from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Staging of the absolute ruler in the state portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud (around 1700). The self-confident pose of the French king, depicted with all the insignia of his power, symbolizes his claim to power legitimized by divine mandate. The oil painting became the model for the portraits of absolutist rulers across Europe.

With absolutism (also absolute monarchy called; lat. Absolutus : "freed" within the meaning of legibus absolutus = divorced from the laws ) is a form of rule in monarchies referred to by the government of acting on its own omnipotence ruler without or without significant political co-decision class or democratic institutions (sole rule ).

This form of government was systematically represented and also justified in the 16th and 17th centuries by Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes, among others .

Absolutism also describes an early modern era in European history that was shaped by this form of government, between the religious wars of the 16th and early 17th centuries and the revolutions of the late 18th century. Since the end of the 20th century, the term has been questioned as a description of an era because, in addition to absolutist principalities, republics such as the Netherlands or constitutional monarchies such as England experienced a heyday. For this reason, the term “ Age of the Baroque ” has meanwhile been chosen as the epoch , which, in addition to political differences, also includes contemporary religious, philosophical and aesthetic phenomena.

Examples of currently existing absolutist forms of government are the reigns of the King of Saudi Arabia and the Pope in the Vatican State, each derived from religious principles .

Attempts to typify: characteristics of "absolutism"

The nationalization process, which manifested itself, among other things, in the formation of standing armies , the establishment of an apparatus of officials dependent solely on the ruler, the integration of the church into the state and a mercantilist economic system, is a characteristic of “absolutism” . In addition, there would have been a change in the self-image of the baroque prince to an intensification of court life, which reached its heyday at the Versailles court of Louis XIV .

The absolute monarch claimed unlimited and undivided state power without the participation of estates or parliament ; Theorists of absolute monarchy such as Thomas Hobbes or Jean Bodin also emphasized restrictions on rule, for example that the monarch must adhere to the precepts of religion, to natural law and, if necessary , to the basic laws of the state. However, the monarch should not be subject to positive laws .

In the late phase of “absolutist rule”, usually referred to as “enlightened absolutism”, the prince saw himself as the “first servant of the state” and pursued a reform policy oriented towards the common good, including religious tolerance, educational reforms and measures to improve the administration of justice.

“Absolutism” is still commonly described as a widespread form of rule in Europe, which reached its peak in the Baroque era . This type of typification began with the historian Wilhelm Roscher , who first attempted in the 19th century to periodize the “absolutist age” and to assign the enlightened epoch a separate historical position. He put forward the thesis of a series of stages that begins with “denominational absolutism”, turns into a “courtly absolutism” and finally ends in enlightened absolutism . The prime example of “courtly absolutism” is the rule of the French King Louis XIV . Later, pure “absolutism” developed into so-called “enlightened absolutism”, in which general well-being became the primary goal of the otherwise absolute ruling monarch: the king had himself as the first servant of his state (self-description of Frederick II of Prussia ) understood.

In addition to this traditional division of epochs, since the 19th century the Roscher model has increasingly been related to parts of the history of the early modern period . One spoke of the practical, bureaucratic, Germanic and Romance "absolutism" without questioning the term or showing the complex differences.

While the term “Age of Absolutism” as an epoch designation for the phase of European history from the Peace of Westphalia (1648) to the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789) was undisputed for a long time, at the end of the 20th century there was the idea of ​​an unlimited exercise of power by the “Absolute ruler”, with the elimination of all forces opposing centralization , is often relativized and increasingly asked about the “non-absolutist in absolutism” (Gerhard Oestreich). The Enlightenment is seen as a countercurrent to the "Age of Absolutism" .

In the meantime there is even talk of the “myth of absolutism”. The main thesis is that even in the France of Louis XIV, political power would never have been enforceable without a clientele economy and traditional elites and without decentralized regional and local structures. At the same time, England's “special path” - in contrast to the rest of “absolutist” Europe - is being questioned.

In contrast, some scholars complain about revisionism , with a widespread "tendency to almost completely dismantle the earlier image of absolutism"

Frederick II of Prussia as a representative of "enlightened absolutism"

Overall, however, a departure from the concept of “absolutism” seems to be taking hold in historical studies. Volume 11 The Age of Absolutism in the standard work Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte was renamed in its 4th edition to Baroque and Enlightenment .

Courtly absolutism

In the term of “courtly absolutism” the king is granted absolute rule over his state through God's grace. After that he lives at a magnificent court and determines the religion of his subjects. He endeavors to draw the nobles of his country to his court and thereby not only bring them under his control, but also make them dependent on him through the costly court life, which most could only afford through generous gifts from the monarch float. The penal system provides for severe penalties. There is serfdom and slave labor . The nobility and the church enjoy privileges such as tax exemption. The state owns large amounts of money and precious metals .

The court of Louis XIV in Versailles is considered to be the greatest manifestation of courtly “absolutism” . The aristocracy became dependent on the king through a splendid court life, as the king took over the costs of the festivities and lent money to the nobility . This enabled the king to rule independently of the nobility. He influenced the clergy through numerous support from the church. He also appealed to being a "ruler by the grace of God". Ludwig controlled the third estate through the princes and through the favor of the higher bourgeoisie, whereby he gained power over the lower working class. In addition, any doubt about the monarch's authority was punished with the utmost severity.

This image of the court as an “element of discipline and sacralization” is called into question even for France. Some historians say that even Louis XIV achieved absolute power only as a figure of light in representation. The dependence and networking of the “absolutist” princes on estates, creditors, artists and churches did not allow a closed system to develop, especially outside of France. In particular in smaller principalities and especially in spiritual states one cannot speak of an “absolutist” rule.

Enlightened absolutism

In “enlightened absolutism” the king sees himself as the “first servant of the state” (quote from Frederick II of Prussia). His court is kept simple in order to increase the efficiency of the state apparatus. The influence of the nobility and clergy (church) is less, the people have a free choice of religion. The servitude is prohibited, the drudgery alleviated and the penal system provides for less severe penalties. The wealth of the state is its land ( physiocratism ). The practical implementation is primarily in the Austrian Habsburg monarchy by Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II. , And in Prussia by Frederick II. Attributed.

Philosophical foundation of absolutism

The title page of Hobbes' Leviathan shows the sovereign who rules over land, cities and their inhabitants. His body is made up of the people who have consented to the social contract. Sword and shepherd's staff in his hands symbolize the union of worldly and spiritual power. The figure is overwritten by a quote from the book of Job : “No power on earth is comparable to his”.

While the rulers claimed to have received their power by the grace of God , the original absolutism was already theoretically founded by the French state thinker Jean Bodin (1529–1569) as an answer to the writings of the monarchomachs . Bodin first formulated the thesis of sovereignty , according to which the state - represented by the monarch - has the task of directing the common interests of several households in the right direction and thus exercising their sovereign power, that is, the state represents an absolute, indivisible and always In addition, in his work Six Books on the State, he stated the sovereign's claim to omnipotence, on the basis of which the later absolutist systems of rule were built. However, Bodin did not grant the absolutist rulers a right to princely arbitrariness, but rather demanded in his works respect for natural rights, divine commandments and the protection of family and property.

The state theorist Thomas Hobbes developed a further development of the justification of absolutism in his work Leviathan of 1651. According to his theory, man leaves the natural state (characterized by complete freedom of the individual and wars between people) in order to move into a community that is supported by ruled by a sovereign . This sovereign and the people enter into a social contract in which the person becomes a subject and relinquishes his individual and freedom rights to the sovereign (thought construct). Man does this out of self-interest, as the sovereign offers him protection inside as well as outside in return. This sovereign stands outside of the law in order to be able to decide freely. The sovereign can also be a monarch, Hobbes with his "Leviathan" became the spiritual founder of the modern state philosophy. The political justifications for practical absolutism in France were not based on him, but on divine law , which gave the idea of ​​royal sovereignty the ultimate exaggeration.

In Germany, Pufendorf's and Christian Wolff's theory of natural law developed another way of legitimizing power . They started from a double power contract: the first was a social contract that gave rise to the state as such. The second was the contract of transfer of power with the future ruler. This made possible both the transfer of absolute power and the agreement of basic laws that limited power or made it dependent on the consent of other institutions. This enabled the ruler to be committed to the fulfillment of primary state goals of internal and external security and social welfare . In the case of complete perversion of the state's purposes or serious violation of these basic laws, a right of resistance against the ruler was also possible.

Pillars of power

The ruler is based on six pillars of power: on his standing army, justice and police, administration headed by the king, on the nobility at court, the state church (clergy) and mercantilism, an economic policy and theory of its own of absolutism, theirs The aim is the well-being of public finances. Almost all means were right.

The army

The standing army was supposed to secure the power of the monarch at home and, together with the navy, his influence abroad. In 1664 France had ~ 45,000, by 1703 almost ~ 400,000 men under arms and had thus become the strongest military power in Europe. In order to nip in the bud immediately revolts by subjects or revolting nobles and thus to secure power permanently, Louis XIV of France needed a powerful, constantly available army not only in times of war but also in times of peace. Its supreme authority lay with the king. Above all, Louis XIV wanted to make France a hegemonic power in Europe. The army was equipped with modern weapons and, as a novelty at that time, with uniform uniforms and subjected to a hard, strictly regulated drill. The cost of the extensive military apparatus and the wars frequently waged by the king put a great strain on the state budget, which later led to national bankruptcy.

State building

Legislation and Judiciary

The king concentrates all power in his person. He conducts government affairs, enacts the laws and is also the chief judge. However, during his entire term of office he had around 17 trusted ministers at hand, most of whom later came from middle-class families, as Louis XIV was of the opinion that they were more diligent and knowledgeable. In addition to the ministers, there were about 4,000 civil servants who managed the entire country. As a legislator, the king stands above the law (legibus absolutus: “detached” from the law) , as a judge he can intervene in the decisions of lower instances. He can leave the government to a prime minister such as Richelieu and Mazarin , or he can take it over himself, like Louis XIV after Mazarin's death (1661). A famous sentence of his: “Maiestas est summa in cives ac subditos Legibusque absoluta potestas!” (State sovereignty is the highest power over citizens and subjects and detached from the law.)

Taxes and Administration

Most feared among the population were the "intendants" who, as civil servants, collected taxes for Louis XIV and directed the police. The wages of the artistic directors usually increased with the amount of taxes paid to Louis XIV. This fact earned them the reputation of being "the king's bloodhounds".

The population was divided into three classes: clergy, nobility and citizens including the peasants. The stands were each burdened with different taxes. All classes were subject to capitation (poll tax). In 1710, the clergy exempted themselves forever from poll tax with a one-off payment of 24 million livres . Since then, your only taxes have consisted of voluntary indirect taxes (don graduit). The nobility (only since 1749) and the bourgeoisie / farmers had to pay the poll tax as well as the vingtième (twentieth). However, the nobility seldom paid this because they did not want to be equated with the burghers and peasants.

The French territories could be divided into pays d'élections (areas under the administration of intendants), pays d'états (provinces with self-chosen tax administration) and pays conquis (areas that came to France after the 16th century). In the Pays d'élections and Pays conquis , the income of the directors was based on the tax brackets established by Ludwig. There were exceptions, for example, in exceptional situations such as wars in which more money was needed. The administrations in the Pays d'états were prescribed a sum that they had to collect. For the most part, they were free to choose which groups to charge with which tax rates. Towards the end of Ludwig's term of office, directors were also in charge here, but they only received the money.

Court culture

Pierre Patel : The Palace of Versailles . Painting from 1668

The monarch and his court were the center and thus the leading figure of social and cultural life. The court aristocracy is driven to the brink of ruin by the duties of court life, such as participating in and hosting costly celebrations, hunts and stagings, wearing the latest fashions and setting up splendid palace and park ensembles. The goal was political disempowerment. The nobility lost their independence through the necessary financial donations from the monarch. Intellectuals and cultural workers are tied to the farms and immobilized by alimentation and patronage . The symmetrical architecture of the Palace of Versailles symbolized Louis XIV's claim to power: It aimed precisely at the king's bedroom window, behind which the lever was celebrated every morning , the king's rising as an act of state. Versailles became the model for many palaces in the period of absolutism, such as the Charlottenburg Palace near Berlin and the Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna.

The Catholic State Church

It is true that even in absolutist France the Pope was still head of the Church, not the King. Ludwig tried very well to limit the influence of the Pope on the French state church through the Gallican articles . The Church thanked the king for his loyalty mainly by proclaiming from the pulpit throughout the country that the absolutist ruler could exercise his power through God's grace. Thus any evil imposed by the earthly ruler was (initially) viewed by the common population as an earthly challenge to be borne, which God ultimately imposed on people.

Subjects were also Protestants (e.g. Huguenots ), but the absolutist ruler did not tolerate these denominations , since only Catholicism was the "correct" religion. As a result, all of France was forcibly Catholicized. Still, that is not to say that an absolutist state was automatically Catholic. There was also the case of absolutist states with Protestant subjects, for example the Scandinavian countries: In Denmark the Evangelical Lutheran denomination was the state religion.

State-directed economic policy (mercantilism)

The mercantilism was characterized by a centralized, systematic, state-directed, uniform economic policy. The state revenue generated in this way is required to finance the state (the standing army, to expand the administration, to support the nobility (e.g. princely buildings, patronage , castles, gardens) and for the expansion policy ). It is based on the interests of the army and the court.

From the foreign policy following measures were flanked taken:

  • Increase in exports, avoidance of imports (customs policy, construction of factories ), promotion of economic independence from other countries.
  • Expansion of commercial and war fleets to secure and promote raw material imports and trade
  • Expansion of the transport network: road, bridge and canal construction
  • Quality controls
  • Establishment of colonies with the involvement of trading companies (transfer of responsibility, automatic competition between companies), whereby the colonies should remain in complete economic dependence on the mother country.

Origin and development

In terms of time, absolutism emerged in the transition from the late Middle Ages to the early modern period . Medieval and early modern society in Europe was divided into several classes. The privileged classes in the pre-existing items orders had political participation rights and powers. Starting from similar initial situations (which, however, were institutionally very different), very different forms of absolutism developed in Europe. What the European states had in common at first was that all power was considered derived from the supreme ruler. In the feudal and feudal systems of the Middle Ages the sovereign functions were still on the various preferential support ( nobility , clergy distributed and cities) that they had been awarded by their rulers. In the absolutist state, the sovereign functions (e.g. administration) increasingly came together with the respective territorial rulers , the princes and kings . Above all in western, central and northern Europe (e.g. in Spain , France , Sweden and Brandenburg-Prussia ), absolutism was an essential driving force for the development of modern European state systems between the 15th and 17th centuries. The structures of absolutism were particularly evident in France. However, absolutism in France was in part very different from absolutism in other countries.

