Brief History of the World Wiki
Thirty Years' War
Period Early Modern Ages
Dates 1598-1651 AD
Preceded by
Early Scientific Revolution
Followed by
Age of Louis xiv
Had Luther and Calvin been confined before they had begun to dogmatize, the states would have been spared many troubles.'

–Cardinal Richelieu

The era of the Thirty Years' War lasted from about 1598 AD until 1651 AD. It began with the Edict of Nantes (1598), which brought the French Wars of Religion to a close. It then ended with the restoration of monarchy in England, after the English Civil War and the experiment with republican government.

The Thirty Years' War can be seen, at least in its initial stages, as the final round in the series of religious wars that resulted from the Reformation. The Peace of Augsburg had ended religious wars in the Holy Roman Empire for over fifty years, but it was an uneasy peace. A few more Catholic states converted to Protestantism, leading to disputes with the Church over property, while Jesuit missionaries converted a few Protestant princes back to Catholicism. These event occasionally resulted in local conflict. Then in 1608, Protestant rulers formed a military alliance called the Protestant Union, and in the following years Catholics responded with the Catholic League. Henceforth the involvement of these two religious-military forces would turn local disputes into wider conflicts. In 1617, the firmly Catholic Ferdinand Habsburg became king of Bohemia, a territory that had rejected the Catholic Church a century before Luther and was now overwhelmingly Protestant. Protestant Bohemians objected, and threw two of his representatives out of the window of Prague city hall. Armies of the Catholic League and the Protestant Union joined the fight, and in the first years the Catholics were overwhelmingly successful. Ferdinand ruthless wiped-out Protestantism in conquered Bohemia, and continued scoring victories against Protestant armies, including one sent by the king of Denmark. It looked as if Ferdinand might be able to accomplish what had eluded his great-uncle Charles V: to create a large, strong Catholic state in imperial Germany under Habsburg rule. This prospect frightened not only Protestants, but also the dynasty's greatest enemy, Catholic France. In the early 1630s, a well-disciplined and well-armed Swedish army, under Gustavus Adolphus and bankrolled by the French, defeated Catholic forces several times until his death on the battlefield. Exhaustion on all sides now at last made a compromise possible, with Ferdinand II making peace with the Protestant princes. But the peace failed to satisfy the French. France intervened directly, sending troops against the emperor and his Habsburg cousins in Spain; Spanish forces were defeated in battles by the Dutch and the Portuguese, who respectively revolted against Spanish rule in 1566 and 1640. The war had become a Europe-wide conflict, with territorial aims now more important than religious allegiances. Each side won battles, but was not able to exploit its victories, and the war dragged on, with devastating effects. Hunger and disease accompanied the armies and refugees fled from place to place. Some historians estimate that at least twenty percent of the population of imperial Germany died during the course of the war; such civilian losses would not be matched again until the wars of the 20th century. Finally, in 1645 negotiations were begun in the German state of Westphalia, though it took three years for the terms of the Peace of Westphalia to be agreed upon. In terms of main winners, there were three: Sweden which briefly emerged as a great European power; Brandenburg-Prussia due to a French desire to check Sweden and Austria by means of a "third force" in north-eastern Europe; and France itself, which, under Louis XIV of France, completed the process of replacing Spain as the predominant European power.

The Thirty Years' War remains one of the longest and most brutal wars in human history; more people died in it than the Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War combined. The Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Revolution had unleashed an orgy of brutal persecutions, rebellions, and wars on Europe that reached their bloody conclusion in imperial Germany. It began as a Habsburg attempt to impose Catholic uniformity on their own domains, and to rebuild imperial authority in Germany. This called into question the very survival of the northern Protestant German states. The intervention of Protestant Denmark in 1625 began to transform the conflict into a full-scale European war. Yet cross-currents confused the pattern of Catholic and Protestant conflict. Fear of an over-ambitious House of Habsburg brought Catholic France into the field, allied with Protestant Holland and Sweden. With France under Cardinal Richelieu the age of Realpolitik had clearly arrived, the single-minded pursuit of national interests. Meanwhile the unhappy inhabitants of much of central Europe had to endure the whims and rapacities of armies marching to and fro for thirty years. At least 8 million people died, about 25% of the total population of Germany. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) which ended the war was on several levels a registration of change. It was the end of the era of religious wars in Europe; religion retained of political importance after 1648, but no longer dominated international alignments. It also closed an era of Habsburg history; the nation that everyone feared now was no longer be Habsburg Spain or Habsburg Austria, but France under Louis XIV. In a still broader perspective, it truly opened the age when the underlying issues of Western politics were to be the balance of power in Europe, and the distribution of global colonial power.

By the peace of 1648, the Dutch Golden Age had given the Netherlands one of the most important overseas empires, alongside Spain, Portugal, France and England. England was not even represented at the negotiation, preoccupied by its own internal quarrels. Based on conflicting political and religious positions, the English Civil War was fought between the supporters of parliament and King Charles I, and interwove with wider issues in Scotland and Ireland. The parliamentary victory brought regicide and the establishment of the only republic in English history. Oliver Cromwell cast about for a way of governing without delivering England to an intolerant Puritanism or the defeated royalists. Ultimately, once Cromwell had died, the institutional bankruptcy of the republic was clear, so the monarchy was restored in 1660. Historians have argued at length about the legacy of this extraordinary period. Some gains were made such as the idea that an English monarch cannot govern without parliament's consent, but the really permanent gains in parliamentary sovereignty were won in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.


Thirty Years’ War in Germany[]

The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) can be seen, at least in its initial stages, as the final round in the series of religious wars that resulted from the Reformation. However, once again, political cross-currents confused the pattern of ideological conflict. These political currents involved revolts of territorial states against their ruler; resistance of territorial princes against Habsburg attempts to rebuild the imperial authority; and a wider set of European conflicts fought on German soil, including those between Spain and the Dutch Netherlands, between France and the Habsburgs, and between Sweden and Denmark. Many historians view the thirty years of fighting as the first “modern” war in terms of tactics, organisation, and level of devastation. Combined estimates of military and civilian deaths range from 5 to 8 million. More people died in the Thirty Years' War than the Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War combined.

