Absolute monarchy (or Absolutism
as a doctrine) is a form of monarchy in which the monarch rules in their own right or power. In an absolute monarchy, the king or queen is by no means limited and has absolute power, though a limited constitution may exist in some countries.
These are often hereditary monarchies
. On the other hand, in constitutional monarchies, in which the authority of the head of state is also bound or restricted by the constitution, a legislature, or unwritten customs, the king or queen is not the only one to decide, and their entourage also exercises power, mainly the prime minister.
Absolute monarchy in Europe declined substantially following the French Revolution
and World War I
, both of which led to the popularization of theories of government based on the notion of popular sovereignty
Absolute monarchies include Brunei
and the individual emirates composing the United Arab Emirates
, which itself is a federation
of such monarchies – a federal monarchy
Historical examples of absolute monarchies
In the Ottoman Empire
Sultan (; ar, سلطان ', ) is a Royal and noble ranks, position with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", derived from the verbal noun ', meaning "authority" ...
wielded absolute power over the state and was considered a Padishah
meaning "Great King" by his people. Many sultans wielded absolute power through heavenly mandates reflected in their title, such as "Shadow of God on Earth". In ancient Mesopotamia
, many rulers of Assyria
were absolute monarchs as well.
Throughout Imperial China
, many emperors
and one empress ( Wu Zetian
) wielded absolute power through the Mandate of Heaven
. In pre-Columbian America
, the Inca Empire
was ruled by a Sapa Inca
, who was considered the son of Inti
, the sun god and absolute ruler over the people and nation. Korea under the Joseon dynasty
and short-lived empire
was also an absolute monarchy. Whether or not the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
is a democracy or a ''de facto'' monarchy is internationally disputed.
Throughout much of European history, the divine right of kings
was the theological justification for absolute monarchy. Many European monarchs claimed supreme autocratic power
by divine right, and that their subjects had no rights to limit their power.
Throughout the Age of Enlightenment
, the concept of the divine right to power and democratic ideals were given serious merit.
The Revolutions of 1848
, known in some countries as the ''Springtime of the Peoples'' or the ''Springtime of Nations'', were a series of political upheaval
s throughout Europe
in 1848. It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave
in European history
. By the 19th century, divine right was regarded as an obsolete theory in most countries in the Western world
, except in Russia where it was still given credence as the official justification for the Tsar's power until February Revolution
in 1917 and in the Vatican City
where it remains today.
Kingdoms of England and Scotland
James VI and I
and his son Charles I
tried to import the principle of divine right
into Scotland and England. Charles I's attempt to enforce episcopal polity
on the Church of Scotland
led to rebellion by the Covenanter
s and the Bishops' Wars
, then fears that Charles I was attempting to establish absolutist government along European lines was a major cause of the English Civil War
, despite the fact that he did rule this way for 11 years starting in 1629, after dissolving the Parliament of England
for a time.
Absolutism was underpinned by a written constitution for the first time in Europe in 1665 da, Kongeloven, lit= King's Law
, label=none of Denmark–Norway
, which ordered that the Monarch: This law consequently authorized the king to abolish all other centers of power. Most important was the abolition of the Council of the Realm
in Denmark. Absolute monarchy lasted until 1814 in Norway
, and 1848 in Denmark
Louis XIV of France
(1638–1715) is often said to have proclaimed french: L'état, c'est moi!, lit=I am the State!, label=none. Although often criticized for his extravagances, such as the Palace of Versailles
, he reigned over France for a long period, some historians consider him an absolute monarch, while some other historians have questioned whether Louis' reign should be considered 'absolute', given the reality of the balance of power between the monarch and the nobility, as well as parliaments.
The king of France concentrated legislative, executive, and judicial powers in his person. He was the supreme judicial authority. He could condemn people to death without the right of appeal. It was both his duty to punish offenses and stop them from being committed. From his judicial authority followed his power both to make laws and to annul them.
, the concept of absolute monarch took a notable turn from the above with its emphasis on the monarch as the "first servant of the state", but it also echoed many of the important characteristics of absolutism. Frederick William
(r. 1640–1688), known as the Great Elector, used the uncertainties of the final stages of the Thirty Years' War
to consolidate his territories into the dominant kingdom in northern Germany, whilst increasing his power over his subjects. His actions largely originated the militaristic streak of the Hohenzollern
Frederick William enjoyed support from the nobles, who enabled the Great Elector to undermine the Diet of Brandenburg and other representative assemblies. The leading families saw their future in cooperation with the central government and worked to establish absolutist power.
