The Enlightened Despots

By SSG

 

The age of enlightenment brought about the creation of a new form of government, the enlightened despot. Frederick the great and Philip II are fine examples of absolute rulers who followed the principals of the age of enlightenment. Both improved the condition of the serfs in their kingdom. Toleration of religion was another common idea of the enlightened despots. The enlightened despots also tried to centralize their governments, and succeeded to various extends. Philip II and Frederick the great both exhibited these qualities of enlightened despots.

Philip II and Frederick the great both regulated the serfdom, thought to various
degrees. Joseph fully abolished serfdom. He also codified laws in a manner which
protected the serfs. His new policies caused conflicts with the landowners, and after his
death many of his reforms where abolished. Frederick the great feared the Junkers, and
made his laws so that they did not offend them. He abolished the serfdom on the crown
domains. Other than setting this example, there was nothing he could do without angering
the powerful Junkers.

Religious toleration was also common in the enlightened sates. Joseph tolerated
most religions, and even allowed Jews to become nobles. This was a great step against
the common anti-Semitic beliefs of his time. Frederick the great was Lutheran, and
completely controlled the Lutheran state. Frederic allowed religious freedom, and was
openly against the pope in many religious questions. Religious toleration was common
under the enlightened doctrine.

The enlightened despots tried to centralize their governments. They codified the
laws and applied the same punishment to commoners and the nobility. Taxes where
centralized and made more equal. Frederick’s government was less centralized than his
Austrian counterpart, because of his inability to control the Junkers.
Overall the shift to enlightened despotism was rocky, yet leaders such as Joseph
and Frederick led the way. It was through these leaders that Europe became enlightened.