Imperial germany-1618.jpg

The origins of the war lie partly in unresolved problems left by the Peace of Augsburg (1555). which had tried to prevent conflict between Protestant and Catholic states within the Holy Roman Empire. Under the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, each German state was either Lutheran (then the most common form of Protestantism) or Catholic, based on the religion of its ruler. The terms of the treaty did not recognize Calvinism, however, which was the most dynamic Protestant faith in the late-16th century. Some states became Calvinist, ignoring the treaty and facing hostility from both Lutherans and Catholics. A second source of conflict arose from the expansion of Protestantism beyond the 1555 boundaries, which led to disputes with the Catholic Church over property. Nor were Catholic states, re-invigotated by the Counter-Reformation, content to accept the status quo, with the Jesuits pursuing a vigorous campaign in Germany which converted some Lutheran princes back to Catholicism. These tensions occasionally resulted in full-scale conflict such as the Cologne War (1583-88), to prevent the transformation of a Catholic state into a Protestant one; particularly important in the case of Cologne since it was one of the seven prince-electors, thus opening up the possibility of an elected Protestant emperor. More common were disputes such as the 1606 "Battle of the Flags" in the free-city of Donauwörth, when riots broke out after the Lutheran majority blocked a Catholic religious procession, which Catholic Bavaria used as a pretext to annex the town. As for the Habsburg emperors - Ferdinand I (d. 1564), Maximilian II (d. 1576), Rudolph II (d. 1612), and Matthias I (d. 1619) - they tended to pursue policies of religious neutrality and peace within the Empire, in order to defend their own hereditary lands of Austria, Bohemia and western Hungary, against incursions by the Ottoman Turks. On the issues of combating the Turks, German princes could usually transcend religious differences, but this unifying force was removed with the Peace of Zsitva-Torok (1606). Two years later, the Imperial Diet collapsed, amidst wrangling over taxes with the end of the Ottoman war, and over religious issues, especially formal recognition of lands confiscated from the Church by Protestant prince since 1555. The Lutheran princes walked out, and formed a military alliance called the Protestant Union, headed by Frederick IV of the Palatine (d. 1610). In the following years, Catholics responded with the Catholic League, headed by Maximilian of Bavaria (d. 1651). Henceforth the involvement of these two religious-military forces would turn local disputes into wider conflicts.

The dramatic Defenestration of Prague, which in May 1618 triggered the Bohemian Revolt, and thus one of the most devastating wars in European history. Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. The windows in question were those of the Hradčany Palace, seat of government in Prague, and the something were the king's two Catholic representatives and their secretary. This is usually considered the "Second" Defenestration of Prague after a similar incident in 1419 which sparked the Hussite Wars. It is occasionally called the "Third", due to a less consequential incident in 1483.

Imperial Germany was a powder-keg waiting for a spark, and that spark can precisely dated to a dramatic event known as the "Second Defenestration of Prague" on 23 May 1618. Despite falling into the hands of Habsburg Austria in 1526, Bohemia (modern-day Czechia and Slovakia) had long enjoyed an unusual degree of religious and political freedom, ever since the Hussite Wars in the 1420s; rights that had been formalised in the Letter of Majesty (1609). Then in 1617, an ailing and childless Emperor Matthias sought to assure an orderly succession by appointing his designated heir, Ferdinand II Habsburg (d. 1637), to the separate thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. The Jesuit educated Ferdinand had a fierce reputation: he once claimed he would rather see his lands destroyed than tolerate heresy for a single day, and, as duke of Styria (now part of southern Austria) since 1595, he had eliminated Protestantism within eighteen months. This news provoked dread among Protestant Bohemians, but Ferdinand reconfirmed the Letter of Majesty and was duly recognised as king. He soon departed for similar formalities in Hungary, leaving two Catholic councillors as his representatives at Hradčany Palace in Prague. What happened next resulted from the suspicion, based on his record in Syria, that Ferdinand was only awaiting a chance to overturn religious freedoms. These concerns were exacerbated by provocations that in retrospect seem mild enough. Bohemian Protestants interpret the Letter of Majesty as extending not only to the land controlled by the nobility or self-governing cities, but also to the king's own lands; Ferdinand did not and ordered construction halted on some Protestant chapels on royal land. In May, a large protest meeting in Prague sent delegates with a petition to the palace. Discussions with Ferdinand’s representatives became somewhat stormy, and, followed by their secretary, they were thrown out of the window (hence "defenestration"), and fell some 56ft to the ground; remarkably, though injured, the three unfortunate officials survived. Rumour soon embellished an already dramatic incident; Catholics maintained the men were carry softly to the ground by angels, while later Protestant pamphleteers more mundanely asserted a dung heap broke their fall. Their undignified exit from the palace inaugurated the first phase of the Thirty Years' War; the Bohemian Revolt (1618-20). Attempts to negotiate a solution collapsed with the death of Emperor Matthias in 1619. and elevation of Ferdinand as Emperor Ferdinand II Habsburg (1619-37). This forced the Bohemians into a decision; to lay down their arms, or seek allies against their king and emperor. They went with the latter, applying to be admitted into the Protestant Union, and declaring that the Bohemian throne was elective. They chose as their new king the Protestant prince, Frederick V of the Palatinate (d. 1632). In accepting the crown, Frederick V was perpetrating an extremely inflammatory act within the edgy community of the German states; in 17th-century Europe, there was little enthusiasm for a vassal usurping his lord's throne, regardless of religion. Known as the "Winter King", he lasted only a season. Emperor Ferdinand responded by calling on the Catholic League and his cousin, Philip III Habsburg of Spain (d. 1621); the Spanish crown had interests in Germany, as a critical route (the "Spanish Road") between the Mediterranean and Spanish Belgium. Ferdinand II was, thus, able to muster a strong coalition against this Protestant upstart. Frederick V, by contrast, received messages of goodwill but little practical help from other Protestant princes; many had been similarly offered the Bohemian throne, but rejected the idea, fearing it would lead to religious war. The issue was decided in a single brief encounter. The Catholic army under Count Johann Tserclaes von Tilly (d. 1632), a distinguished Bavarian general, marched on Prague, and inflicted a decisive defeat on Frederick V at the Battle of White Mountain (November 1620), just outside the walls of Prague; the actual fighting lasted only an hour. With the Bohemian army in tatters, Frederick V fled the country for the Dutch Netherlands, while Count Tilly entered Prague and the Bohemian Revolt collapsed. Forty-seven Protestant Bohemian rebels were put on trial, and twenty-seven of them were executed in Prague's Old Town Square; today, twenty-seven crosses have been laid into the cobblestones as a tribute to those victims.

Albrecht von Wallenstein was born in Bohemia into a minor Protestant noble family. but converted to Catholicism in 1606 and rose to become the highest-ranking general of Ferdinand II. His spectacular career ended with Ferdinand ordering his assassination.

