History – Chapter 13: European State Consolidation in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
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.
After reading this chapter you should understand:
•The origins and decline of the Netherlands' Golden Age.
•Factors behind the different political paths of France and England.
•The origins and consequences of the English Civil War.
•The development of Parliamentary supremacy in England, particularly after the Glorious
•The rise of absolute monarchy in France, particularly under Louis XIV.
•The wars of Louis XIV and the development of a European diplomatic system.
•The sixteenth to eighteenth century developments and influence of the three monarchies of central and
•Russia Enters the European Political Arena under Peter the Great.
•The factors behind the demise of the Ottoman Empire.
Europe dominated other parts of the world politically, militarily and economically. This wasn’t the case before
these dates and would not be eh case after WWII. For about 3.5 centuries, Europe became the chief driving
force in one world historical development after another. Dominance coincided with a shift in power within
Europe itself from the Mediterranean., where Spain and Portugal had taken the lead in the conquest and early
exploitation of the Americas, to the states of northwest and later north-central Europe.
During the 17th and early 18th centuries, certain states in northern Europe organized themselves
politically so as to be able to dominate Europe and later to influence and even govern other large areas of the
world through military might and economic strength.
By the mid-18th century, 5 major states had come to dominate European politics and would continue to
do so until at least WWI. They were Great Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Through their military
strength, economic development, and, in some cases, colonial empires, they would affect virtually every other
world civilization. Within Europe, these states established their dominance at the expense of Spain, Portugal,
the United Provinces of the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire. Equally essential to their
rise was the weakness of the Holy Roman Empire after the Peace of Westphalia (1648).
In western Europe, Britain and France emerged as the dominant powers. This development represented
a shift of influence away from Spain and the United Netherlands. Both of the latter countries had been powerful
and important during the 16th and 17th centuries but they became politically and militarily marginal during the
18th century. Neither, however, disappeared from the map and both retained considerable economic vitality and
influence. Spanish power declined after the War of the Spanish Succession. The case of the Netherlands was
The Netherlands: Golden Age to Decline
The 7 provinces that became the United Provinces of the Netherlands emerged as a nation after revolting
against Spain in 1572. During the 17th century, the Dutch engaged in a series of naval wars with England.
Then, in 1672, the armies of Louis XIV invaded the Netherlands. Prince William III of Orange (1650-1702), the
grandson of William the Silent (1533-1584) and the hereditary chief executive, or stadtholder, of Holland, the
most important of the provinces, rallied the Dutch and eventually led the entire European coalition against
France. As a part of that strategy, he answered the invitation of Protestant English aristocrats in 1688 to
assume, along with his wife Mary, the English throne.
During both the 17th and 18th centuries, the political and economic life of the Netherlands differed from
that of the rest of Europe. The other major nations pursued paths toward strong central government, generally
under monarchies, as with France, or in the case of England, under a strong parliamentary system. By contrast,
the Netherlands was formally a republic. Each of the provinces retained considerable authority, and the central
government, embodied in the States General that met in Hague, exercised its authority through a kind of
ongoing negotiation with the provinces. Prosperous and populous Holland dominated the States General. The
Dutch deeply distrusted monarchy and the ambitions of the House of Orange. Nonetheless, when confronted
with major military challenges, the Dutch would permit the House of Orange and, most notably, William III to
assume dominant leadership. These political arrangements proved highly resilient and allowed the republic to
establish itself permanently in the European state system during the 17th century. When William died in 1702
and the wars with France ended in 1714, the Dutch reverted to their republican structures.
Although the provinces making up the Netherlands were traditionally identified with the Protestant
cause in Europe toleration marked Dutch religious life. The Calvinist Reformed Church was the official church
of the nation but it was not an established church. There was always a significant number of Roman Catholics
and Protestants who did not belong to the Reformed Church. The country also became a haven for Jews.
