The Open Door Web Site
The Shaping of Modern Europe Index
Introduction to the Reformation
The English Reformation
17th Century Europe
THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE
17th Century Europe
Introduction : Europe in the 1600s
Spain in the 1600s
Spain was the great military power in Europe. Spain's wealth, which underlay this military might, was based on the gold and silver brought from its Central and South American colonies. As long as Spain maintained its control of this vital Atlantic sea route, its wealth and power were secure. However if ever Spain lost this control, its decline would be rapid. During the 16th. century, "The Golden Age of Spain", there was little or no social or economic change. Spain's wealth went directly into the royal coffers, to the powerful nobles (the Grandees), and to the Catholic Church.
No important commercial links were established between Spain and its colonies. The middle class was very small and strictly controlled, and the vast majority of the population consisted of illiterate, superstitious peasants. Spain was rich and powerful but extremely vulnerable.
France in the 1600s
France should have been Europe's great power at this time. The size of the country, its large population, the fertility of its soils and its advantageous geographical position in Europe could have been expected to encourage rapid economic growth, great prosperity and military strength. However, in 1600 France had just emerged from the Wars of Religion (1562-1598). This vicious conflict had seriously damaged the country's economy as well as the unity of its people.
England in the 1600s
For England, the 16th century was a period of relative peace, of developing political and social unity and of growing prosperity. This was especially true during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603), who was called "Good Queen Bess" by the ordinary people and "Gloriana" by the privileged. During her reign, England took the first steps toward becoming Europe's greatest commercial and maritime power. Trading companies were founded by Merchant Venturers whose ships sailed off to create commercial links with Canada, the East Indies and even with Russia.
The Muscovy Company successfully founded a trading post in Moscow and Elizabeth corresponded with the famous Tsar Ivan "the Terrible". It was also during her reign that the first attempt was made to establish an English colony in North America, and, although the Roanoke colony failed, the modern state of Virginia was named after the queen. England's middle class, with the total support of the queen, was large, wealthy and very ambitious. In addition, Spanish control of the Atlantic Ocean was successfully challenged by English corsairs such as Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh. The foundations of England's future economic domination of Europe were laid.
Holy Roman Empire in the 1600s
Theoretically, the Holy Roman Emperor was Europe's most powerful ruler. During the reign of Charles V (1519-1556), this may certainly have been true, but after his abdication in 1556 it was no longer the case. Charles had been both the king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor but had given up both the thrones out of sheer exhaustion. He was convinced that it was impossible for one man to rule such an enormous area so, before he went off to spend his retirement in the calm of a Spanish monastery, he divided his possessions as follows:
This division meant that there were two separate branches of the Habsburg dynasty in 1600, the Spanish and the Austrian. They would never be reunited (much to the relief of France). After 1556, the Holy Roman Empire was like a jigsaw puzzle of more than 360 independent states, principalities and cities. In addition, to the various ethnic groups, such as Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Ruthenes, Hungarians and Rumanians, there were different religions (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Muslim), different languages, traditions and cultures which made it impossible for the Emperor to rule a strong, unified state.
Ottoman Empire in the 1600s
Though it was still powerful, by 1600 the Ottoman Empire had already entered a period of long-term and, eventually fatal, decline. The empire had reached the peak of its power during the reign of Suleiman "the Magnificent" from 1520-1566. However, the authority of the sultans was already being weakened by corruption and conspiracies at the court of Constantinople. The visirs (ministers) intrigued to obtain power at each other's expense, and even the Janissaries (the elite regiments which formed the sultan's bodyguard) became less reliable. This meant that the beys (provincial governors) increasingly ignored Constantinople and ruled independently. By the late 18th century the Ottoman Empire became known as "the sick man of Europe".
Russia in the 1600s
In 1600 Russia was on the margins of European civilisation. The Russian state was limited to a small area around Moscow (the Kingdom of Muscovy). Beyond this were vast and empty plains, marshes and forests. Russia's development as a major European power would only begin in the early 18th. century with the reign of Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great).
The Open Door Web Site is non-profit making. Your donations help towards the cost of maintaining this free service on-line.
Donate to the Open Door Web Site using PayPal