Armadeus Essay

This essay has a total of 4345 words and 18 pages.


The Theory of Absolutism
Absolute monarchy or absolutism meant that the sovereign power or ultimate authority in
the state rested in the hands of a king who claimed to rule by divine right. But what did
sovereignty mean? Late sixteenth century political theorists believed that sovereign power
consisted of the authority to make laws, tax, administer justice, control the state's
administrative system, and determine foreign policy. These powers made a ruler sovereign.

One of the chief theorists of divine-right monarchy in the seventeenth century was the
French theologian and court preacher Bishop Jacques Bossuet (1627-1704), who expressed his
ideas in a book entitled Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture. Bossuet
argued first that govemment was divinely ordained so that humans could live in an
organized society. Of all forms of gov ernment, monarchy, he averred, was the most
general, most ancient, most natural, and the best, since God established kings and through
them reigned over all the peoples of the world. Since kings received their power from God,
their authority was absolute. They were re sponsible to no one (including parliaments)
except God. Nevertheless, Bossuet cautioned, although a king's au thority was absolute,
his power was not since he was limited by the law of God. Bossuet believed there was a
difference between absolute monarchy and arbitrary monarchy. The latter contradicted the
rule of law and the sanctity of property and was simply lawless tyranny. Bossuet's
distinction between absolute and arbitrary gov emment was not always easy to maintain.
There was also a large gulf between the theory of absolutism as ex pressed by Bossuet and
the practice of absolutism. As we shall see in our survey of seventeenth-century states, a
monarch's absolute power was often very limited by practical realities. ...

The day after Cardinal Mazarin's death, Louis XIV, at the age of twenty three, expressed
his deterrnination to be a real king and the sole ruler of France:

Up to this moment I have been pleased to entrust the gov emment of my affairs to the late
Cardinal. It is now time that I govem them myself. You [secretaries and ministers of
state] will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them. I request and order you to
seal no orders except by my com mand, . . . I order you not to sign anything, not even a
passport . . . without my command; to render account to me personally each day and to
favor no one.

His mother, who was well aware of Louis's proclivity for fun and games and getting into
the beds of the maids in the royal palace, laughed aloud at these words. But Louis was
quite serious.

Louis proved willing to pay the price of being a strong ruler . He established a consci
entious routine from which he seldom deviated, but he did not look upon his duties as
drudgery since he judged his royal profession to be "grand, noble, and delightful." Eager
for glory, Louis created a grand and majestic spec tacle at the court of Versailles (see
Daily Life at the Court of Versailles later in the chapter). Consequently, Louis and his
court came to set the standard for monar chies and aristocracies all over Europe. Less
than fifty years after his death, the great French writer Voltaire used the title "Age of
Louis XIV" to describe his history of Europe from 1661 to 1715. Historians have tended to
use it ever since....

Although Louis may have believed in the theory of absolute monarchy and consciously
fostered the myth of himself as the Sun King, the source of light for all of his people,
historians are quick to point out that the reali ties fell far short of the aspirations.
Despite the central izing efforts of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, France still
possessed a bewildering system of overlapping au thorities in the seventeenth century.
Provinces had their own regional parlements, their own local Estates, their own sets of
laws. Members of the high nobility with their huge estates and clients among the lesser
nobility still exercised much authority. Both towns and provinces possessed privileges and
powers seemingly from time im memorial that they would not easily relinquish. Much of
Louis's success rested less on the modernization of ad ministrative machinery, as is
frequently claimed, than on his clever and adroit manipulation of the traditional
priorities and values of French society....

Instead of the high nobility and royal princes, Louis relied for his ministers on nobles
who came from rela tively new aristocratic families. Such were Michel Le Tellier,
secretary of state for war; Hugues de Lionne, secretary for foreign affairs; and Nicholas
Fouquet, su perintendent of finances. His ministers were expected to be subservient; said
Louis, "I had no intention of sharing my authority with them." When Fouquet began to
flaunt the enormous wealth and power he had amassed in the King's service, Louis ordered
his arrest and imprisoned

The maintenance of religious harmony had long been considered an area of monarchical
power. The desire to keep it led Louis into conflict with the French Hugue nots and the
papacy. Louis XIV did not want to allow Protestants to practice their faith in largely
Catholic France. Perhaps he was motivated by religion, but it is more likely that Louis,
who believed in the motto, "one king, one law, one faith," felt that the existence of this
minority undermined his own political authority. His anti-Protestant policy, aimed at
converting the Hugue nots to Catholicism, began mildly by offering rewards, but escalated
by 1681 to a policy of forced conversions. The most favored method was to quarter French
soldiers in Huguenot communities and homes with the freedom to misbehave so that their
hosts would "see the light quickly." This approach did produce thousands of imme diate
conversions. In October 1685, Louis issued the Edict of Fontainebleau.

