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Europe in Crisis Social Disintegration_ War_ and Revolution _1560


									      Europe in Crisis: Social Disintegration, War, and
                  Revolution (1560-1650)

         From 1560 to 1650, Europe witnesses severe economic and social crises, as well
as political upheaval. The so-called price revolution was a dramatic rise in prices
(inflation) that was a major economic problem in all of Europe in the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries. What caused this price revolution? The great influx of gold and
silver from the New World was one factor. Perhaps even more important was an increase
in population in the sixteenth century. A growing population increased the demand for
land and food and drove up prices for both.
         The price revolution also had benefits, as rising prices and expanding markets led
to economic expansion and prosperity. This inflation-fueled prosperity of the sixteenth
century, however, showed signs of declining by the beginning of the seventeenth century.
An economic slowdown was soon evident in some parts of Europe. As imports of silver
from the Americas dwindled, economic decline increased, especially in the
Mediterranean area. Spain’s economy, which has grown dependent on imported silver
was seriously failing by the decade of the 1640s. Italy, once the financial center of
Europe in the age of the Renaissance, was also becoming an economic backwater.
                 Population figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reveal
Europe’s worsening conditions. The sixteenth century was a period of growing
population, possibly due to a warmer climate and increased food supplies. The
population of Europe probably increased from 60 million in 1500 to 85 million by 1600.
However, it leveled off by 1620 and even began to decline by 1650, especially in central
and southern Europe. Only the Dutch, English, and French grew in number in the first
half of the seventeenth century.
                 Europe’s longtime enemies—war, famine, and plague—continued to
affect population levels. Another “little Ice Age” in Europe after the middle of the
sixteenth century brought a fall in average temperatures. This hurt harvests and gave rise
to famines. Europe’s problems created social tensions that were evident in the witchcraft

The Witchcraft Craze

        Hysteria over witchcraft affected the lives of many Europeans in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, although witchcraft was not new. Its practice had been part of
traditional village culture for centuries. However, in the Middle Ages, the Catholic
Church had connected witches to the activities of the devil, making witchcraft into a
heresy that had to be wiped out. By the thirteenth century, people were being accused of
a variety of witchcraft practices. They were often turned over to state authorities for
burning at the stake or hanging.
        In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many people became hysterical about
witchcraft. Neighbors accused neighbors of witchcraft, which led to widespread trials of
witches. Perhaps more than 100,000 people were prosecuted throughout Europe on
charges of witchcraft. As more and more people were brought to trial, the fear of witches
grew, as did the fear of being accused of witchcraft. Larger cities were affected first, but
the trials also spread to smaller towns and rural areas as the hysteria lasted well into the
seventeenth century.
         Common people—usually those who were poor and without property—were the
ones most often accused of witchcraft. Indeed, where lists are given, those mentioned
most often are milkmaids, peasant women, and servant girls. In the witchcraft trials of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, over 75 percent of those accused were women.
Most of them were single or widowed. Many were over fifty years old.
         The accused witches usually confessed to a number of practices, most often after
intense torture. Many said that they had sworn allegiances to the devil and attended
sabbats, or nightly gatherings where they feasted and danced. Others admitted using evil
spells and special ointments and powders to bring harm to their neighbors, such as killing
their livestock.
         Why did the witchcraft crazy become so widespread in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries? Religious uncertainties clearly played some part. Many witchcraft
trials took place in the areas, such as southwestern Germany, where conflicts between
Protestants and Catholics still raged. As hatreds grew, charges of being in league with
the devil became common on both sides.
         The witchcraft hysteria may also have emerged from the problems of a society in
turmoil. This was a time when the old values that stressed working together for the good
of the community were declining. Property owners became alarmed at the growing
numbers of poor among them and referred to them as agents of the devil. Old women
were particularly open to suspicion. Many of them could no longer depend on the local
charity found in traditional society and survived by selling herbs, potions, or secret
remedies for healing. When problems arose, these same people were the most likely to
be accused of being witches.
         That women should be the chief victims of witchcraft trials was hardly accidental.
Indeed, since the Middle Ages, writers on witchcraft had argued that there was a direct
link between witchcraft and women. According to these writers, women were inferior to
men both mentally and morally. Women’s moral weaknesses made them especially open
to temptation and hence especially vulnerable to the allures of Satan. These beliefs were
repeated in virtually all of the witchcraft treatises written in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. A witchcraft judge in France, for example, found it “not unreasonable that this
scum of humanity, i.e., witches, should be drawn chiefly from the feminine sex.” Of
course, not only witch hunters held these low estimates of women. Most theologians,
lawyers, and philosophers in early modern Europe believed in the natural inferiority of
women and thus would have found it plausible that women would be more susceptible to
         By the mid-seventeenth century, the witchcraft hysteria began to lessen. The
destruction caused by more religious wars led many people to become more tolerant.
This tolerance, in turn, caused religious passions to subside. Moreover, as governments
grew stronger after the period of crisis, fewer officials were willing to disrupt their
societies by the trials of witches. Finally, by the end of the seventeenth and the beginning
of the eighteenth centuries, as science became more widespread, more and more people
were questioning their old attitudes toward religion. They found it unreasonable to
believe in the old view of a world haunted by evil spirits.
Seventeenth-Century Crisis: The Thirty Years’ War(1618 to 1648)

