Absolutism in Western Europe: c. 1589-1715 I. Absolutism



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Absolutism in Western Europe: c. 1589-1715

I. Absolutism:

A. Derived from the traditional assumption of power (e.g.

heirs to the throne) and the belief in “divine right of

kings”


monarch

B. Characteristics of western European absolutism

1. Sovereignty of a country was embodied in the person

of the ruler

2. Absolute monarchs were not subordinate to national

assemblies

3. The nobility was effectively brought under control

a. This is in contrast to eastern European absolutism

where the nobility remained powerful

b. The nobility could still at times prevent absolute

monarchs from completely having their way

4. 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)

5. French and Spanish monarchies gained effective

control of the Roman Catholic Church in their

countries

6. Maintained large standing armies



  • Monarchs no longer relied on mercenary or noble

armies as had been the case in the 15th century

and earlier

7. Employed a secret police to weaken political

opponents

8. Foreshadowed totalitarianism in 20th century but

lacked financial, technological and military resources

of 20th century dictators (like Stalin & Hitler).

a. 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.

b. Those who did not overtly oppose the state were

usually left alone by the government


C. Philosophy of absolutism

1. Jean Bodin (1530-96)

a. Among the first to provide a theoretical basis for

absolutist states

b. Wrote during the chaos of the French Civil Wars of

the late 16th century

c. Believed that only absolutism could provide order

and force people to obey the government

2. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Leviathan (1651)

a. Pessimistic view of human beings in a state of



nature:

  • “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short

strong”

  • Anarchy results

  • Central drive in every person is power

b. His ideas became most closely identified with

Voltaire in the 18th century: “Enlightened

Despotism”

c. 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

3. Bishop Jacques Bossuet (1627-1704)

a. Principle advocate of “divine right of kings” in

France during the reign of Louis XIV.

b. Believed “divine right” meant that the king was

placed on throne by God, and therefore owed his

authority to no man or group

II. The development of French Absolutism (c. 1589-1648)

A. France in the 17th century

1. In the feudal tradition, French society was divided

into three Estates made up of various classes.

a. First Estate: clergy; 1% of population

b. Second Estate: nobility; 3-4% of population

c. Third Estate: bourgeoisie (middle class),

artisans, urban workers, and peasants.

2. This hierarchy of social orders, based on rank and

privilege, was restored under the reign of Henry IV.

3. France was primarily agrarian: 90% of population

lived in the countryside.

4. 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.

B. Henry IV (Henry of Navarre) (r.1589-1610)

1. Laid the foundation for France becoming the

strongest European power in the 17th century.

a. Strengthened the social hierarchy by strengthening

government institutions: parlements, the treasury,

universities and the Catholic Church

b. First king to actively encourage French colonization

in the New World: stimulated the Atlantic trade

2. First king of the Bourbon dynasty

a. Came to power in 1589 as part of a political

compromise to end the French Civil Wars.

b. Converted from Calvinism to Catholicism in order

to gain recognition from Paris of his reign.

c. Issued Edict of Nantes in 1598 providing a degree

of religious toleration to the Huguenots (Calvinists)

3. Weakening of the nobility

a. The old “nobility of the sword” not allowed to

influence the royal council

b. 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 (e.g. Sully).

4. Duke of Sully (1560-1641): Finance minister

a. His reforms enhanced the power of the monarchy

b. 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

c. Reduced royal debt

· Systematic bookkeeping and budgets

· In contrast, Spain was drowning in debt

d. Reformed the tax system to make it more

equitable and efficient.

e. Oversaw improved transportation

· Began nation-wide highway system

· Canals linked major rivers

· Began canal to link the Mediterranean Sea to

the Atlantic Ocean

5. Henry was assassinated in 1610 by a fanatical monk

who sought revenge for Henry’s granting religious

protections for the Huguenots.

a. Led to a severe crisis in power

b. Henry’s widow, Marie de’ Medici, ruled as regent

until their son came of age


C. Louis XIII (1610-43)

1. As a youth, his regency was beset by corruption &

mismanagement

a. Feudal nobles and princes increased their power

b. Certain nobles convinced him to assume power

and exile his mother

2. Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642)

a. Laid foundation for absolutism in France



  • Like Henry IV, he was a politique (he placed

political issues ahead of religious principles)

b. Intendant System



  • 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

c. Built upon Sully’s economic achievements in

further developing mercantilism

d. Increased taxation to fund the military

e. Tax policies were not as successfully as Sully’s


  • Resorted to old system of selling offices

  • Tax farmers ruthlessly exploited the peasantry

f. Richelieu subdued the Huguenots

  • Peace of Alais (1629): Huguenots lost their

fortified cities & Protestant armies

  • Calvinist aristocratic influenced reduced

  • Huguenots still allowed to practice Calvinism

3. Thirty Years’ War

a. 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

b. France supported Gustavus Adolphus with money

during the “Swedish Phase” of the war

c. Later, France entered the “International Phase” of

the war and ultimately forced the Treaty of

Westphalia on the Hapsburgs

IV. Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) – the “Sun King”

A. Quintessential absolute ruler in European history

1. Personified the idea that sovereignty of the state

resides in the ruler

a. “L’ état, c’est moi” (“I am the state”)

b. 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).

2. Strong believer in “divine right” of kings

(advocated by Bishop Bossuet)

3. 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)

4. France became the undisputed major power in

Europe during his reign

a. 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

b. 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

B. The Fronde (mid-late 1640s)

1. Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) controlled France

while Louis XIV was a child

2. Some nobles revolted against Mazarin when Louis

was between the ages of 5 and 11.

3. Competition among various noble factions enabled

Mazarin to defeat the nobles.

4. Louis never forgot the humiliation he faced at the

hands of the nobles early on and was determined to

control the nobility

C. Government organization

1. Louis recruited his chief ministers from the middle

class in order to keep the aristocracy out of

government

2. Continued the intendant system begun by Richelieu

3. Checked the power of French institutions that might

resist his control

a. Parlements were fearful of resisting him after the

failure of the Fronde

b. Officials who criticized the government could be

arrested


c. Louis never called the Estates General into session

4. Control over the peasantry (which accounted for

about 95% of the population)

a. Some peasants kept as little as 20% of their cash

crops after paying their landlord, government

taxes and tithes to the Church

b. Corvée: forced labor that required peasants to

work for a month out of the year on roads and

other public projects

c. Idle peasants could be conscripted into the army

or forced into workhouses

d. Rebellious peasants could be executed or used as

galley slaves on ships

D. Versailles Palace

1. Under Louis XIV, the Palace at Versailles became the

grandest and most impressive palace in all of Europe

a. The awe-inspiring scale of the palace reinforced

his image as the most powerful absolute ruler in

Europe.

b. The palace had originally been a hunting lodge for



his father, Louis XIII.

c. The Baroque architecture was largely work of

Marquis Louvois; the gardens were designed by

LeVau


d. The façade was about 1/3 of a mile long; 1,400

fountains adorned the grounds

e. The royal court grew from about 600 people

(when the king had lived in Paris) to about 10,000

people at Versailles

f. The cost of maintaining Versailles cost about 60%

of all royal revenues!

2. Versailles Palace became in effect a pleasure prison

for the French nobility

a. Louis gained absolute control over the nobility

b. 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

c. Nobles were entertained with numerous

recreational activities such as tournaments, hunts

and concerts



  • Elaborate theatrical performances included the

works of Racine and Moliere

E. Religious Policies

1. 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


2. Edict of Fountainbleau (1685)—revoked Edict of

Nantes


a. Huguenots lost their right to practice Calvinism

b. About 200,000 Huguenots fled France for England,

Holland and the English colonies in North America

3. Louis supported the Jesuits in cracking down on



Jansenists (Catholics who held some Calvinist ideas)

F. Mercantilism

1. 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.

2. French mercantilism reached its height under Louis’

finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert (1661-

1683)


3. Colbert’s goal was economic self-sufficiency for

France


a. Oversaw the construction of roads & canals

b. Granted gov’t-supported monopolies in certain

industries.

c. Cracked down on guilds

d. Reduced local tolls (internal tariffs) that inhibited

trade


e. Organized French trading companies for

international trade (East India Co., West India co.

4. By 1683, France was Europe’s leading industrial

country


a. Excelled in such industries as textiles, mirrors,

lace-making and foundries for steel manufacturing

and firearms.

b. Colbert’s most important accomplishment:

developing the merchant marine

5. Weaknesses of mercantilism and the French economy

a. Poor peasant conditions (esp. taxation) resulted in

large emigration out of France

b. Louis opted for creating a massive army instead of

a formidable navy



England

c. War in later years of Louis’ reign nullified Colbert’s

gains


  • Louis was at war for 2/3 of his reign

V. Wars of Louis XIV

A. Overview

1. Wars were initially successful but eventually became

economically ruinous to France

2. France developed the professional modern army

3. Perhaps the first time in modern European history

that one country was able to dominate politics

4. A balance of power system emerged

a. No one country would be allowed to dominate the

continent since a coalition of other countries would

rally against a threatening power.

b. Dutch stadtholder William of Orange (later King

William III of England) was the most important

figure in thwarting Louis’ expansionism

B. War of Devolution (First Dutch War), 1667-68

1. Louis XIV invaded the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium)

without declaring war.

2. Louis received 12 fortified towns on the border of the

Spanish Netherlands but gave up the Franche-Comté

(Burgundy)

C. Second Dutch War (1672-78)

1. Louis invaded the southern Netherlands as revenge

for Dutch opposition in the previous war.

2. Peace of Nijmegan (1678-79)

a. Represented the furthest limit to the expansion of

Louis XIV.

b. France took Franche-Comté from Spain, gained

some Flemish towns and took Alsace


D. War of the League of Augsburg (1688-97)

1. 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

2. 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.

o (Study Device: This could be viewed as a

second Hundred Years’ War”: 1689-1815)

3. War ended with the status quo prior to the war



  • France remained in control of Alsace and the city

` of Strasbourg (in Lorraine).

E. War of Spanish Succession (1701-13)

1. 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

2. Grand Alliance emerged in opposition to France:

England, Dutch Republic, HRE, Brandenburg,

Portugal, Savoy

3. Battle of Blenheim (1704)

a. A turning point in the war that began a series of

military defeats for France

b. 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

4. Treaty of Utrecht (1713)

a. 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

b. Spanish possessions were partitioned

  • Britain was the biggest winner

o Gained the asiento (slave trade) from Spain

and the right to send one English ship to

trade in Spain’s New World empire

o Gained the Spanish territories of Gibraltar

and Minorca.


  • Belgium (Spanish Netherlands) given to Austria

  • Netherlands gain some land as a buffer against

future French aggressionc. Though Louis’ grandson was enthroned in Spain, the unification of the Spanish and Bourbon dynasties was prohibited.

d. Kings were recognized as such in Sardinia (Savoy)

and Prussia (Brandenburg)

F. Costs of Louis XIV’s wars:

1. Destroyed the French economy

2. 20% of the French subjects died

3. Huge debt would be placed on the shoulders of the

Third Estate



  • French gov’t was bankrupt

4. Financial and social tensions would sow the seeds of

the French Revolution later in the century.

VI. The Spanish Empire in the 17th Century

A. “The Golden Age of Spain” in the 16th century

1. The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella began the process

of centralizing power (“New Monarchs”).

2. The foundation for absolutism in Spain was laid by

Charles V (1519-1556) and Phillip II

3. Spain’s power reached its zenith under Philip II

(r.1556-1598)

a. Madrid (in Castile) became the capital of Spain

b. Built the Escorial Palace to demonstrate his

power

c. A command economy developed in Madrid



d. Numerous rituals of court etiquette reinforced the

king’s power

4. The Spanish Inquisition continued to persecute those

seen as heretics (especially Jews and Moors)

B. Decline of the Spanish economy in the 17th century

1. 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.

2. Spanish trade with its colonies fell 60% between

1610 and 1660


  • Largely due to English and Dutch competition.

3. The Spanish treasury was bankrupt and had to

repudiate its debts at various times between 1594

and 1680.

4. National taxes hit the peasantry particularly hard

a. Many peasants were driven from the countryside

and swelled the ranks of the poor in cities.

b. Food production decreased as a result

5. Inflation from the “price revolution” hurt domestic

industries that were unable to export goods.

6. A poor work ethic stunted economic growth

a. Upper classes eschewed work and continued a life

of luxury.

b. Many noble titles were purchased; provided tax

exemptions for the wealthy

c. Capitalism was not really prevalent (as it was in

the Netherlands and England)

C. Political and military decline

1. 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.

2. 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)

3. Spain’s defeat in Thirty Years’ War was politically and

economically disastrous

a. Spain officially lost the Netherlands

b. 1640, Portugal reestablished its independence.

4. Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659): marked end of

Spain as a Great Power

a. War between Spain and France continued for 11

years after the end of the Thirty Years’ War

b. Spain lost parts of the Spanish Netherlands and

territory in northern Spain to France

5. By 1700, the Spanish navy had only 8 ships and most

of its army consisted of foreigners.

6. The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713) resulted

in Spain losing most of its European possessions at

the Treaty of Utrecht

VII. The Baroque

A. Reflected the age of absolutism

1. Began in Catholic Reformation countries to teach in a

concrete and emotional way and demonstrate the

glory and power of the Catholic Church (see Unit 2.1)

a. Encouraged by the papacy and the Jesuits

b. Prominent in France, Flanders, Austria, southern

Germany and Poland

2. Spread later to Protestant countries such as the

Netherlands and northern Germany and England3. Characteristics

a. Sought to overwhelm the viewer: Emphasized

grandeur, emotion, movement, spaciousness and

unity surrounding a certain theme

b. Versailles Palace typifies baroque architecture:

huge frescoes unified around the emotional impact

of a single theme.

