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Monarchies are all different depending on their country, period, and the sovereign themselves. Some were absolute rulers who completely controlled their government and people. While others were constitutional monarchs with limited authority. What makes a monarchy? What is an example of an absolute ruler? Are modern monarchies absolute or constitutional? Let's dive on in and find out what Monarchical power is made of!

Monarchy Definition

A monarchy is a system of government that places power on a sovereign. Monarchs operated differently based on their location and period. For instance, Ancient Greece had city-states that elected their king. Eventually, the role of the king was passed from father to son. Kingship was not passed down to daughters because they were not allowed to rule. The Holy Roman Emperor was picked by the prince-electors. The French King was an inherited role that passed from father to son.

Monarchies and the Patriarchy

Women were often barred from ruling on their own. Most of the women rulers were regents for their sons or husbands. Women ruled as queens alongside their husbands. The women whose reign had no male links had to fight tooth and nail to keep it that way. One of the most well-known single queens was Elizabeth I.

Different rulers had different powers, but they tended to include military, legislative, judicial, executive, and religious power. Some monarchs had a counsel who controlled the legislative and judicial branches of government, like the constitutional monarchs in the United Kingdom. Some had absolute power and could pass legislation, raise armies, and dictate the religion without any form of approval, like Czar Peter the Great of Russia.

Role and Functions of Monarchies

Monarchies vary depending on the kingdom, period, and ruler. For example, in the 13th century Holy Roman Empire, the princes would elect an emperor who the Pope would crown. In 16th century England, King Henry VIII's son would become king. When that son, Edward VI, died prematurely, his sister Mary I became Queen.

The general role of the monarch was to govern and protect the people. This might mean protection from another kingdom or protecting their souls. Some rulers were religious and demanded uniformity among their people, while others were not as strict. Let's take a closer look at two different forms of monarchy: constitutional and absolute!

Constitutional Monarchy

A sovereign who reigns but does not rule."

–Vernon Bogdanor

A constitutional monarchy has a king or queen (in Japan's case an emperor) who has less power than the legislative body. The ruler has power, but is unable to pass legislation without the approval of the governing body. The title of queen or king is passed down hereditarily. The country would have a constitution that everyone, including the sovereign, must follow. Constitutional monarchies have an elected governing body that can pass legislation. Let's look at a constitutional monarchy in action!

Great Britain

On June 15, 1215, King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta. This granted specific rights and protections to the English people. It established that the king was not above the law. Habeas Corpus was included, which meant that the king couldn't hold anyone confined indefinitely, they must be given a trial with a jury of their peers.

In 1689, with the Glorious Revolution, England became a constitutional monarchy. The potential king and queen William of Orange and Mary II were invited to rule if they signed the Bill of Rights. This dictated what the monarchs could and could not do. England had just finished a civil war in 1649 and did not want to begin a new one.

England was a Protestant country and wanted to remain that way. In 1625, the English King Charles I married the French Catholic Princess Henrietta Marie. Their children were Catholic, which left England with two Catholic Kings. Mary's father, James II, was one of Henrietta's Catholic sons and had just had a son with his Catholic wife. Parliament invited Mary to rule because she was Protestant, and they couldn't tolerate any more Catholic rule.

Monarchial Power William of Orange and Mary II StudySmarterFig. 1: Mary II and William of Orange.

The Bill of Rights guaranteed the rights of the people, Parliament, and the sovereign. People were given freedom of speech, cruel and unusual punishments were banned, and bails had to be reasonable. Parliament controlled finances like taxation and legislation. The ruler could not raise an army without Parliamentary approval, and the ruler couldn't be Catholic.


Parliament consisted of the monarch, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The House of Lords was made up of nobles, while the House of Commons consisted of elected officials.

The ruler had to obey the laws like everyone else or would be punished. A Prime Minister would be elected to handle the day-to-day running of the country, plus they would enforce Parliament. The monarch's power was greatly diminished, while Parliament became stronger.

Absolute Monarchy

An absolute monarch has complete control over the government and the people. To get this power, they must seize it from the nobles and the clergy. Absolute monarchs believed in divine right. To go against the king was to go against God.

