French Absolutism


17th century was a period of great transition

European climate was getting colder - less food

Governments spent more - mostly on armies and raised taxes on the poor

France and Spain gained control over the papacy

England and Germany establish national churches

We see the start of absolutism - rulers with absolute power

They reigned by divine right not like medieval monarchs, by the grace of God

a) controlled the church
b) law courts
c) abolished freedoms and liberties
d) maintained permanent armies
e) used secret police and spies
f) established huge bureaucracies focused on the king
g) secured the cooperation of the nobility

Not total rule because the lacked the resources

But it did foreshadow totalitarianism in 2 respects:
i) glorification of the state over all else
ii) use of war and expansionism to divert attention from domestic problems

Henry IV and his advisor the Duke of Sully laid the foundations for absolutism in France

Henry rebuilt France from the chaos by 1589

Sully: built relations with the pope, satisfied Huguenots with the Edict of Nantes (1598)
a) revived the palette tax
b) started a highway system
c) and dreamed of an international organization to keep the peace
d) worked to revive trade, raised revenues although taxes were lowered

Henry died; Marie de Medici ruled for the boy-king Louis XIII

In 1624 she appointed Cardinal Richelieu her Council of Ministers

a) subordinated all offices to the monarchy
b) weakened the power of the nobles - destroyed castles and other symbols of independence
c) recruited for the army
d) supervised tax collection
e) checked on nobility - beheaded traitorous nobles like Montmorency
f) regulated economic activity
g) reshuffled royal council to weaken potential enemies

Richelieu’s policy was to weaken the Habsurgs who surrounded France

1631 France joins Sweden in the Thirty Years’ War against the Catholics

Richelieu wrote Political Testament which said power is based on revenue

French monarchs couldn’t tax at will so they would never have complete control

"raison d’etat" - what is done for the state is done for God

Set up excellent administrative system - divided France into 32 généralités

Richelieu persuaded the king to appoint Jules Mazarin as his successor

Richelieu and Louis both died

Queen Anne of Austria governs for her son Louis XIV

Mazarin continues Richelieu’s policies but leads to a civil war - The Fronde (1648-53)

The war was between the king and the nobility - the frondeurs

Violence continued for 12 years and had three significant results:
a) government would have to compromise with the nobility
b) the economy was ruined and would take years to rebuild
c) Louis XIV would never forget the trauma


Under Louis (Sun King) absolutism reached its height

"When Louis sneezed, all Europe caught cold"

Reigned for 72 years

Many insurrections due to high taxes and grain shortages

Temporarily solved finance problems with cooperation of local elites

Time known as Age of Magnificance and by Voltaire as the Age of Louis XIV

Supposedly had little education but in reality well educated


Married Maria Theresa because of a diplomatic arrangement with Spain

Had complete control over all classes of society

Ruled from Versailles where he required the nobility to reside for several months each year

Studied under Mazarin to learn how things work

Ruled without political influence from wife and mistress


Never called the Estates General

Other monarchs imitated Louis and French replaced Latin as the language of the educated

But his weakness was always finances

He appointed Jean-Baptiste Colbert Controller of Finances

Colbert believed the wealth of the country should serve the state

He applied the theory of mercantilism to France

Mercantilism - government policies for the regulation of economic activities by and for the state

Believed France should be self-sufficient - set up industries to replace imports

Colbert sent 4,000 people to Canada

Marquette and Joliet - Mississippi River
La Salle - Louisiana


Commercial class prospered while agriculture declined

Because of war, bad harvests, deflation of currency, and emigration Colbert’s goals were never attained

1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes

Closed schools, destroyed Protestant churches, and exiled those who would not renounce their faith

"one king, one law, one faith"

The revocation won Louis enormous praise

French Classicism

Poussin was the greatest classicist painter
Rape of the Sabine Women

Absolutism and Classicism melded

Art glorified the king

Lully, Couperin, and Charpentier created great orchestral works

Moliere (1622-1673) and Racine (1639-1699) wrote powerful plays on controversial issues as well as well as plays praising the king

Les Moliere wrote Tartuffe, which brought him criticism from the church, but he was protected by Louis XIV.