By abandoning Frederick V, the Protestant princes had hoped to restrict the dispute to Bohemia, but Emperor Ferdinand II and his most important ally, Maximilian of Bavaria, made this impossible. At the Imperial Diet of 1623, Ferdinand forced through provisions transferring the Frederick's lands in the Palatinate to Maximilian, along with his title of a prince-elector. Maximilian was passionately opposed to any increase in imperial authority. As a great Catholic prince now ruling most of southern Germany, he seemed well placed to keep Ferdinand in check. But Emperor Ferdinand's ruthless exploitation of conquered Bohemia introduced a new element to upset the balance. With Habsburg authority re-established, Ferdinand took stern measures to end Protestant opposition. In 1521, all Bohemian Protestants were ordered to leave the realm or to convert to Catholicism, which became the only religion allowed; tens of thousands emigrated. The property of those who left, and of anyone judged to have assisted the revolt, was expropriated and sold to Ferdinand's supporters. More than 75% of the privately owned land changed hands, and no one profited more in the upheaval than Albrecht von Wallenstein (d. 1634). Wallenstein was a minor Bohemian nobleman who became rich through marriage to an elderly widow. In 1518, he used her money to raise a small private army to assist Ferdinand against the Bohemian Revolt. After victory at White Mountain, the emperor rewarded Wallenstein for his support with confiscated estates, and he bought even more at a knock-down price, which together made him lord of all of northern Bohemia. Around 1524, Wallenstein proposed to Ferdinand II a bold extension of his earlier private army. He offered to provide, at no expense to the emperor, an independent imperial army of 30,000 men (not long afterwards 50,000). The men would be conscripted from his estates, and the expense would be recovered from conquering Silesia, the last Protestant stronghold in north-eastern Bohemia. The idea particularly appealed to Ferdinand because it would free him from reliance on the Catholic League and Maximilian of Bavaria. Wallenstein acquires another welcome opportunity to put his army into the field when the king of Denmark decides to take a hand in the troubled affairs of Germany. 

Christian IV of Denmark, whose 59-year reign is the longest in Danish history, and of any Scandinavian monarch. He is remembered as one of the most ambitious and proactive Danish kings, engaging in numerous wars, most notably the Thirty Years' War.

German Protestant princes had also abandon Frederick V, because they objected to his removal of the legally recognised king of Bohemia. Now they opposed Emperor Ferdinand on the same grounds; for disinheriting Frederick's heir in the Palatine. Doing so turned the conflict into a struggle against imperial power intent on trampling Protestant "liberties". Christian IV of Denmark (d. 1648) was one of the most popular, ambitious, and energetic Danish kings. His kingdoms was not populous, but, through levying tolls on shipping between the Baltic and North seas, it was one of the wealthiest of the early-17th-century. The Danish king's reasons for entering the war were complex: he held lands within the Holy Roman Empire, the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, which made him a German Protestant prince; he was eager to keep Catholics away from the Baltic; he hoped to extend his own rule south to the trade routes on the Elbe and Weser rivers; and he feared that his Swedish rival might intervene if he did not. In early 1626, Christian IV marched into Germany at the head of 20,000 men. However, many German princes had little interest in replacing imperial domination for Danish, and Christian proved no match for the great Bavarian-Bohemian double act. Duke Wallenstein quickly finished off his campaign in Silesia at the Battle of Dessau Bridge (April 1626), while Count Tilly comprehensively beat the Danes at the Battle of Lutter (August 1626). Wallenstein then joined up with Tilly, and together, they pursued the Danes back north out of Germany. By the end of 1627, they had occupied Danish Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg in north-eastern Germany, the only state not to abandon the Danish king after Lutter. With imperial resources over-stretched, Emperor Ferdinand agreed relatively lenient terms in the Treaty of Lübeck (June 1629), in which Christian retained Schleswig-Holstein, except for two strategic towns, and in return for abandoning support for the German Protestants. Once again, the measures taken after the victory explain why the war failed to end. The first reason was that Ferdinand II rewarded Wallenstein for his service by granting him the duchy of Mecklenburg; awarding such a territory to someone of the lower nobility was controversial even among fellow Catholics. From here, Wallenstein attempted to besiege the free port-city of Stralsund, as part of a plan to construct a fleet capable of challenging Danish control of the Baltic; he received financial support from Spain, eager to open another front against the Dutch Netherlands. This alarmed Baltic trading states like Saxony and Brandenburg-Prussia in particular. The second reason was that Ferdinand II, made overconfident by victory, issued the Edict of Restitution (1629). It required all lands taken by Protestants from the Catholic Church, not specifically ceded in the Peace of Augsburg (1555), to be restored. If enacted, it would alter the boundaries of nearly every northern and central German state, and restore Catholicism in areas where it had not been a significant presence for nearly eighty years. Well aware none of the princes involved would agree, Ferdinand used the device of an imperial edict, without reference to an Imperial Diet. This unilateral attempt to remould German affairs was guaranteed to inflame the present conflict. Ferdinand’s growing ambition aroused the hostility of Protestant and Catholic princes alike, including even his main ally, Maximilian of Bavaria. who now issued an ultimatum; a reduction in the size of the imperial army and the dismissal of Wallenstein. In 1630, Ferdinand did indeed dismiss Wallenstein, about whose excessive power and ruthless expropriation he had grown suspicious.

Gustavus Adolphus earned him the title of the "Father of Modern Warfare". His integration of infantry, cavalry, logistics, and particularly his use of artillery, laid the foundations of military practice for the next two centuries. Carl von Clausewitz of Prussia and Napoleon Bonaparte considered him one of the greatest generals of all time, an evaluation agreed with by George S. Patton and others. He is also the only Swedish monarch to be styled "the Great".

