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Across the world in the 17th century, monarchs ruled with absolute authority. They were at the top of the pyramid, controlling government, society, and religion. Under the monarchs were the nobles, or aristocracy. This small percentage of elites lived relatively comfortable lives and ruled over society. In most regions and nations, the elite of society gained their power by being born into noble or royal families. In a few places, merit was used instead of blood-lineage.