What is an absolute ruler? And how does one become an absolute ruler?
Absolutism is the exercise of complete and unrestricted power of government, meaning that one person is in control of everything, such as all of the decision maker. If a ruler is a King or a Queen and has absolute power, we call them an absolute monarch.
A lot of these people believed that they got their power from God. This idea was called Divine Right.
Causes of Absolutism: Effects of Absolutism:
-Growth in Trade -Power of nobles reduced.
-Feudalism Declined -Individual Rights Limited
-Rise of Cities -Abuse of Power and Tyranny
-Growth of National Kingdoms -A desire of the people to be free
-Decline in Church Power -The Enlightenment and it’s ideas
-Rise in colonial holdings
Absolutism in Spain
In the 1500’s, Spain was a modern power. In 1519, Charles V was King of Spain and heir of Austrian Hapsburg (this included Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire). Because he was ruling 2 empires, he was constantly involved in warfare. This was hard for him to manage and also a very stressful job, so in 1556, Charles V gave up his title and went into a monastery. He divided the empire. He gave his brother Hapsburg and gave Spain, Netherland and Southern Italy to his son Philip II.
Phillip II ruled for 42 years. During his 42 year reign, he wanted to expand Spanish influence, strengthen Spanish Church and be an absolute ruler. He centralized Royal Power, which meant that he controlled the entire government.
He believed in Divine Right (see above)
Because he believed that God had given him is power, he tried to defend the Catholic Church and stop the spread of Protestantism. He enforced religious unity during his rule, making everyone have the same Catholic beliefs.
King Philip II was involved in many wars during his attempt to make Spain more powerful. In 1571 he defeated Ottoman in the Battle of Lepanto and he battled protestant rebels in the Netherlands. In the 1580s, Queen Elizabeth 1 was Philip’s biggest enemy because she supported the Dutch. So, in 1588, Philip sent an armada (a fleet of ships) to England to battle, but there was a storm and Spain had to come back. They lost their chance to invade England.
During the 1600/1700s, the Dutch, English and French became more powerful than Spain.
In the 1600s, Spanish power began to decline because Philip’s successors were less able than he had been. Spain faced a number of economic problems. The main five causes for decline are: Overseas wars, neglected farming and commerce, the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from the country, high tax for middle class and inflation because of American Silver and Gold. By late 1600s, France had replaced Spain as the most powerful European nation.
Absolutism in France
From 1560 until 1590, there were religious wars between the Huguenots (Protestants) and Catholics in France. On August 24, 1572, a huge massacre occurred which symbolized the complete breakdown of order in France. This day is known as St. Bartholomew’s day.
In 1589, King Henry IV he inherited the throne. He was a protestant. He converted to Catholicism to avoid problems with his people. However, he still believed in his Protestant Faith and wanted to protect Protestants. In 1598 he passed the ‘Edict of Nantes’ to protect Protestants.
In 1610, King Henry IV was assassinated. His son Louis XIII inherited the throne at only 9 years of age. He was too young to rule properly. So in 1624, Louis XIII appointed a man called Richelieu as chief minister, someone that could do the work for him. Richelieu did this job for 18 year and tried to strengthen the government.
In 1643, King Louis XIV became King after Richelieu’s death. Just like Louis XIII, Louis XIV gave Mazarin the role of chief minister.
However, after Louis XIV became King, disorder swept France. Nobles, merchants and peasants rebelled in what was called ‘Fronde’. In 1661, King Louis XIV took over government himself. He believed in Divine Right. King Louis XIV used the Sun as the symbol for his absolute power. He felt that he was as powerful and as important as the sun. He also built very extravagant palaces that represented his wealth and his power, for example, his palace in Versaille.
Louis XIV ruled by using policies that Richelieu had put in place. King Louis XIV also employed Jean Baptiste Colbert as his finance minister. Colbert worked very hard to improve the economy. He cleared new lands for farming, he encouraged mining, industries and luxury trade. He also put tax on any imported goods so that people would buy French products instead. He was very successful and really improved the French economy, but, King Louis XIV was always at war and Colbert could not get enough money to fund all of these wars.
Louis XIV was a Catholic. He wanted religious unity in France. In 1685, he revoked the Edict of Nantes (See above). This meant that Protestants did not have the same rights. around 100,000 Protestants fled the country. This had negative impacts on the country, especially the economy.
Absolute Power in England
From 1485 until 1603, England was ruled by the Tudor Family. This family ruled with the Parliament (government), even though they believed in Divine Right.
In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died but she had no one to take her place. Because she had no heir, the Stuart Family of Scotland took over the throne. James I became King. He followed English laws and customs but he did not want to work with Parliament. He wanted to be an absolute ruler. House of Commons (Parliament Offices) tried to fight against this absolute power.
In 1625, Charles I inherited the throne. He was absolute monarch. He did not work well with Parliament, but in 1628, he needed the help of Parliament so that he could raise taxes. Parliament agreed to help but only if King Charles would sign The Petition of Right. This document meant that the King could only raise tax or sent people to prison, if he discussed it with Parliament first
After the taxes had been raised, in 1629, King Charles dissolved (got rid of) the Parliament. He ignored the Petition of Right for 11 years and ruled without Parliament. In 1640, he needed the help of Parliament again and tried to summon them, but, they revolted against him. King Charles was not happy about this. In 1642, Charles led troops into the House of Commons to arrest their leaders but they escaped and the battle began.