From 1630, the conflicts in Germany became increasingly international in character. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (d. 1632) had been well informed of the war for some time, but his hands were tied by three overlapping wars: against Denmark over the Baltic-North Sea trade routes; against Russia for interfering in the Time of Troubles; and against Poland-Lithuania over a dynastic claim to the Swedish throne. Judging the conflict with Denmark to be a hopeless cause, he ended it on humiliating terms, that surrendered Älvsborg, the only Swedish port with free access to the North Sea. The other two wars proved more fruitful, however. Peace with Russia in 1617, returned Novgorod (occupied by the Swedes in 1611), but gave Sweden the entire Gulf of Finland as far south as northern Estonia, thus denying Russian access to the Baltic; a situation which held until the time of Peter the Great. Peace with Poland-Lithuania in 1629, gave Sweden what is now Latvia and southern Estonia, as well as rights to customs duties in Polish and Prussian ports for six years. Sigismund III of Poland (d. 1632 ) only agreed to these humiliating terms because of pressure from France, under Louis XIII (d. 1643) and Cardinal Richelieu (d. 1642). French foreign policy, since Charles V, had been to check the power of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain and Austria, out of fear of the so-called "Habsburg ring" around France; Habsburg Austria had financially supported the Catholic Polish king, so France diplomatically supported the Lutheran Swedish king. Gustavus Adolphus, with his Baltic wars settled and a guaranteed income, was now free to take his place on a wider stage. He entered the Thirty Years' War in part out of a genuine desire to support his Protestant co-religionists, and in part to maximise his share of the Baltic trade that provided much of Sweden's income; the effectiveness of his army astonished the rest of Europe. During the early years of his reign, Gustavus had effected a quiet revolution in the Swedish army. He understood, more clearly than any of his contemporaries, that discipline, mobility, and firepower were now key on modern battlefield. Where other European monarchs were still relying on foreign mercenaries, he conscripted and trained his own subjected into a highly disciplined standing army; soldiers caught looting, raping, or disobeying orders were court-marshalled and shot. "Decimation" had not existed since the days of the Romans, but it was introduced into regiments that were guilty of cowardice. For mobility, baggage of soldiers and officers alike was restricted significantly; no silver or gold were permitted in camp, even in the king's tent. Instead, a system of supply depots was bought up to an efficiency unknown in the period. Gustavus' basic infantry formation was a brigade (500 infantrymen in each), much smaller than was common in the pike and shot units (1,500 men) of the era. They were deployed much shallower and broader, with a higher proportion of musketeers (typically two-thirds) to bring more firepower to bear. The counter-march was, meanwhile, drilled into musketeers, where the front rank would fire, then drop back to reload while the second and third ranks fired; and so on. In addition to the usual complements of heavy cannon organised into permanent batteries, Gustavus developed cannon light enough to accompany the infantry brigades directly, drawn by a single horse, or a few men, if needed. As the infantry advanced to close quarters, these "3-pounders" fired one or two salvos, before the charge with pikes and musket butts. Gustavus’ cavalry, by contrast, discarded most of its armour, and emphasized the sword over the then-fashionable pistol. What they sacrificed in mass they made up in speed and ferocity; their unnerving war cry, "Hakkaa päälle!" (“Hack on them!”), meant cold steel and no quarter. Cavalry initiative was also emphasized, so not only to check or drive back the enemy horse, but to seek and exploit opportunities created by the other arms. No one part of Gustavus' armies was considered better or received preferred treatment, as was common in other armies; nepotism and other forms of favouritism were unknown. In his army, the units were extensively cross-trained; cavalry and infantry could service the artillery; pikemen could shoot, if needed; infantrymen and gunners were taught to ride. A Swedish army was flexible, able to shift from offence to defence and defence to counterattack to throw enemies off balance.

Contemporary engraving depicting the Battle of Breitenfeld.

In June 1630, Gustavus Adolphus' well-prepared Swedish army, 18,000 strong, established a bridgehead in Germany by effectively annexing the Duchy of Pomerania (today in western Poland). His expectation of widespread German support proved unrealistic, however; previous experience had shown that it was easier to invite foreign powers into Germany, than get them to leave. By the end of the year, the only new Swedish ally was the free-city of Magdeburg, which was soon besieged by imperial forces under Count Tilly. What changed the minds of German princes was the fall of Magdeburg in May 1631. There followed the single most horrific massacre of the Thirty Years' War. The fire that consumed the city may have been unintended, but resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 defenders and civilians. This news circulated all over Germany and Europe, shocking and outraging Protestants. Over the next few months, Gustavus formed a Swedish-led coalition of German princes, including Saxony and Brandenburg-Prussia, with financial support from Cardinal Richelieu, who sought to weaken the Habsburgs by backing their enemies. With new allies and forces, Gustavus eagerly pursued a decisive confrontation with Count Tilly. The Battle of Breitenfeld (September 1631) was the first public demonstration of the new Swedish model against the Spanish Tercios, which had been the military convention for a century and more. The battle opened with a thunderous two hour artillery exchange; not only had the Swedes brought almost twice as many cannons to the field, but fired more than three volleys for each imperial one. Thereafter the rout of the Catholics was completed in a series of unwelcome surprises: small companies of musketeers appeared among the cavalry on the flanks; ferocious Swedish cavalry charges materialised from unexpected quarters; and even a rout of the weaker Saxon forces on the right flank led to disaster. Rather than exposing the Swedish right flank. Gustavus Adolphus executed a quick and orderly pivot of his centre, and counter-attacked while the imperial forces were still plundering the Saxon baggage-train or pursuing fleeing enemies. At the same time, the Swedish cavalry struck at the exposed imperial left flank, and capture their artillery. Count Tilly's army now faced the full brunt of the Swedish pike-and-shot infantry charge, while coming under fire from their own captured artillery. After several hours of punishment, the Catholic line finally broke; Tilly himself was wounded, but fled the field with the shattered remnants of his army. 7,600 imperial soldiers were killed, and 6,000 were captured, along with all the imperial guns. This marked a military turning point in Protestant fortunes, confirming Gustavus Adolphus as a great tactical leader and persuading many more Protestant princes to join the Swedish-led coalition. The next year, they pressed the campaign further south into Catholic Germany. In March 1632, Gustavus Adolphus invaded Bavaria, and defeated Count Tilly once again at the Battle of Lech (April 1632); Tilly was mortally wounded and died 15-days later. At the same time, his most important ally John George of Saxony (d. 1656) invaded Bohemia and occupied Prague. After Tilly's death, Emperor Ferdinand had no choice but to recall his disgraced commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein, back into military service. With the Swedes occupying Munich, Wallenstein recognised that Gustavus' supply lines were over-extended. He quickly raised a fresh imperial army, and then marched into northern Bavaria, where he established an entrenched position centred on a derelict medieval castle in the hills near Nuremberg. Seeing the danger, Gustavus Adolphus moved his army north, and confronted Wallenstein twice at the battles of Alte Veste (August 1632) and Fürth (September 1632), but failed to break through. The impasse was broken several weeks later, when Wallenstein's army broke camp and marched north to winter-camps near Leipzig. In the spring, he intended to punish and crush Gustavus' chief ally, John George of Saxony, which would also threaten his Baltic bridgehead in Pomerania. Recognising the danger, Gustavus Adolphus raced north, covering a massive 400 miles in 17 days, determined to force a battle. At the Battle of Lützen (November 1632), the Swedish tactics once again won the day, but at the cost of the most important leaders of the Protestant cause. In the mix of fog and smoke, Gustavus Adolphus, the "Father of Modern Warfare", rode astray behind enemy lines with a small escort, where he was attacked and killed by imperial cuirassiers. Swedish armies continued to campaign in Germany under his very able lieutenant, Axel Oxenstierna (d. 1654), but the king's death ended the heady days when there had been a serious possibility of Protestant Sweden playing a major role in German affairs. After Lützen, Wallenstein withdrew to Bohemia and failed to attack the enemy the next year, causing much concern in Vienna. The historical record is confused on the reason, but some source indicate that, as a German prince, he was preparing to switch sides and force a "just peace" on the Emperor; and he possessed the military power to realise his ambition. In 1534, Ferdinand II charged his brilliant but over-ambitious commander with treason, and had him assassinated. Exhaustion on all sides now at last made a compromise possible. The conflict, which had flared in Prague in 1618, was resolved, at least in local terms, by the Peace of Prague (1635). It was Emperor Ferdinand who made the major concession. The Edict of Restitution (1629) had demanded all church lands be restored to the status quo that prevailed in 1555; now the date was the very recent one of 1627.


