A History of Europe
Chapter 11: THE GAME OF PRINCES AND POLITICS, PART II
1618 to 1772
This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:
The War of the Spanish Succession
The last Hapsburg king of Spain, Charles II (1665-1700), is a fine example of how absurd government by monarchy can be. He acquired so many defective genes from inbreeding among his ancestors that he came to be known as "Carlos the Bewitched." Charles Blitzer described him with the following words:
"Charles II of Spain, the most grotesque monarch of the 17th century, had been a travesty of a king. Generations of royal intermarriage had culminated in Charles a creature so defective in mind and body as to be scarcely even a man. He was born in 1661, the product of his father's old age, and his brief life consisted chiefly of a passage from prolonged infancy to premature senility. He was not weaned until he was five, could not walk until he was ten, and was considered to be too feeble for the rigors of education. In Charles, the famous Hapsburg chin reached such massive proportions that he was unable to chew, and his tongue was so large that he was barely able to speak. Lame, epileptic, bald at the age of 35, Charles suffered one further disability, politically more significant than all the rest: he was impotent."(16)
For 35 years the kings of Europe waited for Charles II to die, so they could give the Spanish crown to somebody else. Since both Louis XIV of France and Leopold I of Austria were first cousins of the Spanish king (Louis was from the family of Charles' mother, Leopold from the family of his father), they had the best claims. But Spain was such an awesome prize that nobody was going to let either king get the whole thing, so they tried to do it by proxy: Louis nominated his grandson, Philippe d'Anjou, while Leopold gave his claim to his son, the Archduke Charles. England's William III proposed a compromise, so in 1698 all parties agreed to make a Bavarian prince, Leopold's grandson Joseph Ferdinand, the next king of Spain.
The problem was that Joseph died in the following year, forcing the Hapsburg and Bourbon houses to come up with Plan B. This time France, England and the Netherlands sent representatives to draw up a second treaty, in which the result was a partition: France would receive the Spanish possessions in Italy, while Austria would get the rest of the Spanish Empire (Belgium, Spain itself and the overseas colonies). Louis showed amazing generosity when he agreed to these terms, and Leopold showed amazing greed when he rejected them.
No one paid much attention to the Spanish people, who were understandably livid at the thought of foreigners carving up their empire, so it came as a complete shock when Charles II made a deathbed will which left everything to the French candidate (1700), if he would promise to never become the king of France. Even Louis did a double take when he heard the news. However, the complete inheritance was too big a catch to pass up, and though Louis knew it meant war, he accepted.(17) French troops marched forth to occupy Belgium and (with the cooperation of Savoy) Milan.
At first Leopold was the only enemy Louis faced. Most of Spain went along with the idea that Philippe was now their king; the main exception was the region of Catalonia, which endorsed the Archduke Charles in an attempt to break away from Madrid. England and Holland also accepted Philippe at first, and were likely to stay out of the conflict if nobody threatened their territory or trade. Instead, Louis acted as if he wanted to provoke those two naval powers. His army in Belgium took over a string of forts garrisoned, according to a previous treaty, by the Dutch; he said this was only temporary until a Spanish army could arrive, but everyone saw this as the first step in a French annexation of the Spanish Netherlands. Worse than that, Louis tried to claim for France the trading privileges England had enjoyed in the Spanish Empire previously, like the slave trade between Africa and Spanish America. In June 1701 Louis formed an alliance between France, Spain and Portugal that threatened to exclude England and Holland from the entire Mediterranean; this was more than those two seagoing nations could bear.
On top of all that, Louis tried meddling in English politics again. After he was ousted from the British Isles, the former King James II had spent the last years of his life in France. Louis gave him a chateau to stay in, and in 1696 Louis offered to help him get elected king of Poland, but James would have nothing to do with it; the crown of England was still what he really wanted. Then in 1701 James died, and one of his last requests was for Louis to support the claim of his son, also named James, to become king of England, Scotland, and/or Ireland. James was a personal friend, and a fellow Catholic who had lost everything for defending his faith; what's more, absolute monarchs don't like the idea of any monarch losing his throne, so Louis couldn't refuse his request. He never got the chance to install James III as king of England, but the possibility that he might made this a war over both the Spanish and the English succession.
The Grand Alliance (England, Holland, Hanover, and Austria at first) quickly got together to stop Louis. September of 1701 saw Austria's Prince Eugene(18) leading an army through the Tyrol to contest the French occupation of Milan. Meanwhile England's general, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, organized an anti-French coalition on the banks of the Lower Rhine. Soon Brandenburg joined the Alliance, and so did Savoy in 1703.(19) Portugal, never a willing partner of the French, switched sides in the same year.
Since Louis's troops were in possession of all the territory he wanted to keep, he began the war with a strong strategic advantage; tactically his army had a fifteen-year record of victories behind it. Louis had every reason to be confident. William of Orange saw the war as a second War of the Grand Alliance--an attritive struggle in which he would use the Alliance's superior numbers to wear down the French until Louis agreed to make peace. William's death in 1702 gave the Allies a chance to try another strategy. A determined but mediocre general who insisted on heading the Allied armies himself, his passing left the way clear for the Duke of Marlborough to lead the Anglo-Dutch forces.
The opening campaigns may have made Louis think twice; both Marlborough in the Low Countries and Eugene in Italy outwitted the local French commanders, while the English navy captured Gibraltar. However, French losses were marginal and when the Bavarian elector joined the French, Louis found an ally to keep the Austrians busy. Then Louis made a characteristic move--he tried to strike at the heart of Austria. The French moved through the Black Forest, picked up a Bavarian force, and together they marched on Vienna, forcing both Marlborough and Eugene to rush to the defense. The Dutch refused to let Marlborough campaign so far away from the Netherlands, so he tricked the Dutch into staying behind, by telling them he was going to the Moselle River. Once he gave the Dutch the slip, Marlborough rushed to southern Germany to join Eugene, and the French headed in the same direction to join the Bavarians. At Blenheim on the Upper Danube (August 13, 1704), all of these armies came together and had it out. From the first shot Marlborough and Eugene dominated the field. Ruthlessly pressed attacks on both flanks forced the French commander to reinforce them by weakening his center; Marlborough's main force then split the Franco-Bavarian army in two, pinned the southern half against the river and compelled it to surrender. The myth of French invincibility was broken. The English captured eighteen generals, including the French commander, and actually ran out of carriages to transport all of them. Marlborough was so busy chasing fleeing enemies that he reported his victory by writing this note on the back of an old tavern bill and sent it to his wife, Sarah: "I have no time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know her army has had a glorious victory."
