| Chapter 17: Absolutism in Central and Eastern Europe to 1740
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> Chapter 17
Chapter 17: Absolutism in Central and Eastern Europe to 1740

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Chapter Outline

  • Warfare and Social Change in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Origins of Serfdom
  • During the period from 1050 to 1300, personal and economic freedom for peasants increased, and serfdom nearly disappeared.
  • After 1300, lords in Eastern Europe revived serfdom to fight their economic woes.
  • Laws were passed that bound peasants to land and lord.
  • Lords confiscated peasant lands and imposed greater labor obligations on them.
  • The Consolidation of Serfdom
  • Hereditary serfdom was established or reestablished in Poland, Russia, and Prussia.
  • The consolidation of serfdom accompanied the growth of estate agriculture.
  • Eastern lords enjoyed much greater political power than their western counterparts.
  • Weak monarchs could not or would not withstand their powerful nobles’ revival of serfdom and, in any case, most eastern monarchs did not oppose the growth of serfdom.
  • At the same time, the power of towns and urban dwellers was undermined.
  • The Thirty Years’ War
  • An uneasy truce prevailed in the Holy Roman Empire since the Peace of Augsburg of 1555.
  • Lutheran princes formed the Protestant Union in 1608 and Catholics responded with the Catholic League in 1609.
  • The war began in 1618, sparked by the “defenestration of Prague.”
  • The war is traditionally divided into four phases:
  • The Bohemian phase (1618–1625)
  • The Danish phase (1625–1629)
  • The Swedish phase (1630–1635)
  • The French, or international, phase (1635–1648)
  • Consequences of the Thirty Years’ War
  • The 1648 Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War.
  • The Thirty Years’ War was incredibly destructive.
  • The Holy Roman Empire was hit hardest by the war.
  • Some nobles and landlords benefited from the war, and a few northern towns also prospered as a result of the fighting.
  • The Rise of Austria and Prussia
  • The Austrian Habsburgs
  • In Bohemia, the Habsburgs crushed the mostly Protestant nobility, bringing in Catholic newcomers and binding local peasants to them (1618-1650).
  • In the culturally German core of Austria, the Habsburgs centralized the government and created a standing army (mid-1600s).
  • Austrian Rule in Hungary
  • After the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, the kingdom of Hungary was divided between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs.
  • Warfare between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans devastated Hungary.
  • In 1683, the Habsburgs succeeded in gaining control of most of Hungary and Transylvania.
  • The Hungarian nobility resisted the full development of Habsburg absolutism.
  • The Habsburgs advanced the cause of state building in Hungary by forging a consensus with the church and nobility.
  • The Pragmatic Sanction allowed Maria-Theresa to ascend to the throne in 1740.
  • Prussia in the Seventeenth Century
  • The Hohenzollern family ruled the electorate of Brandenburg and Prussia.
  • The Thirty Years’ War weakened representative assemblies and allowed the Hohenzollerns to consolidate their rule.
  • Frederick William, the Great Elector (r. 1640-1688), employed military power and taxation to unify his Rhine holdings, Prussia, and Brandenburg into a strong state.
  • The Consolidation of Prussian Absolutism
  • King Frederick William I (r. 1713-1740) encouraged Prussian militarism and created the most efficient army in Europe.
  • Frederick helped lay the foundations of a militaristic nation.
  • The Development of Russia and the Ottoman Empire
  • The Mongol Yoke and the Rise of Moscow
  • The Russian aristocracy (boyars) and a free peasantry made it difficult to strengthen the state.
  • The princes of Moscow served the Mongol invaders as officials.
  • Ivan III (r. 1462-1505) assumed the leadership of Orthodox Christianity and distributed conquered land to a new class of military servicemen.
  • Tsar and People to 1689
  • Ivan IV fought wars against Mongol successor khanates in the east and Poland-Lithuania in the west.
  • He launched a reign of terror against the boyar nobility.
  • Increased pressure on the peasants to pay for his wars led to a breakdown of the Muscovite state after his death (the Time of Troubles, 1598-1613).
  • Michael Romanov was elected tsar by the nobility in 1613.
  • The Reforms of Peter the Great
  • Peter the Great sought to reform Russia to increase its military might.
  • He created Western-style schools to train technicians for the army.
  • He borrowed Western technology and hired Western advisers.
  • He modernized the army and made Russia a great power in Europe.
  • He increased the burden of serfdom to pay for Russia’s military power.
  • The Growth of St. Petersburg
  • St. Petersburg is a good example of the ties among architecture, politics, and urban planning.
  • In 1702, Peter the Great began the task of building a new city.
  • The architectural ideas that informed the city matched Peter’s general political goals.
  • Peasants were forced to work on the construction of the city and nobles were ordered to build houses there.
  • The Growth of the Ottoman Empire
  • The Ottomans came out of Central Asia, settled in Anatolia, and created an empire that reached its peak under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566) in the mid-sixteenth century.
  • The Ottomans borrowed from the institutions and practices of the peoples they conquered.
  • The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453.
  • Ottoman expansion continued in the sixteenth century.
  • The Ottoman Empire was originally built on a unique model of state and society.
  • The Ottoman bureaucracy was staffed by the sultan’s slave corps.
  • The Ottoman Empire experienced the same economic and social crises that affected the rest of Europe.
  • They were driven out of Hungary and Transylvania at the end of the seventeenth century.
  • Religious Diversity in the Ottoman Empire
  • The Ottomans were more tolerant of religious differences than Europeans.
  • The Ottomans divided their subjects into religious communities known as millet.
  • Non-Muslim minorities coexisted and commingled with the Muslim majority.
  • Nonetheless, the Ottoman Empire was an explicitly Muslim state.


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