Louis XIV, Peter the Great, Frederick the Great
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From 1638-1786, there were three absolute monarchs. Louis XIV, the sun king, built a splendid court at Versailles where he looked over the nobles. Peter the Great, the westernizer, changed Russia from a backward country into a great power. Finally, Frederick the Great, the enlightened despot, was full of tolerance and restraint and had good views on government. He improved Prussia many ways.
Louis XIV increased his revenue by taxing, improving trade and commerce, and gave favors to the middle class for money. First, he appointed Colbert as his Minister of Finance. There were taxes such as taille (land tax), aides and douanes (customs duties), and gabelle (salt tax). Louis spent this money on his wars. Colbert used this money for strengthening the country of France. Second, he abolished corrupt ways of collecting taxes and removed useless offices to increase the king’s revenue. Furthermore, Colbert improved trade and commerce using the mercantile system, which was a method of commercial warfare. Colbert also established French trading companies. He thought that France did not need to buy things from other countries by making colonies of its own. Furthermore, he regulated guilds by checking the quality of the products that they make. Another way Louis increased his revenue was by giving titles, appointing offices, and arranging marriages to the middle class. They were willing to pay for all of these rewards.
Louis controlled his nobles by building a splendid court at Versailles. At Versailles, the “king provided amusements for them, and here he could keep his eye on them.” The only favors Louis could give to the nobles were to assign offices, arrange marriages for their children and give pensions. However, this was not enough to distribute to all the nobles. St. Simon states, “He sensed that he lacked by far enough favors…. Therefore he substituted imaginary favors for real ones….” Louis created simple tasks like holding the candlestick into an honor. Furthermore, it was an honor to be mentioned in Louis’ prayers.
Unlike Louis, Peter the Great had to catch up to the west, so he traveled to the European powers and copied their army, type of government, and navy. First, the old Moscovy differed from Europe because it had “little exposure to the influence of the Renaissance or the Reformation.” Second, Moscovy had “no great cities, princely or Episcopal courts.” Third, Moscovy did not have art, middle class or education. Peter traveled to the west in order to learn about other civilizations because Russia was behind in almost every aspect. He modeled other countries and took their ideas. There were also many military reforms to strengthen the army and the navy. A way that helped Peter catch up to the west was when he changed the capital to St. Petersburg. This allowed Peter to be closer to the west. The building “grew up with such fantastic speed, and everything about it was so brilliant and new. However, during the building of St. Petersburg “half the workforce died.” Nevertheless, the building site took a new shape everyday.
Since he “lacked courtly manners”, Peter’s personality was very different compared to Louis’ and Frederick’s. This caused him to be frequently embarrassed. Furthermore, he “neither hunted nor gambled.” During his work, he wanted to be “the less taken notice of.” He wore the same clothes as the people he worked with: “[He] wore the same sort of habit which they did.” Nevertheless, Peter was an absolute ruler even though he did not have courtly manners.
Finally, Frederick the Great, the enlightened despot, was different from the other two monarchs because he had many intellectual gifts such as tolerance and restraint. An example of his tolerance and restraint was when he allowed freedom of religion. Second, he did not care when there was a sign criticizing him. Instead, he just laughed. Another intellectual gift was his views on government: “rulers should always remind themselves that they are men like the least of their subjects.” Frederick reminded himself of this and was not contradictory. He also believes that “princes, sovereigns, and kings have not been given supreme authority in order to live in luxurious self-indulgence and debauchery.” Furthermore, Frederick states that “ruler and ruled can be happy only if they are firmly united.”
Frederick strengthened Prussia in many ways. First, he made the army the “best fighting machine” in Europe. He also reclaimed wastelands, built canals and improved industries. Religious tolerance increased the freedom of the people of Prussia, and he abolished torture as a punishment. Frederick also conquered Silesia and expanded Prussia’s border.
In conclusion, all three of these absolute monarchs could change their whole country drastically because of their power. For example, Peter the Great westernized Russia. If he was not an absolute monarch, he would not have been able to change Russia, and Russia would continue being backwards.