Although the armies on both sides were largely German, Blenheim has been remembered as Marlborough's great victory against Louis XIV, because it was the turning point of the war; that battle knocked out Bavaria (which was conquered in the next three months) and saved Austria. Marlborough even found the time to return to the Moselle and capture the fortress of Landau and the towns of Trier and Trarbach by the end of 1704, allowing him to keep his original promise to the Dutch. Blenheim was the first big battle England had won on the Continent in nearly three hundred years. Before 1704, the only countries that paid much attention to England were those on Europe's Atlantic coast, from Portugal to Denmark; now England was a big-league player, with a first-rate army to match its first-rate navy.
For the next few years after Blenheim, everything went wrong for the French. The worst year was 1706, when Marlborough won the battle of Ramillies and chased them out of the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium), while Eugene won the battle of Turin and chased them out of Italy. Louis now only held France and Spain, and Marlborough's follow-up victory at Oudenard (in Belgium, 1708) made sure that he stayed there. And after nearly twenty years of continuous warfare, France was on the verge of economic collapse; Louis even melted down silver at Versailles to pay for one more campaign. In 1708 the Allies handed out some harsh terms for peace, and Louis agreed to most of them: he recognized Anne as the rightful queen of England, dropped his support for the Stuarts, and said he would surrender all claims to the Spanish Empire and destroy the French naval base at Dunkirk. Most remarkable, he agreed to recognize Leopold's son as the king of Spain, but negotiations broke down when the Allies ordered him to help drive his grandson out of Spain, so the war resumed. Louis called on the French people to increase their support of the war effort, men flocked to join the army, and money flowed into the treasury from the rest of the country again. To resist a humiliating peace, the French stood with their king.
An Allied invasion of Spain failed, but since Louis was ready to declare that Philip V would never inherit the French crown, this should not have been a major obstacle to peace. In fact it was. In September 1709 the two alliances sent armies into Belgium and had a rematch at Malplaquet. Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy won the battle, but 40,000 men were killed or wounded in an area of ten square miles. Both sides were so horrified by the slaughter that they started talking peace again. This time Louis' enemies demanded even stiffer terms; they insisted that France should not only support, but actually lead the campaign to get Philip V out of Spain.
The Sun King refused again, and the arrogance of the Grand Alliance finally backfired. In 1710 the British government was voted out of office, partly because of revulsion to what happened at Malplaquet. A conservative (Tory) pro-peace faction came to power in Parliament and recalled Marlborough. A year later Leopold died and Archduke Charles succeeded him as the Holy Roman emperor Charles VI--but he didn't drop his claims to Spain. This put the Allies in an indefensible position; if they continued to support Austria, the result would be precisely what they had been trying to prevent--the union of the Spanish empire with another great power in Europe. The Hapsburgs now ruled Hungary instead of the Netherlands, but otherwise such a union would have restored the far-flung empire of Charles V; we saw in Chapter 10 how unpopular that empire had been to everyone but the Hapsburgs. That and a French victory at the battle of Denain (1712) caused the Allies to listen to reason, and negotiations got underway. At the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) Austria got ex-Spanish Belgium (now renamed the Austrian Netherlands), Milan, Naples, Sardinia, the island of Elba and two small tracts of land on the nearby Tuscan coast. Savoy got Sicily. The British(20) kept the bases they had seized at Gibraltar and Minorca, the French territories of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada, and the coveted rights to the slave trade.
As for Louis, he got his pre-1700 frontiers and the prestige of having his grandson rule Spain. In fact, a descendant of Louis is still on the Spanish throne today, three hundred years later. The price was high. Arrogance had isolated France diplomatically; defeat had tarnished her arms. At the beginning of Louis's reign everyone in Europe watched him; half a century later the Sun King still held court in the same grand style, always making sure that the show went on, while the world went another way. In fact, the next twenty years were relatively peaceful, because Louis left France in the same condition as it was when he acquired it--broke, exhausted by wars, the nobles unhappy, the common people impoverished by taxes, and with a child sitting on the throne.(21)
After Ireland, with its growth rate of 150%, came Russia with about 75%; this does not include the gains made when the tsars annexed the Ukraine and Siberia. Russia's rate was a healthy one because the peasants colonized the underpopulated steppe. The rest of Europe was closer to the average rate of 30%, except for misgoverned Spain and the exploited Balkans. Islam continued to stagnate; the Ottoman Empire's population rose from 27 to 31.5 million, a 16% increase, and most of that was lost around the turn of the century, when the Austrians regained Hungary and the Barbary states of North Africa became independent. As a result the Turks still had the highest population in Europe, but the eighteenth century would see Russia surpass them and France and Austria catch up.
In terms of religious demography Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Moslems still held nearly the same territories in 1715 that they had held in 1600. On the outside the biggest change was the expansion of Russian Orthodoxy; Russia annexed eastern Poland and most of Siberia during the period covered in this chapter, and even staked a claim to Alaska. A tendency to create religious uniformity in every state was the main trend of the time. Everywhere pressure was put on those groups who subscribed to a different faith from that of their rulers; this pressure ranged from simple discrimination in laws and taxes (the Ottoman formula) to active persecution. The less sure and the less concerned changed their habits; the faithful either moved to a friendlier country or were expelled outright. As the minorities were exchanged the Dutch steadily became more Calvinist, the Belgians more Catholic. The same thing happened between the Protestant and Catholic areas of Germany. This continuing process was more important than the dramatic persecutions: a quarter of a million Moslems expelled from Spain (1600-16), 200,000 Jews killed in the Polish-Cossack war (1648-67), and 200,000 Huguenots expelled from France (1685).
While the Netherlands was the most tolerant country in western Europe, Poland was the most tolerant country in the east. Although this was very commendable of the Poles, they did it out of political necessity; Poland had some awfully large religious minorities to deal with. The country's four million ethnic Poles were still Catholic, but they were only 50 percent of the population. The king of Poland also ruled 750,000 Lutherans in the Baltic territories, and two and a half million Orthodox in the areas that had once belonged to Russia. On top of that, Poland now had the world's largest Jewish community. Jews flocked there after they had been expelled from the rest of Christian Europe, because the Poles never mistreated them (though the Cossacks did). During the period covered by this chapter, their numbers grew from less than 200,000 to 750,000. A great deal of Yiddish literature was composed in Poland, and the Hasidic sect was founded here in the eighteenth century.
