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Age of Absolutism Spain. The Ottoman Empire. 1. The pressure the Ottomans exerted on Europe was enormous. Most of the money spent in Europe in this era was spent on the military.

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the ottoman empire
The Ottoman Empire


The pressure the Ottomans exerted on Europe was enormous.

Most of the money spent in Europe in this era was spent on the military.

All the Kings of Europe had to keep one eye on the Ottomans while they negotiated with each other because the French never knew when they might need the help of the British whom they hated.

This more than anything helped create the European Balance of Power.

philip ii
Philip II


Philip II was like his father in that he worked hard and was very religious.

He was unlike his father in that he was absolutely intolerant of those around him.

Philip differed from the other kings of Europe in that he actually took part in ruling on a day to day basis.

He did not turn over command to his aides and then hunt and drink all day like most kings.

Philip had wanted to be a priest and as king and emperor, he was very committed to the Catholic cause. He financed most of the Wars of Religion and had his troops fight in them.

This alone caused most of his problems.

His navy defeated the Ottomans at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. this ended the Ottoman sea going expansion, but still didn’t stop them on land.

absolute monarchy
Absolute Monarchy
  • 3
  • Philip believed in Divine Right, the idea that God willed that kings should rule.
  • This philosophy led him to practice Absolutism in his reign.
  • As an absolute monarch he had complete control over the government and the people.
  • Most European rulers at this time believed in this philosophy.
  • Most of these kings also had problems with their aristocracy and the Church.
problems with absolute rule
Problems with Absolute Rule


With all of the kings we will study that are absolute rulers you must remember that there are groups that stand in the way.

The first are of course the nobles. The nobles want nothing to lessen their power, they have always opposed their king even while supporting him and they want to return to feudalism.

The second group or force is the Church. Just because the Donation of Constantine has been proven to be a forgery does not stop the church from trying to rule the kings. The king must always keep an eye on this bunch.

Another, new group, are the wealthy commoners. They are the group that provide money and trade for the upper classes and they want the government to build roads and support business. If government does this, then the nobles power will be weakened because the source of their power, land, will be diminished. So they are also opposed by the nobles.

This sets up class conflict in Europe, something that persists to this day.

the netherlands revolt
The Netherlands Revolt


The Revolt in the Netherlands was the biggest of Philip’s problems.

The Netherlands, which included what is now Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, was the richest province in his kingdom and the most Protestant.

Philip tried to crush the Protestant opposition, but he had to tax his Catholic subjects to pay for it so they rebelled also.

The northern part of the Netherlands that was Protestant broke away and became independent.

The southern part was Catholic and remained in his empire.

the spanish armada
The Spanish Armada

The Spanish holdings in the New World sent a continual stream of gold back to Spain.

Everyone in Europe knew this including the Queen of England Elizabeth.

She wanted to weaken the Spanish empire for a number of reasons including religion and she supported the breakaway Dutch republics.

She also wanted access to that wealth.

To get the gold she commissioned pirates called Sea Dogs, to attack the Spanish gold galleons.

Her favorite pirate and most successful sea dog was Sir Francis Drake.

Drake looted and robbed the Spanish in the New World and Elizabeth made him a knight in reward.

This infuriated Philip.

the spanish armada1
The Spanish Armada

Philip collected a huge navy called the Spanish Armada to destroy the British Navy and to invade England.

The Spanish were very confident of victory.

Two things stopped the Spanish Armada.

The first were the Sea Dogs. They fought the armada in the English Channel and though they were horribly outnumbered they were better sailors. Their ships were faster and they could use them more effectively.

The other reason was freak storm that blew up in the channel and sank a majority of the armada. This was the first unsuccessful attempt to invade England.

spanish golden age
Spanish Golden Age
  • The Spanish Golden Age stretches from the mid sixteenth century to the death of the great playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, in 1681.
  • This is the period in which Miguel de Cervantes wrote the first modern novel, Don Quixote
  • Diego de Velázquez, was producing his astonishing paintings for the court, when Spanish culture was spreading.
  • It is also the time when, in parallel with Shakespeare’s England, a new type of drama took hold in Madrid and the other major cities of the Iberian peninsula.
el greco1
El Greco
  • 7.
  • He believed that imagination and intuition was more important that exact drawing like Da Vinci.
  • El Greco didn’t worry too much about measure and proportion.
  • He believed he was doing God’s work when he painted.
  • He believed that grace is the supreme quest of art
de cervantes
De Cervantes


  • Miguel de Cervantes was born near Madrid in 1547. He became a soldier in 1570 and was badly wounded in the Battle of Lepanto. Captured by the Turks in 1575, de Cervantes spent five years in prison.
  • He was freed in 1580 and returned home.
  • De Cervantes finally achieved literary success in his later years, publishing the first part of Don Quixotein 1605. He died in 1616.
don quixote
Don Quixote
  • De Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote in 1605. The novel tells the story of an elderly man who becomes so enamored by old stories of brave knights that he seeks out his adventures.
  • He soon gets lost in his own fantasy world, believing he is one of these knights, and convinces a poor peasant, Sancho Panza, to serve as his squire.
  • In one scene, Don Quixote even fights a windmill, mistaking it for a beast.
  • Quixote regains his senses before the novel ends.


Spanish power and prosperity slowly declined.

Philip’s sons were not very good kings and wasted the gold from the Americas on wars and luxuries.

The most important reason it declined was its determination to hold onto feudalism.

By remaining feudal in social matters, the Spanish never changed with the times. They never created a middle class that could create new goods for markets or bring in new ideas.

The gold passed through their hands into the hands of the French and British that had gotten rid of feudalism and were now creating a new economic system.

The Spanish simply stayed the same.

france in 1600
France in 1600


From the 1560’s to the 1590’s, France was the largest single country in Europe and it should have been the most powerful.

It wasn’t primarily because of religious conflict

French Protestants were called Huguenots and they continually killed or were killed by French Catholics.

The worst instance of religious warfare in France was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) in which 3000 Protestants were slaughtered.

Over the ensuing days and months thousands more were killed on both sides. It appears as though France is going under.

henry iv
Henry IV

1. & 2.

France was saved by Henry IV.

Henry was a Protestant Huguenot, but he realized the majority of people are Catholic and this would make his rule difficult.

Henry was Pragmatic since he was he said“Paris is worth a mass” and converted to Catholicism.

Henry is smart enough to realize that the appearance of being Catholic (or Protestant) is enough for most people, so he converts simply for the convenience.

He immediately issues the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which guarantees religious tolerance and allows the Protestants to fortify their own towns to protect themselves.

This last part should tell you something. Henry can call for religious toleration, but he can’t enforce it, the people are going to have to do it themselves.

Henry also built up the royal bureaucracy and lessened the power of the nobles which laid a groundwork for absolutism later.

cardinal richelieu
Cardinal Richelieu

One of the great snakes of history. Cardinal Richelieu ruled France from the shadows for 18 years.

Henry IV was killed by a religiously motivated assassin (imagine that!?)

And his son is nine years old.

