12.1 Absolute Monarchy in Spain and France

During the Renaissance and Reformation, European rulers continued to centralize power at the expense of their nobles and the clergy. As wars of religion raged in many European lands, monarchs battled to impose royal law and restore order in their kingdoms.

Photo of a heavily jeweled crown set on a cushion.

This photo shows a jeweled crown worn by King Louis XV of France. Crowns were a symbol of the wealth, power, and prestige of the monarch.


  • Identify the characteristics of absolute monarchy, including the concept of divine right.
  • Explain how Spanish power grew under Charles V and Philip II.
  • Understand how France built a centralized monarchy after the wars of religion.
  • Evaluate Louis XIV as an absolute monarch.
  • Describe how the arts flourished in Spain and France.

Key Terms

  • Hapsburg empire
  • Charles V
  • Philip II
  • absolute monarchy
  • armada
  • El Greco
  • Miguel de Cervantes
  • Huguenots
  • Henry IV
  • Edict of Nantes
  • Cardinal Richelieu
  • Louis XIV
  • intendant
  • Jean-Baptiste Colbert
  • Versailles
  • levée
  • balance of power
  • divine right

Ruling with Absolute Power

Between about 1500 and 1800, the old feudal order gave way to individual nation-states with strong central governments. Monarchs presided over government bureaucracies that enforced the law and collected taxes. They used income not only to support lavish Renaissance courts but also to strengthen their military power.

Powerful States and Rulers

The emergence of strong unified nation-states occurred at different times in different parts of Europe.

The rulers of some countries, such as Spain and France, set up absolute monarchies. The chief characteristic of this political system is that a ruler has complete authority over the government and the lives of the people.

During the Age of Absolutism, as this period is called, powerful new dynasties emerged. The Hapsburgs in Spain and the Bourbons in France passed power from generation to generation within the family while they added lands to their kingdoms through skillfully arranged marriages.

Absolute monarchs often had parliaments or other bodies, but these bodies had no real power. The ruler could dissolve them at will.

End ofPage 426

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments