King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen,[1] which title is also given to the consort of a king, although in some cases, the title of King is given to females to show that the woman in question rules in her own right, such as in the case of Jadwiga of Poland, or Irene of Athens.

Charlemagne or Charles the Great (748–814) was King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, and the first Holy Roman Emperor. Due to his military accomplishments and conquests, he has been called the "Father of Europe".
Heraldic crown of the King of the Romans (variant used in the early modern period)
The Iron Crown of the Lombards, a surviving example of an early medieval royal crown
12th-century depiction of Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths
Louis XIV of France, the "Sun King" (Roi-Soleil), who ruled at the height of French absolutism (painting by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701)

The term king may also refer to a king consort, a title that is sometimes given to the husband of a ruling queen, but the title of prince consort is more common.


The English term king is derived from the Anglo-Saxon cyning, which in turn is derived from the Common Germanic *kuningaz. The Common Germanic term was borrowed into Estonian and Finnish at an early time, surviving in these languages as kuningas. It is a derivation from the term *kunjom "kin" (Old English cynn) by the -inga- suffix. The literal meaning is that of a "scion of the [noble] kin", or perhaps "son or descendant of one of noble birth" (OED).

The English term translates, and is considered equivalent to, Latin rēx and its equivalents in the various European languages. The Germanic term is notably different from the word for "King" in other Indo-European languages (*rēks "ruler"; Latin rēx, Sanskrit rājan and Irish ríg; however, see Gothic reiks and, e.g., modern German Reich and modern Dutch rijk).


The English word is of Germanic origin, and historically refers to Germanic kingship, in the pre-Christian period a type of tribal kingship. The monarchies of Europe in the Christian Middle Ages derived their claim from Christianisation and the divine right of kings, partly influenced by the notion of sacral kingship inherited from Germanic antiquity.

The Early Middle Ages begin with a fragmentation of the former Western Roman Empire into barbarian kingdoms. In Western Europe, the kingdom of the Franks developed into the Carolingian Empire by the 8th century, and the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England were unified into the kingdom of England by the 10th century.

With the breakup of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the system of feudalism places kings at the head of a pyramid of relationships between liege lords and vassals, dependent on the regional rule of barons, and the intermediate positions of counts (or earls) and dukes. The core of European feudal manorialism in the High Middle Ages were the territories of the former Carolingian Empire, i.e. the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire (centered on the nominal kingdoms of Germany and Italy).[5]

In the course of the European Middle Ages, the European kingdoms underwent a general trend of centralisation of power, so that by the Late Middle Ages there were a number of large and powerful kingdoms in Europe, which would develop into the great powers of Europe in the Early Modern period.

Contemporary kings

Currently (as of 2022), fifteen kings are recognized as the heads of state of sovereign states (i.e. English king is used as official translation of the respective native titles held by the monarchs).

Most of these are heads of state of constitutional monarchies; kings ruling over absolute monarchies are the King of Saudi Arabia, the King of Bahrain and the King of Eswatini.[6]

MonarchHouseTitleKingdom Reign begin AgeMonarchy est.
Harald V, King of NorwayGlücksburgkongeKingdom of Norway January 17, 1991 8511th c.
Carl XVI Gustaf, King of SwedenBernadottekonungKingdom of Sweden September 15, 1973 7612th c.
Felipe VI, King of SpainBourbonreyKingdom of Spain June 19, 2014 551978 / 1479
Willem-Alexander, King of the NetherlandsOrange-NassaukoningKingdom of the Netherlands April 30, 2013 551815
Philippe , King of the BelgiansSaxe-Coburg and Gothakoning / roi / KönigKingdom of Belgium July 21, 2013 621830
Salman, King of Saudi ArabiaSaudملك malikKingdom of Saudi Arabia January 23, 2015 871932
Abdullah II, King of JordanHashimملك malikHashemite Kingdom of Jordan February 7, 1999 611946
Mohammed VI, King of MoroccoAlaouiملك malikKingdom of Morocco July 23, 1999 591956
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of BahrainKhalifaملك malikKingdom of Bahrain February 14, 2002 731971
Vajiralongkorn, King of ThailandChakriกษัตริย์ kasatKingdom of Thailand October 13, 2016 701782
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of BhutanWangchuckའབྲུག་རྒྱལ་པོ་ druk gyalpoKingdom of Bhutan December 9, 2006 421907
Norodom Sihamoni, King of CambodiaNorodomស្ដេច sdacKingdom of Cambodia October 14, 2004 691993 / 1953
Tupou VI, King of TongaTupouking / tu'iKingdom of Tonga March 18, 2012 631970
Letsie III, King of LesothoMosheshking / morenaKingdom of Lesotho February 7, 1996 591966
Mswati III, King of EswatiniDlaminingwenyamaKingdom of Eswatini April 25, 1986 541968
Charles III, King of the United KingdomWindsorKingUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Commonwealth realms September 8, 2022 74927 / 843

See also


  1. There have been rare exceptions, most notably Jadwiga of Poland and Mary, Queen of Hungary, who were crowned as King of Poland and King of Hungary respectively during the 1380s.
  2. The notion of a king being below an emperor in the feudal order, just as a duke is the rank below a king, is more theoretical than historical. The only kingdom title held within the Holy Roman Empire was the Kingdom of Bohemia, with the Kingdoms of Germany, Italy and Burgundy/Arles being nominal realms. The titles of King of the Germans and King of the Romans were non-landed titles held by the Emperor-elect (sometimes during the lifetime of the previous Emperor, sometimes not), although there were anti-Kings at various points; Arles and Italy were either held directly by the Emperor or not at all. The Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires technically contained various kingdoms (Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Lombardy–Venetia and Galicia and Lodomeria, as well as the Kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia which were themselves subordinate titles to the Hungarian Kingdom and which were merged as Croatia-Slavonia in 1868), but the emperor and the respective kings were the same person. The Russian Empire did not include any kingdoms. The short-lived First French Empire (1804–1814/5) included a number of client kingdoms under Napoleon I, such as the Kingdom of Italy, the Kingdom of Westphalia, the Kingdom of Etruria, the Kingdom of Württemberg, the Kingdom of Bavaria, the Kingdom of Saxony and the Kingdom of Holland. The German Empire (1871-1918) included the Kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony, with the Prussian king also holding the Imperial title.
  3. Pine, L.G. (1992). Titles: How the King became His Majesty. New York: Barnes & Noble. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-56619-085-5.
  4. History Crunch Writers. "Aztec Emperors (Huey Tlatoani)". History Crunch - History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  5. see e.g. M. Mitterauer, Why Europe?: The Medieval Origins of Its Special Path, University of Chicago Press (2010), p. 28.
  6. The distinction of the title of "king" from "sultan" or "emir" in oriental monarchies is largely stylistics; the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the State of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are also categorised as absolute monarchies.


  • Thomas J. Craughwell, 5,000 Years of Royalty: Kings, Queens, Princes, Emperors & Tsars (2009).
  • David Cannadine, Simon Price (eds.), Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies (1992).
  • Jean Hani, Sacred Royalty: From the Pharaoh to the Most Christian King (2011).
  • Media related to Kings at Wikimedia Commons
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