Philip II, a devout Catholic as well, ascended to the Spanish throne in 1556 and did not give it up until his death 42 years later in 1598. Unlike his uncle, Ferdinand II, Philip II was able to establish an absolute monarchy in his Spanish Hapsburg Empire. For many reasons, Philip II is remembered as one of the hardest working and most devoted monarchs in history. Unlike many other monarchs of his time, Philip II devoted much of his time to government work and hardly any of his time towards leisure activities. Philip II was the epitome of an absolute ruler, who ruled with complete power over the government and the people. During his rule, Philip II had five objectives on his political agenda; 1) create wealth for himself and Spain, 2) create a powerful Spanish military, 3) expand Spain’s borders and its political influence, 4) spread the Catholic religion throughout Europe, 5) make Spain the most powerful country in Europe. Philip II felt that if he achieved the 1st four objectives on his political agenda, then the 5th item would naturally happen.
Spanish Wealth: During Philip II’s 42-year reign Spain experienced the “siglo de ore”, or what historians call the “Golden Age” of Spain. This time period was labeled the Golden Age because of Philip II’s devotion to art and literature. Philip II had architects build beautiful statues and sculptures throughout Spain, and he established academies of science and mathematics to enrich the knowledge of Spanish people. This was all funded by the Spanish trading empire in the Americas (New World). This trading empire consisted of precious metals, tobacco, cocoa, indigo, and sugar, all of which were in heavy demand by other European countries and constantly flowing from the Spanish trading empire in the Americas. As other countries bought these materials, the Spanish economy grew as well as its wealth.
Spanish Military: Not only did Philip II use the wealth of Spain to enrich Spanish culture, he also used it to build one of the most powerful and most feared militaries in all of Europe. At the heart of the Spanish military was the mighty Spanish Armada. This naval fleet consisted of 132 ships, 20,000 men, and 2,400 cannons. The power of the Spanish Armada was well known and well respected throughout Europe and the world.
Philip’s Wars: Having the goal of expanding the Spanish Empire, Philip II waged many wars during his time on the Spanish throne. At the battle of Lepanto in 1571, which took place in Mediterranean Sea, Spain defeated the Ottoman Empire’s naval fleet. In 1580 Spain overtook Portugal, and united the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) under Spanish control. Although both of these wars were seen as great accomplishments, they both put a strain on Spain’s wealth. The underlying factor to fighting a war is having the money to fund it. Feeding the soldiers, paying the soldiers, providing ammunition, building weapons, and repair of weapons all began to add up. The Spanish treasury could simply not keep up with Philip II’s spending habits. As you will see, one more war will be the final blow for Philip II.
Strengthening the Catholic Faith: Ultimately Philip II wanted to rid Europe of the Protestant faith, and make the entire continent of Europe Catholic. In his crusade against the Protestant faith, Philip II fought one more war. Unlike the 1st two wars, this war was unsuccessful. The war on the Protestant faith started in 1581 and took place in the Northern Netherlands (Dutch) and England. Philip II’s goal was to drive out all followers of the Protestant faith in Europe. As you will see, the Dutch were successful in fighting off Spain, but only because of the help they received from England. England became involved in this war in a unique way. Prior to the beginning of this war, Philip II was married to Queen Mary I of England (his cousin) in an attempt to unite Spain and England and help spread the Catholic faith all throughout England. Mary I was also a devout Catholic who opposed the Protestant faith. She is known for burning almost 300 Protestants alive for their religious beliefs, giving her the fitting name “Bloody” Mary. Mary I only ruled England for five years, and could not conceive a child because of the ovarian cysts that caused her death. Philip II tried to gain the hand of Mary I’s successor, and half sister, Queen Elizabeth I of England for the same reasons. Elizabeth I, who was a Protestant, rejected the marriage proposal and secretly joined the Dutch in their fight against Spain. When Elizabeth I openly supported the Dutch in their war against Spain, Philip II declared war on England. In 1588 the mighty Spanish Armada set sail to conquer England. The smaller and faster English ships were too much to handle, and in the end the Spanish Armada was defeated. Philip II never really saw the end of this war. The war ended 13 years after Philip’s death in the year 1609. The war treaty granted the Netherlands their independence from Spain and both the Netherlands and England remained predominantly Protestant.
