Europe 1600s Essay

November 1, 2017 General Studies

Europe Chapter 13 covers Europe’s social and political order from 1600-1715. In the early century, inflation was such that prices were four times what they had been between 1525 and 1550. Three great powers contested for dominance – the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish Empire, and France, under Louis XIV and Richelieu. Each had a mass of about 17 million people. In spite of the presence of these great monarchies, there were still areas all over Europe from southern Italy to Scandinavia and from Scotland to Auvergne where primitive social enclaves persisted, with hundreds of dialects and local, semi barbaric, religious cults.

Attempted control of these numerous pockets sapped the resources of the great powers, similar to the drain on the Roman Empire when it was ringed with barbarians. In addition, after about 1620 the entire continent suffered from food shortages as the population increased to about 118 million by 1648 and the result of this was often political instability. Even by 1640, rebellion was everywhere. Although this is often called the century of scientific revolution, this was completely irrelevant to the mass of Europeans as they squandered most of their energies in massive wars.

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During the whole of the period there were only seven years of peace in Europe. All of the people tended to revolt against the powers of princes and kings over their bodies and properties and to protest against taxation, interference with trade and arbitrary imprisonment. Over most of Europe the peasantry represented vast numbers of people and in one way or another they were almost always in revolt, with occasional open rebellion, as in Naples in 1647. In Orleans, out of an active population of almost 120,000 there were over 67,000 wage earners, but this did not signal great productivity.

Many districts were over-populated with great numbers of unemployed. Vagrants were universally put under lock and key, usually in work-houses. The last quarter of the century saw the establishment of responsible parliamentary government in most areas. By 1700 the old north-south trade axis had swung almost 90~ and ran east-west from England-Holland to Saxony, Bohemia and Silesia. Population growth at the end of the century had been slowed not only by war and famine but also by plague, so that shortly after the turn of the century (1713) the population had dropped to about 102 million.

Still, Europe remained in a favored position when compared to other civilization, particularly in regard to food. Europeans consumed great quantities of meat. Water-mills supplied the chief energy and were owned and supplied by the lord of the manor, while the peasants contributed their labor. The mill, which ground grain, was thus the essential tool of the manorial economy. Otherwise the 17th century civilization was one of wood and charcoal. Buildings, machines, wine-presses, plows and pumps were all made of wood, with a very minimum of metallic parts. Fortunately Europe was well-endowed with forests.

Iron, although available, was still in short supply. Wigs and then powdered wigs came into fashion in this century despite initial objection by the church. Practically all the armies of Europe had adopted the military reforms initiated at the end of the previous century by Maurice of Holland. This resulted in obedient, responsive units of soldiers able to function efficiently in any part of the globe. The new drill and techniques spread from officers trained at Maurice’s Military Academy, which was founded in 1619, first to Sweden, then to the northern Protestant European states and finally to France and eventually Spain.


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