Monarchies, Revolutions, and Wars In Europe Europe has been a constantly changing continent throughout its many years of history. From the Renaissance to Brexit, changes in ideology and way of life were and are very common. Major turning points in European history include (but are not limited to): the rise of constitutional and absolute monarchies, the French Revolution, and World War I. The monarchical governments of Europe reigned particularly in France and Great Britain. Absolutism began around the 15th century in Europe.
This was the style of monarchy that the French used because they were wealthy. France was the richest country in Europe during this time. In order to hold a strong absolute monarchy, it is very important to have a wealthy country. Great Britain on the other hand was not as rich as the French. In fact, they were not very wealthy at all. Because of this, they established a constitutional monarchy. Absolutism was a very appealing form of government at the time.
An absolute monarchy seeks to extend the ruler/king’s legal and administrative power. Some people may not like this kind of rule. Aristocrats give up local power, churchmen cannot question the king because of his ‘divine right,’ merchants pay high taxes, and everyday people were used to the old traditions and law but now have one single person affecting their lives.
Although there was opposition, some people had faith in absolute monarchies. James I of England says in a speech to parliament in 1610, “kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called gods.” Jean Domat also affirmed that the king is appointed by God and should be treated with respect, perceiving the king as a god-like figure. This form of monarchical government seemed to be a safe chance to restore stability and prosperity to Europe, especially after the turbulence of the past 100 years prior. Religious wars, the 30 Years’ War, and the English Civil War all made an absolute monarchy desirable due to its hope of peace and stability.
In France, under the rule of King Louis XIV, the nation became the strongest country in Europe. King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, started rule at just five years old in 1643. Five years later, revolts broke out against the monarchy in 1648-1653. These revolts are known as the Fronde. The nobility did not want absolute monarchist rule because they lose political power.
Their rebellion ended up facilitating the rise of the absolute monarchy in France. This new government turned out to be a success during the Sun King’s reign. With the secret help of his staff, including Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Marquis de Louvois, many reforms were made in France. Taxes were collected more efficiently, military reforms were made, and mercantilism boosted the economy. France became the wealthiest and most powerful nation in Europe. Unlike France, Great Britain set up a constitutional monarchy. A constitutional monarchy is where a king or queen rules but their power is restricted by a parliamentary setup.
England developed a constitutional monarchy for many reasons; different religions were present throughout England, English finances were weak, parliament was established, and Great Britain’s multiple kingdoms made it difficult for a strong absolute monarchy to prosper. James VI of Scotland, eventually James I of England in 1603, had trouble running the kingdom for these reasons. The merger of Scotland and England made a single kingdom, Britain.
Puritans resisted with the Millinarian Petition, and the Hampton Court Conference led to the King James version of the Bible. Roman Catholics resisted with the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, which was a failed assassination attempt of King James I by the Catholics. King James I believed he was above the law, which proved to be wrong. The king of England faced parliament and financial problems. English parliament was composed of the House of Lords (aristocrats, bishops and the archbishop) and the House of Commons (male commoners meeting property qualifications).
After James I died in 1625, his son Charles I took over as the king of England. He was very set on the idea of divine right. During his rule, religious unrest provoked a rebellion.
Charles I was executed as a result of the revolution in 1649. England was then declared a republic. Oliver Cromwell tried to form government with greater freedom for Protestants around 1651. After Cromwell died he was succeeded by Charles II in 1660.
There was dispute who would be the successor to Charles II because his brother, James II, was unpopular (he was Catholic). By the time Charles II died, James II was crowned. Three years later in 1688, James II fled to France as William of Orange invaded.
The English Bill of Rights was established, stating regular meetings of parliament were required and also stating the king is not above the law. This ended the possibility for an absolute monarchy to rise in England’s future. About one hundred years later, the Seven Years’ War in 1756 erupts in the Americas. The war results in a big loss for the French, resulting in a loss of power. Although they lost some power, they still sat comfortably as a very powerful nation in Europe. Years later, France will find itself in a revolution. The French Revolution had many causes and effects. It also led to the Napoleonic Era.
After King Louis XIV died in 1715 he was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV. King Louis XV took the throne at age five. He grew up to be a lazy and seemingly laid back king. There was a problem with money in France during his rule as tax collection was very inefficient. Privileges of the Church and aristocrats were present.