Philip II’s Legacy: Early in Philip II’s reign, it appeared that he was going to achieve all five of his objectives on his political agenda. But in the end it all came crashing down. Philip II achieved his 1st three objectives by creating wealth for Spain and himself, establishing a strong military, and expanded the borders of Spain. Philip II was well on his way to achieving his 5th objective, which was making Spain the most powerful country in Europe. Philip II’s one downfall was his effort to achieve his 4th objective, which was spreading the Catholic faith throughout Europe. Failure to achieve this objective destroyed his achievement of the other objectives. The war he waged on the Protestant faith drained the wealth of Spain, led to the destruction of the heart of Spain’s military (Spanish Armada), and ended Spanish border expansion. This ended any hopes of Spain being recognized as the most powerful country in Europe. Although Spain was on the decline before Philip II died, after his death in 1598 Spain would never be as powerful or as great as it was during the reign of Philip II. As Spain began to decline, England and France would compete for the recognition of being the most powerful country in the world
2. Louis XIV (14th) and Cardinal Mazarin: (1643 – 1715)
In 1643 Louis XIII’s son became the 3rd third Bourbon monarch to rule France. This new monarch was a five-year old boy named Louis XIV who would rule France until his death 72 years later. Because of his famous 72-year reign, Louis XIV is recognized as the most powerful and most famous Bourbon monarch ever. Due to his young age, Louis was unable to rule France right away. Cardinal Mazarin, the Chief Administer, assumed the responsibility of ruling France up until his death in 1661. In 1661 the now 23-year old Louis XIV announced that he would rule his own government. He claimed that he was given the divine right by god to rule France and named himself the “Sun King”, for he was the light that shines upon France. Louis XIV is quoted with saying, “Just as the sun stands at the center of the solar system, so the Sun King stands at the center of France.” Louis XIV epitomized what an absolute monarch is supposed to be, and he was not afraid to let people know about his power as he often repeated the phrase “L’etat, c’est moi” – “I am the state.”
“What a grandeur that a single man (Louis XIV) should embody so much! Behold this holy power, paternal, and absolute, contained in a single head: you see the of God in the King, and you have the idea of royal majesty.”
- Jacques Bossuet, Louis XIV’s Leading Church Official
Palace of Versailles: For protection from a possible civilian uprising, Louis XIV decided to live outside of the capital of France (Paris) where the bulk of the French population lived. Louis moved his government to Versailles (12 miles outside of Paris), where he would construct the Palace of Versailles. No expense was spared when building this palace, as it became the symbol of Louis XIV and French absolutism. Not only was the palace absolutely beautiful, it was home to nearly 10,000 people. Nearly all of the people that lived in Versailles were nobles. Instead of using nobles for government service, Louis used them to wait on him hand and foot. Although the nobles would XIV normally be angry at their power being limited, they remained happy because Louis provided them with a beautiful home, protection, and a huge tax break. As you will see in later units, this tax break would lead to a bigger problem in years to come.
Louis XIV’s Successes: Louis XIV had a lot of great accomplishments during his 72-year reign. He turned France’s army into the strongest in Europe, which would help him effectively deal with conflicts both foreign and domestic. Louis XIV also created much wealth for France by strengthening its economy through the promotion of trade and industry. The strength of Louis XIV’s economy lie in his established trading outposts in America and Canada, which was collectively known as New France.
