His Royal Highness, King of Nowhere

Yugoslavia no longer exists, but it still has a crown prince.

Crown Prince Alexander (center) and his wife, Crown Princess Katherine (right)

Britain’s royal family has released the guest list for Friday’s wedding. In addition to relatives, friends, celebrities, and sports figures, it includes Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia. Wait, Yugoslavia isn’t even a country anymore. Do royals really get to keep their titles when their country disappears?

There’s nothing to stop them. There are quite a few unemployed royals traipsing the globe, either because their kingdom turned into a republic or because the country disappeared altogether. Most of them insist on using their old titles, with some shaky legal precedent. The 1814-15 Congress of Vienna reorganized Europe’s political boundaries, eliminating a few minor kingdoms in the process. The agreement explicitly permitted their unfortunate monarchs to keep their titles. Some modern ex-royals, most notably the Greek contingent, insist that the nearly 200-year-old agreement confirmed the principle that royal status is for life.

While they may have lost the support of their subjects, former monarchs can always count on old friends. There’s a longstanding tradition that sitting kings and queens treat their throneless colleagues as though they still reign. Britain’s Mountbatten-Windsor clan, for example, maintains close relationships with several former royal families. (Of course, many of them are blood relatives.) In addition to the Yugoslavian crown prince, William and Kate have invited royals-in-name-only from Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania to witness their nuptials.

There’s no reason the relationship between a former monarch and his people has to be acrimonious. Sometimes, the divorce isn’t even permanent. Simeon Borisov of Saxe-Coburg Gotha ascended to the Bulgarian throne in 1943 at the age of 6. Tsar Simeon II’s reign didn’t last long, though. Three years later, a referendum—with heavy Soviet interference—abolished the monarchy. In 1996, upon his triumphant return to the post-Soviet Bulgaria, Simeon II formed a political party and eventually won the job of prime minister. Now out of power, he hasn’t renounced his hereditary title, but neither has he pushed particularly hard to restore the monarchy. (Alexander, the crown prince of Yugoslavia, has been far more vocal about the benefits of constitutional monarchy in Serbia, even though he was never king.)

The former king of Greece hasn’t achieved as close a relationship with his subjects or the republican government. The Greek people voted to abolish the monarchy in December 1974, ending the tumultuous reign of King Constantine II. The popular view was that the king and his mother had involved themselves far too deeply in politics. Over the following decades, Constantine II—now living in exile—and the Greek government squabbled over the former king’s obligation to pay taxes on his Greek property and his right to remove valuable treasures from his former residences. In 1994, the government stripped Constantine of his citizenship. It declines to grant him a Greek passport until he agrees to take a last name like every other commoner, which he refuses to do.

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