European History/Absolutism in Europe

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to: navigation, search
European History

OutlineGlossaryAuthorsBibliography
00. Background01. Middle Ages02. Renaissance03. Exploration04. Reformation
05. Religious War06. Absolutism07. Enlightenment08. French Revolution09. Napoleon
10. Age of Revolutions11. Imperialism12. World War I13. 1918 - 194514. 1945+



European History: 00 · 01 · 02 · 03 · 04 · 05 · 06 · 07 · 08 · 09 · 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 · 14

Introduction[edit]

The era of absolutism, exemplified by the "Sun King" Louis XIV Bourbon of France, marks the rise of rulers throughout Europe who had absolute power over their nations. Mercantilism became the primary form of economy of the day, and the issue of religion disappeared in European wars, now replaced by the issue of the balance of power.

Louis XIV (1638-1715), Model of Absolutism[edit]

Louis XIV
King of France and of Navarre
By Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)

Louis XIV Bourbon of France rose to power in 1643. He was married to Maria Theresa, daughter of Philip IV. His power stemmed from the fact that during his reign he maintained a powerful, unified France. Louis and William III Stuart of Orange were arch-enemies during this time; however, Louis maintained the upper hand and was on the offensive against William during that time.

Louis desired control over the Netherlands because of its economic power as a result of trade, because he wanted to crush Calvinists and Protestants, and because he desired increased territory. Indeed, he advised his heir, Louis XV, "Do not imitate me in my taste for war." His aggressive policy demanded to finance the largest European army of 280,000 men.

Louis' wars resulted in horrendous results and poverty for the French people, and Protestants despised Louis. His economic policy was headed by Colbert, and his nation was a model in enacting mercantilism. During his reign, France became the dominant country in language, culture, and dress.

Louis allegedly famously declared, "L'etat c'est moi," or "I am the state," and his reign exemplifies absolutism. French Bishop Bossuet declared that it was the divine right of monarchs to rule, concluding that kings were God's anointed representatives on earth. Louis acted upon this belief, governing France as if he were placed on earth by God to rule.

Overall, Louis' foreign goals were territorial expansion and the spread of Catholicism.

Louis was highly successful in his domestic ambitions to achieve absolute power through centralized bureaucracy. He successfully controlled rebellious nobles and made himself the center of French power and culture. People depended upon him for advancement and thrived on his goodwill. Louis also established the palace at Versailles, which took fourteen years to construct. Versailles was modeled by every other major European country, and it successfully kept nobles occupied, distracting them from the desire to have a say in government. In 1685, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, stripping Calvinists of their rights in France.

The War of Spanish Succession[edit]

Charles II in his twenties

Philip IV Hapsburg of Spain married Marianna Hapsburg of Austria, and the two of them produced Charles II, the physically and mentally retarded ruler of Spain. Since Charles was incapable of producing heirs, upon his death bed he was left to decide who would rule Spain after his death. France argued that they had the best claim to the throne, since they were Catholic, strong, and Charles' half-sister was married to Louis XIV. As a result, Charles left the throne to Philip V Bourbon, the grandson of Louis XIV. War broke out as a result, pitting a coalition led by William III Orange of the Netherlands against France in an effort to maintain the European balance of power. The war resulted in the Peace of Utrecht (via the Treaty of Utrecht), at which it was agreed that the ruler of Spain had to give up his or her claim to the French throne. Thus, Philip was recognized as the King of Spain, but the unification of France and Spain was barred. Spain also lost its territories in Belgium and Italy at the Peace of Utrecht, a source of much resentment of Spaniards towards their new government.


The Balance of Power in Foreign Policy[edit]

The balance of power was a system in which European nations sought to maintain the national sovereignty of all European states. The concept was that all European nations had to seek to prevent one nation from becoming powerful, and thus national governments often changed their alliances in order to maintain the balance. The War of Spanish Succession marked the first war whose central issue was the balance of power. This marked an important change, as European powers would no longer have the pretext of being religious wars. Thus, the Thirty Years' War would be the last war to be labeled a religious war.

