Europe: The 17th Century
Europe in the 17th Century
The story of Europe in the 17th century is a fascinating tale. By the end of the 17th century, "Christendom" started to fade as a term, and a new term, "Europe," began to be increasingly used in its place.
This is not because Europe had become less Christian; it is largely because Christendom implies unity, and the unity of Christendom had been shattered by the middle of the 17th century by the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of the sovereign nation states that put their own interests first.
Life in 17th Century Europe
The large and prosperous cities of Christendom in the 17th century—London, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva, and Strasbourg—were merely mud holes with lots of houses in them by modern standards. Streets were unpaved or poorly paved, and all of them doubled as open sewers as people dumped their waste from chamber pots into the narrow streets. Only Venice stood out as truly a beautiful city.
There were few windows in the 17th century, and they were taxed as a luxury item in many places. Houses featured one large chamber, and it was here that birth, life, and death took place; it was also the room in which the master of the house conducted business. Hence, the word chamber carries on by Chamber of Commerce and Judge in Chambers.
Chairs now had arms, fixed cushions, and higher backs. Boxes for storage had become chests of drawers. Whole families often slept together, mostly naked. Even visitors would pile in. The elderly usually wore a gown and nightcap. In hospitals, inns, and boarding houses you had to share your bed, sometimes with strangers.
Except in Italy, there were no plates or forks. You would eat with your fingers. Even spoons (and later forks) were only for serving, not for individual use. The custom of washing your hands before a meal was established by the 17th century. Leftovers were given to servants, and their leftovers to the poor. There were no vegetarians because there were hardly any vegetables.
Public bath houses were closed in Europe during the 17th century to control syphilis and prostitution. And so regular bathing came to an end. Clothes were dirty and worn in thick layers. High heels for upper-class women started to come into vogue. People who could afford them began wearing wigs, this allowed members of the upper crust to shave their heads in order to rid themselves of head lice.
The witch craze reached its apex in the 17 century. It is here we find academic studies at universities of night-flying on broomsticks, spells and curses, the ingredients of the witches' cauldron. Of particular interest was the witches' sabbath sexual orgies, at which the Devil would appear as a stinking goat-man who liked to be kissed under his tail.
The word wicked is from the same root as witch; as is Wicca.
Alchemists were the forerunners of scientists. and perhaps of modern philosophers. Alchemists sought the 'philosophers stone,' a substance of legend that could turn base metals into gold and be used as an elixir of life. Alchemists had to acquire knowledge across a wide range of subjects, to include astrology, numerology, lapidary, herbal medicine, and chemistry.
In 1606, the Habsburg Archdukes complained of Emperor Rudolph II that he "is only interested wizards, alchemists, cabbalists, and the like." Rudolph held court in Prague, where he supported the occult arts. Europe was fascinated by the occult in the 17th century, and alchemists were viewed as the most important 'secret artists.'
The Rosicrucian Order
The Rosicrucian (rosy cross) Order was a secret society of eight doctors who were also Protestant mystics. It was founded early in the 17th century in Germany by Christian Rosenkreuz. The Rosicrucian Order believed that there are ancient esoteric truths hidden from the common man, which once rediscovered will provide insight into the physical and spiritual realms.
The Rosicrucian Order was instrumental in the rise of Freemasonry, and is credited with inspiring the Invisible College, which later became the Royal Society of London.
The Rosicrucian Order still exists today, descended from the Scottish branch of the Rosicrucian Order. Only a Christian Master Mason may be a member.
Robert Fluud (1574-1637) was the prime defender of the Rosicrucian Order during his lifetime. Robert Fluud—who was also an occultist—is the first man to theorize (correctly) that blood circulates through people, with the heart as the center of circulation.
Gypsies were not the only people living beyond the margins of settled society in Europe of the 17th century. There were also traveling bands of vagabonds, some of whom mutilated themselves for pity's sake.
These vagabonds shared the open road with Gypsies. Vagabonds even had guilds with their own special rules of conduct for pickpockets, thieves, burglars, peddlers, beggars, cripples, jugglers, fortune-tellers, tinkers, whores, and musicians.