In these instances the nobles get together and appoint a REGENT, or someone that rules in the name of the child until the kid is old enough to chop off heads on his own. The nobles are back in charge.

In 1624, the kid, Louis XIII, is 23 and pretty useless, so he appoints Cardinal Richelieu, a Catholic prince, to be his number one minister.

Richelieu is up to the task. He is absolutely ruthless. Being a good Catholic he should have favored the Catholic nobles, but Richelieu’s real faith was power.

Take a look at that face, scary.

richelieu gets busy
Richelieu Gets Busy

Richelieu immediately set out to destroy the power of the nobles and the Huguenots.

He attacked the fortified towns of the Protestants and tore the walls down and then attacked the armies of the nobles and declared them illegal. When the nobles didn’t cooperate, he had them killed. He does not waste time.

Richelieu then turned around and guaranteed the right of worship for the Huguenots without walls and gave the nobles high positions in government. Neither side knew what to do. Richelieu had them cornered.

He was followed by Cardinal Mazarin, his hand picked successor who pretty much followed Richelieu’s blueprint with one very different skill.

Richelieu was a financial idiot. Mazarin was a wizard with money and made France insanely wealthy with mercantilism.

la fronde
La Fronde

When Louis XIV inherited the throne, he was a very young man.

Everybody in France that had been held in check for years by Richelieu and Mazarin saw a chance to seize power at the expense of a boy king.

A rebellion, called the Fronde erupted in 1645. The nobles wanted to rule and the Protestants saw their chance and the Church sat on the sidelines waiting to see who won.

The rebellion was almost successful. Louis was driven from his palace by insurgents and almost captured. It was a memory he would keep his whole life.

If you want to understand Louis XIV and how he ruled, remember that at a boy he was always afraid of being killed. He was just like Peter the Great of Russia in this way. They ruled as the greatest of monarchs because of childhood fear.

louis still doin it
Louis Still Doin It


Louis strengthened the monarchy a number of ways, but the initial one was hard work.

Louis liked being king, he liked making the decision of the king, so he worked tirelessly.

He expanded the bureaucracy and appointed Intendants, royal officials who collected taxes, recruited soldiers and carried out his policies in the provinces. These jobs did not go to the nobility, they went to the middle class. Louis was playing the nobles off against the middle classes and keeping both off balance.

He created the largest and strongest army in France. They were paid by the state, not by the nobles, so their allegiance was to Louis, not their local lords.

Louis was a master of manipulation. He required the nobles to live in Paris near his palace at Versailles. He was able to keep an eye on them. This is much like the way the Tokugawa Shoguns controlled the daimyo in Japan.

He was a master of image also. He made going to the bathroom a royal drama or theatre.

There was a ritual called the Levee, or rising. When he awoke, he had a noble that was appointed to do nothing but hold his wash basin while he brushed his teeth. The wives of the nobles had to attend his queen also.

The real reason for this was to make them all subservient to the crown. It worked beautifully.

louis takes command
Louis Takes Command


Louis was the great grandson of Philip II of Spain and like him, believed fervently in Divine Right of Kings.

He called himself the “Sun King” because the sun was the center of the universe and he was the center of France. He regularly said “l’etat, c’est moi” which means “I AM the state”.

He held more power in his own hands than any other ruler and all the kings of Europe wanted to be like him.

The French had a representative assembly called the Estates General. Supposedly they were to be consulted, but Louis simply refused to summon them to Paris. The Estates could not legally gather unless the kIng asked them to, so Louis didn’t.

France is the exact opposite of what is going on in France in this way. The English Parliament served as a check on the power of the king. France had no such obstacles to Louis power.


One of the primary reasons Louis was able to get away with this was that people were getting rich. People will put up with anything if there is enough money involved.

Jean Baptiste Colbert, his finance minister was the reason for the cash.

Colbert religiously followed mercantilist policies, but he was able to see that building up the domestic economy was more important.

He was one of the original financial geniuses to understand the Commercial Revolution.

To this end, Colbert had new lands cleared for farming, encouraged mining and basic industries , built up luxury goods and installed high tariffs to protect French manufacturers.

This produced mind boggling wealth. It should have been enough. But Colbert could not ever produce enough money to finance Louis XIV’s wars.

louis wars
Louis’ Wars

Louis loved ruling, but he is still a king, which means he also really liked war.

Most of Louis’ wars were to expand the borders of France, something that every king in every culture wants to do.

In the beginning, he was successful. Later not so much.

His grandson, Philip V, inherited the throne of Spain. Louis then very publically said that Spain and France should be considered as one country.

This scared every other country in Europe because it would mess up the balance of power. This meant that as long as all of these European countries stayed as they were, no one of them could completely dominate. If Spain and France united, this would mess up the balance, so they all went to war in the War of Spanish Succession.

All the other countries that despised each other allied to stop France and Louis.

The War of Spanish Succession lasted from 1700 to 1713 until it ended with the Treaty of Utrecht. In this treaty, Philip remained on the throne of Spain, but Louis agreed not to talk about union again.

louis xiv and religion
Louis XIV and Religion

Louis also let his religious prejudices get in the way of his common sense and started persecuting the Huguenots again.

In 1685, he revoked the Edict of Nantes and started persecuting the Protestants again.

More than 100,00 Protestants fled the country.

This was probably his most costly mistake because these people also made up a big chunk of his merchant class and were the most talented.

Louis ruled for 72 years. By the end, all the prosperity of Colbert’s period had been used up by wars. There were a series of bad harvest, the taxes to support the court at Versailles became oppressive and worst of all, Louis XV came along.

Louis XV was the son of the Sun King and was one of the most useless individuals to ever hold the throne of any country.

apr s les deluge
Après les Deluge

Roughly, this means “after us, the deluge”.

Louis XV was spoiled, weak, treacherous and stupid. A bad combination to have in your king.

He spent his whole reign wallowing in degenerate pleasures while ignoring the problems of his realm. He played the nobles off against each other, granted ridiculous wishes of sycophants and ruined the French economy . He ruled with all the wisdom of a frat boy on a binge.

The Sun King wallowed in pleasure, but also worked like a dog to maintain his kingdom. His son proved the idea that the children of wealth are usually a problem.

After us the Deluge. You bet. The French Revolution is just around the corner.

tudor england
Tudor England

The Tudor Dynasty ruled England from 1485 to 1603. The Tudors believed in divine right monarchy, they also realized that they had to get along with Parliament. This fact alone sets England apart from the rest of Europe in this era. When Henry broke with the Catholic Church to form the Church of England, he had Parliament write a law called the Act of Supremacy to make it valid. Henry always consulted Parliament on decisions and always went through Parliament to get tax money.

Elizabeth ruled much like her father Henry. She consulted Parliament and they became used to this process. Elizabeth died in 1603 without a direct heir. The throne passed to her relatives the Stuarts of Scotland.

james i
James I


The Stuarts presented a problem for England. They were true absolute monarchs from Scotland. They didn’t have to deal with a Parliament and didn’t see why they had to.

When James VI of Scotland became James I of England he traveled south to London to take his crown. During a disturbance, he ordered a man executed. Everyone was confused.

