Silver – Topic 2: Limited Monarchies of the Dutch Republic and Poland (1648-1800)
Compare and contrast the Limited Monarchies of the Dutch Republic and Poland during the years listed above. (Jakub)
The Limited Monarchies of the Dutch Republic and Poland had many more differences than they had similarities. The Republic of Poland’s large aristocracy, known in Polish as the szlachta, consisted of more than eight percent of the entire country’s population. This, along with the fact that the Republic of Poland was the second-largest country in all of Europe, allowed the aristocrats to control most aspects of the government and economy. Because the aristocracy had so much power in government, it did not allow for the consolidation of a state on absolutist lines, nor did it create an effective constitutional government.
The Polish monarchy was elective, and its king had to accept certain contractual agreements which prevented him from gaining too much power over his subjects. The Polish king had practically no army, no law courts, no officials, and received little to no income. The nobility, as well as the aristocracy, did not have to pay any taxes, which was unheard of at the time. The aristocracy, in certain cases, had more power than the king himself, and controlled their own armed forces and implemented their own foreign policy.
The Limited Monarchy of the Dutch, meanwhile, flourished with wealth and prosperity. While many noblemen lived in the Dutch Republic, the Dutch were very bourgeois, which means that the middle class made up most of the Dutch society. The Dutch Republic was divided into seven provinces, each of which had its own delegate. Each province elected its own “stadholder”, or leader, but there was no one stadholder who had control over the entire Republic. The Dutch noble class had long been outdistanced by the commercial class, and affairs were managed by the burghers, which was very much the opposite of what had been going on in Poland, where the aristocrats controlled nearly every aspect of government. The stadholders, otherwise known as the “princes of the Orange”, had a fluctuating level of power. When invaders threatened the Republic, their authority would increase; when the country was in a peaceful state, their power greatly decreased.
Things changed dramatically in the third quarter of the 17th century, however. William of Orange was elected the sole stadholder of six provinces, due mainly to the uneasiness caused by the French. These six provinces then voted to make the role of stadholder hereditary, and William went about trying to consolidate and centralize his government, a task which he eventually deemed to be unsuccessful. William did manage to keep control over his whole territory, and tweaked the government in a way that allowed it to become more of an absolute monarchy without giving it too much power.
Compare the role of a monarch in both countries. (Jakub)
The monarch of the Poland had generally very little power. The Polish monarch had no army, no law courts, no officials, and no income. In all reality, the role of the monarch was more symbolical than anything else. The Polish noblemen and aristocrats controlled a majority of the country’s political and economical affairs. In the Dutch Republic, however, the monarch had as much, if not more, power than a Polish aristocrat. His power would increase when foreigners threatened to invade; the power of the Polish monarch wilted whenever an enemy drew near.
The Polish population became very divided on certain issues and policies, and therefore decided that it would be best to have a foreign monarch. This usually caused great amounts of political instability; because the Polish monarch was a foreigner, he would generally care little for the country, and would make most of his decisions based on how much personal gain they would bring him. This was not the case in the Dutch Republic. After 1673, when six of the seven Dutch provinces elected William as the stadholder of the United Provinces, they also decided to make the role of the monarch hereditary, and therefore the ruler was always homegrown. The role of the monarch in Poland only became hereditary in 1791, when the burghers began to have more say in the country’s government.
Both the Polish and Dutch Republics had an elective monarchy, which means that the monarch of both countries was elected by their respective citizens. The Polish monarch was obligated to abide by certain contractual agreements in order to prevent him from gaining too much power. Once again, this was not the case with the Dutch Republic. Countries surrounding Poland took advantage of the republic’s political instability, and replaced the country’s monarch with puppets of their own, who would make decisions that favored surrounding countries. It is because of this political instability that Poland declined as a European power, while strong, unified countries such as the Dutch Republic only grew stronger.
Compare the nobility in both countries. (Max)
The nobility in the Dutch Republic was very common to the rest of the countries in Western Europe. They were threatened by the middle class and did not appreciate their uprising. They still had power and control in their respective state but did not have the increased importance like they wanted. In Poland it was a different story. The aristocracy in Poland was very important, as or more important than any other class in the Polish society. The aristocracy made up 8% of the population, which happened to be a higher percentage than the rest of the countries in Western Europe. This did not allow for a strong central government in Poland because the nobility obtained a lot of power with their high population.
Compare the bourgeoisie in both countries (Max)
In the Dutch Republic the bourgeoisie or the middle class was the majority of the people of the country. The people that made up the middle class during this time in history were as successful and growing in power as any one in the western part of Europe. This opposes the way of the middle class in Poland at the time. There was no classified middle class in Poland. The population of Poland that would normally make up the percentage of the middle class lived in separate communities at the time that were categorized by religious beliefs. There were not even close to being as successful as the bourgeoisie in the Dutch Republic at the time.
Republic of Poland
Called a republic because the king was elected and the political class had constitutional liberties (the liberum veto being the most prominent of these liberties)
The liberum veto allowed regional diets (small organs of government) where nobles and aristocracy met to “explode” (explode meaning to veto) proposed amendments to the national laws with one regional diet’s disapproval
Greater lords influenced lesser lords in a single diet to gain the power to be able to veto a bill due to the single greater lord’s will
The king had practically no army, courts of law, officials, or income
Armed forces and foreign policy were conducted by aristocratic leaders rather than the king
The lack of political structure led to the decentralization of trade
“Poles [were] more willing to bargain with foreigners than to work with each other”
Economic activity greatly encouraged by the Bank of Amsterdam’s standardization of currency (the gold florin)
The Bank of Amsterdam becomes the economic center of Europe.
How did geography (natural borders, hostile/friendly neighbors) contribute to the political and economic activities of both? (Hubert)
The Republic of Poland was located a thousand miles eastward from the Holy Roman Empire in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was a state of vast size bordered by Russia to the east, Austria to the south, and Prussia to the west. Aside from being in a union with Lithuania, Poland did not have any major benefits from its geographic location.
Poland’s vast size was a problem for its king, because the expansion of the border made it hard to keep the entire state under control. As a result, the outer regions of the country near the frontier were given a large share of freedom and left to the control of outlying lords. To further ruin the unity of Poland, the population was very mixed, consisting of Germans, Jews and Belarusians and Ukrainians further east. Only in the west was there a massive Polish population. This and an easily corrupt aristocracy made Poland an easy target for its increasingly powerful neighbors. The Commonwealth’s hostile and powerful bordering neighbors, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, looking to take advantage of Poland’s weak internal political stability led to Poland being taken apart. The first partition in 1772 cut away its outer territories. Despite renewed efforts at a national revival, including a new constitution in 1791, the second partition in 1791 and third in 1794 occurred. Afterwards, Poland no longer existed on the map and ceased to exist as a political entity.
On the other hand, the Dutch Republic’s geographical factors will very favorable for the Dutch, especially involving their economic activities. The Dutch were by far the wealthiest and most flourishing republic in Europe in the seventeenth century. This along with the lack of any hostile and aggressive states bordering the Dutch created little to no external and internal political threats.
The republic’s location, however, allowed the Dutch to flourish and profit. Located in the northwestern part of the European continent, it had direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Dutch quickly took advantage of their position. As early as 1600 had 10,000 ships, and owned most of the shipping industry in northern Europe in the seventeenth century. The Dutch were carriers between France, England, Spain, and the Baltic. Dutch merchants also replaced the Portuguese in India and the Far East. Their easy access to sea routes also allowed them to explore and set up colonies around the world. These included their first settlement on Manhattan Island in 1613, and colonies in Brazil, the Caribbean, and South Africa.
Discuss the factors that led to the success of Holland’s republican experience and Poland’s failure. (Hubert)
Poland’s attempt at making a republic was ultimately a failure caused by a number of reasons.
I. Poland’s Failure:
a)Geography: Poland was bordered by hostile neighbors that were willing to take advantage of Poland’s poor political and economic situation.
b)Disunity: Poland’s population was very mixed, the outer regions of the large country were not run by the King directly, but by outlying lords. The aristocracy, in certain cases, had more power than the king himself, and controlled their own armed forces and implemented their own foreign policy.
c)Financial situation: The Polish king had practically no army, no law courts, no officials, and received little to no income. The nobility, as well as the aristocracy, did not have to pay any taxes.
II. The Dutch Republic’s Success:
a)Geography: The Republic had direct access to the Atlantic Ocean, which allowed it to control shipping in northern Europe and go out into the world and trade and establish colonies.
b)Standardization of Currency: Economic activity greatly encouraged by the Bank of Amsterdam’s standardization of currency (the gold florin). The Bank of Amsterdam becomes the economic center of Europe.
c)Strong central government: There was a balance of power between burghers and princes. The burghers contributed money to society while princes contributed military strength to it. In times of war, the princes had more power while in times of peace, burghers held more power.