Louis XIV’s Failures: Louis XIV’s 1st failure was his unfair tax system. While Louis XIV was creating wealth for France, he was trying to create wealth for himself and the French nobles. He did this by not taxing the nobles and church officials (clergy) and heavily taxing the French peasants. This unjust tax system would remain in place until 1789 when it became one of the leading causes of the French Revolution. A 2nd failure of Louis XIV was his religious beliefs. In an effort to make his power absolute, Louis had already limited the nobles power, but had not yet limited the power of the Huguenots (French Protestant). Like many of his predecessors, Louis XIV was a devout Catholic who wanted to crush the Protestant faith wherever it may be. In 1685 Louis XIV repealed the Edict of Nantes, which granted Huguenots religious freedom and the right to fortify their towns. Louis XIV also made it a law that Huguenots could no longer practice their religion and their children had to become Catholics. The result of this was the emigration of 200,000 Huguenots to other European countries. As these Huguenots left, so did the wealth that they created. These Huguenots were very active in trade and commerce, and were a huge part of the prosperous French economy. This loss of economic activity destroyed the French economy and the country’s wealth.
War of Spanish Succession:
Louis XIV 3rdand final failure was his expansion policy. It was well known to all European countries that Louis XIV wanted to use his powerful army to expand the borders of France. For fear of French expansion, many countries allied in opposition to France. One country that Louis XIV had his eye on was Spain. Current King Charles II of Spain was going to die without and heir to the throne. Both France and Austria had claims to the throne, and much of Europe did not want to see France acquire the Spanish throne. When Charles II died he passed his throne to Phillip of Anjou who was Louis XIV’s grandson. All of Europe feared that Louis and Phillip would unite their countries into one nation, most likely France. From 1701 – 1713 The Great Alliance of the Dutch Netherlands, England, and Austria fought Spain and France for the right to the Spanish throne in what is known as the War of Spanish Succession. The war ended in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht, which stated that Phillip of Anjou could remain the king of Spain, but France and Spain could never unite as one country.
Louis XIV’s Legacy:
During the reign of Louis XIV, France enjoyed one of its most brilliant time periods, but towards the end of Louis XIV’s reign France’s brilliance began to come unraveled in a number of ways. The tax system Louis XIV created led to an extreme class conflict due the heavy tax burden it placed on the lower class. The economy was also on the decline because of the emigration of the Huguenots to other countries. This economic decline was destroying the wealth of France. This left France with little money to invest in the French culture and the French Army. The War of Spanish Succession was the downfall of Louis XIV. Due to lack of funding, the French army was not a powerful as it once was. At the end of the war France failed at making Spain part of its country. The war effort depleted French wealth even further leaving France in financial ruins, and it created extreme opposition by the French people towards Louis XIV. When Louis XIV died in 1715, he bequeathed his declining empire to his grandson Louis XV who could never make France as great as it once was under Louis XIV. As you will see in later units, Louis XIV laid the seeds of The French Revolution which would come 74 years later and change the entire world.
3. The Thirty Years War: (1618 – 1648)
In 1618 the Thirty Years War began. The bulk of the war was fought in the Holy Roman Empire, which consisted of many German states. Calvinism, a Protestant sect, was beginning to spread rapidly throughout the predominantly Catholic Holy Roman Empire. Catholic rulers within the Holy Roman Empire, and from all over Europe, opposed the spread of Calvinism and sought to destroy it. When the war ended in 1648, the outcome was a failed attempt a stopping the spread of Calvinism, a weakened and divided Germany, which lost one third of its people, and the rise of France as Europe’s leading power. The official document that ended the war was the Peace of Westphalia, which stated that Calvinism could be practiced in the German states and it divided the Holy Roman Empire into 300 separate states. These religious and physical divisions were a main reason why the Hapsburgs could never unite the entire Holy Roman Empire and establish an absolute monarchy. This inability of the Hapsburgs led to the opportunity of other German states to rise to power in Europe.
The Hohenzollern Monarchy / Dynasty:(1713 – 1918)
One German State in particular that rose to power in Europe was Prussia in the early 1700’s. Prussia is no longer a country today, but during the 1700’s it was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. In the 1700’s Prussia’s boundaries mainly consisted of what is now present-day northeastern Germany, northwestern Poland, and a small part of Russia. Prussia was ruled by the Hohenzollern Family, which had governed the area sine the 1400’s. During the 1700’s the Hohenzollern (Hoh uhn tsahl ern) Monarchy established Prussia as a leading power in Europe by ruling it as an absolute monarchy. The Hohenzollern Monarchy held power of Prussia and present-day Germany up until the end of WWI in 1918 when the last Hohenzollern monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II (William) was forced to abdicate (step down) because of his role in starting WWI.
Frederick William I (1st): (1713 – 1740)
The first Hohenzollern monarch to rule with absolute power was Frederick William I, also known as the “Great Elector”. Frederick William I took the Prussian throne in 1713, and shrewdly transformed his country into an absolute monarch over the next 27 years of his reign. Because Frederick William I believed that a strong military was an essential component to the success of any ruler, he first created a strong and disciplined military, which would eventually become the 4th largest in Europe. Although Frederick William I was successful at building an army, it was not an easy task. To meet the cost of building this army, Frederick William I raised taxes. This angered the Prussian Nobles, who were also known as “Junkers” (yoon kerz), which created anger towards Frederick William I. Sensing the discontent of the Junkers, Frederick William I didn’t make the Junkers pay taxes which made the Prussian peasants pay more taxes. Not only did he free Junkers from taxes; he only permitted Junkers to be landowners and gave them full power over the Prussian peasants. Frederick knew that these laws would anger the Prussian peasants, but he also knew that there was little the Prussian peasants could do in opposition to the laws. Frederick William I was most concerned with pleasing the Junkers, because he knew that they were the key to him attaining absolute power in Prussia. His plan worked to perfection as the Junkers swore allegiance to Frederick William I making his power absolute.
Frederick William I’s Legacy: Frederick William I is known today as one of the hardest working, most dedicated, and most powerful absolute monarchs in history. He is credited with bringing absolute rule to Prussia, with building one of the most powerful armies ever, and generating wealth for Prussia by strengthening the Prussian economy. When Frederick William I died in 1740 the Prussian Empire was at its height. Frederick William I passed the throne to his son Frederick William II, with the hope that his son would better what he had already done.
Frederick William II (2nd): (1740 – 1786)
Frederick William II took the Prussian throne in 1740 and continued his father’s success. Like his father, Frederick William II ruled as an absolute monarch. Frederick gave himself the name “The 1st Servant of Prussia”, and in return for what he did for Prussia, the people gave him the name “Frederick the Great”. No aspect of the Prussian Government escaped his attention. Frederick William II strengthened the Prussian economy even further than his father did by exporting a lot of materials and food. Frederick William II began to mine valuable natural resources in demand all over Europe. Frederick William II also improved Prussian farming by encouraging farmers from all over Europe to immigrate to Prussia where Frederick William II introduced scientific farming techniques and new crops for them to grow. With the increase in exports, Prussian wealth under Frederick William II grew out of control. Not only did Frederick generate wealth; he created a fair and lawful Prussian society. He first extended religious freedom to all people except Jewish people, and torture was eliminated as a form of punishment except in cases of murder and treason. Frederick William II also raised law judges salaries to reduce the risk of them being bribed. In general, life in Prussian was great under Frederick William II.
Prussian Military: As has already been stated, Frederick William II had success in many areas during his time on the Prussian throne. Frederick William II’s greatest area of success was the use of the Prussian military to expand Prussia’s territory. During Frederick William II’s reign, Prussia’s army grew to be the 4th largest in Europe, and flexed its muscles quite often.
Frederick William II’s Legacy:
Frederick truly deserved his nickname “Frederick the Great”. During Frederick’s 46-year reign, Prussian more than doubled its size and population. With its efficient government, sound economy, and a superb army, Prussia was a dominant power in Europe at the time of Frederick William II’s death in 1786.