In England, the Magna Carta limited the power of the king from doing such things.

James had no intention of even acknowledging the Great Charter, Parliament, habeas corpus or anything else except his own power. Things did not get off to a good start.

James continually fought with Parliament over money and his refusal to accept their meddling. Eventually, he simply dissolved Parliament and collected taxes on his own.

Did I mention also that James had converted to Church of England from Catholicism? Well, this also caused problems because he got into a series of conflicts with dissenters, protestants that wanted to purify the Church of England of all Catholic rites.

One of the things that came out this conflict was his authorization of the creation of the King James version of the Bible.

charles i
Charles I

3, 4 & 5

Charles I inherited the throne in 1625. If anything, Charles was more of an absolute monarch than James.

Whereas James had tried to get along with Parliament, Charles simply loathed them and let them know it. This probably had as much to do with the war as anything.

He imprisoned people without a trial, collected taxes arbitrarily, generally ignored all the traditions of British common law.

In 1628 he needed to raise taxes so high that he had to summon Parliament. Parliament refused to authorize any new taxes until Charles signed the Petition of Right which said that the king had to get the consent of Parliament to raise taxes. Charles signed it but then dissolved Parliament again and ignored the Petition for 11 years. This made him unpopular.

He and his Archbishop Laud tried to force strict Anglican dogma on the Church of England. The Protestants of Scotland rebelled. To put down this rebellion, Charles had to call Parliament into session. This Parliament met from 1640 to 1653 and was called the Long Parliament. They refused to give in to the king.

They tried and executed his officials.

In 1642, Charles sent troops to Parliament to arrest and execute them. They escaped through a back door and raised an army to fight the king. The English Civil War was on.

english civil w ar
English Civil War

1. & 7.

The supporters of King Charles were called Cavaliers. They tended to be nobility and wore long flowing hair and plumed hats. They were Catholic or High Anglican aristocrats that wanted Charles to return England to feudalism and restore their old privileges.

Opposing them were the Roundheads.

Protestants that cut their hair short to set themselves apart. They tended to be supporters of Parliament, local gentry (commoners with wealth) and Puritan ministers. They wanted to limit the king’s power and wanted a stronger voice in government.

In the battle over whether it was religion or politics that the war was really over, politics always wins.

It was thought that the Cavaliers, with their superior fighting skills would win easily. What they found was that the Roundheads had conviction that helped overcome their lack of skills. But what really turned the war in their favor was the arrival of Oliver Cromwell.

oliver cromwell
Oliver Cromwell

1, 8,

People like Oliver Cromwell tend to prove the Great Man of History theory.

Cromwell was a member of the Gentry and an organizational genius.

He created the “New Model Army” a strong and disciplined army that defeated the more skillful Cavalier forces.

By 1647, Cromwell’s forces had captured the king and put him on trial

The outcome of the trial was really never in doubt.

It condemned him to death and executed him in January of 1649.

His execution did a couple of things. First, it shocked all of Europe. Kings are killed all the time but they are killed by aristocrats that want the crown or assassins. This was the first execution of a king by his subjects and this freaked everyone out.

Another outcome of this execution was the idea, that exists to today, that England is different from the rest of Europe. England was and is seen as an outsider to the rest of Europe.

It also sent a message to later kings of England. You can only go so far.

the commonwealth
The Commonwealth

1 & 9

If you are going to kill the king, you have to also get rid of everything and everyone that ever supported him or someday they will get their revenge.

This is pretty much the advice that Parliament followed after they killed Charles I. They abolished the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Church of England.

They declared that England was now a Republic called the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell was the leader.

Cromwell is seen by some as a saint and others as a sinner and he probably falls in between. He was very vengeful and narrow-minded in terms of religion.

Being a strict Puritan, he immediately got into a fight with the Catholics of Ireland. He sent the New Model Army into Ireland and got a law through Parliament that exiled all Catholics in England to the west side of Ireland. Any Catholic that didn’t go would be killed on sight.

He also got into a fight with the Levelers. These people believed that the poor should have as much say in the government as the rich gentry. They also believed women should have rights. This was immediately crushed.

Because of all of these problems, Cromwell took the title of Lord Protector and ruled with force. England is now a dictatorship.

puritan life in the commonwealth
Puritan Life in the Commonwealth


The Commonwealth is a perfect example of why separation of church and state happens in the US

The Puritans used Parliament to engineer a social revolution.

They passed laws to make failure to attend church, profaning the Lord, gambling, dancing and attending the theater or a tavern against the law.

They encouraged literacy, but only in reading of the Bible, censorship was widespread.

Being a Roman Catholic was against the law, but , surprisingly, Jews were allowed back into England.

the end of the commonwealth the restoration and the glorious revolution
The End of the Commonwealth, The Restoration and the Glorious Revolution

12 & 13

After 10 years in power, the Commonwealth fell apart when Cromwell died in 1658.

Everyone by this time was pretty sick of strict religious laws.

In 1660, The Parliament asked Charles II to be the king in what became known as the Restoration.

Charles was very popular and he eased most of the rules of the Puritans.

He died in 1685 and his brother James II became king. James II truly proves that overall, the Stuarts were not very bright.

James II immediately got rid of the Petition of Right and announced that he would be an absolute monarch.

James was a Catholic and started appointing Catholics to high positions.

Parliament asked James protestant daughter, Mary to take over. She and her husband landed in England in 1688 and James II, without a fight, fled to France. This is known as the Glorious Revolution.

BUT!, Parliament was careful to declare their monarchy a Limited Monarchy.

There was no question now, Parliament was in charge.

the german kingdoms
The German Kingdoms

There were a number of factors that contributed to the carnage of the Thirty Years War. Religion, local customs, ancient grudges between local rulers. One of the biggest though was the sheer number of kingdoms in northern Germany.

With this many rulers it was impossible to unite them all. One of the primary reason you do not see the rise of absolute rulers throughout this region is because of this.

The Holy Roman Emperor, who was supposedly the ruler of this area, in reality had no power. He was put into office by Electors made up of the top 7 princes.

The northern kingdoms were protestant and the southern kingdoms were catholic.

The differences in religion, the lack of a central authority and rivalry among all these princes led to the Thirty Years War.

thirty years war
Thirty Years War

2 & 3

It had roots in religion and politics. It started in Bohemia.

It started with a famous event called the Defenestration of Prague.

The ruling Catholic king wanted to suppress the Protestants. Two rebellious Protestants threw two Catholic officials out of a castle window. They only fell two stories and landed in a dung heap. This they were nasty, but otherwise ok.

But by the time the stories got out to the public, what had started out very innocent was turned by rumor into a massacre. People wanted to believe the worst about both sides.

This war was fought by mercenaries hired by both churches and fought brutally. By the time it was over, two thirds of the German population was slaughtered.

All the countries of Europe lined up to take sides for either religious or political reasons or sometimes both. The French minister Richelieu, a Catholic, supported and paid for Protestant mercenaries because it suited his political purposes.

The Thirty Years War had more to do with the US having separation of church and state than anything else.

the peace of westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia

4 & 5

The Thirty Years War was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia.

