Voices: The Top 10 royalty who became elected leaders

Voices: The Top 10 royalty who became elected leaders

Jeremy Benson asked if there had ever been a Top 10 for which I had failed to receive enough valid entries. I said I was not having much luck finding royals who served in elected office after coming across Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, prime minister of Bulgaria (number 9), in Helen Lewis’s article about the lost royal families of Europe. Then Twitter provided an abundance of riches and I ended up with 11. In roughly chronological order…

1. Holy Roman Emperors. Erom the 13th century until the title was abolished in 180, the King of the Romans was elected by the greatest princes of the empire, mostly in Germany, known as prince-electors, then became holy and an emperor on being crowned by the Pope. Between 1438 and 1740, only members of the Habsburg dynasty were elected, making the empire in effect a hereditary monarchy during that period. Nominated by Maarten Devant.

2. Napoleon III. Born heir to the king of Holland before becoming the first elected president of France. Napoleon Bonaparte had made his brother Louis king of Holland in 1806; Louis named his son Napoleon, who was elected president of France in 1848, declaring himself emperor three years later. Thanks to Peter Metcalfe and Ferdinand Dalhuisen.

3. King Haakon VII and Queen Maud of Norway. Endorsed in a referendum in 1905 (79 per cent voting yes), when the monarchy was restored on the dissolution of the union with Sweden, so they were kind of elected. Thanks to David McClure. Similar examples include William and Mary of England, Scotland and Ireland, invited by parliament to take the throne in 1688, nominated by John Oxley.

4. Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. King 1941-55 and 1993-2004; prime minister 10 times between 1945 and 1962; chief of state 1960-70; president 1975-76. I think Sihanouk was elected as prime minister only once, in 1955, when his Sangkum party won all the seats in an election tainted by fraud and intimidation.

5. Seretse Khama of Botswana. He became kgosi (king) of the Bamangwato people in what was then the Bechuanaland protectorate in 1925, aged four, with his uncle as regent. He became prime minister in 1965 and, when Botswana gained independence the following year, he was elected its first president, serving until his death in 1980. Thanks to Andrew McFadyen and Joe Sargent.

6. Otto von Habsburg. Last crown prince of Austria-Hungary on the dissolution of the empire in 1918, when he was five. Elected a member of the European parliament from West Germany in 1979, he served until 1999. Nominated by Richard Gracey and PD Anderson.

7. Nelson Mandela. Elected president of South Africa, 1994-99. His great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was ruler of the Thembu kingdom in the Transkeian territories of the modern Eastern Cape province of South Africa, 1810-30. Qualifies as royalty, although he was descended from a wife of the “left-hand house”, a line of hereditary counsellors to the king who were ineligible to inherit the throne. Thanks to Martin Sykes-Haas.

8. Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Inherited the chieftainship of the Buthelezi tribe of the Zulu people in 1953. Became home affairs minister in Mandela’s government (above), serving until 2004. From John Peters.

9. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Bulgaria. Allowed back to the country in 1996 after being dethroned in 1946, aged nine (his uncle was regent), he became prime minister in 2001 and served for four years. Thanks to Helen Lewis.

10. Amarinder Singh. Maharaja of Patiala and chief minister of Punjab, 2017-21. His father was the last ruler of Patiala, becoming governor of the Patiala and East Punjab States Union (now part of Punjab state) when India became independent in 1947, but retaining the honorary title maharaja, which on his death in 1971 passed to his son. Another from John Peters.

11. Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, known as MBZ. A modern equivalent of no 1, the ruler of Abu Dhabi was elected president of the United Arab Emirates by the monarchs of the other six emirates last year. As was his father, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, when the UAE was founded in 1971.

Nick von Westenholz, Martin Sykes-Haas and Elliot Kane vied for the “there is always one” slot by nominating Padme Amidala, both royal and elected leader concurrently, as she was elected Queen of Naboo. But that just makes Naboo an elective monarchy, and we have had plenty of those on planet Earth. Most early Roman rulers were nominally chosen by the senate, even when they started calling themselves emperor and their sons were “elected” to succeed them. Oliver Cromwell went from being a kind of elected leader to becoming the Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1653, a title he passed to his son Richard in 1658.

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But we are interested in those who made the opposite transition, even if, as Napoleon III and Sihanouk both did, they went from royalty to elected leader and back again.

Next week: Members of the public famous for 15 minutes.

Coming soon: Algernons, such as Biggles’s trusty sidekick (after my Top 10 extinct boys’ names).

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk