Brief History of the World Wiki
Age of Louis xiv
Period Early Modern Ages
Dates 1651-1702 AD
Preceded by
Thirty Years' War
Followed by
Age of Absolutism
L'Etat c'est moi (I am the state)

–Louis XIV of France

The Age of Louis XIV lasted from about 1651 AD until 1696 AD. It began the year that Louis XIV officially came of age as king of France. It then ended with the next classic examples of absolute monarchs, Peter "the Great" of Russia, and later Frederick "the Great" of Prussia.

If the measure of monarch is the scale of his ambition, then Louis XIV, known as the "Sun King", was truly a kingly colossus. He ruled France for 72 years - the longest of any monarch in European history - during one of its most brilliant periods. In that time, he consolidated a system of absolute monarchy in France, presided over a dazzling royal court at Versailles, and ushered in a golden age of art and science. Louis seemed to have a need to dominate others; his ministers, his nobles, his clergy, his subjects and his neighbours. During his long reign, France was the leading European power, and it fought four major wars: the War of Devolution, the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the Grand Alliance, and the War of the Spanish Succession. He made an number of strategically important territorial gains despite having much of Europe was ranged against him. Europe of the Enlightenment look to Louis' reign as the archetype of an enlightened absolute monarch, ushering in an Age of Absolutism when powerful rulers - Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, Marie Theresa of Austria and others - claimed to rule for their subjects' well-being. While Louis created a France that was stronger than ever before, many historians argue that Louis unknowingly laid the foundation of the subsequent decades of social upheaval, that would culminate in the French Revolution.

Meanwhile, as the capstone was being placed of the Scientific Revolution by Isaac Newton's seminal work, it was inspiring another hugely important movement; the Age of Enlightenment, a period of philosophical activity unparalleled in modern times. Thinkers like John Locke pioneered the approach of applying the rigorous methods of experimental science, to the analysing and reforming society itself. The individual philosophers differed greatly from one another, but emerged out of the common themes of the power of reason over tradition and belief in progress through questioning and dialogue. It was a pivotal period in the development of modern Western political and intellectual culture, advancing such ideas as civil rights, constitutional government, separation of church and state, separation of powers within a government, individual liberty and equality, religious tolerance, and secularism. The Enlightenment ultimately paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, from the American Revolution to the French Revolution, and beyond.


Louis XIV of France[]

Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, because he took the sun as his personal emblem; the dazzling light that irradiated all around him. Louis was by far the most powerful European monarch of his age, and consolidated absolute monarchy in France, which endured until the French Revolution.

After the death of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIV Bourbon (1643-1715) came to the throne at the age of four, and was to be king for the next seventy-two years; the longest reign of any monarch in European history. The situation was much the same as it had been a generation earlier; the king was a child, and real power was held by the queen-mother, Anne Habsburg (d. 1666). Anne had always detested Richelieu, and it was now expected that she would turn away from all those connected with him, but no: in fact she chose as her first minister, Cardinal Jules Mazarin (d. 1661), a brilliant protégé of Richelieu. The two cardinals differed in every possible respect; where Richelieu had been imperious, harsh and unbending, Mazarin was tactful, pragmatic, and persuasive. And that was a very good thing too, because Anne tended to overreact whenever she felt her authority threatened. The regency's early years were taken up with the peace conference that resulted in the Peace of Westphalia (1648). It left France as strong as she had ever been, and Mazarin was its chief architect. Clearly, he had served his country well; yet strangely enough his country did not agree. In that same year of 1648, Paris rose up in open rebellion; the people resented being governed by a Spaniard and an Italian; they resented central government encroaching on ancient liberties; and they resented the heavy taxes needed to recover from the war. Besides, rebellion was in the air: in Naples, a revolt headed by former fisherman Masaniello had overthrown their king; in England, they were about to decapitate theirs. In France, the result was the Fronde (1648-53) - the French for "sling", the weapon Parisian mobs used to smash the windows of anyone associated with Mazarin. The Fronde can most easily be understood as three phases of civil war, distinguished by the fortunes and alignments of its three leading figures: Cardinal Mazarin himself; and the two most celebrated French general of the Thirty Years War, Louis of Condé (d. 1686) and Henri of Turenne (d. 1675). In August 1648, a tax levied on Paris municipal council provoked a refusal to pay, at which Mazarin, on the queen’s insistence, arrested several members as a show of force. This prompted a mob of angry Parisians to barricaded the streets, smash windows, and eventually storm the royal palace. There, they demanded to see their young king, and were led into Louis’ bedchamber, where the terrified child - still only ten - pretended to be asleep. The sight of him seemed to settle them, and they quietly took their leave, but the incident had left everyone badly shaken. The court moved to safety to Rueil, a town outside Paris. At this point, France's signing of the Peace of Westphalia allowed the French armies to return from the frontiers, and, by January 1649, Condé had besieged Paris into submission. Condé, however, was not satisfied with his victory. An intensely ambitious man, he was now determined to control the regency, and the first step was to get rid of Mazarin. Anne sympathised with neither of these goals, and had him arrested in January 1650. From then on, the nobility took centre stage in the Fronde. Supporters of the imprisoned Condé resort to arms, led by his old companion in arms, Turenne. By February 1651, Mazarin had been unseated and exiled, Condé liberated, and Anne put under effective house arrest. For the next six months, Condé controlled the regency, but his brief spell in power was brought to an end by the calendar. In September 1651, Louis XIV came officially of age, at thirteen. With the regency over, the king hastily returned to Rueil with his court, where Mazarin joined him a few months later, while Condé retained control of Paris. But by now, it was perfectly obvious that the Fronde was going nowhere. This time Turenne sided with the court against Condé. The two men met at the Battle of the Faubourg St. Antoine (July 1652), fought in the streets near the Bastille; a resounding victory for Turenne. By the following spring all is calm. The Fronde was over. It had failed because it deserved to fail: it had had no clear aims. The young king was seen as standing for order and stability; and the way was cleared for the absolute monarchy for which he was to be famous. The dramatic and frightening events of the Fronde deeply influenced Louis, however; no wonder he developed his deep dislike of Paris, and his profound distrust of the high nobility.

One of the earlier portraits of Louis XIV was in 1648, at ten years old, by Henri Testelin.

