Absolutism: Derived from the traditional assumption of power (e g. heirs to the throne) and the belief in “divine right of kings”
Absolutism in Western Europe: c. 1589-1715
Constitutionalism in Western Europe: c. 1600-1725
Absolutism in Eastern Europe: c. 1600-1740
Absolutism in Western Europe: c. 1589-1715
Derived from the traditional assumption of power (e.g. heirs to the throne) and the belief in “divine right of kings”
Louis XIV of France was the quintessential absolute monarch
Characteristics of western European absolutism
Sovereignty of a country was embodied in the person of the ruler
Absolute monarchs were not subordinate to national assemblies
The nobility was effectively brought under control
This is in contrast to eastern European absolutism where the nobility remained powerful
The nobility could still at times prevent absolute monarchs from completely having their way
Bureaucracies in the 17th century were often composed of career officials appointed by and solely accountable to the king
Often were rising members of the bourgeoisie or the new nobility (“nobility of the robe” who purchased their titles from the monarchy)
French and Spanish monarchies gained effective control of the Roman Catholic Church in their countries
Maintained large standing armies
Monarchs no longer relied on mercenary or noble armies as had been the case in the 15th century and earlier
Employed a secret police to weaken political opponents
Foreshadowed totalitarianism in 20th century but lacked financial, technological and military resources of 20th century dictators (like Stalin & Hitler).
Absolute monarchs usually did not require total mass participation in support of the monarch’s goals
This is in stark contrast to totalitarian programs such as collectivization in Russia and the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany.
Those who did not overtly oppose the state were usually left alone by the government
Philosophy of absolutism
Jean Bodin (1530-96)
Among the first to provide a theoretical basis for absolutist states
Wrote during the chaos of the French Civil Wars of the late 16th century
Believed that only absolutism could provide order and force people to obey the government
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679):
Pessimistic view of human beings in a state of nature:
Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short strong”
drive in every person is power
His ideas became most closely identified with Voltaire in the 18th century: “Enlightened Despotism”
Hobbes ideas were not very popular in the 17th century
Hobbes did not favor “divine right” of kings, as was favored by Louis XIV in France and James I and Charles I in England
Those with constitutional ideas saw Hobbes’ ideas as too authoritarian
Bishop Jacques Bossuet (1627-1704)
Principle advocate of “divine right of kings” in France during the reign of Louis XIV.
Believed “divine right” meant that the king was placed on throne by God, and therefore owed his authority to no man or group
The development of French Absolutism (c. 1589-1648)
France in the 17th century
In the feudal tradition, French society was divided into three Estates made up of various classes.
First Estate: clergy; 1% of population
Second Estate: nobility; 3-4% of population
Third Estate: bourgeoisie (middle class), artisans, urban workers, and peasants.
This hierarchy of social orders, based on rank and privilege, was restored under the reign of Henry IV.
France was primarily agrarian: 90% of population lived in the countryside.
Population of 17 million made France the largest country in Europe (20% of Europe’s population).
Accounted for France becoming the strongest nation in Europe.
Henry IV (Henry of Navarre) (r.1589-1610)
Laid the foundation for France becoming the strongest European power in the 17th century.
Strengthened the social hierarchy by strengthening government institutions: parlements, the treasury, universities and the Catholic Church
First king to actively encourage French colonization in the New World: stimulated the Atlantic trade
king of the Bourbon dynasty
Came to power in 1589 as part of a political compromise to end the French Civil Wars.
Converted from Calvinism to Catholicism in order to gain recognition from Paris of his reign.
Issued Edict of Nantes in 1598 providing a degree of religious toleration to the Huguenots (Calvinists)
Weakening of the nobility
The old “nobility of the sword” not allowed to influence the royal council
Many of the “nobility of the robe”, new nobles who purchased their titles from the monarchy, became high officials in the government and remained loyal to the king.
Duke of Sully (1560-1641): Finance minister
His reforms enhanced the power of the monarchy
Mercantilism: increased role of the state in the economy in order to achieve a favorable balance of trade with other countries
Granted monopolies in the production of gunpowder and salt
Encouraged manufacturing of silk and tapestries
Only the government could operate the mines
Reduced royal debt
Systematic bookkeeping and budgets
In contrast, Spain was drowning in debt
Reformed the tax system to make it more equitable and efficient.
Oversaw improved transportation
Began nation-wide highway system
Canals linked major rivers
Began canal to link the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean
Henry was assassinated in 1610 by a fanatical monk who sought revenge for Henry’s granting religious protections for the Huguenots.
to a severe crisis in power
Henry’s widow, Marie de’ Medici, ruled as regent until their son came of age.
