Enlightened Despots Essay

1032 words - 5 pages

Enlightened despotism is defined as "a form of government in the 18th century in which absolute monarchs pursued legal, social, and educational reforms inspired by the Enlightenment" (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). The magnitude of the philosophy movement known as the Enlightenment sent ripples throughout Western society. The philosophers believed that in order to improve society they had to "enlighten" the monarchs. The views of the Enlightenment did to find their way inside the palaces of Europe's leaders; however, the monarchs retained their great power of absolute rule. Among these enlightened despots of the age were Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of ...view middle of the document...

He also worked to rebuild the agriculture and industry of the country after the destruction of the Seven Year's War. This was as far as
Frederick the Great was willing to go with his Enlightenment policies. He did not attempt to alter the social structure in any way, and he continued to allow serfdom and the oppression of the Jews while extending the rights of the nobility. Despite his reforms, the lives of Prussia's peasants were not greatly improved perhaps due to the hold the nobility had on the government. First and foremost, Frederick sought to strengthen his state by becoming an enlightened despot, but it was at the cost of the happiness of many of his lower class subjects.
The rise to power of Catherine the Great attracts much interest. She was German princess sent to wed one of Russia's heir to the throne, but it was clear that she not wish to just be a wife. When he became tsar, she had him deposed and later murdered. As empress, she chose to continue the westernization of Russia that Peter the Great had started by importing architects, artists, and intellectuals. Like Fredrick, she was a friend of Voltaire, she allowed some degree of religious toleration and limited torture practices, and attempted to improve education in her country. She also concluded at any attempts of social reform because of the hold the nobility had on the government. When a rebellion led by Emelian Pugachev and his army of serfs, the nobility stepped in to help quash the uprising. This led to the continued oppression of serfs through the extension of the nobility's control and brought an end to the nobility's legal responsibility to pay taxes. Catherine the Great managed to greatly reform Russia using the many of the ideals of the Enlightenment, and she gained much praise from the French philosophes for doing so. Like Frederick the Great of Prussia, she did not extend these reforms to the peasants and the serfs perhaps because of the massive power of the nobility in both nations. Both monarchs ruled absolutely, but they still had to answer to the nobility.
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