Absolutism in individual states


King Charles I of England (1633)

In contrast to France and Spain, absolutism could never fully establish itself in England. In centuries of fighting, often violent, the subjects had consolidated their rights against the king. Already with the Magna Charta in 1215 the nobility and clergy asserted their interests against the English king. In the Curia Regis , the nobles and knights have met several times a year since the 12th century. A parliament slowly developed from this royal council. In the 14th century, the English Parliament split into the House of Commons and the House of Lords . In the House of Lords sat the high nobility and the high clergy. The House of Commons was composed of the nobles of the counties and the representatives of the cities.

Above all, under the kings James I and his successor Charles I , absolutist tendencies emerged in England. They tried to largely curtail Parliament's rights. As King of England, James I relied on the Anglican State Church , the majority of whose bishops were also convinced of the divine right of kings. At the same time she rejected the puritanical doctrine, which denied the king the right to subject his subjects to compulsion in matters of conscience. Charles I insisted even more than his father on the existence of divine royal rights and sought reconciliation with the Catholic Church . In the course of his restoration policy , he repeatedly defied parliament by levying taxes without its consent. Charles's absolutist rule provoked the energetic resistance of the parliament, in which numerous Puritans were represented. The election of Oliver Cromwell in the lower house of parliament in 1628 turned out to be decisive . This belonged to the gentry and was a puritan who belonged to the radical current of the Independents . In the same year the parliament presented the petition of right to the king , which he accepted under financial pressure. The Petition of Right called, among other things, for the king to refrain from collecting taxes and to be protected from arbitrary arrests. In the following year, however, Charles I ordered the dissolution of parliament and ruled a total of eleven years until 1640 as a de facto absolutist ruler, relying on advisers such as the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop William Laud .

When Charles I wanted to arrest leading opposition parliamentarians from the lower house, the House of Commons , the English Civil War broke out in 1642 . It not only sparked the tension between the absolutist-minded king and the lower house, but also the differences between Anglicans , Puritans , Presbyterians and Catholics . On the side of Parliament, it was mainly the bourgeois forces and the Protestant Puritans who fought under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell . Large parts of the nobility, the Catholics and the followers of the Anglican state church supported the king.

The powerful army of Cromwell finally triumphed over the king's army. Through his military successes and support from the financially well-resourced middle class, Cromwell's influence had grown significantly. He tasked the army with the arrest of various Presbyterian and loyal MPs. In addition, many MPs were denied access to parliament (the so-called “Pride's Purge” ). The resulting “rump parliament” ordered a trial against Charles I at Cromwell's instigation. By order of the House of Commons, in which only followers of Cromwell sat, Charles I was indicted, convicted and publicly executed in 1649.

After 1649, the rule of the Puritan Republican forces in the so-called Commonwealth under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was established. Just two years after his death in 1660, the monarchy was restored under Charles II , under whose rule there were renewed conflicts between the king and parliament, which were also religiously motivated. Under his Catholic successor James II , these conflicts intensified, which finally ended in his deposition by parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1689. Under King William of Orange and his successors, a constitutional order was finally established, based on a cooperation between parliament and monarch, which was an exception in Europe in the 18th century.


Absolutism emerged in France in its full form in the first half of the 17th century, although efforts were made under the kings Francis I (r. 1515–1547) and Henry II (r. 1547–1559) in the 16th century gave to centralize state control and concentrate it in their hands. But the outbreak of the wars of religion ( Huguenot war in France ) interrupted these first tendencies. It was only with Henry IV (reigned 1589–1610), who ended the wars of religion, that the establishment of absolutism began, understood here as the concentration of all state power ( legislative , executive and judicial ) in the hands of the king. A decisive collaborator of the king in his politics was the politician Sully as his superintendent of finances , who removed the devastation of the religious wars with the means of the reorganization of the financial system and with economic aid and helped the country to new prosperity.

After the murder of King Henry IV in 1610 and a brief change in politics under his widow Maria von Medici , a person entered the world historical stage who had a decisive influence on the development of absolutism; Cardinal Richelieu . As a confidante of the new King Louis XIII. Richelieu had full royal authority behind him and consequently began to force the high nobility, especially those around the royal family, out of the high bodies and councils of the kingdom. His aim was to separate state politics from the particular interests of the nobility. It was also he who intensified the practice of sending directors (royal commissioners) to the individual provinces in order to initially take over parts of the work of the noble governors (e.g. taxes); a development that was continued and perfected by Louis XIV (see below).

The Palace of Versailles as a symbol of French absolutism

After the cardinal's death, in spite of the unpopularity of Richelieu's policies, his successor in the post of principal minister Jules Mazarin continued . This, an attentive pupil of Richelieu, pursued the anti-aristocratic policy further, whereby the Frond rebellion (1648-1652) represented a critical climax in the resistance of the high nobility against this policy. After Mazarin's death in 1661, Louis XIV personally took over the government and completed the system of French absolutism. In the Palace of Versailles , which was expanded and converted into his main residence from 1661, he created a splendid court life that attracted the (high) nobility and tied him to the person of the king, since life at court was extremely expensive and the nobility went into debt, in order to be able to live appropriately. The king took advantage of these financial difficulties by only allowing donations to those who were in his vicinity.