Louis XIII (1610-43)
As a youth, his regency was beset by corruption & mismanagement
Feudal nobles and princes increased their power
Certain nobles convinced him to assume power and exile his mother
Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642)
Laid foundation for absolutism in France
Like Henry IV, he was a
(he placed political issues ahead of religious principles)
Used to weaken the nobility
Replaced local officials with civil servants—intendants—who reported directly to the king
Intendants were largely middle-class or minor nobles (“nobility of the robe”)
Each of the country’s 32 districts had an intendant responsible for justice, police and finance
Gov’t became more efficient and centrally controlled
Built upon Sully’s economic achievements in further developing mercantilism
Increased taxation to fund the military
Tax policies were not as successfully as Sully’s
Resorted to old system of selling offices
Tax farmers ruthlessly exploited the peasantry
Richelieu subdued the Huguenots
Peace of Alais (1629): Huguenots lost their fortified cities & Protestant armies
Huguenots still allowed to practice Calvinism
Thirty Years’ War
Richelieu and Louis XIII sought to weaken the Hapsburg Empire (a traditional French policy dating back to Francis I in the early 16th century)
Reversed Maria de’ Medici’s pro-Spanish policy
Declared war against Spain in 1635
France supported Gustavus Adolphus with money during the “Swedish Phase” of the war
Later, France entered the “International Phase” of the war and ultimately forced the Treaty of Westphalia on the Hapsburgs
Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) – the “Sun King”
Quintessential absolute ruler in European history
Personified the idea that sovereignty of the state resides in the ruler
L’ état, c’est moi” (“I am the state”)
He became known as the “Sun King” since he was at the center of French power (just as the sun is the center of our solar system).
Strong believer in “divine right” of kings (advocated by Bishop Bossuet)
He had the longest reign in European history (72 years)
Inherited the throne when he was 5 years old from his father Louis XIII (Henry IV was his grandfather)
France became the undisputed major power in Europe during his reign
French population was the largest in Europe (17 million); accounted for 20% of Europe’s population
Meant that a massive standing army could be created and maintained
French culture dominated Europe
The French language became the international language in Europe for over two centuries and the language of the well-educated (as Latin had been during the Middle Ages)
France became the epicenter of literature and the arts until the 20th century
Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) controlled France while Louis XIV was a child
Some nobles revolted against Mazarin when Louis was between the ages of 5 and 11.
Competition among various noble factions enabled Mazarin to defeat the nobles.
Louis never forgot the humiliation he faced at the hands of the nobles early on and was determined to control the nobility.
Louis recruited his chief ministers from the middle class in order to keep the aristocracy out of government
Continued the intendant system begun by Richelieu
Checked the power of French institutions that might resist his control
were fearful of resisting him after the failure of the
Officials who criticized the government could be arrested
Louis never called the
Estates General into session
Control over the peasantry (which accounted for about 95% of the population)
Some peasants kept as little as 20% of their cash crops after paying their landlord, government taxes and tithes to the Church
: forced labor that required peasants to work for a month out of the year on roads and other public projects
Idle peasants could be conscripted into the army or forced into workhouses
Rebellious peasants could be executed or used as galley slaves on ships
Under Louis XIV, the Palace at Versailles became the grandest and most impressive palace in all of Europe
The awe-inspiring scale of the palace reinforced his image as the most powerful absolute ruler in Europe.
The palace had originally been a hunting lodge for his father, Louis XIII.
The Baroque architecture was largely work of Marquis Louvois; the gardens were designed by LeVau
The façade was about 1/3 of a mile long; 1,400 fountains adorned the grounds
The royal court grew from about 600 people (when the king had lived in Paris) to about 10,000 people at Versailles
The cost of maintaining Versailles cost about 60% of all royal revenues!
Versailles Palace became in effect a pleasure prison for the French nobility
Louis gained absolute control over the nobility
Fearful of noble intrigue, Louis required nobles to live at the palace for several months each year in order to keep an eye on them
Nobles were entertained with numerous recreational
activities such as tournaments
, hunts and concerts
Elaborate theatrical performances included the works of Racine and Moliere
Louis considered himself the head of the Gallican Church (French Catholic Church)
While he was very religious, he did not allow the pope to exercise political power in the French Church
Edict of Fountainbleau (1685)—revoked Edict of Nantes
Huguenots lost their right to practice Calvinism
About 200,000 Huguenots fled France for England, Holland and the English colonies in North America
Huguenots later gave major support of the Enlightenment and its ideas of religious toleration.
Louis supported the Jesuits in cracking down on Jansenists (Catholics who held some Calvinist ideas)
State control over a country’s economy in order to achieve a favorable balance of trade with other countries.
Bullionism: a nation’s policy of accumulating as much precious metal (gold and silver) as possible while preventing its outward flow to other countries.
French mercantilism reached its height under Louis’ finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert (1661-83)
Colbert’s goal: economic self-sufficiency for France
Oversaw the construction of roads & canals
Granted gov’t-supported monopolies in certain industries.
Cracked down on guilds
Reduced local tolls (internal tariffs) that inhibited trade
Organized French trading companies for international trade (East India Co., West India Co.)
By 1683, France was Europe’s leading industrial country
Excelled in such industries as textiles, mirrors, lace-making and foundries for steel manufacturing and firearms.
