Greetings, loyal subjects. I shall give you a cupped-hand wave from my horse-drawn carriage while ordering my minions around. The life of a royal sure seems grand in our imaginations, but as those of us binge-watching The Crown or reading the news can attest, it is not easy. Today’s Daily Dose delves into the complicated and surprising world of today’s monarchs — the real, the imagined and the surprising.
Daniel II, House of Malloy, Senior Editor
for richer or ‘poorer’
1. The King and (Not) I
The grandfatherly King Bhumibol Adulyadej ruled Thailand for seven decades and was beloved, his visage displayed in nearly every home. His son? Not so much. King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who took over in 2016 but spends most of his time among a harem of women in Germany, is considered the world’s richest monarch with a net worth of around $40 billion. Though Thai royalists (pictured above) remain a force, the new king now faces intensifying street protests against his ruthless rule.
2. Black Gold, Texas Tea
Thanks to the country’s oil reserves, the Saudi royal family controls an estimated $1.4 trillion divided among some 15,000 family members who reside in lavish palaces. Must be nice. But that money fountain isn’t a sure thing: State-owned Saudi Aramco has struggled this year amid rock-bottom oil prices. The kingdom has long talked of diversifying its economy, but that initiative has not yet taken off. Meanwhile, the country’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 35, is finding himself marginalized globally for his human rights abuses, and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden promises to be far less friendly with MBS than Donald Trump.
3. Europe’s Poorest (and Wokest) Monarch
Belgium’s King Philippe is worth a mere $14 million, which puts him in the poorhouse relative to his continental counterparts. But the 60-year-old is showing that words can be worth more: His striking statement of regret this year for Belgium’s brutal colonization of the Congo under Leopold II, who ruled until 1909, was a landmark moment for the country — and a step toward healing.
4. The Last Absolute Monarchy in Africa
It’s good to be the king, as Mel Brooks once quipped. And Eswatini’s Mswati III is making the most of it, living the kind of playboy lifestyle that a hip-hop star would envy. Wielding absolute power, he’s preserved the tiny kingdom’s identity as distinct from neighboring South Africa’s.
When the Papal States were created from the Byzantine Empire in the eighth century, the pope became an absolute monarch over his territory. Though the land has since shrunk to just Vatican City, a 109-acre city-state within Rome, the pope continues to rule it completely. That makes Pope Francis an unusual kind of monarch, one who has taken a vow of poverty, even as he controls vast wealth. The holdings of the Roman Catholic Church are incalculable, and the Vatican Bank alone has $5.7 billion in assets.
6. The Power List
The absolute monarch club isn’t what it used to be: Aside from Saudi Arabia, Eswatini and the Vatican, the sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has wielded complete control over his tiny country for a half-century — plus some $20 billion, mostly in oil wealth. But even monarchs limited by their country’s constitution can still throw their weight around: Consider how Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has stepped into a power vacuum created by the country’s turbulent politics, tapping Muhyiddin Yassin as the new prime minister and shaping the country’s coronavirus response.
7. Weak Links
Queen Elizabeth is by far the most famous royal in the world, and her “kingdoms” technically include everything from Australia to Canada to Tuvalu to Belize. Alas, she’s rendered almost completely powerless by her country’s constitutional system — which is also the case for most of the world’s remaining monarchs. That includes King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, who presided over the end of the country’s absolute monarchy and transition to democracy, an initiative rather stunningly pushed by the monarchy rather than the people.
Each year, the Moguls in the Making business plan pitch competition offers Historically Black College and University (HBCU) students an opportunity to learn and practice vital skills. Five students from Alabama A&M University won the second annual competition, which took place virtually this month, with their proposed solution to the lack of access to quality food and nutrition education in Detroit. The event gives 50 students — grouped into teams of five from 10 HBCUs — an opportunity to develop and present business plans aimed at solving key issues in the context of today’s economic and social climate. The competition is presented by Ally Financial Inc., the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and entertainer and entrepreneur Big Sean’s foundation, the Sean Anderson Foundation. Winners receive scholarships and internship opportunities with Ally.
Germany’s last emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was deposed in 1918, but his descendants want their stuff back. Led by Wilhelm’s great-great-grandson and heir, Georg Friedrich, the family is trying to reclaim its castles, artworks and more, sparking a debate in Germany about its royal heritage — and the nature of laws meant to compensate people whose property was stolen during the Nazi or Communist eras.
2. Meghan and Harry … and Andrew
Season 14 of The Crown is going to be a doozy. Consider January’s shocking “Megxit,” when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle disowned their royal titles to move to California and launch an independent life. The decision came just months after Prince Andrew (Queen Elizabeth’s third child) resigned from all public royal roles after being linked to convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein — though Andrew continues to deny having an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old sex-trafficking victim.
3. Prodigal King
King Constantine II and his teenage bride were booted from Greece after a 1967 coup and fled to England, where they spent decades away from home hobnobbing with Europe’s royals. Greece formally abolished the monarchy in 1974, stripping the royal family of their possessions. But now Constantine has returned to his homeland to live out his remaining years quietly as a commoner.
4. Government in Exile
Soulivong Savang lives in Paris, but the grandson of the last king of Laos dreams of taking back the throne in Vientiane, after the monarchy was removed from power in 1975 by the Pathet Lao. Laos remains a one-party communist state, and Savang and his cohorts — including a shadow prime minister — are arguing not for their own version of iron-fisted rule but a democratic transition that would respect human rights and allow for a constitutional monarch.
