Absolutism Central European summary



Absolutism Central European summary


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Absolutism Central European summary


20th Century Topics
Absolutism Part II: Central European

  • Main Themes:
    • The During the 17th century and 18th century, Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia were able to establish or maintain a strong monarchy, standing army, efficient tax structures, large bureaucracy, and a more or less domesticated, divided or loyal nobility so that this period is known as the "Age of Absolutism."
    • England and France experienced very different political and social developments in the late 17th century.
    • French culture and political power dominated Europe in the 18th century.
    • One of the major reasons for the strong position of England from 1685-1763 lies in the supremacy of a parliament dominated by landowners and nobles of similar interests.  The 18th century became known as the "Age of the Aristocracy".  Therefore, this supremacy of Parliament provided Britain with the kind of unity sought elsewhere through absolutism.
    • This period saw the beginnings of two long-term conflicts--Britain and France over trade and overseas empire and Austria and Prussia over the leadership of Germany.


  • Differing Concepts of Absolutism:
    • Thomas Hobbes
      • Pro-absolutism; 
      • Pro-"divine-right" monarchy.
    • John Locke
      • Rejected absolute governments
      • All men are free, equal, and have natural rights of  life, liberty, and property
      • Subscribed to Rousseau’s Social Contract Theory that governments are instituted among men to protect citizen’s natural rights.
      • Insisted that citizens had the right to rebel against a government that violated these basic human rights.
  • 17th Century England
    • James I (1603-1625) -- supported absolute divine-right.
    • Charles I (1625-1649)
      • Fought openly with Parliament and the Puritans over money for his wars with Spain.
      • Arbitrary abuse of power (quartering troops, ship money, arbitrary arrests, etc.);
      • Long Parliament (1640-1660)
    • Civil war (1642-1649):  Roundheads versus Cavaliers
    • The Commonwealth (1649-1660) under the Cromwells.
      • Puritan Republic.
      • Ulster Plantation. Unpopular military dictatorship. (Lord Protector)
    • Charles II (1660-1685) Stuart Restoration.
      • He learned the lessons of his predecessors (Don't mess with Parliament!)
      • Religious toleration, but leaned toward the Catholics.
      • Passed the Test Act (1673) and Habeas Corpus Act (1679).
      • He launched bold new foreign policy ventures challenging the Dutch for the commercial leadership of Europe.
    • James II (1685-1688) became unpopular because of his open Catholicism and return to absolute rule.
    • William & Mary "Glorious Revolution" (1688)
      • A bloodless coup. Parliament now reigned supreme.
      • Never again would British kings be as powerful as Parliament.
    • English Bill of Rights (1668-1689)
      • It settled all of the major issues between the kings and Parliament  
      • Spurred development of the modern British political system: Whigs and Tories (distinctions between political party).
      • Spurred evolution of the Cabinet system; first Prime Minister Robert Walpole
  • The Age of Louis XIV: The Sun King
    • Henry IV of Navarre (1589-1610)
      • First to establish the Bourbon family.
      • He began to curtail the privileges of the French nobility.
      • He issued the Edict of Nantes 
    • Louis XIII (1616-1643)
      • Cardinal Richelieu (machiavellian pragmatist)
      • He committed French to the Protestant side in the Thirty Years' War
    • Louis XIV (1643-1715) Goals
      • Goal: Make France the strongest country in Europe.
      • Goal: Make France the intellectual and political "light" to the rest of the world. L'etat, c'est moi! [I am the State!]
      • Goal: Establish firm and uniform administration (intendants)
      • War became an activity of the state (the armed forces were formerly in private hands).
      • He strengthened the army.
      • He built Versailles (to keep the nobles under his watchful eyes!)
      • He never called the Estates-General.
      • He had weak economic and financial policies and costly, inefficient methods of tax collecting (nobility not taxed)
    • Colbert, finance minister.
      • Believed in mercantilism to create monopolies abroad (ex: French East India Company)
      • Protestants suffered under his reign since he considered religious unity as necessary to strengthen his rule.
      • He revoked the Edict of Nantes.        
    • War of the League of Augsburg.
      • War of the Spanish Succession.
      • War of Devolution.
      • effects of his reign:



  • he tried to make France more powerful.
  • he centralized the Fr. government.
  • he improved Fr. militarily.
  • he made Fr. a commercial rival of Britain.
  • he tamed the Fr. aristocracy.
  • he made the King and the State one and the same.
  • he taxed the peasants, not the nobility.
  • he was too extravegent (he put France into great debt).
  • the court at Versailles was too removed from the lives and problems of the common people.


  • Eastern Europe:
    •  Hapsburgs vs. Hohenzollerns
      • Growing competition in the Germanies.
      • Pragmatic Sanctions (Maria Theresa).
      • Hapsburg interests --> Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Ottoman Empire (Balkans).
      • Hohenzolern interests --> East Prussia, Polish West Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine, Baltic coast, Poland.
      • Policies of Leopold II, Maria Theresa, Joseph II --> "Enlightened Despots"
      • Policies of Frederick William, the "Great Elector", Frederick I, and Frederick II, the "Great".
    • Russia in the 17th century and early 18th century:
      • Peter the Great’s "Westernization of Russia".  ("Windows to the West"
      • Katherine the Great’s expansion of Russian borders in SW;  solidifying the power of the Czars; sometimes seen as an "Enlightened Despot" (this is questionable).


  • Additional Terms to Know
    • Bossuet
    • "Contract theory" of government
    • Petition of Rights (1628)
    • Puritans
    • ship money
    • Triennial Act
    • Grand Remonstrance
    • Ulster Plantation
    • Cavaliers
    • Roundheads
    • "Rump" Parliament
    • Navigation Act (1651)
    • Clarendon Code
    • Test Act (1673)
    • Whigs
    • Tories
    • Toleration Act (1689)
    • Act of Settlement (1701)
    • Bill of Rights (1688-89)
    • oligarchy
    • Hanoverians
    • Sully
    • Cardinal Richelieu
    • Cardinal Mazarin
    • intendants
    • Nobless d'Eppe
    • Nobless d'Robe
    • Fronde
    • Colbert
    • Pragmatic Sanctions
    • Junkers
    • xenophobia
    • boyars
    • Battle of Poltava
    • strelsi
    • Pugachev Rebellion





Adapted from www.thehistoryteacher.net

Central European Monarchs Clash Questions

  1. Why did Protestant and Catholic states in Germany go to war in 1618?


  1. Describe the origins and the beginning of the war.


  1. List the countries and the alliances that fought the war.



  1. Describe the military tactics and the major battles.



  1. The Thirty Years War caused a great deal of destruction.  Describe the short and long term effects of that conflict, to include the social, economic, and political effects.





  1. The Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War in 1648.  Describe Westphalia’s major effects on central European states and their allies.



  1. Why did the formation of states in central Europe occur more slowly than in western Europe?


  1. Discuss the relationship between central European nobles and serfs.  Between the nobles and kings.


  1. Why / How did the Holy Roman Empire lose strength after the Thirty Years War. 


  1. Why / How did Austria remain a powerful force in central Europe.



  1. How did Prussia challenge Austrian power in central Europe?



  1. Which Prussian rulers formed a military state, and for what purpose did they do so?



  1. In the 1700s, Prussia battled Austria and other European powers.  What were the results of these conflicts?


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Absolutism Central European summary