17th Century

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The Seventeenth Century

Its first half of the 17th century is marked by the wars of religion between Protestants and Catholics, especially the Thirty Years War, which raged within Germany or, as it was then called, The Holy Roman Empire from 1618 to 1648. More than a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, it was also a power struggle within and between kingdoms. France under its new, Bourbon dynasty became the most powerful state in Europe replacing the Habsburgs in both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire (Germany). The Treaty of Westphalia, which ended this long war, marks the beginning of the Modern State System.

The ideal of the Middle Ages had envisioned a universal empire and a universal church.  This ideal dated back to memories of the Carolingian Empire and further back to Rome.  This ideal was never a reality.  The reality of the Middle Ages was based on feudalism and manorialism.  Europe was divided politically into many locally governed principalities, free cities, duchies, and feudal kingdoms;  but it was united religiously.  Western Christendom was a unity under the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Pope.  Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, that dream of one Empire and one Church had  still been a possibility  After the Thirty Years War and the end of the 17th century, that dream had been given up.  Religious unity had been shattered by Martin Luther and the other reformers.  Political unity had become impossible with the creation of the modern state system based on sovereignty.

By 1648, Europe had divided into a system of sovereign, independent states governed largely by absolute monarchs. 

Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, was fractured during the Thirty Years War into more than 300 separate states. The Catholic, Austrian Habsburgs were the big losers during the Thirty Years War. Any hope of centralizing Germany under their rule was lost. Germany was divided on the basis of religion into Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists. The religion of the ruler determined the religion of the people. Catholic Austria and Lutheran Prussia emerged as the two most important states within the loose Confederation called the Holy Roman Empire.

England experienced the rise and fall of militant Calvinistic Puritanism. Despite internal conflict, it kept building up its naval power and started on the road toward overseas empire. It gradually replaced Spain and the Netherlands as the greatest sea power. The Glorious Revolution of 1689 set England on the path of limited, constitutional, and, ultimately, democratic government. It became the most liberal country in Europe and the model for Enlightenment thinkers on the Continent to imitate in the eighteenth century.

The second half of the century was dominated by Louis XIV of France. The Sun King’s effort to dominate Europe failed but he succeeded in crushing the Protestant Huguenots and consolidated absolutism in France.

But, perhaps most importantly, the seventeenth century marked the beginning of an intellectual revolution. It marked the birth of modern ideas about nature, man, and government. What went by the name of the Scientific Revolution was really a paradigm shift in all areas of knowledge, including religion.

Constitutionalism and Limited Monarchy in England

Developments in England

bulletQueen Elizabeth I, last of the Tudor Monarchs, died in 1603
bulletKing versus Parliament
bulletStuart Dynasty: King James I and King Charles I
bulletAnglicans versus Catholics and Calvinists
bulletPuritan Revolution
bulletOliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth
bulletRestoration of Stuarts: Charles II and James II
bulletGlorious Revolution: William III and Mary II

Formation of Absolute Monarchies

bulletFrom Feudal Monarchies to Absolute Monarchy
bulletThe Creation of the Sovereign State--Jean Bodin
bulletInternal Sovereignty
bulletExternal Sovereignty

Developments in France

bulletCatholics versus Huguenots
bulletCivil War 1567 - 1589
bulletValois, Bourbon, Guise, Montmorency Families
bulletSt. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, August 24, 1572
bulletHenry of Navarre, leader of the Huguenots, becomes King Henry IV
bulletEdict of Nantes 1598

French Absolutism

bulletLouis XIII
bulletCardinal Richelieu
bulletCardinal Mazarin

Louis XIV

bulletLouis XIV
bulletCourt Culture
bulletMercantilism and Jean Colbert, b. 1619 - 1683
bulletFrench Colonization
bulletReligious Conformity to the Will of the Catholic King
bulletJansenism, 1660, 1710
bulletRevocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685
bulletLouis Wars
bulletLouis Death, 1715

Russian Absolutism

bulletThe Emergence of Russia

Romanov Dynasty

Michael, 1613-1645

Alexius, 1645-1676

Theodore III, 1676-1682

Ivan V and Peter I, 1682-1689

bulletPeter I, the Great, 1689-1725
bulletForced Westernization
bulletThe Great Northern War

Prussian Absolutism

bulletThe Emergence of Prussia
Hohenzollern Dynasty
Frederick William, the Great Elector, 1640 - 1688
Frederick III, 1688 - 1713, after 1701 King Frederick I
Kings in Prussia
Frederick I, 1701 - 1713
Frederick William I, 1713 - 1740
bulletFrederick II, the Great, 1740 - 1786
bulletSeizure of Silesia
bulletWar of the Austrian Succession
bulletSeven Years War

Other Countries

bulletResilient Habsburgs of Austria
*Charles V, 1519 - 1556 also Charles I, King of Spain
*Ferdinand I, 1556 - 1564, brother of Charles V
*Maximilian II, 1564 - 1576
*Rudolf II, 1576 - 1612
*Matthias, 1612 - 1619
*Ferdinand II, 1619 - 1637, Thirty Years War
*Ferdinand III, 1637 - 1657
*Leopold I, 1658 - 1705
*Joseph I, 1705 - 1711
*Charles VI, 1711 - 1740

Maria Theresa, 1740 - 1780


Updated April 29, 2003
Copyright Dr. Harold Damerow