The New Monarchies and Representative Assemblies: Medieval Constitutionalism or Modern Absolutism?

The New Monarchies and Representative Assemblies: Medieval Constitutionalism or Modern Absolutism?

The New Monarchies and Representative Assemblies: Medieval Constitutionalism or Modern Absolutism?

The New Monarchies and Representative Assemblies: Medieval Constitutionalism or Modern Absolutism?

Excerpt

The problem of the "New Monarchy" is a genuine one. The inquiring student needs look no farther afield than the first two volumes of the New Cambridge Modern History to ascertain that fact. He might reasonably expect the work in question to provide a relatively consistent view of monarchy as it existed in Europe north of the Alps, between the Elbe and the Pyrennes, in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Quite the contrary! Professor Denys Hay, in his "Introduction" to the first volume, notes a prevailing tendency to absolute monarch distinguishing the period 1493-1520. Whereas Dr. G. R. Elton, summarizing the contents of the second volume, while admitting the growing strength of the secular state, warns against the easy acceptance of the "New Monarchy" thesis. "In truth," he notes, "these western monarchies were less autocratic and self-consciously innovatory than is commonly supposed. By comparison with the despots of the East . . . they were as yet a long way from the absolutism of the seventeenth century. Everywhere there survived remnants of past separatism and constitutional rights. . . ."

Lest it be argued that English scholars are simply more querulous than their continental counterparts, we may note the some sort of disagreement among leading French and German historians. Roland Mousnier, one of France's most distinguished historians, holds that about 1500 The majority of states were evolving towards absolute monarchy." His prominent colleague, the late Henri Hauser, expressed the same view in his masterful study of the sixteenth century: "Everywhere, one may say, the hereditary monarchies evolved towards absolutism." Their countryman Leon Cahen, on the other hand, ventured emphatic disagreement. Speaking specifically of England, he noted the widespread lack of consensus about what the words "New Monarchy" denoted. He was driven to conclude that "if there was a new monarchy under Henry VII it was in this sense: that he reestablished the strong kingship of the past centuries. The Tudor monarchy was the resurrection of a tradition." Gerhardt Ritter, perhaps the greatest of present-day German historians, agrees with Mousnier and Hartung. In his chief work on the sixteenth century he speaks of beginning "the history of the new, the absolute monarchies," with the generation of kings that includes Henry VII of England and Louis XI of France.

In pointing out the real disagreement about the meaning of the term "New Monarchy" as applied generally to the regimes of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and the further implication that the monarchies in question were "new" in the sense of belonging to the modern rather than the medieval period of European history, one has only opened the inquiry. What exactly was the nature of these monarchies? That question cannot be simply answered by reference to an-

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.