During the eighteenth century, royal authority was often justified by the service the monarch could render to the state and its people rather than by divine right. Some believed that the monarchs should have a monopoly of power in what is called “enlightened despotism” or “enlightened absolutism.” Britain’s constitutional monarchy was an alternative.

For much of the century France was ruled by Louis XV (r.1715-1774). Only five when he ascended the throne, in his maturity he proved to be weak and lazy, controlled by his mistresses and advisors. His successor was little better. Louis XVI (r.1774-1792) was unprepared, and his wife, Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess, became a focus of anti-royal attitudes. In Britain, power was shared between kings and Parliament, with the latter gaining influence. The new ruling dynasty, from Hanover in Germany, was ignorant of British traditions and incompetent, which led to a new position in government, that of the Prime Minister. Trade and manufacturing were beginning to supersede the economic power of land and agriculture.

Prussia rose to major power status under Frederick William I (r.1713-1740) and Frederick II the Great (r.1740-1786), strengthening the kingdom through an efficient bureaucracy and a larger army. Frederick the Great was in the model of an enlightened despot: he reformed the laws, allowed religious toleration and considerable freedom of speech and the press, but he also increased the army to 200,000. In the Austrian Empire, Empress Maria Theresa (r.1740-1780) centralized the government, and Joseph II (r.1780-1790) abolished serfdom, reformed the laws, and granted religious toleration, but his reforms did not outlast his reign. Russia’s Catherine II the Great (r.1762-1796) also instituted reforms, but they favored the landed nobility rather than the peasants and serfs. Russia gained territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and Poland, and the latter disappeared from the maps, partitioned among Prussia, Russia, and Austria. In Italy, Austria replaced declining Spain as the paramount power.

War was endemic, with national interests and dynastic concerns prevailing in a system guided by the balance of power. The mid-century War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) were fought not only in Europe but also in North America and India. Frederick the Great was the instigator, desiring Austrian Silesia, but Britain was the true victor, driving France from Canada and India, and creating a world-wide empire. Standing armies were the norm, and with religious passions more muted, wars were less ideological.

The population grew, mainly as the result of a declining death rate and improvements in agriculture thanks to a warmer climate, better livestock, improved soil fertility, new crops such as corn and potatoes, and the end of the threat of the bubonic plague. Paper money or banknotes compensated for the dearth of gold and silver, and institutions such as the Bank of England mobilized the wealth of the kingdom through credit and loans. The seeds of the Industrial Revolution were planted, notably in the textile industry where new technologies transformed the manufacture of cotton cloth, and there was a significant increase in international trade

The patriarchal family remained the core of society. Late marriages limited the birthrate, but there was considerable illegitimacy. Eighty-five percent of the population was peasants, freer in the west than the east, but still facing many legal obligations. The nobles constituted 2 or 3 percent. Their large country estates defined their lifestyle, but anyone with sufficient wealth could generally enter their ranks. The Grand Tour also defined aristocratic life: sons of the elite traveled widely in search of culture and education. Townspeople were a small minority except in Britain and the Dutch Republic; London had a population of 1 million, Paris half that. Urban mortality rates were high and poverty widespread, with prostitution and begging the means of survival for many.

  1. Explain the context in which the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment developed in Europe.
    1. The experiences of everyday life were shaped by demographic, environmental, medical, and technological changes.
      1. By the 18th century, family and private life reflected new demographic patterns and the effects of the commercial revolution.
  2. Explain the factors contributing to and the consequences of demographic changes from 1648 to 1815.
    1. In the 17th century, small landholdings, low-productivity agricultural practices, poor transportation, and adverse weather limited and disrupted the food supply, causing periodic famines. By the 18th century, the balance between population and the food supply stabilized, resulting in steady population growth.
      1. By the middle of the 18th century, higher agricultural productivity and improved transportation increased the food supply, allowing populations to grow and reducing the number of demographic crises (a process known as the Agricultural Revolution).
      2. In the 18th century, plague disappeared as a major epidemic disease, and inoculation reduced smallpox mortality.
        • Illustrative Examples: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
    2. Although the rate of illegitimate births increased in the 18th century, population growth was limited by the European marriage pattern, and in some areas by various birth control methods
    3. As infant and child mortality decreased, and commercial wealth increased, families dedicated more space and resources to children and child-rearing, as well as private life and comfort.
    4. Cities offered economic opportunities, which attracted increasing migration from rural areas, transforming urban life and creating challenges for the new urbanites and their families.
      1. The Agricultural Revolution produced more food using fewer workers; as a result, people migrated from rural areas to the cities in search of work.
      2. The growth of cities eroded traditional communal values, and city governments strained to provide protection and a healthy environment.
      3. The concentration of the poor in cities led to a greater awareness of poverty, crime, and prostitution as social problems, and prompted increased efforts to police marginal groups.
  3. Explain how different forms of political power were influenced by Enlightenment thought from 1648 to 1815.
    1. In the 18th century, a number of states in eastern and central Europe experimented with enlightened absolutism.
      • Illustrative Examples: Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria
    2. By 1800, most governments in western and central Europe had extended toleration to Christian minorities and, in some states, civil equality to Jews.
  4. Explain how and why political and religious developments challenged or reinforced the idea of a unified Europe from 1648 to 1815.
    1. As a result of the Holy Roman Empire s limitation of sovereignty in the Peace of Westphalia, Prussia rose to power, and the Habsburgs, centered in Austria, shifted their empire eastward.
      • Illustrative Examples: Maria Theresa of Austria, Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph II of Austria
  5. Explain the causes and consequences of European maritime competition from 1648 to 1815.
    1. The expansion of European commerce accelerated the growth of a worldwide economic network.
      1. Commercial rivalries influenced diplomacy and warfare among European states in the early modern era.
      2. European sea powers vied for Atlantic influence throughout the 18th century.
      3. Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British rivalries in Asia culminated in British domination in India and Dutch control of the East Indies.
  6. Explain the economic and political consequences of the rivalry between Britain and France from 1648 to 1815.
    1. Rivalry between Britain and France resulted in world wars fought both in Europe and in the colonies, with Britain supplanting France as the greatest European power.
      • Illustrative Examples: Seven Years’ War, American Revolution
  7. Explain how the developments and challenges to the political order resulted in change in the period from 1648 to 1815.
    1. Different models of political sovereignty affected the relationship among states and between states and individuals.
    2. The expansion of European commerce accelerated the growth of a worldwide economic network.
      1. Commercial rivalries influenced diplomacy and warfare among European states in the early modern era.

Reading 1: Pages 531-536

The European States:
     Enlightened Absolutism?
     The Atlantic Seaboard States

Reading 2: Pages 536-543

The European States:
     Absolutism in Central and Eastern Europe
     The Mediterranean World
     The Scandinavian States
     Enlightened Absolutism Revisited

Reading 3: Pages 543-547

Wars and Diplomacy:
     The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748)
     The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)
     European Armies and Warfare

Reading 4: Pages 547-550

Economic Expansion and Social Change:
     Growth of the European Population
     Family, Marriage, and Birthrate Patterns

Reading 5: Pages 550-555

Economic Expansion and Social Change:
     Was There an Agricultural Revolution?
     New Methods of Finance
     European Industry
     Mercantile Empires and Worldwide Trade

Reading 6: Pages 555-560

The Social Order of the Eighteenth Century:
     The Peasants
     The Nobility
     The Inhabitants of Towns and Cities