He later even made all governors of his provinces compulsory; their tasks were now consistently taken over by the artistic directors, who were completely dependent on the king. Another success of his policy was the disempowerment of parliaments, actually courts, which also demanded codetermination in legislation.

The time when absolutism came into being in France can thus be pinpointed precisely to the three main characters, Richelieu, Mazarin and Louis XIV.

In almost all countries, absolutism goes hand in hand with reforms of the economy, administration, legal system and taxation - the boundaries to enlightened absolutism are fluid. The aim of the reforms was to increase the efficiency of the state ( reason of state ). To this end, Jean-Baptiste Colbert , finance minister and one of the closest advisers to the French ruler Louis XIV, founded the economic form of mercantilism.

In Ludwig's eyes all people were subjects. However, the nobles were left with social privileges, known as privileges. They did not have to pay taxes, high posts in the army and the church were only available to them; they were preferred to non-nobles in court. In this so-called class society there were hardly any opportunities for advancement, you were “born” into your class. In France from the period of absolutism up to the revolution in 1789 there were three classes:

  • first estate: clergy (about 0.5% of the population)
  • second class: nobility (about 1.5% of the population)
  • third estate: middle-class families, wealthy merchants, low officials, lawyers, doctors, craftsmen, soldiers, servants and peasant families
  • outside the stands: day laborers, maids, disabled people, etc.


Absolutism was most consistently enforced in Denmark-Norway.

Historical prehistory

Since the Kalmar Union , the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were united under one king. The feud of counts brought Denmark so much distress that the nobility, largely renouncing their power and privileges Christian III. the royal dignity. In his election surrender, he promised the Danish nobility to incorporate Norway into the Danish Empire as a province. This promise was not kept, however, but Norway remained an independent state under the Danish crown. But this election surrender was the nucleus of Danish-Norwegian absolutism. The completion of absolutism happened under Friedrich III.

King Friedrich III. from Denmark and Norway

The war between Denmark and Sweden lasted from 1657 to 1660. The Reichsrat and the nobility, who had had a great influence on the development due to the election surrender, had proven to be completely overwhelmed. Denmark was financially at an end. In the autumn of 1660 the Danish estates met in Copenhagen to deliberate on the crisis. Half were nobles, a third were citizens, a sixth were clergy. The peasants, the majority of the population, were not represented. The bourgeoisie and the clergy offered the king the hereditary kingship, which was directed against the nobility, who had previously had the right to vote. Its resistance was broken by the king with the help of a military presence in Copenhagen. On October 13th, Bishop Svane of Zealand offered the king in the name of all three estates the hereditary kingship, which he accepted. This invalidated his election surrender of 1648. The certificate was returned to him on October 17th, and on October 18th he was honored with an oath of allegiance. The nobility retained their economic privileges, but lost all political influence. The king set up a commission from the three estates to draw up a new constitution, but on January 10, 1661, without any involvement, issued a constitution under the name Instrument eller pragmatisk sanktion om kongens arveret til Danmarks og Norges riger (instrument or pragmatic sanction over the king's right of inheritance for the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway). It says that the subjects paid homage to the king as an absolute and sovereign heir and transferred to him all the rights to which a majesty is entitled, including "absolute government", which was actually not the case. He was only honored as an Hereditary King. The document was published for signature during the winter of 1661 and signed by 987 clergymen, 381 citizens and 183 nobles. In 1662 the document was also sent to Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands for signature. The king announced a visit to Norway in the spring, during which he would be honored as hereditary king. This was not a problem for Norway, as the hereditary kingship had always been anchored there in the constitution. His eldest son Christian accepted the homage in his place. In contrast to Denmark, the farmers also took the oath of homage through authorized representatives. On August 7th the representatives of the estates signed the “pragmatic sanction” of the king. The legal meaning is, however, controversial. Sogner denies the legal relevance, since the Danish Imperial Council also represented Norway and acted on Norway's behalf. Mestad points out that with the return of the electoral surrender certificate, the Danish Imperial Council also lost the power to represent Norway. Absolutism was finally established.

Legal structure

In Danish and Norwegian law, according to which the jurists of the 18th century were guided, it was said that the king as an absolutist ( enevold or enevælde = "one-power") hereditary king and lord of Denmark and Norway alone has the highest power put. According to this view, he could not only issue regulations at will, he could also exclude persons from their validity at will. He could deploy and drop whoever he wanted. For the subjects it was said that they should respect the king as the very highest head here on earth as standing above all human laws, who knows no judge over himself.

