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9-08-2015, 17:34


The seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are often viewed as the “age of absolutism” in terms of both political theory and the actual measures imposed by rulers. Customary privileges, legal variations, and geographic realities imposed limits on the abilities of absolute monarchs to impose their will, however, as did the enormous expenses of nearly constant warfare. Wars included Europe-wide confl icts such as the Thirty Years War, regional wars, civil wars, dynastic wars, revolts, and ultimately what has been termed the fi rst “world war,” the Seven Years War of 1755–63. All of these wars were fought with larger and more deadly standing armies and navies, and often involved shifting lines of alliance. Warfare shaped the internal political history of each state, which followed somewhat distinct patterns but also exhibited certain common themes: an expansion of centralized authority, whether held by a monarch alone or shared by a representative body; the continued development of government bureaucracy; and the pursuit of territorial power and colonial wealth. In France, Louis XIV sought to achieve legal and religious uniformity, and continually opposed Habsburg power, but his wars left the country fi nancially exhausted. The costs of an expansionary foreign policy led to political crises in Spain as well, which frequently declared bankruptcy and was forced to recognize the Dutch Republic as an independent country. In the British Isles, disputes with King Charles I over money, religion, and the limits of royal power led to civil war and an overthrow of the monarchy, but after years of warfare and social turmoil the monarchy was restored, leaving the gentry members of the House of Commons the most powerful group in England. After winning independence from Spain, the Dutch Republic became amazingly prosperous through international trade and policies of religious and social toleration. In eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian Habsburgs, Brandenburg-Prussia, Sweden, Poland, and Russia all saw struggles between the nobles and the ruler, and warfare with one another. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, rulers in many of these states, who saw themselves as “enlightened,” began programs of reforms designed to enhance their own power and military might, but also to improve the lives of their subjects. Louis XIV may have understood himself to be the state, and certainly thought that he ruled by divine right. Frederick II of Prussia declared that he was simply “the fi rst servant of the state,” whose power was justifi ed by the well-being of his subjects. Neither Louis nor Frederick expected his subjects to disagree, but, as we will see in the following chapter, by the last decades of the eighteenth century, some individuals in France and Prussia and other parts of Europe were not so sure that absolutism, or even limited monarchy, could ever truly be “enlightened.” QUESTIONS 1 How was absolutism put into practice in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, and what limited rulers’ abilities to impose their authority? 2 Both the Thirty Years War and the Seven Years War have been termed “modern” wars. What made them modern? The Seven Years War has also been called the fi rst “world war.” Why? Do these labels seem valid to you? 3 How did Cardinal Richelieu and later Louis XIV expand royal power in France? What problems emerged as a result of their actions? 4 Why did Spain decline in terms of economic and political power in the seventeenth century, despite the huge amount of wealth pouring in from the New World? 5 What were the major short-term consequences of the struggle for power between Parliament and monarchs in seventeenth-century England? The major long-term consequences? 6 How did religious, political, and social toleration lead to economic success for the Dutch Republic? 7 How did the balance of power and control of territory in eastern Europe shift among the Ottoman Empire, Austria, Brandenburg- Prussia, Poland, and Russia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? 8 How were the measures taken by the “enlightened” absolutist rulers of the late eighteenth century to build up their power different from those of seventeenth- century monarchs? How were they the same? FURTHER READING Accounts of absolutism and its limitations include William Beik, Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1985); Valerie A. Kivelson, Autocracy in the Provinces: The Muscovite Gentry and Political Culture in the Seventeenth Century ( Stanford : Stanford University Press , 1996). Many points of view on the “crisis of the seventeenth century” can be found in Trevor Ashton, ed., Crisis in Europe, 1560–1660 ( New York : Basic Books , 1965), and Geoffrey Parker and Lesley M. Smith, eds., The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, 2nd edn ( London: Routledge, 1997). Theodore Rabb’s reconceptualization of the issue is Struggle for Stability in Early Modern Europe ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1975). Two recent considerations of these issues are Philip Benedict and Myron P. Gutmann, eds., Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability ( Dover: University of Delaware Press , 2006), and “The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” special issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History 40/2 (Autumn 2009). For discussions of the role of warfare and its funding in the rise of states, see John Brewer , The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688–1783 ( Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 1990); Charles Tilly , Coercion, Capital, and European States AD 990–1990 ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1990); Brian M. Downing, The Military Revolution and Political Change: Origins of Democracy and Autocracy in Early Modern Europe ( Princeton: Princeton University Press , 1992); Rhoads Murphey , Ottoman Warfare, 1500–1800 ( New Brunswick, NJ : Rutgers University Press , 1999); Robert I. Frost , The Northern Wars: War, State, and Society in Northeastern Europe, 1558–1721 ( Harlow, UK : Longman, 2000); H. M. Scott, The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756–1775 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2001). Geoffrey Parker , ed., The Thirty Years War, 2nd edn ( London: Routledge, 1997) provides a selection of essays, and Peter H. Wilson , The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy (Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 2009) a detailed narrative. There are many works on various aspects of the English Civil War. Two examinations of its causes are Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution Revisited, rev. edn (Oxford : Clarendon Press , 1997), and Ann Hughes, The Causes of the English Civil War, 2nd edn ( Basingstoke, UK : Palgrave-Macmillan, 1998). David Scott, Politics and War in the Three Stuart Kingdoms, 1637–1649 ( Basingstoke, UK : Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003), provides a good narrative, while Jonathan Scott, England’s Troubles: Seventeenth-Century English Political Instability in European Context ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2000), examines the impact of events in England on the rest of Europe. Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution ( New York : Viking Press , 1972), remains the best analysis of all of the radical groups. For later developments, see Eveline Cruickshanks, The Glorious Revolution ( Basingstoke, UK : Palgrave-Macmillan, 2000), and Gerald Newman, ed., Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714–1837 ( New York : Garland, 1997). On the Netherlands, Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477–1806 ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1995), is a solid political history, while Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (New York : Vintage , 1997), looks more broadly at Dutch culture. General studies of France include William Doyle, ed., Old Regime France ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 2001), and Sharon Kettering, French Society, 1589–1715 ( Harlow, UK : Longman, 2001). On the Fronde, the authoritative work is Orest Ranum, The Fronde: A French Revolution, 1648–1652 ( New York : W. W. Norton , 1993). John B. Wolf , Louis XIV ( New York : W. W. Norton , 1968), remains the best biography in English of this dramatic monarch. For Spain, see John Lynch , Bourbon Spain, 1700–1800 ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1989). Studies that investigate political changes at a more local level include David Underdown , Fire from Heaven: Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century ( New Haven : Yale University Press , 1992); William Beik, Urban Protest in Seventeenth-Century France: The Culture of Retribution ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1997); Wayne te Brake, Shaping History: Ordinary People in European Politics, 1500–1700 ( Berkeley: University of California Press , 1998); John Morrill, Revolt in the Provinces: The People of England and the Tragedies of War, 1630–1648 ( London: Longman, 1999). For northern and eastern Europe, see D. G. Kirby , Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period: The Baltic World, 1492–1772 ( London: Longman, 1990); Simon Dixon, The Modernization of Russia, 1676–1825 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1999); Nancy Shields Kollman, By Honor Bound: State and Society in Early Modern Russia ( Ithaca, NY : Cornell University Press , 1999); Charles Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618–1815, 2nd edn ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2000); Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2000); Philip G. Dwyer , ed., The Rise of Prussia 1700–1830 ( Harlow, UK : Longman, 2000). On enlightened absolutism, John Gagliardo , Enlightened Despotism ( New York : Harlan Davidson, 1967), remains the standard analysis, while Hamish Scott, ed., Enlightened Absolutism: Reform and Reformers in Later Eighteenth-Century Europe ( London: Macmillan, 1990), presents a series of essays about different countries. James Van Horn Melton, Absolutism and the Eighteenth-Century Origins of Compulsory Schooling in Prussia and Austria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1988), looks at one area of concern for rulers, while Marc Raeff , The Well Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change through Law in the Germanies and Russia ( New Haven, CT : Yale University Press , 1983), remains an important, and highly critical, analysis of legal changes. For more suggestions and links see the companion website www.cambridge.org/wiesnerhanks . NOTES 1 From Richard H. Powers, ed. and trans., Readings in European Civilization since 1500 ( Boston: Houghton-Miffl in , 1961), pp. 129, 130 . 2 Quoted in Steven G. Reinhardt and Vaughn L. Glasgow , eds., The Sun King: Louis XIV and the New World ( New Orleans : Louisiana State Museum Foundation , 1984), p. 181. 3 Peter the Great, Table of Ranks, quoted in Richard Lim and David Kammerling Smith, The West in the Wider World: Sources and Perspectives, vol. II ( Boston: Bedford , 2003), p. 100. 4 James I, “ Speech of 1609 ,” in The Political Works of James I, ed. Charles Howard McIlwain (New York : Russell and Russell , 1965), p. 307. 5 Peter the Great, Decrees on Western Dress and Shaving, 1701 and 1705, quoted in Lim and Smith, The West, p. 99. 6 James I, Political Works of James I, p. 307.