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Struggle for Survival and Sovereignty

Chapter Summary

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.

Chapter Outline

  1. 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.
    1. Mounting Demands on Rural Life
      1. The family
      2. Population changes
      3. Tax revolts
    2. Pressures on the Upper Orders
      1. Competing centers of power
      2. Royal absolutism
  2. 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.
    1. Henry IV Secures the Monarchy
    2. Richelieu Elevates Royal Authority
    3. Mazarin Overcomes the Opposition
      1. The Fronde
    4. The Sun King Rises
      1. Versailles
      2. Versailles' Critics
      3. "Classical" literature
      4. Visual arts
      5. Colbert
      6. Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
      7. Wars of aggression
      8. Assessing Louis XIV
  3. 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.
    1. Centralizing the State in Brandenburg-Prussia
    2. Austria Confronts the Ottomans and Expands Its Control
    3. Russia and Its Tsars Gain Prominence
      1. The Romanovs
      2. Russian expansion
      3. Peter the Great
      4. Russia's military establishment
      5. Conflict with Sweden
    4. The Victory of the Nobility in Poland
  4. 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.
    1. The Nobility Loses Respect
      1. New wealth
      2. Sumptuary laws
    2. Protestantism Revitalized
    3. James I Invokes the Divine Right of Kings
      1. Religious problems
      2. Divine right
      3. Colonies
    4. Charles I Alienates Parliament
      1. Concessions to Catholics
      2. Parliament gains power
    5. "God Made Men and the Devil Made Kings": Civil War, 1642 - 1649
      1. Charles captured
      2. Women in War
      3. Levellers
    6. The King Laid Low
      1. Charles executed
    7. A Puritan Republic is Born: The Commonwealth, 1649 - 1660
      1. Domestic distress
      2. Lord Protector
    8. Who Has the Power to Rule?
      1. Thomas Hobbes
    9. The Monarchy Restored, 1660 - 1688
      1. John Bunyan
      2. Fiscal problems
      3. Plague and fire
    10. The Glorious Revolution
      1. William and Mary
      2. England's Bill of Rights
    11. Royalism Reconsidered: John Locke
      1. Hanover Dynasty
    12. The Netherlands: The Sovereignty of Local Authority
      1. The United Provinces
      2. Dutch prosperity
      3. Religious toleration

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.

  1. 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?*
  2. 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







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