Lorraine A. Rollo. Ph.D.
Chapter 15: Absolutism & Empire, 1660-1789
1. The Age of Absolutism begins in 1660 (Stuarts restored in England & Louis XIV begins personal rule), and ends with the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.
2. Absolutism is a political theory that encouraged rulers to claim complete sovereignty, and increases in state powers. Sometimes it was linked to divine right patriarchy.
3. The Age of Absolutism was also a time of empire.
4. Extreme autocracy, limited monarchy & republicanism were alternatives to absolutism.
5. Louis XIV’s monarchy in France is considered a model of absolutism.
I. Appeal & Justification of Absolutism
1. Absolutism held the promise of order & prosperity.
2. Absolute rulers sought to increase their power by controlling the military, legal systems, finances & bureaucracy; they sought to subordinate elites & structures that threatened their power (nobles, clergy, regional rights privileged institutions).
3. The greatest threat to absolute rulers was nobles; most rulers established a rapport with the nobility.
II. Absolutism of Louis XIV (1643-1715)
1. Louis XIV used his Palace of Versailles to increase his power over France; Louis XIV made Versailles a center of patronage & administration.
2. The relationship between Louis XIV & his nobility was a tacit “settlement:” the King increased noble prestige but not their power.
3. Absolutism’s theorists were Bodin & Bossuet.
4. Louis XIV used the upper bourgeoisie and new nobles in administration. These men depended on him for their livelihood.
5. Louis’s administrators needed taxes to finance Louis’ displays of power, army & wars (taille, capitation & the indirect tax called the gabelle).
6. Louis XIV never called the national representative body known as the Estates General.
7. Louis XIV valued unity (one king, law & faith), and persecuted unorthodox Catholics (Quietists & Jansenists) & Protestants called Huguenots.
8. The 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes overturned previous toleration for Protestants. Many Protestants left France.
1. Mercantilist finance minister Colbert increased revenue for Louis XIV by reforming tax collection, regulating trade, & investing in transportation & industry. Nevertheless, Louis XIV’s wars bankrupted France.
III. Alternatives To Absolutism
1. Absolutism was the dominant model of rule for the 17/18th century monarchs.
2. The English Parliament was the longest surviving and most highly developed representative body in Europe.
3. The 1660 Restoration following the English Civil War was a triumph for mixed monarchy. Charles II (1660-1685) promised to honor the law & Parliament, but often modeled his kingship on Louis XIV, and his popularity waned. James II (1685-1688) flaunted his Roman Catholicism, and became unpopular.
4. The birth of a Catholic male heir led to an English delegation asking William & Mary (Holland) to come to England and defend Protestantism & English liberties.
6. The 1688 Glorious Revolution 1688 was a bloodless coup. William & Mary became joint sovereigns of England. Legislation like the 1689 Bill of Rights reaffirmed English liberties. 1689 Act of Toleration secured dissenters free worship.
7. 1701 Act of Succession required future rulers be Anglican; 1701 Act of Union united England & Scotland. These acts excluded James II’s Catholic heirs from the thrones of Scotland or England.
8. The 1688 Glorious Revolution consolidated the position of Parliament and the position of great landowners.
9. Locke (1632-1704) developed the contract theory of government in Two Treatises on Government, 1690.
IV. War and the Balance of Power, 1661-1715.
1. Louis XIV during his reign kept France almost constantly at or preparing for war. His objectives were to lessen Habsburg power & promote dynastic interests.
2. In response to French aggression, William of Orange organized the
League of Augsburg
3. The Peace of Ryswick 1697 ended the Nine Years’ War. Alsace became part of France & Louis recognized William as King of England.
4. The League of Augsburg reflected the new diplomatic goal in western & central Europe know as balance of power. Louis XIV did not subscribe to this goal.
5. The War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713) pitted England and Austria against France. The Treaty of Utrecht 1713 settled the war. Louis XIV’s grandson became king of Spain (throne could never be united with France); Britain secured notable strategic advantages.6. Britain & France emerged from the War of the Spanish Succession as the dominant powers in Europe, but Britain’s navy would rule the imperial and commercial world of the 18th century.
V. The Remaking of Central & Eastern Europe
1. Initially the culturally divided and loose confederation known as the Austrian Empire dominated the region; eventually Brandenburg-Prussia dominated Central Europe.
3. The “enlightened despotism” of Austrian monarchs Maria Theresa & Joseph II had limited impact due to diversity & weak royal power over local institutions.
4. Brandenburg-Prussia became a powerful state due to the efforts of the Hohenzollern rulers (Frederick-William, Frederick I, Frederick-William I (Sergeant King) &Frederick the Great).
