Cover Slide
A History of Western
Chapter 16
Absolutism and
Constitutionalism in
Western Europe
(ca 1589-1715)
Yeah History!!!
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
• The centralization of monarchical power
and the dissolution of feudalism
characterized this period.
– Louis XIV created the model absolutist state
in France.
– Parliament restrained the absolutist
tendencies of the Stuarts.
Louis XIV and absolutism in France
• Louis XIV built on the work of his predecessors.
– He completed the construction of Versailles (begun
under Louis XIII).
– Versailles became a pleasure prison for the French
• Cardinal Richelieu had begun the process that
would weaken the French nobility.
– Richelieu made French governmental organization
more efficient.
– He wanted to destroy Habsburg states.
Hall of
The most spectacular manifestation of Louis XIV's absolute monarchy is his complex of palaces and gardens at
Versailles, located twelve miles southwest of Paris. In 1669, Louis commissioned the architect Louis Le Vau (16121670) to transform an existing royal hunting lodge into an elaborate and extensive palace, the Palais de Versailles.
Beginning in 1678, Jules Hardoin-Mansart (1646-1708) took over the project. He supervised the construction of the
Hall of Mirrors. The hall is more than 200 feet long and is framed by seventeen windows and seventeen arched
mirrors. The ceiling is lined with six cameos, twelve medallions, and nine monumental paintings executed by Charles
Le Brun (1619-1690). (Michael Holford)
Louis XIV and absolutism in France
• Mazarin succeeded Richelieu.
– Mazarin continued the work of his predecessor.
• Colbert was Louis XIV’s greatest finance
– He promoted the economic philosophy of
– His goal was self-sufficiency for France.
Louis XIV by Rigaud
Louis XIV by Rigaud
The best-known portrait of
Louis XIV was painted by
Hyacinthe Rigaud (16591743) in 1701. Louis, adorned
in his coronation garment
lined with ermine, stares
directly at the viewer as he
flaunts his legs bedecked with
high-heeled shoes. Rigaud's
ceremonial portrait succeeded
in capturing the essence of the
divine right absolutism of the
king who had proclaimed,
"l'etat, c'est moi" (I am the
state). (Louvre/R.M.N./Art
Resource, NY)
Louis XIV and absolutism in France
• Louis XIV’s extravagant wars were a
tremendous drain on the French
– The Peace of Utrecht brought an end to his
expansionist policies.
Map: Europe in 1715
Europe in 1715
The series of treaties commonly called the Peace of Utrecht (April 1713-November 1715) ended the War of the Spanish Succession and redrew the
map of Europe. A French Bourbon king succeeded to the Spanish throne on the understanding that the French would not attempt to unite the French
and Spanish crowns. France surrendered to Austria the Spanish Netherlands (later Belgium), then in French hands, and France recognized the
Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia. Spain ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain, for which it has been a strategic naval station ever since. Spain also granted to
Britain the asiento, the contract for supplying African slaves to America. (Copyright (c) Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.)
Copyright ©Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Spain declined during this period
• Spanish absolutism preceded that of the French. In the
1500s the kingdom of Castile developed the
characteristics of an absolute monarchy.
• The lack of a middle class (due in part to the expulsion
of Moors and Jews), agricultural crisis, population
decline, and failure to invest in productive enterprises
meant that by 1715 Spain was a second-rate power.
• Several factors led to decline.
– Fiscal disorder, political incompetence, and the lack of a strong
middle class contributed to Spain’s decline.
– The defeat of the Armada was a serious blow to Spain.
– The Decline of Absolutist Spain in the Seventeenth Century
– Gold and silver from the Americas were the basis for Spanish
– Spain extended itself in wars it could not afford in the 1600s.
England charted a different course
in the Age of Absolutism
• The Stuarts lacked the political astuteness of
Elizabeth I.
– Although they exhibited absolutist tendencies, these
were restrained by the growth of parliament.
• The growth of Puritanism influenced English
– The Stuarts appeared sympathetic to Catholicism.
– Charles I’s volatile relationship with Parliament
added to the tension of the period.
England charted a different course
in the Age of Absolutism
• The English Civil War between king and
parliament brought matters to a head.
– King Charles initiated conflict with the
parliamentary forces.
– Parliament won the contest for sovereignty.
– Charles I was beheaded and Oliver
Cromwell was made Lord Protector.
– The Glorious Revolution of 1688—89 was
the final act in the struggle for sovereignty.
"Spider and Fly"
This seventeenth-century
satirical print, entitled The
Spider and the Fly,
summarizes peasant
grievances. In reference to the
insect symbolism (upper left),
the caption on the lower left
side of this illustration states,
"The noble is the spider, the
peasant the fly." The other
caption (upper right) notes,
"The more people have, the
more they want. The poor
man brings everything-wheat, fruit, money,
vegetables. The greedy lord
sitting there ready to take
everything will not even give
him the favor of a glance."
(New York Public Library)
• The Constitutional State
– Constitutionalism is the limitation of government by law.
– A nation’s constitution can be written or unwritten.
– Constitutional government can take a monarchical or
republican form.
– A constitutional government is not the same as a democratic
• The Decline of Royal Absolutism in England (1603–
– In spite of a disordered and bloody seventeenth century,
England emerged a constitutional monarchy.
– Elizabeth I’s successor James I asserted his divine right to
absolute power, antagonizing Parliament.
– The House of Commons, the members of which were largely
members of a new wealthy and powerful capitalist class in
England, objected.
• Religious Issues
– James and his successor, Charles I (r. 16251649) appeared to
be sympathetic to Catholicism; Puritans in the House of
Commons were suspicious.
