The 2 Main Types of Monarchies

Types of Monarchy

In your studies of law policy around the world you will learn how different types of governments operate. All civilized countries of the world are engulfed by the rule of government. Among the most well-known governments is monarchy.

What are the different types of monarchies?

Absolute monarchy and constitutional monarchy are the two main types of monarchies. While the definition of both are similar, the institution of power and the effect each has on its citizens is much different.

What is Monarchy?

The Oxford dictionary defines monarchy as ‘a form of government in which a person, the monarch, is the head of state for life or until abdication.’ Abdication is the act of giving up one’s power and status as a monarch. Monarch governments rule the people under it with various levels of control. The amount of authority a head of state governs with is determined by the type of monarchy present.

Absolute Monarchy

Unlimited power is assumed by the monarch in all executive, legislative, and judicial areas of government in absolute monarchy. Self-proclaimed monarchs, where there are no historical ties to the previous ruler, dominate this type of government. Although hereditary absolute monarchs are seen throughout history, it is more common that the ruler deems himself a god and takes complete control of a country. Citizens would see the monarch as having a ‘sacred right to rule’.

Constitutional Monarchy

This type of monarchy limits the control of its monarch as outlined in a constitution. Constitutional monarchy is a political and social system used to represent its people. Monarchs share power with elected officials. The succession of rule is, in most cases, hereditary where the role and responsibilities are passed to a child or family member after the death of the current monarch; however, elected monarchies are possible.

The History of Monarchy

Sumer and Egypt give the earliest records of monarch governments dating back to 3000 BC. These societies wished for a leader to represent the people. The Egyptians, Chinese, and Babylonians set the foundation for monarchy with absolute rule. Land and resources were expanded by war and the ability to conquer other empires. Strong, fearless warriors often became the new head of state, which granted absolute power. Octavian is an example. His reign, 27 BC until his death in AD 14, marks the birth of the Roman Empire. This has deemed him as one of the most effective leaders in human history.

Absolute monarchy continued across Europe during the Middle Ages. Force and fear were frequently present under such governments. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself king of France in 1804 assuming complete authority in every aspect of ruling the countries he conquered. At the time, absolute monarchy was capable of adapting to culture. Eventually, however, this type of government was swept away by social revolutions.

Absolute monarchies were the most common form of government until the 20th century. A gradual transfer of authority was seen as constitutional monarchy took root. This type of government was created to adapt to challenges monarchs were facing in the economy and cultural aspects. After World War I many countries across Europe were converted to this type of government. Constitutional monarchs understood democratic procedures set in place to ensure that governing authority be shared with elected politicians.

It is important to note, that while most monarchs throughout history have been male, many female rulers have also reigned. A popular example being Catherine the Great who reigned over Russia for 34 years, which is longer than any female ruler in Russian history.

Monarchy Today

Monarchy Today - Japan

Today, forty-four sovereign nations in the world have a government that is a monarchy. Traditional absolute monarchies are limited mostly to Arabic countries. Examples of an absolute monarchy include the individual emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. These still maintain absolute power, along with Oman, Saudi Arabia, Eswatini, Brunei, and the Vatican City in Rome. Bahrain and Kuwait are classified as mixed, meaning representative bodies are present but the monarch holds most of his power. Australia, Bhutan, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Jordan, Monaco, Spain, and the United Kingdom are a few of the countries today whose governments are constitutional monarchies. Japan also has a modern constitutional monarchy.

Modern monarchies tend to be constitutional, existing in at least two different types – executive and ceremonial. Executive monarchies give rulers significant legal powers as stated in each country’s unique constitution. In ceremonial monarchies, limited or no political power is exercised by the monarch. Social and cultural influence is seen as they portray the unity of their country to the world. Most modern day monarchs have been born and brought up within a royal family. While growing up, future monarchs are often trained for their expected reign.

The Cause for Absolute and Constitutional Monarchies

Religious and territorial conflicts brought about fear and uncertainty which led to a weak period of unrest in many countries around the world. Absolute monarchs are seen to have taken advantage of the circumstances. Each strong, independent ruler made himself powerful by building a unified, elite army. In doing so, the people under the monarch’s rule were made to support the troops.

As seen above, constitutional monarchy came into popularity with a gradual procession. Societies grew tired of living under absolute power with no freedom in their daily living. Culture made it more difficult for an individual ruler to maintain a country’s economic, judicial, and social aspects. People realized the benefits of having a head of state with numerous other officials to also govern the country.

Life Under Absolute Monarchy

As stated, the ruling monarch obtains complete control with no limitations. A country’s political, judicial, economic, social, religious, and cultural aspects are inherently affected by the head of state in power. Citizens are seen as subjects totally without rights; no right to vote, no participation in governmental decisions or laws, and in many cases, no choice in career. Power and wealth are not equally shared. The absolute monarch sets up large royal courts to appear more powerful and to control the nobility. Religion is regulated to control the spread of ideas and to control what the people hear.

Life Under Constitutional Monarchy

People of a country with this rule are usually granted special privileges by the head of state, but a typical citizen is free to choose living preferences, such as career and religion. Being protected by a constitution, subjects under the monarch are given the freedom to participate indirectly in decisions concerning the country as a whole. The people are represented by their leader, not dominated in every aspect. Power and wealth are more adequately dispersed among the people. Constitutional monarchs build their rule to bring about unity in the country.

What is the Difference Between Constitutional Monarchy and Democracy?

Although constitutional monarchy and democracy share similarities, these two types of government are in fact different. A succession is usually seen as to who the head of state is in a constitutional monarchy; whereas, in democracy the head of state is elected by all eligible citizens of the country. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch is sovereign; in a representative democracy or direct democracy, the people remain sovereign. While the head of state under constitutional monarchy (such as a prime minister) has limited power in making decisions, democracy gives the head of state power to make all decisions.

Famous Absolute Monarchs

Famous Absolute Monarchs - Frederick the Great

Across the continent of Europe, many monarchs have reigned with absolute power. Peter the Great, in Russia; Frederick the Great in Prussia (pictured statue); and Philip II, in Spain were crowned and ruled with authority and power, which no one rivaled. One of the most famous, well-known absolute monarchs in history is Louis XIV of France. His 72 year reign as head of government (1638-1715) is the longest European rule. He crowned himself the ‘Sun King’ saying that just as the sun is to the earth, so he was to France. Although Louis XIV could not face the debt problems in France, he is recorded as the most successful absolute monarch in Europe.

Famous Constitutional Monarchs

Hands down, Queen Elizabeth II is the most well-known constitutional monarch in history. Her reign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since 1952, marks her the longest living and longest reigning British monarch to date. Although Queen Elizabeth is limited in power, her social role amongst the citizens is of utmost importance.

Pros and Cons of a Monarchy

Some advantages to a monarch government may be seen in the unity this type of government can bring about in a country. Less division of political parties is seen. Another positive aspect of monarchy is that decision-making is a much faster process. With one head of state, government spending may kept to a minimum.

Negative aspects of a monarchy may include the lack of diversity throughout the nation’s government. With a single ruler, tyranny may easily become present in a country. Another disadvantage of monarchy may be experienced when changes are brought about according to the ruler who currently reigns.

Final Thoughts – Types of Monarchies

Government is one of the most important aspects of a country. Monarchy is a type of government frequently seen in over forty nations across our world today. Constitutional monarchy, which is broken down into executive and ceremonial, is more common than absolute monarchy. While differences are seen between these types of monarchies, they are both ruled by a single head of state.

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