The Mediterranean Sea had been the focus of European trade with other parts of the world for over 2000 years. In fact, until about the year 1500, the Atlantic Ocean had been a barrier, for Europeans. After 1492, this focus shifted to the Atlantic Ocean by routes south around the Cape of Good Hope, and by trans-Atlantic trade. European discoveries of new land meant an increase in commercial activity of the society from which the discoverer comes. Until then, most trading and manufacturing originated from Asia.
The opening of the Atlantic introduced more sources and markets having a positive effect on European commerce. On a more specific level, the role of internal commerce in France, England, and the Spanish kingdoms exponentially. As Europeans recovered from the shock of the plague, the part of commerce and industry in the economy started to grow, particularly during the fifteenth century. This had to do with improvements in finances, a great trade shift in trade routes which favored the Atlantic commerce.
The Commercial Revolution began in about 1050-1150 with a rise of money in Western European economy. In the Age of European Discovery, nations began looking for new trade routes which led to new explorations. These European nations sought new sources of wealth and new economic theories on how to deal with this new found wealth. Their desire for increased world power through their colonies led to many economic and social changes. Better food and more wealth allowed for larger families. Thus, an important change was the increase in population.
The migration of Europeans to America, contributed to a growth in population to as well. As the population grew, so did the middle class. This resulted in the emergence of a growing and more powerful middle class. The middle class now stood between nobles and peasants, and bridged the divide between the wealthy and the poor. This created a fragmented political structure which in turn led to the start of tenant farmers. Additionally, many Jews were driven off their land. As a result, Jews found refuge in towns and cities where they became bankers, doctors, and scholars.
While Jews were more protected than they had been previously, they were nevertheless exploited through steep taxes. Another important outcome of Europe’s commercial revolution was that enough wealth was accumulated that set in motion the industrial revolution years later. In addition, economic abundance during this time period, helped finance new forms of cultural expression as well. The wars of Religion began in 1618, when the Austrian Habsburgs tried to impose Roman Catholicism on their Protestant subjects in Bohemia.
The wars became a series of phases, typically defined by shifting alliances and the of new powers. Thus, these wars ended up involving most of the European Great Powers, such as Sweden, Denmark, Spain and France. Initially, the Bohemian Revolt was largely a regional affair. The nobilities of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, along with the Palatinate and a collection of smaller Protestant principalities in the Empire were pitted on one side. While on the other side, Spain was aligned with the Emperor Ferdinand and his loyalists in Austria, as well as the Protestant Saxony.
In order to protect their right to practice Protestantism openly the first side sought to support Count Palatine Frederick V’s election to Bohemia. However, they were soundly defeated by the Emperor and his allies. A victorious Ferdinand began to aggressively force Catholicism onto Bohemia. This caused Denmark, a Protestant State with significant interests in Protestant cities as well as principalities in the Northern Empire, grave concern. In response, King Christian IV of Denmark, collected provisions from England and France, and ultimately hired troops and attacked the Imperial forces in 1625.
Under the command of General Wallenstein, the Imperial forces entered the peninsular Denmark and then forced them from the war. The Imperial forces consolidate their victories in the Empire even further. Led by King Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedes intervene in 1630, who were also heavily supported by the French. While the Swedes had tremendous success early on, King Gustav’s death in 1632, as well as rising costs, contributed to a major defeat a couple of years later. Nevertheless, they continued to fight for the rest of the war.
Again, this victory allowed the Imperial forces to secure their position in the Empire. As a result of the strength of the Imperial Army, the French became greatly concerned with the level of Habsburg success in the previous wars, and decided to intervene directly themselves. Unlike the Danes and Swedes however, the French were able to absorb military losses while continuing to fight. This move put enough pressure on the Spanish branch of the Habsburg dynasty and weakened the Austrian arm in the Empire.
Nevertheless, the war continued for another thirteen years, until, exhausted by decades of war, the Imperial forces and the French who were facing severe unrest as the Fronde began, agreed to reach for peace in 1648. In the end, The Thirty Years’ War had cost over eight million casualties, and was of the most destructive conflicts in European history. The Peace of Westphalia was a series of treaties that brought about the end of the European Wars of Religion. It effectively established the principle of the sovereignty of nations that are still in use today.
Meaning, the principle that a line around an area on a map for instance, France, is ruled by the French King, and its people are French subjects. Similarly, the subjects within the border of Spain were ruled by the Spanish King and its people are Spanish subjects, even those who speak French. The French King and the Spanish king have no right to interfere in the running of each other’s countries. Additionally, the Treaty of Westphalia had significant far reaching effects on the German states. Foremost, the settlement ended the struggle between the German princes and the monarchical tendencies of the Holy Roman emperors.