Colbert’s most important accomplishment: developing the merchant marine
Weaknesses of mercantilism and the French economy
Poor peasant conditions (esp. taxation) resulted in
large emigration out of France
Louis opted for creating a massive army instead of a formidable navy
Result: France later lost naval wars with England
War in later years of Louis’ reign nullified Colbert’s gains
Louis was at war for 2/3 of his reign
Wars of Louis XIV
Wars were initially successful but eventually became economically ruinous to France
France developed the professional modern army
Perhaps the first time in modern European history that one country was able to dominate politics
A balance of power system emerged
No one country would be allowed to dominate the continent since a coalition of other countries would rally against a threatening power.
Dutch stadholder William of Orange (later King William III of England) was the most important figure in thwarting Louis’ expansionism
War of Devolution (First Dutch War), 1667-68
Louis XIV invaded the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium) without declaring war.
Louis received 12 fortified towns on the border of the Spanish Netherlands but gave up the Franche-Comté (Burgundy)
Second Dutch War (1672-78)
Louis invaded the southern Netherlands as revenge for Dutch opposition in the previous war.
Peace of Nijmegan (1678-79)
Represented the furthest limit to the expansion of Louis XIV.
France took Franche-Comté from Spain, gained some Flemish towns and took Alsace
War of the League of Augsburg (1688-97)
In response to another invasion of the Spanish Netherlands by Louis XIV in 1683, the League of Augsburg formed in 1686: HRE, Spain, Sweden, Bavaria, Saxony, Dutch Republic
Demonstrated emergence of balance of power
William of Orange (now king of England) brought England in against France.
Began a period of Anglo-French military rivalry that lasted until Napoleon’s defeat in 1815.
War ended with the status quo prior to the war
France remained in control of Alsace and the city of Strasbourg (in Lorraine).
War of Spanish Succession (1701-13)
Cause: The will of Charles II (Hapsburg king) gave all Spanish territories to the grandson of Louis XIV
European powers feared that Louis would consolidate the thrones of France and Spain, thus creating a monster power that would upset the balance of power
Grand Alliance emerged in opposition to France: England,
, HRE, Brandenburg, Portugal, Savoy
Battle of Blenheim (1704)
A turning point in the war that began a series of military defeats for France
England’s army, led by the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill—ancestor of the 20th century leader Winston Churchill) and military forces of Savoy (representing the HRE) were victorious
Treaty of Utrecht (1713)
Most important treaty between the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and the Treaty of Paris (1763)
Maintained the balance of power in Europe
Ended the expansionism of Louis XIV
Spanish possessions were partitioned
Britain was the biggest winner
(slave trade) from Spain and the right to send one English ship to trade in Spain’s New World empire
Gained the Spanish territories of Gibraltar and Minorca.
Belgium (Spanish Netherlands) given to Austria
Netherlands gain some land as a buffer against future French aggression
Though Louis’ grandson was enthroned in Spain, the unification of the Spanish and Bourbon dynasties was prohibited.
Kings were recognized as such in Sardinia (Savoy) and Prussia (Brandenburg)
Costs of Louis XIV’s wars:
Destroyed the French economy
20% of the French subjects died
Huge debt would be placed on the shoulders of the Third Estate
French gov’t was bankrupt
Financial and social tensions would sow the seeds of the French Revolution later in the century.
The Spanish Empire in the 17th Century
The Golden Age of Spain” in the 16th century
The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella began the process of centralizing power (“New Monarchs”).
The foundation for absolutism in Spain was laid by Charles V (1519-1556) and Phillip II
Spain’s power reached its zenith under Philip II (r.1556-1598)
Madrid (in Castile)
became the capital of Spain
Built the Escorial Palace to demonstrate his power
A command economy developed in Madrid
Numerous rituals of court etiquette reinforced the king’s power
The Spanish Inquisition continued to persecute those seen as heretics (especially Jews and Moors)
Decline of the Spanish economy in the 17th century
The Spanish economy was hurt by the loss of the middle class Moors and Jews
Population of Spain shrank from 7.5 million in 1550 to 5.5 million in 1660.
Spanish trade with its colonies fell 60% between 1610 and 1660
Largely due to English and Dutch competition.
The Spanish treasury was bankrupt and had to repudiate its debts at various times between 1594 and 1680.
National taxes hit the peasantry particularly hard
Many peasants were driven from the countryside and swelled the ranks of the poor in cities.
Food production decreased as a result
Inflation from the “price revolution” hurt domestic industries that were unable to export goods.
A poor work ethic stunted economic growth
Upper classes eschewed work and continued a life of luxury.
Many noble titles were purchased; provided tax exemptions for the wealthy
Capitalism was not really prevalent (as it was in the Netherlands and England)
Political and military decline
Symbolically, England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is seen by some historians as the beginning of the decline of the Spanish empire.
However, Spain had the most formidable military until the mid-17th century.
Poor leadership by three successive kings in the 17th century damaged Spain’s political power
Philip III, Philip IV and Charles II (one of worst rulers in Hapsburg history)
Spain’s defeat in Thirty Years’ War was politically and economically disastrous
Spain officially lost the Netherlands
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