The English Civil War took place from 1642 until 1649. The Parliament were fighting against the monarchy to stop absolute power. Cavaliers were those who were fighting for King Charles and Roundheads were those fighting for Parliament and their leader Oliver Cromwell. In 1647, The Roundheads and Parliament defeated the monarchy. Parliament wanted to treat King Charles like everyone else and they put him on trial. In January go 1649, King Charles I was executed. This trial and execution showed the people that no one was above the law.
After Charles I was executed, The House of Commons abolished the Monarchy.
England became a Republic. Oliver Cromwell was leader of Parliament. During his time as leader, he made many changes. In 1652, Parliament passed a law exiling most Catholics. Cromwell enforced these laws through the army. Cromwell tolerated all other Protestants and welcomed Jews back to England after 350 years of exile. In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died
After his death, in May 1660, Charles II became an absolute monarch.
In 1685 – James II inherited the throne. James II a Catholic and was very proud of this. He gave a lot of important jobs to Catholics in England. Parliament were not happy with this. They wanted to get rid of James II. In 1688, Parliament invited Mary (his daughter) and her husband William of Orange to rule England. James II became aware of what was happening and he fled to France. In 1689m William and Mary had to accept English Bill of Rights before they could rule. The Bill Of Rights meant that Parliament had superiority in England and that a Catholic could never be in the throne again.
Absolutism in Austria and Prussia
German states had been divided by religion – Protestant and Catholic. As a result, war began in Bohemia, Czech Republic. Ferdinand, the ruler at the time, wanted to stop the spread of the Protestant Religion.
In 1618, when rebellious Protestants rebelled against Royal officials in Prague, a revolt began. The following year, Ferdinand was elected as the ruler of The Holy Roman Empire. Spain, Poland and other Catholics supported him as he fought against Protestants. Protestants, like The Netherlands and Sweden sent troops to Germany to fight. After time, the war became more of a political war than a religious war.Catholic and Protestant rulers were now fighting one another and had new alliances.
The destruction of the war led to famine and disease which caused severe depopulation. In 1648, ‘Peace of Westphalia’ was signed so that the war would stop and there would be a General European Peace.
At the end of this war, France had won land in Spain and Germany. The Netherlands and Switzerland gained independence. The ’30 Year War’ had left Germany divided into more than 360 states. Each of these states had their own governments, currency, laws and armies, which made Germany very powerful.
Hapsburg, Austria, had been weakened in this war but they still wanted to expand. They won land in Bohemia, Hungary and parts of Poland and Italy, however, uniting all these lands was difficult because there was different cultures, languages and beliefs
In the1700s, Maria Teresa became the ruler but she was often ignored as no woman had ruled before. Frederick II (Prussia) saw this as a weakness and in 1740, he seized Hapsburg. Maria Teresa could not fight against him alone so she went to Hungary to ask for military help. Britain and Russia fought along side her too. This led to the 8 year war of the Austrian Succession. Maria Teresa was not able to force Frederick out, but she preserved her Empire and won the support of her people. She then began to strengthen her empire.
Prussia then emerged as a new Protestant Power. During the 1600s, The Hohenzollern family ruled N. Germany. After the ‘Peace of Westphalia’, the Hohenzollerns united their lands, by taking over the states in between them. Frederick William I created the best armies in Europe and gave nobles positions in the army and the government. By 1740, Prussia was strong enough to challenge Austria.
Frederick William I taught his son, Frederick II, about the army from a young age. Frederick II was not interested in this and he tried to flee. He was treated badly by his father. When he was captured, he was put into solitary confinement in prison. In 1740, Frederick II became King. He seized Silesia from Austria. This started the War of Austrian Succession. By 1750, Austria, Prussia, France, England and Russia had become great powers of Europe.
They were allies but often fought against one another. For example, Prussia battled Austria for control of German states. Britain and France battled for overseas empires. From 1756 until 1763 ‘The Seven Years War’ was fought on four different continents. The ‘Treaty of Paris’ ended these wars.
Absolute Monarchy in Russia
In 1689, Peter the Great was the Czar or ruler of Russia. He wanted Russia to become more modern and develop. He wanted to westernise Russia. He wanted to bring ideas, culture and technology from the West to Russia. His people were afraid of these changes. In order for him to make these changes, he had to become an autocrat (absolute ruler).
Peter wanted to strengthen the Russian army, gain more land for Russia and control the government. He fought to make changes, improve education and introduce new technology.
In 1700, Peter went to war with Sweden and defeated then in 1709. He won land along the Baltic Sea. There, he built St. Petersburg. This was a symbol of his power and wealth. Peter also tried to gain a warm water port when he went to war with the Ottoman, however, this was unsuccessful. In 1752, Peter died.
Catherine the Great became Queen when her husband Peter III died in 1762. Catherine too was an absolute ruler. Catherine reorganiszed provincial government, she codified laws, she created state sponsored schools for boys and girls. She also wanted to westernise Russia.Catherine defeated the Ottoman empire and gained a warm water port for Russia.
In the 1770s, Catherine The Great, Frederick the Great and Emperor Joseph II of Austria wanted to gain land in Poland. Rather than go to war, the three rulers decided that a partition would be the best decision in 1772.