Estate Monarchy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Estate Monarchy


a feudal state in which the king or, in Germany and the Netherlands, the prince shared power with institutions representing the estates. The estate monarchy emerged in most European countries in the 13th and 14th centuries (in Castile in the 12th century, in Hungary and Poland in the 15th century) as estates coextensive with the state itself came into existence and as institutions representing the estates sprang up. Central institutions of the estates included the Parliament in England, the Estates General in France, the Cortes in Spain, the Sejm in Poland, the Snêm in Bohemia, and the Riksdag in Sweden. Local institutions included the provincial estates in France and the Netherlands and the provincial sejmy, called sejmiki, in Poland. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Russia also had estates representation, namely, the zemskie sobory (councils of the land).

The rise of this more centralized form of feudal state was related to the growth of cities and commodity production and exchange, to the resulting changes in the form of exploitation of the peasantry, and, in turn, to the growing class struggle in the countryside, the conflict among feudal lords themselves, and the conflict between feudal lords and the urban estate. In most countries the estate monarchy drew its main support from the lower and middle strata of the feudal lords, strata that needed a strong state apparatus so as to ensure more effective exploitation of the peasantry and protection against encroachments by the feudal magnates. It also drew active support from townsmen, who wanted to put an end to feudal fragmentation, and in some countries from elite groups among the free peasantry. Relying on these social strata in the political struggle against the separatist feudal magnates and maneuvering between the various estates, the king or prince amassed judicial, military, and financial power in his own hands, established a relatively strong central and provincial bureaucracy, and introduced countrywide legislation and taxation.

The need for assemblies representing the estates arose primarily because, in the system of feudal estates, the king still required the consent of the estates in order to impose the taxes necessary for the maintenance of a standing army and state bureaucracy and in order to implement major domestic and foreign policy decisions. In most institutions representing the estates, the feudal estates—the clergy and nobility—were predominant, the urban estate subordinate, especially in the beginning, and representatives of feudally dependent peasants absent; only in Castile and Sweden did representatives of the free peasantry sit in assemblies of estates. Such assemblies were usually hostile to the peasants: in Western Europe they opposed the emancipation of peasants from personal dependence, and in Central and Eastern Europe they abetted further enserfment, and everywhere they sanctioned increased taxation of the peasants.

Where the representatives of the different estates, especially the lesser feudal lords and townsmen, acted in concert, the assemblies of estates gained a measure of political independence and imposed some limitations on royal authority over taxation and, more rarely, legislation. More often than not, however, the assemblies of estates exercised purely consultative functions. On the whole, with the exception of Poland and despite occasional conflicts with the king or prince, they strengthened the royal power, giving sanction to its efforts at centralization. In most European countries the estate monarchy gave way to another kind of feudal state, the absolute monarchy (seeABSOLUTISM).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.