Absolute Vs. New Monarchs Essay, Research Paper
Absolute vs. New Monarchs
Monarchy was not at all a new institution in the 15th, 16th, or 17th centuries. It wasn?t even very different with respect to the goals that prevailed in each monarchy. However, the differences between the New and Absolute Monarchy come in the way of the methods, theories, and conditions prevalent throughout the different monarchical reigns.
The main goal of new and absolute monarchies was the centralize the state. War, civil war, class war, feudal rebellion, and banditry afflicted a good deal of Europe in the middle of the fifteenth century. Various rulers now tried to impose a kind of civil peace. They thus laid the foundations for the national states. Similarly, in the early part of the 17th century, wars pertaining now to religion and dynasty had a profound impact upon the western European states. As military spending increased, monarchs realized the importance unifying their state possessed.
The difference between the two monarchies? plan for a centralized state was the method in which both were carried out. In the time of the New Monarchies, religion was integral to unifying the state. Monarchs such as Isabella of Castile tried to unify their countries as a result of religious purification. Isabella believed firmly that a stable Spain would only stem from a Catholic Spain. As a result, the reconquista was initiated and unification took place around the church. The monarchs insisted on religious conformity. In addition, parliamentary institutions were ignored or even sometimes abolished in order to centralize and bring peace to the state. Townspeople, the target of monarchs for support, were willing to let parliaments be dominated by the king, for parliaments proved often to be strongholds of “unruly barons”, or had accentuated the class conflicts. In France, for example, the Estates General of France met only once under Louis XI. After which, the committee requested the king to govern without them in the future, remembering the anarchy of the past. The power of the monarch was thought to be derived from the people during this time period and so the middle class became important in supporting the monarch. Because of this, nobility, which was a threat to the power of the monarch, was always tried to be kept under control through various reforms such as the “livery and maintenance” laws passed by Henry VII. Armies were also built up by the monarch as a way to increase his own power and centralize the state. Also, during this era, the focus was on religion and dynastic building while in the later monarchies, commerce and state building became the priorities.
During the Absolute Monarch era, however, centralizing the state became more secular. After the religious wars, religion was not the focus of governments. Paradoxically, however, the absolute monarchs derived their power from the divine right theory. This theory held that the institution of monarchy had been created by God and that the monarch functioned as God?s representative on earth. This idea of divine right was uncontroversial. Many authors during the time period addressed this theory as indisputably true. Jean Bodin, for example, called the king “God?s image on earth”. Louis XIV of France even called himself the “Sun King”. Surprisingly, the rule of the monarch was not arbitrary. Kings were bound by a higher law and were judged by God which meant that they could not deprive their subjects of their lives, liberties, or property without due cause established by law. This divine right belief helped centralize the state because the people believed in the monarch and were not tempted to oppose him. In addition, states were further centralized through bureaucracy and the royal court. Whereas, in the era of New Monarchs, parliaments were shunned and monarchs were the sole carriers of power, in the era of Absolute Monarchs, Courtiers and the legal system were critical to the well being of the state and the monarch. The day-to-day affairs of the government had grown beyond the capacity of any monarch to handle them. At the beginning of the 16th century, the French court of Francis I employed 622 officers while at the beginning of the 17th century, the court of Henry IV employed over 1500. Royal councils, a small group of leading officeholders who advised the monarch on state business, grew in significance. However, the court still revolved around the monarch. Courtiers such as Cardinal Richelieu of France, Count-Duke Olivares of Spain, and duke of Buckingham of England, all became the second most important people in their countries. Taxes were also critical to centralizing the state. Half of all state revenue was used to finance national armies and navies for defense. In France, the taille and paulette were used as the main tax sources. By administering justice, assembling armies, and extracting resources through taxation, the monarch ruled as well as governed. The richer the king and the more powerful, the more potent his state. The truth of this is seen in the “Grand Monarque” of France. Versailles was the epitome of this era?s elaboration. Everything in the palace was awe-inspiring. 1400 fountains adorned the gardens alone and the palace was constructed mainly of marble and precious metals. The grandiose style of the ruler stood proxy for the wealth and glory of the nation. Great display bespoke great pride, and great pride was translated into great national strength. As a result of this heightened pride in their monarchs and states, Europeans began to identify themselves as citizens of a nation and to see themselves in distinction to other countries. Whereas in the early sixteenth century, monarchs treated their states and their subjects as personal property, and were praised for their virtue, wisdom, or strength, by the 17th century, rulers embodied their nation, and no matter what their personal characteristics, they were held in awe simply because they were monarchs.
One thing the two monarchies held in common was the drive for hegemony, a political situation in which one state might subordinate all others to its will. During the new monarch era, the Habsburg family was perhaps the best example of this theory. After the defeat of the Hungarians at the battle of Mohacs, the Habsburg family had established their sphere of power in central Europe, the Netherlands, Spain, the Mediterranean, South Italy, and America. During the absolute monarch era, Louis XIV was the best example of “universal monarchy”. His goal was to make France the strongest country in Europe and push French borders eastward to the Rhine, annexing the Spanish Netherlands and France-Comte which involved the further dismemberment of the Holy Roman Empire. The main difference between these two universal monarchies was the way in which they were controlled. During the earlier monarchies, “universal monarchy” was checked by various dynastic and religious wars between nations. For example, the wars between Muscovy and Poland kept each nation in balance. If there was a stronger nation, it would receive the dominating power. During the 17th century, however, there came to be a system of balance of power through alliances. The purpose of this balance of power was not to preserve peace, but to preserve the sovereignty and independence of the states of Europe against potential aggressors. The basic rule was to ally against any state threatening domination. The weaker countries would seek alliance with the other weaker states. They would thus create a balance or counterweight against the state whose ascendancy they feared.
Overall, the goals of the monarchies remained mainly the same but as the social and political conditions changed and monarchs learned from past experience, the methods of attaining these goals became quite different. In addition, monarchs were viewed quite differently between the two time periods which also attains to the differences in method. However, it can be seen that the “New Monarchs” had great influence on the establishment of ideals and policies in the subsequent era “Absolute Monarchs”.