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What trace did the enlightened despots of different eras leave in history: Catherine II, Maria Theresa, etc
What trace did the enlightened despots of different eras leave in history: Catherine II, Maria Theresa, etc

The 18th and early 19th centuries were the era when politics was taken over by monarchs. Many undemocratic enlightened despots romanticized liberal democratic philosophy, often using it as a weapon to hold onto power. They strove to embody Plato's ideal of the philosopher king. The enlightened ideals that shaped the generation of rulers were largely immortalized by the satirical French thinker Voltaire. Arranging philosophical treatises into works of art: plays, poetry, and so on, he single-handedly advocated a tolerant flowering of the arts and rational progressive liberalism in his enlightened political foundations. About what the Age of Enlightenment really was and what it was based on - further in the article.

1. King of Prussia Frederick II the Great

King of Prussia Frederick II the Great, Johann Heinrich Christian Francke, 18th century. \ Photo:

King of Prussia Frederick II the Great was an enlightened despot and a close friend of Voltaire. In his youth, the German king excelled in philosophy, eventually incorporating philosophical idealism into his reign. Friedrich surrounded himself at court with musicians, writers, artists and thinkers, including the son of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

Despite the fact that the beginning of his reign was rather stormy and brutal against Austria and Poland, the Prussian state expanded and established itself as a world power under his leadership through a lifelong rivalry with his contemporary Empress Maria Theresa.

Portrait of François-Marie Aruet Voltaire, Maurice Quentin de Latour, 1737. \ Photo:

Under Frederick, Prussian-German art flourished. His people enjoyed the highest level of legal freedom in Europe. Religious and social tolerance prevailed, although Frederick was still famous for expressing anti-Semitic sentiments and persecuted Catholics, seizing clerical lands for himself. He also introduced compulsory education for boys and girls between the ages of three and fourteen at government expense. Frederick's open tolerance encouraged immigration, which fueled the expanding Prussian state and allowed the population to recover from the war.

2. Russian Empress Catherine II the Great

Russian Empress Catherine the Great, Fyodor Rokotov, circa 1780. \ Photo:

The Russian Empress Catherine II the Great was also a close correspondence friend of Voltaire. Born a German princess, the enlightened empress, distinguished by a special disposition, by her own right claimed the Russian throne through a coup d'état: the seizure of power from her husband and second cousin of the incompetent Tsar Peter III.

Russia flourished under the empress. Catherine personified the Age of Enlightenment: highly educated, well-read and well versed in the history of her people. She tried to rule in the same style as the great "Westerner" of Russia, the grandfather of her late husband, Tsar / Emperor Peter the Great.

Helen Mirren stars in the HBO series Catherine the Great. \ Photo:

Catherine carried out legal reform, softened the censorship law, and expanded Russia's territory through military action. Although she often romanticized the idea of ​​emancipation, Russia adhered to its fascist social structure of feudal serfdom under Catherine and remained so until the 1860s.

She also created a delegation of officials from every province and social class in Russia (excluding serfs) to truly rule on the advice of her people.Contrary to enlightened ideals, Catherine largely supported her noble class: serfdom was maintained for fear that its abolition would harm the agrarian economy of Russia.

3. Empress Maria Theresa

Empress of the Holy Roman Empire Maria Theresa of Austria, Martin van Meitens, 18th century. \ Photo:

Empress Maria Theresa was the Holy Roman Empress of the Habsburgs and served as Queen of Austria, Hungary, and Croatia (among many others) in addition to having sixteen children during her lifetime. Although the Empress ruled as a co-ruler along with her husband and eldest son, she retained absolute control over her state.

Since childhood, Maria was interested in art, not politics. At the beginning of her reign, her contemporary Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded her kingdom. This ambitious attack sparked lifelong rivalry and enmity between the two German sovereigns. Frederick was Protestant and Maria Theresa was Catholic, and this event prompted her to serve her enlightened despotism in defense of her church and her family dynasty - conservatively. Under Maria Theresa, Vienna became the cultural capital of northern Europe and personified the Age of Enlightenment.