Louis XIV was crowned in June 1654. He was soon to be sixteen, but did not wield absolute power until the death in 1661 of Mazarin, with the young king as his most attentive pupil. During this period, the long Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659) was concluded in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659). France strengthened both her borders with Spain, taking useful land from Spanish Belgium and along the Pyrenees in the south. Under the treaty, Louis also marries the Spanish princes Maria Theresa Habsburg (d. 1683), who brought a useful dowry, but renounced her rights to the Spanish crown; this would be overlooked two generations later, when an unexpected result of the marriage was a Bourbon prince on the Spanish throne. Mazarin also left to Louis a very talented protégé, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (d. 1683), much as Mazarin himself had been bequeathed by Richelieu. However, Louis astonished his court by declaring that he would assumed personal control of the reins of government, without a first ministers. He was henceforth his own man, though he was never inflexible, always ready to listen to the advice of others and, if he thought it desirable, to act on it; and if he was famously susceptible to flattery, preferably laid on with a trowel, well, there are many worse faults than that. Louis remained, nevertheless, an absolute monarch. When he remarked, L’Etat, c’est moi ("I am the state"), he spoke no more than the truth. Ultimate decisions were taken by him, and by him alone. Louis seemed to have a need to dominate others; his ministers, his nobles, his clergy, his subjects, and his neighbours. He began his personal rule with the arrest of Nicolas Fouquet, the minister Mazarin had entrusted with finance. Louis had been guest of honour at Fouquet's Vaux-le-Vicomte, built over the previous five years as his personal residence. With architect Louis Le Vau, garden designer André Le Nôtre and interior decorator Charles Le Brun, Vaux-le-Vicomte was one of the great French baroque palaces. The king did not like what he saw; or rather he liked it very much indeed. Much as Hampton Court harmed Wolsey in the eyes of Henry VIII, Vaux-le-Vicomte sealed the fate of Fouquet. He was charged with embezzlement, though his financial indiscretions had been no worse than Mazarin's before him. This cleared the way for Colbert to take over as minister of finance, who achieved excellent results; doubling royal revenue through efficient taxation and having interest on the debt by consolidating loans. But he permanently struggled to control expenditure; "I entreat Your Majesty", he wrote to the king, "to allow me to say that in war and in peace Your Majesty has never consulted his finances to determine his expenditures". One can only imagine the suffering he was caused by his master’s passion for warfare, and indeed for building.

Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles designed in 1678 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart (the royal architect after the death of Le Vau in 1670). Here, Louis received important visitors, the mirrored walls reflecting back and forth the splendour of the occasion. On the ceiling above, as if in the heavens, paintings reminded the viewer of glorious moments in the king's life.  

There was already a small hunting-château built by his father at Versailles, about 12 miles south-west of Paris. Louis had developed the habit of making quite frequent visits to see a mistress or two. He loved the place above all because of its privacy; at the Louvre he was never alone. In 1664, Fouquet's architect, Le Vau, was commissioned to rebuild, embellish and enlarge the château; to transform it into a setting for both rest and for elaborate entertainments on a grand scale. Le Brun would design the interiors, and Le Nôtre was put in charge of the spectacular gardens. Finally in 1682, he moved the entire royal court and the French government to the palace; as it had now become. Versailles had at its centre a superb piece of theatre, the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors); designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart after the death of Le Vau in 1670. Here, where Louis would sit in state to receive important visitors, the mirrored walls reflect back and forth the splendour of the occasion. On the ceiling above, as if in the heavens, paintings (by Le Brun) reminded the viewer of glorious moments in the king's life. Very soon, Versailles was the residence of most of the high nobility of France, all jostling for the king's attention and favour. Status, always in flux, was made starkly visible by elaborate court ritual. Every part of the king's day was a performance; getting up (lever), eating (the couvert), going to bed (the coucher). To be allowed to watch such an occasion was a privilege; to be allowed to sit in his presence a high honour. As the French nobles lost all connection with their hereditary lands, the royal bureaucracy strengthened it grip on the country; if nobles failed to live at court, they found themselves virtually disowned by the king. Life at Versailles was ruinously expensive, but that again was deliberate; to keep aristocratic wings severely clipped. With the flicker of an eyelash the king could raise a man to distinction: with a single word he might destroy one’s career. Another institution that struck fear into the the nobility - and the bourgeoisie too for that matter - was the Lettres de Cachet. Such a document, closed with the royal seal, could send any of the king’s subjects, without appeal, to the Bastille. Louis himself used this weapon sparingly - sometimes even mercifully, to spare a family the shame of a trail; but even the threat of it was usually enough to keep an overambitious noble in his place. While Louis himself was the star of France's grandest and longest-running piece of theatre, he was also keenly interested in performance of a more conventional sort. He was fortunate in being able to call on France's three greatest playwrights; powerful tragedies from Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine, and farces from Molière (stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin). But the type of theatre which most appealing to the king was ballet; brought to the French court from Italy by Catherine de' Medici. A favourite entertainment at Versailles involved male and female courtiers being wheeled into the banqueting hall on scenic floats from which they descended to perform a dance in sumptuous costumes. At the age of fourteen, in 1653, Louis danced as Apollo, wearing a glorious sun costume; an early contribution to the cult of himself as the Sun King, which he fostered throughout his reign. But in 1661, the king decided that his colleagues were not up to scratch. He brought together the best Parisian dancing masters to form the Académie Royale de Danse, which was so successful that he followed it, in 1669, with a similar Académie Royale de Musique. These two institutions were later merged to form the Paris Opéra, which still exists today. From 1672, professional dancers were being trained, and it was recognizably a ballet company; the first in the Europe.

Louis XIV depicted being "amused" by ideas from the Académie des Sciences. With all the scientific thought implied in the painting, it might seem strange that the king is still in the centre. The intended effect is that Louis himself is vital to French science.

In the early part of his reign, Louis XIV worked hard and cautiously to reform France according to his own vision. He read all the dispatches from district officials, spies, and ambassadors, while supervising every aspect of the military, personally appointing officers down to the rank of colonel. Sound public finance had always been the weak spot in the French monarchy. The main weakness arose from an old bargain between the French crown and nobility: the king might raise taxes without consent if only he refrained from taxing the nobles. Louis was willing enough to tax the nobles, but recognised that it was politically impossible. Instead, he and his minister of finance, Colbert, supported wide-ranging measures to bolster commerce and trade, based on the economic theory later dubbed mercantilism. The mercantile theory states that countries grow rich by decreasing foreign imports, whine increasing French export, hence accumulating a health balance of trade, especially of finished goods. King and minister expanded guilds in many industries and subsidized manufacturers, such as the Lyon silk manufacturies and the Gobelin family workshop, a producer of furniture, soft furnishings, tapestries. They invited craftsmen and artisans from all over Europe to France, such as Venetian glassmakers, Swedish ironworkers, and Dutch shipwrights. The intention was that luxury goods required by the king, high nobility, and wealthy non-nobles, should be made to very high standards within the kingdom; and that the surplus would be sold abroad. For this same purpose, Colbert's regime improved roads and canals, with major undertakings such as the Canal du Midi, which joined the Mediterranean to the Atlantic by means of 150 miles of man-made waterway between the Aude and Garonne rivers. He also erected tariff barriers against imports, though those tended to provoke the same in retaliation. Colbert built up the merchant fleet so that precious French cargo was not carried on foreign vessels, and established colonial enterprises to ensure the supply of raw materials. He sent peasants as settlers to New France (Canada), and supported explorations of the American interior, including that of Robert la Salle, who claimed the delta of the Mississippi River for France in 1684, which was name, not surprisingly, “Louisiana”. In 1664, the French East India Company was founded to compete for trade in the east, which established the first French factory in Surat in India four years later. To encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research and invention, Louis founded at Colbert's suggestion various institutions, including the Academy of Sciences (1666) and Paris Observatory (1672).