        Religion, especially the struggle between a militant Catholicism and a militant
Calvinism, played an important role in the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, often
called the “last of the religious wars.” As the war dragged on, however, it became clear
that political motives were extremely important as well.
        The Thirty Years’ War began in 1618 in the Germanic lands of the Holy Roman
Empire. At first it was a struggle between Catholic forces, led by the Habsburg Holy
Roman emperors, and Protestant (primarily Calvinist) nobles in Bohemia who rebelled
against Habsburg authority. What began as a struggle over religious issues soon became
a wider conflict as other European powers—Denmark, Sweden, France, and Spain—
entered the war. Especially important was the conflict between France and the rulers of
Spain and the Holy Roman Empire for European leadership. Nevertheless, most of the
battles were fought on German soil.
        The war in Germany was officially ended by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
What were the results of this conflict? France emerged as the dominant nation in Europe.
The Peace of Westphalia stated that all German states, including the Calvinist ones, were
free to determine their own religion. The more than three hundred states that made up the
Holy Roman Empire as a political entity, but Germany would not be united for another
two hundred years. The Peace of Westphalia also made it clear that political motives, not
religious convictions, had become the guiding forces in public affairs.
        Germany suffered the most from the Thirty Years’ War. Some areas of Germany
would have agreed with this comment by a resident of a city that had been sacked ten

       Then there was nothing but beating and burning, plundering, torture, and murder.
       Most especially was every one of the enemy bent on securing much booty. . . .In
       this frenzied rage, the great and splendid city . . .was now. . .given over to the
       flames, and thousands of innocent men, women and children, in the midst of a
       horrible din of heartrending shrieks and cries, were tortured and put to death in
       so cruel and shameful a manner that no words would suffice to describe,. . .Thus
       in a single day this noble and famous city, the pride of the whole country, went up
       in fire and smoke.

The Thirty Years’ War was the most destructive conflict the Europeans had yet
experienced. Unfortunately, it was not the last.

Seventeenth-Century Crises: The English Revolution

        Before, during, and after the Thirty Years’ War, a series of rebellions and civil
wars rocked Europe. To strengthen their power, monarchs tried to extend their authority
at the expense of nobles who fought back. At the same time, to fight their battles,
governments increased taxes and created such economic burdens that common people
also rebelled. By far the most famous struggle was the civil war and rebellion in
England, known as the English Revolution.
         At the core of the English Revolution of the seventeenth century was a struggle
between king and Parliament that turned into an armed conflict to determine what roles
each should play in governing England. The struggle over this political issue was
complicated by a deep and profound religious controversy.
         With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, the Tudor dynasty came to an end.
The Stuart line of rulers began with the accession to the throne of Elizabeth’s cousin, the
king of Scotland, who became James I of England. James understood little about the
laws and customs of the English. He believed in the divine right of kings; that is, he
believed that kings receive their power directly from God and are responsible to no one
except God. Parliament, however, did not think much of the divine right of the kings.
Over time, Parliament had come to assume that the king or queen and Parliament together
ruled England.
         Then, too, the Puritans (those Protestants in England inspired by Calvinist ideas)
did not like the king’s strong defense of the Church of England. The Puritans were
officially members of the Church of England. However, they were Calvinists by
conviction, and they wished to reform the Church of England by making it even more
Protestant. Many of England’s gentry, mostly well-to-do landowners below the level of
the nobility, had become Puritans The Puritan gentry formed an important part of the
House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament. It was not wise to alienate them.
         The conflict that had begun during the reign of James came to a head during the
reign of his son, Charles I. Charles believed as strongly in divine-right monarchy as his
father had. From the first stormy session of parliament after Charles became king, it
became apparent that the problems between this king and Parliament would not be easily
solved. In 1628, Parliament passed a Petition of Right, which the king was supposed to
accept before granted any taxes. This petition prohibited taxes without Parliament’s
consent. At first Charles accepted it. He changed his mind later, realizing that it put
limits on the king’s power.
         Religious differences also added to the hostility between Charles I and
Parliament. Charles tried to impose more ritual on the Church of England. To the
Puritans, this was a return to Catholic practices. When Charles tried to force the Puritans
to accept his religious policies, thousands of them went to the “howling wildernesses” of
America instead.
         Complaints grew until England finally slipped into a civil war in 1642 between
the supporters of the king (known as the Cavaliers or Royalists) and the parliamentary
forces (known as Roundheads). Parliament proved victorious, due largely to the New
Model Army of Oliver Cromwell, the only real military genius of the war. The New
Model Army was made up chiefly of more extreme Puritans, known as the Independents,
who believed they were doing battle for God. As Cromwell wrote in one of his military
reports, “Sir, this is none other but the hand of God; and to Him alone belongs the glory.”
We might give some credit to Cromwell as well, because his soldiers were well
disciplined and trained in the new military tactics developed in the course of the Thirty
Years’ War.
         The victorious New Model Army lost no time in taking control. Cromwell purged
Parliament of any members who had not supported his forces. What was left—the so-
called Rump Parliament—then had Charles I executed on January 30, 1649. Parliament
next abolished the monarchy the House of Lords, and it declared England a republic or
commonwealth. However, Cromwell and his army found it difficult to work with the
Rump Parliament and finally dispersed it by force. As the member of Parliament
departed, he shouted after them, “It is you that have forced me to do this, for I have
sought the Lord night and day that He would slay me rather than put upon me the doing
of this work.” With the certainty of one who is convinced he is right, Cromwell had
destroyed both king and Parliament. He then set up a military dictatorship.
        After Cromwell’s death, the army leaders decided that military rule was no longer
desirable. They restored the monarchy in the person of Charles II, the son of Charles I.
With the return of the monarchy, England’s time of troubles seemed at an end.

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