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About this book

This thematically organised text provides a compelling introduction and guide to the key problems and issues of this highly controversial century. Offering a genuinely comparative history, Thomas Munck adeptly balances Eastern and Southern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Ottoman Empire against the better-known history of France, the British Isles and Spain.

Seventeenth-Century Europe
- gives full prominence to the political context of the period, arguing that the Thirty Years War is vital to understanding the social and political developments of the early modern period
- provides detailed coverage of the debates surrounding the 'general crisis', absolutism and the growth of the state, and the implications these had for townspeople, the peasantry and the poor
- examines changes in economic orientation within Europe, as well as continuity and change in mental and cultural traditions at different social levels.

Now fully revised, this second edition of a well-established and approachable synthesis features important new material on the Ottomans, Christian-Moslem contacts and on the role of women. The text has also been thoroughly updated to take account of recent research.

Table of Contents

1. The Thirty Years War in the German lands

Abstract
The early seventeenth century was a period of such complex and widespread warfare that few parts of Europe remained unscathed. Ever since, the motives of the major protagonists have been disputed, the overall significance of religious, economic and diplomatic factors debated, the severity of the material destructiveness reviewed, and the long-term significance of the concluding peace settlements reassessed — even the very existence of a definable ‘Thirty Years War’ between 1618 and 1648 has been challenged.1 Without denying the usefulness of this revisionism, historians have more recently concentrated on detailed studies of individual regions and localities within the Holy Roman Empire, in order to provide more finely drawn analyses appropriate to the territorial particularism which became so prominent a feature of the Empire during the course of the war and thereafter. Interestingly, however, many of these studies have revealed the continuing strengths and positive aspects of the imperial machinery, especially after 1648.
Thomas Munck

2. Government in wartime Europe

Abstract
The Thirty Years War has to be regarded as a composite European conflict (see chapter 1), and although much of the worst fighting was on German soil, the direct repercussions in northern Italy, France, part of the Netherlands and Denmark were very serious. Military and fiscal burdens caused devastating local or provincial revolts in Spain and France, and contributed to irreversible social and political change in the Scandinavian monarchies. Sweden and Poland linked east and west, even though the Baltic conflicts and the upheavals in Russia and the Ukraine (not to mention changes in the Ottoman Empire, to which we shall return in chapter 7) sprang from tensions unconnected with the German conflict. The Stuart monarchy, initially implicated in various ways in the continental struggles, later became totally absorbed in its own troubles, yet parallels between English and continental experiences at least at the general level remain discernible until the 1640s, and some contemporaries were keenly conscious of the implications for other monarchies of the English civil war.
Thomas Munck

3. The framework of life

Abstract
Throughout the seventeenth century neither government officials nor interested laymen had any comprehensive quantitative idea of what was happening in the economic life of their own region, let alone of Europe as a whole. Some Italian cities had already compiled censuses in the sixteenth century, but that was exceptional. There was no shortage of commentators and politicos, such as the arbitristas1 in Spain who wrote on a variety of contemporary social and economic problems, but most of their output was generalised and rhetorical, often trying to promote particular political interests. The disadvantages of lacking recorded information and statistics on many aspects of material life were gradually recognised towards the end of the century when the fiscal needs of governments, together with improvements in scientific and statistical methods, began to provide the incentives and means for steps in this direction. But only during the eighteenth century did the study of political economy and the training of administrative officials catch up with practical realities to such an extent that long-term government policies might take hold and become more than just piecemeal and often ineffectual application of sometimes self-contradictory measures advocated by particular pressure groups to shift financial burdens, to affect the balance of trade, to protect infant or ailing industries or to secure commercial monopolies overseas.
Thomas Munck

4. Enterprise and profit

Abstract
The Danish port of Ribe in south-western Jutland, with a population of 3500 in the early seventeenth century, was quite small by European standards but remained an important centre of Danish trade with Hamburg, Amsterdam and other northern European ports. One of the most prominent citizens of Ribe was the merchant Hans Friis, whose account-books for the years 1630–50 give an interesting illustration of what constituted a successful merchant business at the time. He owned substantial property in the town, served as mayor of the city and, like many of his kind, acted in a number of capacities, as retail, mail-order and wholesale trader, shopkeeper, moneylender, agent and middleman for the cattle exports of Danish noblemen, and local employer. The stock of merchandise listed in the inventory after his death in 1650 included some of the nearly two hundred different qualities and types of textiles that he normally carried, various hardware ranging from scythes to sewing needles, wine, salt, grain, building materials (including timber), various luxury articles, glass and paper, altogether valued at 3000 slettedaler (approximately £500 at the time) or the equivalent of about one year’s turnover. His accounts reveal that he also traded in iron, lead, fish and spices, although the local apothecary specialised in the last.
Thomas Munck

