In honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s longevity on the British throne! Not only is she the longest serving monarch in Europe, but also the only remaining monarch to have served in World War 2. While we are excited and jubilant of this event, perhaps it is time that we look not only at the Queen, but in the title that she holds.
Our word, monarch, meaning “one who rules alone”, derives from the ancient Greek – monarkhes. Interestingly, though it also passed through Latin (monarcha) as well as Middle French (monarque) before arriving in English, the basic structure and pronunciation has largely remained intact.
When we think of a monarch, we naturally think of the British monarch, as it is the most visible and widely-covered one. However, there are currently 44 monarchies in the world, with Europe possessing 12 of them. The Danish monarchy is the oldest in Europe – over 1,000 years. Japan currently holds the record for the longest continuous monarchy, at over 1,500 years. While many may consider monarchies to be relics of a bygone age, they currently hold quite a standing internationally: not including organisations like the Commonwealth, 544 million people live under a monarch, producing about $10 trillion in GDP in countries that span over 10,000,000 square miles.
The first known usage of monarch in English occurs circa 1450, where it is written in Lydgate and Burgh’s Secrees of old Philosoffres, “Sovereign of Renown, Which as monarch of every Region, Gave me this Charge.” A little over a century later, we can see the definition expanding beyond a person, into a non-literal sense, in Sir Philip Sidney’s 1581 An Apology for Poetry, where he writes, “To be moved to do that which we know, or to be moved with desire to know….Now there in of all Sciences..is our Poet the Monarch.” In the 1850’s, our word was also adapted as slang for the sovereign gold coin, probably due to the name as well as the monarch’s portrait being on the currency. Finally, just in case you were wondering about the butterflies of the same name, which were formerly called milk-weed butterflies, they date to an 1890 publication by Alpheus Hyatt and Jennie Maria Arms.