Protestant engraving depicting Louis XIV's policy of intimidating Huguenot (French Calvinist) families into converting to Catholicism. Here, the soldiers employed in this role is satirized as "missionary dragoons".

Louis’ determination to have his own way in all things, made him incapable of tolerating the Huguenots (French Calvinist). His religious policies, to be fair, were the prevailing view throughout 17th and 18th century Europe, where the principle of cuius regio, eius religio gave princes the right to impose their own religion on their subjects. Even in the Dutch Netherlands, arguably the most religious tolerant country once survival was assured, the Catholic minority went to great lengths not to draw attention to themselves; there are several excellent surviving example of "clandestine" churches, designed to look like ordinary townhouses. Louis began discriminating against Protestantism from the outset of his personal rule. At first, he sent missionaries, backed by a fund to financially reward converts to Catholicism. Then in the 1660s, commissioners were sent into Huguenot territories to report on any infringement of the Edict of Nantes (1598), defining their liberties; pretexts were found to close their schools and hospitals, and to restrict their synods. Then he imposed penalties, excluding them from certain professions, and forbidding their emigration to New France; a policy that contrasted with that of England, where religious malcontents such as Puritans and Quakers were encouraged to leave the country. When this failed to effect their conversion, less subtle measures were adopted in the 1680s. In the policy known as dragonnades, troops of dragoons were billeted in Huguenot villages and given implied permission to cause as much mayhem as they liked for their heretical hosts. The violence finally caused a steady steam of Huguenot conversions to Catholicism, enabling Louis to argue that there were now so few Huguenots in France that the Edict of Nantes was no longer needed; events would prove him dramatically wrong in his assessment. With the new Edict of Fontainebleau (1685), he formally revoked the edict, and declared Protestantism illegal. Protestant ministers were given two weeks to convert to Catholicism, or leave the country. All Protestant churches were to be demolished. The result was a mass exodus of at least 210,000 French men and women, fueling hatred of Louis in England, Switzerland, Prussia, and the Dutch Netherlands, where most of them settled. Inside France, however, Louis won wide praise for this action, especially among the nobility. In some areas of France, the emigration caused a kind of early "brain drain", losing many of their most skilled craftsmen (and their taxes), but overall this did not have a dramatic effect on economic development.


The French economy could survive the loss of Huguenot skills, but it could not absorb the ever-expanding costs of Louis XIV’s wars. In 1667, he launched the first of his four wars; the War of Devolution (1667–68) against Spain. After the death of Philip IV of Spain (d. 1665), Louis deemed Spanish Belgium his wife's rightful inheritance. Although Maria Theresa had renounced all claims to Spanish territories upon their marriage, the full Spanish dowry had never been paid, which Louis used as a pretext for nullifying the agreement, allowing the land to "devolve" to him. With Spain preoccupied by the Portuguese War of Independence (1640-68), the French rapidly overran western Belgium, befitting greatly from the military genius of Sébastien de Vauban (d. 1707). His special interest was in fortification. During more than half-a-century in Louis' service, he built or redesigned some 160 fortresses, especially at ports. But his most significant contribution was tactics for approaching and breaching an enemy's stronghold: a parallel trench was dug as a base for the infantry at 600 yards, the range of cannons at this time; from here, musketeers covered sappers digging trenches towards the fort; a second parallel trench was dug at 400 yards for the siege artillery, now under a protective roof; the process was repeated for a third parallel trench at 200 yards for the infantry; and finally, the artillery was near enough to bombard the walls, and the infantry for a direct assault on the breach. Defensive fortresses, subjected to Vauban's tactics, fell to the French army one by one. Shocked by this rapid success, the Dutch Netherlands put aside their recent differences with England, and, when joined by Sweden, formed the anti-French Triple Alliance of 1668. The threat of an escalation led Louis to reluctantly negotiate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), which nevertheless left France with considerable gains in western Belgium. Dissatisfied with this outcome, Louis decided to defeat the Dutch, then seize the rest of Spanish Belgium. During the Dutch War of Independence, France had supported the Dutch Netherlands as part of a general policy of opposing Habsburg power; now French and Dutch aims were in direct conflict. Louis spent the next few years preparing for the Franco-Dutch War (1672-78). This meant breaking the Triple Alliance; he paid the Swedes to remain neutral, and formed an Anglo-French alliance against the Dutch. The war began in May 1672 when a magnificently equipped French army nearly overran the Dutch Republic; Utrecht was occupied without a fight, and Maastricht fell to siege after just 17 days, while Amsterdam was only saved by the classic Dutch manoeuvre of breaching the dykes and flooding the plain. In Dutch history, the year 1672 is known as the Rampjaar ("Disaster Year"). In the ensuring panic, there was popular clamour for the return of the House of Orange, saviours of the republic in the past. William of Orange (d. 1702), as twenty-one, was swept to power as stadtholder of all the provinces; the future William III of England. The prospect of Dutch defeat led Habsburg Spain and Austria, Brandenburg-Prussia, Denmark, and German Lorraine to form a new anti-French alliance. And France's main ally, England, withdrew from the war in the Treaty of Westminster (1674), when public opinion turned against a prolonged war alongside the French. However, the French army still held significant advantages over their opponents; an undivided command, talented generals like Turenne, Condé, and Vauban, as well as vastly superior logistics. The French were forced to retreat from the Dutch Republic, but these advantages allowed them to hold their ground in Spanish Belgium and the Rhinelands, but neither side was able to achieve a decisive victory. By 1678, mutual exhaustion led to the Treaty of Nijmegen, which was modestly settled in France's favour; all the Dutch territories was restored, but Spain ceded some more territory in Belgium, establishing borders that remain largely unchanged today.

