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McGill University
HIST 215
Sarah Waurechen

Tuesday January 15th 2013 Librarian Office Hours: Tuesday 2:00-4:00 Leacock 632 [email protected] The Age of Absolutism What is the difference between absolutism and arbitrary government, and how did contemporaries distinguish between these categories? I. TheoriesofAbsolutism A. Divine-Right Monarchy 1. King’s got their authorities directly by God, who made sure they were born to power 2. Society was composed by analogous hierarchies' (God-Kind-Nobles-Everyone else) a) King was the supreme authority within politics B. Jean Bodin (1530-1596) 1. Trying to find out how to avoid civil wars a) France: many civil wars between the Catholic majority & the Huguenots b) He wrote his Six Books of the Commonwealth (1) Arguedthatsovereigntyhadtobeindivisibleaswellasabsolute (a) Sovereignty: Legitimate power as recognized authority within a state (b) Absolute: Complete (2) Why? Because of the war context, this is the only way to prevent civil strife (a) One authority - no competition (b) So the monarch should hold sovereignty i) By wielding his power he would best provide for the common good 2. Building a religious account of monarchy C. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1669) 1. Also the product of civil strife: supported the king in English civil wars 2. Trying to figure out how to avoid the state of war a) Provide a secular theory of absolutism b) Achieve security and prevent man from acting in a way to challenge that security (1) Escape the state of nature (a) Give up their natural rights and freedoms in exchange for protection (2) A governments legitimacy is based upon its ability to protect (a) Strong central authority II. Practice A. The English Context 1. Often a conflation between absolutism and arbitrary government a) Because of the common law context b) Charles I and James II use prerogatives badly (1) This results in fights between the crown and parliament c) Arbitrary gov. is then linked to monarchy 2. Known as a mixed monarchy a) Where crown and parliament have to work together b) The customs of the land, not the monarchs will, protect the common good c) Therefore you do not see absolutism taking route III. LouisXIV(1643-1715)andVersailles:TheQuintessentialAbsolutistKing A. At the time of his ascension, he was 5, so his mom ruled as regent in his place 1. Regent: rules in the name of the king until he reaches the age of majority 2. During this time, there were both noble revolts (against the monarchy) and popular uprisings (against taxation) B. 1651 at 13 Louis XIV declared himself able to rule 1. He put down rebellions 2. Put down the right of the parlements to formally protest against the crown a) Parlements: councils composed of nobility and bureaucrats (legal councils) 3. Positions himself as the ultimate unchallenged authority a) He solidified this by selecting bureaucrats who would be loyal to him b) Did this by controlling the patronage system (1) So people were indebted to him (2) He charges for all of these favors C. Created the first french ministry of war 1. Again through the patronage system and paid a heavy sum to get their positions 2. Soldiers trained and lived together where they learnt the best tactics, discipline and closely supervised D. L’etat C’est Moi 1. Embodiment of all power within France 2. Like the sun, he felt that he shone on everything E. Harsh censorship laws F. Located to Versailles 1. Home to the monarchy until the french revolution 2. Gardens with statues of Apollo (sun god) 3. Had 700 rooms to house the nobility and staff a) How Louis controlled his nobles (1) Less capable of plotting against the king/squabbling against themselves b) Honor was marked by proximity to the king (1) Reasserted central role of monarchy in providing order and stability G. Louis XIV believed territorial gain was a measure of his greatness 1. Fought the Spanish crown and Austrian Habsburg 2. Kept England out of it by secret payments and Catholic alliances a) But when William of Orange comes to power England entered the fray 3. 1707: parliamentary union (Scotland and England and now one) a) All of Britain are at war with France 4. Also fought in the Atlantic: Build up extensive Atlantic empire 5. His great-grandson replaced him when he died a) He too required a regent because he was so young IV. ThelimitsofFrenchAbsolutistRule A. Religious Issue 1. Louis also wanted to straighten out the religious question 2. Revokes the Edict of Nantes a) Cause many Huguenots to flee b) Those who do not flee face are forced with conversion B. When he came to the throne France was the premier kingdom in Europe 1. His unrestrained ambition caused France to be trumped by Britain a) Britain was able to more effectively collect taxes and develop colonies C. Parenial Limitations 1. Not a totalitarian Regime a) They lacked the technology and infrastructure to emphasize absolutist ideal (1) Administrators, whether or not their were loyal, had to take local dynamics into account when wanting to impose his will (a) There were a lot of peasants who could have caused trouble (b) So you must negotiate (use carrot and stick) (2) Pockets of people outside crown control (a) I.e mountain rages that are cut off from control (3) Areas where the nobility can push back (a) Provincial Estates - regions that remain some historic autonomy (b) Parlements: needs them to register, publicized & effect royal decrees (4) Estates Generals (a) National representative body for France (b) Met at the monarchs will - had not been called on since 1649 V. OtherEuropeanExperimentswithAbsolutism A. Prussia ruled by the Hohenzalllerns 1. Worked to centralize bureaucracy and have a standing army 2. Aspires to be a power in the Holy Roman Empire
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