Netherlands' Golden Age. Factors behind the different political paths of France and England

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AP European Chapter at a Glance

Ch 13 European State Consolidation in 17th and 18th Centuries

After reading this chapter you should understand:

  • The origins and decline of the Netherlands' Golden Age.

  • Factors behind the different political paths of France and England.

  • The origins and consequences of the English Civil War.

  • The development of Parliamentary supremacy in England, particularly after the Glorious Revolution.

  • The rise of absolute monarchy in France, particularly under Louis XIV.

  • The wars of Louis XIV and the development of a European diplomatic system.

  • The sixteenth to eighteenth century developments and influence of the three monarchies of central and eastern Europe.

  • Russia Enters the European Political Arena under Peter the Great.

  • The factors behind the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

The Netherlands: Golden Age to Decline
The seven provinces that became the United Provinces of the Netherlands emerged as a nation after revolting against Spain in 1572. During the seventeenth century, the Dutch engaged in a series of naval wars with England. Then, in 1672, the armies of Louis XIV invaded the Netherlands. Prince William III of Orange rallied the Dutch and eventually led the entire European coalition against France.

The Dutch distrusted monarchies, preferring republican structures. The Netherlands were traditionally Protestant, but toleration marked Dutch religious life. The Dutch Republic built its foundations on high urban consolidation, transformed agriculture, extensive trade and finance, and an overseas commercial empire. A decline in political influence of the United Provinces of the Netherlands occurred in the eighteenth century. What saved the United Provinces from becoming completely insignificant in European affairs was their continued financial dominance.

Two Models of European Political Development
In the seventeenth century, England and France developed two quite different forms of government, each of which in turn served as a model for other European countries in the eighteenth century. In both countries, the increasing costs of warfare and governance meant that monarchs had to find new ways to raise revenues. In England, nobles and the wealthy were politically active and had a tradition of broad liberties, representation, and bargaining with the monarch through Parliament. The English nobility -- like much of the citizenry -- felt little admiration, and even less affection, for the Stuart monarchs. So England developed a system later labeled "liberalism," in which the monarch had to negotiate with Parliament and other national institutions regarding taxes and many other issues. In France, the Estates General was beginning a 175-year hiatus in meetings, which had been infrequent in any case. Members of the French nobility believed that the strength of Louis XIV served their own interests as well. This led to the so-called "absolutism" of the French monarchy, which served as the country's sole significant national institution.
Constitutional Crisis and Settlement in Stuart England
In the first half of the seventeenth century, relations between the English monarchy and nobility were stretched thin. Many English people suspected, justifiably, that their leaders were Catholic sympathizers. Oliver Cromwell led the opposition in a civil war between 1642 and 1646, and then ruled the country until 1658. In 1662, the Stuart monarchy was restored under Charles II. Charles II was almost always cash-poor, and his relationship with Parliament was testy until he packed it with his allies. His brother and successor, the Catholic James II, was not as astute as Charles II had been; in 1688, members of Parliament invited William III of Orange, who was married to James' Protestant daughter Mary, to invade England and take the throne for themselves. After the success of the "Glorious Revolution" in 1689, William and Mary recognized a Bill of Rights that limited their monarchy's powers, guaranteed civil liberties to at least some, formalized Parliament's role, and barred Catholics from the throne. The 1689 Toleration Act allowed all Protestants freedom to worship, but still denied Catholics and others their rights.

Rise of Absolute Monarchy in France: The Life of Louis XIV

The experiences of his immediate predecessors offered Louis XIV examples of successful and unsuccessful techniques for governing. Like Richelieu before him, Louis XIV believed that political unity and stability required religious conformity. To that end he carried out repressive actions against both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Richelieu’s centralizing policies provoked resentment that erupted in violence in the Fronde, an anarchic uprising by the nobility in the early years (1649–1651) of Louis XIV’s reign. Louis’s later wars included the Nine Years’ War and the War of Spanish Succession.

Louis XIV used smarts and symbolism to make himself a strong ruler. He claimed to rule by divine right, and believed that his religious intolerance (the suppression of the Jansenists and, later, the Huguenots) was a service to God. Versailles, the palace in which he lived from 1682 onwards, was a temple to royalty, the stage on which Louis played out his daily dramas of subjugating the French nobility. Louis’ near-constant engagement in war left his successors with almost insurmountable problems, both financial and sociological.
Central and Eastern Europe

Central and eastern Europe were economically much less advanced than western Europe. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the political authorities of this region were weak. The almost constant warfare of the seventeenth century had led to a habit of temporary and shifting political loyalties.

During the last half of the seventeenth century three strong dynasties, whose rulers aspired to the absolutism then being constructed in France, emerged in central and eastern Europe. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the Austrian Habsburgs recognized the basic weakness of the position of the Holy Roman Emperor and started to consolidate their power outside Germany. At the same time, Prussia under the Hohenzollern dynasty emerged as a factor in north German politics as a major challenger to the Habsburg domination of Germany. Russia, under the Romanov dynasty, at the opening of the eighteenth century, became a military and naval power of the first order. These three monarchies would dominate central and eastern Europe till the close of World War I in 1918. By contrast, Poland during the eighteenth century became the single most conspicuous example in Europe of a land that failed to establish a viable centralized government.
Russia enters the European Political Arena

The emergence of Russia in the late seventeenth century as an active European power was a wholly new factor in European politics. The Romanov dynasty emerged after the badly ending rule of Ivan the Terrible. In 1682 Peter, later called Peter the Great, ascended the Russian throne. The dangers and turmoil of Peter’s youth convinced him of two things: first, the power of the tsar must be made secure from the jealousy of the boyars and the greed of the streltsy; second, Russian military power must be increased.

In 1698 Peter undertook radical administrative reforms designed to bring the nobility and the Russian Orthodox Church more closely under the authority of personals loyal to the tsar. In 1703 Peter established his new capital city, St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland. Among other reforms, Peter published the Table of Ranks in 1722, which intended to draw the nobility into state service. For all the numerous decisive actions Peter had taken during his rule he had still not settled on a successor. Consequently, when he died in 1725, there was no clear line of succession to the throne. Peter had laid the foundations of a modern Russia, but not the foundations of a stable state.
The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was the largest and most stable political entity to arise in or near Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Its population was exceedingly diverse ethnically, linguistically, and religiously and extended far more religious tolerance than anywhere in Europe. The Ottoman sultans governed their empire through units called millets. Islamic scholars, or Ulama, dominated Ottoman religious institutions, schools, and courts of law.

From the fifteenth century onward, the Ottoman Empire had tried to push further westward into Europe. The Ottomans made their deepest military invasion into Europe in 1683, when they unsuccessfully besieged Vienna. Although that defeat proved to be decisive, many observers at the time thought it the result only of an overreach of power by the Ottomans rather than as a symptom of a deeper decline, which was actually the case. While European nations were advancing their technology and education, the Ottoman Empire remained isolated from both their own leading Muslim subjects and from Europe. When during the eighteenth century the Ottoman Empire began to recognize the new situation, it tended to borrow European technology and import foreign advisors, thus failing to develop its own infrastructure. Consequently, European intellectuals began to view the once feared Ottoman Empire as a declining power and Islam as a backward-looking religion.

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