5. The structure of society: nobility, office-holders and the rich

Abstract
Seventeenth-century society was seen by contemporaries as essentially static and hierarchic, endowed with a natural order which most of the writers of the time found both necessary and generally acceptable. This is not to say that there were no protests of a deeper kind, for although many revolts and riots were sparked primarily by immediate (often material) factors such as dearth or increases in taxation, a number were genuinely revolutionary in terms of underlying motives. We do not need to look very far to find strikingly subversive dimensions in some of the larger French peasant revolts, let alone the radical popular movements in civil-war England. But on the whole the structure of society was assumed to be unchanging except in detail. Contemporary writers, being themselves members of the elite, liked to divide it into ranks or orders according to status, wealth, influence and (in particular) the social estimation and dignity attached by society to each group. Although there were, of course, interesting differences of approach between individual writers, there was also a great deal of common ground. Amongst the frequently cited authorities, Charles Loyseau’s Traité des ordres et simples dignités, published in 1613 when its author was nearly 50 years old, is typical of much of this kind of literature.1
Thomas Munck

6. The structure of society: urban life

Abstract
A major distinctive feature of western historical development in the later medieval and early modern periods was the growth and consolidation of towns not merely as conglomerations of people but as communities with a life and structure of their own. The German saying ‘Stadtluft macht frei’ was a shorthand for the fact that in most of Europe towns of any size had acquired a corporate autonomy which freed them from the seigneurial control exerted over the surrounding countryside and often also gave them a large degree of independence in town government, administration, the law and taxation. The town wall (where there was one) thus not only protected the community, and enclosed the market or manufacturing which had constituted the original function of the town, but also represented administrative and jurisdictional boundaries of enormous practical significance. Although much of the community framework had emerged in the medieval period and institutional change in the early modern period was slow or virtually non-existent, the external strains of the seventeenth century could not help affecting the life and structure of even the most secure towns.
Thomas Munck

7. Provincial revolts, civil war and crises in mid-century Europe

Abstract
In 1647 the price of wheat in England rose to an unprecedented level, and the yearly average did not fall significantly until 1650. During previous dearths in 1630 and 1637, the price of a secondary staple such as oats had echoed the price of wheat, but only over relatively short periods; now it remained at one and a half times its normal level for much longer. In the grain market in Les Halles in Paris, the price of the best wheat (averaged over an August–July agricultural year) was more than 50 per cent above its normal harvest level for two seasons running in the periods 1625–7, 1630–1 and 1642–4, but this was mild by comparison with a run of six years from 1648 to 1654 when prices were higher than ever before and when the annual average twice reached a level three times the norm for settled years.1 Here again, oats followed suit, if on a marginally less dramatic scale. As already indicated (see chapter 3), the years 1648–51 were times of widespread food shortages over much of Europe, including not only the northwest and parts of the Mediterranean but also — because of the scale of the shortages — pushing up prices on the markets of east-central Europe. It is no coincidence that one of the major sequences of urban and rural unrest occurred precisely then.
Thomas Munck

8. The structure of society: peasant and seigneur

Abstract
The historian may attempt to make some generalisations about the structure of seventeenth-century elites and of urban communities in different parts of Europe, and may even conclude that gradual changes can be perceived, particularly in north-western society, in some of the functions and attitudes of those groups who regarded themselves as ‘the middling sort’ or as persons of ‘quality’ and rank. But the 70–90 per cent of the population who were non-noble country-dwellers really do defy all generalisation. Ranging from a normally small minority of well-off peasants (most clearly visible in the few prosperous areas of Europe), through smallholders, craftsmen, cottagers, fishermen or foresters, to migrant labourers, transhumant mountain communities, vagrants and the destitute, their conditions of survival depended on a wide range of variables.
Thomas Munck