The French defeat at the Battle of Barfleur-La Hougue (1692) which prompted the French to abandon the idea of seeking naval superiority during the War of the Grand Alliance.

During the 1680s, Louis XIV's expansionism continued in piecemeal fashion, though a combination of military force and quasi-legal claims to stabilize and strengthen France's frontiers; Strasbourg, Luxembourg, and Casale were annexed, strategic crossing on important waterways. There were also punitive expeditions against Algiers and Tripoli, two Barbary pirate strongholds, as well as Genoa, in retaliation for supporting Spain in previous wars. This may have raised Louis' prestige in France, but it alienated most of Europe. The War of the Grand Alliance (1688-97), initiated a decline in Louis' political and diplomatic fortunes. It was sparked when Louis sent two French armies across the Rhine; one went to Cologne to support his favoured candidate for the vacant archbishopric; and the other marches on the Palatinate, where the death of its prince gave Louis' brother a claim through his wife. This provoked the first coherent European response to contain the overweening ambition of the French king. The Grand Alliance eventually included; England, Scotland, the Dutch Netherlands (now under William of Orange after the Glorious Revolution); Habsburg Spain and Austria; German Bavaria and Brandenburg-Prussia; Sweden; Portugal; and the Duchy of Savoy (north-western Italy). The main fighting took place around France's borders in Spanish Belgium, the Rhinelands, Savoy, and the Pyrenees. Louis' armies were generally victorious throughout the war, because his enemies were preoccupied elsewhere; the Habsburgs were fighting the Ottomans in the Great Turkish War (1683-99), while William of Orange was was fighting James II in the Williamite War in Ireland (1688–1691). The development of colonial empires meant that the war spread beyond Europe itself; French English, and Dutch settlers in the Americas massacred one another. Although the war officially last nine years, both sides were financially exhausted and evidently wanted peace by 1694. Secret bilateral talks repeatedly broke down, until Louis' efforts to break-up the alliance finally bore fruit when Savoy switched sides in 1696. Peace came at last in Treaty of Ryswick (1697), in which Louis had to make considerable concessions for the first time; he retained Alsace-Lorraine including Strasbourg, but returned lands (occupied by the French) east of the Rhine and south of the Pyrenees. French military superiority might have allowed him to press for more advantageous terms, but peace was desirable for Louis in 1697. He was always conserving his strength for the struggle over a much more important European prize; the Spanish War of Succession. The last years of his reign were taken up with trying to secure the Spanish throne for his grandson Philip of Anjou (d.1746) when Charles II Habsburg (d. 1700) king died childless; Louis’ mother was the daughter of one Spanish king of Spain, and Louis’ wife was the daughter of another, in other words Philip's great-grandmother and grandmother.

Louis XIV (seated) with his eldest son Le Grand Dauphin (to the left), his eldest grandson Le Petit Dauphin (to the right), and his great-grandson Louis of Anjou. His son died in 1711, while his grandson died the following year. Louis was thus succeeded in 1715 by his 5-year-old great-grandson as Louis XV.

Louis XIV lived to see Philip became the first Bourbon king of Spain, but only after extended war and a peace treaty that gave substantial concessions to the Austrian Habsburgs. He was almost certainly diabetic in the last years of his reign, and died of gangrene at Versailles on 1 September 1715, four days before his seventy-seventh birthday. His financially exhausted kingdom greeted his death with relief; a popular prayer went into circulation, "Our Father who art in Versailles, thy name is no longer hallowed; thy kingdom is diminished; thy will is no longer done on earth or on the waves. Give us our bread, which is lacking …" The king's incurable extravagance had twice (in 1690 and then again in 1709) reduced his treasury to the point where he himself had to watch while his gold and silver, and even his throne were melted down into bullion. But France in the age of Louis XIV was also, from the cultural point of view, among the most brilliant that Europe has ever known: the age of the greatest French playwrights, Corneille, Racine and Molière; of philosophers like Blaise Pascal; of moralists like La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère; of diarists like Saint-Simon and Madame de Sévigné; of painters like Poussin and Claude, of architects like Mansart; of gardeners like Le Nôtre. He set his stamp on France and Europe in a way that no monarch had ever done before. All over Europe, as far away as Russia, ruinously expensive imitations of Versailles shot up, within whose gilded chambers the ruling houses, each with its own fawning band of courtiers, took to speaking French. The 18th-century Age of Absolutism saw a slew of autocratic rulers who looked to Louis' reign as the archetype to emulate; Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Marie Theresa of Austria, among many others. Louis' detractors have argued that his failure to reform French institutions, while the monarchy was still secure, set in motion the social upheaval culminating in the French Revolution. Other scholars counter that events occurring almost 80 years after his death were not reasonably foreseeable to Louis. It is given to few monarchs to be succeeded by their great-grandson; but such was the fate of King Louis XIV. His son Louis, le Grand Dauphin, had died suddenly in 1711. His eldest son, Louis of Burgundy, died the following year of smallpox, as did their eldest son. The younger son survived the smallpox and consequently, aged five, became King Louis XV Bourbon.

The Glorious Revolution in England[]

Charles II, one of the most popular English kings, known as the Merry Monarch, in reference to his liveliness, his debauched love-life, and the general relief at the return to normality after the Civil War and Commonwealth.

