What is the Constitutional Monarchy?

The constitutional monarchy Is a political system in which the King is the Head of State, but where its powers are not absolute, but are limited by a constitution that includes a series of rights.

The constitutional monarchy arises in the seventeenth century coinciding with the beginnings of liberalism in Europe. It differs from absolute monarchy in the source of power. While in absolute monarchy power is attributed to the King by divine grace, in the constitutional monarchy power emanates from the people. This means that the monarch must abide by a series of norms or rights contained in a constitution.

Constitutional monarchy

According to the political thinker, Vernon Bogdanor (1997) , The term constitutional monarchy was first used by the French writer, W. Dupré, author of The monarchie constitutionnelle Y A roi constitutionel , Works published in 1801.

On the other hand, this political system must be distinguished from other similar forms of government such as the parliamentary monarchy. Both agree that sovereignty resides in the people. However, in this last one, the figure of the monarch has only a symbolic power, since both legislative and executive power reside in the Cortes Generales or in Parliament.

In this article I will analyze the theoretical bases of the constitutional monarchy, the different definitions that exist around this concept, some historical facts that contributed to the birth of this system of government and its extension by the western world. Finally, I will list some current, western and eastern countries where this political system is still in force.

Theoretical bases of the constitutional monarchy

The constitutional monarchy finds its principles in the thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century who advocated the division of powers and political reform of European countries.

In these centuries, two fundamental historical events occurred that brought with it a series of cultural and mental changes that facilitated the implementation of this system of government. The Scientific Revolution and the Century of Enlightenment or Enlightenment. The thinkers of this cultural current defended a series of ideas that were reflected in the publication of The encyclopedia Of Diderot and D'Alembert in the late eighteenth century.

Among these ideas published in the great work of the Enlightenment was felt the spirit of progress and reform that these thinkers had.

In the pages of the Encyclopedia, where all the knowledge of the time is collected, a spirit of love for science, progress and tolerance is captured. To achieve this progress, religion must be set aside to respond to all universal questions.

After leaving aside the theocentric theories, becomes the ultimate end the happiness of man and, therefore, society. Little by little, these theoretical thoughts are translated into real political reforms.

It must be remembered that the justification of the absolute monarchy was God, who had given power to the figure of the King. With the loss of importance of religion and the Church, this political system slowly loses its meaning.

As these reformist thoughts grow stronger, absolute monarchy gives way to Enlightened Despotism .

Enlightened despotism is a new political system, accepted by some reformist thinkers because it allowed the progress of society. All powers remain in the monarch, but he makes a series of concessions to the common people and limits the power of noble estates and clergy. The motto of this system is"all for the people but without the people".

The process of change of monarchies in the world was slow, for in the seventeenth century, Louis XIV , One of the most famous absolute monarchs in history, continued to demonstrate his splendorous power on the throne of France.

Turning to the thinkers of the time there are two that were of vital importance for the development of the constitutional monarchy in Europe and to put an end to the Old Regime once. These intellectuals were John Locke and the Baron de Montesquieu .

John Locke (1632-1704)

He was an English philosopher. It belonged to the empiricist current, that which acquires knowledge through experience and the sensible world or the senses. His political theory contributed decisively to the establishment and maturity of the constitutional monarchy in England.

His ideas differ radically from those of another English thinker who influenced him during his early years, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), defender of political absolutism, a system that justifies in his most important work: Leviathan.

The political theory of John Locke is found in his Two Treaties on Civil Government (Two Treaties of Government). Locke participated actively in the reign of Charles II of England, but some of his ideas would not triumph until the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Locke argues in his second treatise that man is free by nature, but to avoid doing harm to one another with natural laws, they must make a covenant. This is how political power is formed.

It is in this work also that it defends a political system based on the constitutional monarchy. In his essay, Locke speaks of an independent community that has the legislative power, the common-wealth. The King is the one who has the executive power and complies with the laws dictated by the Commonwealth. It is the first glimpse of separation of powers that is observed in the thought of Locke.

Montesquieu (1689-1755)

Charles Louis de Secondat, Lord de la Brède and Baron de Montesquieu was an enlightened French thinker. His most important work is Law spirit (1748) where he analyzes the political systems of the time and develops his own theory on how the form of government of the States should be.

Montesquieu, following the English model, developed the principle of separation of powers in his work Law spirit . For the Baron, legislative, executive and judicial powers must be in different hands to guarantee the freedom of the people.

To the primordial division that Locke had made, Montesquieu adds the judicial power. In addition, the enlightened thinker goes a step further and distinguishes three forms of government that occur in the society of the time:

Monarchy . The King has the power. According The Political Theory of Montesquieu , By Melvyn Richter, the thinker defines this form of government as suitable for modern European states. Richter also states that the enlightened thinker defines parliaments as essential in constitutional monarchy.

Republic . The power resides in the people who are sovereign.

Despotism . The power is unlimited and is in the hands of a single person.

According to Mansuy in an analysis on the work of Montesquieu: Liberalism and political regimes: The contribution of Montesquieu , After analyzing the English model, the thinker takes another criterion to differentiate whether a state model is good or not for its society: moderation.

