Lauren Lay

11:40 Western Civilization

Absolutism: Chapter 15

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were hard times in Europe. The Reformation brought much confusion and mishap to the people. Many people believed in The Divine Right of Kings, which eventually led to the formation of an autocracy, or rule by a single person. This person was not to be questioned or disobeyed; this soon became known as "absolutism," since the monarch ruled with "absolute" power, that is, unshared power. These rulers ruled by a sovereign power that consisted of the authority to make laws, tax, administer justice, control the state\'s administrative system, and determine foreign policy.

During the seventeenth century in Europe many different systems of government existed. Louis XIV and absolutism reigned supreme. He was the most powerful person in his government, but some power still existed in his advisers, ministers, and the vast bureaucracy which he created. Louis XIV’s style of absolutism had a positive influence on France in the seventeenth century. Louis XIV’s brand of absolutism, constructed an effective government bureaucracy in France. Louis’s bureaucracy started with the division of France’s government into committees, subcommittees of the councils, and bureaus run by various ministers and secretaries of state. To make sure that his government ran as planned, Louis XIV used intendants to watch over officials, report on their actions, and if necessary take over their posts. With this framework, Louis XIV was able to run France efficiently. The efficiency of France’s tax collection system, which had a bureaucracy of tax collectors in twenty-six different districts, helped France gain economic stability.

Russian absolutism reached its peak in 1682, when Peter the Great ascended to the Russian throne. In Russia, a different form of absolutism existed. Ever since 1613, Russia was ruled by the Romano dynasty. Russia practiced serfdom, where people were basically slaves to the nobility of the land. Serfs had no rights, no property, and realistically no real life for themselves. The Romano dynasty was trying to restore political stability after the era of Ivan the Terrible. Peter I the Great, brought Western Ideals into Russia, who had previously rejected them and stuck to nomadic tribes. Peter returned and annihilated all who rebelled against him. Their corpses were left outside the palace walls as a reminder to anyone who would dare challenge him. Peter then began creating a massive army, using the peasantry to support it by making their weapons and armor. Foreign to any other absolutist government in Europe, a lowly cook by the name of Alexander Menshikov rose to a prince under Peter. This action could not happen anywhere else in Europe because a prince would have need to been blood related to royalty. After Peter the Great\'s death, there was no real heir to the throne. Many tsars attempted to rule, but all failed to live up to Peter\'s effectiveness.

The English had been under the combined rule of both the king and the assembly for so long that they weren\'t ready to give all the power of government to a single person. The merchants and land-owning nobles supported Parliament, where members could be elected and changed in necessary, rather than an absolute monarch with no restraints. Parliament voted funds for Charles to prosecute his war with France under one condition: he had to sign the Petition of Right and so agree to its terms. This he did, but he probably never intended to keep his word. In fact, Charles immediately broke his promise and, to avoid confrontation with Parliament, he dissolved it and refused to call it again until 1640. Now he had to make his way alone, without funds from Parliament. So Charles instituted the first major budget cuts in the history of the modern state: he made peace with his enemies since peace is cheaper than war; he then downsized the government administration, and he became extremely innovative in the raising of taxes. He did this by enforcing laws that had been unused for decades and he applied existing tax laws to areas that were never covered by them. Charles had one and only one goal: to rule England without Parliament, in other words, to rule England as an absolute monarch.

Constitutional monarchy and absolutism although related by royal rule, was vastly different in all aspects.