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Absolutism in Austria and Prussia

From the 16th to the 18th century, absolute monarchs asserted total sovereignty on the basis of divine rights although at this time in history they were bound by certain elements of law. Absolute monarchs strived to remove the contending institutions and jurisdictions in their provinces and were able to acquire the support of the nobility. The monarchs were able to set up bureaucracies that facilitated the control and collection of taxes on a consistent basis. During the period the Habsburgs in Austria were able to crush the nobility that was primarily Protestant and brought in the Catholic nobility that bound the local peasants to their loyalty. Austria being culturally influenced by Germany, the Habsburgs were able to form a centralized government and created an army which greatly enhanced their strength in holding on to power. In 1713, they also got support of the Hungarian nobility, who were primarily Protestant, by way of recognizing their traditional rights. The Habsburgs became very powerful after defeating the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683 and were thus able to expand their empire at the cost of the Ottoman Empire.

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The Hohenzollern family that ruled the electorates of Prussia and Brandenburg were able to consolidate their authority after the Thirty Years War had greatly diminished the strength of the representative assemblies. Frederick William (1640 – 1688), the self titled Great Elector had taken Brandenburg and Prussia from an insignificant status to becoming one of the most dominating powers of Europe. The power of Frederick William was awesome and he was able to make Prussia to control the all powerful Sweden in the Baltic. He greatly reduced the power of Russia during his rule. King Frederick William I (1713 – 1740) greatly vitalized Prussian militarism and was able to create the most efficient and powerful army in Europe (Lorri Mealey, 2009). He used his authority in mobilizing an effective centralized government and erased all the influences of the previous parliamentary system. Frederick William I was crude and course and delivered results by founding absolutism in Prussia that was responsible for the creation of the most powerful army in the 18th century. His son Frederick the Great continued with the expansion of the success of his father and made Prussia a popular center of learning and culture, which was also responsible for turning Prussia into the strong military power that it became.

At a time when France, Austria, Prussia and Russia were experiencing absolutism, England had developed a system of constitutionalism which implied that there was a limitation of the government in being controlled by the prevalent laws (Melton, James, 2001). This became possible in the 17th century with the decline of royal absolutism in England. Despite the conditions of bloody and disorderly conditions prevailing during this time, England was able to emerge as a constitutional monarchy. The successor of Elizabeth I, James I antagonized the parliament by asserting his right to absolute power and the House of Commons comprising of the powerful wealthy and capitalist class objected. Charles I, the successor of James I was sympathetic towards the Catholics because of which Puritans became suspicious of him in regard to his motives. Charles I was compelled to summon parliament to mobilize funds for crushing an uprising in Scotland, but parliament passed certain laws that substantially reduced the powers and authority of Charles I. Consequently there was an Irish uprising that brought about a civil war. Although Charles I was executed by parliament, the civil war did not solve the problems related to sovereignty. In essence England had become a parliamentary dictatorship controlled by Oliver Cromwell from 1649 to 1660 (Wiesner-Hanks, 2006).


Lorri Mealey, Frederick William I, 2009. Web.

Melton, James, Van Horn (2001) The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe, Cambridge University Press.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry, E. (2006) Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789, Cambridge University Press.

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