The Economics of Mercantilism[edit]

The overall purpose of mercantilism was that mercantilist policies enriched the economy, thus resulting in prosperous citizens, higher tax revenues, and in the end funds for military and war. During the 1600s, mercantilist policies were adopted by most European nations.

Key Characteristics[edit]

By exporting more goods than your country imports, gold and silver will flow into your country. The government should found colonies, gaining raw materials, and then the nation should sell finished goods back to the colony. The government should impose high external tariffs, helping to keep competing goods from other nations out and to protect native manufacturing, thus raising money for the government. The government should eliminate all internal tariffs, keeping goods flowing freely within the country. Finally, the nation should become self-sufficient in all of its needs.

The Rise of Prussia (1701-1740)[edit]

Prussia became the power in northern Germany, as opposed to Austria which lay in the south. The issue of German Dualism arose - specifically asking the question, which of the two would unite Germany?

Problems During Prussia's Rise[edit]

Prussia faced a number of problems during its rise to power. One major issue was that Prussia was divided into three sections that needed to be united - the central part, Brandenburg, which contained Berlin; the eastern part, called Prussia, and western territories. In addition, Prussia had few natural resources, a much smaller population than the other major powers in Europe, and was still suffering from the effects of the Thirty Years' War.

Prussia Rises[edit]

Under Frederick William "The Great Elector", Prussia became highly militaristic, with all aspects society entirely bent toward the needs of the army. He doubled the army to 80,000 soldiers. It was still small compared to other powers, but it was the most well-trained and the most efficient on the continent.

Frederick William strengthened the Prussian army by enlisting Prussian citizens rather than mercenaries in what was known as the Canton system (not to be confused with the Chinese trade system). He cut all royal expenses, especially court life, and imposed high taxes on the lower and middle class. State service was required for the nobility, known as Junkers, and they frequently served as army officers while the peasants served as infantry. There was very strict social stratification. Government-subsidized textile industries resulted in standardized uniforms, and all members of the military were also required to maintain standardized hair and facial hair. Frederick established the first efficient bureaucracy in Europe, and was especially religiously tolerant, welcoming 20,000 Huguenot refugees after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes.

Stuart England 1603-1714[edit]

In 1603, Elizabeth I died without leaving an inheritance and her nephew, James VI of Scotland (who was also the son of Mary Queen of Scots who was ordered to be executed under Elizabeth's orders in 1589) took the English throne as James I, making both Scotland and England ruled under the same monarch, and establishing the Stuart dynasty. However the two nations were anything but united - they each had different religions, laws, courts, parliaments, churches and customs, not forgetting a 700 year old mistrust and hatred.

James I 1603-1625[edit]

James I Stuart ruled as an absolute monarch, who despised Parliament. He went as far as to dissolve parliament, and ruled without the voice of the people. He declared that the monarch was God's Lieutenant, his emissary, and reigned supreme over the land. He began the absolute rule of England, followed by his family for the next several generations. James advocated the divine rights of kings, and in turn wrote a book advocating the divine right of kings entitled The Trew Law of Free Monarchies in 1598.

Charles I 1625-1649[edit]

When Charles took the throne, he inherited a very angry Parliament, but he shared his father James I's beliefs in autocracy. He appointed Archbishop Laud to make the Anglican church more ceremonial, like Catholicism, instilling fears among the populace about a return to Catholicism.

In 1628 the Parliament issued the Petition of Right. This document declared that Charles could not enact taxes without Parliamentary consent. Charles proceeded to levy the ship money tax without Parliamentary consent, ordering all towns to pay taxes to support the English navy. This angered most of the populace as ship money was traditionally paid by coastal towns. The Parliament of 1640, dominated by Puritan landowners, fired Laud and repealed taxes imposed by Charles. These occurrences resulted in the outbreak of the English Civil War.

English Civil War 1642-1649[edit]

The war pitted supporters of the Parliament against supporters of the king, and at stake were both political power and control of English economics. The war also pitted Puritans, known as "roundheads," against Anglicans, or "cavaliers." The supporters of Parliament were led by Oliver Cromwell.

Other movements sprang up during this time, including Baptists, Quakers, and diggers, seekers, and ranters, who equated the clergy with nobles.