With the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II Stuart (1660-85) proved a refreshing change from the straight-laced Oliver Cromwell. His manner was light and easy, his court was decadent and cheerful, and his personal life debauched; he had at least a dozen illegitimate children by seven different mistresses, most famously Nell Gwyn, a former orange seller and actress. Theatres reopened as Puritanism lost momentum, and bawdy comedies became a popular genre. In a way, the sense of a new beginning was strengthened by the destruction of the capital. Ever since the Black Death there had been regular recurrences of the plague in European cities. In 1665, a severe outbreak struck London, and killed about 20% of the city's population. Then the next year, after a hot and dry summer what later became known as the Great Fire of London started in a bakehouse on Pudding Lane. Fed by wood and fuel stockpiled for the coming winter, and spread by strong winds, the fire consumed some 13,200 houses and 87 churches over the course of four days. Charles famously took personal charge of firefighting in the streets, winning plaudits for his decisive action. Christopher Wren was appointed principal architect for rebuilding the capital. In an extraordinary effort by a single architect, Wren designed 36 guildhalls and 52 churches, including what is regarded as his masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral with its distinctive dome, and the tall Monument commemorating the fire itself. Private citizens could rebuild their own houses and shops according to the old street-plan, and narrow streets of medieval London regrew from the ashes with more brick and less wood. Meanwhile the public blamed Catholic conspirators for the fire, and one Frenchman, Robert Hubert, was hanged for his part in the non-existent plot; he hadn't even been in London at the time. There was a pathological fear of Papists; awkward, since Charles and his brother James were drawn to Catholicism from their time in exile in the French and Spanish courts. In Charles' case it remained a closely guarded secret; he was only baptized Catholic on his deathbed. But his younger brother James, duke of York, acting more from religious conviction, was less inclined to caution, though the king forced him to preserve an Anglican front. Charles II was far better at handling parliament than his father had been, but when he attempted to introduce religious tolerance for Catholics and non-conformist Protestants with the Declaration of Indulgence (1672), the English parliament forced him to withdraw it. Instead he had to accept the even more restrictive Test Act, which forced holders of public offices to swear an oath denouncing certain teachings of the Catholic Church; service in the military, and even university education were also restricted to Anglicans. James resigned from his public offices rather than take the oath, and his private faith became public knowledge; a grave concern since the king had no legitimate children, and his brother was the presumptive heir. It became an explosive issue in 1678, when an Anglican priest called Titus Oates fabricated the "Papish Plot", a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill the king and put his brother on the throne. In the resulting hysteria 35 Catholics were accused of treason and executed before Oates was exposed as a perjurer. Even though based on fantasy, the crisis of 1678 set the political agenda for the remainder of Charles' reign, giving rise to the policy of  "Exclusion"; the argument that James, though undeniably the legitimate heir to the throne, should be excluded from the succession on the grounds of his religion. The debate gave rise to the two great political parties, the Whigs and Tories (pro-Exclusion and anti-Exclusion respectively), that would dominate English politics until the mid-19th-century. But Charles, passionately committed to securing his brother's rights, contrived to calm the situation; he repeatedly dissolved parliament until public opinion decisively shifted in his favour.

Portrait James II by Peter Lely

Despite the religious tensions of recent decades, Charles' brother succeeded to the throne peacefully as James II Stuart (1685-88); the first Catholic monarch of England since Mary I Tudor, 127 years before. However a safeguard remained. James' two daughters had been raised Protestant at the insistence of Charles II. James' conciliatory words reassured the parliament of 1685, which was decidedly royalist, and granted him emergency revenues for the first real crisis of his reign. The restoration of the monarchy had obviously not been welcomed by everyone; in the south-west Puritan feeling remained strong and suspicious, especially with a Catholic king. Soon after becoming king, James faced a rebellion in the region in support of Charles' Protestant illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. The Monmouth’s Rebellion (1685) was a fiasco, with the local nobility refusing to sanction civil war. Monmouth was defeated and captured at the Battle of Sedgemoor (July 1685), and later executed later beheaded at the Tower of London. Determined to make an example of the rebels, 230 of his supporters were condemned to death and around 850 sentence to 10-years hard-labour in the West Indies. During the rebellion, James had used royal prerogative to dispensed with the Test Act, and appoint Catholics to positions of leadership. Afterwards, he made it clear that he intended to maintain this standing army to protect himself from further rebellions, and advocated repealing the laws against Catholics occupying the public offices of the kingdom. Unfortunately for James, as he was trying to browbeat parliament into repealing the Test Act, in France Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had protected the rights of French Protestants for nearly a century. The repression of Huguenots inflamed English public opinion. The king’s effort on behalf of Catholics was doomed; his supporters in parliament were royalist rather than pro-Catholic. National tension becomes acute during the summer of 1688. In April, James ordered a new Declaration of Indulgence be read from the pulpits of every Anglican church, freeing Catholics and non-conformist Protestants from the legal restrictions of the Test Act. When the Archbishop of Canterbury and six other bishops objected, the king tried to face down the dissent by charging them with seditious libel. It proved a public relations disaster. The seven bishops refused bail, forcing James to arrest and imprison them in the Tower of London.

Invasion england 1688-0.jpg

The fate of James was sealed in June, when his wife gave birth to a son, who would doubtless be raised Catholic. When James' only possible heirs were his two Protestant daughters, Anglicans could see his pro-Catholic policies as a temporary phenomenon, but now the nightmare was at hand of Protestant England under a Catholic dynasty. Wild rumours spread that the queen had given birth to a stillborn child, and the baby-boy was a changeling smuggled into her confinement in a bed-pan. When a court defied the king by acquitting the seven bishops two weeks later, parliament was persuaded that the time had come to take action. was married to Protestant William of Orange, head of state of the Dutch Republic; a hero to the Protestant cause on continental Europe. Seven leading members of parliament write a letter to William of Orange, husband of James' eldest daughter Mary and Protestant ruler of the Dutch Republic, inviting him to claim the English throne; Glorious Revolution (1688-89). William was naturally eager to take-up the offer; he had barely survived the Franco-Dutch War (1672-78) against Louis XIV, and was forming the Grand Alliance to call a halt to renewed French aggression, in which he needed England as an ally rather than a rival. Crossing the Channel in October 1688 was precarious, but favourable eastern winds, later dubbed the “Protestant wind”, kept the English fleet at anchor while Dutch ships landed unopposed at Torbay; the south-west having its own score to settle with the king. James' support began to dissolve almost immediately, with parliament, influential nobles, and Protestant army officers defecting to the invader. James II panicked, and attempted to flee the country; he was caught at Kent, but allowed to excape by William, having no desire to see James martyred. In February 1689, parliament agreed to treat James’s flight as an abdication and to offer the crown jointly to William III and Mary II (1689-1702), conditional on accepting the Bill of Rights (1689), establishing restrictions on royal prerogative. For example, the monarch could not raise a standing army unless parliament agreed, levy taxes without parliament's approval, suspend laws passed by parliament, unduly interfere with parliamentary elections, imprison anyone without due legal process, declare war nor leave the kingdom without the consent of parliament. All the questions posed by the English Civil War had finally been answered, in a glorious and bloodless revolution. It would not be bloodless in Ireland; the Williamite War in Ireland.

Williamite War in Ireland[]

The victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne has cast a grotesquely long shadow over Northern Ireland. The annual celebration there of the Protestant victory every 12 July has never lost its 17th-century passion, and has often been marked by confrontations. Attempts have recently been made to downplay the triumphalist aspects of the marches and present the Twelfth as a cultural, family-friendly event.

