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Paul Halsall
Modern Western Civilization

Class 4: The Rise of Absolutism

I. Introduction

A. The problem of political disintegration in 16-17th Centuries.

B. Causes of disintegration

C. Ways of Uniting States

Two alternatives evolved

- we will be looking mainly at both.

Absolutism formed the immediate background to the French Revolution, but constitutionalism provided many of the ideas.

D. Absolutism and Constitutionalism.

1. Definition of Constitutionalism

2. Definition of Absolutism

Absolutism was very practical - it developed state bureaucracies and standing armies to make its claims work.

II. Poland - A failed state

Result of no Constitutionalism and no absolutism.

III. Spain - Absolutism Attempted

The dominant country of the late 16th Century, based on military power and enormous wealth from the new world.

Philip II. Ruled by himself. One of first absolute monarchs. It is possible to see many of the later marks of absolutism in his reign.

IV. France - Absolutism Triumphant

What happened in France provided more of model for Europe than Spain, (or England).

France's importance as a country was based on its wealth and its population, as well as its culture.

A. French Wars of Religion and Henry IV

B. Louis XIII (1610-43)

Effective ruler Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642)

Richelieu's Actions:

  1. He broke power of nobility and made it clear there was only one law - the King's. However still very limited legal unity in the country.
    [cf. Stuarts where local law was in hands of JPs.]
    Estates General meats for last time in 1615.
  2. He began adminstrative reform and centralized control over regions. He sent out Intendents. [cf. the Stuarts lack of local control]
  3. He fought Habsburg Dynasty - made France a great power (fought for Protestants in Thirty Year's War)
  4. Richelieu also opposed Hugenots - as defiant of King's power and began the road to oppression. Removed their right to fortified towns.

C. Louis XIV (Ruled 1643-1715)

  1. Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661)
    effective ruler at first - continues policies of Richelieu.
  2. The Fronde 1649-52
    - revolt by nobles sick of absolute claims. This had big psychological effect on Louis XIV. He was determind to be powerful
  3. Louis comes to power in 1661.
    His reign is the height of absolutism. "L'etat. c'est moi."
  4. Louis' conception of himself as King - and of the problems he faced.
    Although egotistical he was not a madman. ref. Letter to Heirs - He thought he had to work hard and let good sense act. But his working hard was two hours a day.
  5. Government under Louis XIV
    It is often seen as one of the first modern governments.
    - its system of councils to control the real ruling of the country
    - Intendants - royal officials in provinces gives central control of the entire country.
    - Its establishment of a standing army which Louis used in a series of expensive wars. This gives him great power.
  6. Versailles and Ritual
    Used to bring all the important nobility to his court." This deprived them of power - as did a very expensive lifestyle. [cf. Philip II and the Escorial]
    -Note etail of manners and ritual. Different ways to open a door etcetera. Aim was to impress. Half Louis' income went on Versaille but it gave him power.
  7. Influence of Louis XIV's Government and Style
    Versailles and Louis' government were admired in Europe and it was copied everywhere;
    French became the language of many courts - eg Russia (ref. Tolstoy: War and Peace). Copycat Palaces built all over Europe: Vienna/Schonbrunn, St. Petersburg, Berlin.
  8. Fiscal Policy
    Important both in explaining how Europe came to expand overseas, and certain elements in the outbreak of the French Revolution.
    Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1693) - Finance minister. Colbert's aim was to have a trade balance in France's favor.
    Mercantilism is name given to this policy.
    -It centralizes economy + close government control.
    -Relieves the need for direct taxes.
    Problem was nobles would not pay tax. This was not solved.
    France remained under-taxed.
    -Expansion abroad - emphasis on exports and getting bullion into the country.
    -Trade is needed especially by absolutist governments as it enables indirect taxes to be raised - which are necessary without parliaments.
    -Expansion of Mercantile empires in India, North America and above all the West Indies. This was encouraged by governments.
  9. Louis XIV and Religion
    The Position of the Church as State within a State
    -Divine Right was important in Louis' ideas.
    -It is important to realize the power of the Church in France. It was like a state within in a state
    -largely independent of Rome
    -tax free
    -Church Courts had power over parts of life, for instance marriage and wills.
    -Louis supported the Church fervently.
    -Revocation of Edict of Nantes 1685
    -1/4 mill Protestants left - (New Rochelle)
  10. Absolutism and Religion
    Absolutism did not allow, in France liberty of conscience. This effects French Enlightenment thinkers. There was anti-clericalism even from those who support monarchy. [cf.-anti-clericalism in French Revolution]

  11. Discussion: The Theoretical Elaboration of Absolutism

Absolutism came into being as a practical way to control the state. But there were theoretical justifications.

At this stage Nobility and Monarchy were the only players. It was the emergence of another class which was to be important in 1789.

VII. Reading Notes to Bishop Bossuet

These are some questions to guide your reading. It might help if you note down possible answers in the spaces between the questions. Come to class prepared to comment.

A. What position does the author of this piece hold? Who is he writing for?

B. What principles lie behind Bishop Bossuet's theory of government? Why did would he adopt such principles?

C. What alternative justifications for absolute monarchy are given in the other assigned readings?

D. From your understanding of the other readings how do you think absolutism worked in practice?

VIII. Reading Notes to Jean Domat and Others on Absolutism

Answer the questions below. Find your information from the source itself, or from the textbook. You may use other sources, but indicate what they are.

A. Who was Jean Domat? What were his qualifications for writing? Who was he writing for? What kind (genre) of literature is this?

  1. What imagery provides the basis for Domat's theorizing?
  2. C. How does Domat prove that government is necessary?

D. Who does Domat mean by the `sovereign'? What is the basis of his/her power?

E. Are there any indications in the text that world might be less perfectly ordered than Domat indicates?

IX. Absolutism in Other States

The Holy Roman Empire
Fades. So does Poland and Ottoman Turkey. Three new powers occupy central Europe in the 18th century.

  1. Austria
    - Absolutism without a nation-state. Maria Theresa 1740-
  2. Prussia
    - Prussia copies France but has its own distinctive character. Prussia becomes an important state under Frederick I (1688-1713). Military emphasis: the upper class become the officers in the army.
    -300 other states in Germany remain divided.
  3. Russia - Emerges at this time.


X. Conclusion