4. The Romanov Monarchy / Dynasty:
Although much of Russia was happy about the death of Ivan IV, the 29 years following Ivan’s death would be far worse than life under Ivan. This time period, known as the “Time of Troubles”, was characterized by revolution and invasions by the neighboring countries Sweden and Poland. In 1613 a 17-year old named Michael Romanov was appointed czar of Russia. Michael, who ruled Russia until 1645, became the 1st Romanov monarch. The Romanov monarchy would rule Russia until the 1917 Russian Revolution, which would pull Russia out of WWI, see the Czar Nichols II and his family murdered, have the communist leader Vladimir Lenin rise to power, and see name of Russia be changed to the Soviet Union. Although the Romanov monarchy was in place with Michael’s appointment, Russia would experience civilian rebellion and revolution attempts for many years to come. Four more Romanov monarchs would try to restore order to Russia, but none were successful until the year 1682 when one of Russia’s greatest leaders rose to power.
Peter I (1st): (1682 – 1725)
With the Romanov monarchy in trouble and Russia on the brink of revolution, things did not look better when a 10-year old boy named Peter became czar of Russia in 1682. Peter I was the fifth Romanov monarch and would eventually become one of the greatest leaders in Russian history. Known as “Peter the Great”, he took full responsibility of the Russian throne in 1689 and turned Russia into a true absolute monarchy. Peter I was a huge man, nearly seven feet tall, poorly educated, uncouth, and often brutal. At the same time, Peter I was open to new ideas, practical, hard-working and energetic. Both of his bad qualities and good qualities would help Peter achieve absolute power in Russia and lead the Russian society to greatness.
Peter and Western European Thought:
Peter I knew that Russia was far behind the rest of Europe in almost every aspect of life. In an effort to gain knowledge about Western European life, Peter I toured Western Europe. Upon his return, Peter I tried to incorporate Western European values into Russian life by instituting many radical changes. Peter I named this reform of Russian life “westernization”. Peter I first restored the Boyars and forced them to adopt the beliefs and clothing of Western Europe. Russian men entering Moscow were forced to shave their beards or pay a fine. Women, who had always been excluded from social gatherings, were ordered to attend parties. These changes were opposed at first, but were eventually accepted by all Russian people. Peter I also sent Russian government officials to Western Europe to study shipbuilding, naval warfare, mathematics, and foreign languages. He also invited experts from foreign countries to come train his Russian people. Peter I’s love of Western European culture and technology lead to many changes in Russian life.
Peter I needed money to support the changes he was making to the Russian government and society. The Russian economy was bringing in money, but not the amount of money that Peter I needed to support his “Westerization of Russia”. In order to strengthen the Russian economy, Russia had to embrace the theory of mercantilism and consistently import goods into Russia and export goods to other countries. During the 1700’s goods were transported predominantly by water. The problem here is that much of Russia has extremely cold temperatures year round. Surrounding Arctic Ocean waters of Russia would freeze making it very difficult for wooden ships to maneuver and transport goods in and out of Russia. This made it very difficult for Peter I to build a consistent and strong economy. In order to build a strong economy Peter I knew that he had to gain permanent access to a waterway leading to a major sea or ocean that did not freeze over. The need of this waterway, or “warm-water port”, would be an underlying motive for much of what Peter would do throughout his reign.
Peter I knew that he was going to have to go to war to gain a warm-water port. Peter I also knew that his army was not equipped or trained to fight a war. Peter I poured time, money, and training into the Russian army and created the largest standing army in Europe. With his new military, Peter I set out to gain his warm-water port. Peter I first tried to gain a warm-water port in the Black Sea by defeating the Ottoman Empire, but his effort was a failure. Peter I learned from his mistakes and turned his attention to neighboring Sweden, which owned much land along the Baltic Sea. The war began in 1700 and ended in 1709 with Russia winning land along the Baltic Sea and finally gaining a warm-water port.
