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Royal Absolutism

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Royal Absolutism

During the 17th and 18th centuries, kings wanted absolute power over their kingdoms. Some kings, like Louis XIV, could accomplish this goal while others like Charles I, were executed. What was royal absolutism? How did a king become an absolute monarch? Why did Charles fail so miserably? Let's explore royal absolution!

Royal Absolutism Meaning

The royal absolutism definition is when a ruler gains complete control over their nation. To gain full control, a monarch must have control over the nobles, religion, and the people. Gaining control can be very difficult to achieve, and many kings were unsuccessful.

Royal absolutism emerged in the 17th century from scholars like Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes wrote The Leviathan, stating that before people had a ruler, they lived terrible lives. People need monarchs who can maintain all aspects of their lives. A robust, central ruler who alone had complete control.

Royal Absolutism Thomas Hobbes StudySmarterThomas Hobbes. Source: Wikimedia.

Then Bishop Bossuet introduced the divine right of kings. This belief was that God granted kings their authority. Divine right was traced back to the biblical King David who was chosen by God to lead the Israelites. If someone were to disagree with the king, then they also disagreed with God. Combining Hobbes and Bossuet's theories, we have a king chosen by God with absolute power that no one can oppose.

How to Become an Absolute Monarch

Earlier, we discussed that absolute monarchs had to control their nobles, religion, and people. Let's look a little deeper at that! So, 17th-century hierarchy had the king at the top, the nobles, the merchants, and the peasants. Nobles had a lot of power; in France, for example, there was a class of nobles called the Nobles of the Robe who worked as judges.

To control the nobles, the monarch could lock them away, kill them, or convince them to give up their power. Rulers could give the nobles' responsibilities to bureaucrats who were loyal to the monarchy and would do as they asked.

Bureaucrats:

A government official

Religion needed to be uniform, or it could threaten the rule of the king. Monarchs could purge non-conformists forcing them to flee to kinder kingdoms. Lastly, the peasants would blame heavy taxation on the nobles because they believed that their divine king would not overly tax them.

  • Absolute Monarchs Must Control:
    • The Nobles
    • Religion
    • The People

Royal Absolutism Opponents

So, who would oppose the divine king? Opponents of royal absolutism tended to be those who would lose power. Nobles would be against it because they would lose all of their power. The Nobles of the Robe's families had bought their title so they would lose a lot of money.

Some clergy opposed it if the monarch was of a different religion, then the clergy would be persecuted. Lastly, the people sometimes opposed it. When the absolute monarch raised taxation, the people suffered the most.

Clergy:People who are ordained to work for the church i.e., bishops, priests, the pope

Royal Absolutism and Mercantilism

Mercantilism is the economic theory that gold and silver are finite. These precious metals determine how rich a kingdom is so a ruler must collect as much of it as they can. To collect more, the kingdom would need a favorable trade balance which would mean that the kingdom would export more goods than it imported. The country that exports fewer goods than they import must pay the other country gold and silver.

Royal Absolutism Effects

Let's look at some of the positive and negative effects of absolutism. An absolute monarch can pass legislation far quicker than other forms of government. Absolute monarchies don't have to wait for anyone's approval, votes, or even counsel, they can simply pass legislation.

Absolute monarchs have stronger militaries. The monarch needed to be able to wage war whenever he chose so he needed a ready military loyal only to him. The ruler appointed the army's commander, and it could be whoever they wanted.

Absolute monarchs had full control over religion which meant that there was a uniform religion. People who believed something else were either persecuted or forced to flee to a more tolerable nation.

During the rule of Louis XIV, French Huguenots were forced to flee France because Louis was having them executed. Huguenots were French Protestants.

Lastly, attempting to run an absolute monarch could lead to rebellion or civil war. If the nobles or the people were against the monarch and refused to submit, then they could wage war against the ruler. This was the case with the English Civil War.