Charles I was captured, and members of Parliament were torn. Presbyterians opposed the killing of the king, while Independents advocated the regicide, or the killing of the king. In "Pride's Purge," Cromwell forcibly removed all members of Parliament who opposed the killing of the king.

The Governments of Cromwell[edit]

Afterwards, Cromwell formed a new government called the Commonwealth, which lasted from 1649 until 1653. This government was a democratic republic. However, in 1653, Cromwell formed the Protectorate, which was effectively a military dictatorship. He created the New Model Army, a paid force of devoted Puritans. His reign involved very strict laws, including no playing cards nor dancing. He, like many English monarchs, found Parliament difficult to control, it was when he disbanded Parliament, the only English Constitution was written, "Instruments of Government."

Stuart Restoration and Charles II Stuart[edit]

In 1660, Cromwell resigned, resulting in the restoration of Charles II Stuart and thus the Stuart line to the throne. Charles II is commonly known as the "Merry Monarch" because he engaged in highly festive court life and encountered many mistresses. He did, however, drive England deeply into debt, and continued a war with the Dutch started under Cromwell from the 1650s until the 1670s. He practised mercantilist policies. During Charles II's reign, England encountered the Great Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire in 1666.

In 1670, Charles signed the Secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV, secretly pledging France and England as allies to work together to return England to the Catholic Church. In 1673 he signed the Declaration of Indulgence, which stated that Catholics could hold political and military office. Parliament responded that same year, issuing the Test Act, that stated that citizens would have to profess Anglicanism to join the Parliament and military by taking Anglican communion.

James II 1685-1688[edit]

James II Stuart of England

James II, an overtly Catholic monarch, took the throne in 1685. With his first wife he bore two daughters, Mary and Anne, who were both Protestant, but with his second wife he bore a son, James, who was baptised Catholic. He upset Parliament at his demand to repeal the Test Act, and instituted the Declaration of Indulgences, which allowed for freedom of worship. Angry Protestants would call in William the Stadholder and Mary to bail them out.

Glorious Revolution of 1688[edit]

Out of fear of James' open Catholicism and the birth of a male Catholic heir, Parliament invited Mary Stuart and William Stuart of Orange to rule England in 1688. Known as the Glorious Revolution or Bloodless Revolution because it was peaceful, William and Mary took the throne and signed the Bill of Rights. The bill guaranteed that the king would call Parliament every three years and not dismiss them, and that taxation and war must be approved by Parliament. England was no longer an absolute monarchy but rather a constitutional monarchy.

In 1701, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, stating that all future monarchs of England must be Protestant above all other characteristics.

Queen Anne Stuart and the End of the Stuart Line[edit]

Queen Anne ruled from 1702 until 1714, and issued the Act of Union in 1707, creating Great Britain by combining Wales, Scotland, and England. Under her, the House of Commons took dominance in Parliament. When she died in August 1714, she was succeeded by George I, the first of the Hanoverian line to rule in Britain. The expansion of parliamentary power at the expense of the Crown that had taken place since 1688 would continue under the Hanoverian monarchs, with the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, taking office in 1721. By the accession of George III in 1760, the Crown had very little ability to influence national politics, and largely left the formation of governments to the parties that were slowly evolving in Parliament.

The Glorious Dutch Republic[edit]

Culture and Economy[edit]

Dutch possessions


For a period in the 1600s called the Dutch Golden Age, the Dutch were the commercial, shipping, and financial leaders of Europe. They were also recognized for creating one of the most urbane and tolerant societies in Europe. Amsterdam became a centre of commerce, largely because of the sacking of Antwerp, and the Bank of Amsterdam led the entire European world in banking.

As a result of their trade, the Dutch were the wealthiest and most prosperous nation. There was a vast appreciation for the arts, and some of the most famous Baroque artists were Dutch, such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Reubens. Dutch society promoted freedom of expression and religious tolerance, with a wide array of religions from atheists to Catholics. There was a large and well-established middle class, and an excellent educational system. Finally, the Dutch had a confederative republic with a large amount of freedom for self governance of its provinces while most other European nations were still undergoing absolutist regimes.