Since the war had involved almost everyone in Europe, it was a general peace treaty for all o Europe and they used the opportunity to settle a lot of old questions.

France was the clear winner. It got land and concessions from the Hapsburgs. The Hapsburgs were the biggest losers because they lost all the German kingdoms. The Spanish lost the Netherlands and Switzerland when they became independent states.

Germany was left with over 300 small kingdoms.

hapsburg austria
Hapsburg Austria


Hapsburg Austria was seriously weakened by the Thirty Years War.

The Austrian Empire was huge, there were a large number of ethnic groups that guaranteed conflict.

The Hapsburgs sent German speaking officials into Austria but they still were not able to exert a lot of control.

Until that is Maria Theresa arrived on the scene.

Charles VI was the Hapsburg emperor and he had no son. His daughter was energetic and intelligent, so he asked the rulers of Europe to accept her as the queen of Austria. Most agreed to do so, but when Charles died, they went back on their word. They thought that they could just take over from the woman. They didn’t count on this woman.

the war of austrian succession
The War of Austrian Succession


This war was sparked by opposition to Maria Theresa.

Frederick of Prussia seized Hapsburg territory, thinking that Maria would not fight back.

She went to Hungary to appeal for help from the Hungarian princes.

She met with them and gave an impassioned speech for their help and they came through.

Eventually this war was settled. Frederick got to keep the land he seized but he had to recognize her rule.

She proved to be the most modern ruler in Europe. She reorganized the bureaucracy and made the nobles pay taxes (something no other monarch was able to do)

Her son and successor, Joseph II was like her in being very modern and is seen as one of the best of the “enlightened Monarchs”



Austria was a Catholic kingdom.

Prussia was overwhelmingly protestant.

The Hohenzollern family ruled a number of the kingdoms. When the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War, they tried to unite some of these kingdoms into Prussia.

They used a bureaucracy staffed by the big landowning nobles called Junkers.

Frederick knew from day one how he wanted to rule the state and how the state would come to rule the kingdoms: the army would be his primary tool.

Frederick set out to build the most modern, disciplined and effective army in Europe.

Everyone in Prussia was either in the army, married to someone in the army or related to someone in the army. Military discipline was practiced in schools, offices and farms.



Frederick, like all absolute monarchs had trouble with his nobles, but he was able to control them by making a deal with them. They would always staff and run the army as long as they supported the Prussian state.

They stayed true to their promise and the staff of the Wehrmacht (German Army) was staffed exclusively by Junkers nobles until 1945.

The best description was that of Voltaire “Prussia is not a state which possesses an army, but an army which possesses a state”.

peter the great
Peter the Great

Peter the Great differed from anything the Russians had ever seen.

He was huge, standing 6’8”. He towered over the other monarchs.

He had been terrorized as a child by the revolt of the army called the Streltsy. He had seen his uncles executed and this laid a groundwork for his lifelong paranoia about the army.

When he became the Czar of Russia he was 10. he really didn’t take control until 1689. He wasn’t very well educated but he was very curious, particularly about technical issues.

In 1697, he became the first Czar to ever leave Russia when he went to Western Europe. He went there specifically to learn about technological and scientific advances of the Scientific Revolution.

westernization of russia
Westernization of Russia


When he returned, Peter set out to shake Russia out of the Middle Ages.

He brought back with him western technical advisors. This did not make him popular with his subjects who tended to be suspicious and backwards anyway.

The real resistance to his reforms were the old nobles, the Boyars. He forced them to serve the new Russian state rather than their old loyalties.

He took control of all the institutions in Russia including the Orthodox Catholic church.

By being a complete autocrat, or sole ruler, he pushed through reforms on all levels.

To change the system he had to change the culture. He required women to come out and actually be seen in public. He required the boyars to shave off their traditional beards or else pay a special beard tax. With all of these reforms he helped push Russia into the modern in a few ways. But Russia was too big and too backward to go all the way.



The Russian foreign policy in 2013 is to push on the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indians, the Turks and the Baltic states for access to a warm water port.

Russia is landlocked except for the Pacific Coast which is closed off by Japan and China. The Straits of the Dardanelles near Constantinople are another place they can go. All the other Russian seaports are frozen in 8 months out of the year.

Russian foreign policy has always been aimed at getting access to warm water ports for trade.

It is that way in 2013 and it was that way under Peter the Great in the 18th century.

All the Russian expansion under Peter was aimed at this.

catherine the great1
Catherine the Great

4 & 5

Catherine was actually German. Peter the Great died without naming an heir, so it fell to Peter III, her husband. Peter III was crazy and was eventually assassinated. There are many historians that believe that she was behind the plot. If she wasn’t, she very much profited from it. She took the reins firmly in hand.

Catherine was able to create a strong absolute monarchy in Russia because the system was still feudal which meant that obedience was a commonplace and because of the cooperation of the Russian Orthodox Church.

She immediately reorganized the government. She instituted state sponsored education and embraced western ideas like Peter.

She also was ruthless in allowing the boyars to be exempt from taxes and increased the serfdom of the peasants. While the rest of the world was getting rid of serfdom, Russia increased it.

Catherine also wanted to control Poland, so in cooperation with Frederick the Great and Emperor Joseph II of Austria, she partitioned it and made it disappear.


The Enlightenment was (and is) an era in which The Species starts to put all of its’ eggs in the basket of reason.

To explain, for the majority of The Species existence, the explanatory model used was religion in some shape, form or fashion. God was used to explain everything until the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution pretty much changed all that.

Science was particularly important in all this. Science had been used to do things like make better boats so people could sail to the Orient and get rich on spices. It was also used make the life of the everyday person healthier and more prosperous. This, combined with a generally more optimistic attitude in the world in general, led science to the pinnacle of our list of belief systems.

This is both good and bad.

  • 1.
  • How was it good? Look around you. Almost everything you touch, taste, feel, see or hear is a product of Enlightenment thinking. The Enlightenment freed people to think free from the past.
  • In earlier times ideas were not even spoken about for fear of offending either: a) people above you in the social pyramid or b) the Church.
  • The Enlightenment allowed people to climb the social pyramid just on brains and ambition. It tore down the barriers between the social classes. It led to creative thinking. This creates things like electric motors and Ipods.
  • It also created enormous wealth that raised everyone’s level of income. Remember, capitalism would have never gotten off the ground without the Enlightenment to push it on.
  • 1.
  • The Enlightenment also set in place the forces that created the modern world.
  • This can be bad in that it replaced religion, a belief system that all understood with a new religion, science, which only the scientists really understood.
  • The other thing to remember is that science does not have an ethical impulse. Things are as they are. Everyone involved in creating the Atomic Bomb knew what they were doing, they just let it go by saying “its just science and therefore I have no responsibility”.
  • It also set in place forces that people want in theory but not in practice. The primary one being “fairness”. Everyone wants things to be fair as long as it benefits them. The Enlightenment released those forces of competition and production that served to replace the forces of class and occupation. This means that no longer could one rely on a world that had been created with intent. Now it was a world that had no meaning other than compete or die. Not much of a step up from kill or be killed.
natural law
Natural Law


After using reason to conquer the universe and explain the world, The Species next started to use it to explain the political and social world.