The thoughts of Montesquieu will have a great influence in the French Revolution and will lay the foundations of the democracy that will gradually be formed in Europe.

The Revolution of 1688 or Glorious Revolution (England) and the implantation of the constitutional monarchy.

Maria Angeles Lario, citing the political scientist, Bogdanor, states in an article of the Journal of Political Studies , That the English define the constitutional monarchy as the moment in which the King is forced to respect the Bill of Rights. This is what happens with the Glorious Revolution.

The Glorious or Bloodless Revolution is named after the little bloodshed. Even politics Margaret Thatcher , Who came to occupy the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the philosopher Karl Marx Coincide in their definition of the Revolution as a peaceful process, contrary to what happened in other European revolutions and revolts.

However, there are those who do not agree with the qualification of this historical event because, they say, it is not true to reality and justifies the vision of history that have the drivers of this revolution, the Whigs.

With the restoration of the monarchy in England under the reign of Charles II, the religious confrontation between Catholics and Protestants increases. Which are divided into two parties: the Whigs (Liberals) and the Tories (Conservatives).

The problems came when the monarch wanted James II (James II), his brother and Duke of York to succeed him on the throne. Before he came to the throne, the Whigs attempted to pass an Exclusion Act to leave James II out of the line of succession. The refusal of his predecessor, further warped the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, although finally the Duke of York came to the throne.

The reign would not last long, since the Whigs managed to overthrow James II in 1688. A group of conspirators managed to defeat James II with the help of Protestant Prince of Orange, William and his wife Mary, also Protestant.

After introducing themselves to London with a large army, they forced the king into exile with his family. After the throne was vacant, William came to occupy the throne as William III next to his wife Mary, previously signing the English Bill of Rights in 1689.

From this moment the constitutional monarchy is established in England, that would end giving way to the parliamentary monarchy that is today Great Britain with Isabel II like monarch.

The constitutional monarchy in Germany or continental Europe

Most of the countries of Europe followed the English model, which precedes the parliamentary monarchy. However, the German definition of constitutional monarchy is different from that of the English. The liberalism that is implanted in Germany is much more conservative.

According to Lario, the German conception of the constitutional monarchy is that which defines a political system where power continues to reside in the figure of the King. It is a much more concrete definition than the English one and arises in the early nineteenth century.

The constitutional monarchy in continental Europe was a reaction to the revolutions that had been taking place in Europe since the French Revolution.

In this model of government, the representation of the people and the monarchy are on the same level. It is a response to the revolutionary process, because through constitutional monarchy they managed to moderate these revolutionary attempts.

Following Lario, the constitution of this system designed by the Germans used to grant the King. This Fundamental Law attributed only a function related to the laws to the ministers reason why they do not have political responsibility before the Courts. Nor is the position of minister compatible with that of parliamentarian, as had already happened in France and America, following the English model

Finally, there is a contradiction between what states establish in political theory or in constitutions and what happens in practice, which ends up adapting to English parliamentarism. Little by little, without renouncing the principle of monarchy, the regimes are making their system more parliamentary, leaving the monarch with less power and a more indefinite role.

Countries that have constitutional monarchy today

What is the Constitutional Monarchy? Alberto II of Monaco and Felipe V of Spain

Today, there are still countries that continue to maintain a constitutional monarchy, without becoming parliamentary. In these States, the figure of the King is active and has political powers, it is not a symbolic representation as it happens in Spain with Felipe VI or in other European countries like Belgium, Denmark or England. These countries with constitutional monarchy, according to a list elaborated by the website Wikipedia are:

- Kingdom of Bahrain (Asia). King: Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

- Kingdom of Bhutan (Asia). King: Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

- Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Asia). King: Abdalla II.

- State of Kuwait (Asia). Emir: Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Yaber Al-Sabah.

- Principality of Liechtenstein (Europe). Prince: Louis of Liechtenstein.

- Principality of Monaco (Europe). Prince: Albert II of Monaco.

- Kingdom of Morocco (Africa). King: Mohamed VI.

- Kingdom of Tonga (Oceania). King: Tupou VI.


  1. Bogdanor, V. (1997). The Monarchy and the Constitution. United States, Oxford University Press.
  2. Dunn, J. (1969). The Political Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the"Two Treatises of Government".
  3. Lario, A. (1999). Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Government. Journal of Political Studies.106, 277-288. 2017, January, 13 of Dialnet Database.
  4. Locke, J. (2016). Second Treatise of Government. Los Angeles California. Enhanced Media.
  5. Mansuy, D. (2015). Liberalism and political regimes: The contribution of Montesquieu. 10, 255-271. 2017, January, 13 of Dialnet Database.
  6. Richter, M. (1977). The Political Theory of Montesquieu. Cambridge, University Press.
  7. Vallance, E. The Glorious Revolution: 1688- Britain's Fight for Liberty. Hachette Digital.
  8. Varela, J. (1997). The monarchy in British constitutional theory during the first third of the nineteenth century. 96, 9-41. 2017, January, 13 of Dialnet Database.

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