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Eastern European Absolutism

On absolutism in Prussia and Austria in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a small number of large rulers had a strong impact on Austria and Prussia. Both countries became strong absolutist areas. However, because they were different countries, it’d make sense that each country developed into its state of absolutism through different means and different people. Well, it’s true. Austria and Prussia were influenced by seperate factors: one was a general-absolutist country and the other had a strong military influence in its culture and government and had a partially Machiavellian ruler. With these and other differences in mind, one country must come out more absolutist than the other.

A similarity between the development of both places is the use of decreasing the power of the nobility to increase one’s own power. In Austria, Ferdinand II lessened the power of the Bohemian Estates not long after the Battle of the White Mountain. He also gave land holdings of many Protestant nobles to a few Catholic nobles and aristocratic soldiers who had nothing in common with the peasants. The rise in property and power in a few Catholic nobles also reflects an absolutist ruler’s need for control of the church, however this is an element of absolutism that was neglected in Prussia. Maria Theresa, an Austrian ruler from 1740 to 1780, limited the papacy’s influence in politics, increasing her own influence in return. Because the papacy is involved, this, too, reflects control of the church. One of Maria’s three significant administrative reforms was an equal or near-equal taxation of all citizens including nobles with no exemptions to the taxes whatsoever. An even more direct act of reduction of noble power by Maria Theresa is her reduction of the power of lords over their serfs and partly-free peasant tenants. Ferdinand III of Austria began a permanent standing army to rid of civil disputes in his terrirtory. In Prussia, Elector Frederick I, known as the Great Elector, declined the power of the Estates when he forced the approval of taxation without consent by them in order to pay for his establishment of a permanent army in 1660. Both ruler’s permanent armies fall right into the absolutist element of having a standing army, so much, in fact, that discussing the element may sound repetitive since it is a very straight-forward idea, but the Elector’s permanent army also contributed to the decreasing of the power of the nobility in Prussia and to the most basic origin of Prussia’s development into an absolutist country.

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