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European History


Wars of Religion 1560–1650

France: Dynastic conflict intensifies wars of religion between Huguenots (French Protestants) and Catholics (1562–1598)

  • Three successive weak kings and their mother, Catherine de Medici, try to maintain their independence between Catholic and Protestant competing factions

  • 1572: In St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, thousands of Huguenots killed in Paris and throughout France; Protestants increase resistance to Catholic rule

  • 1598: Bourbon king Henry IV declares Edict of Nantes, a religious truce; official religion is Catholicism, but Protestants are granted freedoms

Netherlands:Dutch Protestants begin revolt against Catholic Spanish Habsburgs (1572)

  • 1581: Calvinist United Provinces (northern Netherlands) declare independence; southern Netherlands remain Catholic, loyal to Spain (Belgium and Luxembourg today)

  • 1609: Truce declared

Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648): Most destructive war of religion

  • Despite Peace of Augsburg, tensions rise in Holy Roman Empire between Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists and Lutherans

  • 1618: War begins in Bohemia (Czech region in Holy Roman Empire); dynastic conflicts draw in nearly all European countries (Denmark, Sweden, France, Spain, Netherlands)

  • Armies grow large, cruel, undisciplined, live off the land; destructive war becomes the norm

1648:Treaty of Westphalia brings lasting peace, ends wars of religion, establishes many of today’s European borders

  • Calvinists gain legal recognition; German rulers still allowed to determine religion of their own territories

  • Independence of Swiss Confederation and United Provinces (Netherlands) recognized

  • Holy Roman Empire weakened; German states greatly damaged by war but maintain relative independence within Empire; German states Austria and Brandenburg-Prussia gain power

  • France and Spain continue at war until 1659

  • In 1650, 20% of Europeans are Protestant (decline from 1600)


Scientific Ideas 1500–1700

“Scientific Revolution” actually slow, uneven development in thought and approaches to the study of the universe, often following false leads or experiencing setbacks

Astronomy: Mathematical formulas developed to describe earthly and planetary motion; observation places the Sun rather than Earth at the center of the planets

  • Ancient, medieval science (based on Greeks Aristotle and Ptolemy ) placed Earth at the center of the universe

  • 1543:Nicolaus Copernicus (Polish, 1473–1543) publishes argument for heliocentric (sun-centered) universe, based on his own observations

  • Tycho Brahe (Danish, 1546–1601) collects observations of planets and stars; his assistant, Johannes Kepler (German, 1571–1630), develops laws of planetary motion

  • Galileo Galilei (Italian, 1564–1642) uses telescope to observe Sun’s rotation, moon’s craters; argues that universe follows laws of mathematics

Math and physics: Discoveries of gravity, mathematical laws

  • Isaac Newton (English, 1642–1727) argues that light can be described mathematically (1671), publishes laws of gravity (1687)

  • Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz (German, 1646–1716) independently develop calculus, which describes motion, surface area, and change in volume via mathematical formulas

Anatomy:Andreas Vesalius (Flemish, 1514–1564) and William Harvey (English, 1578–1657) explore workings of the human body, including the skeletal and circulatory systems

Some scientists come into conflict with the Catholic Church for disagreeing with the Bible and emphasizing material world rather than the spiritual world

  • 1633: Pope prosecutes Galileo for promoting Copernican system

  • However, most scientists view their work as glorifying and understanding God’s creation, not as a challenge to religion

  • Blaise Pascal (French, 1623–1662) attempts to reconcile science with religion

Scientific reasoning: Scientists and philosophers begin to view the universe as governed by universal laws that can be discovered and tested using rational inquiry and experiment

  • Francis Bacon (English, 1561–1626) uses inductive reasoning (gathering small pieces of information via experiments and drawing larger conclusions from them)

  • René Descartes (French, 1596–1650) uses deductive reasoning (beginning with general principles such as “I think, therefore I am,” and using reason to derive knowledge from them)

  • Newton combines experimentation with theory

Scientific knowledge spreads through letters, publications, private and public demonstrations; Royal Society of London becomes the most prominent scientific society

  • Women prevented from participating in scientific societies and universities, yet some make scientific contributions, such as English noblewoman Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673)


Early Modern Thought & Culture

Reformation leads to fewer monasteries, fewer religious holidays; encourages spread of humanist education and reading, including literacy for women

Baroque style of art and architecture embraced in Catholic countries; heavily ornamented, monumental, emotional religious art

  • Baroque music flourishes c. 1600–1750, distinguished by bass continuo (sustained note) and ornamentation heard in compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach (German, 1685–1750) and Antonio Vivaldi (Italian, 1678–1741)

1600s Dutch artists paint secular scenes of daily life, still-lifes, families eating, drinking, enjoying wealth; emerging middle class can afford to buy and commission paintings

  • Rembrandt von Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669) paints townspeople in rich color, shadow

Mid-1700s rococo style features flowing curves like Baroque, but smaller-scale, less ornate

  • Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721) paints elegant, smaller, secular themes

Literature: Plays and novels examine human nature and morality in changing society

  • 1605:Miguel de Cervantes (Spanish, 1547–1616) publishes first part of Don Quixote, a sympathetic satire of chivalry

  • William Shakespeare (English, 1564–1616) dramatizes human nature, English history in plays including Hamlet and Macbeth

  • 1667: English Puritan John Milton’sParadise Lost explores the sin of pride

1651: English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’sLeviathan sees humanity as naturally materialistic and selfish, argues that absolutism is necessary to prevent conflict

1690: English philosopher John Locke’sTwo Treatises of Government argue that humanity is naturally peaceful, call for moderate rule, rights, liberty, and protection of property

Continued superstition despite new philosophies and scientific ideas; most Europeans of the period believe in demons; thousands accused of witchcraft are sentenced to death from 1400–1700

  • Women targeted as witches due to misogyny, dependency of older single women, women’s disproportionate claims to have magical powers, suspicions against midwives

  • Witch hunts end due to spread of scientific ideas, increasing fear of anarchy, decreasing fear of devil, increasing belief in human responsibility