The core of this was the concept of Natural Law.

Natural Law is an idea that human behavior is governed by laws much like gravity.

These laws are considered unchanging and present everywhere and in all societies.

Enlightenment thinkers then started using the methods of science: empirical thinking, conceptualization and evidence, to design a new society.

the social contract
The Social Contract
  • 3.
  • The most interesting part of human behavior that philosophers concerned themselves with (ahead of music and sex) is power.
  • The Enlightenment thinkers concerned themselves with the relationship between rulers and the ruled.
  • ‘Why do some rule instead of others?’
  • The answer had always been answered by just saying ‘God set it up that way’
  • By the 18th century, that was no longer an acceptable answer for most people.
  • The relationship between rulers and ruled is called the Social Contract.
  • A contract is an agreement between two parties.
  • In the Social Contract, the ruled agree to give up money in the form of taxes and freedom in the form of obedience to laws.
  • In return, the rulers provide safety.
  • If the Enlightenment thinkers were going to approach this problem, then they had two ways of looking at the Social Contract.
thomas hobbes
Thomas Hobbes


Thomas Hobbes was a political philosopher that had lived through the English Civil War and viewed the bloodshed and upheaval as something inevitable in human behavior.

Hobbes central belief was that the central government should be very strong .

To Hobbes, the purpose of government was to prevent people from killing each other. A strong central government was his answer to this.

Hobbes view of The Species was pretty gloomy.

He believed that they were unpredictable and dangerous.

That they would inevitably fight and if not separated, it would turn into the war of “all against all”.

And since they were unpredictable, this meant that they wouldn’t respond to reason.

Reason such as “wouldn’t it be better for all to have some instead a few having all?” would simply fall on deaf ears.

john locke
John Locke


John Locke, on the other hand, looked upon The Species as capable of reasonable action.

He believed that man could make decisions for himself as long as he was provided with enough information.

This led to Locke believing that the rulers and the ruled were the same.

This means that whether you are a ruler or a person ruled is merely a result of luck and happenstance.

He also believed that when men were born they know nothing. They are a “blank slate” or “tabula rosa”.

Society then takes the blank slate and teaches it what society wants it to know.

This also means that society is responsible for the individual and therefore, the society should reflect the individual.

This leads Locke to believe that the power of any government should reside in the people of the society.

This is called Popular Sovereignty.

He also believed that people were born with certain inalienable rights, such as Life, Liberty and Property.

And that Society’s purpose was to protect these rights.

Kings had always operated on the idea that the ruled were there for his benefit.

This is the exact opposite.

Every heard this? You should have. Jefferson simply dressed up Locke’s ideas in the Declaration of Independence and changed ‘property’ to ‘happiness’

montesquieu and separation of powers
Montesquieu and Separation of Powers


Baron de Montesquieu in France studied the history of governments in Europe.

In 1748, he published the Spirit of Laws.

Montesquieu admired the limited constitutional monarchy of the British and particularly their method of dividing power up among three branches of government.

He felt that this above all other things guaranteed that no one person could seize all the power and become a tyrant.

He felt that each branch should be able to check or stop the others to prevent tyranny by any one of the branches.

Again, this should sound very familiar. Madison simply polished up Montesquieu to write the Constitution.

  • 6.
  • The philosophes were a group of Enlightenment thinkers
  • They were active as writers and used their writing to educate the general public.

7 & 12

The most famous of them was Voltaire.

His real name Francois-Marie Arouet.

He took the name of Voltaire when he started writing professionally.

He used his wit and sarcasm as a weapon and was very popular.

Voltaire attacked the government, the church, social customs, everything. His greatest cause was freedom of speech.

He wrote Candide, one of the great stories of history and in Candide, attacked everything that he considered stupid and wasteful in society.

He was also very popular, which made him particularly dangerous to the ruling classes.


Denis Diderot was another of the Philosophes.

He compiled the Encyclopedia.

This was essentially a collection of information by Enlightenment thinkers.

It was not very technical and gave the reader an overview of a lot of information.

This had a huge effect on the general population.

It had a bigger effect on intellectuals because they were finally able to see what others were doing.



The last and most controversial of the Philosophes was Jean Jacque Rousseau.

Rousseau believed that man was innocent until he came into contact with other people in society and all of its emphasis on possessions.

He believed that property was the root of all evil and should be done away with.

He also believed in the idea of a “general will” of the people.

This can be great if you are talking about democracy, but also dangerous when applied to extremists like the Klan.

His book The Social Contract argued that the will of the people should be obeyed.

This is often blamed for the excesses of the French Revolution and on into later radical causes such as communism.

women and the enlightenment
Women and the Enlightenment
  • 9.
  • The Philosophes may have been very smart, but they were still very traditionalist in their views of women.
  • In spite of this, there were a number of important women in the Enlightenment that believed women had natural rights that extended beyond obedience to men.
  • Madam de Stael in France and Mary Wollstonecraft in England were two leading women of the Enlightenment.
  • Wollstonecraft in particular was very important.
  • She published Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 and set in place a furorover the rights of women.
the physiocrats and new economic thinking
The Physiocrats and New Economic Thinking
  • 10.
  • Physiocrats were philosophers that concentrated on economic reforms.
  • Since everything seemed to concern itself with the rights of the individual, the physiocrats rejected Mercantilism because of the role of government and sided with the idea of Laissez Faire, in which government has no role.
  • The leading economic thinker of this and of all eras was Adam Smith.
  • Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations in which he describes exactly how capitalism was being used in England.
wealth of nations
Wealth of Nations


The Wealth of Nations Smith argued that free markets should be allowed to regulate business activity.

He also showed how manufacturing, trade, wages, profits and economic growth were all linked to market forces of supply and demand.

Smith was a strong supporter of Laissez Faire, but even he admitted that government had to play a role.

Look at the publication date 1776. Big year.

spread of enlightenment ideas
Spread of Enlightenment Ideas


Needless to say, the ideas of many of the Philosophes were not particularly popular with rulers and aristocracy. These ideas attacked the very basis of their power by saying that God really didn’t put them there.

Censorship was widespread, but since literacy rates had gone up since e the Renaissance, there was no stopping them.

These ideas even affected some of the rulers known as enlightened despots.

Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great and Joseph II of Austria are usually seen as being enlightened despots.

Yes, they supported the arts and sciences of the Enlightenment, but don’t ever think they thought power should rest in the people and they absolutely believed in divine right monarchy. So, just how enlightened these people were is open for debate.

britain in mid century
Britain in Mid Century

14, 15,16, 17, 18 & 19

After the English Civil War, the fortunes of Great Britain soared.

They usually were on the winning side in most of the European conflicts and they had the greatest navy in the world to protect the worlds greatest trading economy.

The British government believed in subsidizing or helping business by building railroads, roads, canals and ports. Some of the nobility, unlike their brethren on the continent, engaged in business.

