Exam preparation materials


It’s dangerous to presume that because the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Age of Exploration eventually had enormous consequences that they did so quickly, broadly, or in equal proportions. In reality, the major movements impacted different parts of Europe at different times and took a long time to penetrate all circles of society. Most people with power guarded it jealously, regardless of the intellectual or religious movements that brought their power into question. What’s more, most of the peasant class didn’t participate in the intellectual, scientific, or commercial developments because they weren’t educated or in a position to be immediately impacted by the consequences.

Outside of Europe, the major developments of the time period also had widely varying consequences. In the previous section, we discussed the consequences on the Americas and on much of Africa. But lest you think the rest of the world remained passive in the face of European growth, it is important to note that powerful and centralized states were established (or reestablished) in the Middle East, India, China and Japan. The empires of Asia, too, had unique experiences, which are discussed in detail later in the chapter. As you review the developments in the European empires, keep in mind that most nations were led by monarchs, or sovereigns, who felt that the right to govern was ordained by God. Under this idea of divine right, it was essential for royal families to retain pure bloodlines to God, so intermarriage among royal families of different nations was common. Thus, the monarchies of one country also gained international influence as the ties of marriage and inheritance led to alliances.

Monarchies also contributed to the development of strong national loyalties, which led to many conflicts, internally and externally. The European wars of this time fall into three categories: religious fights between Protestants and Catholics, internal civil wars between a monarch and disgruntled nobles, and battles stemming from the trade disputes between rival nations. In the beginning of this era, Spain became the world’s strongest nation with a powerful naval fleet and an extensive empire. As the balance of power in Europe shifted, the rival nations of England and France emerged as great powers.


1. Spain and Portugal

As you read in the previous chapter, in 1469, King Ferdinand, from the Christian Kingdoms in northern Spain, and Queen Isabella, from the more Muslim regions of southern Spain, initiated the consolidation of Spanish authority under one house, and thereby created a nation-state that would become one of the world’s most powerful forces over the next century. By aggressively supporting exploration (initially by underwriting Columbus’s exploration and then later by establishing empires in the New World), Ferdinand and Isabella had a long-term impact on cultural world developments—they ensured the survival and expansion of the Spanish language and culture, including Roman Catholicism, by extending them across the Atlantic. Ferdinand and Isabella also built a formidable naval fleet, allowing Spain to rule the seas for the next century.

As Spain focused on western exploration and its empire in the New World, the Portuguese continued their domination of coastal Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Spice Islands. A small country with limited manpower, Portugal had to be content as the middleman of a “floating empire.” It was an early player in the transatlantic slave trade, controlled sea routes, and garrisoned trading posts, but was unable to exert control over large sections of the interior of Africa and India. Inevitably, Portugal could not maintain control of its far-flung colonies and lost control of them to the Dutch and British who had faster ships with heavier guns.

The international importance of Spain grew under Charles V, who inherited a large empire. Charles was a Hapsburg, a family that originated in Austria and, through a series of carefully arranged marriages (recall that divine right promoted intermarriage among royalty), created a huge empire stretching from Austria and Germany to Spain. While one set of Charles’s grandparents were Hapsburgs, his other grandparents were Ferdinand and Isabella, who themselves had married to solidify the Spanish empire. Talk about family connections.

Anyway, in 1519, Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor by German princes, which meant that he then held lands in parts of France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany in addition to Spain. These possessions, plus the new colonies in the Americas, brought wars as well as riches. Spain fought France for control of Italy and the Ottoman Turks for control of eastern Europe, which led to an expansion of Ottoman rule into much of Hungary (more on that later). In Germany, Charles defended Catholicism from the encroachment of Protestantism (recall that Spain was allied with the Catholic Church during the counter-reformation). Frustrated over trying to manage such an enormous empire at a time of expansion in the New World and revolution in Europe (the Protestant Reformation and Scientific Revolution, for example), he decided in 1556 to retire to a monastery and thereby abdicate the throne. He gave control to his brother, Ferdinand I, over Austria and the Holy Roman throne of Germany. To his son, Philip II,he conferred the throne of Spain and jurisdiction over Burgundy (in France), Sicily, and the Netherlands as well as Spain’s claim in the New World. We’ll talk more about Ferdinand’s half of the empire later in this chapter. Phillip II also gained control over Portugal.