VI. Autocracy in Russia
1. Tsar Peter the Great (1682-1725) made Russia a major European power. He wielded autocratic power. His changes included westernization of the nobility, modernization, building a major army, making the nobility serve the state, replacing the representative Duma with a rubber-stamp body, managing the Russian Orthodox Church, and creating a new and efficient administration.
2. Peter made Russia a Baltic power by challenging Sweden and gaining a port on the Baltic Sea: his new capital named St. Petersburg.
3. Peter’s foreign policy severely burdened his people.
4. Catherine the Great (1762-1796) continued the authoritarian trend of Peter the Great. She brought stability to the state, extended territory & increased Russian power. She notably increased Russian control over the Crimea, achieved rights in the Mediterranean and won territory in Poland.
5. Poland was not a strong centralized monarchy. Austria, Prussia & Russia partitioned Poland in 1772. In 1792 Russia & Prussia reduced Poland further. Russia, Prussia & Austria made Poland disappear in 1795.
VII. Commerce & Consumption
1. The North Atlantic economies were growing more rapidly than others, and Britain & France emerged as the major world powers.
2. The reasons for economic growth in 18th century northwestern Europe include improvements in agriculture, increasing population, urbanization, improved transportation, protoindustrialization, and new technology. The standard of living improved.
3. For the first time a mass market for consumer goods appeared in Europe in the 18th century. Demand was greater than supply.
4. The consumer economy encouraged the service sector.
5. The 18th century was good for the small shopkeeper.
6. Consumerism made advertising important.
7. The 18th century European economy became more complex, specialized, integrated and productive than ever.
VIII. Colonization & Trade in the 17th Century
1. Capitalism isa system of production, distribution & exchange in which private owners for profit invest wealth.
2. Mercantilism is a system where governments intervene in economic policy to increase state prosperity.
3. The products of Europe’s empires fueled the 18th century economy.
4. Spain established colonial governments in Peru & Mexico. Spain’s policy was mercantilist & focused on mining. There were cultural assimilation & conversion efforts. Spaniards dominated colonial society.
5. The French Crown directed colonialism. France had a presence in the West Indies & North America. The French established mostly military outposts and trading posts in North America. Financial returns were not large from fur, fish & tobacco. Intermarriage was common, especially among traders. French military officers and administrators from Paris dominated North American colonial society. Wealthy European plantation owners dominated Caribbean sugar plantation society. Sugar was a very profitable commodity, and it had a great impact on the European and French economies.
6. English colonies were mostly privately organized, planned, small to medium sized agricultural settlements along the Atlantic coast. Government intervened in colonial life as time went on (Navigation Acts). Sugar was most valuable. In the 18th century, sugar was produced in Barbados & Jamaica. North American colonists eliminated Native Americans in their desire for land. A rigid racial division existed in North American colonies.
7. The Dutch built a formidable “fort & factory” colonial empire in Asia.; the Dutch were less involved in the West. An important business innovation was the joint stock company, which established a method of continuous financing.
8. In the 18th century England & France vied for control of global trade.
IX. The Triangular Trade in Sugar & Slaves)
1. Typical Triangular Trade run: New England rum exchanged for African slaves; slaves traded in the West Indies for molasses; molasses made into rum in New England.
2. Sugar & tobacco industries depended on slave labor. Private entrepreneurs operated the lucrative 18th century slave trade.
3. The “Middle Passage” refers to the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic.
4. British advantages over France in their colonial rivalry included the superiority of the British navy, superior edges in commerce & finance, and British gains from the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).
5. England’s North American colonies, aided by coalition of European powers, won their independence from Britain in The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Britain retained Gibraltar & Canada, and continued trade with its former colonies.
1. Even after American independence, Britain remained the most important trading partner for its former colonies.
2. British commercial dominance around the world grew.
3. The British economy fueled by profits from the slave trade; its trade & manufacturing became strong enough to continue growing even after the slave trade was abolished (1808) & slavery was abolished (1833).
4. Northwestern Europe enjoyed economic prosperity in the late 18th century due to improved transportation, more reliable food & improved standards of living for more people who bought more.
5. European population was rising faster after 1750 than ever before.
6. New urban middle class emerged in rapidly growing cities; they drove the market in goods & ideas.
7. Prosperity in late 18th century Europe was unevenly distributed between rich/poor, and urban/rural areas.
8. Contrast between rich & poor was more extreme in Eastern Europe; peasants fell into a new serfdom that lasted through the 19th century.
9. War remained a fact of European life, and European conflicts extended around the world.
10. European governments increased their power, but the principles and structure of governments did not change much.
11. Except for Britain & the Dutch Republic, absolutist-style monarchs in the mold of Louis XIV ruled the great European powers.