England was and is an oligarchy. The majority of the people didn’t partake in a lot of the wealth of this era.

The major result of the English Civil War was the triumph of Parliament and this saw the success of Constitutional government, government controlled by laws.

Two major political parties sprang up in England, the Whigs and the Tories.

The Whigs favored religious tolerance, open business climate and favored Parliament over the King.

The Tories favored the King over all and older traditions in general.

Another feature of British government that was different was the Cabinet system in which the bureaucracy of the government had representatives to the king to advise him.

The head of the cabinet was the Prime Minister

king george iii and royal power
King George III and Royal Power

20 & 21

King George III came to power in 1760 and ruled for 60 years. He reasserted the power of the king

He was able to manipulate the Parliament into supporting his policies. The problem was that his policies were disastrous.

It was George III’s idea to make the American colonies pay for the debt of the French and Indian War. The led to a change in how England viewed and ruled the New World.

american revolution
American Revolution

22 & 23

The American Revolution to a large extent was the result of Enlightenment thinking.

All of the major ideas of Life, Liberty, Happiness, Natural Rights, Checks and Balances, Separation of Powers, Popular Sovereignty and an elected ruler in a President saw fruition in this Revolution. The single most important Revolution in history.

pre revolutionary france
Pre-Revolutionary France

1 & 3

Pre-Revolutionary France was a society that was very top heavy.

There were considered to be three classes or estates.

The First Estate was the clergy or the Catholic Church. The Church owned about 10% of all the land in France and were exempt from taxation. They supported the Monarchy.

The Second Estate was the nobility. They have been discussed many times, but keep in mind that they control everything and are exempt from taxation. They do not like absolutism, but they do support the monarchy.

The Third Estate was the rural peasantry and the bourgeoisie or Middle Class. They represented the majority of the people in France. They produced everything and grew all the food and paid all the taxes. As the government grew more and more corrupt, these taxes grew enormously.

causes of the revolution
Causes of the Revolution


The causes of the Revolution lie in the economy, the social customs and the government of France.

The Third Estate resented the privileges of the upper classes.

Rich bourgeoisie could buy titles of nobility, wages were terrible and working conditions were worse.

The peasantry paid most of the taxes and were still tied to the land. They were technically free, but they had to work under the Corvee’ which was a law that said they had to do a percentage of work every year for free for the nobility.

Eventually the economy would serve as a spark for the Revolution, but the causes were widespread.

economic disaster
Economic Disaster

4, 5, 6 & 7

The debts of Louis XIV combined with deficit spending (spending more than you have by borrowing) and a series of bad harvest set the revolution in motion.

Louis XVI was not a good king. He was weak and indecisive.

He appointed Jacques Necker to try to fix the economy. Necker immediately told Louis that he had to stop spending so much money on his court, they had to get rid of the tariffs and reform both the economy and the government.

Needless to say, this was not real popular. When Necker proposed taxing the Nobles and Clergy the nobles and clergy responded by getting him fired.

The economy spiraled down and inflation set in.

Louis was forced to call a meeting of the French legislature, the Estates General to try to fix this. They hadn’t met in 175 years, but when they did it was a doozy.

it begins
It Begins

9 & 10

When the Estates General convened in May of 1789, the Third Estate showed up demanding reform.

They had all read Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu and were intent on creating a new world

When they did convene, the Third Estate wanted the voting procedures to change.

Under the old system, each estate had one vote and the Third Estate was always outvoted.

Since they represented the majority, they wanted voting power to represent that majority.

Stalemate set in. after a few weeks, the Third Estate declared themselves to be the National Assembly and the only legal representative body in France.

The other estates locked them out of the meeting hall and the National Assembly met in an indoor tennis court and took the Tennis Court Oath.

In this they promised to never leave until a republic was created.

the storming of the bastille
The Storming of the Bastille


In much the way the “Shot Heard Round the World” at Concord and Lexington started the American Revolution, the storming of the Bastille really starts the French Revolution.

The Bastille was an ancient prison that represented oppression and privilege to the lower classes.

On July 14, 1789, a crowd in Paris stormed the prison, killed the commander and set the prisoners free.

When he was told about it, Louis XVI asked “is it a revolt?”. The answer famously was “no sire, it is a revolution”

phases of the revolution
Phases of the Revolution
  • 12
  • The French Revolution is usually seen as having three distinct phases:
  • 1. the National Assembly – the National Assembly met to reform the government, was locked out and took the Tennis Court Oath. This led to the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the Revolution.
  • 2. The Terror – seen as the most destructive period. The revolution turned on itself and started destroying its own leaders. The Jacobins, a very radical group seized control of the Revolution and initiated a series of trials of leaders thought “not revolutionary enough”.
  • 3. The Directory – after the Terror, the only way to get control of the people again was to institute some sort of order. The Directorate was composed of 5 very conservative leaders. Eventually the Directorate was replaced by their first military leader - Napoleon
the great fear
The Great Fear


Paris may have been the site of the storming of the Bastille, but the revolution really didn’t get going until a wave of rumor and panic swept the countryside.

The Great Fear was a period in which the peasants began to fear that there were going to be attacks by the government on all the Third Estate. They heard rumors of the army seizing crops and executing peasants. None of these were true, but rumor is a powerful revolutionary weapon.

The peasants responded by invading the ancient centers of feudal France, the manor houses, and seizing them. They destroyed all the records of the Corvee and of any feudal debts.

This was unusual in that the peasants tended to be conservative and support the monarchy. After the Great Fear they returned to their previous role. The peasantry never trusted the radicals in Paris and were usually very Catholic and Conservative.

paris and the national guard
Paris and the National Guard


Paris was the center of the Revolution. The king sent troops to restore order

But the presence of royal troops caused the people of Paris to rally behind the Revolutionaries.

They urged Lafayette, the hero of the American Revolution, to take command and form an army of their own called the National Guard.

The National Guard was made up primarily of middle class people and were the first to wear the tricolor of red, white and blue.

They then formed a government called the Paris Commune. This makes two governments in Paris.

The formation of the Commune made the National Assembly start to act.

They revoked all titles of privilege, all exemption from taxation and all luxuries enjoyed by the other Estates.

declaration of the rights of man
Declaration of the Rights of Man


In August of 1789, the National Assembly wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

This was their first step to writing a constitution. This document detailed the right s of the people and why the Revolution was taking place.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man was heavily influenced by both the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

men talk women do
Men Talk, Women Do

In October of 1789, the price of bread skyrocketed and the women of Paris rioted. They stormed the Tuileries, the old palace in Paris and then started marching toward Versailles.

In the process of marching they somehow came into possession of cannon. This mob was dangerous.

They arrived at Versailles and demanded the king do something about the price of bread.

When the king wouldn’t or couldn’t do anything, they demanded the king return with them to Paris. Louis XVI didn’t want to go, but he really didn’t have much choice.

The crowd put them in the Tuileries and the royal family was kept prisoner for the next three years.

the constitution of 1791
The Constitution of 1791


The National Assembly attacked the ancient privileges of the Church by making all the priests in France employees of the French government.