This meant that the central authority of the empire was replaced almost entirely by the sovereignty of about 300 princes. This significantly weakened the Holy Roman emperor and the clergy were left with a shadow of their former power. The empire was also weakened in other ways. It lost about 40,000 square miles of its territory to other European nations. While the Treaty of Westphalia decidedly marked the dissolution of the old order in the empire, it facilitated the growth of new powers in its component parts, especially Austria, Bavaria, and Brandenburg.
In fact, Brandenburg, was largely spared from the devastation wrought elsewhere, and thus was positioned favorably in 1648 to receive and maintain influence in Western Germany. In the century following the Peace of Westphalia, Protestants celebrated the confirmation of their rights, and the fact that the Holy Roman Empire was saved. Indeed, until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the treaty was recognized as a fundamental law of the German constitution and formed the basis of all subsequent treaties during that time period.
In the early seventeenth century under the rule of King Charles I, there were two major forces in English politics, the Parliament body, and the monarchy. The English Parliament, was at the time, mostly made up of nobles, such as Earls, Dukes, and Lords, as well as elected officials. Over the years, they had grown in strength and power, and thus were the only group able to authorize changes in taxation and excise, as well as enacting other laws with the cooperation of the King or Queen. Rather than being a permanent institution, the Parliament was only called for such purposes.
Leading up to the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and Charles, their father James, had left the royal family and the Kingdom in a financial mess. As a result, Charles lacked funds to finance his various enterprises and therefore frequently attempted to increase taxation. Tensions had previously existed between Charles and Parliament after he had married a Catholic, Princess Henrietta of France, and increased after Charles wanted to intervene in the Thirty Year War on behalf of the Protestant side. Parliament would not give into Charles demands for funds to go to war, however, he did so anyway.
In response, Charles demoted all its’ members, effectively dissolving parliament. This move however, backfired; without parliament, King Charles had no control over tax collections. To get the funding he needed, he formed a new parliament body, which gave him the funding he needed. However, this came with a price. The new parliament required that the king sign the Petition of Right, which gave Parliament powers far beyond what they previously had. For the next 11 years, Charles did not call another Parliament. This period became known as the Eleven Years Tyranny.
During this time, Charles implemented peculiar religious practices, such as persecuting Puritans and other non-Anglican protestants as well as moving the Protestant Anglican Church, led by the English Royal Family, in a direction that was deemed by many as too Catholic. Charles attempted to move his Anglicanism into Scotland, which caused massive unrest, since Scotland had previously been under its own ‘Church of Scotland’. Rioting began, which was followed by the Bishops War. Eventually, Charles agreed not to interfere with Scotland’s religion, and pay their war expenses.
Charles was now broke again, and so left without any other choice, called another parliament. Parliament used this as an opportunity to complain to the King, and in retaliation He dissolved it again. Still broke, he called yet another parliament, which was even more hostile to him than the first. He ultimately agreed to sign a bill which stated parliament had to be called every three years, and also barred the royal family from using any practices to control the nation, thus, reinforcing England’s Protestantism.
In January of 1642, Charles attempted to arrest 5 members of the House of Commons on a charge of treason. His arrest attempt failed, with parliamentarians expressing open contempt for the King. Fearing for his personal safety, Charles left London. Negotiations with the parliament broke down, leading to Charles and the Parliamentarians spending the summer trying to affirm alliances with England’s cities and town. War erupted, and only came to end after three and a half years, with Charles being handed over to the Scottish forces. The First English Civil war was now over, with Parliament as the winner.
The Scottish forces who handed over Charles were actually secretly allied with Charles, on the condition that with Charles’ return to the throne Presbyterianism. In the summer of 1648, the Scottish invaded, with royalist uprisings occurring throughout England. Parliamentarian forces led by Oliver Cromwell again defeated the royalist forces. Parliament was divided between those that did and did not support Charles returning to the English throne. Cromwell’s army arrested and otherwise harassed several parliamentarians for this support. Charles was tried for treason, and executed.
After Cromwell’s forces successfully invaded Scotland and Ireland, destroying Irish Catholic forces. The young Charles II, hiding in Scotland, successfully fled to France. The newly established Commonwealth of England ruled over England until 1653, when infighting led Cromwell to ascend to the role of Lord Protector, which was essentially a militant dictator. When Cromwell died, his son, Richard, fell out of favor until 1660, when the army collapsed and Scottish forces installed Charles II as the new King, in what is now known as the Restoration.