Making a list of religious statistics gives the impression that religion was playing as large a role in European life as ever. This was probably true in the first half of the seventeenth century, when the increasingly effective machinery of the state was frequently employed to support bigotry, and a king or queen's choice of religion often decided if he or she was fit for the throne. However, it was a different story after 1650. The Thirty Years War made Europeans sick of the idea of killing in the name of God, and the treaty of Westphalia put mutual tolerance of Catholicism and Protestantism in writing, making sure that religious wars would go from current events to just a bad memory. Gradually tolerance spread to include Jews and the not-so-religious; the fear of God, religious fervor and institutions of the Church entered a definite decline; from this time on the proportion of behavior determined by religion has decreased with every generation. The eighteenth century produced its own equivalent of John Huss and Martin Luther in the person of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, but nowhere could it produce someone with enough passion to burn him. Royal politics was the sole cause of the conflicts described in the second half of this chapter, not differences in faith. In the late eighteenth century, ideology would emerge as just a potent force for starting wars as the name of God had once been.
As knowledge increased, the centers of higher learning moved from the ancient colleges of Italy to Amsterdam, Paris and London. This happened because the continent's economic center had also moved north and west since the Renaissance. Here was the most wealth, here were the largest cities, here were the workers who needed advanced skills. Above all, here were the largest concentrations of literate people. Surplus wealth, and abundant books, are necessary if education is to be widely available; northern Europe now had the most of both. The equation is not literacy = scientific genius, though many Protestants would dearly like to think so; it is literacy = a progressive society and more responsible government. Protestantism emphasized the need for every believer to have a Bible in his own language and to study the scriptures, so they considered literacy important, and the Protestant third of Europe was more literate than the remainder. Even so, the north was probably richer and more literate at the beginning of the Reformation. The Reformation, scientific revolution and the move from divine-right monarchy to representative government are all products of Gutenberg's printing press.(24)
Since figures for the actual numbers of adults who can read at this time are unreliable--like our economic figures--the best way we have to measure the growing literacy of Europe is by following the growth of the book trade. The number of titles published per year, which was around a thousand in 1500, had more than doubled by 1600. By 1815 it was more than ten times as much, with about 20,000 titles coming off the presses every year. By contrast, look at the figures for non-progressive states, like the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople got its first printing press in 1726, and over the course of the eighteenth century the number of titles published in this, Islam's premier city, was only 63. Since it was closed down from 1730 to 1780 and again after 1800 it was really active for only 24 years, meaning that it turned out less than three new titles a year. It also meant that not only was the Turkish literacy rate much lower (5% as opposed to 50% in Europe), but that the Turks did not even see much need for a press. This shortsightedness would contribute to the Ottoman Empire's decline in the centuries that followed.
Most history books covering this period have a lot to say about revolutions. A proper history of the modern world includes a religious revolution (the Protestant Reformation), the scientific revolution, and industrial and political revolutions (in the 18th century). One which you might not have heard of is the military revolution of 1550-1650. It involved many changes in how wars were fought: the first widespread use of gunpowder weapons, a revolution in tactics as arquebusiers and pikemen learned to cooperate, a revolution in recruitment (because the skills involved were uncommon enough to make any skilled fighter, including mercenaries, an asset worth having), and a revolution in scale. The changes caused by firearms, tactics, and recruitment have already been covered, but the change in scale hasn't been explained, so let us look at it now.
In medieval Europe every fit, adult male was expected to take up whatever arms he could afford to repel an intruder, and then go back to his civilian occupation when hostilities ended. What this meant was that in times of peace most kings only had a few hundred professional soldiers. These knights guarded the king and his most important castles. With the appearance of weapons and tactics that required a professional level of skill, the feudal levy became useless. However, because the state had not yet figured out how to pay for a professional standing army, it fielded only 15-30,000 men in wartime and became almost defenseless in peacetime. This was so painfully obvious that every state looked for a solution. Over the course of the seventeenth century, tax collectors grew more efficient at finding revenue, and the standing army began to grow at a phenomenal rate. In France, for example, this increase was from the few hundred of the early 16th century to 150,000 under Louis XIV. This comes out to a figure of about 8 soldiers per 1,000 civilians. Allowing for population growth, Europe's standing armies have remained the same size for most of the time since then.
It was also a change of surprisingly little significance. Ancient empires like Assyria and Rome had standing armies; in fact, France's achievement represented little more than a recovery to the level of administrative competence possessed by the Roman Empire (Rome could field an estimated 7 legionaries per 1,000 civilians). Thus, maintaining a large standing army was possible for reactionary societies as well as progressive ones.
Today an army is the very symbol of rigid organization. Yet in the seventeenth century the idea of a chain of command was regarded as an innovation. A military command was a noble's right, or a commodity that could be bought and sold--along with the army under that command. The typical semi-feudal leader of this time could sit out a battle if he felt like it, and since wars at this time were often sparked by personal interests, he fought against his king almost as often as for him. Such a system is not likely to produce either an effective organization or skilled officers. Here, as in recruitment and financing, Louis XIV's ministers made the necessary changes. They set up a pyramidal structure, led by the Secretary of State for War, an appointed civil servant rather than a military officer. Under him ranked the marshals of the armies, and under them the generals. Below these were the captains and colonels, and these were the most troublesome because they "owned" their commissions. Because the sale of commissions was an important source of state revenue, and because these officers were likely to oppose any attempt to dismiss them, the war ministers chose to go around them, by placing under them junior officers who were more likely to carry out the commands of the state. Consequently each colonel got a lieutenant colonel, and each captain got a lieutenant; lieutenant in French means one who acts in lieu of another. These trained, professional officers ended up directing the troops most of the time, leaving the colonels and captains free to enjoy their empty hours.
The revolution in land warfare had its parallel at sea. In the course of the seventeenth century the need to protect merchantmen from pirates increased (we are now in the golden age of the buccaneers), and the number of warships, led by England, increased proportionately, from a handful of men-of-war that guarded convoys of galleons in wartime to permanent fleets with dozens of ships. In this instance the reason is clearly visible. England's shipping tonnage was steadily mounting, and the Merchant Marine was growing more essential to the English economy. The creation of the Royal Navy was an event, but the growth of seaborne trade was a constant trend of the modern era, so in the long run the latter was more important.