The splendor of the house Maria Theresa and her husband Franz Stefan of Lorraine with their children. \ Photo:

She reduced the power of the church in her domain, separating it from the education system. In addition, Mary reduced the power of the landowners, believing that in this way she favored the serfs. Maria Theresa was passionately intolerant of other faiths and, above all, sought to strengthen her Catholic Church in the face of the threat from Prussia.

4.Sultan Selim III (Ottoman Empire)

Sultan Selim III, Joseph Varnia-Zarzetsky, 1850. \ Photo:

The Ottoman Empire during the Enlightenment was large enough to border the Russian Empire to the northeast and the Habsburgs to the northwest. The Muslim empire had a European foothold in Greece and the Balkans, which it held until 1913. The empire was led by the enlightened despot Selim III during the Enlightenment. Selim was a passionate musician and poet and deeply appreciated literature and art.

Ottoman elite. \ Photo:

The Sultan regularly entered and left the war with his European counterparts during the Enlightenment: in particular, with Russia and the Holy Roman Empire. The aggravated state of war (which existed on the peripheral borders of the Turkish Empire more or less before Napoleon came to power) prompted Selim III to carry out a series of reforms.

The enlightened despot introduced enlightened principles into military reform (based on Western European military tactics), as well as the importation of Western written works translated into Turkish, and the wider compulsory education system. The Ottoman Empire has a long history of religious tolerance as the empire was so expansive during its heyday.

5. King Charles III of Spain

King Charles III of Spain, Anton Raphael Mengs, circa 1765. \ Photo:

King Charles III of Spain was an enlightened despot and a supporter of regalism: the doctrine of the secular power of the monarch, suppressing church authority. The central tenet of the Enlightenment was the emphasis on humanism. If the Spanish crown, led by Charles III, reduced the power of the church, then this was done for the people of Spain.

Charles III's enlightened reforms adopted the same rational humanistic policies as his enlightened despotic contemporaries. The Spanish reforms included economic and social reforms, during which the authority of the church was reduced in public life. The Spanish state took another step forward in its enlightened policy, completely suppressing the monasteries, confiscating their lands and even expelling the Jesuits from Spain.

King Charles III of Spain. \ Photo:

Although the enlightened despot managed to shift his political activities towards more humanistic views, his cruel treatment of the clergy dealt a huge blow to his noble class, however, Charles is widely regarded by scholars as the savior of the sinking Spanish crown.

6. Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, circa 1780. \ Photo:

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, also often called Kaiser, the German pronunciation of the ancient Roman autocratic title "Caesar", was the eldest son and heir of Maria Theresa. He is often viewed as the quintessence of an enlightened despot.

Farmer showing the emperor how to plow. \ Photo:

Most of the enlightened reforms announced by his mother were initiated by Joseph. Although his early reign was overshadowed by his mother, Joseph did not hesitate to pursue enlightened reform when he himself inherited the throne. In 1781, he issued both the Serfdom Patent and the Tolerance Edict: the feudal right to compulsory slavery was revised and more rights to equality were granted to religious minorities within the empire's borders.

The Kaiser fought to abolish the power of both the clergy and the aristocracy. The enlightened despot was, among other things, a huge patron of the arts. In the symbolism of his radical liberal reforms, the emperor famously remarked: "everything for the people, nothing for the people" - a phrase quoted in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863.

7. Altruism of enlightened despots

Portrait of John Locke, Godfrey Kneller, 1697. \ Photo:

The political philosophy of the Enlightenment was the philosophy of romantic altruism. Absolutist enlightened despots sought to rule benevolently to improve their people. With a firm autocratic seizure of political power, under the guise of government reform, which strengthened the government, in turn, strengthened the sovereign.

Humanism, highlighted in the Age of Enlightenment, illustrated monarchs as people responsible for other people in their domain, rather than divinely appointed leaders. John Locke was the first to (radically) suggest that if our human rulers cannot adequately protect our human rights, we humans have the power to change that ruler.

The Age of Enlightenment snuggled into our historical narrative on the eve of the Age of Revolution: the United States rose in 1776, and France rose in 1789. So it turns out that an enlightened policy is carried out for the people, but never by the people. And as Aristotle put it: …

And in continuation of the topic, read also about what were collected by royalty and why dust from mummies, teeth of subjects and the construction of castles were the norm in those days.

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