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Undivided sovereignty or rule by a single person, who is the permanent head of state. The term is now used to refer to countries with hereditary sovereigns. The monarch was the ideal head of the new nation-states of the 16th and 17th centuries; his powers were nearly unlimited (seeabsolutism), though in Britain Parliament was able to restrict the sovereign's freedom of action, particularly through the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689). The old idea that the monarch represented (within the limits of his dominions) the rule of God over all things culminated in the 17th century in the doctrine of the divine right of kings (seedivine kingship), exemplified by Louis XIV. Monarchical absolutism adapted to the Enlightenment by evolving into benevolent despotism, as typified by the rule of Catherine II of Russia. The French Revolution dealt absolute monarchy a crushing blow, and World War I effectively destroyed what remained of it, the rulers of Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary being held responsible for the war and postwar misery. The institution developed into the constitutional monarchy in western Europe, though absolute (or near-absolute) monarchies continue to exist in the Middle East.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on monarchy, visit Britannica.com.