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monarchy,form of government in which sovereignty is vested in a single person whose right to rule is generally hereditary and who is empowered to remain in office for life. The power of this sovereign may vary from the absolute (see despotismdespotism,
government by an absolute ruler unchecked by effective constitutional limits to his power. In Greek usage, a despot was ruler of a household and master of its slaves. The title was applied to gods and, by derivation, to the quasi-divine rulers of the Middle East.
..... Click the link for more information. ) to that strongly limited by custom or constitution. Monarchy has existed since the earliest history of humankind and was often established during periods of external threat or internal crisis because it provided a more efficient focus of power than aristocracyaristocracy
[Gr.,=rule by the best], in political science, government by a social elite. In the West the political concept of aristocracy derives from Plato's formulation in the Republic. The criteria on which aristocracy is based may vary greatly from society to society.
..... Click the link for more information. or democracydemocracy
[Gr.,=rule of the people], term originating in ancient Greece to designate a government where the people share in directing the activities of the state, as distinct from governments controlled by a single class, select group, or autocrat.
..... Click the link for more information. , which tended to diffuse power.
Most monarchies appear to have been elective originally, but dynasties early became customary. In primitive times, divine descent of the monarch was often claimed. Deification was general in ancient Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia, and it was also practiced during certain periods in ancient Greece and Rome. A more moderate belief arose in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages; it stated that the monarch was the appointed agent of divine will. This was symbolized by the coronationcoronation,
ceremony of crowning and anointing a sovereign on his or her accession to the throne. Although a public ceremony inaugurating a new king or chief had long existed, a new religious service was added when Europe became Christianized.
..... Click the link for more information. of the king by a bishop or the pope, as in the Holy Roman Empire.
Although theoretically at the apex of feudal power (see feudalismfeudalism
, form of political and social organization typical of Western Europe from the dissolution of Charlemagne's empire to the rise of the absolute monarchies. The term feudalism is derived from the Latin feodum,
..... Click the link for more information. ), the medieval monarchs were in fact weak and dependent upon the nobility for much of their power. During the Renaissance and after, there emerged "new monarchs" who broke the power of the nobility and centralized the state under their own rigid rule. Notable examples are Henry VIIHenry VII,
1457–1509, king of England (1485–1509) and founder of the Tudor dynasty. Claim to the Throne
Henry was the son of Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, who died before Henry was born, and Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III through John
..... Click the link for more information. and Henry VIIIHenry VIII,
1491–1547, king of England (1509–47), second son and successor of Henry VII. Early Life
In his youth he was educated in the new learning of the Renaissance and developed great skill in music and sports.
..... Click the link for more information. of England and Louis XIVLouis XIV,
1638–1715, king of France (1643–1715), son and successor of King Louis XIII. Early Reign
After his father's death his mother, Anne of Austria, was regent for Louis, but the real power was wielded by Anne's adviser, Cardinal Mazarin.
..... Click the link for more information. of France. The 16th and 17th cent. mark the height of absolute monarchy, which found its theoretical justification in the doctrine of divine rightdivine right,
doctrine that sovereigns derive their right to rule by virtue of their birth alone—a right based on the law of God and of nature. Authority is transmitted to a ruler from his ancestors, whom God himself appointed to rule.
..... Click the link for more information. . However, even the powerful monarchs of the 17th cent. were somewhat limited by custom and constitution as well as by the delegation of powers to strong bureaucracies. Such limitations were also felt by the "benevolent despots" of the 18th cent.
Changes in intellectual climate, in the demands made upon government in a secular and commercially expanding society, and in the social structure, as the bourgeoisiebourgeoisie
, originally the name for the inhabitants of walled towns in medieval France; as artisans and craftsmen, the bourgeoisie occupied a socioeconomic position between the peasants and the landlords in the countryside.
..... Click the link for more information. became increasingly powerful, eventually weakened the institution of monarchy in Europe. The Glorious RevolutionGlorious Revolution,
in English history, the events of 1688–89 that resulted in the deposition of James II and the accession of William III and Mary II to the English throne. It is also called the Bloodless Revolution.
..... Click the link for more information. in England (1688) and the French RevolutionFrench Revolution,
political upheaval of world importance in France that began in 1789. Origins of the Revolution
Historians disagree in evaluating the factors that brought about the Revolution.
..... Click the link for more information. (1789) were important landmarks in the decline and limitation of monarchical power. Throughout the 19th cent. royal power was increasingly reduced by constitutional provisions and parliamentary incursions.
In the 20th cent., monarchs have generally become symbols of national unity, while real power has been transferred to constitutional assemblies. Over the past 200 years democratic self-government has been established and extended to such an extent that a true functioning monarchy is a rare occurrence in both East and West. Among the few remaining are Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland. Notable constitutional monarchies include Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Thailand.
in exploitative states, a form of government in which supreme state power is formally concentrated, either completely or partially, in the hands of an individual head of state, the monarch. The monarchical form of government, which existed in slaveholding and feudal societies, has been preserved in a number of bourgeois states.
In slaveholding states the monarchy was usually an unlimited despotism (sometimes, a theocracy). Monarchy is most typical of feudalism. The early feudal monarchy, which sometimes ruled over vast feudal empires, gave way to the monarchy of the period of feudal fragmentation, which was characterized by weak central power. Later feudal forms include the limited estate monarchy and the unlimited, or absolute, monarchy. As a rule, bourgeois monarchical states have limited, constitutional monarchies that developed out of a compromise between the bourgeoisie and the nobility. In the contemporary bourgeois monarchy the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution—that is, legislative functions are transferred to a parliament, and executive functions to the government. The constitutional monarch is legally the supreme bearer of executive power and the head of the judicial system. Formally, he has the power to appoint and replace ministers, command the military and police forces, issue edicts, and ban laws adopted by parliament or delay their coming into force. He also has the right of legislative initiative and the right to dissolve parliament. However, in practice these powers are usually completely in the hands of the government: the monarch “reigns, but does not rule.” V. I. Lenin noted that “monarchy in general is not uniform and immutable. It is a very flexible institution, and one capable of adapting itself to the various types of class rule” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 359).