If the war had only involved German states, then the agreement at Prague might well have ended it. But it had had from the start a broader theme. The Spanish Habsburgs gave active support to their Austrian cousin. From 1621, Spain had renewed her war against the Dutch Netherlands. Sweden, at war with the emperor, was not party to the peace. And most significant of all, the improvement in Habsburg fortunes alarmed the dynasty's greatest enemy, France. A serious Swedish defeat at the Battle of Nördlingen (September 1634) threatened their participation in the war, leading France to intervene directly; declaring war on Habsburg Spain and Austria. It was now in reality a fight between Spanish Habsburgs and French Bourbons, with the disunited little German states mere pawns or battlefields for the mightier, centralised nations. The warfare rumbled on for several more years in a rather haphazard manner, with numerous local encounters. In Germany, territorial princes began to reach separate agreements or truces with the French, with the Emperor, or with each other. Mercenary armies were often recruited by ambitious individuals, of which Wallenstein had been the most successful, with promises of pay and plunder, and little training or discipline. The lack of clearly demarcated fronts and issues, meant that these armies indiscriminately burned crops and villages, killed animals and people. An entire generation simply gave up trading and even farming, knowing that at any moment another vast and starving army might pass through, leaving nothing but plague and corpses in its wake. Outside Germany, a Franco-Dutch campaign into Spanish Belgium in 1635 was a total shambles, suffering more losses from disease and desertion, than actual fighting. A counter-offensive from Spanish Belgium the next year reached Corbie in northern France, causing panic in Paris, but lack of supplies forced it to withdraw. This back and forth, evenly matched struggle, set the pattern for the remainder of the war. Each side won battles, but was unable to exploit its victories. There were, however, certain significant turning points. In 1537, Emperor Ferdinand II, who was arguably responsible for starting this catastrophe, died, and was succeeded by his son Ferdinand III Habsburg (d. 1657). In 1638, the French captured the fortress of Breisach in the Rhineland, severing the Spanish Road between the Mediterranean and Spanish Belgium. In 1639, a quarrel between pro-Spanish and pro-French factions in Turin, capital of the Duchy of Savoy (1416-1847), led to one of the most bizarre military events of the 17th century, in which three different armies simultaneously besieged each other. In 1640, Portugal seized the opportunity to reassert its independence, thus diverting Spain from her efforts to recover the Dutch Netherlands. And in 1643, the French, under Prince Louis of Condé, won an unexpected victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Rocroi (May 1643).

A landscape of civilian refugees being ambushed outside a small town, painted by Vrancx.

Three weeks after Rocroi, Emperor Ferdinand III invited Sweden and France to attend peace negotiations in two cities in the German state of Westphalia, though talks were delayed when Sweden began the Torstenson War (1643-45) against Denmark. Ferdinand restarted peace talks in 1645, but it took three years for the terms of a peace to be agreed upon, with armies sporadically fighting and living off what was left of the German country-side during that time. The resulting Peace of Westphalia (1648) recognized certain political realities in Europe, but did not lead to lasting peace; or indeed an immediate peace for the Franco-Spanish War continued until 1659. In territorial terms the main winners were France, Sweden, and Brandenburg-Prussia. France gained parts of Alsace-Lorraine, although retaining an ambiguous connection with the Empire that practically ensured future conflicts. Sweden gained valuable Baltic territory, including Pomerania, thus cementing her position as a European great power, though it proved short-lived. Brandenburg-Prussia also gained several small territories, mainly due to a French desire to check Sweden and Austria by means of a "third force" in north-eastern Europe. Externally, the treaties formally acknowledged the independence of the Dutch Netherlands, leaving it free to concentrate on its enormously successful commercial and imperial enterprises. Switzerland was recognised as a fully independent state too, after more than a century of de facto independence. In Germany, Emperor Ferdinand III no longer claimed to be the overlord of the German princes. They were recognized as effectively sovereign states, with the right to engage in their own foreign policy, and to still choose their own religion, though limited freedom of conscience was also assured; citizens professing another form of Christianity had the right to worship in private. The future struggles in Germany would not be against the anachronistic Holy Roman Emperor, but among the great German princes, to discover which of them had the strength to assert a new form of leadership within Germany. The state of Germany at the Peace of Westphalia is difficult to describe except in biblical terms. For thirty years armies had marched to and fro across Germany, living off the land, and using "scorched earth" tactics to prevent the enemy’s armies doing the same. The modern consensus is that at least twenty percent of the entire population perished. But if one considers individual areas, the losses were far greater. Württemberg, for example, had a population of perhaps 445,000 in 1618; by 1648, it was a mere 97,000. Some areas of Germany lost more than one-third of their population, while other areas were virtually unaffected; Austria itself suffered relatively little. The greatest killer was not military action, but epidemics (bubonic plague, typhus, dysentery), often spread by armies on the move. Even common illnesses, like influenza, were often fatal because of malnutrition, with the war causing immense damage to agriculture. Such civilian losses would not be matched again until the wars of the 20th century. Meanwhile, the Thirty Years War set the pattern for later wars in many ways, but it mainly provided lessons about what not to do for more astute military and political leaders. The biggest problem was not tactics, but logistical, for supplies could not keep up with troops. Armies had to stop every three or four days to let the bakers make the rough bread that was the soldiers’ standard ration, and let their baggage-train catch up. Looting supplies from the surrounding countryside only worked for a short time, for farmers in most parts of Europe lived near subsistence level themselves. Bigger supply systems significantly increased the costs of warfare. Pressures of war finance enhanced the power of some monarchs, while derailing the ambition of royal power elsewhere. In international terms, France gained more from the Westphalia than any other power. Cardinal Richelieu's objectives had included ending the military dominance of Spain, and separating Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs; the former was achieved at Rocroi, while Spain was now fighting France on its own, which weakened their Austrian alliance. This allowed Louis XIV of France to complete the process of replacing Spain as the predominant European power.

Louis XIII and Richelieu in France[]

Louis XIII has often been portrayed as firmly under the thumb of the machiavellian Cardinal Richelieu - largely due to his appearance in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Louis was taciturn, socially awkward, and suspicious. He may have been homosexual; there is no doubt that women terrified him. Politically, however, he was confident of his own judgement; he may have stammered, but he knew precisely what he wanted to say. The relationship between king and cardinal was closer to a successful partnership. Indeed, events like the Day of the Dupes (November 1630), a failed palace coop against Richelieu, show that he very much depended on the king's unwavering support.