B. Architecture and sculpture

1. Baroque architecture reflected the image and power

of absolute monarchs and the Catholic Church

2. Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1650) personified

baroque architecture and sculpture

a. Colonnade for the piazza in front of St. Peter’s

Basilica in Rome was his greatest architectural

achievement.

b. He sculpted the incredible canopy over the high

altar of St. Peter’s Cathedral

c. His altarpiece sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa,

evokes tremendous emotion

d. His statue of David shows movement

and emotion

e. Constructed several fountains throughout Rome

3. Versailles Palace built during the reign of Louis XIV

is the quintessential baroque structure

4. Hapsburg emperor Leopold I built Schönbrunn in

Austria in response to the Versailles Palace

5. Peter the Great in Russia built the Winter Palace in

St. Petersburg largely on the influence of Versailles

6. Frederick I in Prussia began building his palace in

Berlin in 1701

C. Baroque painting

1. Characteristics

a. Strong sense of emotion and movement

b. Stressed broad areas of light and shadow rather

than on linear arrangements of the High

Renaissance.


  • Tenebrism (“dark manner”): extreme contrast

between dark to light

c. Color was an important element as it appealed to

the senses and more true to nature.

d. Not concerned with clarity of detail as with overall

dynamic effect.

e. Designed to give a spontaneous personal experience.

2. Carvaggio (1571-1610), Italian painter (Rome)

a. Perhaps 1st important painter of the Baroque era

b. Depicted highly emotional scenes

c. Sharp contrasts of light and dark to create drama.

d. Criticized by some for using ordinary people as

models for his depictions of Biblical scenes

3. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Flemish painter

a. Worked much for the Hapsburg court in Brussels

(the capital of the Spanish Netherlands)

b. Emphasized color and sensuality; animated figures

and melodramatic contrasts; monumental size.

c. Nearly half of his works dealt with Christian

subjects.

d. Known for his sensual nudes as Roman goddesses,

water nymphs, and saints and angels.

4. Diego Velázquez (1599-1660)

a. Perhaps the greatest court painter of the era

b. Numerous portraits of the Spanish court and their

surroundings

5. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652)



  • Famous for vivid depictions of dramatic scenes

and her “Judith” paintings

D. The Dutch Style

1. Characteristics

a. Did not fit the Baroque style of trying to

overwhelm the viewer

b. Reflected the Dutch Republic’s wealth and

religious toleration of secular subjects

c. Reflected the urban and rural settings of Dutch life

during the “Golden Age of the Netherlands”

d. Many works were commissioned by merchants or

government organizations

2. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), painter

a. Perhaps the greatest of all Baroque artists

although he doesn’t fit neatly into any category.

b. Scenes covered an enormous range throughout

his career

c. Used extremes of light and dark in the Baroque

style: tenebrism

d. His works were far more intimate and

psychological than typical Baroque works

e. Painted with the restraint of the classicist style

3. Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)



  • Paintings specialized in simple domestic interior

scenes of ordinary people

  • Like Rembrandt, he was a master in the use of

light
4. Frans Hals (1580-1666)

Portraits of middle-class people and militia

companies

E. French Classicism

1. Nicolas Poussin (1593-1665), painter

a. Paintings rationally organized to achieve harmony

and balance; even his landscapes are orderly.

b. Focused early on classical scenes from antiquity or

Biblical scenes.

c. Later focused on landscape painting

d. His style is not typical baroque

e. Painted temporarily in the court of Louis XIII.

2. Jean Racine (1639-1699), dramatist

a. His plays (along with Moliere’s) were often funded

by Louis XIV

b. Plays were written in the classical style (e.g.

adherence to the three unities)

c. Wrote some of the most intense emotional works

for the stage.

3. Jean-Baptiste Moliere (1622-1673), dramatist

a. His plays often focused on social struggles

b. Made fun of the aristocracy, upper bourgeoisie

and high church officials

F. Baroque Music

1. Characteristics

a. Belief that the text should dominate the music;

the lyrics and libretto were most important

b. Baroque composers developed the modern system

of major-minor tonalities.

c. Dissonance was used much more freely than

during the Renaissance

2. Claudio Monteverdi (1547-1643) developed the opera

and the modern orchestra


  • Orfeo (1607) is his masterpiece—the first opera

3. J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

a. Greatest of the baroque composers

b. Often wrote dense and polyphonic structures (in

contrast to the later balance and restraint of the

Classical Period—Mozart & Haydn)

c. Wrote in a variety of genres, both choral and

instrumental, for a variety of instruments


  • e.g. masses, organ works, concertos

d. Extremely prolific

4. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)



a. Like Bach, wrote in a variety of genres

b. His masterpiece is the oratorio The Messiah


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