Monarchy means rule by a single person, such as a king or a queen. Normally, rule passes from one generation to the next within the same family, or DYNASTY. In the 17th century monarchs held great power, but this power was increasingly being challenged, often with violence.


This was the belief that monarchs were appointed by God to rule, and therefore had a right to impose their will on their subjects. This made it almost impossible to criticize or oppose the monarch.


From 1573, kings of Poland were elected by an assembly of lords, called the Republic of Nobles. The great Polish soldier Jan Sobiewski was elected king in 1674, after defeating invading Turks. Many of those chosen as king were foreigners.


Dynasties, or royal families, often held power for hundreds of years. Many became hugely wealthy. Their rule came to an end if there were no children or relatives to inherit the throne, or if a monarch was overthrown by rivals or revolutions.

HABSBURG 1273–1918

The Habsburgs ruled Austria and at times the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, and Spain. Charles V reigned 1516–1556.

STUART 1371–1714

The Stuarts ruled Scotland and, after 1603, England, Wales, and Ireland. Charles II reigned 1660–1685.

BOURBON 1589–1830

The Bourbons ruled in France, Navarre, Naples, and Spain. Louis XIV was King of France 1643–1715.

QING 1644–1912

The last dynasty of the Chinese Empire was founded by Manchurian invaders. Emperor Qianlong ruled 1711–1799.

ROMANOV 1613–1917

The Romanovs were the last Russian dynasty. Catherine the Great married into the family and was empress 1762–1796.


The same dynasty has ruled Japan for 2,000 years or more. Legend states that it is even older, having been founded by Jimmu in 660 BC. However, the emperors have not always held great power. Sometimes, real power was held by military governors called shoguns.

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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