During the Renaissance and Reformation, European rulers continued to centralize power at the expense of their nobles and the clergy. As wars of religion raged in many European lands, monarchs battled to impose royal law and restore order in their kingdoms.
This photo shows a jeweled crown worn by King Louis XV of France. Crowns were a symbol of the wealth, power, and prestige of the monarch.
Between about 1500 and 1800, the old feudal order gave way to individual nation-states with strong central governments. Monarchs presided over government bureaucracies that enforced the law and collected taxes. They used income not only to support lavish Renaissance courts but also to strengthen their military power.
The emergence of strong unified nation-states occurred at different times in different parts of Europe.
The rulers of some countries, such as Spain and France, set up absolute monarchies. The chief characteristic of this political system is that a ruler has complete authority over the government and the lives of the people.
During the Age of Absolutism, as this period is called, powerful new dynasties emerged. The Hapsburgs in Spain and the Bourbons in France passed power from generation to generation within the family while they added lands to their kingdoms through skillfully arranged marriages.
Absolute monarchs often had parliaments or other bodies, but these bodies had no real power. The ruler could dissolve them at will.