Universal monarchy

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A universal monarchy is a concept and political situation where one monarchy is deemed to have either sole rule over everywhere (or at least the predominant part of a geopolitical area or areas) or to have a special supremacy over all other states (or at least all the states in a geopolitical area or areas).


Universal monarchy is differentiated from ordinary monarchy in that a universal monarchy is beholden to no other state and asserts a degree of total sovereignty over an area, or predominance over other states.

The concept has arisen in Europe and Asia. The concept is linked to that of Empire, but implies more than simply possessing imperium.

The Latin phrase Dominus Mundi, Lord of the World, encapsulates the concept. Though in practice no universal monarchy, or indeed any state, ever held rule over the whole world, it may have appeared to many people, particularly pre-modern, that it did.

Critical of the concept in Europe in the Middle Ages were philosophers such as Nicole Oresme[1] and Erasmus;[2] whereas Dante and Guillaume Postel[3] were more favourable. Later, Protestants would seek to reject the concept, identifying it with Catholicism.[4]



In Europe the expression of a Universal Monarchy as actual total imperium can be seen in the Roman Empire, and as the predominant ‘sole sovereign’ state during its Byzantine period, where the emperor by virtue of being the head of Christendom claimed a sovereignty over all other kings even though in practice this could not be enforced. The Byzantine conception went through two phases, initially as expounded by Eusebius that just as there was one God so there could only be one Emperor,[5] which developed in the 10th century into the conception of the Emperor as the paterfamilias of a family of kings who were the other rulers in the world.[6] Such concepts were a feature of the Ottoman Empire successor state, particularly when military rule was augmented by the Caliphate.

The idea of a sole sovereign emperor would re-emerge in the West with Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.[7] The idea of the Holy Roman Empire possessing a special sovereignty as a Universal Monarchy was respected by the surrounding powers and subject states, even when that Empire had undergone severe fragmentation.[8] The symbolism of the "All the world is subject to Austria" (A.E.I.O.U.) phrase of Frederick III can be seen as an expression of the idea of all states being subject to one monarchy.[citation needed] The medieval hierocrats, on the other hand, argued that the pope was a universal monarch.[9]

Charles V's empire, encompassing much of western Europe and the Americas "was the nearest the post-classical world would come to seeing a truly world-wide monarchy, and hence the closest approximation to universal imperium" since the Roman Empire.[10] It was envisaged by its supporters as a world empire that could be religiously inclusive.[11]

Subsequently, the idea of a Universal Monarchy based on predominance rather than actual total rule would become synonymous with France attempting to establish hegemony over western Europe, particularly under Louis XIV,[12] exemplified by the concept of Louis XIV as the 'Sun King' around which all the other monarchs became subordinate satellites. In 1755, during the reign of Louis XIV's successor Louis XV, Duke Adrien Maurice de Noailles, a member of the Council of State and formerly a key foreign policy advisor to the king, warned of a British challenge for "the first rank in Europe" through the domination of Atlantic commerce. Noailles wrote "However chimerical the project of universal monarchy might be, that of a universal influence by means of wealth would cease to be a chimera if a nation succeeded in making itself sole mistress of the trade of America."[13]

Universal Monarchy would flourish at either end of Europe, in Britain and Russia. The Russian Universal Monarchy was Orthodox, autocratic and possessed a vast contiguous empire throughout Europe and Asia and can be seen to have similarities and differences with Byzantine rule.[14] The British Universal Monarchy was "Protestant, commercial, maritime and free"[15] and was not composed of contiguous territory. It had both similarities and differences with the Spanish Empire, in that while Catholicism provided ideological unity for the Spanish Empire, British Protestant diversity would lead to "disunity rather than unity".[16] It was only later that federalism and economic control was seen as a means to provide unity where religious diversity could not, as with the idea of Imperial Federation as promoted by Joseph Chamberlain.

Napoleon came close to creating something akin to a Universal Monarchy with his continental system and Napoleonic Code, but he failed to conquer all of Europe. The last attempt to create a European Universal Monarchy was that attempted by Imperial Germany in World War I. If Germany had been victorious, the German Kaiser would have been suzerain over most of Europe.[17][18][dubious ]


A parallel process occurred in Asia. Whereas in the West the title of Emperor had by the 19th century largely been stripped of religious connotations and had come to be seen purely in political terms, the title in eastern Asia is almost entirely a religious one, commonly stated as "The Son of Heaven". Here the title denotes a higher, "heavenly" rule ("Celestial Empire"), in contrast to kings who rule between heaven and earth, and by extension today to presidents who are mere base earthly rulers. Imperial China was regarded by its citizens as a Universal Monarchy where all other monarchs were regarded as tributary; this was exemplified in the Chinese name for the state which survives to this day, Zhongguo, meaning "Middle/Central Kingdom". The concept was taken up by the Mongols,[19][20] who under Genghis Khan were able to enforce this concept more widely than China. The Japanese attempt to unify South East Asia in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under the Shōwa emperor follows the model set by Imperial Germany and Joseph Chamberlain of imperial rule based on economic union, matched with Japanese religious ideas.

