It's said that 'power corrupts', but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable. -David Brin, The Postman
All-powerful monarchs whose power was said to be a divine right, appointed by God and given free reign over the land and its subjects is, thankfully, a relic of the distant past. For as the above quote references, it seems quite true that power does corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History as well as current events show that men don't seem to do well without limits.
The power of the king was limited by an agreement known as the Magna Carta in 1215: this was the starting point of the system of democracy and of the legal system in Britain. A parliament was later established. The early kings used to call meetings of barons and bishops (this became the House of Lords), but a second assembly was also created which included local representatives (this became the House of Commons).Though the Magna Carta placed some limits on the king, it wasn't until The Glorious Revolution in 1688 that things conspicuously changed. But before the 17th century, the king, or monarch, had absolute power. This power extended to the royal family, as well. Every male royal family member had rights that allowed them to enter any house, sleep with any woman, and stay in the house for as long as he wanted. This, along with many other "privileges," including financial in the form of taxes, made peasants, serfs; and sometimes lords, resentful towards the royal family.
The feudal system of government meant that the king owned all the land, but he divided it between barons and the Church. The barons had their own private armies, and agreed to pay taxes and fight for the king.Few kings had enough wealth to keep a standing army and depended on their barons to provide knights and soldiers. Kings had to do fancy negotiations and such to keep the barons under control. In many cases, especially in France and Germany, the barons grew very powerful and governed their fiefs as independent states. Below the barons, or lords, were yeomen. These were farmers and tradespeople who were free but had to do some work for the baron. Serfs (peasants) were slaves owned by the baron and had to provide food in exchange for their security - they were not allowed to leave the manor without permission. Basically, there was no middle class. You had rich and less rich, and poor and more poor.
Kings in tarot are somewhat like their historical counterparts in that they are the top dog of the suits. They represent mastery of the skills and accomplishments of their suit and are the driving force behind the actions within the suit. Their rule is limited to their suit and also by their own personal strengths and weaknesses. They, like the other court cards, are not always men, but represent the qualities of leadership, mastery. As Kent Nerburn has said, "Do not fall prey to the false belief that mastery and domination are synonymous with manliness." They aren't. Kings represent people, usually older people with some maturity and wisdom, that have mastered themselves and their environment in some fashion by hard won skill and experience.
The Kings in tarot are not usually the capricious overlords and tyrannical rulers sometimes (or often) found in history and in real life. Though ill-dignified they can be quite the pain the ass bullies, but thankfully the "Divine Right of Kings" does not extend to the kingdom of tarot. Instead they represent areas in which people strive to gain mastery, and they would collectively advise one to gather your resources, rally all your faculties, marshal all your energies, focus all your capacities upon mastery of at least one field of endeavor. They often show up in a reading to represent a counselor or father-figure, a boss or person of authority, or yourself in a calmer, wiser, more mature state of mind.