The age of absolutism began in the middle of the seventeenth century and went on to the end of the eighteenth century. In my opinion, the peak of absolutism was reached with the rise to power of King Louis XIV of France. Absolutism was a system of governing a nation by which the monarch had complete control over the country, thus giving them tremendous power. Their decision was incontestable and final. Absolutism would not function in this manner with a parliament and therefore, a country with an absolutist ruler had no parliament. They also made laws, set taxes and decided alone whether or not to take their country to war. However, absolutist monarchs also set up bureaucracies and raised armies which was in some respects leading to a more advanced society in so far as the arrival of a centralised state.Jacques Bossuet was both bishop and tutor to Louis XIV and his views on absolutism were very well defined.
He defined the difference between arbitrary power and absolutist power. He stated that it was the unconditional duty of the absolute monarch to look after the people. (Merriman, 1996, p.276) In order to legitimise this great power, absolute monarchs gave great support to the Catholic Church.
It was the proposal that for the church’s portrayal of the king as a sacred figure that the monarch would in return help to squeeze out the religious minorities. (Merriman, 1996, p.282) It was a mutual agreement that worked very well indeed. All absolutist monarchs were male with their first task being to produce an heir. This was often a very difficult task as the infant mortality rate at the time was very high with a large percentage of children not living beyond two years of age.France is very important throughout this age and is generally considered to be the birthplace of absolutism.
This statement is profoundly arrogant but was very accurate in terms of what absolutism was. Louis XIV saw him himself as God’s representative on Earth and he saw it as his sole responsibility to maintain order and take charge. (Merriman, 1996, p.292) He greatly influenced the general public and glorified his reign through careful manipulation of the press (Merriman, 1996, p.292). For instance, in order to influence public opinion he had many royal censors who prohibited many publications and banned all foreign works from being circulated in the public domain (Merriman, 1996, p.
292).Louis XIV took to the throne at a time when the French were looking for an escape and a figure to run a country which was deeply scarred by many years of war and “feudal and sectional disintegration” (Harris, 1967, p.77) I would argue that perhaps this was exactly what France needed in order to turn itself around. They needed desperately some form of stabilisation and control. In the preceding centuries, many wars had been both created and exacerbated by the often volatile mix of politics and religion. It was absolutism which attempted to free the country of these problems.
In my opinion, it was this fear which partly enabled absolutism as a governing regime to continue. Louis XIV had a very successful form of social control among his nobles. He built great palaces such as the palace of Versailles in which he housed more than 10,000 of his nobles, officials and servants. (Merriman, 1996, p.294) This was a very efficient way of keeping check on the most important and influential people in France at the time.
Louis XIV learned that if his nobles challenged each other in vying for position in his hierarchy, they could not become too powerful and challenge his own authority. (Merriman, 1996, p.294) This is partly how Louis XIV maintained his absolutist power and reigned as king for over 70 years. In France at the time of his reign, each province had its own regional parlement and it own set of laws. (Harris, 1967, p.
82)I would argue that although Louis XIV’s absolutist regime was successful in many respects it was never truly absolutist. He was restrained by his religion Louis XIV is an example of absolutism at perhaps its most successful and the ideologies of absolutism spread throughout Europe rapidly.In conclusion, absolutism was indeed a very shrewd method of governing a nation. In return for monarchical authority over the nobility, the nobles were guaranteed status and the monarch was guaranteed supreme authority. (Merriman, 1996, p.277) Although the absolutist regime was very successful in France, Charles I’s attempts at creating an absolutist nation failed. He was overturned by Oliver Cromwell during the English civil war because the king broke away from parliament.
(Merriman, 1996, pp.238-251)