The most significant indicator of the nobles' success was the establishment of two tax rates – one for the cities and the other for the countryside – to the great advantage of the latter, which the nobles ruled. The nobles served in the upper levels of the elector's army and bureaucracy, but they also won new prosperity for themselves. The support of the Elector enabled the imposition of serfdom and the consolidation of land holdings into vast estates which provided for their wealth.
They became known as Junker
s (from the German for young lord, ''junger Herr''). Frederick William faced resistance from representative assemblies and long-independent cities in his realm. City leaders often revolted at the imposition of Electorate authority. The last notable effort was the uprising of the city of
Königsberg (, ) was the historic Prussian city that is now Kaliningrad, Russia. Königsberg was founded in 1255 on the site of the ancient Old Prussian settlement ''Twangste'' by the Teutonic Knights during the Northern Crusades, and was named ...
which allied with the Estates General of Prussia to refuse to pay taxes. Frederick William crushed this revolt in 1662, by marching into the city with thousands of troops. A similar approach was used with the towns of Cleves.
Until 1905, the Tsar
s and Emperors
Russia (, , ), or the Russian Federation, is a List of transcontinental countries, transcontinental country spanning Eastern Europe and North Asia, Northern Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, largest country in the ...
governed as absolute monarchs. Ivan the Terrible
was known for his reign of terror through oprichnina
. Peter I the Great
reduced the power of the Russian nobility
and strengthened the central power of the monarch, establishing a bureaucracy and a police state
. This tradition of absolutism, known as Tsarist autocracy
, was expanded by Catherine II the Great
and her descendants. Although Alexander II
made some reforms and established an independent judicial system, Russia did not have a representative assembly or a constitution until the 1905 Revolution
. However, the concept of absolutism was so ingrained in Russia that the Russian Constitution of 1906
still described the monarch as an autocrat. Russia became the last Europe
an country (excluding Vatican City
) to abolish absolutism, and it was the only one to do so as late as the 20th century (the Ottoman Empire
drafted its first constitution
The form of government instituted in
Sweden, formally the Kingdom of Sweden,The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names states that the country's formal name is the Kingdom of SwedenUNGEGN World Geographical Names, Sweden./ref> is a Nordic countries, Nordic c ...
under King Charles XI
and passed on to his son, Charles XII
is commonly referred to as absolute monarchy; however, the Swedish monarch was never absolute in the sense that he wielded arbitrary power
. The monarch still ruled under the law and could only legislate in agreement with the
Riksdag of the Estates
Riksdag of the Estates ( sv, Riksens ständer; informally sv, Ståndsriksdagen) was the name used for the Estates of Sweden when they were assembled. Until its dissolution in 1866, the institution was the highest authority in Sweden next to th ...
; rather, the absolutism introduced was the monarch's ability to run the government unfettered by the privy council
, contrary to earlier practice. The absolute rule of Charles XI was instituted by the crown and the Riksdag in order to carry out the Great Reduction
which would have been made impossible by the privy council which comprised the high nobility.
After the death of Charles XII in 1718, the system of absolute rule was largely blamed for the ruination of the realm in the
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War (1700–1721) was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Northern Europe, Northern, Central Europe, Central and Eastern Europe. The i ...
, and the reaction tipped the balance of power to the other extreme end of the spectrum, ushering in the Age of Liberty
. After half a century of largely unrestricted parliamentary rule proved just as ruinous, King Gustav III
seized back royal power in the coup d'état of 1772
, and later once again abolished the privy council under the
Union and Security Act
The Union and Security Act ( sv, Förenings- och säkerhetsakten, fi, Yhdistys- ja vakuuskirja), alternatively Act of Union and Security, was proposed by king Gustav III of Sweden to the assembled Estates of the Realm during the Riksdag_of_the_Est ...
in 1789, which, in turn, was rendered void in 1809 when Gustav IV Adolf
was deposed in a coup and the constitution of 1809
was put in its place. The years between 1789 and 1809, then, are also referred to as a period of absolute monarchy.