9. Beliefs, mentalités, knowledge and the printed text

Abstract
Religion provided a universal mode of thinking and of expression which pervaded all aspects of life in seventeenth-century Europe. There were an ever-growing number of belligerent variants within the Christian world, and some significant differences between Christian Europe and the Muslim south-east, but such differences almost invariably led to dogmatic entrenchment and intolerance. For the great majority, strict conformity was both natural and unquestioned. Yet historians agree that the period also marked a crucial stage in the emancipation of the human mind from the blindly accepted dogma and intellectual traditions of the past. Such emancipation, as we would expect, does not occur suddenly, and it would be misleading to portray what has been called the ‘intellectual revolution’ and the ‘scientific revolution’ of the seventeenth century as a compact and easily definable phenomenon. Its roots clearly stretched back into the early Renaissance or before, and the Reformation (as we shall see) provided a crucial impetus; similarly, its effects are not altogether clear before the high enlightenment of the eighteenth century. But it can be argued that several crucial milestones in the emancipatory process were passed during the seventeenth century: if so, what were they?
Thomas Munck

10. The arts, the value of creativity and the cost of appearances

Abstract
On 14 August 1651 the most prestigious figure in the German early baroque, the composer Henrich Schütz (1585–1672), wrote to the son of his patron (Elector Johann Georg of Saxony) in the following terms:
Most gracious Lord, reluctant though I am to burden your princely Highness with my repeated letters and reminders, yet I am compelled thereto by … the exceeding great lamentation, wretchedness and moaning of all the company of poor, neglected musicians of the court, who are living in such distress as would draw tears from a stone in the ground. [Most of them have decided] to set out for elsewhere, compelled by dire necessity. … They have had enough of insults, no one will any longer give them a penny’s credit.
Thomas Munck

11. Absolute monarchy and the return of order after 1660

Abstract
The later seventeenth century may be regarded as the period when absolute monarchy reached its classic form — a monarchy unlimited in law, seeking to project the King as an unchallengeable (even divinely ordained) judge and prince, underpinned by an administrative machinery whereby the daily exercise of power from the centre would become an accepted fact. This became in effect the ‘normal’ type of government in Europe for the next century or more. Yet, perhaps because the notion of monarchy was itself meant to be something of a divine mystery, there are relatively few formal statements of constitutional law from this period which can help clarify what precisely was intended. An unambiguous text is that of the substantial law code promulgated in Denmark in 1683, Danske Lov, whose very first article made clear that the monarch:
Thomas Munck

12. Power and state-sponsored violence in the later seventeenth century

Abstract
The decades after the upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s were characterised in the last chapter as a period of at least partially successful government consolidation, assisted by a widespread reaction against the real or feared violence and social destabilisation of the midcentury revolts. Royal or princely authority, for all its dynastic and bureaucratic inadequacies, became accepted in most parts of Europe as a bulwark against social and political anarchy, and, as we have also noted, appeared to serve well the interests of those with wealth and rank. In England, although its worst affected regions had experienced less violence than, for example, the Paris region, Parliament seemed compliant and extraordinarily reluctant to use its recently acquired experience to restrict the Crown. In Sweden the representative machinery was an even more willing prop for absolute monarchy, despite recent political experiences. Elsewhere monarchs rarely had any problems with those institutions that preserved any semblance of independence. Everywhere in Europe the arts, the printed word and rhetoric were used consciously and often systematically to convey messages of order, stability and pompous, princely grandeur. For a time the economic environment, too, was more settled in many parts of Europe, helping to create an impression of relative prosperity, visible for instance in the early years of Colbert’s ministry in France.
Thomas Munck

Concluding remarks

Abstract
Historians have in recent years devoted much attention to the process of state formation in early modern Europe. For some, the seventeenth century marked the consolidation of the ‘tax state’, a political and bureaucratic structure shaped in part by the rapidly growing and seemingly insatiable demands for revenue to pay for war. Others have described this process in terms of a growth of the ‘power state’ or ‘military state’, in recognition of the fact that the main priorities of early modern government often had to do with the military power needed to survive in the predatory environment of early modern international relations. For some historians, however, the state acquired a more pronounced institutional profile most clearly visible in those monarchies which headed towards what we now often call ‘absolute monarchy’.
Thomas Munck
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