Constitutional monarchy occurred in continental Europe after the French revolution. General Napoleon Bonaparte is considered the first monarch proclaiming himself as embodiment of the nation, rather than as a divinely-appointed ruler; this interpretation of monarchy is basic to continental constitutional monarchies. G.W.F. Hegel, in Philosophy of Right (1820) justified it philosophically, according well with evolving contemporary political theory and with the Protestant Christian view of Natural Law. Hegel forecast a constitutional monarch of limited powers, whose function is embodying the national character and constitutional continuity in emergencies, per the development of constitutional monarchy in Europe and Japan. Moreover, the ceremonial office of president (e.g. European and Israeli parliamentary democracies), is a contemporary type of Hegel's constitutional monarch (whether elected or appointed), yet, his forecast of the form of government suitable to the modern world might be perceived as prophetic. The Russian and French presidents, with their stronger powers, might be Hegelian, wielding power suited to the national will embodied.
As originally conceived, a constitutional monarch was quite a powerful figure, head of the executive branch even though his or her power was limited by the constitution and the elected parliament. Some of the framers of the US Constitution may have conceived of the president as being an elected constitutional monarch, as the term was understood in their time, following Montesquieu's account of the separation of powers in the United Kingdom, it was the democratically elected parliaments, and their leader, the prime minister, who had become those who exercised power. In many cases even the monarchs themselves, while still at the very top of the political and social hierarchy, were given the status of "servants of the people" to reflect the new, egalitarian view.
In present terms, the difference between a parliamentary democracy that is a constitutional monarchy, and one that is a republic, is considered more a difference of detail than of substance, particularly in the common case in which the head of state serves the traditional role of embodying and representing the nation. This is reflected, for example, in all but the most die-hard Spanish Republicans accepting their country's returning to constitutional monarchy after the death of Francisco Franco.
Today constitutional monarchies are mostly associated with Western European countries such as the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Sweden. In such cases it is the prime minister who holds the day-to-day powers of governance, while the King or Queen (or other monarch, such as a Grand Duke, in the case of Luxembourg, or Prince in the case of Monaco and Liechtenstein) retains only minor to no powers. Different nations grant different powers to their monarchs. In the Netherlands, Denmark and in Belgium, for example, the Monarch formally appoints a representative to preside over the creation of a coalition government following a parliamentary election, while in Norway the King chairs special meetings of the cabinet.
In nearly all cases, the monarch is still the nominal chief executive, but is bound by constitutional convention to act on the advice of the Cabinet. Only a few monarchies (most notably Japan and Sweden) have amended their constitutions so that the monarch is no longer even the nominal chief executive.
The most significant family of constitutional monarchies in the world today are the sixteen Commonwealth realms under Elizabeth II. Unlike some of their continental European counterparts, the Monarch and her Governors-General in the Commonwealth Realms hold significant "reserve" or "prerogative" powers, to be wielded in times of extreme emergency or constitutional crises usually to uphold parliamentary government. An instance of a Governor General exercising his power was during the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, when the Australian Prime Minister of the time, Gough Whitlam, was effectively fired from his position. This led to much speculation as to whether this use of the Governor General's reserve powers was appropriate, and whether Australia should become a republic.
In both the United Kingdom and elsewhere, a common debate centres around when it is appropriate for a monarch to use his or her political powers. When a monarch does act, political controversy can often ensue, partially because the neutrality of the crown is seen to be compromised in favour of a partisan goal. While political scientists may champion the idea of an "interventionist monarch" as a check against possible illegal action by politicians, the monarchs themselves are often driven by a more pragmatic sense of self-preservation, in which avoiding political controversy can be seen as an important way to retain public legitimacy and popularity.
There also exist today several federal constitutional monarchies. In these countries, each subdivision has a distinct government and head of government, but all subdivisions share a monarch who is head of state of the federation as a united whole. The latest country that was completely transformed from 'an absolute monarchy' to 'a constitutional democratic monarchy' is Bhutan.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, formed after the Union of Lublin in 1569 and lasting until the final partition of the state in 1795, operated much like many modern European constitutional monarchies. The legislators of the unified state truly did not see it as a monarchy at all, but as a republic under the presidency of the King. Poland-Lithuania also followed the principle of "Rex regnat et non gubernat", had a bicameral parliament, and a collection of entrenched legal documents amounting to a constitution along the lines of the modern United Kingdom. The King was elected, and had the duty of maintaining the people's rights.
Brazil from 1815 (United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarves) until 1822, with the proclamation of independence and rise of the Empire of Brazil by Pedro I of Brazil. The empire ended in 1889, when Pedro II was deposed by a military coup.
Hawaiʻi was a constitutional monarchy from the unification of the smaller independent chiefdoms of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and the Hawaiʻi (or the "Big Island") in 1810 until the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893 by conspirators from United States.
Andorra is the only monarchy where the head of state is vested jointly in two individuals (conversely, San Marino is the only republic where the head of state is vested jointly in two individuals: the Captains Regent).
↑Belgium is the only existing popular monarchy — a system in which the monarch's title is linked to the people rather than a state. The title of Belgian kings is not King of Belgium, but instead King of the Belgians. Another unique feature of the Belgian system is that the new monarch does not automatically assume the throne at the death or abdication of his predecessor; he only becomes monarch upon taking a constitutional oath.