Many nations formerly with absolute monarchies, such as Jordan
, and Morocco
, have moved towards constitutional monarchy
. However, in these cases the monarch still retains tremendous power, even to the extent that by some measures, parliament's influence on political life is viewed as negligible.
, the government moved from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy following planned parliamentary elections to the Tshogdu
in 2003, and the election of a National Assembly in 2008
had several swings between constitutional rule and direct rule related to the Nepalese Civil War
, the Maoist insurgency
, and the 2001 Nepalese royal massacre
, with the Nepalese monarchy
being abolished on 28 May 2008.
, the king
had majority control of the Legislative Assembly
has moved towards expanding the power of the monarch: the Prince of Liechtenstein
was given expanded powers after a referendum
amending the Constitution of Liechtenstein
in 2003, which led the BBC to describe the prince as an "absolute monarch again".
Current absolute monarchies
is an absolute monarchy, and according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia
adopted by Royal Decree in 1992, the King must comply with Shari'a
(Islamic law) and the Qur'an
The Qur'an and the body of the Sunnah
(traditions of the Islamic prophet
) are declared to be the Kingdom's Constitution, but no written modern constitution has ever been promulgated for Saudi Arabia, which remains the only Arab nation where no national elections have ever taken place since its founding.
No political parties or national elections are permitted and according to '' The Economist
's'' 2010 Democracy Index
, the Saudi government is the eighth most authoritarian regime from among the 167 countries rated.
There is a considerable variety of opinion by historians on the extent of absolutism among European monarchs. Some, such as Perry Anderson, argue that quite a few monarchs achieved levels of absolutist control over their states, while historians such as Roger Mettam dispute the very concept of absolutism. In general, historians who disagree with the appellation of ''absolutism'' argue that most monarchs labeled as ''absolutist'' exerted no greater power over their subjects than any other ''non-absolutist'' rulers, and these historians tend to emphasize the differences between the absolutist rhetoric of monarchs and the realities of the effective use of power by these absolute monarchs. Renaissance historian William Bouwsma summed up this contradiction:
Anthropology, sociology, and ethology as well as various other disciplines such as political science attempt to explain the rise of absolute monarchy ranging from extrapolation generally, to certain Marxist explanations in terms of the class struggle as the underlying dynamic of human historical development generally and absolute monarchy in particular.
In the 17th century, French legal theorist Jean Domat defended the concept of absolute monarchy in works such as ''"On Social Order and Absolute Monarchy"'', citing absolute monarchy as preserving natural order as
In monotheistic thought, God is usually viewed as the supreme being, creator, and principal object of faith. Swinburne, R.G. "God" in Honderich, Ted. (ed)''The Oxford Companion to Philosophy'', Oxford University Press, 1995. God is typicall ... intended. Other intellectual figures who supported absolute monarchy include Thomas Hobbes and Charles Maurras.
* Constitutional monarchy
* Criticism of monarchy
Enlightened absolutism (also called enlightened despotism) refers to the conduct and policies of European Absolute monarchy, absolute monarchs during the 18th and early 19th centuries who were influenced by the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, E ...
* Jacques Bossuet
* Presidential system
Theonomy, from ''theos'' (God) and ''nomos'' (law), is a hypothetical Christianity, Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law. Theonomists hold that divine law, particularly the judicial laws of the Old Testament, shoul ...
* Thomas Hobbes
* Anderson, Perry. (1961, 1974). ''Lineages of the Absolutist State''. London: Verso.
* Beloff, Max. ''The Age of Absolutism From 1660 to 1815''.
* Blum, Jerome, et al. (1970). ''The European World'', vol 1, pp 267–466.
* Blum, Jerome, et al. (1951). '' Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century''. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
* Kimmel, Michael S. (1988). ''Absolutism and Its Discontents: State and society in seventeenth-century France and England''. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.
* Méttam, Roger. (1988). ''Power and Faction in Louis XIV's France''. New York: Blackwell Publishers.
* Miller, John (ed.) (1990). ''Absolutism in Seventeenth Century Europe''. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
* Wilson, Peter H. (2000). ''Absolutism in Central Europe''. New York: Routledge.
* Zmohra, Hillay. (2001). ''Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe – 1300–1800''. New York: Routledge.