There are a lot of endangered species out there in the world, the majority of them victims of human “progress and civilisation” that is ever encroaching upon their habitats, feeding grounds and other living spaces. Red pandas, white rhinos, the humble bumble bee, Bengal tigers, memorable Disney villains, and more are facing outright extinction, and many groups have organised to ensure their protection for posterity.
Perhaps not immediately on everyone’s mind is another endangered species — that of international royalty. Before the First World War, monarchies of varying stripes made up the majority of governments across the globe, however, within the space of just a century, they have nearly all disappeared. In the run up to his own deposition in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, King Farouk of Egypt was reported to have said,
“The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left — the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds.”
While some at the time regarded this as a very inevitable and even positive transition, others foresaw such movement as detrimental to human society and international stability. Subsequently the International Monarchist League (IML), then simply the Monarchist League, was founded as a pro-monarchy advocacy group in 1943. Seeing the chaos caused by the loss of the German and Austrian monarchies in Central Europe, they intended to try and preserve the monarchies of Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. Sadly, the Soviets threw a rather big spanner into that project, but the organisation lived on to defend the principles of monarchy against a seemingly unstoppable tide of republicanism.
The situation currently is, perhaps, not as dire as King Farouk imagined it to be. Around 1/5 of today’s nations are governed under some form of monarchical structure, and for the most part, they seem relatively stable. All of Europe’s monarchs command far higher approval ratings than their elected counterparts, and republican agitation tends to be rather muted. The worst spikes occurred in Spain a few years ago, but since the abdication of Juan Carlos I in favour of his son, King Felipe VI, these appear to have calmed down. The monarchies of the Middle East drew a lot of comment from how well they weathered the Arab Spring in comparison to nearby republics, with most discontent being satisfied when their monarchs replaced unpopular leaders or called new elections.
However, that still leaves a large swathe of kings without a kingdom. The various revolutions, coups d’ètats and forced abdications have driven many former monarchs into exile, and their fortunes since those days tend to be mixed. European royalty, tending to be more interconnected than other branches, can often find refuge within the kingdoms of a still reigning relative, much as King Constantine II did when he sought residence in Britain after the Colonels’ Coup of 1967. Others, however, are not as lucky.
An article in the Daily Beast examined how the International Monarchist League, after its conception in the 40s, has made unofficial efforts to support monarchs left adrift in foreign lands with no means of support or income. The example they used was that of King Kigeli V of Rwanda, who fled to the United States after his government was deposed in a referendum in 1961. For much of his life in the USA, he lived in subsidised housing and supported himself through welfare, especially after his sales of honorary knighthoods dried up in the 60s.
It also turned out that he gained some unofficial help from the International Monarchist League, although to what extent and how widely it was approved seems to be rather controversial.
According to the League’s chancellor, Count Nikolai Tolstoy, while the King indeed received aid from people within the organisation, it was rarely in any great amounts. In an e-mail to the Daily Beast, he rather pointedly said that it was unlikely that he received anything approaching thousands of pounds. If anything, it just seemed to be the occasional “pocket change” whenever the League was in a position to be charitable.
Henry von Blumenthal, another IML member, clarified that the earliest example of such assistance would have been helping His Majesty acquire a new suit — the King often gave speeches and talks about Rwandan reconciliation after the 1994 genocides.
Making Monarchy Matter
As a rule of thumb, the IML is not a pension for forcibly retired monarchs. If nothing else, it just didn’t have the budget. Indeed, after the 60s until the early 90s, it wasn’t entirely clear what the League actually intended to do. It started off writing to various newspapers and speaking at various venues about the merits of monarchy as a government form, and was quite active in that time. However, by the mid-1980s it had become rather dormant. A major stumbling block for the organisation was in many ways its set-up; they were by their own admission “just some blokes in a pub”.
Further, they were very wealthy blokes in a very expensive pub.
Many of their events and gatherings in the early years were black-tie affairs with high-profile attendees, usually featuring costly menus and situated in very exclusive venues. From 1968 they were also primarily funded by Victor Hensley, the 6th Marquess of Bristol, and upon his death in 1985 it became apparent that he had been the only thing keeping the League afloat financially. During the time of his chancellorship, there had not been any serious attempts at expanding the membership or seeking subscriptions, and all the dinner parties and banquets were putting the League’s budget into a very angry red.
Von Bluementhal, who took over as treasurer, also remarked that the League had become less a platform for promoting monarchy and more a collection of royal watchers. He used his new role to try and argue, from an ideological standpoint, why monarchies should be taken seriously.
He also organised more low-key events that were more accessible to young people with stricter budgets. Doing so allowed the League some much-needed exposure to new blood, and was probably what saved it from gradually passing on into irrelevance entirely. It was also decided, in order to try and dispel a perception the Monarchist League was a largely Anglocentric affair, to re-brand as the International Monarchist League and adopt a more global, pan-monarchist initiative. While the past and current members believe that Hensley was a great force for the League, he didn’t do much to actually ensure it could do what it was meant to be doing.
Recent royal events in the past decade, such as the Diamond Jubilee, the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, have sparked new curiosity and appreciation for the British monarchy that the IML was keen to capitalise on.
With this new breath of life and growing dissatisfaction with current political status quo in the USA and Europe, the IML may well have fertile ground to continue promoting the idea of monarchist government to increasingly intrigued audiences. Equipped and ready to continue forging ahead, it seems as though their fight to protect the world’s monarchs is by no means done yet and may even start to bear fruit in the future.