Absolute Monarchy

Peter R. Campbell

in The Oxford Handbook of the Ancien Régime

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199291205
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Absolute Monarchy

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  • History
  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)



This article argues that in spite of absolute monarchy's success in seemingly rising above society it developed claims and practices that ran counter to long-term representative tendencies contained within its own structures. It was never able to suppress these, nor did it intend to, because they remained enshrined in corporate society itself, on which it was based. Although the corporate society of the old regime was very hierarchical, its elites retained a large measure of autonomy in their own spheres. This sense of independence and the continued vitality of privilege provided fertile ground for a revival of conciliarist and later commonwealth arguments, and a historical belief in an ancient constitution. These arguments in favour of limited royal power eventually empowered an opposition that was able to take advantage of the excesses and contradictions that characterized some of the practices of absolute monarchy, whose power to enforce its central will was somewhat illusory.

Keywords: absolute monarchy; corporate society; old regime; autonomy; central will; commonwealth arguments; hierarchy

Article.  15460 words. 

Subjects: History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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