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3.8 Comparison in the Age of Absolutism and Constitutionalism

7 min readjanuary 20, 2023

Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown

Riya Patel

Riya Patel


AP European History 🇪🇺

335 resources
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Overview

The Age of Absolutism and the Age of Constitutionalism were two distinct historical periods in Europe that had different political systems, concepts of governance and societal structures.

Age of Absolutism

The Age of Absolutism, which lasted from the late 16th century to the late 18th century, was characterized by the rise of centralized, absolute monarchies in which the monarch held total power and authority over the state and its people. The monarchs of this period believed in the divine right of kings and the absolute authority of the monarch. They sought to centralize power and eliminate any form of opposition or dissent.

Age of Constitutionalism

On the other hand, The Age of Constitutionalism, which began in the late 18th century and lasted until the 19th century, was characterized by the emergence of constitutional monarchies and the rise of the modern state. During this period, the power of the monarchs was limited by a constitution, which defined the rights and responsibilities of the monarch, the government, and the people. This period saw the emergence of representative government and the rise of democracy.
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Comparison

Societal Structure

The societal structure during the Age of Absolutism was characterized by a rigid social hierarchy, with the monarch at the top and the common people at the bottom. The monarchy was the center of power, and the nobility and clergy held significant power and influence. The common people had little say in government and were expected to be loyal subjects to the monarch. The society was also highly stratified, with a sharp division between the upper and lower classes, and little social mobility.
On the other hand, the societal structure during the Age of Constitutionalism was characterized by a more egalitarian society, with a growing middle class and the rise of the concept of individual rights and freedoms. The power of the monarchs was limited by a constitution, which defined the rights and responsibilities of the monarch, the government, and the people. This period saw the emergence of representative government and the rise of democracy, which led to an increase in political participation and representation for the common people. The society became more open to social mobility, with the rise of the middle class, who increasingly had access to education, and opportunities for economic and social advancement.
In terms of contrast, the societal structure during the Age of Absolutism was characterized by a rigid social hierarchy, with little social mobility and a sharp division between the upper and lower classes, while during the Age of Constitutionalism was characterized by a more egalitarian society, with a growing middle class and the rise of the concept of individual rights and freedoms, which led to an increase in political participation and representation for the common people, and an open society that allowed social mobility.

Economy

During the Age of Absolutism, the economy was primarily agrarian, with a strong emphasis on mercantilism and state control. The monarchs sought to increase their own wealth and power by controlling trade and commerce. This often led to the imposition of high tariffs and other trade restrictions, which hindered economic growth. The monarchs also sought to increase their own wealth by imposing heavy taxes on the common people, which led to widespread poverty and social unrest.
On the other hand, during the Age of Constitutionalism, the economy became increasingly capitalist, with a strong emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. The government's role in the economy became more limited, and trade and commerce were largely left to the private sector. This led to the growth of new industries, such as manufacturing and banking, and the rise of a new class of merchants and capitalists. The growth of the global economy also led to the increased movement of people, goods, and ideas across Europe and the world, which led to economic growth and prosperity.
In terms of contrast, the economy during the Age of Absolutism was primarily agrarian, with a strong emphasis on mercantilism and state control, which led to high tariffs, trade restrictions, and heavy taxes on the common people, while during the Age of Constitutionalism, the economy became increasingly capitalist, with a strong emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, which led to economic growth and prosperity through trade and commerce, and the rise of new industries and merchants.

