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European History


War & Colonies 1600–1789

Spanish empire: South America (except Portuguese Brazil), Central America, southern North America, Caribbean islands

French empire: Québec, Louisiana, Caribbean, Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, Indian territories, Caribbean islands

Dutch empire: South Africa, Indonesia, territories in South America and India

British empire: North American east coast, India, Caribbean

British, French, Spanish, Dutch battle over global economy; navies grow to defend colonial empires, with Britain’s particularly strong 18th-century nations seek balance of power: If one grows too strong, others unite in war and diplomacy to limit it

  • 1740–1748:War of Austrian Succession: Austria, Russia, Britain fear expansion of Prussia (aided by France), prevent disintegration of Habsburg Empire

  • 1756–1763:Seven Years’ War: First global war pits Austria and France against Prussia and Britain

    • Fighting occurs in Europe, North America, India

    • War of nations, not just monarchs

    • Britain ends France’s North American empire (in America, war is known as the French and Indian War )

  • Wars are expensive and cause domestic instability

1783: British recognize independence of United States of America; American Revolution inspires many Europeans to question traditional government

Armies of conscripts and mercenaries use bayonets, muskets, line formations, cavalry charges, defensive tactics

Battles usually only limited engagements, as armies are too expensive to risk destroying in entirety

Dynastic wars led by chivalrous aristocratic officers inflict fewer civilian casualties than 17th-century wars of religion


Social Classes & Families 1600–1789

Social classes given by birth, sometimes called estates; define legal rights and privileges

Nobles: Dominate political life, but increasing wealth of nonnobles causes anxiety

  • Nobles own large estates, are exempt from taxes

  • Large nobility in Poland, Russia, Hungary, and Spain; small nobility in Britain

  • Tension grows between old nobility, newly ennobled families

  • Nobles try to hold onto traditional privileges

Clergy: Hold legal privileges but are divided between wealthy bishops and impoverished village priests and ministers

Urban middle classes: Artisans, merchants, manufacturers

  • Some members of middle class acquire sizable fortunes

  • Middle classes resent persisting privileges of nobility

  • Social life of cities thrives in cafés, theaters, private clubs

Peasants: Make up majority of European population

  • Russia 90% peasants; Prussia, France 75%; Britain very few

  • Peasants owe taxes, work duties; some peasants own land, others work on large estates for wages and food

  • Landowners use legal measures to prevent poor peasants from hunting, chopping down trees, gathering wood on their property

  • Eastern European peasants live in worse conditions, often as serfs, under noble authority

Urban and rural poor: Struggle to survive despite starvation, disease, social control

  • Many turn to begging, smuggling, prostitution, crime

  • Towns imprison beggars, increase punishments for crimes to maintain order

  • Bands of thieves threaten travelers, traders on highways

  • Unwanted children are increasingly left at foundling homes, where many die quickly

Jews: Required to live in separate communities called ghettos; have few rights, experience legal discrimination based on their religion, live mostly in poverty

Gender difference continues to determine social lives of men and women, regardless of class, from time of birth; opportunities, expectations, economic and cultural roles generally more limited for women

Families, not individuals, are the primary economic unit

  • Family members work together in agriculture, artisanal crafts, small industries to provide for each other

  • Households in Western Europe include married couple, children, servants

    • Older children move away, establish their own households, marry late

    • Women leave home to earn money for dowry, with goal of establishing a household with a husband

  • Households in Eastern Europe include several generations under one roof; children marry young, stay with parents after marriage


Agriculture, Consumption, & Industry 1700–1800

Population explosion across Europe in 1700s: less devastating warfare, more children, better nourishment, fewer epidemics

Agricultural revolution in Western Europe in 1700s: new crops, enclosure of open fields, commercialization of agriculture increase food production and distribution

Britain industrializes first (late 1700s) due to free trade, consumer demand, social mobility

Rising demand for convenient, inexpensive consumer goods (furniture, clothing, housewares) prompts industrial innovation

Wealthy willing to risk money, or capital, to start an industry

Government laws protect and promote industry, trade; money from global economy invested in manufacturing in Europe

New technologies invented in Britain make industrial production faster, separate production into many steps

  • 1765:Spinning jenny allows fast thread production in home

  • 1776:Steam engine first used commercially

  • 1769:Water frame allows small-factory thread production

Most weaving still done by hand until 19th century

  • Families in rural areas and small villages do textile work at home to earn extra money

  • Merchant entrepreneurs supply raw materials to workers in their homes, and then sell textiles

Villages in contact with cities sell their agricultural products in exchange for manufactured and imported goods

Women’s role in agricultural production and in large-scale mechanized industry declines

  • Women continue to earn money in cottage industries or as domestics, but they have fewer options

  • Women’s work increasingly associated with the home, tradition, viewed as supplemental to a husband’s income