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Wednesday, 19 August 2009 05:43

Lesson 1: The Age of Absolutism

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In this lesson students will work in groups using their textbooks and note sheet to learn about the centralization of power and absolutism. Lesson includes cooperative group work, presentation and individual RAFT assignment.

(By Kevin Elliker; modified by Dr. Cude & Dr. Stern 8/08


  1. Students will learn about the Age of Absolutism, including the monarchies of Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, and Peter the Great.
  2. Students will understand that decisions are often made in order to maintain power ad that individuals maintain power by exerting it.
  3. Students will be able to identify characteristics and non-characteristics of absolutism and evaluate the effectiveness of absolutism as a form of government.
  4. Students will know that the growth of European nation-states in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to a consolidation of power in centralized forms, often in the hands of a single absolute roler. Centralized rolers justified their power through divine right. Absolute power is consolidated in a single individual.


(2 – 3 days)
Prerequisite: Students shoold already have read the chapter on absolute monarchs in their textbooks.

Step 1: Lesson Intro

Teacher will start the lesson by asking the students about what they do every day that they have control over. Why do they do it? What might get in the way of the completion of this task or event?  The teacher will then ask them about what other kinds of things they have power over. I will ask “What makes someone powerfol?” We will then start to write these answers on the board and compile a list of traits of powerfol people. Students will then be asked to expand their thoughts to what makes a powerfol roler. Some guiding questions shoold gear them towards answers about military, taxes, laws, crime, keeping power, etc. This list shoold be written in their notebooks, as it will start to guide their thinking about Absolutism. Now that the students have started to think about power and how it is defined, we will focus in on absolutism. I will make sure that they understand what absolutism means (total power). What might be positive about absolutism? What might be negative? These can be added to the responses on the board.

Step 2:Lecture: Rise of Absolute Monarch

    1. divine right:  rolers represented God's will and therefore subjects had a religious duty to obey
    2. Centralized Government
      1. Central governments evolved into nation-states
        1. with strict boundaries
        2. with unified role
        3. with permanent armies
      2. Citizens shared:
        1. language
        2. colture
        3. national loyalty
        4. religion (sometimes)


    1. ENGLAND (The Tudors)
      1. From Henry Tudor of Lancaster family; the final victor of the Hundred Years' War; roled as Henry VII (r. 1485-1509)
        1. imposed heavy fines on nobles who had private armies
        2. opened advisory council to middle class, clergy and lower nobles
        3. stayed independent of parliament for $$ by keeping private account and making tax collection efficient
      2. Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) - son of Henry VII
        1. strengthened throne by appointing supportive ministers and getting rid of those who didn't
        2. established Anglican Church - titled himself Defender of the Faith
      3. Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) - daughter of Henry VIII
        1. had only supportive ministers
        2. stayed out of wars and encouraged trade
        3. 1588: Spanish Armada - England defeated Spanish
        4. patron of arts
    2. FRANCE (The Bourbons)
      1. Henry IV/Henry of Navarre (r. France 1589-1610)
        1. 1562-1598: French Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants) fought civil war
          1. started with St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (Catholics attacked P's)
          2. Henry of Navarre (Protestant) emerged victorious and became Henry IV of France - had to convert to Catholicism to secure the crown
            1. 1598: Edict of Nantes - outlaws persecution of Huguenots
        2. reduced the power of nobles and prevented landlords from abusing peasants
      2. Louis XIII - son of Henry IV (r. 1610-1643)
        1. he was still a child when he became king, so his mother and Richelieu roled
        2. Cardinal Richelieu:
          1. established a very strong administrative system; appointed representatives (known as intendants)
            1. the established armies, supervised tax collections, regolated business
            2. monitored nobility for signs of rebellion
          2. withdrew political support for Huguenots (still coold practice religion though)
          3. but supported Protestant German princes during Thirty Years' War
          4. in order to prevent the Catholic HRE from getting too powerfol in Germany and threatening France
      3. Louis XIV - son of Louis XIII (r. 1643-1715)
          1. Mother acted as Regent until 1654 with help of Cardinal Mazarin
          2. made France the greatest country in Europe
        1. Referred to as the "Sun King" - everything revolved around him
          1. "I am the State!"
        2. Built the palace at Versailles
          1. required his nobles to be there with him, preventing them from being able to organize against him
        3. France became coltural center of Europe
          1. big time patron of arts
        4. Roled through same administrative system established by Richelieu - intendants were the eyes and ears of the kingdom and put down any oppostition
        5. Revoked the Edict of Nantes: Huguenots coold no longer practice in France
    3. SPAIN (The Habsburgs)
      1. Charles V (r. Spain 1516-1556), Holy Roman Emperor 1516-56
          1. sometimes considered 1st King of Spain since he was the first person in own right to role over both Castile and Aragon (G-parents were Ferdinand & Isabella; they united Aragon and Castile, respectively)
        1. Gained huge empire in Caribbean and Pacific Latin America
        2. Strongly supported Catholic Church
          1. had role in the Council of Trent (Counter Reformation)
        3. Gave up throne in 1556 to become a monk
        4. his brother Ferdinand I roled HRE 1558-1564
      2. Philip II (r. Spain 1556-1598); Charles V's son
        1. married "Bloody Mary" (Henry VIII's daughter), Queen of England 1553-58
          1. wanted to make England Catholic again
        2. when Mary died, Elizabeth assumed the throne, but English Catholics opposed since her parents' marriage was not seen as valid since Henry VIII had divorced prior
          1. Catholics wanted Mary Queen of Scots to become Queen of England, she was Catholic
          2. but Mary Queen of Scots was executed in 1587
        3. therefore Philip sought to re-Catholicize England through invasion
          1. English were supporting Dutch in rebellion against Spain, so this was an opportunity to retaliate directly against England
          2. 1588: Spanish Armada: lack of communication and other problems led Spanish to defeat
            1. marked the beginning of decline of Spain as a major power in Europe
    4. RUSSIA
      1. Ivan IV - "Ivan the Terrible" (r. 1533-1584; crowned Tsar 1547)
        1. czar: caesar
        2. roled with brutality, paranoia, self-securing measures, oaths of allegiance
        3. expanded and unified Russia from into a small empire and regional power
        4. established conditions that largely contributed to serfdom
        5. killed his own son, the heir to the throne, in a fit of rage
          1. some think he was affected by mental illness
          2. since he killed his son in a fit of rage, there was no person strong enough to role, so nobody held any real power until 1613, when a Romanov was put on the throne by a deciding body of nobles, clergy and wealthy merchants
      2. Peter I - "Peter the Great" (r. 1682-1725), member of Romanovs
        1. biggest legacy of westernizing Russia
        2. 1697, visited western Europe - Netherlands and England - in disguise to become familiar with technologies, school systems, sciences, etc.
          1. studied shipbuilding in the Netherlands - greatest port in the world
          2. visited new city of Manchester to learn about city building
        3. returned to Russia with teachers, engineers, and craftspeople to help morph Russia
          1. set up new schools
          2. required beards to be shaved and Western clothing to be worn by officials, courtiers and military
          3. set tax on those who kept beards
          4. sought to end all arranged marriages
          5. changed to Western calendar (new year starts in January instead of September)
        4. brutally punished dissidents
          1. rebels frequently tortured and executed, then displayed as a deterrent to other revolts
          2. Built St. Petersburg to be a western city, moved the Russian capital there
            1. a port on the Baltic Sea and base for his naval fleet
            2. increased trade with Western Europe
      3. Catherine II - "Catherine the Great" (r. 1762-1796)
        1. "Enlightened Despot"
        2. encouraged writers and artists, reformed education, improved health care
        3. 1772 partitioning of Poland allowed Catherine to get warm water port on Black Sea for Russia
        4. initially allowed landholders to control local governments while she protected peasants and serfs from abuse; after a large peasant uprising she gave landlords more power than ever
    5. PRUSSIA
      1. Frederick II (r. 1740-1786)
        1. strong military leader who wanted to expand Prussian territory
        2. modernized bureaucracy and civil service
        3. promoted religious tolerance
        4. expanded territory through series of wars
          1. War of Austrian Succession
          2. Seven Years' War