Under Philip II, the Spanish Empire in the west saw some of its greatest expansion in the New World and a rebirth of culture under the Spanish Renaissance, but it also started showing signs of decay. A devoutly religious man, Philip oversaw the continuation of the Spanish Inquisition to oust heretics, led the Catholic Reformation against Protestants, and supported an increase in missionary work in the ever-expanding empire in the New World. Increasingly Protestant and increasingly eager to develop their own empire, the Dutch (of the Netherlands) revolted. By 1581, the mostly Protestant northern provinces of the Netherlands gained their independence from Spain and became known as the Dutch Netherlands. The mostly Catholic southern provinces remained loyal to Spain (this region would later become Belgium).

Exhibiting further signs of weakness, Spanish forces fighting for Catholicism in France fared poorly, and to the shock of many Spaniards, the English defeated and devastated the once mighty Spanish Armada as it tried to attack the British Isles. The defeat invigorated the English, who by the late sixteenth century were expanding their own empire, and signaled containment of Spanish forces.

Although Spain amassed enormous sums of gold from the New World, it spent its wealth quickly on wars, missionary activities, and maintenance of its huge fleets. By the mid-seventeenth century, Spain still had substantial holdings, but its glory days had passed. England and France were well poised to replace it as the dominant European powers.

2. England

As you read above in the discussion of the Protestant Reformation, King Henry VIII, who ruled from 1509 to 1547, nullified the pope’s authority in England, thereby establishing (under the 1534 Act of Supremacy) the Church of England and placed himself as head of that church. This was so that he could divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn in an effort to father a male heir. He didn’t succeed in getting a male heir. Instead, he got another daughter, Elizabeth I, who oversaw a golden age in the arts known as the Elizabethan Age.

The Elizabethan Age (1558–1603) boasted commercial expansion and exploration and colonization in the New World, especially after the English fleet destroyed the Spanish Armada in 1588. During this time, the Muscovy Company was founded as the first joint-stock company, and theBritish East India Company quickly followed suit. Drake circumnavigated the globe. The first English colonists settled in Roanoke colony in present-day Virginia. And to top it all off, Shakespeare wrote his masterpieces. Simply put, England under Elizabeth experienced a golden age.

The religious battles that were unleashed by the Protestant Reformation still unsettled the region. Anglicans (Church of England) were battling Catholics, while other Protestant groups such as the Puritans were regularly persecuted. When James I came to power in 1607 after the death of Elizabeth, a reign that brought together the crowns of England and Scotland, he attempted to institute reforms to accommodate the Catholics and the Puritans, but widespread problems persisted. The Puritans (who were Calvinists) didn’t want to recognize the power of the king over religious matters, and James reacted defensively, claiming divine right. It was at this point that many Puritans decided to cross the Atlantic. The Pilgrims cross to Plymouth colony (1620) occurred during James’s reign. Jamestown colony, as you might have guessed, was also founded during the reign of James I. The English aren’t known for their innovative place names.

Charles I, son of James, rose to power in 1625. Three years later, desperate for money from Parliament, he agreed to sign the Petition of Right, which was a document limiting taxes and forbidding unlawful imprisonment. But Charles ignored the petition after he secured the funds he needed and, claiming divine right, ruled without calling another meeting of parliament for eleven years.

In 1640, when Scotland’s resentment toward Charles resulted in a Scottish invasion of England, Charles was forced to call Parliament into session. Led by Puritans, this Parliament was known as the Long Parliament because it sat for twenty years from 1640 through 1660. The Long Parliament limited the absolute powers of the monarchy. In 1641, the parliament denied Charles’s request for money to fight the Irish rebellion, and in response he led troops into the House of Commons to arrest some of the members. This sparked a civil war. Parliament raised an army, called the Roundheads, to fight the king. The Roundheads, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, defeated the armies of Charles I, who were called Cavaliers. The king was tried and executed. Oliver Cromwell rose to power, not as a monarch, but first as leader of what was called theEnglish Commonwealth, then after reorganizing the government, as Lord Protector.

When Cromwell ruled as Protector, he ruled with religious intolerance and violence against Catholics and the Irish. He encouraged Protestants to settle in Northern Ireland (this would cause many problems in future centuries). All of this caused much resentment, and after Cromwell died, Parliament invited Charles II, the exiled son of the now-beheaded Charles I, to take the throne and restore a limited monarchy. This is called the Stuart Restoration (1660–1688). A closet Catholic, Charles II acknowledged the rights of the people, especially with regard to religion. In 1679, he agreed to the Habeas Corpus Act (which protects people from arrests without due process). Following Charles II’s death, his brother James II took over.

