18th Century Monarchy

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History 308
Mid-Term Exam
October 8, 2012

18th century monarchy

Royalty and power has always been one of the major underpinnings of Western Civilization. Throughout the course of European history, empires have risen and kingdoms have fallen. The eighteenth century marks a time of great change and diversity for European empires and monarchs. It was a time of enlightenment, a break from custom and tradition, absolutism and constitutional rule. Based on this great rate of change, diversity and ultimate decline of monarchial rule, the definition of monarchy may be left to interpretation. Throughout the course of this essay I will analyze the different governing systems, the change, and decline in monarchial rule. With an analytical approach to this subject, we will then apply a working definition to the term “monarchy” and its implications in the context of eighteenth century Europe.

Europe, in the 1700s, consisted of two different types of government systems: constitutional monarchy and absolutism. Europe, as a whole, was predominately under absolutist rule, England being one of the expectations. Constitutional monarchy is a system in which the monarch has shared and limited power with the parliament. In contrast, absolutism is a system in which the monarch has unlimited power and control over his or her country and society. Absolutism, in theory, claimed that the monarchial position was acquired by social contract, inheritance and divine right. However, it is important to note that Eastern European absolutism differs from Western European absolutism but shared an ultimate goal for centralized power.

With the basic definitions of these different governing systems we will now examine these systems and the monarchs who ruled them. Western Europe included monarchs such as Louis XIV and Louis XV. Louis XIV, like the other monarchs, believed that he was in power because of divine rule. He is known as one of the most significant figures when it comes to absolutist rule. He wanted full power over the peasants, aristocracy and separation from the church. Being reliant on the church or aristocracy was not an option for Louis XIV. He controlled taxes, built a strong army and at the expense of the peasantry, pursued territorial expansion. Louis XV, grandson of Louis XIV, did not control the aristocracy as much as his grandfather. Instead of being fully engaged like Louis XIV, he was more passive and created more councils and official offices to conduct affairs. History has shown us that Louis XV was more interested in his many mistresses than the control of his state. Apart from his reforms, Louis XV’s reign can be marked as one of the declining points of the crown’s political and moral authority. Some of the significant Eastern absolute monarchs of this time included: Peter the Great, Catherine, Fredrick William, and Frederick II. Eastern Monarchs lacked the support and collaboration from their nobles like the West. Absolute monarchs of Eastern Europe also moved towards a more enlightened system of governing. Fredrick of Prussia had a very effective bureaucracy and focused heavily on his army. He too wanted a centralized government, taking power from the local nobles and appointed power to royal officials. Fredrick II, who took power after the death of his father, expanded absolute rule over Prussia. He was heavily influenced by enlightenment thought and made his mark as a very effective absolute monarch. However, his rule was unlike the rest. He wanted to stir away from self-interested rule and rather rule for the greater good of his people. He became the “first servant of the state.” In context, this was a step away from absolute power and into the direction of a societal based rule. In Russia, Peter the Great wanted a centralized and absolute rule over his people. He regulated economic activity and established a strong military. He wanted to divide, control and change the church and its practices. The Church has...
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