Like so many of his recent predecessors, Henry IV ’s eldest son, Louis XIII Bourbon (1610-43), came to the throne as a child, shortly before his ninth birthday; the regency was put in the hands of the queen-mother, Marie de’ Medici (d. 1642). Marie kept most of her husband’s ministers, but herself came to rely increasingly on Italian favourite, Concino Concini (d. 1617); the husband of a childhood friend, whom she had brought with her from Florence. Concini, it need hardly be said, were deeply disliked by the rest of the court; and he became more unpopular still when Marie decided to reverse France's longstanding anti-Habsburg stance, by marrying her son the king to Anne Habsburg, daughter of Philip III of Spain and great-granddaughter of Emperor Charles V. The Protestants were predictably outraged, while the Catholics were not all that much happier. Marie's regency was extravagant and incompetent. It provoked two noble revolts headed by Henri of Condé (d. 1646), and ended in violence. At aged seventeen, Louis arranged for the assassination of Concini, and took power into his own hands; Marie herself was exiled in Blois. She did, however, make one significant contribution to Louis XIII's reign by employing an extremely shrewd minister - the man with whom he is permanently associated - Armand-Jean du Plessis, a nobleman and bishop who was later made Cardinal Richelieu (d. 1642). Richelieu first came to the attention of Marie in 1614, when he presented the final address of the clergy at a meeting of the French parliament (Estates-General); he soon became Concini's protégé. When Marie was exiled from court in 1617, Richelieu was dismissed too. He, nevertheless, soon returned to royal favour, by serving as an invaluable go-between for mother and son. After Louis was formally reconciled with his mother in 1621, Richelieu rose to power quickly. In 1622, the king nominated Richelieu as a cardinal, which the pope accordingly granted. In early 1624, he was appointed to the royal council. By the end of the same year, he was name first minister to the king; a position he maintained until his death. Over the next eighteen years the two men, minister and king, devoted themselves to two primary goals: centralizing power in France, and boosting the international prestige of the French king. Strong centralized rule had been attempted by Francis I, improved upon by Henry IV, and was now - thanks to Richelieu - successfully achieved by Louis XIII. Richelieu was an autocrat to his fingertips. For him, the security of the realm was paramount; and the greatest danger to that was the high nobility, who ceaselessly intrigued against the state. A few were too powerful for him to touch, but the cardinal rewarded those nobles who supported him with military command or advantageous marriages, while ruining those who opposed him, or even sending them into exile. The list of exiled nobles eventually included the queen-mother herself, who demanded Richelieu's dismissal in 1630, but instead ended up exiled herself once again. In 1628, Richelieu ordered all fortified castles razed, excepting only those needed for national defence; thus stripping nobles of their ability to safely rebel. To further calm aristocratic spirits, the cardinal also made the noble custom of duelling a capital offence. Meanwhile, the French parliament summoned by the queen-mother in 1614, proved to be the last for almost two centuries, until the fateful assembly of 1789. To have influence now one needed to be at court, under the eye of the king and his first minister. This was possible because, unlike in England, the French parliament was not required to approve royal taxation. The French nobility and clergy had gradually established the principle that they should be exempt from most taxes; the former supported the king through fighting, and the latter through prayer, they had argued. This meant that the two most powerful groups were less concerned about tax levels than their English counterparts. The French assembly had a theoretical veto on taxation and legislation, but the kings could simply compel them by personally appearing; an event known as a "lit de justice". Richelieu, meanwhile, extended the power of bureaucratic officials (intendants), who were directly appointed by the crown, and almost always lessor nobles or wealthy non-nobles, rather than members of high nobility. Each intendant had authority over a certain district, collecting taxes, recruiting men for the army, billeting soldiers, regulating economic activities, administering local courts, and enforcing royal decrees. Intendants could not be native to the district in which they operated, so they had no independent base of power; they often hired deputies who did much of the actual work and understood local power relations. Like their predecessors, king and minister viewed these bureaucratic offices as open for sale, which had become an important source of revenue for the French monarchy. Now, however, service to the state might eventually bring a noble title, known in France as noblesse de robe ("Nobles of the Robe"), deriving from the robes worn by judges, and set apart from the old nobility, or noblesse d'épée ("Nobles of the Sword"). The high nobles viewed this avenue of social climbing with contempt, but it was a means for the monarchy to cement allegiances with those slightly lower on the social scale, who were becoming an increasingly powerful and wealthy group. Because nobles escaped most taxes in France, however, the long-term fiscal implications were very harmful. Meanwhile, Richelieu was a famous patron of the arts; to provide a cultural counterpart to his political measures of centralization. He funded the literary careers of many writers, to glorify the crown in histories and theatre, or defended its policies in newsletters. He was the founder of the Académie Française, a literary society tasked with standardizing French grammar and spelling; it remains today the official authority on the French language. In 1622, he was elected principal of Sorbonne University, and presided over its renovation and expansion, including its famous chapel where he is now entombed. Richelieu sent agents across Europe in search of books and manuscripts for his unrivalled library, which he specified in his will should be opened to scholars; it was transferred to the Sorbonne in 1660. Richelieu also encouraged Louis XIII to colonize the Americas. When he came to power, New France (now Canada), where Jacques Cartier,established a fledgling colony, had no more than 100 settlers, while the English colonies to the south were much more populous. Richelieu founded the Compagnie de la Nouvelle France in 1627, an imitation of the Dutch East India Company, which pledge to transport at least 200 settlers to the colony each year. To protect trading and colonial interests, he set about building a strong French fleet of 63 men-of-war; this navy was not ready to challenge the English at the Siege of La Rochelle (1627), but won a notable victory against the Spanish at the Battle of Cádiz (1640). As a result of Richelieu's work, Louis XIII became one of the first examples of an absolute monarch.

Cardinal Richelieu, the first minister of Louis XIII for 18-years. There are few French statesman so instantly recognisable.  Philippe de Champagne may have been partly responsible; he was the only painter permitted to depict him in his full state robes – and did so eleven times. But descriptions abound of his magnificent presence, of that arched nose, goatee beard and those piercing brown eyes. Richelieu has been called the "father of the modern nation-state"; his ideas of strong centralised power and aggressive foreign policy helped create the modern system of international politics.