– In 1640 Charles had to summon Parliament to request funding
to suppress a rebellion in Scotland (against the imposition of
Anglican liturgy).
– As Parliament passed laws limiting Charles’s powers, an Irish
uprising precipitated civil war.
– In spite of the execution of Charles I in 1649 by Parliament, the
civil war did not resolve the problem of sovereignty. England
was a military dictatorship run by Parliament’s most
successful general, Oliver Cromwell, from 16491660.
• Puritanical Absolutism in England: Cromwell and the
– Oliver Cromwell attempted to create a community of
puritanical saints.
– When he died in 1658, most English had had enough of this.
"The Royall Oake of
Chopping down this tree--"The Royall Oake of Brittayne"--signifies the end of
royal authority, stability, the Magna Carta, and the rule of law. As pigs graze
(representing the unconcerned common people), being fattened for slaughter,
Oliver Cromwell, the lord protector who also controlled the army, quotes
Scripture while his feet are in hell. This cartoon of 1649 is a royalist view of the
collapse of Charles I's government and the rule of Cromwell.
The Restoration of the English
• Charles II (r. 16601685), invited back to England from exile in
France, attempted to conciliate Parliament by creating an advisory
council of five men who were also members of Parliament.
• When Charles was caught in 1670 in secret negotiations with Louis
XIV for subsidies in exchange for a gradual Catholicization of
England and an alliance against the Netherlands, panic swept
• When James II (r. 16851688), an open Catholic, succeeded
Charles II, there was trouble.
• James placed many Catholics in high administrative positions and
declared universal religious tolerance. Seven Anglican bishops
responded by refusing to read James’s proclamation. They were
arrested but subsequently acquitted.
• When James’s wife produced a son, there was fear that a Catholic
dynasty was now assured. Parliament offered the throne to
James’s Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, Prince
William of Orange. In December 1688 James fled to France and
William and Mary were crowned king and queen of England.
The Triumph of England’s Parliament:
Constitutional Monarchy and Cabinet Government
• The “Glorious Revolution” - Parliament’s expulsion of
James - was guaranteed by a Bill of Rights passed by
Parliament. The Bill guaranteed the independence of
the judiciary, the sole power of Parliament to make
laws, and freedom of debate in Parliament. All
Protestants were granted religious toleration.
• The Glorious Revolution was not a democratic
revolution, because few English subjects could vote in
the election of Parliament.
• The cabinet system of government evolved in the
eighteenth century. In this system a cabinet of ministers
responsible primarily to Parliament governed. The
power of the monarch grew weaker and weaker.
Locke’s ideas reflect the changing
tenor of the times
• He defended ideas of the Glorious
Revolution in his Two Treatises on
• He argued that a government that
oversteps its bounds was subject to
The Dutch Republic in the
Seventeenth Century
• The Dutch system of government rested on
assemblies of wealthy merchants in each of the
seven provinces called “Estates.”
• A federal assembly, or “States General,” ran
foreign policy, but was responsible to the
provincial “Estates.”
• The States General appointed a representative
or stadtholder in each province. Some men held
the post of stadtholder in all seven provinces.
• The cohesion and power of the Dutch Republic
ultimately rested on its immense commercial
power and prosperity.
Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait
Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait
Judith Leyster (ca. 1609-1660),
one of the most important Dutch
portrait painters, created portraits
that capture both the individuality
and spontaneity of her subjects.
She painted her Self-Portrait in
1635, representing herself as a
successful artist, in a fashionable
dress and sitting in an elegant
chair. The subject of the "painting
within the painting" is a man
playing a violin, but Leyster
varied her technique to illustrate
the difference between her own
self-portrait and this painting.
(National Gallery of Art,
Washington. Gift of Mr. and Mrs
Robert Woods Bliss, Photograph (c)
2002, Board of Trustees.)
The Dutch Republic in the
Seventeenth Century
• The Netherlands was the only realm in early
modern Europe with almost complete religious
• In 1650 the Dutch owned half of the ships in
Europe and controlled much of European
• In the seventeenth century the Dutch probably
had the highest standard of living in the world.
• Dutch power began to decline around the time
of the War of the Spanish Succession.
Map: Seventeenth-century Dutch Commerce
Seventeenth-century Dutch Commerce
Dutch wealth rested on commerce, and commerce depended on the huge Dutch merchant marine, manned by perhaps fortyeight thousand sailors. The fleet carried goods from all parts of the globe to the port of Amsterdam. (Copyright (c) Houghton
Mifflin. All rights reserved.)
Copyright ©Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Rembrandt, The Nightwatch
The Nightwatch
The high point of Rembrandt's portrait-painting career in Amsterdam came in 1642, when he
painted the group portrait The Company of Captain Franz Banning Cocq (who had commissioned
this painting)--also known as The Night Watch. Due to the excessive layers of grit and varnish
that accumulated on the painting over the years, the scene was generally thought to have occurred
at night. However, a post-World War II restoration revealed that Rembrandt (1606-1669) used a
full palette of rich, golden colors. (Rijksmuseum)
Vermeer, Art of Painting
Vermeer, Art of Painting
In a typically Dutch interior-black and white marble floor,
brass chandelier, map of
Holland on the wall--an artist
paints an allegory of Clio, the
Muse of History (often shown
holding a book and a trumpet).
The Muses, nine goddesses of
Greek mythology, were thought
to inspire the arts. Considered
the second-greatest Dutch
painter (after Rembrandt), Jan
Vermeer (1632-1675) was a
master of scenes of everyday
life, but he probably meant his
work to be understood on more
than one level.
(Kunsthistorisches Museum/Art
Resource, NY)

Absolutism and Constitutionalism in Western Europe