Rise of Absolutism



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Chapter 21 Absolutism

I. Rise of Absolutism



  • Began because European monarchs began claiming the authority to rule without limits on their power

  • Absolute monarchs-kings or queens who held all of the power within their states’ boundaries. Their goal was to control every aspect of society (bureaucracies were created to control the economy; they regulated religion and social gatherings, etc.)

  • Believed in divine right-idea that God created the monarchy and that the monarch acted as God’s representative on Earth, monarchs answered to God only, not their subjects

  • Monarchs grew in power after the Middle Ages because of the decline in feudalism, rise of cities and growth of national kingdoms. Growing middle class backed monarchs because it helped their businesses and because of the breakdown of the Church during the Reformation

  • 17th Century-because of religious and territorial conflicts there was constant warfare so governments built large armies and levied heavy taxes on its population—because people were overtaxed and over burdened they (especially peasants) sometimes revolted

  • In response to revolts monarchs tried to impose order by increasing their power—by ruling absolutely, monarchs were free of limitations imposed by nobility and/or Parliament

II. The Reign of Louis XIV

  • 1559-Henry II of France died leaving 4 sons; their mother Catherine de Medici was the power behind the throne after Henry’s death

  • She tried to preserve royal authority but there were conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots (French Protestants)

  • Between 1562-1598, 8 wars were fought between Catholics and Huguenots in France

III. Religious Wars and Power Struggles

  • 1572-St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris caused 6 weeks of slaughter of Huguenots

  • At the time, many noble Huguenots were in Paris attending the marriage of Catherine’s daughter to a Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre.

  • Many died, but Henry survived

  1. Henry of Navarre

  • 1589-Prince Henry inherited the throne when Catherine and her last son died, became Henry IV, the 1st king of the Bourbon dynasty in France

  • Many Catholics opposed Henry since he was a Huguenot—he converted to Catholicism to avoid more wars in France

  • 1598—Henry declared that the Huguenots could live in peace in France and set up their own places of worship in some cities. This declaration of religious tolerance=Edict of Nantes

  • Devoted his reign to rebuilding France and its prosperity thereby restoring the French monarchy to a strong position

  • Some people hated Henry because of his religious compromises—in 1610 a fanatic stabbed Henry to death

  1. Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

  • Louis XIII, Henry’s son, ruled after his death

  • Louis was a weak king, but appointed a strong minister in 1624-Cardinal Richelieu

  • Cardinal Richelieu:

  1. Became, in effect, ruler of France

  2. Was the leader of the Catholic Church in France

  3. Very ambitious

  4. Took 2 steps to increase the power of the Bourbon monarchy:

  1. Moved against the Huguenots because he believed Protestantism was an excuse for political conspiracies against a Catholic king—he forbade Protestant cities to have walls for defense

  2. Sought to weaken the nobles’ power by ordering them to take down their fortified castles, increased power of government agents who came from the middle class

  1. Wanted to make France the strongest state in Europe--thought

the Hapsburg rulers stood in the way of this so to limit Hapsburg power, he involved France in the Thirty Years’ War

III. Writers Turn Toward Skepticism

  • As France regained political power, writers, who were horrified with the religious wars, turned toward skepticism (the idea that nothing can ever be known for certain).

  • These thinkers expressed attitudes of doubt toward those churches who claimed to have the only correct set of doctrines.

  • Skeptics said to find the truth, one must first doubt old ideas.

