Bruce Morrison » Absolute Monarchs in Europe, 1500–1800

Absolute Monarchs in Europe, 1500–1800


Several countries in Europe come under the control of absolute monarchs, and Parliament challenges the monarch's authority in Great Britain.


Section 1: Spain’s Empire and European Absolutism

Section 2: The Reign of Louis XIV

Section 3: Central European Monarchs Clash

Section 4: Absolute Rulers of Russia

Section 5: Parliament Limits the English Monarchy


Section 1: Spain’s Empire and European Absolutism

During a time of religious and economic instability, Philip II rules Spain with a strong hand.


A Powerful Spanish Empire


A New Spanish Ruler

  • In 1556,Philip IIbegins ruling Spain and its possessions


Philip II’s Empire

  • Philip seizesPortugalin 1580
  • Gold and silver fromAmericasmake Spain extremely wealthy


Defender of Catholicism


  • Philip defends Catholicism against Muslims, Protestants
  • Spanish fleet helps defeat Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571
  • Spanish Armada defeated by British in 1588


Golden Age of Spanish Art and Literature


El Greco and Velázquez

  • El Grecouses unusual style to convey religious themes
  • Works ofVelázquezshow Spanish court life


Don Quixote

  • In 1605,Don Quixoteby Miguel de Cervantes is published
  • Novel marks birth of modern European novel


The Spanish Empire Weakens


Inflation and Taxes

  • Inflation weakensSpain’s economy
  • Taxes on lower class prevents development of middle class


Making Spain’s Enemies Rich

  • Spaniards buy goods abroad, makingSpain’s enemies rich
  • Philip declares bankruptcy three times due to weak economy


The Dutch Revolt

  • Protestants inNetherlandswin independence from Spain in 1579

The Independent Dutch Prosper


A Different Society

  • Netherlandsis a republic and practices religious toleration


Dutch Art

  • In 1600s,Netherlandsbecomes center of European art
  • Rembrandtand Vermeer are famous Dutch painters


Dutch Trading Empire

  • Dutch merchants engage in world trade
  • Dutch have world’s largest trading fleet
  • Dutch replace Italians asEurope’s bankers


Absolutism in Europe


The Theory of Absolutism

  • Rulers want to beabsolute monarchs—rulers with complete power
  • Believe indivine right—idea that monarchs represent God on earth


Growing Power of Europe’s Monarchs

  • Decline of feudalism, rise of cities help monarchs gain power
  • Decline in Church authority also increases power


Crises Lead to Absolutism

  • The 17th century is period of great upheaval
  • Monarchs impose order by increasing their own power


Section 2: The Reign of Louis XIV

After a century of war and riots, France was ruled by Louis XIV, the most powerful monarch of his time.


Religious Wars and Power Struggles


Henry of Navarre

  • Henry ascends to French throne in 1589 and adopts Catholicism
  • IssuesEdict of Nantes—a declaration of religious toleration


Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

  • Cardinal Richelieu—Louis XIII’s minister who rulesFrance
  • Increases power of the Bourbons by limiting Huguenots’ freedom
  • Also weakens power of the nobility


Writers Turn Toward Skepticism


A New Attitude

  • Skepticism—the idea that nothing can be known for certain


Montaigne and Descartes

  • Montaigneexplores ideas about life’s meaning in essays
  • Descartesuses observation and reason to create new philosophy

Louis XIV Comes to Power


A New French Ruler

  • Louis XIV—the most powerful ruler in French history


Louis, the Boy King

  • Hatred ofMazarin—young Louis’s minister—leads to riots


Louis Weakens the Nobles’ Authority

  • Louis takes control in 1661
  • Appointsintendants—government agents—to collect taxes


Economic Growth

  • Jean Baptiste Colbert—finance minister—helps economy grow
  • In 1685, Louis cancels Edict of Nantes; Huguenots fleeFrance


The Sun King’s Grand Style


A Life of Luxury

  • Louis lives very well, with every meal a feast


Louis Controls the Nobility

  • Louis keeps nobles at palace to increase his power over them
  • Builds magnificent palace atVersailles


Patronage of the Arts

  • Versaillesis a center of arts during reign of Louis XIV
  • Purpose of the arts is to glorify Louis


Louis Fights Disastrous Wars


Attempts to Expand France’s Boundaries

  • Louis fights wars in 1660s, 1670s to expandFrance
  • In 1680s, many countries unite against him in League of Augsburg
  • Franceis weakened by poor harvests, warfare, high taxes


War of the Spanish Succession

  • War of the Spanish Successionbegins in 1701
  • Attempts to prevent union of the French and Spanish thrones
  • Ends in 1714;Franceand Spain lose some possessions


Louis’s Death and Legacy

  • Louis dies leaving mixed legacy
  • Rule makesFrancea major military and cultural power in Europe
  • His wars and palace leaveFrancewith heavy debts  


Section 3: Central European Monarchs Clash

After a period of turmoil, absolute monarchs rule Austria and the Germanic state of Prussia.