It is worth noting that since 1970, our society reversed its course on standing armies again. The Vietnam War was probably the last conflict where a recruiter would accept anyone who could walk and breathe. Since that time the price of ironmongery has jumped by leaps and bounds so that the typical tank costs more than $1 million, jet fighters and bombers can cost hundreds of millions, and an aircraft carrier costs so much in construction and maintenance that choosing its home port can decide whether a portside community will see prosperity or unemployment. In the age of electronic warfare weapons are getting fewer in number as they grow increasingly sophisticated, and that means only the most competent, best trained personnel will be retained to use them. To keep military budgets affordable, the United States and several other nations have "downsized" their armed forces; a figure of 5 per 1,000 citizens is the current count of US military personnel, and even smaller figures may be possible as the twenty-first century progresses. That is probably the main reason why the US Army has succeeded as an all-volunteer force, despite the predictions of nay-sayers when the draft was abolished in 1973. We are now returning to a situation like that at the dawn of the modern era where the largest armies are fielded by the nations least able to equip them (e.g., China and North Korea, to name some present-day examples).
If it was English belligerence that forced the Dutch to share the sea lanes, the development of the purpose-built battleship and the appearance of a professional English navy set the seal on the Republic's decline. When the French and English began an arms race to build more men-of-war, the Dutch dropped out of the race. Their ships had to earn their bread and if an East Indiaman could no longer take its place in the line of battle, then the Royal Navy of their English ally (for we have now reached the war between Louis XIV and the Grand Alliance) would have to do the fighting for them.
France's attempt to build a first-class navy was organized by Colbert. He put tariffs on Dutch imports and used the revenue generated to build a fleet that, on paper, was as good as what the English had. He encouraged trade in the Mediterranean until French commerce in that area overtook the Dutch.(25) He also kept France in the running of those overseas activities that brought the quickest profit: the slave trade and the Caribbean sugar business. But in the end the preoccupation of Colbert's king with European aggression ruined his plans. Louis XIV treated the tariffs as a bargaining chip the next time he negotiated with the Dutch, and soon bargained them away; as his wars progressed from sterile victory to ruinous defeat his armies began to absorb all the men and money he had to spare, leaving the French navy to rot in port. During the War of the Grand Alliance, the French navy defeated the Anglo-Dutch fleet at the battle of Beachy Head (1690), but two years later it was wiped out in the disastrous battle of battle of La Hogue. For the next two and a half centuries after La Hogue, England was master of the high seas.
It was one man you probably have not heard of, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax (1661-1715), who brought revenue to the English government on a scale comparable to the other nations of western Europe. Previously, England had been poorer than most of its neighbors; that, and the damp climate, were the reasons why the Norman and early Plantagenet kings chose to live in France, though they claimed England was theirs, too. Population was also a factor; England had only one third as many people (read: taxpayers) as France. Absolute monarchs like Louis XIV found it easy to get money; they just ordered their subjects to hand it over, and worried later about the hardship this might cause. Parliament, however, wasn't very willing to raise taxes, even when the country was in danger of losing a war with France. Charles Montagu was chancellor of the exchequer from 1694 to 1699, and he solved the problem by going to successful merchants, and persuading them to loan money to the government. At the time, this looked like a tougher sell than raising taxes--though Charles II was gone, the government's credit rating was still awful--so Montagu used extraordinary offers to make his proposal attractive. First, he had part of the revenue from existing taxes set aside to service the national debt he was creating; this told investors that no matter what else happened, the government would have the money to pay the interest on its loans. Second, he promised an interest rate of fourteen percent a year, which would always be paid no matter how long it took to pay back the loan. To gather the money, he sold annuities to the investors, thereby creating the bond system that governments have used to raise money ever since. He also set up a lottery to raise more revenue, built a new mint and redesigned the coinage to make counterfeiting more difficult, and to manage the loans, he established the Bank of England, a corporation that was partially owned by the investors. It was paper money, not gold, that paid for England's involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession.
For England, Montagu's innovations were a financial revolution. The Bank of England came to handle the nation's money supply, becoming like the Federal Reserve Board of the United States. To handle the debt, Parliament had to meet every year, become more efficient, and eventually more democratic. The old nobility didn't trust those who grew rich off the new system, because the nouveau riche did not earn their wealth from land or by making useful goods; like Italian bankers and Dutch investors, they used money to make more money, which seemed to magically appear out of thin air. This distrust caused Montagu to fall from favor, after Queen Anne succeeded William III, and the conservative Tories won an election in the middle of the War of the Spanish Succession. Montagu's last major achievement was in 1706, when he wrote the treaty of permanent unification between England and Scotland (see footnote #20). Still, his opponents could not undo all the changes he had made.
In 1600 London, Naples and Constantinople all had populations around 250,000; by 1700 London had reached half a million, making it at least twice the size of any other European city. This metropolitan expansion increased the demand on key industries that would help the entire economy to grow. English coal production rose from about 700,000 tons in 1600 to 3,000,000 in 1715 (about 85% of total European production).(26) This progress, like most previous industrial progress, came from the labor of men and animals. To advance further, a source of energy besides muscle power was needed.
The answer was steam power, and in 1698 an English inventor named Thomas Savery patented the first steam engine of the modern era. Savery predicted that a steam engine could pump water out of the deepest mines, pump water to cities, and bring power to mills that did not have wind or water power already. He was right, but his steam engine could not do the job, because it did not have any moving parts, except for the taps used to regulate pressure in the device. A partner of Savery, Thomas Newcomen, built a more efficient steam engine that used a piston and a rocking beam; by 1712 the first Newcomen steam engine was running at a coal mine.
Meanwhile in 1709, a metallurgist named Abraham Darby began experimenting in ways to smelt iron ore. A new smelting process was badly needed; wood was such a useful material that England had cut down more than half of its forests by this time, so the country was running out of charcoal. Fortunately England has plenty of coal, but coal is contaminated with sulfur and other impurities you don't want in iron. English beer brewers knew this already -- burning coal to make beer produced an awful tasting product -- and back in the 1640s they found out that if you first bake the coal in an airtight oven, you get an impurity-free fuel called coke. However, the brewers had kept this secret to themselves, so Darby had to re-discover the process in order to produce enough iron for the industrial revolution to begin.
Here are rough figures for the incomes of European nations in 1715, using British pounds: France £7 million; Britain £5.5 million; Austria and the Dutch Republic £2.5 million each; Russia and Spain £1.6 million each; Venice, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire each got £1.3 million; £1.2 million for Prussia.(27) Austria's income came in roughly equal portions from Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Milan, and Naples, meaning that it had quadrupled as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession. The Dutch continued to have the highest per capita income but now were severely straining their resources. Though it was a tribute to the Republic's credit-worthiness that its debt rose to £90 million during the wars it took part in (nearly twice the size of the British debt), its insistence on making at least the minimum payment on this huge sum every time it came due placed a crippling burden on the national economy. Louis XIV ended his career with a national debt of £120 million, which was bigger in absolute terms but smaller in proportion to the resources of France; moreover, inflation reduced its value by half in the 1720s.
