IN EASTERN EUROPE: Austria, Russia and Prussia
In many respects the rise of absolutism was a natural response to the chaos of the religious wars. The theory of cuius regio, eius religio which evolved from the Peace of Augsburg (1555) was the first step on the road to empowering the monarchy. Absolute monarchs already had a foundation on which to build, the New Monarchs of Europe had created larger territorial states, which required a new, more effective form of government.
Ironically philosopher Thomas Hobbes,
a strong proponent of absolutism, developed his ideas in England, the least
absolute state in Europe! He
proposed in his Leviathan (1651) that an absolute monarch could have prevented
the chaos of the English Civil War.
Hobbes said that life was, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and
short”. He went on to suggest
that people would only listen if they did not fear the consequences. Therefore,
individuals entered into a contract with the ruler – surrendering their rights
for protection. French philosopher
Jacques Bossuet went even further, claiming that rulers had authority from God.
It is important here to note that
these rulers were absolute rulers and not arbitrary.
When they acted, they often did so out of a feeling of responsibility for
the masses. They realized that
they, and they alone were responsible for the needs of the people.
Yet this is where eastern and western absolutism diverge.
Western monarchs understood the necessity of working with advisors such
as parlements in France, Cortes in Spain, or Parliament in Britain.
Before analyzing the individual
countries and the role of the monarchy, perhaps one would be best served to find
the characteristics that are common in absolutism.
All absolute states benefited from extensive tenure by one dynasty.
Such dynastic rule facilitated obvious advantages such as continuance of
policies, avoidance of internal competition, increased significance of treaties
and marriage alliances. The
strength of the absolute state could be seen in the large centralized
bureaucracy and the ability to maintain a large standing army to expand policies
at home and abroad.
The rulers of Central and Eastern
Europe shared many of the same structures.
Each had a strong ruler who maintained ties with the nobility through
dispensing concessions. The
concessions granted to the nobility gave them far more autonomy than in the
west. Consequently, the peasants
suffered significantly more in eastern Europe than in the west because of
In eastern Europe during the
seventeenth century the rights of the peasants were taken away.
As a labor shortage swept eastern Europe workers became a necessity and
as a result the movement of peasants was restricted.
Peasants lost their land and were forced into more obligations for their
lords. Between 1500 and 1650
conditions worsened and serfs could be killed for nothing
Political factors accounted for the
Weaker kings were forced to give more
freedom to landlords
Landlords sold directly to foreign
capitalists and abolished the need for a middle class
War and the threat of war aided the
Would-be absolutists gained power in
a) imposed and collected permanent taxes without consent
b) maintained permanent armies
c) conducted relations with other states as they pleased
The Habsburgs were exhausted after
the Thirty Years’ War, but they still remained emperors of the Holy Roman
The real power lay with 300 varying
political entities that shared a geographic region, but had very little else in
Conditions for serfs became worse
The robot - 3 days of unpaid labor a
week became the norm, many serfs worked everyday except Sunday
In 1683 the Ottomans laid siege to
Vienna. After two months the Turks
were eventually forced back by fresh troops who had come to the aid of the
Austrians. Pushing forward against
the Ottomans, the Habsburg troops captured Budapest in 1686 and acquired nearly
all of Hungary in the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699).
The Habsburg troops were led by Prince Eugene of Savoy, whom would go on
to play a prominent role in the War of Spanish Succession.
The Habsburgs then turned to fight
the Ottomans, who under Suleyman the Magnificant ruled the most powerful empire
in the world
The Habsburg state had 3 parts:
b) kingdom of Bohemia
c) kingdom of Hungary
The Hungarians resisted because many
wanted to remain Protestant
Hungary allied to Turkey
During the War of Spanish Succession
the Hungarians led by Prince Francis Rakoczy rebelled.
Rakoczy was defeated but it led to a compromise
a) Hungary accepted Habsburg rule
b) Charles VI restored the rights of the aristocracy of Hungary
By Austrian law women were not
allowed the claim the throne of Austria. In
1711 Holy Roman Emperor and Austrian monarch Charles VI issued the Pragmatic
Sanction (1713) which persuaded Europe’s rulers to accept a female monarch and
to never divide the Habsburg lands.
