History 351: Seventeenth Century Europe 2011

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The Austrian Habsburgs were Holy Roman Emperors; under Ferdinand II (1619-37) they tried to increase control over the Empire, but later they concentrated on the Habsburg homelands, re-conquering territory from the Turks after the second siege of Vienna (1683; the first was in 1529).

  • Russia, Brandenburg-Prussia, and England rose in power late in the century.

    Europe: Geography

    • Mild, fertile, habitable plains; the Great European Plain

    • Gulf Stream

    • Mountains: Urals; Pyrenees; Alps; Carpathians; Apennines; Ardennes; Harz Mountains

    • Mountain culture: Wales; Basques; Switzerland.

    • Rivers: Rhine; Danube

    • Trade: efficiency of water transport

    • Baltic trade: Hanseatic League; Lübeck

    Europe: Geography and climate

    • Mediterranean trade; Venice; Ottoman Turks;

    • oceanic trade routes pioneered by Portugal; spices and drugs from Spice Islands (East Indies)

    • The Sound: Denmark; Zealand; Copenhagen; Scania; tolls on trade levied by the King of Denmark.

    • The “Little Ice Age”

    • The Maunder Minimum

    • The Thames at London froze over in ten different winters during the century; it froze more rarely later and not at all since 1814.

    • Londoners sometimes held “frost fairs” on the frozen river (e.g. 1608, 1683-4).

    • In 1658 the Baltic froze so solidly that the Swedes were able to march across the Sound and besiege Copenhagen.

    The Sound (Øresund), Zealand, and Scania

    A “frost fair” on the Thames at London, 1683-4.

    Population and the Economy

    • Population in the northwest continued to grow to the mid-seventeenth century; elsewhere it stagnated or fell.

    • France had the largest population: 20 million in 1600, up to 22 million by 1700 (despite very bad timed in the 1690s)

    • Germany had a population of around 16 million in 1600; it was badly hit by the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and fell to around 12 million by 1650; then it rose again, perhaps reaching 15 million in 1700.

    Population and the Economy

    • Spain’s population fell slightly from about 8.1 to 7.5 million; emigration to America was a factor.

    • Italy’s population was stable over the century or rose slightly (13 million in 1600 to 13.3 million in 1700), but fell in the first half; plague was a factor here (the plague of 1630 in Milan features in one of the most famous of all Italian novels, Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi of 1827).

    • Italy remained densely populated, with some large cities: Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples.

    Population and the Economy

    • In Scandinavia, population in 1700 was about 3 million, a little higher than in 1600; but there had been some disasters along the way.

    • Population in Poland and Hungary probably fell sharply.

    • In the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic population rose; the Dutch population stabilized after 1660.

    • The English population rose from 4 to 5 million between 1600 and the 1630s, and then stagnated.

    Causes of Population Change

    • A downturn in economic conditions made people poorer, more susceptible to disease, and less likely to marry young and have many children.

    • Climate change caused or worsened economic problems.

    • Other causes of economic difficulties include warfare, debasement of the coinage, and perhaps the decline of silver imports from America.

    • People began to get married later; this happened even in economically prosperous areas (England; the Netherlands).

    Causes of Population Change: Disease

    • Killer diseases included typhus, typhoid, and smallpox.

    • The most feared disease was plague (bubonic, septicaemic, and pneumonic).

    • Plague struck especially in towns and other densely populated or enclosed communities.

    • But populations could often recover quite quickly from plague.

    • In Amsterdam, plague struck in 1623-5 and killed over 10% of the population; the same happened in 1635-6, 1655, and 1664.

    • But Amsterdam’s population increased from 50,000 to over 200,000 (through immigration).

    • Plague disappeared from much of Europe after outbreaks in 1665-8.

    The village of Eyam in Derbyshire; one of the last places in England to be struck by plague (1665-6)

    Plague Cottage in Eyam

    Causes of Population Change

    • The last appearance of plague in western Europe was at the French port of Marseille in 1720; it did not spread.

    • Long-term loss of population resulted from repeated disasters, such as took place in Germany during the Thirty Years War, and in Poland between 1648 and 1667 (including the Cossack revolt in Ukraine in 1648, Russian invasion, and Swedish invasion in the Deluge (“Potop”), 1655-60.

    Consequences of Population Growth

    • In Poland and eastern Germany there was good farming land and low population density. When population in the west stagnated, landowners in the east kept up their profits by reducing wages and enserfing the peasants.

    • In the northwest, new agricultural techniques were developed, decreasing the price of food.

    • When population stagnated in the northwest in the later part of the century, agricultural innovation continued; average incomes increased, stimulating industrial demand and production.


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