An amusing story illustrates the poverty of most Frenchmen during Louis XIV's reign, and the Sun King's attitude toward it. In 1683 famine struck the province of Anjou, and Father Grandet, the director of a local seminary, singlehandedly led the relief efforts. First he ordered every bourgeois family to adopt and feed a peasant family, then he sent cartloads of bread into the countryside, but these measures weren't enough. His pleas for royal assistance got no results, and soon the starving peasants resorted to making bread out of ferns. Grandet took one of these green loaves and sent it to Versailles as a sample. When the king got it, his courtiers watched with amazement as he tried a piece--and spat it out. C'est terrible; medieval tortures were still often practiced at this date, but then, as now, the French felt that being forced to eat bad food was intolerable. The next day wagonloads of baguettes and croutons, enough to instantly end the famine, were on the way to Anjou from the rest of France.
One will note from the above figures that the economies of the absolute monarchies did not shine for long. Louis XIV's initiatives were either aborted (like Colbert's tariffs) or impractical (like the tapestry and mirror factories set up to supply the royal palaces). His government did best in terms of public transport; he bequeathed to Europe the finest road-system in Europe as well as the first lock-canal of any length--the 148-mile Canal du Midi, which connected Toulouse and the Garonne River to the Mediterranean. Peter the Great began his single-handed modernization of Russia by touring Western Europe to learn what made the modern world tick, and upon his return forced an iron industry on the Russians that would soon become an important export-earner. But the improvements imposed by autocracy did not have the self-multiplying quality that made English and Dutch free enterprise so special.(28)
The War of the Polish Succession
The French were reluctant partners in the alliance, because they didn't want to fight so soon after the War of the Spanish Succession, and because their king was a minor. Therefore they waited another fifteen years before Louis XV began to build a new anti-Austrian coalition. The tricky part involved the British and the Dutch. Louis could not get them to join him, so he would have to keep them neutral; he did that by promising not to touch the Austrian Netherlands. Then France formed an alliance with Spain and Savoy and declared war (1733). This time it was a disaster for isolated Austria. On the Rhine the French advanced as far as they wanted (but not too far lest the British and Dutch get alarmed); in Italy French and Savoyard forces pushed the Austrians out of Lombardy while a Spanish army overran Naples and Sicily. At the peace conference that followed France got Lorraine (bringing the northern border of France to where it is today), Don Carlos swapped Parma and Tuscany for the much more valuable Naples and Sicily, and Savoy got a tract of land from Austrian Milan. A few years later Austria was humiliated again, this time quite unexpectedly by the Turks. A short one-sided conflict in 1737-39 gave the Turks back most of what they had lost twenty years before.
The reader at this point may glance back to the above title and wonder, "What has Poland got to do with this?" There's a long story involved in that. From 1700 to 1721 Russia, Poland, Denmark and Saxony were locked in a long struggle with Sweden called the Great Northern War (for details, read Chapter 4 of my Russian history). In 1706 the Swedes defeated Augustus, who in the Hanoverian fashion was both elector of Saxony and king of Poland at the same time. In his place they installed a pro-Swedish puppet, Stanislas Lesczynski. However, after the battle of Poltava (1709), which crushed Swedish power for good, Peter the Great was able to return Augustus to the Polish throne.
Poland remained a Russian satellite for the rest of his reign, a fact that the Russian-hating Poles resented. When the Polish nobles had a chance to elect a new king in 1733 they didn't choose the Saxon (pro-Russian) candidate but voted instead to bring back the native-born Lesczynski. Sweden was out of the game now, but since Lesczynski's daughter had married Louis XV there was hope that the French would intervene to keep the Russians out. This idea ignored geography. A year later a Russian army marched into Poland and called for a new election which revealed an astonishing swing in favor of the Saxon candidate; he was duly installed on the throne.
France saved face by making the fugitive Lesczynski duke of Lorraine. This tied eastern politics to western hostilities and allowed historians to give the three main conflicts of the early 18th century artificially matching titles: Spanish (1701-13), Polish (1731-35), and Austrian (1740-48) Succession.
Because of Lesczynski, the French did not claim Lorraine as part of France until his death in 1766. Francis, the original Duke of Lorraine, was given Tuscany and married to Austrian heiress Maria Theresa. Parma went back to Austria after Don Carlos moved to his new kingdom in the south (1738).
or, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?"
The commercial health of Britain bloomed during the long struggle with Louis XIV, and that of everybody else declined at the same time. You would expect that with things going so well, British foreign policy would actively promote the four "Xs"--explore, expand, exploit and exterminate--but instead pro-peace politicians ran the country for the next generation. Chief among the pacifists was Prime Minister Walpole, in part because he had seen too many soldiers come home in coffins during the War of the Spanish Succession, but Walpole also had a practical reason--wars are expensive. He figured that if Britain stayed out of wars, he would not have to raise taxes, and he remained popular as long as taxes were low. Consequently, it was not until 1739 that the militants in Parliament managed to engineer a war with Spain(29); this was still going on when the next major European war, the War of the Austrian Succession, got underway. In both conflicts belligerence proved disappointing. The British war machine had gotten rusty from a quarter century of disuse, and France proved capable of a successful holding operation overseas while making good progress on the continent of Europe.
While Britain's star was eclipsed, the star of Prussia rose. Under its first king, Frederick III, Prussia was a second-rate power; it was still a vassal of the Holy Roman emperor, depopulated by a recent plague, and suffering from poverty and famine. This began to change when Frederick was succeeded by his son, Frederick William I, the "Sergeant King" (1713-40). A man of Spartan habits, Frederick William did not imitate the fancy French court, the way his predecessors had, because that was too expensive. Instead, all available funds would be used to improve the army. A new system of conscription allowed him do without mercenaries and save more money, and by giving the military about 75 percent of Prussia's budget, he expanded the army until it had 80,000 troops.(30) This was a force as big as that of Austria, a country ten times larger. He also had the army drilled constantly, so that it marched as a perfectly synchronized force; to foreigners the Prussian army looked more like a machine than an organization of men. Yet the king was no warmonger, and the only time he used his superbly managed and trained army was at the beginning of his reign, when he briefly got involved in the Great Northern War.
