The 14th through the 18th century in Europe was a time in which monarchs gained power by centralizing their governments. As a result they often attained absolute power. The most successful and longest tenured monarchs were those that were able to achieve religious and national unity, and those that had either a powerful military or a group like parliament on their side. Religious unity was attained by these monarchs in two ways, either promoting toleration, or kicking those that did not practice the "official" religion out of the country. A few absolute monarchs attempted to take power away from nobles and were successful. However, some monarchs tried to go as far as taking away parliament's power. Those monarchs ended up without a head.
Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great took the throne after the death of Peter the Great. During her reign, she took many steps to increase Russia’s wealth and westernize and modernize Russia’s government. Catherine was an absolute monarch, meaning she was in complete control over Russia’s government and the lives of it’s people. In order to expand Russia’s borders, Catherine defeated the Ottoman empire for a warm-water port on the Black Sea. However, a downfall of Catherine’s reign was her decision to partition Poland with Austria and Prussia. This resulted in the disappearance of Poland altogether.
Peter the Great
Peter the Great took the throne of Russia in 1689. He expanded Russian territory, captured ports on the Baltic Sea, built a very strong army, and ended Russia’s period of isolation. Peter used fear and terror in order to strengthen his power. However, after much hard work to avoid this problem, his ideas and methods worked to widen the gap between Russia and the West.
Frederick II became King of Prussia in 1740. His father, Frederick William, spent time to make sure his son was well educated in the art of war. This ended up paying off when Frederick immediately seized Silesia from Austria which began the War of Austrian Succession. His greatly disciplined army earned him the nickname Frederick the Great.
Frederick William I
Frederick William I of Prussia is known for creating one of the best-trained armies in Europe. He raised the importance of military values and won the loyalty of nobles called Junkers by granting them positions of power.
Maria Theresa was the Hapsburg empress for 40 years. During the Austrian Succession, she was not able to get Fredrick out of Silesia, but continued to protect her empire and gain the support of the majority of her people. By changing around the bureaucracy she was able to strengthen her empire. Also, she improved tax collection by forcing nobles and clergy to pay taxes. Finally, she made Vienna a center for music and the arts.
Queen Elizabeth I
Following Mary Tudor’s death, Elizabeth I became the Queen of England. She was known for compromise, which was especially evident in the Elizabethan settlement. This was a middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism. Ultimately, Elizabeth I worked to restore unity in England and make England the most powerful force in Europe.
Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand
Ferdinand was given the Holy Roman Empire from his brother, Charles V, in 1637. Although he was a devout Catholic, he worked hard to suppress the Protestant Reformation and establish royal power over local nobles. Ferdinand was also an absolutist monarch, meaning he had control over the government and lives of his people.
Isabella and Ferdinand Marry
This marriage united Castile and Aragon. Together, Isabella and Ferdinand lead a brutal crusade against Muslims and Jews of Spain. They effectively ended religious toleration to maintain support from the Inquisition.
William and Mary of Orange
After the Glorious Revolution, William and Mary of Orange ruled England. They were required to accept the English Bill of Rights by Parliament in 1689. These ensured that parliament would have more power over the monarchy. Included in the English Bill of RIghts was the principle of habeas corpus. This stated that a person must be charged with a particular crime, before they can be held in prison. Lastly, WIlliam and Mary spent many wars and battles fighting against catholicism.
James II inherited the throne in 1685. James was not shy about his Catholic faith. He angered his citizens by randomly getting rid of laws and appointing Catholics to high office. This made many English Protestants nervous that he was planning on restoring the Roman Catholic Church. Through the Glorious Revolution, Parliament overthrowed James and placed William and Mary of Orange into power.