ABSOLUTISM AND CONSTITUTIONALISM

ABSOLUTISM

When Louis XIV of France ascended to the throne at the age of four, the French nobles immediately began to plot how to overthrow him during the Fronde, a series of civil wars in France. When Louis XIV began actively ruling as an adult, he launched a concerted program to limit the power of the nobility. He moved the capital to Versailles, diluted the ranks of the nobility by selling titles of nobility, and ensured that the military answered directly to the king. In doing so, he undermined the actual power of the nobility by making political and social privileges dependent on the will of the king.

The example of the French, led other European monarchs, especially in Prussia and Russia, to begin to consolidate power and rule as unquestionable absolute monarchs. These rulers typically justified their claim to supreme power by divine right and argued that any attempt by their subjects to limit their power, through a parliament or a constitution, could be interpreted as a challenge against God.

DUTCH GOLDEN AGE PAINTING

The art of the Dutch Golden Age was dominated by genre paintings focused on either depictions of real-life scenes or illustrations of Dutch adages and moral lessons. Dutch Golden Age painters often depicted individual components realistically, but combined the different elements to make a scene that could not have reflected an actual moment. One of the strongest examples of this combination of naturalism and moralizing is Jan Steen’s painting, The World Turned Upside, which includes realistic portrayals of a Dutch home and the material goods of a wealthy Dutch family in order to provide a moralistic treatment on the danger of wealth.

CONSTITUTIONALISM

Charles I of England attempted to begin his reign in 1625 as an absolute monarch, which led to a contentious relationship with Parliament as well as conflict throughout the country. The Parliament was supported by the gentry, who were large landowners, and religious dissenters like the Puritans and the English Calvinists. The political ideas of John Locke, who argued that government should be based on a social contract between the people and the government, were popular among the Parliamentarians.

These conflicts escalated into the English Civil War. Following a short interregnum period after Charles I was beheaded and a series of short-ruling monarchs, William III and Mary II in the Netherlands were invited to rule as joint monarchs in the Glorious Revolution. In order to take the throne, they signed a Bill of Rights that limited the power of the monarchs by establishing the Parliament as the governing body of England that was not subject to undue influence by the monarchy.

THE DUTCH GOLDEN AGE

During the seventeenth century, the Netherlands rapidly rose to a position of economic, political, and technological prominence. Under the Dutch Republic, which began as a revolt against the Catholic Habsburg ruler Philip II of Spain, various countries came together to form an independent nation. The resulting oligarchy was united by a shared language and some shared economic interests, especially as related to trade and the maritime economy.

The Dutch Golden Age was fueled by a combination of the Protestant work ethic, cheap energy sources in the form of windmills and peat, and the birth of corporate finance in the Netherlands.  In 1602, the Dutch East India Company became the first multinational corporation that was financed by the purchase of shares on a stock market. Selling stock allowed for Dutch East India dominated European trade in spice, importing spices in bulk and reaping tremendous profits for its shareholders.

COMPARISON

Absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs approached the question of sovereignty differently. In absolutist states, the sovereignty resides with the monarch versus n constitutional states, the sovereignty resides with the parliament.

MERCANTILISM

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, European nations followed an economic philosophy called mercantilism, which was based on the idea that a nation should produce as much of its own goods as possible and limit imports from other countries. By doing so, mercantilist countries attempted to increase the wealth of their own nations by preserving their national revenue in the form of bullion. Despite the objections of economists like Adam Smith, European nations expanded their colonial empires and developed plantations in their colonies in order to cultivate raw materials. These materials were developed into finished goods in the manufacturing sectors of European nations.

Mercantilism could serve the interest of absolute monarchs. In France, Louis and his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, turned the country into a manufacturing power by employing a mercantilist economic approach. Through effective use of the putting out system, Louis XIV and Jean-Baptiste Colbert were able to establish the reputation of France as a manufacturer of luxury goods. They were also able to fund Louis XIV’s extravagant expenditures, such as Versailles, that enhanced his reputation as an absolute monarch.

TIMELINE

1648 The Dutch Republic gains its independence from Spanish rule.

1649 Charles I of England is found guilty of treason as a result of failing to heed Parliament, and is beheaded.

1682 Louis XIV of France moves the seat of government from Paris to his palace at Versailles in order to exercise total control over the lives of the nobles.

1688 The new English monarchs, William and Mary, agree to be bound by a Bill of Rights that limits their power before taking the throne.

1776 Adam Smith publishes Wealth of Nations to criticize the economic philosophy of mercantilism.


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