However, there was a conflict in Prussia, because Frederick William did not get along well with his son, the future Frederick II. To make a military man out of him, Frederick William imposed a strict set of rules, regulating when Frederick could rise, pray, study, and go to bed, and what he could wear. But Frederick had inherited from his mother a taste for art, music and literature. Thinking the boy had turned into a sissy, Frederick William regularly beat and humilated him. In 1730, when Frederick was eighteen, he plotted with Hans Hermann von Katte, his best friend and tutor, to run away from home, and sent a letter to England's George II, begging for the English king to take him in. But Frederick William found out about the plot before they made their escape, arrested them, charged them with desertion and conspiring with a foreign monarch, locked them in prison, and sentenced Katte to death. When Katte was beheaded, Frederick, by his father's command, was forced to watch his friend die. Frederick was also found guilty, but the judges could not bring themselves to pass a death sentence on a member of the royal family. Still, this was enough to break Frederick's spirit; he gave his father no more trouble and always followed his orders after that. Near the end of Frederick William's life, Frederick got his own house, filled it with murals, statues and books, invited guests to lively cultural events there, and started a famous correspondence with the French philosopher Voltaire, but he had also learned his military, administrative and diplomatic duties well enough to convince Frederick William that he was a worthy successor.
In 1740 Charles VI of Austria died, and was succeeded by his daughter, Maria Theresa. Letting a woman inherit the conglomerate Hapsburg empire created a lot of legal problems; most of the Holy Roman Empire's states had laws against female rulership. Charles expected this, so in 1713 he issued the Pragmatic Sanction, which decreed that Maria Theresa would be his heir if he did not have a son. Then he spent the rest of his reign persuading European leaders to accept Maria Theresa. By the time Maria Theresa succeeded to the throne of Austria, her right to it was acknowledged by just about every head of state. However, Charles VI couldn't do anything about the imperial crown; the elector of Bavaria, Charles Albert, promptly claimed it; so did Philip V of Spain and Augustus III, the current ruler of Saxony and Poland.
Outside the Empire, no major power thought this was an issue worth fighting over. However, in the same year that Maria Theresa became queen of Austria, Frederick II became king of Prussia. Determined to make full use of the army and war chest painfully collected by his father, Frederick marched into Silesia and declared that province a part of the Prussian state. He justified this move with an old claim that was dubious to say the least; the victory his troops won at Mollwitz provided a more convincing argument, and because Silesia's residents were mostly Protestant, they did not mind Protestant Prussia replacing Catholic Austria as their master.
Why Frederick acted so belligerent is not clear, and historians have entertained themselves, speculating on what motivated the Prussian king. Some say he was trying to prove to his dead father that he would be an effective general; others think was trying to pump up his ego by challenging the Holy Roman Empire's foremost state; Frederick himself admitted he got carried away by youthful passion. Whatever the reasons for the conquest, Silesia was richer than any other Prussian territory, and it made the kingdom 30 percent larger, so afterwards all the monarchs of Europe regarded the king of Prussia as an equal.
Because it looked like Frederick was going to beat Austria, the other major powers stepped into the ring. France and Bavaria teamed up to attack Austria, while the British, Hanoverians and Dutch joined forces to stop a French invasion of the Austrian Netherlands (Britain got involved because it was already fighting Spain elsewhere). Spain and France attacked the Austrians and Savoyards in Italy. Because so many countries participated, the war's course was a complicated one, with twenty important battles (five of them large-scale) scattered across central Europe. Hostilities were on-and-off rather than continuous and though a peace treaty wasn't signed until 1748, the only leaders who distinguished themselves were France's Marshal Saxe and Prussia's Frederick. Saxe won some convincing victories against the Anglo-Hanoverian-Dutch coalition on the Belgian front and eventually conquered all of the Austrian Netherlands. Frederick's military career got off to an undistinguished start at Mollwitz (where he ran away, even though his troops won), but soon he developed a skill for tactics, becoming both aggressive and quick-thinking. When the fighting ended he was the biggest winner, for though most pre-war frontiers were restored, Prussia kept Silesia.(31)
In the middle of it all, Prague fell to the French and Bavarians, allowing Charles Albert to become the king of Bohemia (1741). A year later the long-delayed imperial election finally took place, and the electors unanimously voted for Charles, making him Emperor Charles VII. Thus, the Hapsburgs lost control of the Empire for the first (and only) time since the early fifteenth century. They didn't lose it for long, though; Maria Theresa's soldiers overran both Bohemia and Bavaria before 1742 was over, leaving Charles with no base of power. Frederick marched into Bohemia and reinstated Charles in October 1744, but Charles died just a few months later. For the 1745 imperial election, Charles' son Maximilian gave up his claim so that he could get Bavaria back for his family, and Maria Theresa's husband, Francis of Lorraine, became the next emperor. He ruled until 1765, and since the German princes still wouldn't accept a Holy Roman empress, Joseph II, the son of Francis and Maria Theresa and the future patron of Mozart, got the crown. Joseph also became king of Austria on Maria Theresa's death in 1780, which brought the Hapsburg organization back to where it was before 1740.
Meanwhile in the British Isles, an invasion threw a scare into the English. The French had finally decided to back the Stuart pretender James III (remember him from the War of the Spanish Succession?), in his bid to become king of England and Scotland. The dashing son of James, Charles Edward Stuart, soon to be known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, sailed to Scotland in the summer of 1745, with the intention of starting a Jacobite uprising for his father ("Jacobite" comes from Jacobus, the Latin version of James). Charles had two ships, and when a British warship encountered his expedition, it damaged one of the ships so badly that it had to return to France; the other ship, the one carrying Charles, was able to continue, paradoxically because the British thought it was going to North America. Charles landed in the western Highlands, and called on the Catholic clan leaders to summon their troops and join him. He defeated the local forces that tried to stop him, and was welcomed by the crowd when he reached Edinburgh. There was no army between Charles and London--England hadn't needed an army to protect the homeland since the Stuarts were thrown out, more than half a century earlier--so it might be possible to conquer England just as easily. Charles decided to go for it, and invaded England. He captured Carlisle after a brief siege, and took Manchester, Preston and Derby without a fight.
It was at Derby, 130 miles from London, that his luck ran out, for by this time King George II had returned to England, and he called in the troops he had on the Continent. Moreover, Charles found that there wasn't as much support for the Stuarts in England as there was in Scotland; the English were not thrilled at the prospect of getting a king who was Catholic, absolutist, and spoke better French than English. Finally, he expected support from the French fleet, but it never showed up. His officers warned that there were now two armies defending London, and if he attacked them, casualties would probably be heavy, even if the Jacobites won; they urged the prince to retreat to Scotland. Charles reluctantly turned around, made it back, and defeated a pursuing loyalist army at Falkirk (January 17, 1746); this was the last Jacobite triumph. Another army, led by the king's second son, William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, invaded Scotland and caught up with the main Jacobite force in the north, near Inverness. The battle of Culloden Moor (April 16, 1746) crushed the rebellion; between 1,500 and 2,000 Jacobites were killed, while the loyalists lost only 50 men.
