Nepal began to take shape in the second half of the 18th century, as Prithvi Narayan Shah, ninth of the Kings of Gorkha, conquered about a third of the various small kingdoms and principalities that occupied the territory of the modern state. Over the next half century, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s descendants would expand their kingdom, even invading Tibet around 1790. Decisive action by the Qianlong Emperor of China, however, drove Nepalese forces from Tibet and substantially ended Nepal’s northern expansion. To the south, British power in India was steadily increasing, and the 1814 war between the British East India Company and Nepal led to the separation of several territories from the kingdom. Like the inhabitants of many forbidding locales, the people of Nepal acquired a reputation as fearsome warriors; Nepalese mercenaries (or Gurkhas) began serving in the armies of the East India Company in 1817, and in units of the British Army in 1857. Nepal would maintain its autonomy (and a certain shadowy independence) for the rest of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, until the British recognized its formal independence in 1923.
Although the Shah family has formally possessed the throne for as long as Nepal has existed, the ability of the kings to influence policy was sharply curtailed in the second half of the nineteenth century, as a rival clan came into control of the levers of state. This situation lasted for nearly a century, until turmoil in 1950 led to the exile of King Tribhuvan to India. India, nervous about the Chinese annexation of Tibet, took the opportunity to restore Tribhuvan to the throne, thus creating a friendly state on the new Sino-Indian border. A series of experiments with democracy largely failed, as royal intervention in parliamentary process produced repeated instability. An elected government was finally installed in 1991, but it failed to stabilize the country; massive riots in 1992 shook the state, and in 1996 a Maoist insurgency launched an effort to seize the state.
In 2001 Dipendra, the Crown Prince of Nepal, went a little bit funny in the head. He took it upon himself to conduct a shooting spree in the royal palace, executing eleven members of the royal family, including the King. Dipendra briefly became King before succumbing to self-inflicted wounds. Dipendra was succeeded by his uncle Gyanendra, who suspended Parliament. Maoist pressure led to a reinstatement of the government in 2004, although the King deposed it again in 2005. King Gyanendra’s central success seems to have been to unite Nepal’s factions against the remnants of the Shah family; the Maoists and several other parties formed an interim government and agreed on a platform that included the abolition of the monarchy in late 2007. Today, in the first meeting of Parliament following the election of April 2008, the former (they now refer to themselves as “committed capitalists”) Maoist insurgents officially abolished the monarchy, and gave King Gyanendra fifteen days to evacuate the Royal Palace.
Although the situation remains in flux, a large, popular coalition seems to favor the action against the King. In the short term, prospects for a restoration appear grim. Rumors that King Gyanendra engineered the massacre of 2001 persist, damaging his personal stature. Gyanendra’s eventual disposition remains unclear; he has not yet apparently commented on the legal end of the monarchy, or on his eviction from the Royal Palace. He is, however, reported to be miffed about the elimination of his $3.1 million annual allowance, and the substantial reduction of the royal staff.