Consequently while governments in other European states attempted to impose a single religion on their people
or tore themselves apart in religious conflict, in the Netherlands peoples of differing religious faiths lived
Stadtholder: The chief magistrate of the United Provinces of the Netherlands
Its remarkable economic achievement was built on the foundations of high urban consolidation
transformed by agriculture extensive trade and finance, and an overseas commercial empire. In the
Netherlands, more people lived in cities than in any other area of Europe. Key transformations in Dutch
farming that served as a model for the rest of Europe made this urban transformation possible. During the 17th
century, the Dutch drained and reclaimed land from the sea, which they used for highly profitable farming.
Because Dutch shipping provided a steady supply of cheap grain Dutch farmers themselves could produce more
profitable dairy products and beef and cultivate cash products such as tulip bulbs. Dutch fisherman dominated
the market for herring and supplied much of the continent’s dried fish. Supplied textiles to many parts of
Europe. Captains purchased goods that they transported and resold as a profit to other nations. Overseas trades
also supported a vast shipbuilding and ship supply industry. The most advanced financial system of the day
supported all of this trade, commerce, and manufacturing. Seaborne empire – traders established major
presence in East Asia, particularly in spice-producing areas of Java, the Moluccas, and Sri Lanka. Dutch East
India Company (chartered in 1602), eventually displaced Portuguese dominance in the spice trade of East Asia
and for many years prevented English traders from establishing a major presence there. Eventually, Dutch
moved toward producing the spices themselves which required them to control many of the islands that now
constitute Indonesia. The Netherlands remained the colonial master of this region until after WWII.
Decline occurred in 18th century. After the death of William III of Britain in 1702, the provinces
prevented the emergence of another strong stadtholder. Unified political leadership therefore vanished. Naval
supremacy slowly but steadily passed to the British. The fishing industry declined, and the Dutch lost their
technological superiority in shipbuilding. Countries between which Dutch ships had once carried goods now
traded directly with each other. Similar stagnation overtook the Dutch domestic industries. Disunity of
provinces hastened the economic decline and prevented action that might have halted it. What saved the United
Provinces from becoming completely insignificant in European affairs was their continued financial dominance.
Well past the middle of the 18th century, Dutch banks continued to finance European trade, and the Amsterdam
stock exchange remained an important financial institution.
Two Models of European Political Development
The United Netherlands, like Venice and he Swiss cantons, was a republic governed without a monarch.
Elsewhere in Europe monarchy of two fundamentally different patterns predominated in response to the military
challenges of international conflict.
The two models became known as parliamentary monarchy and political absolution. England
embodied the first, and France, the second. Neither model was inevitable for either country, but each resulted
from the historical developments and political personalities that molded each nation during the 17th century.
The political forces that led to the creation of these two models had arisen from military concerns.
During the 2nd half of the 16th century, changes in military organization, weapons, and tactics sharply increased
the cost of warfare. Because their traditional sources of income could not finance these growing expenses, in
addition to other costs of government, monarchs sought new revenues. Only monarchies that succeeded in
building a secure financial base that was not deeply dependent on the support of noble estates, diets, or
assemblies achieved absolute rule. The French monarchy succeeded in this effort, whereas the English
monarchy failed. The success and failure led to the two models of government – absolutism in France and
parliamentary monarch in England – that shaped subsequent political development in Europe.
The divergent developments of England and France in the 16th century would have surprised most
people in 1600. it was not inevitable that the English monarchy would have to govern through Parliament or
that the French monarchy would avoid dealing with national political institutions that could significantly limit
its authority. The Stuart of kings of England aspired to the autocracy Louis XIV achieved, and some English
political philosophers eloquently defended the divine right of kings and absolute rule. At the beginning of the
17th century, the English monarchy was strong. Queen Elizabeth, after a reign of almost 45 years (1558-1603),
was much revered. Parliament met only when the monarch summoned it to provide financial support. France,
however was emerging from the turmoil of its religious wars. The strife of that conflict had torn French society
apart. The monarchy was relatively weak. Henry IV, who had become king in 1589, pursued a policy of
religious toleration. The French nobles had significant military forces at their disposal and in the middle of the
17th century rebelled against the king. These conditions would change dramatically in both nations by the late
Parliamentary Monarchy: The form of limited or constitutional monarchy set up in Britain after the Glorious
Revolution of 1689 in which the monarch was subject to the law and ruled by the consent of parliament.