Unusual Monarchies

These are not your run-of-the-mill monarchies. Most of the men on these pages had no claim to royalty. Others, while noble — whether titled or not — were not in the royal arena. And a precious few, the younger sons or brothers of kings and emperors, were predestined for a life of comfort yet dullness, disregarded as the throne passed on to their brothers and nephews. These are the subjects we study, a diverse assortment of farmers, clerks, artists, lawyers, idlers, soldiers, writers, merchants, bureaucrats, sailors, journalists, brokers, debtors, aristocrats, inheritors, and slaves — all united by the search for a life of meaning and purpose; a life less ordinary.

The Kingsley Collection is unique in affording these self-proclaimed, ephemeral, and adventurer-founded monarchs a home where the visual and material culture they so carefully curated in order to assert their fledgling status as newly-minted royals can be documented, preserved, and presented to admirers, detractors, or the merely curious. Most will find themselves amongst the latter, having perhaps heard of a name or two, yet unaware that this quirky subcategory of monarchy even existed. We offer you a warm welcome and — through the study of the objects in our collection — meaningful analysis that neither supports nor opposes our subjects’ experiences.

Arms of King Henry I of Haiti (Henry Christophe)


How to classify such diverse and manifestly unusual monarchies? As groupings overlap and many monarchs display multiple characteristics, the results are inevitably nondefinitive and ever-debatable. However, in order to establish a taxonomy that could facilitate our mission, we opted to categorize them according to their most salient traits. 


Self-proclaimed monarchies were abruptly founded in sovereign nations by native-born — with the exception of Egypt — commoners or minor nobles without links to a royal family. They were military men who, commanding absolute power and/or high popularity, decided to aggrandize their status through enthronement, mostly as Emperors. Their reigns were brief and thunderous, although three developed intergenerational dynasties: the Houses of Alawwite, Napoleon, and Pahlavi. International recognition of their new regal status varied, with those of Haiti, Centrafrica, and China being disallowed by long-established royal houses. Prominent examples include:


Whether established by foreign intervention or domestic acclamation, these short-lived monarchs were elevated from non-regnant noblemen or commoners to reigning Kings and Emperors. Some were desirous of becoming monarchs while others were reluctant. Often, the beginning and end of their reign came with a change in the system of government, mostly from or towards a Republic. This makes their reign anomalous and incongruous, yet also curious and endlessly fascinating. Prominent examples include:


While in a sense all of the monarchs in our collection were men of adventure, a few of them stand out as textbook explorers who left their countries of birth and sought their luck in faraway lands. While most were unsuccessful in their venture toward kingship and nation-building— becoming objects of derision— James Brooke established a reigning dynasty that spanned three generations of rule over the sovereign state of Sarawak. Prominent examples include:

The claims of the following were illusory or outright false. In fact, they never set foot on their claimed realms.

  • Otto Witte (King of Albania)
  • Matthew Dowdy Shiell (King of Redonda)
  • Gregor MacGregor (Prince and Cacique of Poyais)