The Thirty Years’ War


Rising Tension

  • Tension rises between Lutherans and Catholics in centralEurope


Bohemian Protestants Revolt

  • In 1618, Protestants revolt against Catholic Hapsburg rulers
  • Result isThirty Years’ War—conflict over religion, land, power


Hapsburg Triumphs

  • From 1618 to 1630, Hapsburg armies have many victories
  • Troops plunder many German villages


Hapsburg Defeats

  • In 1630, tide turns in favor of Protestants


Peace of Westphalia

  • War ruins German economy, greatly decreases population
  • Peace ofWestphalia (1648) ends war
  • Treaty weakens Hapsburgs, strengthensFrance
  • Treaty introduces idea of negotiating terms of peace


Beginning of Modern States

  • Treaty recognizesEuropeas group of independent states


States Form in Central Europe


Economic Contrasts with the West

  • Economy in centralEuropestill based on serfs, agriculture


Several Weak Empires

  • Landowning nobles in centralEuropeblock growth of kings’ power
  • Ottoman and Holy Roman empires are also weak


Austria Grows Stronger

  • Hapsburgs inAustriatake more lands, rule large empire


Maria Theresa Inherits the Austrian Throne

  • Maria Theresa becomes empress ofAustria, faces years of war


PrussiaChallenges Austria


The Rise of Prussia

  • Hohenzollern rulers ofPrussiabuild Europe’s best army
  • Call themselves kings and become absolute monarchs
  • Nobles resist royal power, but king buys loyalty

Frederick the Great

  • Frederickthe Greatbecomes King of Prussia
  • Enforces father’s military policies but softens some of his laws


War of the Austrian Succession

  • In 1740,Frederickstarts war against Austria to gain Silesia
  • Maria Theresa resists Prussian power but losesSilesiain treaty
  • As result of war,Prussiabecomes a major power in Europe


The Seven Years’ War

  • Austriaallies with France against Britain and Prussia
  • In 1756,Frederickattacks Saxony, launching Seven Years’ War
  • Franceloses colonies in North America; Britain gains India


Section 4: Absolute Rulers of Russia

Peter the Great makes many changes in Russia to try to make it more like western Europe.


The First Czar


Ivan the Terrible

  • In 1533,Ivan the Terriblebecomes king of Russia
  • Struggles for power withboyars—landowning nobles
  • Seizes power and is crownedczar, meaning “caesar”


Rule by Terror

  • In 1560, Ivan turns against boyars, kills them, seizes lands


Rise of the Romanovs

  • Ivan’s heir is weak, leading to period of turmoil
  • In 1613, Michael Romanov becomes czar


Peter the Great Comes to Power


The Rise of Peter

  • Peter the Greatbecomes czar in 1696, begins to reform Russia


Russia Contrasts with Europe

  • Land of boyars and serfs
  • Cut off geographically fromEurope
  • Culturally isolated, little contact with western Europe
  • Religious differences widen gap


Peter Visits the West

  • In 1697, Peter visits western Europe to learn European ways


Peter Rules Absolutely


Peter’s Goal

  • Goal ofwesternization—using western Europe as model for change


Peter’s Reforms

  • Brings Orthodox Church under state control
  • Reduces power of great landowners
  • Modernizes army by having European officers train soldiers


Westernizing Russia

  • Introduces potatoes
  • StartsRussia’s first newspaper
  • Raises women’s status
  • Adopts Western fashion
  • Advances education


Establishing St. Petersburg

  • Peter wants a seaport that will make travel to West easier
  • FightsSwedento win port on Baltic Sea
  • In 1703, begins building new capital calledSt. Petersburg
  • Building city takes many years; many serfs die in process
  • By the time of Peter’s death,Russiais a force to be reckoned with in Europe


Section 5: Parliament Limits the English Monarchy

Absolute rulers in England are overthrown, and Parliament gains power.


Monarchs Defy Parliament


James’s Problems

  • James Iof Scotland becomes king of England in 1603
  • Struggles with Parliament over money, Church reform


Charles I Fights Parliament

  • James’s son,Charles I, becomes king in 1625
  • Also fights with Parliament over money
  • Parliament forces him to signPetition of Rightin 1628
  • Petition limits Charles’s power, but he ignores it


English Civil War


War Topples a King

  • In 1641, Parliament passes laws to limit king’s power
  • Result isEnglish Civil War(1642–1649) between Puritans, king
  • In 1644,Oliver Cromwellbecomes general on Puritan side
  • After Puritans win, Charles faces trial and execution in 1649


Cromwell’s Rule

  • In 1649, Cromwell abolishes monarchy, House of Lords
  • Becomes military dictator
  • Suppresses rebellion inIreland


Puritan Morality

  • Puritans abolish activities they find sinful


Restoration and Revolution


Cromwell’s End

  • After Cromwell dies in 1658, government collapses
  • Next year, Parliament asks son of Charles I to rule


Charles II Reigns

  • Restoration—return of monarchy underCharles II
  • Habeas corpus—law requiring king to charge prisoner with crime


James II and the Glorious Revolution

  • Charles’s Catholic brotherJames IIbecomes king in 1685
  • Glorious Revolution—bloodless overthrow of James in 1688


Limits on Monarch’s Power


A New Type of Monarchy

  • ProtestantsWilliam and Marybecome rulers of England
  • Agree toconstitutional monarchy—legal limits on royal power


Bill of Rights

  • In 1689, Parliament draftsBill of Rights
  • Sets limits on royal power


Cabinet System Develops

  • In 1700s,cabinet, a group of government ministers, develops
  • Ministers link majority party in Parliament with monarch