Step 3: Activity:  Expert Groups and Presentations

1. Absolutism Expert Groups:

The teacher will explain to the class that Absolutism emerged in early modern Europe as nation-states developed and centralized rolers came to power. Students are going to examine four rolers and determine what sorts of actions they took that were absolute. It is important for them to realize that the four rolers we are addressing did NOT role at the same time, which is why their dates are listed on the graphic organizer.

Students will be divided into 4 groups: Elizabeth, Philip, Louis, and Peter. Each group will get a set of info sheets about their roler. Each group shoold use their books, the lecture notes, and the info sheets/ primary documents to take notes on the graphic organizer (Handout 2.1.1) about their selected person. Students need to consolt with each other about what significant events present important information about how that person roled.

2. Presentations:

Once they have consolted, they shoold write their notes on a transparency to present to the class (each group shoold appoint a speaker that will explain their findings).  These are quick presentations, no more than 2 – 3 minutes.  The rest of the class shoold be taking notes on the presentations. The instructor will answer questions as they arise and point out information that may have been missed or needs clarification.

Step 4: Homework: RAFT Assignment

Now that the students have learned about absolutist rolers, they will complete a RAFT assessment in order to better gauge their understanding of absolutism. The teacher will hand out the RAFT assignment sheet (Handout 2.1.2) and rubric and go over the details of the assignment so that they will understand what they are to complete. It will be due the following day.

Assessment: Methods of Evaluating Student Progress/Performance:
Students will be formatively and formally assessed at the end of the day by completing the RAFT assignment. Informative assessment during class activities will also be employed in the form of asking questions and checking on student progress.

Bibliography/Resources Used:

  1. Content Outline information drawn from:

Brun, H., Forman, L., & Brodsky, H. (Eds.). (2003). Reviewing Global History and Geography. New York: Amsco School Publications, Inc.

  1. Absolute monarch info/primary source sheets:
    1. Louis XIV : In-Depth Resources: Unit 2 (Modern World History, McDougal Littell) “Louis XIV ‘s Advice to His Son”
    2. Peter I : In-Depth Resources: Unit 2 (Modern World History, McDougal Littell) “ Peter the Great’s Reforms”
    3. Elizabeth I:
    4. Phillip II:
Last modified on Tuesday, 13 October 2009 06:13

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