Are there any examples of contested elections that were held to elect a king?

Target Fact Patterns

By this, I mean two main fact patterns.

  1. A king is elected from multiple candidates in a country which previously did not have a monarchy, or had a dynasty that ended because there was no one left in the line of succession, that holds a national election to choose a new king (or queen).

  2. A country has a succession dispute in which two or more people claim the right to be the legitimate monarch of the country, and this is resolved in a national election, in order to prevent or end a civil war.

Of course, if you know of another fact pattern that fits the other definitions here it would be interesting to know about that as well.

It does not matter whether the election that was held actually succeeded in putting someone on the throne. Elections that were attempted but failed to result in the winner becoming a monarch would also be worthy of mentioning in an answer.

King Defined

An elected king, for these purposes, is someone who once elected is not only the monarch of a country (either constitutional or absolute), but who as a result of the election can also legitimately pass on this position to his descendants or extended family members according to a rule of succession that involves the hereditary principle as a matter of right.

In other words, I am not interested in examples of someone being elected as "President for Life" which has happened numerous times, or examples of parent-child pairs of democratic politicians who manage to be elected in an ordinary democratic election system to a term of office for a fixed term of years.

No particular rule of succession following the hereditary principle, however, is required for the monarch to qualify as a king for this purpose.

For example, the Saudi Arabian system in which a successor is chosen from the male descendants of the founder of the dynasty from the senior members of the class of potential heirs, could qualify. Similarly, a system in which succession would pass from mother to daughter, or to siblings before children, in lieu of the English primogeniture down the male line succession system would count. Even a monarchy with a rule of succession that allows the monarch to name his or her successor unilaterally, that usually or often results in the successor being an extended family member would also count as a king for purposes of this question.

Contested Election Defined

Historically Attested Elections

I am interested in only historically attested examples. I am not interested fictional examples (e.g. Queen Amidala of the Star Wars Universe) or mythical examples.

Multiple Genuine Candidates

For purposes of this question, a "contested election" must be an election with multiple candidates.

An election ratifying a single candidate who has already been chosen before the election, for example, in the ratification of the constitution of an existing monarchy which is transitioning to a constitutional monarchy in which the new constitution identifies the existing monarch or dynasty by name, does not count as a "contested election".

For this purposes "write in" candidates with no genuine possibility of winning a significant share of the vote do not suffice to make it a "contested election."

Not Limited To Members Of The Incumbent's Extended Family

A "contested election" does not include an election in which only members of the sitting monarch's extended family can vote (like the succession system of the Saudi Arabian monarchy or the Cambodian monarchy).

A College Of Cardinals Model Is Not A Contested Election

A "contested election" also does not include an election conducted by members of a small body of a few hundred people or less like the modern College of Cardinals that elected the Pope (which has been in place in its current form since the 12th century and in a different incarnation since the 6th century), which is appointed by the incumbent or his recent predecessors on a non-hereditary basis.

For example, a self-perpetuating board of a dozen or two directors of a non-profit who vote for a new CEO of a company that ran the country would not constitute a "contested election" for this purpose.

An Election Could Have A Quite Narrow Franchise

An "election" could, however, include a situation like that surrounding the adoption of the Magna Carta or the assembly of representatives of the various estates that was convened by the monarch shortly before the French Revolution in which the franchise is quite limited (e.g. limited only to aristocrats, or to elders, or to clergy, or to members of a political party, or to members of a particular tribe or caste, or to a council of leaders of tribes or castes) who are not all members of the incumbent's extended family and whose appointment was not primarily within the control of the incumbent as a practical matter.

For example, the kind of election that Hong Kong conducts now for its leaders would constitute a "contested election" even though it gives special preferences, for example, to various industries, rather than being conducted on a one man, one vote basis.

A contested election could also count even if it limits the franchise to just part of the territory ruled by the monarch. For example, if the people of England elected the next king of England, this would count, even if the person elected would serve as king for all of the British Commonwealth. Similarly, an election would count even if only the people of Rome elected the Pope, even though the person elected served the entire world.