Power was increasing to the local parlements who held sessions to complain about issues of government and daily life to King Louis XV himself. King Louis XV made reforms like abolishing parlements and imposing the vingtième, a five percent flat tax on every citizen’s income. He imposed this tax in an effort to reduce the debt caused by the Seven Years’ War. Following the death of King Louis XV, his grandson, Louis XVI replaces him in 1774. As king, he restored the parlement. His finance minister, Anne-Robert Turgot abolished sinecures (do-nothing jobs), abolished the guild system, and wanted to reform taxes.
Voltaire is known to be a supporter of Turgot.King Louis XVI was a weak ruler, accounts saying he was lazy and complained a lot. It did not help that his wife, Marie Antoinette was a huge spender. They spent loads of money on jewels and luxurious clothing. Money problems led to tension within the monarchy. Jacques Necker was a financial minister who ended up resigning because he was failing at his job, Charles-Alexandre de Calonne replaced him shortly after. Calonne tried last minute efforts to avoid bankruptcy in France by abolishing the vingtième, taxing everyone and taxing the rich higher instead of a flat tax. A lot of fiscal reforms were shot down by the parlements which led to a calling of the Assembly of Notables in February of 1787.
This was a hope to gain popularity and gain an upper hand on the parlements. This plan did not work, which brought about the calling of the Estates-General on May 4th of 1789. The reason for the calling of this assembly was to meet and try to figure out a plan to best handle the French debt.
The Estates-General was composed of three estates: the First Estate, the clergy; the Second Estate, the nobility/aristocracy; the Third Estate, the rest of French society (commoners). In a pamphlet named What Is the Third Estate? by Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, the literature describes the Third Estate as the most important and influential estate of the Estates-General. It criticizes the aristocracy by saying they are useless and create unnecessary sinecures.
He describes the Third Estate as hardworking and efficient. This influential pamphlet helped lead to the decision of the ‘Tennis Court Oath’ on June 20th, 1789 which was a vow by the Third Estate (renaming themselves the ‘National Assembly’) to not separate until a constitution was created. A month later on July 14th, an angry mob stormed the Bastille. The Bastille was a prison that became a symbol for monarchical rule. King Louis XVI arrived in Paris on July 17th, 1789. The king had come to Paris to meet with the new revolutionary municipal government of Paris following the storming of the Bastille. In Paris at Hotel de Ville (City Hall) the king accepted the tricolored cocarde as a sign of support for the revolution, or so French citizens thought.
Not even a month after, what is known infamously as the ‘Great Fear’ struck France. This national panic attack was caused by a rumor that the king and aristocracy were going to overthrow the Third Estate. In August, the lower class stopped paying tithes as an attack on the feudal aristocracy. On the night of the 4th of August, the National Assembly successfully abolished feudalism. The aristocracy renounced their privileges, and the Catholic Church lost tithes and land. A constitutional monarchy was put in place and the ‘Declaration of Rights of Man and of Citizen’ was approved by the National Assembly on August 26th, 1789. By July of 1790 franchise was established, 3/5 of the male population (25+ year old taxpayers) could vote.
All of this time King Louis XVI continued to conspire against the revolutionists. In September of 1791 the National Assembly formed into the ‘Legislative Assembly’. Then in August of 1792, the Sans Culottes call on the king to step down. On August 10th of 1792, the Paris Commune was established as the new government, also heading the revolution. The clash at Tuileries was a bloody riot between Parisians and the king’s troops.
800 of the king’s troops were killed as well as 400 Parisians. Then the September Massacres took place. Its goal was to kill aristocrats and clergy but ended up killing lots of random prisoners. On the 20th of September the National Convention was established and governed France and two days later was declared a republic. A point at which made the revolution irreversible was January 21st, 1793, the execution of King Louis XVI.
Later the same year in September, the Reign of Terror swept France. The guillotine was introduced and used for humanitarian reasons as a quick and clean death. About 16,000 men, women, and children were killed. Everyone who was said to be an enemy of the revolution was executed. Robespierre was a leading figure in the Terror who was executed for claiming to have a list of ‘enemies of the revolution’.
People got nervous so they just decided to kill him instead of dealing with him. The Terror concluded in July of 1794. In 1795 the Constitution of the Year III was approved by the National Convention in August. Those who suffered negatively from the revolution are: nobles who fled, clergy, ordinary citizens who were targeted by the Terror, women, and the king. Uprisings in Paris in October following the Constitution of the Year III were soon crushed by a man by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte.Napoleon became the commander of Italy in 1796. He was a military mastermind, winning victories all over the place. His victories helped him to become a respectable leader.
