The Marquess of Pontelena checks the absolutism of Joseph I, King of Portugal

August 28, 2010

Chateau of Chenenceau, France

Being in conversation with some nobles, Joseph I, King of Portugal, commented on a monarch’s authority over his subjects. The Marquis of Pontelena dared to suggest that there are limits to that power.

The king, not willing to admit any such checks, retorted: “If I were to order you to throw yourself into the sea, you should execute my order without the slightest hesitation!”

Instead of answering, the Marquis started to slowly withdraw from the room.

“Where are you going, so angry?” the king prodded.

“To learn how to swim, Your Majesty!”

Edmond Guérard, Dictionnaire encyclopédique d’anecdotes (Paris, Firmin Didot, 1872), Vol. 2, p. 230. ( translation)

(Note: Joseph I was the king of Portugal from 1750 to 1777. He was an absolutist king, like many European sovereigns of the time. Royal absolutism concentrated government power in the hands of the sovereign to the detriment of intermediary bodies, such as the order of the nobility. This unnatural centralization caused a reaction, bringing the toppling of many thrones from the French Revolution on. It is a far cry from and should not be confused with the tempered medieval monarchy where the royal power was kept within its proper bounds as in the days of Saint Louis of France and Saint Ferdinand of Castile.)

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 1


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