Louis XIV’s Wars

Kept France at war for 33 of 54 year reign

Appointed Marquis de Louvois secretary of State for War

Louvois created a professional army
A) feed the troops
b) an ambulance corp
c) standard weapons and uniforms
d) rationalized training
e) regulated promotion
f) state recruits men not nobles

1667 Louis invaded Flanders no success

1672 he invaded Holland but the Dutch saved themselves by flooding their land

1681 he seized Strasbourg and parts of Lorraine

1689 William of Orange - king of England

William joined the League of Augsburg, but neither side won

Claude Le Peletier, Colbert’s successor devalued the currency and sold offices and titles to the nobility

Between 1688-94 bad harvests sent the price of wheat skyrocketing

1694 Lord Pontchartrain imposed the capitation raise money

1701-1713 The War of Spanish Succession
a) old territorial disputes
b) dynastic question of Spanish throne

1700 Charles II was king of Spain - he was insane

Charles died in 1700 and left the throne to the grandson of Louis XIV, Philip of Anjou

The Dutch and British
refused to accept French
control of the Spanish
colonies and Netherlands

English, Dutch, Austrian and Prussians formed the Grand Alliance

Even though the were all fighting the French internal conflicts developed

Two soldiers dominated:
Eugene, prince of Savoy representing the HRE
John Churchill representing England



Philip of Anjou remains king of Spain

Spain and France must never unite

France gave Austria Spanish Netherlands

France gave England Nova Scotia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland

France recognizes the Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia

Spain gave England Gibraltar

Spain gave England -asiento- the rights to the slave trade


The Treaty

Represented the balance of power principle

Saw the decline of Spain

Saw the rise of the British Empire

Marked the end of French expansionism


Spanish Decline

No middle class - Jews and Moors gone

Agricultural decline

Population decline

Failure to invest wisely

Intellectual isolation (religious reasons)

Increase in Dutch and English trade with Americas

Americas develop local industries

Increasing royal expenditure

1715 Spain a second-rate power

Several times the king declares bankruptcy and cancels national debt

People dropped out of society or turned to religion

High rents and taxes drove peasants off the land

Philip IV left control to Count-Duke Olivares

Olivares believed in imperialism

Imperialism meant conflict with the Dutch and French



France, Prussia, Russia - absolute states

England, Holland - constitutional states

Constitutionalism is limiting the govt. by law
(may be written or unwritten)

May be monarchies or Republics

This is not democratic (no franchise for all)

1603 James I (Stuart) replaced Elizabeth (Tudor)

Believed he was only responsible to God and had control over everything which conflicted with the principle of due process

House of Commons governed the royal finances

The members of the Commons were better educated than in previous govts.

Charles I tried to rule without Parliament and it almost crippled the country

Many people believed the Reformation had not gone far enough

Wanted to purify the Anglican Church of Catholic influences

Most English were Calvinists, most zealous were Puritans

James I and Charles I gave the impression of being sympathetic to Catholicism

Charles supported archbishop of Canterbury William Laud

Laud insisted on complete uniformity with the "Court of High Commission"

Wanted to impose on the Scots:
a) new Anglican prayer book
b) bishoprics

Both rejected by the Scots who rebelled

Charles was forced to recall Parliament to get funds

Parliament was not willing to trust the king with an army

Long Parliament sat from 1640-1660

a) 1641 Triennial Act - king must summon Parliament every 3 years
b) Impeached archbishop Laud
c) Abolished the Court of High Commission

Charles, fearful of an uprising, agreed

The Irish also rebelled and Charles couldn’t stop them

Charles recruited army from nobility (Cavaliers)

Parliament recruited an army (Roundheads)

The English Civil War (1642-9) did not resolve the problem of who would hold the power

1649-1660 is the "Interregnum"

Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, sovereignty is derived from the people, the power of the ruler is absolute but not divine - this pleased no one