  1. Montaigne and Descartes

  • Michel de Montaigne:

  1. Lived during the religious wars

  2. Thought about life’s meaning and to communicate his ideas he developed a new form of literature, the essay

  3. Was a skeptic—he believed that humans could never have absolute knowledge of what was true

  • Rene Descartes:

  1. Skeptic

  2. Wrote Meditations on First Philosophy that examined the skeptical argument that one could never be certain of anything thus creating a new philosophy that influenced modern thinkers and helped to develop the scientific method



IV. Louis XIV Comes to Power

  1. Louis, the Boy King

  • Louis XIV comes to power—most powerful ruler in French history

  • Began his reign at the age of 4

  • When he became king after his father, Louis XIII died, the true ruler of France was Cardinal Richelieu’s successor, Cardinal Mazarin

  • Cardinal Mazarin’s greatest triumph was in 1648 with the end of the Thirty Years’ War

  • People, especially nobles, hated Mazarin because he increased taxes and strengthened the central government

  • 1648-1653-violent anti-Mazarin riots broke out all over France, these riots threatened the young Louis XIV’s life

  • Louis XIV never forgot his fear or anger at the nobility so he tried to be a strong as he could so they could never threaten him again

  • Nobles’ rebellion failed for 3 reasons

  1. Leaders distrusted each other

  2. Government violently repressed them

  3. Peasants and townspeople were tired of the disorder and fighting

  • People ended up accepting the absolute rule of the monarch and felt rebellion was an even worse fate

  1. Louis Weakens the Nobles’ Authority

  • 22 year old Louis took control of the government after Cardinal Mazarin died

  • Weakened the power of the nobles by excluding them from his councils

  • Louis increased the power of government agents called intendants whom collected taxes and administered justice, these local officials communicated with him regularly.

  1. Economic Growth

  • Louis goals-help France gain economic, political and cultural brilliance

  • Jean Baptiste Colbert—Louis XIV’s minister of finance who helped him achieve his goal.

  • Colbert believed in mercantilism and to prevent money from leaving the country he tried to make France self sufficient

  • Expanded manufacturing by giving government money and tax breaks to companies

  • High tariffs (taxes) were placed on imports

  • Colbert saw importance of colonies to provide raw goods and a market for French goods, encouraged people to migrate to French colonies such as Canada (furs, trade and wealth came from Canada).

  • After Colbert’s death, Louis XIV cancelled the Edict of Nantes which protected the religious freedom of the Huguenots, so Huguenots fled the country thus robbing France of many skilled workers


V. The Sun King’s Grand Style

g) Louis Controls the Nobility

  • Louis spent tons to surround himself with luxury

  • Had all of the nobility at the palace (Versailles) so they would be dependent on him

  • Having the nobility at court allowed the intendants more power

  1. Patronage of the Arts

  • Versailles (Palace built for Louis XIV) was the center of the arts

  • Under his reign the chief purpose of art was no longer to glorify God (Middle Ages) or to glorify human potential (Renaissance), it was now to glorify the king and promote values that supported Louis’s absolute rule.

VI. Louis Fights Disastrous Wars

i) Attempts to Expand France’s Boundaries

  • Under Louis XIV, France was the most powerful country in Europe

  • Tried to invade the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Netherlands, the Dutch saved their country by flooding it. War ended with the Treaty of Nijmegen. France only gained a few towns.

  • 1680s, Europe formed alliances to stop Louis from invading other countries so there could be a balance of power throughout the continent

  • France had also been weakened by several bad harvests and constant warfare + new taxes=suffering of the people

  1. War of the Spanish Succession

  • French people wanted peace, but got another war because in 1700, Charles II, King of Spain died without an heir and promised the throne to Louis XIV’s 16 year old grandson, Philip of Anjou

  • This allowed the two greatest powers in Europe to both be ruled by French Bourbons

  • Other countries felt threatened so they joined together to prevent it and the War of Spanish Succession began

  • Treaty of Utrecht—signed and allowed Philip to rule Spain as long as France and Spain were not united, Great Britain gained territory in southern Spain and France gave them their North American territories

  1. Louis’s Death and Legacy

  • Louis regretted his wars ruining France

  • Died in 1715 and people celebrated throughout France because they had enough of their Sun King

  • Legacy:

    • Positive

  1. France was powerful

  2. France was above all other European countries when it came to art, literature and statesmanship

  3. France was the military leader of Europe

  • Negative

  1. Constant warfare and construction of the Palace of Versailles=massive debt

  2. People resented being overtaxed (his heirs would have to deal with this and it eventually leads to revolution)



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