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A good retirement guide for monarchs

Nada Almutawa
09/06/2008 12:00 AM


Keep pretending

Jun 5th 2008
From The Economist print edition

A good retirement guide for monarchs


ReutersMichael, the respectable Romanian

A KING with no throne might seem as pointless as an admiral with no ships. The Nepalese royal family probably feels pretty gloomy as it packs its possessions and prepares to leave its palace this week following the country`s decision to abolish the monarchy. Claiming to be reincarnated Hindu gods may not be enough to stop the Nepalese ex-royals ending up in obscurity, like the pretenders to the Ottoman or Chinese imperial thrones. But history suggests that, with a bit of grit and imagination, being an ex-monarch can be a pleasant and even profitable occupation.

The big hope is that the republicans muck things up. Few monarchies have been successfully restored to their former glory (Spain`s is a big exception) but plenty of pretenders find a respected place in their country`s life. Afghanistan`s Mohammed Zahir Shah returned from exile in Rome to Kabul as “Father of the Nation” in 2002—something that seemed unlikely during his nearly 30 years in exile. Bulgaria`s ex-King Simeon confounded scoffers by returning after a 40-year Communist interregnum and serving (not very successfully) as prime minister; his counterpart from Romania, Michael, is a respected public figure (rather a rarity in that country`s politics).

If things at home are still bad, moral leadership for the émigrés can be a decent job: the pretender to the Peacock Throne, Reza Pahlavi, is modestly important in the Iranian emigration; the royal families of Laos and Vietnam play a similar role in their countries` diaspora.

One big no-no is damaging the brand with playboy antics. The career of Vittorio Emanuele, head of Italy`s royal house, has been dotted with scandals including a fatal shooting, fisticuffs, and allegations of anti-Semitism. In 2006 he was arrested on racketeering charges, which he denies. Another tip: selling titles to the gullible is a money-earner, but hard to manage discreetly.

One more risk: dynastic quarrels. (Can daughters inherit? Are marriages with non-royals valid?) Brazil`s imperial house has two pretenders; Russia`s monarchists can`t decide between the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna or Prince Nicholas. Portugal`s monarchists are sorry that the head of their royal house, Duarte Pio, Duke of Braganza, made peace with the republic; oddly, he may be in line to take on the ultra-traditionalist Carlist claim to the throne in Spain.

So the lesson for Nepal`s ex-King is clear: wait for the new Maoist rulers to disappoint; keep up the profile with good works, though not with active politics; and try some discreet commerce on the side. The Nepalese may take some convincing, but plenty of other people will love it.