In European society, hierarchy and rank continued to determine social relations and pressures. Throughout the seventeenth century, aristocrats attempted to maintain their authority and privileges in relation to monarchs interested in centralizing government and magnifying their political power. This same struggle led to different solutions throughout Europe. In France, royal absolutism grew under Louis XIV. In eastern Europe, although governments were less centralized, absolutism also grew, and peasants lost even more freedom. In England and the Netherlands, however, two different types of constitutionalism emerged, in which law, not the king, served as the ultimate political authority. For those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, the century offered greater hardships, as obligations to centralizing states and nobles increased under the stresses of natural disaster and war.
Stresses in Traditional Society
New forces challenged the working of seventeenth-century Western society, where social, political, and family life was organized in a hierarchy of ranks.
Mounting Demands on Rural Life
Pressures on the Upper Orders
Competing centers of power
Royal Absolutism in France
As king of the most powerful nation in Europe, Louis XIV of France increased the authority of the monarchy; his reign exemplified the development of royal absolutism.
Henry IV Secures the Monarchy
Richelieu Elevates Royal Authority
Mazarin Overcomes the Opposition
The Sun King Rises
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
Wars of aggression
Assessing Louis XIV
The Struggle for Sovereignty in Eastern Europe
In the states east of the Elbe, central government was weaker, peasants lost more of their freedom, and the urban middle class declined, although the tendency toward absolutism intensified during the seventeenth century.
Centralizing the State in Brandenburg-Prussia
Austria Confronts the Ottomans and Expands Its Control
Russia and Its Tsars Gain Prominence
Peter the Great
Russia's military establishment
Conflict with Sweden
The Victory of the Nobility in Poland
The Triumph of Constitutionalism
Because of a history of cooperation in parliament by nobles and land-owning commoners, the struggle for sovereignty in England produced a government with ultimate authority resting in the constitution, not the king.
The Nobility Loses Respect
James I Invokes the Divine Right of Kings
Charles I Alienates Parliament
Concessions to Catholics
Parliament gains power
"God Made Men and the Devil Made Kings": Civil War, 1642 - 1649
Women in War
The King Laid Low
A Puritan Republic is Born: The Commonwealth, 1649 - 1660
Who Has the Power to Rule?
The Monarchy Restored, 1660 - 1688
Plague and fire
The Glorious Revolution
William and Mary
England's Bill of Rights
Royalism Reconsidered: John Locke
The Netherlands: The Sovereignty of Local Authority
The United Provinces
The Chapter in Perspective
In the seventeenth century, elites and monarchs struggled for power. The ways in which such struggles were resolved resulted in absolutism in countries like France, Prussia, and Russia. In Eastern Europe, governments also sought to strengthen their authority, but met with less success. In England and the Netherlands, constitutionalism emerged out of an alliance between nobles and commoners. None of these political developments improved the lives of the common people. Most bore greater burdens as governments increased the demands they placed upon already impoverished populations. Peasants in eastern Europe suffered under the oppression of serfdom. Despite the changes wrought by the conflicts of the seventeenth century, the social hierarchy remained intact, although it had begun to crumble in places.
In what ways might the competition for overseas empires and the commerce that resulted have affected the power of central governments and their responsibilities? How might the Netherlands' political structure have contributed to its commercial success?*
What groups and institutions are most likely to be threatened by or resist intellectual changes? Why?*
*Starred questions correspond with questions in the "Review, Analyze, and Anticipate" section of text, pp. 477-478.
Chapter 13 teaches students:
about demographic changes in the seventeenth century and their causes
about the persistence of social hierarchy and class structures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also about the stresses on and challenges to those structures
about material life in early modern Europe
that, during this period, an increasing tax burden fell on those least able to pay
that an increasing portion of royal revenues became devoted to war
how peasants as well as nobles resisted royal authority, whether because of increased taxes or alleged tyranny
about the rise of absolutism in France
how other monarchs took France's absolutism and its court as models, though on a smaller scale
about the exorbitant costs of war in France, and its effects on the royal treasury
that feudalism's legacy remained much stronger in eastern than in western Europe
about the rise of Brandenburg-Prussia and Russia as important factors in European politics in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries
how attempts by the Stuart kings to rule absolutely resulted in civil war and the eventual victory of constitutional government in England
that the seventeenth century was characterized by debates over the nature of sovereignty, including such issues as sovereignty's origin and whether resistance was licit
how the formation of strong local institutions in the United Provinces of the Netherlands allowed those provinces to establish and maintain independence from Spain