  • Pros:
    • Quicker mobilization of the military
    • Quicker legislation
  • Cons:
    • Religious persecution
    • Potential for rebellion

Examples of Royal Absolutism

Let's look at two cases of absolute monarchy, one is a success, and the other is a failure. Our success case will be Louis XIV who some historians consider to be the most successful absolute monarch. For our failure we will look at Charles I whose attempt at absolutism ended with his beheading.

Royal Absolutism in France

Louis XIV was crowned king in 1643 when he was four years old. His mother ruled for him as his regent until he was fifteen. In order to be an absolute monarch, he needed to strip the nobles of their power. Louis set about to build the Palace of Versailles. The nobles would relinquish their power in order to live in this glorious palace.

Royal Absolutism Palace of Versailles StudySmarterPalace of Versailles. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Over 1000 people lived at the palace including nobles, workers, Louis's mistresses, and more. He had operas for them and sometimes even starred in them. The nobles would try to obtain different privileges; one heavily sought-after privilege was helping Louis undress at night. To live in the castle was to live in luxury. Louis was called the Sun King because living with him was like being in the sun.

The church believed in the divine right of the king. So, with the nobles occupied and the church on his side, Louis was able to obtain absolute power.

Royal Absolutism in Britain

Charles I wanted to obtain absolute power, but England had a parliament. After the Petition of Rights in 1628, Charles wasn't allowed to raise taxes or go to war without Parliament. Charles was annoyed by this, so he simply did not call Parliament until 1640. Scottish Presbyterians had invaded, and the king wanted to go to war.

He assumed Parliament would grant his war but instead, they fired the archbishop who had angered the Scottish and then declared that Parliament had to meet at least once every three years. Charles was so angry that he ordered his soldiers to arrest Parliament and thus the English Civil War began.

Royal Absolutism Charles I StudySmarterCharles I and his wife. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The war lasted from 1642 to 1646 and ended when Charles was captured. In 1649 the king was executed. Charles was unable to strip the nobles of their power. He didn't have the support of the people either. Parliament was made up of elected officials so even the merchants and commoners didn't support Charles. The merchants preferred leaders that they voted for.

Royal Absolutism

Royal Absolutism gave monarchs the ability to completely control their countries. It was not easy for monarchs to obtain absolute authority nor was it easy to maintain. Absolutism affected everyone from the king to the commoners. While it may have offered the absolute monarch and those around them an easier life, it tended to make things difficult for everyone else.

Royal Absolutism - Key takeaways

  • Absolute Monarchs had to control the people, religion, and nobles
  • Absolutism and Mercantilism go hand in hand
  • Louis XIV was the most successful absolute monarch

Frequently Asked Questions about Royal Absolutism

Royal absolutism is when one royal figure has all of the power and control over the government.

Mercantilism is the belief that the world's precious metals are finite and for one king to be all-powerful then he would need as much of those resources as he can gather. He would have to maintain a favorable trade balance to do so.

Royal Absolutism first emerged in 17th century Europe.

Absolutism failed in England because King Charles I was unable to consolidate power. He could not strip the nobles of their power.

The most important opponents of absolutism were the nobles who did not want to lose power.

Final Royal Absolutism Quiz

Question

How did Peter the Great obtain his epithet "the great"?

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Answer

He gave it to himself when he declared himself emperor of Russia. 

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Why was Peter the Great's ascension to power so difficult? 

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Answer

People were unsure whether the inheritance should go to Peter, a healthy young boy, or Ivan V, a sickly and mentally-deficient man. Political turmoil ensued. 

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Question

What best describes Peter the Great's Grand Embassy? 

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Answer

An informal trip across Europe under a false identity, meant to obtain alliances and learn from western cultures. 

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What was NOT a reform by Peter the Great? 

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Answer

A formal mandate that all courtly men must wear beards, embracing Russian heritage. 

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How did Peter the Great enforce his reforms? 

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Answer

Through intimidation and force.

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What was the general reaction to Peter the Great's reforms? 

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Answer

General dissatisfaction, then acceptance based on Russian successes in foreign wars.

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Question

What was significant about the year 1721?

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Answer

Peter the Great declared Russia an empire with himself as emperor.

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What was significant about the land in the Baltic that Peter the Great captured through war? 

