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Absolutism in Prussia and Austria

Austria and Prussia continued under the rule of absolutism at a time when England was adopting constitutionalism by practicing parliamentary rule. In an attempt to justify absolutism, monarchs argued that they ascend to power by divine help and therefore any disregard of this rule was equated to disobeying God. This followed that they were only answerable to God in maters of governance (Hooker, 1999).

There emerged a group called enlightened absolutists who claimed to be serving the people by reforming governance to reduce unequal application of absolute monarchy. This was predominantly practiced by Fredrick II of Prussia by abolishing serf system and replaced it with a bureaucracy comprising educated monarchs. Despite all these, he accepted Judaism and drove away Jews by subjecting them to huge tax levies. His ascension to power came at a time when Austria was at the helm of a transition following the death of Charles IV in 1740. Charles died without a son and therefore Austrians had to convince European power brokers to accept Maria Theresa, his daughter, to become the successor.

Prussia took advantage of this confusion by invading Austria and seizing the control of Silesia from Austria. This led to a war called the War of the Austrian Succession between 1740 and 1748 with Fredrick challenging the legitimacy of Theresa’s reign. In an attempt to consolidate power, Theresa adopted a centralized system of government by divided the empire into units administered by war commissioners and consequently expanding the army and raising taxes (Wiesner-Hanks. n .d).

These wars led to the formation of alliances with religious differences being the basis. England and Prussia being Protestants teamed up against the alliance of France and Austria which was predominantly Catholics. These alliances served to balance European power and therefore further drifted Prussia and Austria into absolutism (Hooker, 1999).


  • Hooker, R. (1999). The European Enlightenment; Absolute Monarchy and Enlightened Absolutism, Retrieved on 10th February, 2009 from
  • Wiesner-Hanks, Merry, E. (n.d). Early Modern Europe 1450-1789, retrieved on 10th February, 2009 from http://www.cambridge.org/resources/0521808944/3048_WiesnerHanks%20ch3%20sources.pdf

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