The eighteenth century was a unique period of fundamental change across the globe. Britain conquered India and colonised North America, only to lose the United States in the American Revolution. Within Europe, the old regimes were brought down; in France by the Revolution, having been reformed from above by Frederick the Great in Prussia, by Catherine the Great in Russia and by Maria Theresa and Joseph II in the Austrian Monarchy. A revolution in ideas helped to bring about these changes, as the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century now made its impact throughout Europe and in America, inspiring the critique of traditional society and politics characteristic of the Enlightenment. The century's momentous developments have attracted a galaxy of top-level historians on both sides of the Atlantic, Derek Beales among them. In this book he illuminates not only the politics and political ideas of the period but also its social, cultural and religious history. He illustrates the variety of Enlightenment thought and practice, showing how different the ideas of the French philosophes were from those of the reformers of central and eastern Europe. Focussing on the attitudes and policies of Joseph II, the most radical the Enlightened despots, 'the revolutionary on the throne', he shows that spurious sources (and the play and film Amadeus) have distorted the emperor's views, and uncovers what his real relationship was with his mother Maria Theresa, with the papacy, the Jesuits and the monasteries, with Freemasonry and with Mozart. Chapters are devoted to 'social forces and Enlightened policies', to the general notions of 'Enlightened despotism' and 'philosophic kingship' and to the movement named after the emperor, 'Josephism', that continued in the Austrian Empire at least down to 1848. These large and overarching themes are enlivened by fresh detail drawn from Derek Beales' intensive and meticulous research in foreign libraries and archives. His lively writing will delight the specialist as well as the general reader in this exploration of a complex and fascinating period.
Enlightenment and Reform in Eighteenth-century Europe