As king of Spain (r. 1759-1788), Charles III energetically advanced the progressive policies begun under his father, Philip V. Though a pious Catholic, Charles forced the Jesuits out of Spain. He reduced the authority of the aristocracy, extended that of the Crown, and made Spain more nearly a centralized national state.
He curbed the privileges of the great sheep ranchers. To give new life to the economy, he undertook irrigation projects, reclaimed waste lands, and established new roads, canals, textile mills, and banks. Spain’s foreign commerce increased fivefold during the reign of Charles III. His successor, however, abandoned many of his policies.
In Portugal, the marques de Pombal, the first minister of King Joseph I (r. 1750-1777), secured his reputation by the speed and good taste with which he rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755. The Portuguese economy depended heavily on income from the colonies, especially Brazil, and on the sale of port wine to and the purchase of manufactured goods from Britain.
Pombal tried to enlarge the economic base by fostering local industries and encouraging the growth of grain production. In an attempt to weaken the grip of clericalism, he ousted the Jesuits and advanced religious toleration. To weaken the nobles, he attacked their rights of inheritance.
But Pombal’s methods were high-handed, and when he fell from power in 1777 the prisons released thousands of men whom he had confined years earlier for their alleged involvement in aristocratic plots.
Equally high-handed in the long run was Sweden’s benevolent despot, Gustavus III (r. 1771-1792), a nephew of Frederick the Great. He resolved not to be cramped by the noble factions that had run the country since the death of Charles XII. While he distracted Swedish party leaders at the opera one evening, his soldiers staged a coup that enabled him to revive royal authority and to dissolve the factions.
In economics and religion his enlightenment outdistanced that of his uncle in Prussia, for he removed obstacles to both domestic and foreign trade and extended toleration to both Jews and non-Lutheran Christians. Success, however, went to his head. As the king became more and more arbitrary, the nobles determined to recover their old power; in 1792 Gustavus was assassinated.