The secret language of the vagabonds became known as jargon.
Flamenco music is a style of Gypsy music that originated in the 17th century Andalusia region of Spain. Flamenco music is an art form that features foot-stamping dance, dramatic poses, and raucous, plaintive singing.
You know flamenco music when you hear it, with its pulsating guitars and castanets. Flamenco actually means Flemish.
The first Opera, L'Orfeo, was performed in 1607. Its creator was the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, who described it as "a fable set to music." The libretto, or words, were written by Alessandro Striggio, who also invented madrigal comedy.
Opera is meant to imitate the ancient Greek dramas. L'Orfeo includes music, singing, spoken dialogue, and dancing. It combines spectacle with drama and music. The musical instruments included trombones, flutes, and recorders.
Ballet was introduced into opera late in the 17th century. In the 18th century, we see the invention of comedic opera—the ancestor of the Broadway musical comedy. In the 19th century, we find the first Grand Opera with its huge cast, full orchestra, and lavish sets. Verdi, Puccini, and Wagner are generally considered the best opera composers in history.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is the outstanding person of Rome in the 17th century. Gian Lorenzo Bernini contributed to 45 major buildings constructed in Rome in the 17th century, the centerpiece being St. Peter's Square. But Catholic Rome had reached the end of its glory days.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini—a deeply religious man—was also a tremendous sculptor, as well as a painter and playwright. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed many of the famous fountains of Rome, and much of the interior in St. Peter's Basilica. He is known today as the exemplar for baroque architecture.
Bourgeoisie means a lot of things to different people. Literally, bourgeoisie means the city dwellers (from the word burgher, itself derived from the word burg).
In the 17th century, city dwellers were mostly merchants and traders—free enterprise capitalists. To those in the monarchy government, these Bourgeoisie were the people who created a nation's wealth.
As the secular power of the Church—and the power of the nobility—declined in 17th century Christendom, the bourgeoisie became the most powerful force in most countries. The bourgeoisie dominated the economy and the culture.
Aristocrats began to use the word bourgeoisie perjoratively to denote the lack of taste and refinement of those "below" them.
Peasants—later goaded on by Karl Marx and other Socialists—began to use the word bourgeoisie perjoratively to denote those in control of goods and services (merchants and traders) who must be crooked since they have been more successful.
The bourgeoisie rose up because they knew how to read, write, and do arithmetic. Their number included physicians, lawyers, builders, artists, and writers. The bourgeoisie was never a monolithic group of people, but persons of various stations according to wealth, occupation, education, talent, and manners.
The bourgeoisie were the driving force behind the blossoming of Europe. As trade flourished, new and better roads were built for all citizens to use.
Monarchy government came to realize that the bourgeoisie were those people who were most literate, well reared, professional, and yes, sometimes well-heeled (good quality shoes were unavailable to the poor). Therefore, monarchy government recruited from the bourgeoisie for help in the administration of the affairs of state.
Duels could be triggered by a mere look in 17th century Europe. Men took their 'honor' very seriously. Duels with swords (later duels with pistols) became the most common way to settle the indignity of a insult, or a quarrel over a woman. To tolerate an affront to one's honor was to be a coward without self-respect.
In France alone it is estimated that 12 men died every week in duels in 17th century Europe. Duels were a way to resolve conflict without it escalating into an ongoing family feud; murder done by stealth or ambush; or troubling the courts with matters below their notice. Strict rules were in place for duels, and the duels were managed by assistants called "seconds."
All rulers have to take advice from somebody. Absolute rulers, such as those in monarchy government, rarely get sincere advice, since honest advice could be dangerous to the adviser if he were to contradict the king. The exception to this rule was long the Court Jesters, or Fools.
The institution of Court Jesters is a political device based on sound psychology. The jesters are never quite normal; jesters have the innocent mind of a child; jesters tell the king truths others dare not tell—though cloaked in comedy, riddles, and playacting. The jesters are court entertainers, with bells on their shoes and caps.