4 Answers 4


One example I immediately came up with: the Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth elected the King of Poland (and the Grand Duke of Lithuania), where any European noble is a potential candidate. The Sejm represented the Polish nobility, which I saw sources attributing that around 8% over 10% (around 13-15%) of all Poles and Lithuanians were a member of. The elections were competitive, and the Polish-Lithuanian throne passed back and forth between a few prominent European royal houses, e.g. Valois, Vasa and Wettin, and local Polish noble families.

The Wikipedia page on nobility claims that around 15% of the population of the Polish-Lithuanians were nobles, and this page claims 13% - but anyway, a significant percentage of Polish-Lithuanians were nobles and thus entitled to vote. During an electoral session of the Sejm, all nobles are entitled to vote, and usually more than 10,000 nobles actually vote. This is a very big, almost unimaginable, enfranchisement at the time.

On a note, the percentage of franchised citizens in the United States exceeded 10% only in the 1830s - see this Wikipedia page on voting rights in the US.

See the Wikipedia page on the elective monarchy in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for details.


More of an history question than a political one, but here it is:

  • Amadeo I of Spain was elected as King (of Spain, hardly surprising) after the previous Queen, Isabelle II, was exiled from the country. Amadeo was chosen by the Cortes (the Spanish Parliament of the time); other candidates were Isabelle II son, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.

    Since his main backer died before he was crowned and due to the convulse politics of 19th century Spain, he ruled just for two years.

  • I do not know if there were other candidates considered, but Agustin I of Mexico was offered not just the lame title of "King" but the cooler one of "Emperor". Did not last long, either.

  • In a more general category, many the new countries formed by the breakaway of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans did provide for many elections of rulers, although I do not have all of the details to decide if they meet your criteria or not. Possible examples could be Milan I of Serbia, Alexander of Battenbert, prince of Bulgaria1 or specially Carol I of Romania. OTOH Otto of Greece was "appointed" by foreign powers to his kingdom.

1I have not clear how much he was a Bulgarian election or a Russian imposition.

  • 1
    Upgrading from King to Emperor didn't work so well in Korea either. The Joseon Dynasty ruled a unified Korea for 505 years as kings, but 13 years after upgrade to Emperor status the monarchy was abolished. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monarchs_of_Korea
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 0:22
  • 1
    @ohwilleke Also, the Ngyuen Dynasty monarchs in Vietnam promoted themselves to be Emperor of Vietnam, but only within Vietnam - in formal correspondence with China they continued to use the title of King because they know proclaiming themselves emperor wouldn't work well with the Chinese. But anyway the upgrade didn't work well within the country either - the French came in soon enough, as we all know.
    – xuq01
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 0:31
  • I just read again this and thought of some close examples, although all of them have some imperfection: Pope election (and until 1871 they controlled a sizeable territory), Holy Roman Emperor election (Charles V had to bribe its way through, but he was already a king and the Emperor post was not that powerful). A couple of examples that could be but I am not sure: election of Mongol Khans, and Loya Jirga
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 17:01

The Principality of Transylvania was an elective monarchy, even though the monarch was not called a king, but a prince.

It did happen that the nobility elected a new prince which the old prince didn't want to recognize, resulting in a brief civil war.


The Roman Monarchy (from Romulus until Tarquinius Superbus) was not hereditary. From Wikipedia:

The Senate of the Roman Kingdom was at first unable to choose a new king. For the purpose of continuing the government of the city, the Senate, which then consisted of one hundred members, was divided into ten decuriae ...; and from each of these decuriae one senator was nominated as decurio. Each of the ten decuriones in succession held the regal power and its badges for five days as interrex; and if no king had been appointed at the expiration of fifty days, the rotation began anew. The period during which they exercised their power was called an interregnum, and on that occasion lasted for one year. Thereafter Numa Pompilius was elected as the new king.

After the death of each subsequent king, an interrex was appointed by the Senate. His function was to call a meeting of the Comitia Curiata, which would elect a new king.

I think the British monarchy took some time to settle down to primogeniture. The King decided how to divide "his" property: for example, William the Bastard left England to his son William Rufus, Normandy to his son Robert, and the third son, Henry, inherited money.

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