Absolutism Essay, Research Paper

During the pre-Enlightenment period, France and England went through very dramatic and very different government change. At the beginning of this time period, England had achieved relative stability, due largely in part to Elizabeth I long and successful reign. On the other hand, France had been subjected to numerous civil and religious wars, therefore leading to instability. French absolutism was largely a result of these crises and tragedies, with the country recognizing the need for a strong, powerful leader, which they found during the long and successful reign of Louis XIV. In England however, many problems arose due to a series of short and incapable rulers, beginning with James I and ending with James II.

During Louis XIV’s reign, he was able to create a strong and stable absolute state by controlling the French nobility. Previously, during Louis XIII reign, the nobility had a great deal of power, and the French government was not centralized. Instead, the nobles acted as the middlemen, regulating the taxes and military of the French regions. The peasants paid taxes directly to the nobles, who kept a certain portion for themselves and then paid the remainder to the King. Individual regions raised and paid for their own armies; when the king required military help, the army came from these semi-private sources. Religiously, the state was also controlled by the nobles due to the Edict of Nantes, which gave the nobles the power to determine the religion of their lands. These factors lead to a divided French state, which reduced the power of Louis XIII. France was subjected to various civil wars and wars of religion, and the future king, Louis XIV, witnessing this period of unrest, vowed to implement a great change in the French government.

When Louis XIV came into power, he began centralizing the French government in order to have an absolute state. In order to do this, he need to have control of three key elements: the military, tax collection, and the judicial system, all of which had been controlled locally. In order to seize these powers, Louis needed to create a bureaucratic system answerable only to the king. Essentially, Louis had to seize power from the hands of the nobles. Louis succeeded in creating a national tax collection process, where taxes were paid directly to the king rather then the nobles. This way, by the end of his reign, Louis was collecting 80% of the taxes due to him whereas before, with the nobles acting as middlemen, only 30% of the taxes due to the king were actually received. In order to placate the nobles, he exempted them from taxes, thus appealing to their senses while stripping them of their power. The nobles began to believe that the only way to achieve a stable and prosperous state and secure their own interests was to support Louis’ monarchy.

Louis used much of this money to create a centralized military of professional soldiers and gradually took the military power from the individual regions. Military allegiance was due only to the king, so the danger of military rebellion was greatly reduced. He took away regional independence by dividing the country into six generalit?s, each one governed by an appointed member of the upper class rather then a noble. These governors were required to spend a large amount of time at Louis’ extensive palace of Versailles, which allowed Louis to monitor the generalit?s very closely. Religiously, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes and declared France a Catholic state. Louis hoped that religious unity and centralization would lead to stronger unity in the country as a whole. He expelled or executed any Protestants who refused to convert, and the Catholics supported most of his actions. Although he delegated most of the power in France to himself, Louis did acknowledge the power and authority of the Parlement of Paris, which helped to regulate local administration and taxes, but overall, Louis stripped the nobles and aristocracy of most of their powers. Louis XIV long rule gave France the time it needed to transform from a divided nation to a centralized and powerful one. After Louis XIV, France saw a dramatic decline in the power of the monarchy, largely due to the weaker rulers who succeeded him.

During this time, the English government was moving in a different direction. Elizabeth I of the Tudor dynasty had just died, and a new monarchial dynasty, the Stuarts, had taken the throne. Elizabeth had a very long and successful rule during her lifetime. She was able to stabilize the government and economy, with her pragmatic approach to political manner and parsimonious economic policies. She worked well with Parliament, and was a politique, which helped to stabilize the ongoing religious debates in England. She was extremely popular and seemed to identify with the country and the people. During her rule, England achieved political and economic stability going into the seventeenth century.

When Elizabeth died childless, she was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England. James was very unpopular in England. Unlike Elizabeth, he was viewed as an outsider, mainly because he was Scottish. He believed strongly in the Divine Right of Kings, and did not work well with Parliament. James wanted to rule exclusively without having to consult any other parties. He rarely called Parliament into session, and when he did, it was only to request more money for various royal expenses. He soon resorted to raising private funds in order to avoid working with Parliament. This created increasing discontent among his subjects, who along with Parliament, objected to this fundraising. He was also faced with many religious problems, largely stemming from the Puritan’s who believed James would support their cause. Instead, he decided to give further support to the Anglican Church. This resulted in the Puritan migration to the American Colonies, and caused further dissent among Parliament and the English people.

When the war with Spain began, James was hesitant to join, which spurred doubt for his loyalty to the Anglican Church. As time passed and James’s health began to deteriorate, his son Charles gained more control, and England eventual went to war with Spain. Charles needed money from Parliament to fund the war, and although they favored the war, they were reluctant to hand over funds. In the tradition of his father, Charles began to collect private funds from his subjects. He implemented a forced loan on the English people, and used other grossly unpopular methods of fundraising, which landowners and merchant class members who were represented by parliament were adamantly opposed to. His son, Charles II, faced many of the same problems. He tried unsuccessfully to unite the English people, but his efforts were weakened due to his poor relations with Parliament. He revoked all laws against Catholic and Protestant nonconformist, and Parliament countered with the Test Act, which was aimed mostly at James II, Charles II’s heir and a devout Catholic.

The monarchy’s relationship with Parliament continued to decline during James II’s rule, causing more and more discontent and disunity among the English people. Whereas Louis XIV succeeded in creating a united France, the English monarchs failed miserably. James II continued to strain relations with Parliament by forcing the annulment of the Test Act and appointly Catholics only to high powered positions. A country which had reach religious stability under Elizabeth I had declined rapidly, and with it, support for the monarchy dwindled away. James II wanted an absolute monarchy like Louis XIV had achieved, and the English people feared their religious freedom was being jeopardized. These circumstances would then lead to England’s “Glorious Revolution,” which would take on the unpopular monarchy and defeat it, thereby putting William and Mary in the English throne.

France and England underwent very different changes during the seventeenth century. While France transformed from an instability, war-torn country to a united, prosperous nation, England did just the opposite. France’s success can be largely attributed to Louis XIV long reign, and England’s decline was caused by a series of short rules by vastly different rulers. The rise of absolutism in France proved Louis’s power over his people, and the rise of constitutionalism and parliamentary power in France was due to monarchial weaknesses and strained relations between the two governing bodies.

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