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Meet the next Rihanna. Rising music superstar Saweetie reveals to Carlos her dream to build a billion-dollar multi-industry global brand. The woman behind ‘Icy Grl,’ ‘My Type’ and ‘Tap In’ shares the story behind her love affair with fellow rapper Quavo, how her relationship with her grandmother continues to shape her career — and her politics — and why sports is her true first love.
Recorded royalty in the Khmer kingdom goes back to the first century, but Cambodia is considered one of the world’s newest monarchies because it voted to bring back the monarchy in 1993 — as the country was emerging from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The European-educated bachelor king Norodom Sihamoni has ruled since 2004, though he holds little power in this constitutional monarchy. Prime Minister Hun Sen is the one who rules with an iron fist, having controlled the country since 1985.
2. United Arab Emirates
The seven Persian Gulf kingdoms that were former British protectorates came together in 1971 to form the UAE under an absolute monarchy that continues to reign with tight religious controls. Though small — its population is less than 10 million — the country has emerged as hugely important given its pivotal location and natural gas wealth. Plus, Dubai has the world’s tallest building and one of its busiest airports.
1. Monarchists’ Revival
For most countries that don’t have one, the notion of a king or queen can seem hopelessly outdated. But a growing group of monarchists believe the unity projected by a royal family — well-constrained within national constitutions — can be a salve for the ugly politics of our current era. Could the U.S. crown its very own queen?
2. Climate Crusaders
Europe’s royals, particularly the younger generation, have increasingly become public advocates for tackling climate change. Late last year, the British royal family launched the Earthshot Prize as a reward for scientists and others who come up with climate solutions. Denmark’s royals have been strong advocates, though the 80-year-old Queen Margrethe II this year bungled the message by suggesting climate change is not a big deal. But the real climate action and innovation is happening in cities, as our special report with Goldman Sachs reveals.
The Crown is not particularly kind to Prince Charles, even implying that he had an affair with Camilla — now his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall — throughout his courtship and marriage to the late Princess Diana. This bit is not backed up by evidence, though Charles and Camilla reportedly did begin a physical affair in 1986, five years into his marriage to Diana. Crown-loving internet trolls are now torching Charles and Camilla for the indiscretions (real and Netflixed).
4. Healing the Wounds of War
Emperor Akihito, who staged a historic abdication from the Japanese throne last year, played a vital role despite his limited formal power: Taking over from the controversial Hirohito, who led Japan’s aggression in World War II, Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to visit China, and he even acknowledged Korean heritage in his country’s royal family — olive branches that would have been unheard of before he took the reins.
Queen Bey is not a real monarch but she might as well be. This first couple of American pop culture is fabulously wealthy, intensely chronicled in the press and have a stormy love life that’s the subject of endless fascination. But we’ve yet to see a real royal pull this off.
2. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson
Hanks is a classic historical trope: the everyman king. He is a blockbuster actor with basically a 100 percent approval rating, while still being impossibly nice. When Hanks and Wilson contracted COVID-19 in March, it finally convinced America that this thing was serious. And what a relief it was to find out they recovered.
3. Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird
They certainly have enough gold to be royals. Rapinoe, the U.S. women’s soccer team star, became a global darling for her stellar play and devil-may-care attitude during the team’s 2019 World Cup triumph — her third gold medal (two World Cups, one Olympics). Bird, the other half of this sporting power couple, is one of the best women’s basketball players in history. She just won her fourth WNBA title (to go along with four Olympic golds and four FIBA World Cup golds).
4. Silicon Valley Titans
The more imperious American monarchs are those who have captured our attention via our smartphones and become ungodly wealthy — especially so during the pandemic. These billionaires are at once lionized, feared and resented, the kind of cocktail a powerful monarch expects. Just consider Elon Musk the oddball of the family.
Even if the patriarch appears to finally be accepting that he will have to leave the White House, this family isn't going anywhere. Don Jr. has clear political aspirations. Ivanka will keep up a carefully curated public profile alongside husband and White House jack-of-all-trades Jared Kushner. Eric will pilot the family business, and one can imagine emerging public roles for both Tiffany and Barron, while Melania maintains a high profile. Then, of course, there’s Donald himself, who will continue to be omnipresent in the media for as long as he likes.
2. The Bushes
The old-time GOP dynasty that extended from Sen. Prescott Bush to President George H.W. Bush to President George W. Bush to Gov. Jeb Bush was disrupted by Trump, essentially the anti-Bush. But this dynasty ain’t done yet. George P. Bush, 44, the Texas land commissioner and son of Jeb, is weighing a bid for attorney general in 2022 — a steppingstone to the governorship and perhaps a third Bush presidency at last.
After Bill Clinton’s two terms in the White House and Hillary’s two near misses for a job that long seemed predestined, what’s the next move for this clan? Chelsea Clinton, 40, has become more outspoken during the Trump years and toyed with the idea of running for office — though she declined a congressional bid this year.
4. The Kennedys
The closest thing the U.S. had to royalty in the 20th century was this glamorous yet star-crossed clan. But in January, Congress will convene without a Kennedy for just the second time in 73 years: Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III’s bold Democratic primary challenge of Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey failed, while Amy Kennedy (wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who’s now a mental health advocate after battling bipolar disorder and substance abuse) came up short in her congressional bid. But Joseph, 40, is likely to resurface. The Kennedys don’t go quietly.