Ireland became the main battleground of the Glorious Revolution (1688), the one part of his kingdom where Catholic James II could expect enthusiastic support. When James fled from England, the earl of Tyrconnell, Lord Deputy of Ireland, remained loyal to him rather than to William III. With the active support of Louis XIV, James sailed from France in March 1689 with a small army of about 1,200 French troops; the Williamite War in Ireland (1689-91) can be viewed as part of a wider European conflict known as the War of the Grand Alliance. They landed in Kinsale near Cork, and marched to Dublin, where James was proclaimed king by an enthusiastic gathering of Irish Catholics, eagerly expecting now to recover the lands appropriated over the past century by the Protestant Plantations. Like the Irish Confederate Wars three decades before, the war divided Ireland on sectarian lines, with Irish Catholics (both Gaelic Irish and Old English) on one side, and Protestant settlers on the other. In April, James moved north to take control of Ulster, where the Protestant settlement was strongest and culminating in the Siege of Londonderry, one of the last strongholds of Protestant resistance. But the defenders closed the city gates, and they remained shut until the garrison was relieved after 105 days of slogan; their slogan of "No Surrender" would echo through the centuries. This escalating crisis brought William III himself to Ireland with a large army. There followed a year of wary and inconclusive skirmishing, until the rivals finally confronted each other at the Battle of the Boyne (June 1690). This was a battle about European, English, and Irish power struggles, and both armies were diverse; French, Dutch, Germans, Danes, English, and Irish prepared to fight. William III had the larger army - about 35,000 men to 21,000 - and adopted bolder tactics, but his victory in itself was inconclusive. His advance in the centre was relatively successful, but his cavalry charge on the flank fail, allowing the Jacobite forces to withdraw in good order. What proves politically decisive was the immediate flight of James to Dublin and soon back to France; he has gone down in Irish history as Séamus an Chaca ("James the beshitten coward"). The Irish fought on for another full year, hoping still to win two concessions. Indeed, the terms of the Treaty of Limerick (1691) that ended the war seemed vaguely promising. Like all vague promises, they were later disregarded by the victors. One specific option did have an immediate effect. There was a clause offering transport to France for any Irish rebels. Several thousand seized this opportunity, becoming collectively known as "Wild Geese". They and their descendants would provide the Irish Brigade within the French army until 1791, during the French Revolution.

Various Penal Laws imposed in an attempt to force Irish Catholics and non-conformist Protestants to accept the Church of England, or restrict their ability to revolt. They began to be repealed from 1778, with the last of them of any significance being removed in 1829.

For William III, the Boyne and the battles that followed were important, but only in terms of securing his throne and as part of a wider European power struggle. In Ireland however, his victory marked the beginning of the Protestant Ascendancy (1691-1832). By the end of the Catholic elite in Ireland had either been wiped out, driven into exile, abandoned any resistance, or converted to Protestantism. Confiscation of property from rebels reduced Catholic land-holdings from the already low figure of 22% of Ireland to a mere 14%. Moreover, a series of draconian Penal Laws severely restricted the religious, political and economic activities of Catholics. Already banned from sitting in the Irish parliament, holding public office or serving in the army, Catholics were now banned from voting, from running schools, from buying land, from intermarriage with Protestants, from holding firearms, from attending university, or even from owning a horse worth more than £5. Perhaps the most heinously ingenious measure was the restriction on Catholic inheritance. An existing Catholic estate had to be equally subdivided between all an owner's sons, with the result that within a generation or two, Catholics had been reduced to subsistence smallholders or sold up; by 1776, Catholics owned just 5% of all land in Ireland. Protestants (Anglican English or Presbyterian Scots) controlled the bulk of the farmland, all major sectors of the Irish economy, the Irish parliament, local government, and the legal system. Ireland remained relatively calm until the end of the 18th century, when Irish antagonism toward England was re-awoken by the Europe-wide upheavals stirred by American Civil War and French Revolution.

Ottoman Stagnation and Reform[]


The largest European state in the 17th-century was the Ottoman Empire, with Istanbul by far the largest city; historians estimate that the two largest cities in the world were Beijing and Istanbul, both with populations of about 700,000. Ottoman holdings stretched from the Balkans around the eastern Mediterranean to North Africa, down the Tigris and Euphrates to the Persian Gulf, and then down the Arabian Peninsula to Mecca and Medina; all around the Black Sea was either controlled directly by the Ottomans or by states that paid tribute to the sultan. In theory, Ottoman sultans were absolute monarchs, appointing provincial and local officials, making political and financial decisions, and directing the army and navy. In practice, after Süleyman the Magnificent (d. 1566), the situation was rather more complicated. There was no clear line of succession in Ottoman-Islamic law, so that various sons and even nephews of the ruling sultan might all claim the throne. In early Ottoman practice, it had been unofficial state policy that the crown went to the strongest among these princes, through intrigue and often civil war, with each claimant backed by powerful generals, officials, and mothers; the ruling sultan's mother (Valide Sultan) was a powerful figure at court. Each new sultan, on achieving power, then killed his surviving brothers and cousins as a way of ensuring an untroubled reign. Sultan Mehmed III (d. 1603), winning power in 1595, murdered his unusually large family of nineteen brothers and half-brothers. Mehmed's reign is noteworthy for marking the first breach in the Ottoman tradition of royal fratricide. His son, Ahmed I (d. 1617), succeeded to the throne without trouble, thanks largely to an unusually powerful Valide Sultan. Ahmed put in place a more merciful system, decreeing that henceforth all princes were to be more or less imprisoned in the palace harem, out of harm's way, until such time as the ruling sultan died. The result was less royal blood being shed, but the standard of leadership declined. Sultans, previously given administrative or military positions from their teens, learning the harsh ways of the world, now emerged in a state of sheltered ignorance to take up the challenges of rule. There followed a period known as Sultanate of Women, where sultans were usually minors, and mothers acted as regents on their behalf, making political, financial, and military decisions. Over time, more and more of the actual decision-makers was handled by grand viziers. From 1656, the empire experienced a long period of stability spearheaded by the reform-minded Köprülü family of grand viziers.

The Battle of Vienna was won by a Polish-German relief force led by John III Sobieski, and marked the historic end of Ottoman imperial expansion into Europe. Afterwards Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar's famous quotation by saying, Venimus, vidimus, Deus vicit ("We came, we saw, God conquered"). The battle is notable for involving the largest known cavalry charge in history of 18,000.