The Norwegian act of homage of August 5, 1661 with the sealing of the protocol of August 7 reads:

"Vi underskrevne [...] Undersaatter af den Adelig, Geistlig and Borgerlig Stand udi Norges Rige, bekjande og gjøre vitterlig for Os, vore Arvinger and Efterkommere at [...] stadfæste og reinforced vi All og Enhver [...] have been conceived absolut, sovereign og Arve-Hærre, Hans Arve-Rettighed til Norges Rige, som og all Jura Majestatis, absolut Regjering, og all Regalis "

“We, the undersigned subjects of the noble, clerical and civil class of the Norwegian Empire, confess and declare for ourselves, our heirs and successors, that we each and every one of us determine and affirm to recognize your most laudable royal majesty as an absolute, sovereign heir-lord , His right of inheritance over Norway's empire, as well as all majesty rights, absolute government and all regalia. "

- Mestad pp. 38/39.

In 1665 the King's Law (Kongeloven) was enacted and printed in 1705. This also presents the constitutional basis of absolutist rule.

"[...] Voris værende Rigens Raad og samptlige Stænder, Adel og Uadel, Geistlig og Verdslig dertill bevæget deris forrige Kaar og Wallrettighed at affstaa og begriffve, [...] ArfveRettigheden till absolute disse Vore all Kongeriiger Danmarpt og Magura Danmarpt og souverainetet og all conglomerate Herligheder og Regalier utvungen og uden nogen Voris tillskyndelse, fashionable eller desire aff eygen frii Villie og fuldbeaad Huu allunderdanigst at request and offverantvorde [...]

“Our present Imperial Council and all classes, noble and non-noble, spiritual and secular, moved by the previous circumstances to renounce the right of inheritance for these our kingdoms of Denmark and Norway and to give up them, including all majesty rights, absolute power, sovereignty and all royal glories and regalia informally and without any kind of influence, request or demand of our own free will and with a well-considered sense to submit and submit to us ... "

- Mestad pp. 38/39.

The only restriction was the binding of the king to the Augsburg confession (Article I) and the prohibition of the division of the empire (Article XIX). It was the only introduction of absolutism in Europe by a written law. However, the law did not apply in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.

It is true that the king was “king by the grace of God”, as he describes himself in the title of the royal law, but absolutist rule was given to him by the people. The transfer of power and the taking of the oath were a contract of submission as developed by Hugo Grotius in the theory of natural law . He justified absolutism with the fact that the people as a corporation could transfer their rights of rule to a person to any extent, i.e. completely. Even Jean Bodin and Henning Arnisaeus have been identified as models for certain formulations Kongelov. This transfer theory became apparent in 1814 when Norway was released from the Danish-Norwegian state as a result of the Peace of Kiel . Christian Frederik then wrote in his manifesto of February 19, 1814 that “the Norwegian people of their oath to King Friedrich VI. is relieved and thus the full right of a free and independent people to determine its own government constitution is given back ”. This corresponds to Hugo Grotius' explanation of absolutism and contract theory: "The sure ... sign is that with the extinction of the ruling house, state power reverts to each individual people."

Social enforcement

After the constitutional amendment, social enforcement was still required. An important element of this was the right of the king to appoint anyone to an office and to remove him again without giving a reason. In this way he was able to effectively prevent the formation of secondary power centers. In fact, the absolutist kings of Denmark only made cautious use of their absolute power when legislating, but instead set up commissions for new regulations in which the different interests were represented. In the course of time there was a circle of three or four aristocrats around the king who secretly took care of the affairs of state. The Bernstorffs , Reventlows and Schimmelmanns thus developed into the highest aristocracy and were able to achieve prestigious profits from this position, with which they shone, even though they had less political influence after 1800 and rather dominated the Danish salon culture.

Despite the doctrine that absolutist power was entrusted to the king by the people, the religious underpinning of his authority played an important role in disciplining society . From 1659 it was impressed on the Danish and Norwegian people that God himself Frederick III. helped repel the Swedish attack on Copenhagen on February 11 this year. According to the royal law of 1665, God himself had inspired the people to give the king absolutist rule. Thus it was impressed upon the Danish and Norwegian people that the goals of the king and the goals of God were identical. Hence the Danish king was revered more in the Danish Church than Louis XIV was in the French. This is how the Danish king filled the vacuum that had arisen after the abolition of the Catholic worship of saints. In the course of time, the panegyric literature of homage grew larger and larger. The king was not responsible for deplorable conditions, but incompetent or scheming officials had falsified his goodwill. There were many occasions for the indoctrinating rhetoric of homage, the birthday of the respective king, the 30th anniversary of the Oldenburg throne in 1749 and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of absolutism.

Another instrument of discipline was the church. As a result of the Reformation, the independence of the church was abolished and the clergy became an apparatus of officials loyal to the king. The king and his theologians consolidated a theocratic royal ideology. In the Missal Fororder Alterbok udi Dannark og Norge (Copenhagen 1688) numerous prayers for worship were provided for the king. The sermons were centrally prescribed and monitored by the royal chancellery and the theological faculty in Copenhagen. In this way doctrinal unity was ensured with consistent rigidity for 200 years until Pietism challenged Orthodoxy. It was not just about defending against Catholicism and Calvinism. It also went against divergent ideas from Lutheran circles in Germany. They were countered with bans against writings and book burnings and expulsion of deviants from the country. But when pietism also spread to the royal court at the beginning of the 18th century, the king formulated state pietism, which in turn could not be deviated from. When Hans Nielsen Hauge in Norway endangered ecclesiastical unity by founding a kind of free church, the absolutist church once again showed all its repressive power: imprisonment, a ban on assembly and the prohibition of relevant literature as well as a lengthy and comprehensive process that involved dissenters with the need for defense Breath held. These were the classic tools of absolutism for suppressing critical currents. Norway was the most religiously homogeneous country in Europe. It was not until 1784 that the theological faculty ended its function as a thought police.