There had been kings in Christendom for a thousand years, but in the 17th century a new political order was needed to restore order, stability, and peace. A monarchy goverment that commanded loyalty through absolute power became the new symbol of the nation-state. The idea of the nation-state was partly to enlarge the scope of one's attachment to the place of one's birth.
Under monarchy government, we see the thirst for titles develop. A favor or decoration from the monarchy government became a prized thing of immense value.
War had bankrupted most of Europe. And the new warfare was terribly expensive. Fortresses, cannons, and firearms are far more costly than bows and arrows.
Most wealth was now concentrated in the countries with the most land and prosperous cities. The monarchy government needed support from everyone: peasants, artisans, merchants, nobles, and clerics.
No monarchy government could do without the support of the Church. The Church had wealth—but more importantly it was a powerful molder of public opinion. Christianity gave the clearest picture of moral and physical reality. Nearly all Europeans were Christians.
The Church was the dispenser of all social services; it provided the schools and the hospitals. The Church taught the children, and took care of the poor, the sick, and the troubled. The Church gathered all people together regularly, and thus provided a sense of community among people.
A monarchy government could not simply do as it wanted. No, it was bound by civil law, criminal law, and a whole set of customs.
Monarchy government was vested in the eldest son of the one family known to all. This was to ensure stability through continuity. The reason it was said "The king is dead, long live the king!" is that the old and new kings are the same kingship that is wished a long life.
The coronation of a monarch was all about impressing the people through the symbolism and drama of pageantry. Before the coronation, the leaders of a nation's civil, military, and religious orders arrive in procession to attend mass and witness the unction (anointing) of the new king. The prelate declares "Almighty and eternal God, who hast raised Thy servant to be king, grant that he shall secure the good of his subjects and that he shall never stray from the path of justice and truth. "
The king must promise to protect the church; he takes his oath of office with his hand on the Holy Scriptures. Prayers follow. The king then lies facedown toward the altar as seven unctions are administered to him. Choral music resounds. The king promises charity to the poor, a good example to the rich, and to keep the nation at peace.
The clergy thus confers the elements of power. The archbishop places the crown on the king's head. The coronation is complete.
At the death of a good monarch the people wail and weep—at home, in church, and in the streets. They pray between their bouts of grief. The loss is personal and intense and charged with anxiety about the future. Such collective emotion about the death of rulers is only felt today after certain assassinations.
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. 10 are about kingship and its duties, legitimacy and challenges to it from noble lords. 692 times in these plays, Shakespeare uses the word "honor. "
Now a double loyalty was in place: to God and to King. We pray to the Lord; we petition to our lord the king. The monarchy government reigned after the coronation by the grace of God and exercised power under His watchful eye.
The king is no ordinary person, he is the father of his people. More than representing people, the king embodies them. This is why edicts from monarchy government begins with "we" and not "I."
Sweden in the 17th Century
Sweden was a powerful nation in the first half of 17th century. It was a Protestant power to reckoned with, with an awesome military nicknamed "the terror of the north."
Queen Christina abdicated her throne in 1650 to devote herself to study, and this upset the unity in Sweden.
Poland in the 17th Century
Poland had its golden age in the 17th century as well. This came to an end with the 1667 Treaty of Andrusovo, which surrendered Kiev, Ukraine, and Belarus to the Russians.
The once great nation of Poland was squeezed out by the Russians on one side, and the Prussians on the other. Prussia (the old Teutonic State) returned to prominence in the 17th century after it unified with Brandenburg in 1618.
Russia in the 17th Century
Russia, sometimes called Muscovy in those days, became a strong state after the efforts of Ivan the Terrible, whose two chief achievements were to separate the Russian Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church, and to slaughter all of his opponents.
The House of Romanov was established in 1613, and would reign over Russia for 305 years.
Spain in the 17th Century
Spain declines in power and prestige in the 17th century. It had been the greatest power on earth in the previous century, unmatched in its grandeur. Leading to its demise as a European powerhouse were the loss of the Spanish Armada in 1588, followed by plagues, agricultural failures, depopulation, and bankruptcy.
