Dizionario di Politica

Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: The entry focuses on three main historical typologies of monarchy: feudal or Germanic monarchy, absolute monarchy, and constitutional monarchy. Monarchy can be defined as a regime typically (but not always) characterized by a sole ruler and hereditary succession: the king rules on the basis of birth.
Monarchy derives from a military office; the king was at first military chief of his people, and then became political head. In the Germanic model of monarchy, the existence of a parliament or council represented a structural check on the king's power. Indeed, in the 5th and 6th centuries, various groups of nobles contested for power, allowing only a limited degree of control to the monarch.
In the 9th to 11th centuries, the monarch assumed a role as mediator between the urban bourgeoisie and feudal overlords, though typically favoring the latter in order to counter the growing force of the bourgeoisie. Absolute monarchs from the 16th century onwards expanded such a role, so that three social orders (the nobility, clergy, and bourgeoisie) were recognized and in a sense protected by the monarch.
Much of European history from the 17th to the 19th centuries, particularly in England and France, can be seen as the evolution of absolute into constitutional monarchy. A constitutional monarch is bound by a set of legal restrictions which limit his exercise of power. As absolute monarchy was transformed into constitutional monarchy, traditional royal prerogatives passed to the elected parliament, and the king became essentially just a symbol of the state.