The Pope condemned it and most priest refused to go along, but it was a serious blow to the church.

The Constitution of 1791 set up a limited monarchy and a legislature called the National Assembly that had all the power to write and enforce the law, raise taxes and go to war. The legislature was to be elected by the people, but only about 50,000 people in all of France was eligible to vote.

It reorganized the old royal system of government by dividing France into 83 departments.

They abolished guilds and protected private property.

Again, the influence of the American Constitution is obvious. Like the American Constitution, the French Constitution was a triumph of the moderates.

continental reaction
Continental Reaction

17 & 18

The rest of the monarchs of Europe were not pleased by what was going on in France.

Louis XVI tried to escape from France, but was captured at the border in a royal coach dressed as a servant.

Émigrés’, nobles that fled France at the beginning of the Revolution spread rumors and fostered opposition to the Revolution in other countries.

The King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria issued the Declaration of Pilnitz in which they threatened to intervene to save the king.

This represented the first real outside threat to the revolutions.

The newly formed Legislative Assembly formed an army and prepared for war with the rest of Europe.

internal divisions
Internal Divisions


Every revolution suffers from dissension. The problem the French had was both internal and external.

Inside the Revolution itself, the radicals called Jacobins seized power.

The Jacobins wanted to get rid of the king and establish a republic.

After they had seized power, the Jacobins declared war on Austria, Britain, Prussia and the rest of Europe. They also created the Levee en Masse. This was a huge draft of all available people to fight. This huge mob numbered over a million. In the beginning it looked as though they would be slaughtered, but their belief led them to initial victories.

death of the king
Death of the King


The Radical Assembly abolished the monarchy and created a republic based on universal suffrage. This meant that all male citizens could vote.

They then put Louis XVI and his family on trial and sentenced them to death.

In January of 1793, the King of France was beheaded in the Guillotine, along with the rest of his family.

This act made France a pariah amongst nations of Europe. Nobody was now going to support them.

Along with this problem came internal dissension. In the Vendee region of France, royalists and priests led a revolution against the revolution. It was put down, but it gave the radicals an excuse to put in place The Terror under the control of Maximillian Robespierre.

the committee of public safety
The Committee of Public Safety

20, 21 , 23 & 24

If there has ever been a good argument for limiting the power of the mob it is the Terror. The Terror was instituted by the Jacobins and shepharded by the Girondists (more moderate revolutionaries.

Maximillian Robespierre led a group called the Committee for Public Safety.

This 12 member committee essentially operated as a dictatorship while France was at war. And, like all dictators, they got out of control.

The Reign of Terror lasted from July 1793 to July 1794 and in that time they executed 40,000 “enemies of the Revolution”. Many of these so called enemies had done nothing more than not be liked by members of the committee.

The guillotine was used daily and hurried trials ended in executions.

After a year of this bloodshed, the people of France rejected the Committee of Public Safety and executed them.

the directory
The Directory


The third stage of the French Revolution was the Directory which took over control of the government from the Committee of Public Safety.

A new Constitution was written in 1795 that set up a five man committee to run the country.

The Directory was run mainly by wealthy middle class lawyers and the Legislative Assembly reflected this. The radicals were either pushed out or executed and the moderates were back in command.

The Directory was in trouble. They were at war with most of Europe, the émigrés were retuning home and stirring up problems and the failure of the government to do anything about the price of food led to widespread rioting.

To deal with this the Directory employed a young Corsican military man, Napoleon.

napoleone buonoparte
Napoleone Buonoparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was an opportunist. He was absolutely ruthless in pursuit of power. He was driven by nothing much more than this.

In our time, we need complexity in public figures’ personalities. We need for there to be a deeper reason for the things that people do. We think that it makes them more human.

In reality, most public figures are not particularly complex. They possess ambition and a certain amount of talent and these things suffice to get them to the top, whatever and wherever that is. Complex emotions like mercy, a sense of honor and justice or unbending loyalty merely get in the way.

Napoleon was a perfect example of this personality type. He is thoroughly modern. He even changed his name like a modern movie star.

rise to power
Rise to Power


Napoleon was born on the island of Corsica off the Northwestern coast of Italy. Corsica was traditionally controlled by Italy, but came under control of the French supposedly on the date of Napoleon’s birth.

Napoleon’s father, Carlo, was a lawyer and became a rebel leader against the French occupation. He sided with the rebels until it became apparent that they were going to lose and then proceeded to change sides and become, in essence, a local viceroy for the French. Perhaps Napoleon’s ruthlessness was inherited.

By becoming a member of the French ruling caste, Carlo was able to get his son enrolled in the French version of West Point , Brienne.

According to the stories, Napoleon was arrogant and unpopular. He was probably shunned by the upper class sons at Brienne, but he became very popular whenever there were war games to be played. His brilliance as a tactical commander was apparent from the beginning.

He graduated and resigned from the army and went back to Corsica. He sided with the rebels against the French occupation until he fell out with Paoli, the leader.

He then left Corsica and re-enlisted in the French army.

the directory s hit man
The Directory’s Hit Man

1, 2, 3 & 4

The French Revolution was good for Napoleon. He was able to rise through the ranks and eventually proved his worth to the Directory by using troops to put down a rebellion.

For the Directory, he then drove the British out of Toulon and defeated the Austrians. Conquered Northern Italy by emulating Hannibal, forced the Hapsburgs to surrender. He was absolutely brilliant.

Most of his military brilliance can be summed up in three traits: swift movement on the battlefield, intense concentration on the task at hand and a complete lack of romance about the process of killing.

He wanted to disrupt the British trade routes to India, so he invaded Egypt. This proved to be one of the very few of his military failures. He was too far from his supplies and even though he delivered one of the great speeches of history in the shadow of the Pyramids.

While mired down in Egypt and the Middle East, he got word that the Directory was weakened by internal fighting. He left his army, just deserted them and went back to France to overthrow the government.

the consulate
The Consulate

5, 6, & 7

Napoleon was smart enough to understand that the French people were not in a mood to put up with a king after the chaos of the Revolution and the Terror, so he took a position in a three man governing group called the Consulate.

The other members of the Consulate were neither strong enough or smart enough to stop Napoleon and by 1802, he had staged a nationwide election, called a Plebiscite, that made him Consul for life.

By 1804, the other Consuls were gone and Napoleon held a plebiscite that declared him to be Emperor.

When crowning himself emperor, Napoleon had the Pope and all the old dignitaries present as he placed the crown on his own head. The reason is obvious, everyone was to know who was in charge.

Napoleon completely understood modern politics. He was always careful to hold elections to support whatever he wanted. He knew that the people would follow him as long as he stayed popular. To do this he relied on the thing that rulers have always relied on to keep their popularity, war.


7, 8, 9, 10 & 11

Napoleon knew that the French society, culture, political and economic systems had to be reformed and he did this by introducing meritocracy into French life. Men (always men) could rise in French life by virtue of their abilities, not their ancestry.

He reformed the economy by controlling prices and encouraging the new industries

He instituted a system of free public schools to ensure well educated military men.

