What is Absolutism?

Absolutism means that the ultimate authority in the state is rested in the hands of a king who claims to rule by divine right. It is a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator and has complete and unrestricted power in government. Since the kings received their power from God, their authority was absolute. Under absolutism the king has the power to make laws, administer justice, control the state’s administrative system, and determine foreign policy.

By the late 1600’s, Louis XIV had become an absolute monarch as well as the most powerful ruler in Europe. Louis strongly believed in the divine right, as well as his grandfather did. He took the sun as a symbol of his power. As the sun stands for “L’ete, c’est moi” meaning, “I am the state.” Under Louis’ reign, Louis established the strongest army in Europe. The state not only trained the army, they paid, fed, and supplied the 300,000 soldiers. Louis not only used his army to ensure the protection of France, he used his army to enforce his policies at home and abroad. Louis was a very independent ruler, throughout his entire 72 years of reign he did not once call a meeting of the Estates General. Between the years 1614 and 1789, the Estates General did not meet at all, leaving them playing no role in checking royal power. Louis took matter into his own hands, making all of the laws, and regulations by himself with no help from the Estates General. Each day Louis flaunted his importance by holding ceremonies celebrating his power. Every morning began with “la levee,” the kings rising, which was a major court occasion.

Only the high-ranking nobles could attend this ceremony, in which they would compete for the honor of holding the royal wash basin or handing the king his diamond buckle shoes. At night the ceremony was repeated, yet this time in reverse. Wives of the nobles were invited to attend upon women of the royal family. Ceremonies such as these served another purpose. French nobles were descendants of the feudal lords who held power in medieval times. Left at their estates, these nobles were a major threat to the power of the monarchy. By luring these nobles to Versailles, Louis treated them into courtiers angling for privileges rather than warriors battling for power. Louis ensured their safety by protecting them and also let then free from paying taxes. Louis poured vast resources into wars to expand French borders and dominate Europe. At first, he was successful and gained some territory. His later wars were disastrous though, because rival rulers joined forces to check French ambitions. Led by the Dutch or the English, these alliances fought to maintain the balance of power. Although this was not seen to be the biggest set back. Louis’s most costly blunder was his treatment of the Huguenots. He saw the Protestant minority as a threat to religious and political unity. In 1685, he revoked the Edict of Nantes. Facing persecution, more then 100,000 Huguenots fled France. Huguenots however, had been among the most hardworking and prosperous of Louis’s subjects. Their loss was a major blow to the French economy, losing people who had commercial and industrial skills.

Absolutism resulted in many negative effects on France. Under Louis’s reign, he did not once call to meeting with the Estates General. Thus, leaving them playing no role in checking royal power. Without any checks, Louis was free of doing whatever he felt like resulting in decisions that were not best for the state. Another negative effect absolutism has had on France was the mass amounts of money that Louis spent on wars in efforts to expand French boarders to dominate Europe. Not only was he unsuccessful, he made many rivals such as the Dutch and English that later joined forces against him. The biggest negative effect that absolutism had on France was Louis’s bitter treatment towards the Huguenots. After Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, facing persecution, more then 100,000 Huguenots fled France seeking shelter in England, the United Provinces, and the German states. This was a major set back to the French economy because the Huguenots had been among the most hardworking an prosperous people of Louis’s subjects. Although absolutism had many more negative effects on France then positive, it did have some positive. Under absolutism France became the strongest European country. Louis XIV was able to establish the strongest army in Europe under his 72 year reign. The strong army helped ensure the safety of France, it also was used to enforce the laws.

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