Overseas Colonies[edit]

The Dutch East India Company began immediately to prise away the string of coastal fortresses that at the time comprised the Portuguese Empire. The settlements were isolated, difficult to reinforce if attacked, and prone to being picked off one by one, but nevertheless the Dutch only enjoyed mixed success in its attempts to do so. Amboina was captured from the Portuguese in 1605, but an attack on Malacca the following year narrowly failed in its objective to provide a more strategically located base in the East Indies with favourable monsoon winds. The Dutch found what they were looking for in Jakarta, conquered by Jan Coen in 1619, later renamed Batavia after the Latin name for Holland, and which would become the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Meanwhile, the Dutch continued to drive out the Portuguese from their bases in Asia. Malacca finally succumbed in 1641 (after a second attempt to capture it), Colombo in 1656, Ceylon in 1658, Nagappattinam in 1662 and Cranganore and Cochin in 1662. Goa, the capital of the Portuguese Empire in the East, was attacked by the Dutch twice in 1603 and 1610, on both occasions unsuccessfully. Whilst the Dutch were unable in four attempts to capture Macau from where Portugal monopolised the lucrative China-Japan trade, the Japanese shogunate's increasing suspicion of the intentions of the Catholic Portuguese led to their expulsion in 1639. Under the subsequent sakoku policy, for two hundred years the Dutch were the only European power allowed to operate in Japan, confined in 1639 to Hirado and then from 1641 at Deshima.

By 1650, the Dutch had overtaken Portugal as the dominant player in the spice and silk trade, and in 1652 founded a colony at Cape Town on the coast of South Africa, as a way-station for its ships on the route between Europe and Asia.

In the Atlantic, the West India Company concentrated on wresting from Portugal its grip on the sugar and slave trade, and on opportunistic attacks on the Spanish treasure fleets on their homeward bound voyage. Bahia on the north east coast of Brazil was captured in 1624 but only held for a year before it was recaptured by a joint Spanish-Portuguese expedition. In 1628, Piet Heyn captured the entire Spanish treasure fleet, and made off with a vast fortune in precious metals and goods that enabled the Company two years later to pay its shareholders a cash dividend of 70%, though the Company was to have relatively few other successes against the Spanish. In 1630, the Dutch occupied the Portuguese sugar-settlement of Pernambuco and over the next few years pushed inland, annexing the sugar plantations that surrounded it. In order to supply the plantations with the manpower they required, an expedition was launched in 1637 from Brazil to capture the Portuguese slaving post of Elmina, and in 1641 successfully captured the Portuguese settlements in Angola. By 1650, the West India Company was firmly in control of both the sugar and slave trades, and had occupied the Caribbean islands of Sint Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire in order to guarantee access to the islands' salt-pans.

Unlike in Asia, Dutch successes against the Portuguese in Brazil and Africa were short-lived. Years of settlement had left large Portuguese communities under the rule of the Dutch, who were by nature traders rather than colonisers. In 1645, the Portuguese community at Pernambuco rebelled against their Dutch masters, and by 1654, the Dutch had been ousted from Brazil. In the intervening years, a Portuguese expedition had been sent from Brazil to recapture Luanda in Angola, by 1648 the Dutch were expelled from there also.

On the north-east coast of North America, the West India Company took over a settlement that had been established by the Company of New Netherland (1614-18) at Fort Orange at Albany on the Hudson River, relocated from Fort Nassau which had been founded in 1614. The Dutch had been sending ships annually to the Hudson River to trade fur since Henry Hudson's voyage of 1609. In order to protect its precarious position at Albany from the nearby English and French, the Company founded the fortified town of New Amsterdam in 1625 at the mouth of the Hudson, encouraging settlement of the surrounding areas of Long Island and New Jersey. The fur trade ultimately proved impossible for the Company to monopolise due to the massive illegal private trade in furs, and the settlement of New Netherland was unprofitable. In 1655, the nearby colony of New Sweden on the Delaware River was forcibly absorbed into New Netherland after ships and soldiers were sent to capture it by the Dutch governor, Pieter Stuyvesant.

Ever since its inception, the Dutch East India Company had been in competition with its counterpart, the English East India Company, founded two years earlier but with a capital base eight times smaller, for the same goods and markets in the East. In 1619, the rivalry resulted in the Amboyna massacre, when several English Company men were executed by agents of the Dutch. The event remained a source of English resentment for several decades, and in the late 1620s the English Company shifted its focus to from Indonesia to India.

