Chapter 17 - The Age of Absolutism


Think about what it means to be a King or a Queen. You have a single individual (or perhaps a single family) who literally have the power to do anything they want, at any time, to anyone. Try to wrap your head around that idea for a moment. That is what it means to have absolute power. In Europe from roughly 1600 to about 1789 AD (or CE), this is how the kings and queens of Europe ruled their countries. Last year, you were taught that in Medieval Europe (which was feudalistic), kings were not all powerful. Instead, they were simply the most powerful Lord out of a group of similar individuals who were less powerful but still did not need to always listen to what the king wanted.

How did that change? How did Europe go from a decentralized system (meaning power is in the hands of many different people) to a very centralized system (meaning power is in the hands of a single, or very few, individuals). It changed for many different reasons. The most important are below.
  1. The Commercial Revolution - The use of money as a means of trade made kings more powerful than before. They had the ability to tax their Lords. Before the Commercial Revolution, this tax would be paid with things (goats, chicken, grain, military service). After the Commercial Revolution, the royal families of Europe demanded that they be paid in cold, hard cash. $$$$
  2. Professional Armies - Since the Kings had the most money, they were able to hire, equip and train large armies. In the Middle Ages, European kings couldn't afford to do such a thing. Now, with these large professional armies at their command, the kings could force their Lords to tear down their castles (which made Lords unable to defend themselves from their own kings). The Lords now depended on the King for protection.
  3. Get Money, Get Paid - It used to be that rich people didn't work. Ever. In fact, having to work was a symbol that you were not rich. After the Commercial Revolution, even Lords had to find ways to earn money. To do so, they went to the kings of Europe, hoping to be employed in the king's government. Since the King was supplying them with a salary, these Lords were very loyal to their king (boss).

So what is Absolutism?

Absolutism - A time period in Europe in which the MAJORITY (most) countries were ruled by Absolute Monarchs. what is an Absolute Monarch?

An Absolute Monarch.....

  1. Claims Divine Right - An Absolute Monarch claims that God (the Christian God), has given the King the power to rule. This means that any person who doesn't listen to the king is disobeying the will of God. This is very, very bad. In fact, to Europeans of this time, such a thing basically meant you were going to hell (assuming you believed the king was, in fact, chosen by God).
  2. Is an Autocrat - An Absolute Monarch has to be an autocrat. This means he/she has to have complete and total power over their country. They have they power to do anything they want. If they want every single poodle in their country beheaded, they can order it to be so. If they want the color blue outlawed, they can do so. If they want everyone who can't spell Mississippi executed, they can do so. No one can tell them what to do. They control what happens to everyone and everything.
  3. They have to be a ruler of a European country - While there are many autocrats who claim their god has chosen them to be king, the term Absolute Monarch refers specifically to European kings of this particular time period.
Important Questions to Consider
  1. If you were an Absolute Monarch, how would you prove you were chosen by God to rule?
  2. Imagine that our current President got on the news tomorrow and said that he deserves to be President for life because God wants him to be President. What would be the reaction by most people in our country?
  3. What if you were given absolute power over everyone in America. What would be three things you would do in your first week as the new King/Queen of America?

Vocabulary List

Review Sheet