Absolutism in Eastern Europe

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Absolutism in Eastern Europe: c. 1600-1740

I. Overview of Eastern Europe (—HOP RAP“)

A. Three aging empires-Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire and Polish Kingdom-gave way to new empires of Russia, Austria and Prussia

1. Holy Roman Empire (HRE): religious divisions due to the Reformation and religious wars in 16th and 17th centuries split Germany among Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist princes

2. Ottoman Empire: could not maintain possessions in eastern Europe and the Balkans in the face of Austrian and Russian expansion

a. Ottoman Empire was built on expansion

· The Sultan had absolute power in the empire

· After 1560 the decline in western expansion resulted in the gradual disintegration of the empire

b. Suleiman the Magnificent (d. 1566) was perhaps the most powerful ruler in the world during the 16th century

· Nearly conquered Austria in 1529, captured Belgrade (Serbia), nearly 1/2 of eastern Europe including all Balkan territories, most of Hungary, and part of southern Russia.

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c. Highly talented Christian children from the conquered provinces were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire‘s bureaucracy

d. —Janissary corps“: those Christian slaves who were not selected for the Ottoman bureaucracy served loyally instead in the Turkish army

e. Ottoman Empire was fairly tolerant regarding religion in its conquered provinces

3. Poland: liberum veto œ voting in Polish parliament had to be unanimous for changes to be made; thus, little could be done to systematically strengthen the kingdom

· By 1800, Poland ceased to exist as a sovereign state; carved up by Russia, Austria and Prussia

3.3: Absolutism in Eastern Europe

B. Eastern European absolutism differed from French absolutism

1. Eastern absolutism was based on a powerful nobility, weak middle class, and an oppressed peasantry composed of serfs.

2. In France, the nobility‘s power had been limited, the middle-class was relatively strong, and peasants were generally free from serfdom.

· Louis XIV built French absolutism upon the foundations of a well-developed medieval monarchy and a strong royal bureaucracy.

C. Threat of war with European and Asian invaders were important motivations for eastern European monarchs‘ drive to consolidate power.

1. Resulted in reduced political power of the nobility.

· However, nobles gained much greater power over the peasantry.

2. Three important methods of gaining absolute power:

a. Kings imposed and collected permanent taxes without the consent of their subjects.

b. States maintained permanent standing armies.

c. States conducted relations with other states as they pleased.

3. Absolutism in eastern Europe reached its height with Peter the Great of Russia.

· Absolutism in Prussia was stronger than in Austria.

II. Serfdom in eastern Europe

A. After 1300, lords in eastern Europe revived serfdom to combat increasing economic challenges.

1. Areas most affected included Bohemia, Silesia, Hungary, eastern Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia.

2. Drop in population in the 14th century (especially from the —Black Death“) created tremendous labor shortages and hard times for nobles.

3. Lords demanded that their kings and princes issue laws restricting or eliminating peasants‘ right of moving freely

a. By 1500 Prussian territories had laws requiring runaway peasants to be hunted down and returned to their lords

b. Laws were passed that froze peasants in their social class.

4. Lords confiscated peasant lands and imposed heavier labor obligations.

5. The legal system was monopolized by the local lord.

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