In the aftermath, the Duke of Cumberland launched a crackdown on the Highlands much like the ones Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange had inflicted on Ireland; so many Scots were killed that today the Duke is sometimes called "Butcher" Cumberland. Parliament ordered the breakup of the military power of the clans, and even outlawed tartans for a while (see footnote #20). As for Bonnie Prince Charlie, he wandered around the Outer Hebrides as a fugitive for five months, because there was now a price of £30,000 on his head. He made it to the Isle of Skye disguised as a woman, caught a ride on a French ship, and spent the rest of his life in France, telling the story of his romantic adventure to anyone who would listen.
Although the main reason for the Seven Years War was the antagonism between Maria Theresa and Frederick, the first shots were fired across the Atlantic, in Pennsylvania (1754), and for two years all the fighting took place between two older rivals, Britain and France.(32) In fact, the Seven Years War was really the first world war because it saw major battles on three continents (Europe, North America and India), but we don't call it that because it took place 160 years before World War I. Overseas Britain got off to a shaky start, and France won the first battles, culminating in the capture of the British base at Minorca in 1756. But the same year saw a new prime minister come to power in London, William Pitt the Elder. Pitt saw that since France had a stronger army but a weaker navy, Britain must come up with a strategy that made the most of this difference; he did it by paying the Prussians to tie down the French in Europe ("Canada will be won in Silesia"), while using the navy to concentrate British power overseas. Results came quickly. As the Royal Navy tightened its blockade of France's Atlantic ports, French overseas strength wilted. In India the decisive victory was won by Robert Clive at the battle of Plassey (1757), which conquered Bengal and gave him the resources needed to uproot the French outposts on the subcontinent. In 1759 a British expedition sailed up the St. Lawrence River and took Quebec, the heart of French Canada. Other expeditions picked off France's Caribbean islands and West African slaving posts. Piece by piece, the French colonial empire was removed from the map of the world.
This map shows the global scope of the Seven Years War; Prussia and its allies are marked blue, while Austria and its allies are marked green. The colors show the situation as it stood in January 1762, right after Spain and Portugal entered the war, but before Sweden left the war and Russia changed sides.
In 1758 the Anglo-Hanoverians reassembled their forces and from now on Frederick was able to rely on them to keep the French occupied. But this was also the year that the Russians reached the main theatre of war. When they got to the banks of the Oder River, just thirty miles from Berlin, Frederick detached himself from an inconclusive campaign in Bohemia and launched his best battalions against them. He won this battle (at Zornsdorf) but victory over the Russians cost him more soldiers than defeat by the Austrians. And now, worn out by the constant fighting, the quality of the Prussian army was beginning to decline. Next year the Russians were back again and at Kunnersdorf their squares took everything Frederick could throw at them. When night fell half the Prussian army lay dead or wounded on the field. For Frederick it was a catastrophe. In the aftermath the Austrians moved into Saxony and Silesia, and the Russians pillaged Berlin.
Meanwhile in Paris (1759), the French strategists saw only one way to stop Britain's victorious progress overseas: an invasion of the British Isles. The most important ingredient was a successful fleet action, but no one believed the French navy could beat the British, so the planners decided to leave this problem for later and get down to the invasion's details. The result was a fantasy. First the Mediterranean fleet would rendezvous with the Atlantic fleet at the French port of Brest. Together they would pick up an army assembling at Quiberon on the south coast of Brittany. They would deposit this army in western Scotland, sail round the north coast of Great Britain, pick up a second (Austro-French) army in the Low Countries, and land this, the main force, in southern England. Hopefully the British admirals would be a step behind all the way. In fact, they were a step ahead. As soon as it had passed through the Straits of Gibraltar the French Mediterranean fleet was jumped by its British counterpart and dispersed. The Atlantic fleet did manage to escape from Brest when Admiral Hawke and his blockading squadron were blown off position, but Hawke knew exactly where the French were going and caught up with them as they got there. In a howling gale the two fleets entered Quiberon Bay, exchanging broadsides as they went. Nightfall brought the apparently indecisive action to a halt; daybreak revealed the total defeat of the French. A third of the ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair, the survivors were scattered and demoralized.(34)
By scraping the bottom of the barrel Frederick managed to get an army into the field for the campaign of 1760. He did it by drafting prisoners of war and boys from the cadet academies; he also promoted members of the middle class into the officer corps (this violated one of his earlier laws, but now there weren't enough aristocrats left to fill all the vacancies) and sent agents all over central Europe to find fresh cannon fodder. Since it was now a war of attrition, all the Russians and Austrians had to do was force him into a battle, but most of the year just saw careful maneuvering. It paid off in two important victories for Frederick. When he was surrounded on three sides by 90,000 Austrians at Liegnitz, he tricked them by leaving blazing campfires in front of deserted tents, sneaked away in the darkness of midnight, then pounced on the enemy from an unexpected direction and smashed them in a two-hour battle. At Torgau on the Elbe River, Frederick was hit in the chest by a cannonball and was saved only because he wore a very thick fur-lined coat. He lost more soldiers than the Austrians but overcame near-impossible odds to win the day.
Despite this things looked pretty bad for Frederick in 1761. By this time Britain had gained everything it wanted overseas; this year elections forced Pitt out of office and replaced him with a pro-peace government that canceled the subsidies to Prussia. Frederick found himself coining debased money ("Ephraimites") to keep the Prussian economy from collapsing. The anti-Prussian coalition captured Prussia's last Baltic port in 1762, but in the same year they lost the war, because Peter III, an ethnic German and a fanatical admirer of Frederick, became Tsar of Russia. He immediately ordered operations against Prussia to cease and then switched sides to support him. It was the miracle Frederick needed. Later in the year financial exhaustion caused Sweden to drop out of the war, and together the new Prussian-Russian team drove the French back across the Rhine. That left an Austrian and a Prussian army of about 80,000 men each facing each other in Silesia, but the survivors' appetite for war had been satisfied, so in February 1763 the war ended. The treaty restored the borders of 1748-56 in Europe, and Austria finally accepted that Silesia was a part of Prussia now.(35)
In Europe's southwest corner, Spain naturally favored the French, because she also had a Bourbon king, while Portugal preferred the British, but both Iberian countries sat out most of the war. Portugal had a good reason to stay out--Lisbon was rebuilding after a devastating earthquake flattened the city in 1755--but tensions between Spain and Britain grew until they couldn't stand it any longer, and they declared war on each other at the beginning of 1762. Obviously Spain was in no shape to send a second armada against the British Isles, but the British did quite a bit of trading in Portuguese ports, so the Spaniards decided to go after British commercial interests instead, by invading Portugal. One Spanish army took Almeida, a disputed border town, while another invaded from the north, with the intention of taking Oporto and striking a blow against the British. But Elisabeth of Parma, the queen mother of Spain, had considerable power, and her heart wasn't with the invasion, for while her son was the current king of Spain, her daughter was the current queen of Portugal. She didn't want to do anything that would make the Portuguese really angry, so the force that captured Almeida stopped, instead of marching on Lisbon. This encouraged everyone involved to concentrate their efforts on the northern front. France sent 12,000 soldiers, but they lost so many men to disease that they withdrew without fighting in any battles; then Britain sent 8,000 soldiers, and they teamed up with the Portuguese to drive the Spaniards back. In November both sides agreed to an armistice, and there was no more fighting in the Iberian peninsula for the rest of the war; after the war Almeida was returned to Portugal.