Government

During the Age of Absolutism, government was centralized, with the monarch holding total power and authority over the state and its people. The monarchs believed in the divine right of kings and the absolute authority of the monarch. They sought to eliminate any form of opposition or dissent and to centralize power in the monarchy. The government was often run by the monarch's appointed officials and the nobility, who held significant power and influence.
On the other hand, during the Age of Constitutionalism, the power of the monarch was limited by a constitution, which defined the rights and responsibilities of the monarch, the government, and the people. The government was based on a system of checks and balances, with the power of the monarch being limited by the power of the legislature and the judiciary. This period saw the emergence of representative government and the rise of democracy, which led to an increase in political participation and representation for the common people.
In terms of contrast, the government during the Age of Absolutism was centralized, with the monarch holding total power and authority over the state, and the government was run by the monarch's appointed officials and the nobility, while during the Age of Constitutionalism, the power of the monarch was limited by a constitution, and the government was based on a system of checks and balances, with the power of the monarch being limited by the power of the legislature and the judiciary. The government during the Age of Absolutism was autocratic, while during the Age of Constitutionalism, it was more democratic.

Religion

During the Age of Absolutism, religion was closely tied to the state, with the monarchs often using religion as a tool to gain political and economic power. This often led to religious wars, as different states and religious groups fought for control. The monarchs also sought to control religious institutions and use them to further their own political and economic goals. This led to the suppression of religious dissent and the persecution of religious minorities.
On the other hand, during the Age of Constitutionalism, religion became more separated from the state, with the power of religious institutions being limited by the power of the government. This led to greater religious freedom and tolerance, and the emergence of new religious movements and sects. The emphasis on individual rights and freedoms also led to an increase in religious diversity and pluralism. This period saw the emergence of new ideas, such as Deism, which emphasized reason and natural religion over traditional religious institutions and doctrines.
In terms of contrast, during the Age of Absolutism, religion was closely tied to the state and the monarchs often used religion as a tool to gain political and economic power, leading to religious wars, suppression of dissent and persecution of religious minorities, while during the Age of Constitutionalism, religion became more separated from the state, with the power of religious institutions being limited by the power of the government, leading to greater religious freedom and tolerance, and the emergence of new religious movements and sects, and an increase in religious diversity and pluralism.

Key Figures

During the Age of Absolutism, key figures were monarchs who sought to centralize power and eliminate any form of opposition or dissent, such as Louis XIV of France, who is known for his statement "I am the state" and his efforts to strengthen the power of the monarchy and centralize the government. Another notable figure is Philip II of Spain, who was known for his religious and political absolutism and his efforts to maintain the unity of the Spanish Empire.
On the other hand, during the Age of Constitutionalism, key figures were those who advocated for the limitation of monarchical power and the creation of constitutional monarchies and republics. John Locke is one of the most notable figures of this period, his two Treatises of Government laid the foundation of the modern theory of constitutional government and individual rights. Another notable figure is William of Orange, who led the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England which established a constitutional monarchy and limited the power of the monarch.
In terms of contrast, the key figures of the Age of Absolutism were monarchs who sought to centralize power and strengthen the monarchy, while the key figures of the Age of Constitutionalism were those who advocated for the limitation of monarchical power and the creation of constitutional monarchies and republics. The figures of the Age of Absolutism were primarily focused on maintaining their own power and control, while the figures of the Age of Constitutionalism were focused on limiting the power of the monarchs and protecting the rights of the people.

Summary

In summary, the Age of Absolutism and the Age of Constitutionalism were two distinct historical periods in Europe that had different political systems, concepts of governance, and societal structures.
The Age of Absolutism was characterized by the rise of centralized, absolute monarchies, in which the monarch held total power and authority over the state and its people. The monarchs believed in the divine right of kings and the absolute authority of the monarch, and sought to centralize power and eliminate any form of opposition or dissent. The societal structure of this period was characterized by a rigid social hierarchy, with the monarch at the top and the common people at the bottom.
In contrast, the Age of Constitutionalism was characterized by the emergence of constitutional monarchies, the rise of the modern state and the concept of individual rights and freedoms. The power of the monarchs was limited by a constitution, which defined the rights and responsibilities of the monarch, the government, and the people. This period saw the emergence of representative government and the rise of democracy. The societal structure of this period was characterized by a more egalitarian society, with a growing middle class and the rise of the concept of individual rights and freedoms.
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⛪️Unit 2 – Reformation
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