In the 16th-centuries, the Ottomans developed the most effective army in Europe in terms of manpower, weaponry and supply systems, along with a huge fleet of rowed galleys that controlled the Mediterranean, and a smaller fleet that challenged the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. In the late-16th and 17th centuries, Christian powers rose to the Ottoman challenge, embracing gunpowder warfare and developing sailing ships that were faster and sturdier than galleys. At sea, much of the Ottoman fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Lepanto (1571), and, though it was rebuilt within a year, they no longer dominated the Mediterranean, but shared it with the Venetians and Spanish, and later the Dutch and English. On land, Ottoman armies were split between fighting the Safavid Persia (1501-1736) to the east and maintaining their hold in Europe. By 1666, the heyday of Safavids had passed, allowing the Ottomans to turn their attention fully to Europe. Under the leadership of grand vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha, they mounted a huge campaign against Habsburg Austria in 1683; it proves to be a turning point, but to Habsburg rather than the Ottoman advantage. There was panic in Vienna as the Turks approach, with a force estimated to be 150,000 strong. in early-July, Emperor Leopold I (d. 1705) and his court abandon the Austrian capital, taking refuge higher up the Danube. A few days later the invading army arrives to besiege the city. The Austrian garrison, though heavily outnumbered, was well protected and outgunned their besiegers. Two months passed before a German-Polish relief force arrived, 70,000-strong, and headed by John III Sobieski of Poland (d. 1696) with his vaunted shock cavalry, the "winged hussars". In the ensuing battle outside the city walls, the Turkish force were routed, and sent into full withdrawal; it is notable for involving the largest known cavalry charge in history of 18,000. This was more than a symbolic victory. Further campaigns by Prince Eugene of Savoy (d. 1736) captured Budapest in 1686, and then shattered the Ottoman army at the Battle of Zenta (September 1697), winning at a stroke the whole of Hungary and Transylvania (part of modern Romania), which had been under Turkish control since 1547. The Peace of Karlowitz (1699) marked the historic first retraction of Ottoman imperial rule in Europe, but that was merely a prelude for a century-long episode to come. Conflicts with an expansionist Russia led to a series of military defeats and loss of further territories. Despite these setbacks, high officials, Janissaries, and other privileged groups successfully blocked at attempts at political, military, or economic reforms; tax revenue declined, technological innovations developed elsewhere were not adopted, and the huge bureaucracy became increasingly corrupt. There were a few reforms, such as the establishment of the first printing press in the Muslim world, Istanbul Technical University dedicated to engineering sciences, and a Western-style artillery school. But more sweeping changes would not be introduced until the 19th-century, after Napoleon’s swashbuckling arrival in 1799 exposed just how far Ottoman military might had waned.

Late Scientific Revolution[]

Sir Isaac Newton is remembered today as a crucial figure in scientific advancement. He also spent decades trying to manufacture a substance that would transform base metals into gold or silver. This reminds us that not every hypothesis being followed by even the greatest scientists, then and now, resulted in great leaps forward; and that science is also about finding what doesn't work.

In the year that Galileo died, Isaac Newton (d. 1726) was born. It was his achievement to provide the capstone of the Scientific Revolution. An aloof and intense young man, Newton was a student of mathematics at Cambridge, where he studied a standard curriculum, but became fascinated by the new concepts in mechanics and astrology. and a new mathematics, then called the "method of fluxions" or, in modern terminology, calculus; he did not invent this, but applied it to physical phenomena. Calculus provided a way of calculating the positions of bodies in motion. Newton’s fame rested on his most important work, the Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"), usually just called the Principia, published in 1687. It provided a mathematical descriptions of bodies in motion, with three universal laws of motion (which Galileo had hinted at, without clearly expressing): a stationary body will stay stationary unless an external force is applied to it; force is equal to mass times acceleration; and for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton then used these law of motion to arrive at his theory of gravity. Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that, "Any two objects attract one another with a force of gravitational attraction that is proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them". That great unifying principle of classical physics, discovered by observation and calculation, could explain not only elliptical planetary orbits, but nearly every other motion in the universe: how the planets are kept in orbit by the pull of the sun’s gravity; how the moon revolves around Earth; and how comets revolve in elliptical orbits around the sun. It also allowed him to calculate the mass of each planet, calculate the flattening of the Earth at the poles, and how the gravitational pull of the sun and moon create the tides. Though few people could actually understand it, the Principia was immediately recognized as a work of genius, and immediately raised Newton to international prominence; he was rewarded with a royal office, a knighthood, and election as president of the Royal Society, a position he held until his death. This work, in due course, proved perhaps the single most important and influential scientific work since that of Euclid. Manifestly, he completed the long chain of theories and discoveries that had evolved throughout the Scientific Revolution; Newton himself acknowledged this, saying, "if I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants". Newton was a man of almost universal scientific interests, and touched little that he did not distinctly advance. Most of his early work was in optics, where he invented a new and more powerful form of telescope using mirrors; the reflecting telescope. It was the principle behind all the most powerful instruments until the introduction of radio astronomy. On his death in 1726, Newton was given a magnificent state funeral, and was buried alongside kings and other notables in Westminster Abbey.

William Harvey, an English physician who made seminal contributions in anatomy and physiology. Herman Boerhaave, the great Dutch founder of the modern academic hospital, stated that nothing written before Harvey was any longer worthy of consideration.

The Scientific Method, in which experimentation and mathematical proof were used to confirm or refute hypotheses, also spread to other fields of inquiry. The ancient understanding of medicine, anatomy, and physiology began to unravel as first Andreas Vesalius (d. 1564), and then many others, corrected dozens of Galen's misconceptions. Based on dissections and logical proof, William Harvey (d. 1657) demonstrated that the veins and arteries are one system, with the same blood being pumped throughout the body by the heart. The work of medical writers was made easier by improvements in the microscope undertaken by Dutch lens-makers, especially Anton von Leeuwenhoeck (d. 1723). Much work was done in the pursuit of a more complete understanding of the character and conduct of matter. Robert Boyle (d. 1691) was skilled at devising experiments to test theories, proving that air is necessary for combustion and that pressure and volume are inversely proportional for a fixed mass of gas; still known as Boyle's Law. Boyle also worked extensively with more purely chemical experiments, debunking the Aristotelian view of the classic four elements, and introducing the concept of elements, atoms, and molecules in its modern sense. Various tools developed in the period as an an aid to scientific investigation also had practical applications: the mercury barometer, the pendulum clock, the mechanical calculator, the vacuum pump, the pressure cooker, and earliest steam engine, among others. With the Scientific Revolution, paradigms established in the time of classical antiquity were replaced with a more logical description of nature, which is still considered the foundation of the major fields of modern science, including physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy. Scientific discovery would accelerate in the Late Modern Period, and continues today. Developments in science also shaped other realms of life. Born out of the Scientific Revolution was the Age of Enlightenment, which applied the Scientific Method developed during the 17th-century to human behaviour and society during the 18th century.

African Slave Trade[]

Captives being brought on board a slave ship on the West Coast of Africa, c1880.