Although himself a Catholic and a cardinal, Richelieu had no quarrel with the Huguenots (French Calvinists). He was perfectly willing to accept them, so long as they were prepared to be loyal subjects of the king; he preferred a French Protestant to a Spanish Catholic any day. At the same time, he believed that the Huguenots needed firm control, lest they become a focus for revolt against the central government, as from time to time they did; Huguenot leaders supported Condé's second rebellion against the regency in 1617. For well over half a century, the port of La Rochelle had been a problem to the French crown; the largest of the military strongholds (safe havens) granted to Huguenots by the Edict of Nantes (1598). With a population of some 27,000, it was not only one of the largest cities in France, but had no governor, no bishop, and superb fortifications, making it effectively a state within a state. In July 1627, Charles I of England invited disaster on La Rochelle, having grown alarmed by the speed with which Richelieu was building up the strength of the French navy. He went so far as to send eighty ships, under his favourite George Villiers of Buckingham, to encourage a major Huguenot rebellion; but this was, as anyone could have told him, a foolish idea. Buckingham’s reception proved far from warm, to the point where his fleet was denied entry to the harbour. He was obliged to land with 6,000 men on the Ile de Ré, where he failed even to capture the little fort of Saint-Martin, soon ran out of money, and returned to England. This was just the pretext king and cardinal had been waiting for; the royal siege of La Rochelle began in August 1627 with Louis III himself in supreme command. French engineers encircled the city with entrenchments some eight miles around, including a 1,500-yard sea wall to blockade the port. There were two more English relief expeditions, but neither did much good. The city held out for thirteen months, during which its population was reduced by famine and disease to some 5,000. Finally, it surrendered unconditionally in October 1628. After La Rochelle, the remaining Huguenot strongholds rapidly fell, with the last, Montauban, surrendering without resistance in August 1629. This was followed by the Peace of Alais (1629), under which the surviving Huguenots retained their religious freedom, but lost their political and military rights, and were left at the mercy of the monarchy; which under Louis XIV would not be very merciful. Foreign policy under Louis XIII, as it had been since the days of Francis I and Charles V, was marked by opposition to the Habsburg dynasty in Austria and Spain. For Richelieu there were more important considerations; France was still a Catholic country, but had no hesitation in siding with the Protestants. From 1624, when Emperor Ferdinand II seemed to have the upper hand in the Thirty Years' War, Richelieu was busy diplomatically; in particular urging intervention by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. By 1632, when Gustavus had reached as far south as Munich, Richelieu took advantage of the general turmoil to slip a French army into Lorraine. By 1635, however, the situation had taken a dangerous turn for the worse; Gustavus Adolphus was dead, the Austrian emperor was about to make peace with the German princes, and Spain was actively campaigning against the Dutch Netherlands, near France's northern border. In 1635, Richelieu decided that it was time for direct action. he made an alliance with the Dutch and Swedes, and declares war on the Spanish and Austrians. It was during the early years of this war that there occurred a near-miracle: in September 1638, after 23 years of marriage and 4 stillbirths, the 37-year-old queen at last gave birth to a son; the future Louis XIV. Four years later, however, the pendulum swung back and France sustained a grievous blow: the death in December 1642 of Cardinal Richelieu at the age-of-57. Perhaps even more than the king himself, he had personified France. When his confessor was performing the last rites he asked him whether he forgave his enemies; "I have had none", the cardinal replied, "save those of the state". Had he lived until the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), he would have known the great strides made in boosting French international prestige. The treaty reflected a clear shift in the balance of power in Europe; by the end of the century, the kingdom that everyone else feared was no longer be Spain or Austria, but France. Louis XIII did not long survive his first minister, dying in May 1643; he was forty-one. His personal achievements are hard to define. It was Louis' fate to be overshadowed - first by the dazzling cardinal, and then by his son, the Sun King, who was to overshadow everyone.

English Civil War[]

King James VI of Scotland and James I of England. A French courtier supposedly dubbed him, "the wisest fool in Christendom", an epithet associated with his character ever since. For all his flaws, he was a serious and thoughtful monarch, sincere in seeking to resolve the political and religious conflicts inherent in the state bequeathed him by Elizabeth. He was strongly committed to a peace policy, and, to his lasting credit, he alone among European rulers made sustained attempts to bring the Thirty Years' War to a close. As the continent went up in flames, England was enjoying unparalleled peace.

Despite a bountiful reign, the one thing Queen Elizabeth failed to provide was an heir. Her cousin, James Stuart, was undeniably the next in line of succession to the English throne. Elizabeth was the last surviving descendant of Henry VIII, the only adult son of Henry VII. With her death the succession moved to the line of Henry VII's eldest daughter Margaret Tudor, who had married James IV of Scotland in 1503. Margaret's two senior grandchildren were first cousins Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Darnley, the parents of James, who had already been king of Scotland for thirty-five years. James VI of Scotland (1567-1625) had come to the throne as an infant, after his mother was forced to abdicate in his favour. During his minority, Scotland reverts to a turmoil of noble factions competing over the regency. As a boy king, James survived never knowing either of his parents, four regents dying violent deaths around him, and being used as a pawn by those who sought power for themselves, not to mention an abusive tutor, George Buchanan, determined to make him accept that he was subject to the will of others, not least the Presbyterian Church. Is it any wonder that James VI grew up to be a man who trusted himself above all others? Buchanan and his ilk took a helpless baby boy, and made of him an absolutist monarch. James VI nevertheless proved to be a shrewd ruler, who effectively controlled the various religious and political factions in Scotland. His claim to the English throne was clear. But Elizabeth refused to formally recognise him as her successor until her deathbed. No doubt she reasoned that an element of uncertainty would keep her Scottish cousin on his best behaviour. In this she proved correct. A skilled politician, James avoided any actions that might alarm his future English subjects. During the last two years of Elizabeth's reign, her chief minister, Robert Cecil (d. 1612), son of William, maintained discreet correspondence with James to prepare in advance for an orderly succession. As a result, he accession to the English throne as James I Stuart (1603-25 AD) went as smoothly as if he had been Elizabeth's own son, rather than the ruler of a kingdom where enmity to England had long been the norm. The king did not perhaps expect so effusive and jubilant a welcome from his new subjects. His Protestant upbringing, the desire for a peaceful succession, and the lack of an alternative, made his Scottishness seem secondary. The union of the three British kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the first time in its history, was celebrated in many a pub sign, and could be made to appear the culmination of a long process of history. Shakespeare changed from writing about England to writing about Britain; directly in Macbeth, King Lear, and Cymbeline, for example, and indirectly in Hamlet, with its Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and English stock characters. James was ambitious to build on the personal union of the crowns to establish a single kingdom under one monarch, one parliament, and one law, but his plans met opposition in both realms. The five million souls living in England dwarfed the million of so living in Scotland, and the Scots feared becoming, like Ireland, a kingdom in name but a subject country in practice. Similar fears were echoed in England, where many regarded the Scots as backwards and poor, and anticipated them flooding south to take up all posts and honours. The proposal was decisively rejected by the English parliament in 1604 and again in '07; it would be another century before the Acts of Union came about, in 1707. James achieved more success in foreign policy, achieving what had eluded Elizabeth; peace with Spain. The Treaty of London (1604) ended Spanish hopes for a Catholic restoration in England, in return for halting English attacks on Spanish interests in Europe and the Americas. Religious tolerance for English Catholics, however, remained to be a major objective of the Spanish po, which caused a constant dilemma for James; deeply distrusted abroad for persecuting Catholics, while encouraged at home to show even less tolerance towards them.

