Obviously I knew England still had a monarchy -- it's difficult in the English-speaking world to escape news coverage of the English royal family. But I've always found the royals of the past and the power that they wielded to be more interesting than the current ones who seem more hemmed in by their symbolic role than anything else.
It's just odd, though, to think of those descended from royalty and nobility, bearers of titles no longer recognized in the countries that once granted them. They may be only great-nephews and -nieces of those who actually ruled, but they are the people who would rule if there were still monarchies.
It's even weird to think of kaisers, tsars, and kings as forming part of a time with remotely modern technology. Gordon Brook-Shepherd's Royal Sunset: The European Dynasties and The Great War goes over the roles of European rulers in the causes of World War I, and frequently mentions governments and rulers sending telegrams to one another, and even Edward VI of England giving Franz Josef of Austria his first ride in a car. It underlines the humanity of royalty in a way that even Henry VIII's six wives or Peter the Great's passion for boating never could.
So The Royal Families of Europe, by Geoffrey Hindley, was an interesting peek into the present lives of royals. Prince Nicola Petrovic of Montenegro is an architect in Paris, but apparently 200,000 Montenegrins came to see him on his trip to his family's homeland on 1989. Dr. Otto Habsburg of the family which used to rule Austria and Hungary (but now a German national) was elected to a seat in the European Parliament; his son is a program director for a Hungarian TV station. Louis Ferdinand, a younger son of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, worked for the Ford company in the U.S. for a while, though he later went back to Europe and married a daughter of Grand Duke Kyrill, who would have been next in line for the Russian throne.
Reading about the marriages between members of the royal families particularly boggles the mind -- that same Louis Ferdinand's will designated one of his grandsons as his heir because all his sons except that grandson's father had married women of low rank. One of the disinherited sons challenged the will in court, but Germany's Supreme Court ruled against the challenges.King Simeon of Bulgaria (living in exile in Spain) even has a website where you can send him e-mail! (I wonder if a monarchy in exile runs to the same number of assistants who would take care of correspondence, or if Simeon actually reads his own e-mail.)
The ones who do still reign in Europe are described in Laure Boulay and Francoise Jaudel's There Are Still Kings: The Ten Royal Families of Europe as largely performing a businesslike function of signing papers and making public appearances. There's nothing wrong with that -- both books on modern monarchy credit the royal house of Belgium with a major part in holding the country's two ethnic groups together under one government -- but it's a far cry from most people's visions of kingship or queenship. Fascinating to know, yes, but a little bit of magic leaves the world, even for an egalitarian American like me, on finding out what the 20th century did to royalty.