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The Shaping of Modern Europe Index

Introduction to the Reformation

The English Reformation

The English Reformation : Introduction

17th Century Europe

The Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648)
The Conflict Begins
Sweden and France
Prussia
Russia
Social Conditions in Russia
Peter the Great and the Rise of Russia (1682-1725)

History Chapters Main Index

 

 

Queen Maria Theresa

Portrait of Queen Maria Theresa of Spain

 

The Little Street by Johannes Vermeer

The Little Street by Johannes Vermeer

 

 

THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE

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17th Century Europe

Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United Provinces after 1648

Germany had been ravaged by the Thirty Years' War. Trade and industry were non-existent; towns and cities were in ruins and starving peasants even resorted to cannibalism. It is estimated that half the population died.

Spain suffered greatly. The war with France continued until 1659 (The Peace of the Pyrenees). Under the terms of this treaty Spain had to give Artois and Roussillon to France, as well as the hand of the Infanta Maria Theresa to the young Louis XIV. Having lost control of the Atlantic Ocean, Spain rapidly declined into a poor second, then third-rate power.

Despite the death of Gustavus Adolphus in 1632, Sweden was established as the great power of northern Europe. It also became a cultural center. The University of Uppsala became famous for literature and philosophy, especially during the reign of Gustavus' remarkable daughter, Queen Christina (1632-1654).

 

Queen Christina of Sweden

Portrait of Queen Christina of Sweden

 

The United Provinces

In 1568 the seven northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands rose in revolt against their Spanish masters. In 1579, although the struggle against Spain was far from over, the seven provinces signed the Union of Utrecht which declared them to be an independent federal state. During the first century of its existence the Dutch spent a great deal of time trying to decide how their new state would be governed. In theory, the seven provinces were equal, with each sending an equal number of representatives to the national assembly or States-General. In practice, the States-General was dominated by the two rich maritime provinces of Holland and Zeeland. In addition, the war of independence against Spain had brought the Orange family to power as political and military leaders; Maurice of Nassau (1589-1623), Frederick Henry (1625-1647) and William II of Orange (1647-1650) were really uncrowned kings.

When peace finally came at the end of the Thirty Years' War the Orange family began to lose its authority. The United Provinces was then governed by peaceful and tolerant burghers of whom the most famous was the gifted and incorruptible John de Witt.

 

Christiaan Huygens

Portrait of Christiaan Huygens

 

This was a country of merchants, explorers and city-dwellers which was growing rich on colonial trade. By 1660 Amsterdam had become the financial capital of the world because of the fabulous profits made by the Dutch East India Company. Freedom of religion and of thought stimulated intellectual activity. The Dutch Republic became a center of the arts (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens), of literature (Constatijn Huygens), of science (Christiaan Huygens, Leuwenhoek) and of philosophy (Spinoza, Descartes). Encouraged by financial prosperity, a new civilisation emerged, devoted to calm, beauty and comfort. Public buildings and monuments were erected, not to the glory of kings or princes of the Church, but to corporations and private families. These were embellished by the works of incomparable artists, such as Ruysdael and Frans Hals.

 

Beginning of the Decline

Success breeds jealousy and, in the case of the United Provinces, two countries in particular were determined to see an end to its success.

 

England was trying to create its own commercial empire at this time so Dutch competition was very unwelcome.

France, encouraged by Colbert, was also attempting to extend its power overseas. In addition, Louis XIV was determined to destroy the United Provinces for two personal reasons - firstly because it was a republic, and secondly because it was Protestant.

 

Between 1652 and 1678 the Dutch were at war with the English and the French at sea and on land. By 1678, despite considerable successes by Admiral van Tromp and Admiral de Ruyter, the Dutch had been defeated, even if their small republic remained intact. From this time onward, the Dutch Republic declined, although slowly, at the expense of the British* and the French. Dutch sea power was finally destroyed in 1784 by Britain.

 

British* After the unification of England and Scotland in 1707 we talk of Britain not England.

Union Jack

The British Union Flag amalgamates the three national flags of England, Scotland and Ireland.

 

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