century French Absolutism and Eastern European Absolutism:
One political theory, Different Applications
After about 1300, in which the Black Death devastated Europe’s population and
economy, the east and the west went in different directions in terms of absolute rule.
Henry IV, and later Louis XIV, restored his country through paradigm shifts from feudalism to
capitalism and mercantilism, the weakening of the nobility, and the establishment of a standing
army. Rulers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia emulated these aspects of absolutism except Eastern
absolutism rested in a different social reality: a powerful nobility, a weak middle class, and an
oppressed peasantry composed of serfs.
Furthermore, nobles in France were constantly subjugated under subjugate the monarch.
Cardinal Richelieu of France developed the intendant system, royal commissioners who
performed numerous tasks such as supervising the collection of taxes and recruiting men for
But their two primary purposes were to enforce royal order at local level and weaken the
influence of the regional nobility.
And when Louis XIV assumed the throne, he also distrusted
the nobility because of the humiliation he had faced from intrusive nobles during the Fronde.
Consequently, Louis XIV excluded the highest nobles from his royal council, thus weakening
their ancient right to advise the king and to participate in government; they became mere
instruments of royal policy.
And to monitor their activity, Louis placed them in his Palace of
Versailles, where the nobles preoccupied themselves with the luxuries of French classicism or
were bankrupting themselves on frivolities, to buy the most fashionable clothes and host lavish
parties. But in Eastern Europe, the nobility had greater power. In fact, the noble lord—the
Russian boyar, the Prussian Junker, the Austrian noble—all exerted complete control over their
serfs, undermined the medieval privileges of the urban classes, and heavily influenced the
Because of the financial deficit, more independent farmers became forced laborers, or