The Hindu/Buddhist concept of the Chakravartin is a perfect illustration of the ideal of a Universal Monarch.[21][22]

The Islamic world[edit]

In Sunni Islam, the concept of the Caliphate can be considered a universal monarchy. Crucially, the Caliph is not necessarily a spiritual leader; rather, he is the secular head of the Muslim community, and is (theoretically) bound by and subject to Islamic law. The word khalifah can be translated variously as successor, steward, deputy, or viceregent, with the implication that the Caliph is the worldly successor to the Prophet Muhammad (and importantly is not his spiritual successor; as Muhammad is considered to be the last prophet, Sunni Muslims hold that he can have no spiritual successor). The duties of the Caliph, in theory, include the administration of Islamic law; the enactment of policies for the welfare of Muslims; the custodianship of Islamic holy sites and care of pilgrims; the custodianship of conquered non-Muslims and mediation of their interests relative to those of Muslims; the prosecution of holy wars (both offensive and defensive); and the representation of the diplomatic interests of the global Muslim community, even beyond the borders of the Caliphate's domains (a precedent set during Muhammad's life, with respect to the early Islamic community in Ethiopia).

In Shia Islam, the concept of the Imamate is comparable to the Sunni Caliphate, but it is not identical. The Shia Imam is considered to be both the spiritual and the secular leader of the global Muslim community; therefore, the Imam not only holds authority over policy and administration, but is also the infallible final arbiter in the interpretation of law and theology. However, like the Sunni caliph, the Shia imam's authority as a monarch is considered universal. The Imamate is tied to the Ahl al-Bayt; dynasties which claim the Imamate also claim descent from Muhammad via Ali and Fatimah, and pass the title of Imam down from father to son, with different Shia denominations following different lineages. For example, the Twelver Shia Muslims follow the line of the Twelve Imams, of whom the last has supposedly been in occultation since the 9th century CE; however, the Nizari Shia Muslims follow a different and still-living line of Imams, of whom the Agha-Khan IV is the current head.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mastnak, Tomaž Crusading peace: Christendom, the Muslim world, and Western political order University of California Press (2002) p329
  2. ^ Persson, Hans-Åke & Stråth, Bo Reflections on Europe: defining a political order in time and space Peter Lang (2007) pp51-52
  3. ^ Kuntz, Marion Leathers Guillaume Postel, prophet of the restitution of all things: his life and thought Springer (1981) p171
  4. ^ Simms, Brendan & Riotte, Torsten (Editors) The Hanoverian dimension in British History, 1714-1837 Cambridge University Press (2007) pp168-169
  5. ^ Nicol, D.M. Byzantine political thought in Burns, J. H. The Cambridge history of medieval political thought c. 350-c. 1450 Cambridge University Press 1988 pp52-53
  6. ^ Nicol, D.M. Byzantine political thought in Burns, J. H. The Cambridge history of medieval political thought c. 350-c. 1450 Cambridge University Press 1988 p57
  7. ^ Bryce, James The Holy Roman Empire p209
  8. ^ Brissaud, Jean A History of French Public Law John Murray (1915) p77
  9. ^ Sisson, Keith (2016). "Popes over Princes: Hierocratic Theory". In Sisson, Keith; Larson, Atria A. (eds.). A Companion to the Medieval Papacy: Growth of an Ideology and Institution. Leiden: Brill. pp. 122–23. ISBN 978-9004299856.
  10. ^ Armitage, David The Ideological Origins of the British Empire Cambridge University Press (2000) p32
  11. ^ Ocker, Christopher, Printy ,Michael & Starenko, Peter (Editors) Politics and Reformations: Communities, Politics, Nations, and Empires Brill Academic Publishers (2007), 495.
  12. ^ Simms, Brendan & Riotte, Torsten (Editors)The Hanoverian dimension in British History, 1714-1837 Cambridge University Press (2007) p168
  13. ^ Shovlin, John (2010). "Selling American Empire on the Eve of the Seven Years War: The French Propaganda Campaign of 1755-1756". Past and Present. 206 (1): 121–149. doi:10.1093/pastj/gtp046.
  14. ^ Gavrov, Sergey [1]Modernization of the Empire. Social and Cultural Aspects of Modernization Processes in Russia URSS (2004) p50 [2]
  15. ^ see Armitage, David The Ideological Origins of the British Empire Cambridge University Press (2000)
  16. ^ Armitage, David The Ideological Origins of the British Empire Cambridge University Press (2000) p66
  17. ^ Fischer, Fritz. Germany's Aims in the First World War. (1967)
  18. ^ Niall, Ferguson, Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (1999).
  19. ^ Marshall, RobertStorm from the East: from Genghis Khan to Khubilai Khan University of California Press (1993)p156
  20. ^ Sicker, Martin The Islamic world in ascendancy: from the Arab conquests to the siege of Vienna Greenwood Press (2000) p107
  21. ^ Bhandarkar, D. R. Lectures on the Ancient History of India from 650–325 B.C. University of Calcutta (1919) pp85–86
  22. ^ Beér, Robert The encyclopedia of Tibetan symbols and motifs Serindia Publications 2nd Revised edition(2004) pp160–161