In addition to revoking the Edict of Nantes, the new edict provided for the destruction of
Huguenot churches and the closing of their schools. Al though they were forbidden to leave
France, it is esti mated that 200,000 Huguenots left for shelter in En gland, the United
Provinces, and the German states. Through their exodus, France lost people who had com
mercial and industrial skills, although some modern scholars have argued this had only a
minor impact on the French economy. Perhaps a more important effect of the Huguenot
dispersal was the increased hatred of France that the Huguenot emigres stirred up in their
adopted Protestant countries. Whatever his motives, Louis's anti-Protestant policy was not
aimed at currying papal favor. Louis was a de fender of Gallicanism, the belief that the
monarchy pos sessed certain rights over the Catholic church in France, irrespective of
papal powers. In the 1670s, Louis claimed the regale or the right of the French king to
appoint the lower clergy and collect the revenues of a diocese when it was vacant. Pope
Innocent Xl condemned Louis's ac tions, threatening him with reprisals. Louis responded by
calling a special assembly of French clergy and direct ing them to draw up a Declaration
of Gallican Liberties. This document claimed that the pope's authority in France was
limited to spiritual matters and that even in spiritual matters, the pope was subject to
the decisions of a general council. The pope protested this challenge to papal authority
and the possibility of a schism loomed large. But neither side wanted to go that far.
After In nocent's death, a compromise was arranged, and by 1693 the Gallican articles had
been retracted.

from Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization (St. Paul, 1991) pp. 523-528

absolutism found root in some of Aristotle's theories: "Aristotle despotic government
(nearly convertible with tyrannical) is that of a single ruler that rules, not for the
public good but for his own."

Peter the Great
Known as the period of transformation, the reign of
"" in Russia was one of great change and
revolutionary movements towards modernity. As the Tsar Reformer, Peter embraced his
monarchy with zeal and aboluteness. He took an underdeveloped, primitive Russia and
forcibly pushed her to the road of progress, secularism, modernity, and eventual rebirth.
It was only through acknowledgment and utilization of his strengths and talents that
provided Peter with the insight to accomplish such a feat.

On September 22, 1689, Peter took control of the Russian throne under the guidance of his
mother. Prior to taking position on the throne, Peter entered manhood through the vast
amount of experiences he encountered at a very young age. "He lived through three coups
d'etat, constant threats of violence against his family, seven years of semi-exile, his
first military campaigns, an unprecedented journey to western Europe and a major revolt
against his rule. From these bitter personal experiences, these painful political
struggles, and these tentative approaches to war and government, Peter slowly learned the
strengths and weaknesses of his heritage."

As stated by V. O. Kliuchevsky, Peter's "contradiction in work, his errors, his
hesitations, his obstinacy, his lack of judgment in civil affairs, his uncontrollable
cruelty, and, on the other hand his wholehearted love of his country, his stubborn
devotion to his work, the broad, enlightened outlook he brought to bear on it, his daring
plans conceived with creative genius and concluded with incomparable energy, and finally
the success he achieved by the incredible sacrifices of his people and himself, all these
different characteristics make it difficult to paint one painting" of the Tsarist
Reformer. A multi-faceted man, Peter knew what it would take to deliver his people from
the chaotic disorder of the past into a more peaceful progressive future. Boundless energy
and an endless drive, Peter truly embodied the absolute stamina of a superhero.

Employing the doctrine of the Divine Right of kings, Peter had no problem acting as the
supreme authority with which he governed. And he readily accepted any role permitted to
him through this doctrine. In fact, in response to his responsibility as tsar, Peter
became "a soldier-king, a European diplomat, and a social reformer" to name a few. Also
known for his reforms, Peter transformed Russia politically, economically, and somewhat

Financially, Peter reopened trade for the Russians, creating a huge influx in their
economy and bringing prosperity back into the system. His expansionist mindset allowed for
the most startling development in trade to even occur; the emergence of Baltic trade.
While Peter looked globally for ways to extend the Russian borders, he also concentrated
on internal reform as well, such as internal transportation focused on the rivers of
Russia. Overall Peter's commercial reforms were a huge success.

Peter also geared his transforming abilities to that of the Russian Church. He chose not
to focus on Church doctrine, but rather the people who utilize this doctrine. He wanted
the people to be subject to his decree, not the mandate of the Church. Peter was
suspicious of the Church's political motivations and aspirations and chose not to trust in
the papal leadership. He believed that the Russian Patriarch was trying to become " a
second sovereign possessing power equal to or above that of the autocrat," thus
challenging his belief in the Divine Right of kings. While Peter did not have any major
accomplishments to speak of during his reign, he paved the way for the future leaders of
Russia to push to the forefront of politics, trade, and economics.

James II of England
The history of the English Monarchy has seen many great monarchs. Upon the death of Queen
Elizabeth in 1603, England crowned
"" as her
new king. By some, James is known as "the wisest fool in Christendom," while others hail
him as one of the greatest kings in the country’s history. But one thing is certain, James
II exemplifies all the traditional characteristics of an absolute monarch. His charisma
and innovativeness led to the accomplishment of many of his goals. His most prominent
characteristic, however, was his belief in and application of the idea of Divine Right.
These three characteristics make James II of England a prime example of an absolute

James hated fighting. In fact, because his mother was Mary, Queen of Scots, his especially
hated confrontations between Britain and Scotland. One of his three main goals as ruler of
England was to establish a peaceful Anglo-Scottish union. Also, one of his first
proclamations ordered the ceasing of all hostility at sea with Spain. He sought to
reconcile all of England's enemies, and as a result, the years 1604 to 1606 were some of
the most peaceful in English history. Although James did not realize his dream of an
Anglo-Scottish union, his intentions were some of the most noble.

Not only did James have good intentions with the country’s military standing, but also
with England's finances. Yet, James had little to no experience with finances, and left
the country in a worse state of financial stress than he found it. James began his reign
by having new coins minted with his picture on them. Little did James know that new money
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