In the Mediterranean, Corsica had been under the rule of Genoa since 1312, except for the period from 1458 to 1558, when it was held by the French. Plagued by chronic revolts for much of the eighteenth century, the Genoese cut their losses by selling the island to the French in 1768, and France made short work of the independence movement. I am mentioning this because fifteen months later, the most famous Corsican in history was born, and because France purchased the island, he grew up a French citizen. Had Corsica remained in Genoese hands he would have gone down in history as an Italian hero rather than a French one, and he probably would have kept the original spelling of his name: Napoleone di Buonaparte.
Europe in 1770.
After Quiberon the Royal Navy did pretty much anything it wanted to all around the world. When Spain entered the war, the British responded by occupying Havana and Manila (both in 1762). The peace treaty signed in Paris the following year showed how one-sided the whole war had been outside of Europe. France got her African outposts and Caribbean islands back (there was a limit to how much sugar Britain could absorb), but ceded Canada and gave up the right to fortify the few French trading posts remaining in India. Her claim to the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky mts. was transferred to Spain, since it was too remote for Britain to do anything with it. Spain surrendered Florida and had to recognize the little British settlements in Central America (Belize and the Mosquito coast of Nicaragua). It was the most lop-sided victory in British history.
In the previous chapter we saw Poland switch from a hereditary to an elective monarchy. Still a predominantly agricultural state, Poland had little trade or manufacturing, and lots of undeveloped forest and grazing land. The landowners, mostly poor aristocrats, were the ones who really ran the country. Most of the people were downtrodden, savagely ignorant peasants; the urban population that existed was largely Jewish, refugees from the pogroms and ghettoes of other countries. Furthermore, Poland had no natural defenses like mountains or seas to keep hostile armies out. As long as warfare was simply a matter of calling up enough armed men and horses, Poland was stronger than her neighbors. However, when capitalism replaced feudalism in the west, the Polish nobles could not keep up with new military tactics and technologies. The result was that Sweden and Muscovite Russia, two nations the Poles could beat in the sixteenth century, grew in strength and surpassed the Poles in the seventeenth.
On top of all this was the fact that some of Poland's kings had been brilliant and aggressive rulers; the most recent was Jan Sobieski, whose cavalry charge had driven the Turks from the gates of Vienna in 1683. Because of the successful kings, Poland had grown from a state not much different in size and shape from the Poland of today into an enormous amoeba-like realm that overlapped into German and Russian-populated areas, giving the nation several enemies with ready-made grievances.
Because of the lack of trade, Poland had no great towns, no vigorous universities to compare with western Europe, and little culture it could call its own. The aristocrats didn't care for academic matters, and were fiercely independent and patriotic. But their patriotism came second to their love of freedom, and they insisted on their liberties to the point that the central government became powerless. As in medieval France and Germany, the nobles were susceptible to foreign bribes, diplomacy, etc., when the central government did not let them have what they wanted. Before he became king, even Jan Sobieski indulged in this behavior; he fought for the Swedes against his homeland in the northern war of 1655-60, and was in the pay of Louis XIV from 1669 to 1676.
At election time, the Poles preferred electing a foreigner for their king, since foreigners had no "roots" of power within the kingdom, and thus were not a threat to liberty, while a native-born candidate was likely to be supported only by his own faction; only three of Poland's eleven elected kings came from Polish families. The main body of the Polish government was a Parliament of nobles called the Sejm (Diet), and the limitations it placed upon itself meant that Poland almost had no government at all. The king could not make war nor peace, levy a tax, or alter the law, without consulting the Sejm, and every member of the Sejm had the power to veto any proposal put before it. All he had to do was stand up and say, "I disapprove," and the issue was as good as dead. Not only was it all but impossible for the Sejm to get anything done, but a member could even object to its assembly, thereby dissolving it. Such an action was called "exploding the Diet", and in the century leading up to 1764, forty-eight out of fifty-five Diets ended their meetings by "exploding." Poland was not simply an aristocratic republic; it was a paralyzed aristocratic republic.
All this was too inviting for Poland's neighbors. Foreign money and more aggressive forms of "influence" came into the country with each election. And like the Greeks of old, any disgruntled Polish patriot was likely to go abroad and incite some foreign power to help him get revenge on his ungrateful country.
This is where Frederick II comes into the story. The Austrians were alarmed by the continuous progress the Russians were making against the Turks. Frederick saw that this could lead to another general European conflict, so in 1772 he proposed to Russia's Catherine the Great that she satisfy her territorial ambitions at the expense of helpless Poland instead. The Russians could not fight Austria, Prussia and the Ottoman Empire all at once so Catherine agreed; the result was that she annexed all land still held by the Poles north of the Western Dvina and east of the Dnieper Rivers. Frederick felt that letting someone else rule the land between the East Prussian and Brandenburg portions of his kingdom was a crying shame, so at the same conference he grabbed the Polish (west) part of Prussia. Maria Theresa hated seeing Poland treated like a cake to be carved, but that didn't stop her from taking Galicia for Austria.
Though it was a shocking example of unprincipled statecraft, the partition of Poland also marked Frederick as a master of politics in both war and peace. No one now contested Prussia's right to take part in international conferences; in the course of his reign Frederick had doubled the resources and population of his kingdom and had made Prussia an effective equal to Austria. We now call him Frederick the Great, but like many other "great" statesmen he was not universally admired by his people during his lifetime. In fact, when he died in 1786, there was not so much mourning among the Prussians as there was relief that his turbulent reign had finally come to an end.
Frederick the Great near the end of his career.
This is the End of Chapter 11.
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