European Consolidation in the 17th and 18th centuries

by mattrunner ~ April 22nd, 2010. Filed under: Chapter 20: The Consolidation of Nation States.

The seven provinces that became the United Provinces of the Netherlands emerged as a nation after revolting against Spain in 1572. The United Provinces supported religious toleration and republican government. The constitutional crisis in England that followed Elizabeth’s reign and continued until the end of the seventeenth century had a lasting impact on Western political life. This struggle cost Charles I his head, and in the end, Parliament emerged the victor. Oliver Cromwell reinstated executive authority, though under a different title and only with military backing. With the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, Charles I’s son Charles II ascended the bloodstained throne with Parliamentary sanction and initiated the Stuart Restoration. When his brother James II confirmed the family’s Catholic sympathies, Parliament quickly and peacefully dispatched James and called upon his son-in-law and daughter, William of Orange and Mary, to be the sovereigns of England. Meanwhile, the French monarchy had achieved its goal, becoming the sole national institution. Royal ministers such as Richelieu and Mazarin wielded enormous power and left in their wake a well-ordered governmental structure ready-made for the absolutist training of Louis XIV, who then surrounded himself with capable advisers, military reformers, and financial experts. The resulting political centralization was exemplified by the Sun King’s palatial complex at Versailles, and France’s commanding position in the European international order. French military expansion in this era was, however, largely blocked by a combination of European states led by the Dutch United Provinces and England. At the time of Louis’ death in 1715, France remained a great power in an emerging European international order, but one whose future, largely because of the Sun King’s excesses, would eventually be changed dramatically by an unprecedented political revolution. Central and eastern Europe were economically much less advanced than western 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. The emergence of Russia in the late seventeenth century as an active European power was a wholly new factor in European politics. Peter the Great had laid the foundations of a modern Russia, but not the foundations of a stable state. 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. This was the beginning of a deeper decline for the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed completely at the conclusion of World War I.

Source: Kagan, Donald. “European State Consolidation in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”. Pearson. 21/4/2010 <>.

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