Absolutist rulers claimed a monopoly of power and authority within their realms. What did they do to achieve this goal? Was any European monarch's power ever really "absolute"? If yes, which one?...

Absolutist rulers claimed a monopoly of power and authority within their realms. What did they do to achieve this goal? Was any European monarch's power ever really "absolute"? If yes, which one? If no, who came closest? What happened to absolutist rulers?

 

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Absolutist rulers use ideology to help achieve their goals. For example, the ideology of the "divine rights of kings" asserted that kings ruled solely because God's will had ordained they be the monarch: this was the sole source of their legitimacy. Other bodies, such as a parliament or the judiciary, served solely at the will of the king. The king did not need their approval to be considered legitimate nor did he have to meet some standard of "good" ruler: an incompetent or despotic ruler was considered God's judgment on the people. The monarch could ignore or dissolve the parliament (or other legislature) at will. Judges also served at the king's pleasure and could be removed for countering his commands. "Divine right of kings" was also used to assert that a monarch actually owned all the land in the kingdom as well as all the goods coming into the country and could thus tax these or give land or monopolies to people at will.

Kings who ruled as absolutist took practical measures to consolidate their power, as ideology alone would not work. While these measures varied in detail, a few common characteristics reoccur. Absolutist monarchs exercised censorship over the press and artistic expression in order to quash dissent. They wooed the church or dominant religious institutions to their side. As James I of England, a king who tried to reign as absolutist, said, "no bishops, no kings." Absolutists knew they needed religious authority to buttress their own claims of divine authority. Absolutists also had a tendency to dissolve (or ignore) legislative bodies. James I's son Charles I, for example, dissolved parliament when it tried to check his power. That did not work out very successfully, as it led to civil war and Charles's beheading. Absolutist monarchs do their best to control the military and to expand the reach of a central state bureaucracy loyal only to them while surrounding themselves with a small group of powerful and loyal cronies who control the flow of money and patronage. 

While no monarch has achieved absolute power, Louis XIV of France, credited with saying "I am the state," is often singled out as one who came closest. He neutered the power of the aristocracy, classically the group in tension with the king, by building Versailles and setting up a system where, in order to gain patronage and power, nobles had to spend most of their time at that court. This way, he kept them under his control and unable to build a separate power base. 

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