Another instrument for maintaining power was manipulation of the public. The royal circulars and edicts were divided into public and secret letters. The preparation of new regulations remained secret, the announcement of the result was incumbent on the church and the thing assemblies. From 1798 the regulations were published in the Tidende for Danmark og Norge . The handling of an application to an authority was secret. The answer is known to few. As a result, there has rarely been broader resistance to a decision. The authorities also determined which news could be published. The censorship was an effective means of public opinion to guide. Friedrich VI's answer became famous. to a request to relax censorship:

“Thi ligesom Vor landsfaderlige Opmærksomhed stedse har været henvendt paa at bidrage Alt, hvad der staar i Vor kongelige Magt, til at virke for Statens og Folkets Vel, saaledes kan heller Ingen uden Vi alene være i Stand til at bedømme tilvadø begges sande Gavn og Bedste "

“For just as Our paternal attention has always been directed to doing everything that is in our royal power to care for the good of the people and the state, so no one but us can be in a position to judge what is the real benefit for both and the best is."

- Collegial Tidende 28 February 1855 cited in Rian p. 28 fn 89.

The university, with its complete oversight of all pamphlets, was one of the most effective means of unifying the church and public opinion. The printing works were closely tied to the court and the university, also because these institutions were their main clients. Only in the short epoch of Struensee was there freedom of the press. This also explains the government's 150-year resistance to the establishment of a university in Norway ( Oslo ). Without official control, associations and assemblies were not permitted, neither religious nor secular. The exercise of professions was dependent on royal privileges. Political gatherings were subject to severe penalties. Instead of copyright, which was developed in Great Britain at the beginning of the 18th century, there was the king's individual privilege of publication. It often helped to dedicate the work to a powerful personality or even to the king. All this ensured a public loyal to the regime.

Holy Roman Empire

In the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation , in contrast to individual member states, there was never an absolutism at the level of the empire, because the Roman-German rulers were bound to the participation of the imperial estates until the end of the empire , which also had sovereignty since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 held.

Absolutism in the Present

World map over the systems of government
Systems of government in the world
Republican form of government:
  • presidential political system
  • semi-presidential system of government
  • Parliamentary government system
  • parliamentary executive power

  • Monarchical form of government:
  • parliamentary monarchy
  • Constitutional monarchy
  • Absolute Monarchy

  • Dictatorial systems (mostly in republics):
  • One-party system (although block parties may exist)
  • Constitutional government overthrown
    ( de facto mostly military dictatorships )

  • other systems or unclear
    political situations
  • Last updated 2012

    In some countries of the world there are still absolute monarchies. Today will be common

    referred to as absolutist monarchs.


    General and research concept

    Epoch representations


    • Günter Barudio : Absolutism - Destruction of the "libertarian constitution". Studies on the “Carolinian influence” in Sweden between 1680 and 1693 (= Frankfurter Historische Abhandlungen. Vol. 13). Steiner, Wiesbaden 1976.
    • Fanny Cosandey, Robert Descimon : L'absolutisme en France. Histoire et historiographie (= Points Seuil. Vol. 313). Edition du Seuil, Paris 2002, ISBN 2-02-048193-6 .
    • Kersten Krüger : Absolutism in Denmark. A model for concept formation and typology (1979). Reprinted in: ders .: Forming the early modern age. Selected essays (= history: research and science. Vol. 14). Lit, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8258-8873-8 , pp. 145–178 ( preview ).
    • Petr Maťa, Thomas Winkelbauer (ed.): The Habsburg Monarchy 1620 to 1740. Achievements and limits of the absolutism paradigm. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-515-08766-4 .
    • Olaf Mörke : The discussion about “absolutism” as an epoch term. A contribution about Catherine II's place in European political history. In: Eckhard Huebner, Jan Kusber , Peter Nitsche (eds.): Russia at the time of Catherine II. Absolutism - Enlightenment - Pragmatism. Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-412-13097-4 , pp. 9–32.
    • Volker Press : From the “corporate state” to absolutism. 50 theses on the development of the class system in Germany. In: Peter Baumgart (Hrsg.): Estates and state formation in Brandenburg-Prussia. Results of a conference. Berlin 1983, pp. 319-326.
    • Sølvi Sogner: Krig og fred 1660-1780 (=  Aschehougs Norges historie , vol. 6). Oslo 1996, ISBN 82-03-22019-3 .
    • Günter Vogler : Absolutist rule and corporate society. Empire and territories from 1648 to 1790 (= UTB. Vol. 1898). Ulmer, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-8252-1898-8 .
    • Adam Wandruszka : On the "absolutism" of Ferdinand II. In: Communications from the Upper Austrian regional archive. Vol. 14, 1984, pp. 261-268 ( digitized version ).