Divine Right:

The idea that God chose the sovereign to rule, so whatever they decided was ordained by God.

To seize power from the nobles, the king would replace them with bureaucrats. These government officials were loyal to the king because he paid them. Monarchs wanted their kingdoms to have uniform religion so that there would be no dissenters. People with different religions were killed, imprisoned, forced to convert, or exiled. Let's take a closer look at an actual absolute monarch: Louis XIV.


Louis XIV was crowned king in 1643 when he was four years old. His mother ruled for him as his regent until he was fifteen. To be an absolute monarch, he needed to strip the nobles of their power. Louis set about to build the Palace of Versailles. The nobles would relinquish their power to live in this glorious palace.

Monarchial Power Louis XIV StudySmarterFig. 2: Louis XIV.

Over 1000 people lived at the palace including nobles, workers, Louis's mistresses, and more. He had operas for them and sometimes even starred in them. The nobles would try to obtain different privileges; one heavily sought-after privilege was helping Louis undress at night. To live in the castle was to live in luxury.

The church believed in the divine right of the king. So with the nobles occupied and the church on his side, Louis was able to obtain absolute power. He could raise an army and wage war without waiting for the nobles' approval. He could raise and lower taxes on his own. Louis had complete control over the government. Nobles would not go against him because they would lose the favor of the king.

Power of the Monarchy

Most monarchies that we see today will be constitutional monarchs. The British Commonwealth, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Kingdom of Belgium are all constitutional monarchies. They have a group of elected officials who handle legislation, taxation, and the running of their nations.

Monarchial Power Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher StudySmarterFig. 3: Elizabeth II (right) and Margaret Thatcher (left).

There are a handful of absolute monarchies left today: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Nation of Brunei, and the Sultanate of Oman. These nations are controlled by a sovereign who has absolute authority over the government and the people who live there. Unlike constitutional monarchs, absolute monarchs do not need the approval of an elected board before raising armies, waging war, or passing legislation.


Monarchies are not consistent across space and time. In one kingdom, a monarch might have absolute control. In another city-state at a different time, the king was an elected official. One country might have a woman as the leader, while another didn't allow that. The power of one monarchy in one kingdom will change over time. It is important to have an understanding of how monarchs operated and what powers they had.

Monarchical Power - Key takeaways

  • The role of monarchs has changed over several centuries.
  • Monarchs have different structures based on their countries.
  • Constitutional monarchs "reign but do not rule."
  • Absolute monarchs control the government and the people.
  • The majority of monarchs today are constitutional.

Frequently Asked Questions about Monarchy

A monarchy is a system of government that places power on a sovereign until his death or if they are unfit to rule. Commonly, this role is passed down from one family member to the next.  

A constitutional monarchy has a king or queen but the ruler has to follow a constitution. Some examples of constitutional monarchies include the United Kingdoms, Japan, and Sweden.

A modern example of a monarchy is Great Britain, which had Queen Elizabeth and now King Charles. Or Japan, which has its Emperor Naruhito.

Monarchies have different power depending on which country has the monarchy and what time period it is in. For example, Louis the XIV of France was an absolute monarch while Queen Elizabeth II is a constitutional monarch. 

An absolute monarchy is when a king or queen has complete control over the country and does not have to have approval from anyone. Examples of absolute monarchs include Louis XIV of France and Peter the Great of Russia.

Final Monarchy Quiz

Monarchy Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Monarchies all function the same way no matter their nation, time period, or the sovereign. 

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_______ is a sovereign who reigns but does not rule. 

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Constitutional Monarch

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The sovereign of a constitutional monarch has _____ power.

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Which piece of legislation made England a constitutional monarchy?

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The Bill of Rights

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Which king and queen are associated with the Glorious Revolution?

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William of Orange and Mary II

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______ consisted of the monarch, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. 

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What is the idea that God chose the sovereign to rule so whatever they decided was ordained by God?

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Divine Right

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Which king built the Palace of Versailles?

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Louis XIV

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What did Louis trade with the nobles for power?

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Which of the following kingdoms is not an absolute monarchy?

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 

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