Anglo-Dutch Wars[edit]

In 1651, the English parliament passed the first of the Navigation Acts which excluded Dutch shipping from the lucrative trade between England and its Caribbean colonies, and led directly to the outbreak of hostilities between the two countries the following year. The war would prove to be indecisive, but the English had failed to replace the Dutch as the leader of World trade.

The Second Anglo-Dutch War was precipitated in 1664 when English forces moved to capture New Netherland. After two years of war, the Dutch, led by Michiel de Ruyter,destroyed or captured much of the British fleet at Medway, and England was forced to sue for peace. Under the Treaty of Breda (1667), New Netherland was ceded to England in exchange for the English settlements in Suriname, which had been conquered by Dutch forces earlier that year.

Wars With France[edit]

In 1672 the French invaded the Republic, starting the Franco-Dutch War and were only stopped when they reached the Dutch Water Line. England and France had secretly agreed to split the Netherlands between themselves, but after defeats at sea, and unable to cross the waterline, the French Army began a slow and cautious retreat out of the Republic. Peace was signed in 1678.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw the Dutch William of Orange invade England, and ascend to the throne, ending Fifty years of rivalry between the Netherlands and England, and brought the two countries into the Nine Years' War against France the same year. The Anglo-Dutch fleet(mostly Dutch) dominated the seas, and France was unsuccessful.

Peter Romanov the Great of Russia (1689-1723)[edit]

Peter installed an absolute monarchy in Russia, with absolutely no concept of the social contract. Serfdom still remained strong in Russia, with no middle class nor urbanization. In Russia, advancement was based upon merit rather than birth or blood line.

The ultimate goal of Peter's foreign policy was to obtain warm water ports for his nation, which were essential for trade, naval power, and access to the west. He battled Sweden for a port on the Baltic and with the Ottoman Turks for a port on the Black Sea. In the Great Northern War against Sweden, Russia defeated the Swedish army in Poltava by using the scorched earth policy, in which the Russians retreat, burn the crops or villages in the town, and wait for winter to take its toll upon the enemy troops. As a result, the Russians successfully obtained their warm water port on the Baltic, which was named St. Petersburg and known as the "window to the west."

Peter enacted the "Great Embassy," which was a tour of Peter and his nobles through many Western European nations. The ultimate goal of the Great Embassy was to use the information collected to westernize Russia, as Peter was afraid of increasing Western power. Through the Great Embassy, Peter acquired many important technological skills, especially military technology, such as naval instruments, army tactics, ship building techniques, and naval strategy. He imported foreign workers with technological skills as well, and introduced new attire that was being worn across the rest of Europe. He implemented the Julian calendar, which although was not the modern Gregorian calendar at the time, was more modern than what was being used in the past. He established much better education, and he also established the first modern Russian army with 200,000 men. Nobles were required to perform state service in either the army or the bureaucracy.

Baroque Art[edit]

Baroque Art came to existence during the 1600s and lasted through the mid-1700s. Baroque art was used by Catholics in the Counter-Reformation. Baroque Art can be characterized by its rich and vibrant colors, its intense use of light, great drama, and exuberance. Unlike Renaissance art, which usually depicted mellow scenes, Baroque Art captured the climax of a scene. It used dynamic lighting to create a "spotlight" effect on the canvas.

Baroque art was used in archetecture, art, and even music. This form of work was included in the building of St. Petersburg.

Caravaggio[edit]

Caravaggio was a famous Italian painter for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, painting such works as Judith Slaying Holofernes and The Incredulity of St. Thomas. He introduced dramatic light and dark effects, and he helped transition from mannerism to new Baroque styles.

Bernini[edit]

Bernini was a famous Italian sculptor, who perhaps most famously created The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. This sculpture was of the mystic nun in a trance in the height of religious rapture. Bernini was one of the first masters to realize the importance of the effect of light.


European History: 00 · 01 · 02 · 03 · 04 · 05 · 06 · 07 · 08 · 09 · 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 · 14