James II was openly Catholic, and he was unpopular. Like so many before him, he believed in the divine right of kings. In a bloodless change of leadership known as the Glorious Revolution, he was driven from power by Parliament, who feared he’d make England a Catholic country, and he fled to France. He was replaced in 1688 by his son-in-law and daughter, William and Mary, the Protestant rulers of the Netherlands, who promptly signed the English Bill of Rights in 1689. The Glorious Revolution ensured that England’s future monarchs would be Anglican, and that their powers would be limited.

Focus On: The Enlightenment Writers

Keep in mind that the Enlightenment writers were busy at work by this time. Hobbes published Leviathan in 1651 in response to the English Civil War, a time during which the monarch, Charles I, was beheaded. Hobbes’s violent view of human nature and desire for an all-powerful ruler to maintain peace are completely understandable within the context of the English Civil War. While Hobbes missed the peaceful resolution of the war in the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights (1688–1689), John Locke did not. Locke’s more optimistic view of human nature can be viewed in the context of the bloodless transition of power between James II and William and Mary. In addition, Locke’s writings in Two Treatises on Government justified this change of leadership by suggesting James II had violated the social contract. Political events in England during this time, and such events in general, cannot be separated from the development of social and political philosophy and visa versa.

3. France

After the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) drove the English from France, the French began to unify and centralize authority in a strong monarchy. But, as elsewhere, religious differences stood in the way. France was largely Catholic, but during the Protestant Reformation, a group of French Protestants, known as Huguenots, developed into a sizeable and influential minority. Throughout the mid- to late-sixteenth century, Catholics and Huguenots bitterly fought each other, sometimes brutally, until, in 1598, Henry IVissued the Edict of Nantes, which created an environment of toleration. Henry IV was the first Bourbon king. The Bourbons ruled France until 1792, nearly two centuries.

Contrast Them: England and France During the Seventeenth Century

Unlike England, France was ruled by a series of strong and able monarchs under the Bourbon Dynasty. After the death of Elizabeth, England went from monarchy to Commonwealth to Restoration to Glorious Revolution. Hardly stable. On the other hand, France’s Estates-General (a governing body representing clergy, nobles, merchants, and peasants) was not nearly as powerful as the English Parliament. It didn’t even meet for the bulk of the seventeenth century because the French kings ruled successfully under the justification of divine right.

Cardinal Richelieu, a Catholic, played an important role as the chief advisor to the Bourbons. His primary political role was to strengthen the French crown. While clashes erupted among Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants) in France, Richelieu did not seek to destroy the Protestants; he compromised with them and even helped them to attack the Catholic Hapsburgs of the Holy Roman Empire, an empire that he wanted to end in order to make France a stronger power in Europe. A new bureaucratic class, thenoblesse de la robe, was established under Richelieu. The bureaucracy that Richelieu and then later successor, Cardinal Mazarin, established prepared France to hold the strong position it would achieve in Europe under Louis XIV.

Louis XIV was four years old when he inherited the crown of France. His mother and Cardinal Mazarin ruled in his name until he reached adulthood, at which time he became one of the most legendary monarchs of European history. Louis XIV’s long reign (1643–1715) exemplified the grandiose whims of an absolute monarchy. Calling himself the “Sun King” and “The Most Christian King,” he patronized the arts as long as they contributed to the glorification of France and its culture, which became much admired and emulated. Ruling under divine right, he reportedly declared, “I am the State,” and he built the lavish palace of Versailles to prove it. He never summoned the Estates-General, the lawmaking body, to meet. He revoked the Edict of Nantes, forcing many Huguenots to leave France. Perhaps most importantly, he appointed Jean Baptiste Colbertto manage the royal funds.

A strict mercantilist, Colbert wanted to increase the size of the French empire, thereby increasing the opportunity for business transactions and taxes. To accomplish this, France was almost constantly at war. For a while, warfare and mercantilist policies allowed France to increase its overseas holdings and gain the revenue needed for the extravagances of a king named for the sun. But the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714) proved to be a disaster for the grand plans of France.

Recall that European royalty was intermarrying and reproducing. It turned out that the twisted branches of the royal family trees led to a situation in which, in 1701, one of Louis XIV’s grandsons inherited the Spanish throne. This alarmed the rest of Europe, who feared that Spain, although substantially weaker than it had been in the previous century, and France, already quite powerful, would form an unstoppable combo-power, especially given their American holdings at the time (France owned a huge chunk of North America, Spain the bulk of Central and South America). It’s a complicated story, but England, the Holy Roman Empire, and German princes all united under the perceived common threat, and thirteen years later, the question of Spanish succession was settled. Philip V, the grandson, was able to rule Spain, but Spain couldn’t combine with France, and France had to give up much of its territory to England, a country that then became even more powerful.

The bottom line is that Colbert and Louis XIV’s many territorial invasions and wars proved costly and ineffective. France remained powerful, but by the eighteenth century, its position as a military power was weakening. Nevertheless, by 1750, its position as a center for arts was firmly established.

4. German Areas (The Holy Roman Empire, Sort of)

The situation in German and Slavic areas of central Europe during this time period was complicated. The Holy Roman Empire wasn’t really in Rome but rather in present-day Austria and parts of Germany and surrounding regions because Italy was controlled by ruling families in the Italian city-states. The Holy Roman Empire geographically dominated the region, but was also still very feudal with lots of local lords running their own shows. Therefore, the Holy Roman emperor was pretty weak. This is further complicated by the rise of the powerful Hapsburg family of Austria, which, as we already stated, kept intermarrying so that it dominated not only substantial territory within the Holy Roman Empire but also Spain and parts of Italy. It was complicated even more by the fact that northern Germany was essentially a collection of city-states, such as Brandenburg,Saxony, and Prussia. Finally, remember that northern Germany went Lutheran during the Protestant Reformation, while southern areas of the Holy Roman Empire stayed Catholic, along with Spain and France. Got it? It’s nutty, so we’re only going to hit the highlights, or else your head will be spinning.

Contrast Them: “Germany” with Spain, England, and France

Germany unified under a central government much later than Spain, England, and France did. You’ll read about German unification in the next chapter. You won’t read about a huge German empire in the New World or a strong German monarchy, because for centuries it remained caught in a complicated web of rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburgs of Austria, and the princes of city-states. It was also a tangle of religious movements, because it was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation.

You need to grasp the following three things from this time period:

· The Holy Roman Empire lost parts of Hungary to the Ottoman Turks in the early sixteenth century (this is discussed in the section on the Ottoman Empire).

· The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) devastated the region and significantly weakened the role of the Holy Roman emperors, which in the nineteenth century would finally lead to the rise of hundreds of nation-states in the region.

· By the eighteenth century, the northern German city-states, especially Prussia, were gaining momentum and power.

Now for a few of the details.

In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg was intended to bring an end to the constant conflicts between Catholics and Protestants that engulfed the region during the Reformation and counter-reformation. The peace didn’t last. The Thirty Years’ War began in 1618 when the Protestant territories in Bohemia (which was under the rule of the Catholic Hapsburg clan) challenged the authority of the Holy Roman Catholic emperor, a situation that frequently arose prior to the Peace of Augsburg. This time, though, the conflict grew bigger than anything before it, and developed into a huge religious war, as well as a major political war. Everyone seemed to want a piece of the action, including other countries, like France (under Richelieu), Denmark, and Sweden. Although this grew into a war between major European powers, actual fighting stayed within the German empire, which meant that after 30 years of fighting, many parts of Germany were left depopulated and devastated. Some estimates suggest that the Holy Roman Empire lost one-third of its population during these 30 years, some 7 million people.

When the Peace of Westphalia was negotiated in 1648, the independence of small German states was affirmed, and Prussia became the strongest of them. The Holy Roman Empire was left barely limping along. Its territories had been reduced and its emperor, along with the Hapsburg family, was much less powerful. Somehow the Holy Roman Empire survived in name until 1806, but it hardly had any power after Westphalia.

The biggest beneficiary of the war was France. It became the most powerful country in Europe during the seventeenth century under Louis XIV, although, as you already read, by the eighteenth century it was weakened after the country overspent and overplayed its hand, particularly during the War of Spanish Succession. The other war beneficiary was Prussia, the German city-state centered in Berlin, which also controlled parts of Poland. Prussia eventually rose to dominate the German territories, unifying them into the powerful country of Germany, but you’ll read about that in the next chapter.

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