Absolute Monarchy in England and France

In Europe, Absolute monarchy was a form of government that eventually became very successful in some countries, but not as successful in others as a result of the political state the country was in when absolutism was introduced. Absolute monarchy was usually developed as a result of turmoil within a country over politics, religion, social structures, etc. Two European countries where absolute monarchy was attempted were France, where it eventually flourished, and it was also attempted in England, where it ultimately was not successful.

In France, Henry of Navarre became king and restored central governments authority, launched an economic recovery program, and reduced the power of the nobility class. Henry of Navarre was assassinated, though, so his dreams were never reached. Cardinal Richelieu was a very important nobleman at the time. His main objective was to make the king the sovereign power in France with no protest. He believed in “divine right” and wanted France to be the almighty force in all of Europe. After Henry’s assassination, Louis XIII was next to take throne.

Louis XIII showed himself to be an incapable ruler and when Louis XIV took power, he was the one to secure great power in the French monarchy. Louis XIV took hold of the country and put himself at the head of government. France had a parliament-like group, but much weaker, known as the Estates General, was never again called for meeting in order to assure Louis’s power was completely uncontested. In addition, much of the nobles in France were convinced to live in Versailles, a city Louis ordered built strictly for the consolidation of government and his own personal pleasure.

He was a very self-centered man who focused much of his time on lavish affairs to satisfy his material desires. Or as Duc de Saint-Simon puts it, “There was nothing he liked so much as flattery, or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it” (Doc 4). Although he may have been a very conceited man, Louis did manage to control all parts of government, including economics, foreign affairs, and social structure.

England was very different from France in the success absolutism had in their country. At the time, England had been under the combined rule of the king and Parliament for quite a while and was doing reasonably well with that government. But then both James I and Charles I tried to take absolute control of Britain as monarch without even consenting Parliament. The citizens of England had been under Parliament’s rule for so long however, they weren’t ready for such a sudden change that would put so much power into one man’s hands.

The merchants and nobles were especially against the absolutism, as Parliament allowed for members to be elected and changed as needed, but with absolute monarchy, the monarch has virtually limitless power. Eventually, when Charles I became king, Parliament resisted giving up power to him, commencing England’s civil war. This marked the time where all of Britain’s future monarchs realized they must work with Parliament as opposed to against them if they want to have any success.

From there on, the balance was restored, as seen in James VI and I’s True Law of Free Monarchies, “The King made daily statues and ordinances, without any advice of Parliament or Estates, yet it lies in the power of Parliament to make any kind of law or statue without his scepter be to it for giving it the force of a law” (Doc 2). Although the same absolutism was attempted in each country, it prospered much more in France. Absolute monarchy was much more successful in certain countries than in others because of the political state of the countries it was tried in.

France was in disarray, with nobles going around with small groups pillaging and attacking weaker groups. A monarch was a welcome change, as it would bring much more centralized, decisive government to the country. Also, there were no large parliamentary bodies to challenge him as there had been in England, and Louis had support from the majority of the citizens of France, as opposed to English absolute monarchs. Louis XIV created an absolute monarchy which was liked by most English citizens, practically the opposite of Britain.

English citizens had become so accustomed to having Parliament with representatives of each class in it, the change to absolutism where the monarch had complete power was simply unreasonable to them. Also, the problem other countries had with this government was that when the monarch had this much power, it was often abused. Some rulers did not realize “They have not been elevated by their fellow-men to enable them to strut about and insult with their pride the simple-mannered, the poor and the suffering” (Doc 8).

When this exploitation of power occurred, absolute monarchy did not just simply fail, but it often greatly harmed societies and could lead to the downfall of an entire country. France and Britain were two relatively similar European countries in the Seventeenth Century, but for some reason absolutism was much more successful in one than in the other. The reason for this is that Parliament had so much power for so long in England, they, and the citizens of the country, were unwilling to change from their old ways when absolutism was trying to be introduced.

However, in France, the country was in a time of political turmoil, where citizens were looking for someone strong and brave that could lead the country out of hardship when it was introduced. That was how absolute monarchy ultimately developed in each country, one staying, and the other had the monarchy dissolve quickly. The differing political systems in each country is the main reason why absolutism had such different results in each nation. Also, the state the country happened to be in when the idea was established was a reason for the differing outcomes; or, as the saying goes, “timing is everything”.