On the land along Baltic Sea gained from the war with Sweden, Peter I decided to build a new city. Peter I would name the city St. Petersburg and make it the new capital of Russia (Moscow being the old capital). During the Russian Revolution St. Petersburg’s name was changed to Leningrad. After the Russian Revolution was over the name was changed back to St. Petersburg. Peter I chose to build St. Petersburg on a piece of land that was very swampy. Peter I forced thousands of serfs, or Russian peasants, to drain the swampy area. Although many serfs died while doing this, Peter I got his city and referred to it as the “Window on the West”. He invited many Western European architects to St. Petersburg to help him design every little bit of the city. Just as the Palace of Versailles became a symbol of Louis XIV and French absolutism, St. Petersburg was a symbol of Peter I and Russian absolutism. Because of the warm-water port built at St. Petersburg, it became the biggest and most important trading city in Russia. Goods were constantly being imported and exported at St. Petersburg, which lead to a strong Russian economy and much wealth for Russia and Peter the Great.
After a 43-year reign of Russia, Peter I died in 1725. Peter had done more for Russia than any other Russian leader before him. He expanded Russian territory, gained a warm-water port, created a huge army, strengthened the Russian economy, and secured Russia as a respected country to the rest of world for many years to come. Although Peter I did carry Russia to greatness, the progression of his vision would be lost until the year 1672 when another great Romanov leader came to the throne and restored the vision of Peter the Great
5. Catherine II (2nd): (1762 – 1796)
Peter I died without naming a successor to the Russian throne, which set off a series of power struggles among many Romanovs. Eventually Peter III gained some control over the Russian government and married a German princess named Catherine. Peter soon became unpopular and was assassinated in 1762, leaving the Russian throne to his wife Catherine II. It is believed that Catherine II may have been involved in the assassination plot because of her love affair with one of the assassin’s brothers, but nothing could be proved. Nonetheless, Catherine II gained the throne of Russia and became the 13th Romanov monarch. Catherine II ruled Russia with greatness for 34 years earning her the name “Catherine the Great”.
She continued where Peter I left off by incorporating Western European thought into Russian life. Like Peter I, she reorganized the government under her absolute control, created a strong Russian military, and strengthened the Russian economy. Catherine II also created a government sponsored education program for Russian boys and girls. Although Catherine II did great things, she was very ruthless at the same time. Much of her policies and reforms only benefited the Boyars and upper class citizens of Russia. Russian peasants saw no benefits from Catherine II’s policies causing many peasant revolts, which Catherine II swiftly crushed.
Catherine II’s Expansions:
Like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great also wanted to expand the territory of Russia and gain a warm-water port. With a warm water port already on the Baltic Sea, Catherine II wanted another warm-water port on the Black Sea. Catherine II achieved this goal by doing something that Peter I could not. She defeated the Ottoman Empire, gained some land along the coast of the Black Sea, and built a second warm water port. This now gave Russia two warm-water ports for importing and exporting goods, which only made the Russian economy stronger.
The Three Partitions of Poland:
Another place Catherine II had interest in was the unstable country of Poland. Like Catherine II, Frederick William II of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria wanted the land of Poland as well. In 1772 the three monarchs met and peacefully partitioned, or divided, Poland three separate ways with each of them gaining significant amounts of land. This event is known as The 1st Partition of Poland, and two more partitions of Poland would eventually take place in 1793 and 1795. Together these three events are known as The Three Partitions of Poland.
Catherine II’s Legacy:
Today Catherine II is known for her numerous love affairs and her inability to speak the Russian language fluently, but one cannot overlook what she did for her country. When Catherine died in 1796, she had completed the vision of Peter the Great. She restored the Russian military and economy, and achieved Peter I’s most elusive goal of a warm-water port on the Black Sea. Catherine II’s only knock would be her persecution of the Russian peasants, which laid the groundwork for the Russian Revolution in 1917 and officially end the Romanov Monarchy.