shahriar Shafiq was assassinated in Paris ending hopes for a counter-revolution – and the following year the Islamic Republic of Iran was formally promulgated.


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“Sri Lanka: Current issues and historical background”, Walter Nubin, Nova Publishers (2002)

“A Short History of Modern Greece”, Richard Clogg, Cambridge University Press (1979)

“Kings of the Hellenes”, John Van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing (1994)

“All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror”, Stephen Kinzer, John Wiley & Sons (2003)

“The Soul of Iran”, Afshin Molavi, W.W. Norton Publishing (2005)