The Age of Absolute Monarchs
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In the 1500s and 1600s, several rulers in Asia and Europe sough to centralize their political power. Claiming divine right, or authority from God, leaders such as Philip II in Spain and Louis XIV in France gained complete authority over their governments and their subjects.

England resisted the establishment of absolutism. After a civil war, England’s Parliament enacted a Bill of Rights that limited the English monarch’s powers.


Main Ideas:

  • Monarchs acted to establish absolute power

  • Monarchs used the divine right theory and similar ideas to justify their power

  • Parliament and the Puritans in England resisted absolutism

  • A limited monarchy was established in England

Thomas hobbes 1588 1679
Thomas Hobbes (1588 –1679)


  • “Man is selfish & wicked”

  • Absolutism

  • Social Contract= People hand over rights to a strong ruler

    • agreement between society & its govt.

Thomas Hobbes saw Society as a giant machine (perpetually in motion), thus the title of his great work, The Leviathan, which is founded on Mechanics (the Motion of Bodies / Matter). In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the natural state of man (without any civil government) is war,... the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ... The condition of man ... is a condition of war of everyone against everyone. According to Hobbes, man in the state of nature seeks nothing but his own selfish pleasure, but such individualism naturally leads to a war in which every man's hand is against his neighbour. In pure self-interest and for self-preservation men entered into a compact by which they agreed to surrender part of their natural freedom to an absolute ruler in order to preserve the rest. The State determines what is just and unjust, right and wrong; and the strong arm of the law provides the ultimate sanction for right conduct. 

John locke 1632 1704
John Locke (1632 – 1704)

  • Believed

    • “Man can learn & improve themselves”

    • Against Absolutism

    • People can overturn a bad government

    • People have the power to form a govt.

    • People are born w/natural rights!

      • Life

      • Liberty

      • Property

The Age of Absolutism

16th & 17th Centuries

  • System of government

  • King or Queen has complete control over government & its people

    • Autocracy

    • Centralized Government

    • Nation states


  • Monarchs based their claim on Divine Right

    • Authority comes from God

    • Similar to “Mandate of Heaven”

  • Monarchs are “Above the Law”

  • Common features- Strong armies,limited representative bodies, high taxes

Causes of Absolutism

  • Breakdown of Feudalism/ Rise of Nation states

  • Continuous Warfare

  • Need for money

  • Exploration

  • Declining influence of the church

Effects of Absolutism

  • Regulation of Religion & society

  • Loss of power by nobility & legislatures

  • New government Bureaucracies

  • Huge building projects

Absolutism in Spain

  • The Hapsburg Monarchy

  • 1556 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V divides empire

    • Son Phillip II rules Spain, Netherlands & Italy

Philip II (1556-1598)

  • Promoted “Golden age of Spain”

  • Wealth from colonies helped buildup military

  • Defender of Catholicism

    • 1588-Spanish Armada defeated by England (Elizabeth I)

  • 1600’s Spain power declines

    • Financial problems


Spanish Armada Defeated

"Protestant Wind"

Absolutism in France

  • The Bourbon Monarchy

  • Henry IV increases power of Govt. & decreases power of nobility

  • Louis the XIII strengthens & builds up military

    • Cardinal Richelieu subdues nobles & Huguenots

Louis XIV

"The Ultimate Absolutist"

  • Known as “The Sun King”

  • Ruled for 72 years

  • Mercantilistpolicies

  • Built the strongest army in Europe

  • Expanded bureaucracy

  • Never called the Estates General

  • Persecuted the Huguenots

    • French Protestants

  • Built Lavish palace @ Versailles

    • “Gilded Cage” for nobility

  • His successors inherited enormous debts (costly Wars & extravagance)

Absolutism in Russia

  • 1480 Russian rulers drive Mongols out

  • Early Czars Ivan III & Ivan IV (Terrible) used harsh methods to unify Russia & strengthen Monarchy

  • 1613 Michael Romanov begins Romanov Dynasty

Peter The Great


  • Grand Embassy tour

    • Toured Europe learning new technologies

  • Westernization/Modernization

    • Introduced western ideas

      • Laws, technology, culture

  • Built largest army in Europe

    • Won territory along the Baltic Sea

      • St. Petersburg becomes “Window to the West”

        • Major trading port & new capital

  • Centralized power in Europe

  • Reduced power of the nobility

  • Brought Orthodox Church under his control

Early Checks on English Monarchs in Europe

  • 1215 King John forced to sign Magna Carta

    • Limited King’s powers

  • 1295 Edward I establishes Model Parliament

    • Lawmaking body

    • House of Lords & House of Commons

Henry VII in Europe1485-1509

Henry VIII1509-1547

Edward VI1547-1553

Parliament keeps the Monarchy in Check

  • Parliament successfully blocked attempted shifts to absolute rule

  • The Tudor Monarchs(1485-1603) generally worked well w/ Parliament

  • Ex. Henry VIII & Elizabeth I

Mary I in Europe1553-1558

Elizabeth I1558-1603

James I

The Stuart Monarchs

  • Had absolutist tendencies (Strong belief in Divine Right)

  • James I & son Charles I Consistently clashed with Parliament over finance & foreign policy

  • Angered Puritans

The English Civil War in Europe

  • Known as the Puritan Revolution (1643)

  • Charles’s Cavaliers vs. Roundheads led by Oliver Cromwell

  • Charles I is overthrown by forces loyal to Parliament

    • beheaded in 1649

Cromwell & the Commonwealth in Europe

  • England became a Republic called the Commonwealth

  • At first Cromwell & Parliament share power

  • 1653 Cromwell assumes Title of Lord Protector & rules as a dictator

  • Cromwell brutally put down revolts in Ireland & Scotland (Genocide)

Restoration & The Glorious Revolution in Europe

  • Upon Cromwell’s death, Parliament restores Stuart Monarchy to throne

  • Charles II & James II became unpopular due to absolutist policies

  • Parliament fears return of Catholicism(James II)

  • Parliament overthrows James II & asks William & Mary to assume throne (Glorious Revolution)

  • 1688-William & Mary forced to sign in Europe English Bill of Rights is signed

    • Guarantees Parliament’s superiority over the Monarchy

  • England becomes a Limited Monarchy (Remains today)