Maria Theresa became queen of
Austria. She took local control
away from the regional diets, made German the language of the empire, created a
large bureaucracy, taxed the nobility and the clergy and took control of the
Roman Catholic Church.
1740 Frederick II became king of
Prussia, rejected the Pragmatic Sanction and invaded the Austrian province of
Silesia. This started the War of
Austrian Succession (1740-48). Great
Britain, and the Dutch supported Austria; France and Spain supported Austria.
In 1748 the war ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
The Austrians could not stop the Bourbons from gaining control of the
Spanish throne, Frederick kept Silesia and Austria received the Spanish
Netherlands (Belgium) as compensation.
Joseph II succeeded his mother in
1780 and as an enlightened despot he initiated sweeping reforms.
Personally, he was against serfdom and abolished the robot in 1789, the
year of the French Revolution. However,
these reforms came too fast and many peasants took advantage of the situation
and revolted. Leopold II followed
Joseph and repealed most of the reforms to pacify the nobility.
He reintroduced serfdom and the robot, which remained in existence until
the revolution of 1848.
The Mongols ruled and unified the
eastern slavs for more than 200 years. The Mongol Khan was supreme ruler.
Mongol rule was absolute and violent, uprisings were brutally suppressed.
The Mongols used local princes to collect taxes and as servants and
through cooperation, Moscow became the most loyal city.
Eventually the prince of Moscow was the tsar and he was an absolute rule
Moscovite authority was based on:
a) Ivan III stopped acknowledging the khan as a supreme ruler
b) after the fall of Constantinople (1453) the tsars saw themselves as heirs to the caesars and Orthodox Christianity
All the other kings of Europe were
Ivan III (1442-1505) ended Mongol
domination of Russia and took the title Tsar (Caesar) proclaiming himself heir
to the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire).
He confiscated 80% of Novgorod, keeping half and gave the rest to his
nobles, causing a rise in service nobility.
Ivan IV "the Terrible"
grandson of Ivan III who started westernizing Russia was a contemporary of Queen
Elizabeth I of England. Ivan the
Terrible claimed all nobles had to serve the tsar in order to hold office.
His purges depopulated much of Russia, forcing many peasants to flee west
to hide and form groups called Cossacks. Ivan
believed he owned all the trade and industry which sharply contrasted with
capitalism in western Europe.
The ruling Moscovite family died out
in 1584 which led to the Time of Trouble (1584-1613). The "Time of
Trouble" followed the death of Ivan the Terrible, especially after Ivan’s
son and heir died. The rebellion of
the peasants caused problems for the aristocracy.
The social confusion and possibility of war brought the nobles to their
senses. The tsar relaxed
obligations of nobility, but increased pressure on the peasants.
In an attempt to end the turmoil the
Russian nobility (boyars) elected the young Michael Romanov (r. 1613-54) as tsar
in 1613. The Romanov family ruled
until 1917 when Nicholas II was overthrown in the Revolution.
Stability was restored by Michael, but the steltsi (Moscow garrison) and
the boyars (nobility) continued to challenge his authority.
Moscovy in 1689, was 3 times larger
than the rest of Europe, but people were the primary unit of taxation.
Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725)
established stability after the Times of Troubles (1584-1613) and turned Russia
into an empire. Peter was
fascinated by geography and spent 18 months touring Europe in disguise.
The steltsi, taking advantage of Peter’s absence, rebelled in 1698 -
Peter brutally suppressed the revolt.
He forced the boyars to accept
western ways including shaving and allowing women to attend social functions
In 1703 he built a new capital called
St. Petersburg the "window to the West"
The best part of the army was the
cavalry comprised of the boyars and nobility
Peter wanted to improve the army but
it only served part-time
The sons of nobles
were forced to attend military or engineering schools and prohibited from
marrying until they had done so.
Created a standing army of 200,000
men, recruitment was for life
Russia won the Great Northern War
(1700-21) against Sweden’s Charles XII including the Battle of Poltava (1709)
and signed the Peace of Nystad (1721) ending the war.