Theoretically, power rested with parliament

The army controlled Parliament, Cromwell controlled the "New Model Army"

"Protectorate" Cromwell’s rule was a military dictatorship

The army prepared a constitution:
a) executive power rested with Cromwell and a council of state
b) a triennial Parliament
c) Parliament can raise taxes

Cromwell tore up the document

a) divided the country into 12 military districts
b) The Instrument of Government gave religious freedom to all, except Catholics
c) crushed rebellions in Ireland
d) enforced the Navigation Acts (English goods - English ships)
e) welcomed Jews

The state:
a) censored the press
b) forbade sport
c) closed the theaters

Cromwell was an absolutist - died 1658


The Restoration - 1660

Reestablished the monarchy - Charles II

Both houses of Parliament were restored

Law courts restored

Local govt. through Justices of the Peace


Test Act of 1673

To enforce religious conformity those who refused to receive the sacraments of the Church of England:
a) could not vote
b) hold public office
c) preach or teach
d) attend university
e) assemble for meetings


5 advisors appointed by the king, also members of Parliament:
Clifford; Arlington; Buckingham; Ashley-Cooper; Lauderdale

Gave rise to ministerial responsibilities

Parliament did not give Charles enough money to rule - but acknowledged his divine right

For 200,000 pounds, Charles agrees to:
a) relax laws against Catholics
b) re-catholicize England
c) support France against the Dutch policies
d) convert to Catholicism

The people feared:
a) a Catholic dynasty
b) hated Louis XIV and absolutism
c) hated Catholicism

The Commons passed a bill excluded Catholics for the throne

Charles dissolved Parliament - the bill never passed

James II succeeded his brother

James appointed Catholics to high positions - contrary to the Test Act

James suspended the law at will and England feared absolutism

Wealthy English men offered the throne to James’s Protestant daughter Mary and William

He also declared religious freedom for all

Two events signaled revolution
i) seven bishops were arrested for not complying with the Declaration of Indulgence
ii) James’s second wife produced a male heir


Triumph of Government

The "Glorious Revolution" had very little blood and was the end of divine-right monarchy in England

Sir Walpole - created the office of "Prime Minister" and developed the Cabinet as being responsible to the House of Commons

William and Mary accepted the throne but recognized the supremacy of Parliament

The rights of the people were listed in the Bill of Rights


The Bill of Rights

Laws were made by parliament and could not be suspended by the Crown

Parliament had to be called at least every 3 years

The Crown would not interfere with Parliament

Judges would be independent

No standing army in peace time

English monarch must be Protestant

Freedom of worship to Protestant dissenters


John Locke

Second Treatise of Civil Government defended the revolution:
a) People set up governments to protect life, liberty, and property
b) If government oversteps the bounds then it is tyranny, people have a natural right to revolt

The revolution was not democratic

Sovereignty rested with Parliament

Parliament reflected the Upper Class

Created a constitutional monarchy - the age of aristocratic government


The Dutch Republic

Model for other constitutional states

1581 - 7 provinces of the Union of Utrecht form United Provinces

Independence confirmed by Treaty of Westphalia (1648)

Led to the "Golden Age" of the Netherlands

Power was held by regents in an oligarchy

States General handled foreign affairs

States General appointed stadholders (representatives) in each province

Confederation was a weak collection of separate states

Holland (largest navy) dominated

Dutch were republicans and Calvinists

Upper class and middle class believed in hard work

Political success based on economic prosperity

*They were tolerant of religion

Toleration attracted investment

Herring fishing was the cornerstone of their success

Profits stimulated shipbuilding

Became transporters - not exporters

1602 - Dutch East India Company created, a joint-stock company

East and West India Companies became tools of imperialism

Amsterdam became the center of trade

Bank of Amsterdam was the place with the lowest credit rate and was easiest to attain

Highest standard of living in Europe

"island of plenty in a sea of wants"

Decline began with Peace of Utrecht (1713) after the costly War of Spanish Succession by William of Orange