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Early Modern Politics in Europe


16th century- Age of Spain

17th century- Age of France

18th century- Rise of England


Rise of New Monarchies


The 16th century saw the development of new monarchies. In general, monarchies in Europe were moving towards absolutism wherein the monarch was limited only by divine or natural law. Absolutist claims were, in fact, most often based on the claim to rule by Divine Right. These rulers monopolized political power and justice within their kingdoms. Their sovereignty was characterized by the right to make law, something which earlier monarchs had been unable to do. The new monarchs were moving away from the old feudal basis for their rule with its concept of mutual obligations and rights. Feudal rulers possessed monopolies of neither justice nor military power, both of which the new monarchs of the early modern period largely achieved. The three main characteristics of the new monarchies: 1) Rule through councils and ministers. Government bureaucracy built up in order to establish effective royal control at local levels. In many areas old representative institutions faded; 2) Monopoly of military power, especially gunpowder technologies; and 3) Taxation and the Kings right to create taxes in order to raise money were major themes of political life in this period.


Other Themes or Developments


      Growing battle between Absolutism and Constitutionalism.

      Continued conflict between kings and the aristocracy. Kings look to middle class for political and economic support. Slow rise of middle class political influence.

      European aristocracy continued to dominate governmental and military offices. Other classes still largely excluded.

      Increasing discussion of the nature and origins of political sovereignty.

      Reorganization of states in central and eastern Europe. All ruled by absolute rulers in conjunction with a service aristocracy whose loyalty was purchased with virtually complete control over the serfs.

      17th and 18th century- various models of international relations developed to maintain a balance of power in Europe. This became a key idea in European relations.

      Continued development of the Nation-State.

      Religious wars to 1648. Ideology not important 1648-1789.