In 1799, the Constitution of the Year VIII passed creating universal manhood suffrage. The same year Napoleon organized a coup and became First Consul of the Republic. By 1803 France was finally at peace, all while winning victories abroad. In 1804 Napoleon became the first Emperor of the French. His military victories brought about the rise of a nationalistic society; one that had proud citizens of their country.
Throughout the 19th century, the rise in nationalism was prominent throughout Europe.Nationalism and the rise of mass politics thrived throughout Europe during the end of the 19th and early 20th century. Nations wanted to grow their borders and expand their empires through imperialism. Germany and Italy had just been unified and diplomatic policies between nations are just being established. Treaties like the Triple Alliance from the Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and the Triple Entente from the Allied powers (France, Russia, Great Britain) assured nations within the alliances that they were not alone if they ever went to war. Due to new technological advances such as naval ships, airplanes, machine guns and chemicals, countries were building very powerful militaries. Militarism and Nationalism play a key role in the start of World War I.After Europe’s era of revolutions in the 19th century, the continent was experiencing dramatic domestic and social changes within each of its countries.
After the unification of Germany in 1871, it was clear the country wanted to be a powerful nation. The Dual Alliance allied Germany and Austria-Hungary, creating a pact preventing any war between the two. Otto von Bismarck created treaties (like the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia) that help avoid a two-front war for Germany. Tensions were getting high as each country’s military grew stronger. Wilhelm II comes to power and fires Bismarck in Germany. In 1908 Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, causing extreme international tension.
Ultimately, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (performed by a Serb) was an immediate cause of WWI. Ferdinand supported the Serbs so he probably was not the best target. After the assassination, Austria-Hungary gave Serbia an ultimatum in which they could not accept all the terms of. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia in 1914. Then Germany and Russia declare war on each other (due to being bound to their alliances). Germany and France declare war on each other. Then Germany declares war on Belgium, bringing in the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany.
So a lot of European nations are at war with each other. The Allies, however, had some advantages over the Central Powers. They had more people and resources than the Central Powers. The British navy was superior, and the French had a powerful army. The Central Powers also had advantages over the Allies. The German army was the most powerful military in the world at the time.
Germany also held the most industrial parts of France so more materials were at their disposal, and they had most of Belgium occupied. The thing that really brought Germany down was the domestic instability of Austria-Hungary. Due to its many nationalities and religions it was hard to bring Austria-Hungary together as one nation. Major battles in WWI were fought in various places throughout Europe. The Battle of Gallipoli was at the peninsula near Constantinople and the Allies tried to successfully sweep into Turkey which was a Central power.
This was a disaster and led to an Allied defeat. They were faced with harsh weather and mountainous terrain. The Battle of Verdun in 1916 on the other hand was a turning point for the Germans. This was an offensive launched by the Germans to destroy French morale. The French stood their ground, a victory for the Allies.
After two more years of fighting, Germans try to break the western front, almost succeeding. The United States enters the war in 1917 due to German attacks on civilian ships, and also word of the Germans trying to make an alliance with Mexico against the United States. One year after the US enters the war, the Great War ends. The abdication of Wilhelm II on November 9th, 1918 facilitated the end. The German Empire collapsed and the new German government signed the Armistice on Nov. 11th, 1918, ending WWI.The end of the war brought about changes in Europe. Over 10 million lives were lost in World War I.
The League of Nations formed and shaped what will soon be the foundations of the European Union. Germany was humiliated by losing over 25,000 square miles of territory and 7 million inhabitants. They lost all their colonies and had to pay war reparations. After the war, the Weimar Republic was founded in Germany and soon fell to the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. This is because Germany was put in a terrible economic position. The Allied Powers effectively destroyed the German nation and made them resort to a more radical approach. The good thing that came of this war is the lesson it teaches.
The knowledge of mistakes made after WWI. The choices made provided an undesirable outcome, so the world knows how not to handle the situation if it were to arise again. The world now knows how to avoid another story where a single person can make millions of lives worse.Europe all throughout history has been a dynamic continent.
From changes in ideologies to changes in government, history shows it is nothing new. From various monarchies, to revolutions, to wars, Europe has seen it all. These major changes and turning points in the history of this very diverse continent have shaped European life into how we see it today.