    Web links

    Wiktionary: absolutism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    Individual evidence

    1. Alexander Schwan : Political Theories of Rationalism and the Enlightenment. In: Hans-Joachim Lieber (Ed.): Political Theories from Antiquity to the Present , Federal Center for Political Education / bpb, Bonn 1993, pp. 164–172; Wolfgang Weber : Absolutism. In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics, Volume 7: Political Terms. Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 21.
    2. Martin Peters: Old Empire and Europe. The historian, statistician and publicist August Ludwig (v.) Schlözer (1735–1809). 2., corr. Ed., Lit Verlag, Münster 2005, p. 8.
    3. ^ Wilhelm Roscher : History of the national economy in Germany. R. Oldenbourg, Munich 1874, p. 380 f.
    4. ^ Heinz Duchhardt : Baroque and Enlightenment. 16.-18. Century . 4th edition. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-49744-1 , p. 169 f .
    5. See the research overview in Kunisch, Absolutismus , pp. 179–206.
    6. Nicholas Henshall: The Myth of Absolutism. Change and Continuity in Early Modern European Monarchy, London 1993 [first 1992]. Review by Heinz Durchhard: Absolutism - Farewell to a concept of epoch ?, in: HZ 258 (1994), pp. 113-122.
    7. Jonathan Clark: English Society 1688-1832 . Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1985, ISBN 0-521-30922-0 (review: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/41b ).
    8. ^ So Ulrich Muhlack: Absolute Princely State and Army Organization in France in the Age of Louis XIV. In: Johannes Kunisch (Ed.): State Constitution and Army Constitution in European History of the Early Modern Age . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-428-05964-6 , pp. 249-278 .
    9. ^ Heinz Duchhardt : Baroque and Enlightenment. 16.-18. Century . 4th edition. R. Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-49744-1 , p. 169 f .
    10. So Louis Marin: The Portrait of the King . diaphanes, Zurich 2005, ISBN 978-3-935300-62-9 (French: Le Portrait du roi . Translated by Heinz Jatho).
    11. ^ Heinz Duchhardt : Baroque and Enlightenment . 4th edition. R. Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-49744-1 , p. 172 f .
    12. Tobias Bevc: Political Theory. UVK, Konstanz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8252-2908-5 , p. 62.
    13. Gunhild Wilms: Revolutions and Reforms 1789–1848 / 49 . Cornelsen Verlag, Berlin 1990, ISBN 978-3-454-59661-9 ; Wolfgang Mager: France from the Ancien Régime to the modern age. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 1980, ISBN 978-3-17-004695-5 .
    14. ^ Franz Wittmütz: Classification of France according to tax aspects .
    15. ^ Hubert Christian Ehalt : Forms of expression of absolutist rule - The Viennese court in the 17th and 18th centuries . Oldenbourg, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-486-42371-1 , p. 88 f.
    16. a b Article Enevælden
    17. Sølvi Sogner: Krig og fred 1660-1780. Oslo 1996, p. 13.
    18. Sølvi Sogner: Krig og fred 1660-1780. Oslo 1996, p. 14 ff.
    19. Ola Mestad: “Suvereniteten tilbakegitt det norske folk ved Kieltraktaten.” In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 35–65, here p. 38.
    20. a b The sovereign Konge-Lov Underskreven on November 14th. 1665 .
    21. Wolfgang Reinhard: History of State Power . Munich 2002, ISBN 978-3-406-45310-6 , p. 75.
    22. Birgit Løgstrup: Enevælden og enhedsriget .
    23. The king commissioned his librarian Peder Schumacher Griffenfeld to draft the royal law. The constitutional theories of Hugo Grotius had a great influence on these during his studies abroad.
    24. De jure belli ac pacis. (On the law of war and peace) - Paris, 1625. Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 8 f.
    25. Kongeloven ; Sogner, p. 18.
    26. De jure belli ac pacis. (On the law of war and peace) - Paris, 1625. Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 7.
    27. a b Øystein Rian: “Hvorfor var der ikke bordmennene som forlot Fredrik 6.?” In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 9–33, here p. 26.
    28. a b Øystein Rian: “Hvorfor var der ikke bordmennene som forlot Fredrik 6.?” In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 9–33, here p. 18.
    29. Øystein Rian: “Hvorfor var der ikke bordmennene som forlot Fredrik 6.?” In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 9–33, here p. 19.
    30. Øystein Rian: “Hvorfor var der ikke bordmennene som forlot Fredrik 6.?” In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 9–33, here p. 18 fn 45.
    31. a b Øystein Rian: “Hvorfor var der ikke bordmennene som forlot Fredrik 6.?” In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 9–33, here p. 23.
    32. Øystein Rian: "Hvorfor var der ikke bordmennene som forlot Fredrik 6.?" In: (norsk) Historisk Tidskrift , Vol. 93, 1 (2014), pp. 9–33, here p. 27.