Russia annexed Latvia and Estonia
Westerners and western ideas flowed
The gap between the educated and the
peasants widened. Few Russians were
wealthy, the vast majority of people were poor uneducated peasants.
New ideas of statehood took hold and
Russia became closer to Europe than Asia
Forced boyars to serve the state by
enlisting in the civil or military service
1722 - issued the Table of Ranks -
provided social position and privileges based on rank in the military or
bureaucracy – not status.
Forced China to accept Russia’
claim for Siberia
To make the Russian Orthodox Church
more secular he abolished the office of patriarch - established the Holy Synod
Peter had his son, Alexis, imprisoned
in 1718, where Alexis died under mysterious circumstances.
When Peter died in 1725 the Russian empire was six times larger than
during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.
Without a designated successor the
nobility and the military fought for almost fifty years.
In 1762 the weak Peter III became tsar and shortly after was assassinated
with his wife’s approval. The
widowed queen who took control was the German Catherine who would go on to rule
on her own for over thirty years.
Catherine the Great (r. 1762-96)
admired the ideas of the Enlightenment and corresponded with Voltaire.
However, she did little to reform Russia.
Serfs became the property of the nobles and consequently could be treated
From 1773 to 1775 the peasants
rebelled. Led by Emelian Pugachev
the serfs tried to gain certain rights. Pugachev
was captured and beheaded.
Defeated the Ottomans and expanded
Russia’s southern border. Russia
gained control of the Black Sea and her warm water ports as well as control of
the straits to the Aegean Seas. Also
the treaty made a vague reference to Russia being the protector of the Orthodox
Christian subjects of the Sultan – this would later be invoked as justifiable
cause for Russian intervention in affairs of the Ottoman Empire.
Divided Poland with Austria and
Prussia. Poland ceased to exist until 1919
In the 1785 Charter of the Nobility
Catherine made sweeping concessions to the nobility.
exempt from taxation
exempt from required military service
gained complete control over their estates and serfs
Catherine was the last of great absolute monarchs
She died in 1796 when Europe was
challenging the idea of the monarchy
In 1415 the Hohenzollern family began
to rule as electors of Brandenburg. The
Hohenzollern family had little real power.
Choosing the Holy Roman Emperor was of little value and they had no
military strength. The Hohenzollern
power-base was Brandenburg and was cut off from Prussia, which was part of
Poland. In 1618 the Hohenzollern
prince died and Prussia returned to the Elector of Brandenburg.
Gradually they increased the size of their land until they were second
only to the Hapsburgs. The
Hohenzollern family formed an alliance with the Junkers (unlike the monarchy of
They practiced religious toleration
Improved the economy, abolished
torture, reorganized the tax system, imposed tariffs to protect Prussian
industry, made more land available for agriculture
The power of the Estates (the
Junkers) was weakened and elector Frederick William (Great Elector) assumed
absolute control. The Great Elector
(r. 1640-88) - started to rule Germany after it had been devastated by the
Thirty Years' War (1618-48). He
reduced the power of the landed aristocracy (Junkers) and the estates,
established the civil service and the army as the focus of the states’ power.
He also used the military and civil service to control the state - top
jobs went to the Junkers. In return
he did not interfere with Junker control of the serfs.
He wanted to unite 3 areas: Prussia,
Berlin, and the Rhine
There are 2 reasons he was successful
1) the wars between Sweden and Poland and the wars of Louis XIV seemed to create a sense of permanent crisis
2) the Junkers were unwilling to join the commoners against the crown
By 1688 Frederick I (r. 1688-1713)
had made Prussia one state. He
supported the Habsburgs in the war of Spanish Succession and was granted the
title “King of Prussia”.
Frederick William I (r. 1713-40)
"the soldier king" truly established Prussian absolutism.
He created the best army in the world and gave society military values.
Frederick William I always wore a
Created a strong centralized
Parliamentary government vanished as
Frederick William enlisted the Junkers to help him
Prussia was 12th in population, 4th
largest army clearly deserving of the title, the "Sparta of the
Royal absolutism in Prussia was
stronger than in Austria
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