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Answer

It opened Russia's rising navy up to vast possibilities of new sea trade. 

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What was significant about Peter the Great's death? 

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He left no clear and long-lasting heir to his throne. 

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How did Peter the Great reform political verticality (the ability to raise your social status) in Russia?

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Answer

He established a civilian and military rank system that determined a person's status based on merit (and not heredity). 

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Who was the first absolute monarch in France?

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Answer

Louis XIII

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Who was the last absolute monarch in France?

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Answer

Louis XVI

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Question

What is the Divine Right of Kings?

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Answer

The belief that kings were God's appointed lieutenants on Earth and, as such, their subjects should follow their rule absolutely

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What is absolutism?

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Answer

Absolutism centered the government around a monarch who controlled taxation, lawmaking, and military operations.

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Whose reign represented the apex of French Absolutism?

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Answer

Louis XIV

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What was NOT a strategy Louis XIV used to strengthen his absolute monarchy?

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Answer

Selling off his lands

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What was NOT a reason why French Absolutism declined?

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Answer

No legitimate heirs

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How did Absolutism in France end?

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Answer

The French Revolution removed the monarchy altogether

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Who was Louis XIV's finance Controller-General?

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Answer

Jean-Baptiste Colbert

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What palace represented Louis XIV's absolute rule?

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Answer

Versailles

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At what age did Louis XIV become king?

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Answer

4

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What traumatic experience did Louis live through as a young man?

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Answer

A rebellion known as the Fronde

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What symbol did Louis XIV take to represent him and his rule?

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The sun

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What kind of ruler was Louis XIV?

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Answer

An absolutist ruler, and he was deeply involved in the day to day affairs of France.

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What adviser laid the foundations for Louis XIV's rule?

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Answer

Cardinal Mazarin

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Against what country did Louis XIV go to war to gain territory in Flanders?

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Answer

The Spanish Netherlands

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In which war was France less successful under Louis XIV, putting it into debt?

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Answer

The War of the Spanish Succession

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Which economic minister helped Louis XIV improve France's economy?

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Answer

Jean-Baptiste Colbert

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What religious group did Louis XIV persecute?

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Answer

French Huguenots (or Protestants)

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What new palace did Louis XIV construct?

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Answer

Versailles

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Who wrote the Leviathan?

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Answer

Thomas Hobbes

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Who popularized the idea of the divine right of kings?

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Answer

Bishop Bossuet 

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Who did monarchs need to strip the power from in order to become absolute rulers?

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Answer

Nobles

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What happens if an absolute ruler does not have a uniform religion?

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Answer

Other religions could threaten his rule

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Question

____ is the economic theory that gold and silver are finite. These precious metals determine how rich a kingdom is so a ruler must collect as much of it as they can.  

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Answer

Mercantilism

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Question

Who was the most successful absolute monarch?

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Answer

Louis XIV

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Question

Which of the following took away the English king's ability to raise taxes or declare war without Parliament?

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Answer

The Divine Right of Kings

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What happened to Charles I at the end of the Civil War?

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Answer

He was executed 

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Why was Charles I unable to achieve absolutism?

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Answer

He could not consolidate power

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Who did absolute monarchs have to control?

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Answer

The people, religion, and nobility

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Who was the first Russian ruler to use the term "emperor"?

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Answer

Peter the Great

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Russia considered itself a successor of which empire?

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Answer

Byzantine Empire

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Which is NOT an aspect of absolutism?

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Answer

A constitution

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Who rebelled against the Russian monarchy in 1825?

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Answer

Decembrists

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When did tsarist rule end in Russia?

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Answer

1917

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When did the Tsar allow for a constitution and a parliament?

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Answer

1906

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What is another term for Russian absolutism?

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Answer

Autocracy

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Question

When did Alexander II emancipate the serfs?

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Answer

1861

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Which Russian ruler wanted to Europeanize Russia?

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Answer

Peter the Great

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Question

Which strategic territory did Catherine the Great acquire on the Black Sea?

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Answer

Crimea

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