The Age of Absolutism (17–18th Century)Abstract“Absolute monarchy or absolutism meant that the sovereign* power or ultimate authority in the state rested inthe hands of a king who claimed to rule by divine right.”(Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization, St. Paul, 1991, p. 523)IntroductionThe Age of AbsolutismAbsolutism* is a term used by historians to describe a form of monarchical power that is unlimited by any otherinstitution, such as the church, parliament, or social elites. The absolute monarch exercises* ultimate authorityover the state and his subjects, as both head of state* and head of government.* In an absolute monarchy there isno constitution or legal restriction on the monarch's power. Absolute monarchy is normally hereditary* or passedon through marriage.The term Absolutism is typically used in combination with some European monarchs during the transitionfrom Feudalism* to early Capitalism*, and monarchs described as absolute can especially be found in the 17thcentury through the 18th century. The Age of Absolutism is usually thought to begin with the reign of Louis XIV(1643–1715) and ends with the French Revolution (1789).European Religious Conflicts of the 16th and 17th CenturiesAbsolutism was primarily motivated by the crises of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Protestant Ref-ormation (1517–1648) had led to a series of violent and bloody wars of religion, in the course of which thou-sands of innocents met their deaths. The population in the German states, for instance, was reduced by about15% to 30% in the Thirty Years’ War* (1618–48) whereas the population of France, at between 16 to 18 millionpeople in 1600, fell by 2 to 4 million during the French Wars of Religion* (1562–98). Similar wars took place inSwitzerland, Austria, Bohemia, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark.Partly because of the religious wars, but also due to a growing secularization,* religion was losing its gripon Europe. Inspired by the Renaissance and in particular by the Scientific Revolution, intellectuals took to think-ing outside the boundaries of church ideology; and since changes in the economy were noticeably increasing theprosperity* of many Europeans, European society became more and more secular.In this context, absolute monarchies were regarded as the solution to these violent disorders, and Europeanswere more than willing to have local autonomy* or political rights taken away in exchange for peace and safety.Decline of Feudalism and Origin of the Early Modern State At the end of the Middle Ages, Feudalism declined. While the old feudal system had been defined by a weakmonarchy attempting to control the lands of the realm* through mutual agreements with regional leaders of thenobility, the modern age was characterized by a rise of the king’s power in some parts of Europe. These kingswere soon to become absolute monarchs with a much greater power over the nobles and the common people.
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