Spain lost Portugal in 1640, and its long wars with France drained the treasury of its once incredible wealth.
The Netherlands in the 17th Century
The Netherlands became a European powerhouse in the 17th century. It accomplished this by implementing a powerful navy, democracy, capitalism, and prudent management. The Netherlands of this period produced many famous bankers, engineers, sailors, and artists.
The Netherlands became a safe haven for religious dissenters because of its religious tolerance. Many who fled to the Netherlands were wise merchants, painters, and philosophers. The art is spectacular, what with Rubens, Van Dyck, Vermeer, and Rembrandt all based in the Netherlands (called "Holland" in England) during the 17th century.
The Netherlands became the first modern state. It featured fantastic cities, filled with frugal, hard-working, God-fearing people—many of whom specialized in business. Soon Europe would be filled with tales of the windmills, canals, tulips, and black and white cattle of the Netherlands.
Tulip cultivation began in the Netherlands in 1593. By 1637, tulip mania had set in. People went crazy over these flowers. The demand caused prices of tulips to rise to incredible heights. Tulips became a status symbol. One Dutch merchant sold half his assets for a single tulip bulb—not to sell, but merely to show off that he had one.
Exchange markets were set up in several Dutch cities. The tulips were valued according to color and weight. Soon speculators were trading in tulip futures. Poor people grew rich over night; rich people went bust in a day. All of this led to a tremendous "tulip bubble"—there is no way any mere flower was worth that much money. In 1637 the bubble burst. The tulip market collapsed, buyers defaulted, vendors sued, bankruptcies abounded, debtors ended up in prison.
The Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years War is often miscategorized as a religious war, particularly by anti-Christians. No doubt there were religious elements to this devastating misadventure; but it was far more than Catholics versus Protestants.
The main part of the war ended up being France against the Habsburgs—Catholics against other Catholics—in war that was to settle who would dominate Europe. It was about land and political power—not religion.
Protestant Sweden allied itelf with Catholic France in the fighting. The Italian States battled each other for hundreds of years, in spite of their common Catholicism.
Battles between Spain and France were romanticized in The Three Musketeers. France defeated Spain, routing the once-considered invincible Spanish infantry.
The end of the Thirty Years War left Germany in ruins but left France the largest, richest, most populous, and most war-like nation in Europe.
The Germans were considered the poor step-children of Christendom, their minds dull but full of fanciful dreams; their art, language, and manners backward and coarse. The fact is that, religion aside, Spain, France, Sweden, and Denmark all coveted German lands.
The religion part played its chief role in that the Germans were easy pickings because they were fighting a religious war amongst themselves, Protestants in the north, Catholics in the south. In the midst of this civil war, the Germans were attacked on all sides by those whose motivations were decidedly unreligious. The overall war looked like opportunity for some oppressed religious groups to revolt, true, and they did, notably the Bohemians and Huguenots.
The Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia (1648) was a series of treaties that ended the Thirty Years War. No more were there to be religious wars of Catholics against Protestants in Christendom. It also spelled the beginning of the end of the widespread use of that term "Christendom" in favor of a newly popular term: Europe.
Germany had been decimated by the Thirty Years War. Up to a third of its population lay dead. Whole cities stood in ruins; trade had virtually ceased. A generation of war, pillage, famine, and disease had stripped Germany bare of agriculture and livestock.
The Peace of Westphalia established the idea of what a nation is: sovereign and independent. The Netherlands and Switzerland were new nations as of the signing of these treaties.
Europe was now split apart into a group of distinct societies, each with their own language, laws, manners, and arts.
Christendom in the 17th Century
Hasty moral and intellectual judgments about people in the past are a form of injustice. It is deplorable to transfer the way you wish things to be unto people of previous eras. They had to deal with their own set of urgencies.
Human beings in groups tend to do as they please unless prevented by stronger groups. Within a nation, peace and justice cannot prevail without the threat and use of force. It is therefore unrealistic to assume that self-restraint—which fails to control crime within a nation—will deter foreign nations whose interests clash with ours. This is political science 101.