He repaired relations with the Catholic Church by signing the Concordat with the Vatican. The church remained under government control, but the Catholics had religious freedom.

But he also appealed to the peasants by guaranteeing that land seized from the church during the revolution would not be taken away.

He encouraged the emigres to return and laid the foundation for his relationship with the French middle class by getting rid of the old laws that restricted professions by estate.

His army was always a meritocracy, you rose on ability, not on birthright.

Probably his most lasting reform was the Napoleonic Code, a comprehensive law code that he instituted throughout Europe after he conquered it.

The Napoleonic Code featured equality before the law, religious tolerance and advancement based on merit.

It also featured a repressive attitude toward women. Women lost the rights they won during the Revolution and the male head of the family was now essentially a dictator.

master of europe
Master of Europe

12 , 13 & 14

From 1804 to 1815 Napoleon was, without a doubt, one of the greatest military minds of history.

He redrew the map of Europe. He annexed the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of Italy and Germany.

He got rid of the Holy Roman Empire and replaced it with the Confederation of the Rhine.

He conquered Prussia and was getting ready to turn it into a pasture when the Czar of Russia convinced him not to. He conquered Poland and renamed it the Duchy of Warsaw.

He put his family members on the ancient thrones of Europe.

The French people worshipped him and Nationalism became a huge force.

This nationalism also carried the seed of his later destruction. As he conquered the old kingdoms of Europe, his soldiers brought with them the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Revolution.

All of this proved something very important. As long as you are popular, you can do anything you want. Later events also prove the other side: if you fail, everyone will desert you.

the continental system
The Continental System

15, 16 & 17

England still was unconquered and tried to block Napoleon at every turn.

Napoleon thought about invading England and started collecting ships to do this until the British Navy under Lord Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.

This led to his first mistake. The defeat at Trafalgar so enraged him that he called for a reverse blockade of England called the Continental System. He didn’t have a navy now, so he couldn’t surround England. So the best he could do was to forbid anyone in Europe from trading with England.

For a time it worked, but it ruined the European economy

The other rulers of Europe, those not related to him, were scumbags that only allied with Napoleon when it became apparent that he was going to win.

They now publically agreed to abide by the Continental System while all the while, secretly trading with England.

The worst offender was Russia under Czar Alexander.

the peninsular campaign
The Peninsular Campaign


Napoleon believed the best insurance against betrayal was blood, so he put as many members of his family as possible on the thrones of Europe. Generally, this was accepted everywhere but Spain.

When he put his brother, Joseph, on the throne of Spain and tried to get the Catholic Church under control, the Spaniards rebelled.

The Peninsular Campaign, as it came to be known, was a bloody and drawn out affair. It drained France of men and money and led eventually to much of the disaster in Russia.

The Spanish formed guerillas, groups of irregular troops to fight the French.

The French responded by using mass executions of civilians to stop the guerilla war.

Eventually the British became directly involved by putting troops under Wellington into the Spanish campaign.

the king of rome and attendant miseries
The King of Rome and Attendant Miseries


Napoleon needed an heir to his throne. Josephine was now much too old to bear children, so he divorced her and arranged a marriage to the 18 year old Princess Maria Louisa of Austria. The union was successful and soon Napoleon’s son, called The King of Rome, was born.

Not everyone was happy with the marriage. Czar Alexander of Russia had been trying to marry his sister Anna to Napoleon to cement his own alliances.

Alexander was a typically paranoid Russian ruler. He believed that Napoleon married Maria instead of Anna to create an alliance that would be used to conquer Russia. He was probably right. Just because he was paranoid doesn’t mean he wasn’t right.

He knew that war was coming, so he needed as much money as possible, so he started to openly defy Napoleon by violating the Continental System.

Alexander was also very unpopular in Russia at this point because he had spent so much time publically sucking up to Napoleon, so he needed to repair his popularity in the most efficient manner for a ruler. Oh, you know.

the nightmare in the snow
The Nightmare in the Snow


In 1812, Napoleon gathered his Grand Army for the invasion of Russia.

As they moved eastward into Russia, the Russians retreated and practiced a “scorched earth” policy. They burned any fields that could provide food for the invaders and poisoned the wells.

Napoleon entered Moscow in October and realized he couldn’t hold it, Winter was coming and he couldn’t maintain his lines of supply, so he started the great retreat from Moscow.

This was an epic and tragic event. The winter, known as “General Winter” to the Russians, was brutal. The Russian troops harassed the supply lines. The Retreat took months and destroyed Napoleon’s Grand Army. 400, 000 troops entered Russia. 10,000 came out.

This event, the destruction of his veteran army, led to Napoleon’s downfall more than any other thing.

all that rises must converge
All That Rises Must Converge


Like vultures, the other nations of Europe saw an opportunity when Napoleon was defeated in Russia.

They formed a new alliance and defeated him at the Battle of the Nations in 1813.

Napoleon knew that it was over, so he abdicated and was exiled to Elba, a pleasant little island in the Mediterranean.

The victorious nations of Europe led by Czar Alexander (Napoleon’s old ally and friend) met in the Congress of Vienna. Their primary aim to reestablish monarchy, legitimate monarchy in Europe. They represented the ancien regime. The Congress of Vienna was a unique collection of vicious reactionaries and opportunists.

While they were meeting and carving up Europe to fit their fantasies, Napoleon found Elba to be boring. He decided to change his address.

the 100 days
The 100 Days

22 & 23

The Congress of Vienna put Louis XVIII n the Bourbon throne of France, but it didn’t work too well. Louis was weak, spoiled and not too bright. The economy fell into ruin and, face it, following Napoleon is a tough second act.

Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed in the south of France. The people and what was left of the army rallied to Napoleon.

Louis XVIII, being a true aristocrat, fled like a coward.

The Congress of Vienna decided to put an end to this drama.

An enormous army under Lord Wellington of England and Blucher of Prussia defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

With this defeat, the Age of Napoleon was well and truly over. He was exiled to St. Helena, a desolate island deep in the Atlantic where he eventually died in 1821.

the congress of vienna and the victory of reaction
The Congress of Vienna and the Victory of Reaction

25,26 & 27

The Congress of Vienna was led by the Austrian Count Metternich. Metternich was a brilliant negotiator and a firm believer in divine right monarchy. He pretty much reflected the rest of the men there.

The Congress redrew the map of Europe that Napoleon had redrawn. The old ancien regime boundaries were put in place except where it suited them to change it. The Congress of Vienna intended to put the old families back in charge of Europe

The national boundaries were redrawn without a thought for one very important thing, Europe after the French Revolution and Napoleon was a very different place.

The nations created and conquered by Napoleon had been living under Enlightenment ideals and Napoleonic Codes for close to 20 years.

The Congress of Vienna decided to pretend that none of the preceding events had happened. They were going to go back to 1770. you cannot change the past nor can you put the toothpaste back in the tube.

The only way for this fantasy to be realized was to use censorship, repression and secret police.

The efforts of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 led directly to later revolutions and to continuing class war with the coming Industrial Revolution. They prepared the soil for Marxism.

The world would not see such a collection of idiots and reactionaries again until today.