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Age of Enlightenment

A special place in the world history belongs to the period from the end of the XVII to the beginning of the XVIII centuries, namely the “Age of Reasons” or the “Age of Enlightenment”. The term “Enlightenment” reflects the spirit of that time; its purpose was to replace the religious or political authorities with those that were based on the rational part of the human mind. Although, a new era did not prescribe a dogmatic point of view for any person, the researchers note that people of the Age of Enlightenment felt themselves like convalescent after a long illness or a prisoner released from the jail. This era changed the history of the world and became the starting point of the European expansion all over the world. In order to understand the events of the Age of Enlightenment the storyline of Joseph II should be analyzed.

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On February 20, 1790, the residents of Vienna found out that their glorious Emperor Joseph II died in the result of a long-term illness and exhaustion. The Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II began to rule independently only after his mother’s death (Empress Maria Theresa) in 1780. He continued the policy of the enlightened monarchy strengthening the state power; he adopted a number of reforms transforming Austria into an economically strong and free state. He will be remembered as a Rational Monarch, who freed serfs from the pressure of the noblemen, who introduced the reform of the aristocracy, who was able to stabilize the Empire after his father’s failures. He was the first who let discuss his reforms in the press, without fear of hearing criticism. He took care of public education, adopted the law of religious tolerance, and established the equality of all citizens by the law (Okey, 2002). From the internal affairs Joseph II was distracted by numerous external problems. Continuing the work of his mother, he wanted to join to the Bavarian land, permanently to withdraw the threat of the Ottoman Empire, to stop the wave of revolutions which was a result of the Great French Revolution, and to return to the territory of the Empire involving Belgium. Many of all his plans were successful. After the death of his beloved wife, Isabel of Bourbon-Parma in the end of 1762, who had died of smallpox along with their newborn daughter, he caught tuberculosis suffering from such a loss. He made a step on the way of self-destruction taking the burden of the War with the Ottoman Empire in 1787-1792 against himself.

Emperor Joseph II was engaged in the creation of a rational, centralized, and uniform control system – hierarchy, headed by himself as the supreme autocrat. It was assumed that the government apparatus should be imbued with the same spirit of devotion to the Empire. This idea was implemented despite of class and ethnic origin differences. In order to standardize the management system throughout the Empire, the German language was made as an official one. The Emperor planned to reform the entire legal system abolishing the cruel punishment and the death penalty for most crimes. Joseph fought against the papal influence strictly limiting his authority with boundaries of papal possessions. In addition, he felt no sympathy for the contemplative monastic life, he closed more than 700 monasteries, reduced the number of monks and nuns from 65 000 to 27 000, and partially secularized the church lands. In the field of economics Joseph II used the ideas of mercantilism (Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, & Turner, 2015).

He gave instructions on which products should be produced in the country and which were allowed to be imported. Moreover, Joseph introduced compulsory primary education for all boys and girls, and the opportunity to receive higher education for only the best.

To conclude, it should be mentioned that the history of the Age of Enlightenment was not fully understood without highlighting of such a marvelous personality as Joseph II. His impact on the history was so significant that it changed the whole course of the world’s development.

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