Slavery has occurred in many forms throughout the world since the very first civilisation; slavery was referred to in the earliest Sumerian law codes as an established institution. In Western Europe, slavery had mostly died out by the year 1000, replaced by serfdom, which itself began to decline following the Black Death of 1347. But a new and disastrous chapter in the story of slavery began with the arrival of the Age of Discovery in the 15th-century. From late-15th to late-19th century, somewhere between 10 and 12 million Africans were forcibly transported from Africa to the Americas to work as slaves labour. From at least 1444, Portuguese ships were transporting Africans into Europe, when one of Henry the Navigator's expeditions returns with slaves exchanged for Moorish prisoners. By the 1480s, the Portuguese were in direct contact with north-western Africa, which had long been the source of slaves for the Muslim north. They imported slaves for use on the sugar plantations of the Cape Verde and Madeira Islands, and this African trade expanded greatly with the development of labour-intensive plantations growing sugar, cotton and tobacco in the Caribbean and Americas; the first African slaves arrived in Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1501. Portuguese merchants dominated the transatlantic slave trade until the mid-17th-century, but other nations with transatlantic interests soon become the main visitors to the African coast. By the 18th-century, the majority of the ships carrying out this trade were British, but it was a monstrous tragedy in which the whole of Europe participated. 


The owners of slave ships wasted no part of their journey, evolving the procedure known as the Triangular Trade. Ships departed Europe with items in demand in west Africa; firearms, alcohol, cotton goods, and metal tools. The goods were eagerly exchanged for slaves in ports around the Gulf of Guinea. Europeans did not generally capture the slaves themselves. Tropical diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) killed Europeans quickly, so that traders usually stayed only a short while, as close to the coast as possible. Instead, Africans were captured by other Africans, and then marched from the interior of Africa to the coast, where they waited in locked pens to be loaded onto European ships. Some African rulers tried to limit the trade in their kingdoms, but other areas profited from it. Europeans also encouraged tribal warfare to provide captives. The slave trade grew steadily, and first thousands  and then tens-of-thousands of people a year; for 350 years after Columbus’ voyage, more Africans than Europeans crossed the Atlantic. The Atlantic passage was particularly notorious. On board, up to 400 Africans were packed tightly into the filthy, stinking space below the decks, with, as one eye-witness testified before the British parliament in 1791, “not so much room as a man in his coffin”. The heat was unbearable; oxygen levels dropped so low that candles would not burn. Food and water were limited for the crew on the ship, and even more so for slaves. They were allowed to go on the upper decks for only a few hours each day. On early slave trips as many as half the slaves died on the trip across the Atlantic, though in time mortality declined to about one-in-six as ship-owners realized they could make better profits if they kept the slaves alive. Where Africans went changed over time, but roughly 48% of the total went to the Caribbean, 41% of slaves to Brazil, and just 5% to what would become the United States.  

Slavery was a part of many societies around the world in 1650, but the plantation slavery of the New World was different from most other slavery in two ways. One of these was the fact that almost all the slaves were black, and almost all the owners and managers were white, so that plantation slavery had a new racial element. The Muslim world had been the first to import large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans as slaves, where they became a particularly despised group, perhaps because of the two-decade-long Zanj Slave Revolt of the late-9th-century. But Muslim slaves could be of many ethnicities. By linking whiteness with freedom and blackness with slavery, the European plantation system greatly strengthened these racist ideas; black Africans were seen as primitive, inferior, and only barely human. Plantation owners came to think of their slaves more as tools than human beings. Like tools, slaves would wear out and need replacing; Brazilian owners figured that most slaves would live about seven years. In fact the term "chattel-slave" derived from the same Latin word as cattle; slave were typically branded their new possession on the cheeks like cattle. The harvesting and processing of sugar was perhaps the worst of these jobs, because speed was incredibly important; once cut, sugar sap can go sour within a day. This meant that slaves would often worked 48 hours straight during harvest time, both in the fields and in the sweltering press houses where the cane was crushed in hand rollers and then boiled. Slaves caught their hands in the rollers so regularly that their overseers usually kept a hatchet on hand for amputations. Conditions in Brazil were particularly brutal, and the need to import slaves continued until slavery ended in the 1880s. Things were slightly better in the Caribbean and the United States, so that slave populations began increasing naturally, meaning that more slaves were born than died. This of course means that slave-owners would sell the children of slaves, or use them to work their own fields. At  every stage, slaves resisted their captivity, by refusing to work, sabotaging equipment, running away, or rebelling. In most islands of the Caribbean and the South American mainland, communities of escaped slaves, known as “maroons”, came together in mountains, forested, or swampy areas, free from the control of plantation owners or government officials.

The second new thing about plantation slavery was how much it depended on the international trading networks. Plantations were centres of production for one commodity, which meant that everything  else had to be imported. Ships that brought slaves to the Caribbean, Brazil, and, in smaller numbers, to North America took sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, molasses, and cotton to Europe. Raw sugar was refi ned  into white sugar in the Netherlands, and used to make sweet wine in Portugal and its  Atlantic islands. One kind of sweet wine is still called Madeira, the name of the island  where Columbus and his family had lived, and the site of the earliest European sugar  plantations.  Sugar and  wine were shipped to England and other parts of Europe in  exchange for cloth, manufactured goods, and machines. Ships took flour and lumber from North America to tropical plantations, and on the way back carried molasses,  which was processed into rum. Rum and wine were on every European ship crossing  any ocean, for they could be sold at a profi t almost anywhere and were part of the  crews’ daily rations. West Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean formed three points in  what is often called the “triangle  trade” of  the Atlantic, which will be discussed in  greater detail in chapters 12 and 13; any leg of this triangle offered opportunities for  wealth.

It is notable that the African slave trade for a long time awoke no misgivings. The lengths to which Christians went to justify this traffic still retain a certain gruesome fascination. The Bible was widely used, especially an ambiguous episode in Genesis where Noah curses his son Ham, saying, "the lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers”. The story's original purpose was probably to justify the subjection of the Canaanite people to the Israelites, but it has been used through the centuries as an explanation for many different forms of slavery and serfdom; that some people are slaves as part of God's plan. To this narrative was added a racialised version of the curse of Ham, that his descendants had been "blackened" by their sins. It was commonly accepted during the 18th and 19th century, despite the fact that race or skin colour is never mentioned in the Bible. The other prominent notion of "white man's burden" which proposes that the white race is morally obligated to civilise Africans is a later 19th-century concept from the Scramble for Africa. Missionary efforts to convert Africans to Christianity were notably absent during the period of the slave trade. This suited ideological and economical interests of the European elite, since Christianity would take slaves from the fields, and because once converted the Church tended to throw its protection from mistreatment around them, as it often did with Christian Native Americans.

It was not until the late-18th-century that the abolitionist movement began to gather momentum.