A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, by Crispijn van de Passe. The plot became forever associated with Guy Fawkes (third from right), despite being its humblest member, because he was the one caught on the scene of the crime and his was the first name known. Parliament in 1606 ordered 5 November to be kept as a day of national thanksgiving. It is still celebrated in England with fireworks, bonfires, and effigies of Guy Fawkes.

The Stuart Period (1603-1714) can be characterised by three major themes, each of them evident from early in the reign of James I. The first theme is the beginning of what was to become the British Empire. In this area the new Stuart regime could claim greater success. During the 16th-century, when English sailors were honing their skills, There had been tentative English attempts at colonising the New World under Elizabeth, such as Walter Raleigh's colony on Roanoke Island off the coast of Carolina, but they did not last long. In 1606, James granted charters to both the Plymouth Company and Virginia Company for the purpose of establishing permanent settlements in North America. The Plymouth Company achieved little, but the Virginia Company succeeded in founding the first permanent English settlement overseas at Jamestown in Virginia; though only after the most appalling difficulties. Following the success of the Jamestown, a group of English Puritans, known as the Pilgrim Fathers, established the colony of Plymouth in 1620, and many more were to follow; thirteen English colonies would exist on mainland North America by the end of 17th-century. The English established a valuable foothold in the Caribbean too, colonising Bermuda during James' reign, and Barbados shortly after his death. Colonial achievements eastwards were equally impressive. James actively encouraged the new East India Company, which was granted its charter by Elizabeth in 1600. After getting a bloody nose attempting to compete in the spice trade with the well-established Dutch, English merchants successfully changed approach and concentrated on India; the first English trading post was formally established at Surat on the west coast in 1513. While the commodities traded were less glamorous - cotton and silk textiles, saltpeter (for gunpowder), and later tea and opium - they proved to have a much larger potential market in the long term. By the end of the century, Bombay, Madras and Calcutta were all well-established English trading stations. The second major theme is the matter of religion. Since the reign of Edward VI, two separate religious struggles ran, like interwoven threads, through English. One was the hope of English Catholics to secure freedom of worship and greater civil rights. Some believed that a king who had been baptised Catholic, whose mother had been the martyred Catholic, Mary Queen of Scots, would be more moderate than his predecessor, perhaps even tolerant. The second tussle was a battle for the soul of the Church of England (Anglicanism), between those who supported the Elizabethan religious settlement, and others who thought that the church, with its hierarchical structure of bishops and elaborate ceremonies, was still too close to Roman Catholicism. They wanted to “purify” it of what they saw as "popish" practices - for this they were given the name “Puritans". Puritanism refers to a diverse movement ranging from Presbyterians who wanted to reform the church organised according to the Scottish example, to Independents who rejected the very idea of state-mandated religion (each congregation should independently and autonomously run its own affairs with general tolerance towards the many Protestant sects of the time). But they shared some views in common: they saw the English Reformation as a "deed half done"; mostly adhered to Calvinist theology; wish for a preaching ministry rather than a sacramental priesthood; emphasised intense private Bible study, self-examination, and self-discipline; and were rigid;y austere, frowning on “frivolous” pastimes such as dancing or gambling. They had become increasingly vocal toward the end of Elizabeth’s reign, and now expected James to support them, having been raised in Presbyterian Scotland, where power was held by elected lay elders (Presbyteries), rather than by appointed bishops. Because of the tactful manner in which he had handled similar tensions in Scotland, all parties had high hopes of James when he ascends the English throne in 1603. The Puritans received apparent encouragement when James called a conference at Hampton Court in 1604 to consider the Millenary Petition; so-called because it was supposedly supported by a thousand Puritan clergymen. In the subsequent debate the king seems to have been shrewd and judicious. He did not accede to their demand for Calvinism, but he did accept their proposal for an improved translation of the Bible, which bore magnificent fruit in the King James Bible (1611) published later in the reign. All seemed to be proceeding without much incident until the matter of bishops was brought up. Much impressed with the ordered and compliant nature of the Church of England, James state flatly “No bishop, no King. When I mean to live under a presbytery I will go to Scotland”. As ecclesiastical diplomacy Hampton Court was a failure, leaving the Puritans disappointed, a source of future problems for his son. Catholics were disappointed too. James had wooed them before ascending the English throne in case of trouble, assuring Henry Howard of Northampton, a prominent Catholic sympathisers, that he would not persecute "any that will be quiet and give but an outward obedience to the law". Faced with pressure from an increasingly Puritan parliament, he now quietly cut them adrift. In the absence of any sign that James would move to end the persecution of Catholics, as some had hoped, a group of disillusioned Catholics took matters into their own hands, by attempting the most celebrated conspiracy in English history: the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The plotters, led by Robert Catesby (d. 1605), devised a coup beyond the ambitions of any modern terrorist: to blow up the House of Lords on the opening day of parliament on 5 November, and thus kill the king, together with much of the ruling class of the realm. They rented a building conveniently close to parliament, and, from it, dug a tunnel to the store-cellar directly under the House of Lords. An experienced soldier, Guy Fawkes, was entrusted with the task of ferrying in thirty-six barrels of powder. The plot was discovered only because one of the conspirators felt compelled to warn his brother-in-law that he should not attend the opening ceremony. The letter was passed to the authorities, who searched the parliament building, and discovered Guy Fawkes lurking in the cellar among his barrels. Caught red-handed, he initially refused to tell his captors anything; broken on the rack, he gave up everything. The others in the unsuccessful conspiracy were found in hiding over the next few days. Catesby made a stand and was killed. The others, including Fawkes, were sentenced to be executed in the usual manner for traitors; hanged-drawn-and-quartered. Greater religious freedom for English Catholics had seemed unlikely in 1604, but the discovery of such a wide-ranging conspiracy fatally damaged their own cause; Catholic Emancipation would take another 200 years. In the aftermath, parliament passed even harsher anti-Catholic legislation; one of its provisions required any citizen to take an oath of allegiance, entailing a denial of the pope's authority over the king. James nevertheless proved lenient in its implementation. Those who refused the oath were simply asked to leave the country. Loyal Catholic sympathisers were even tolerated at court; the Earl of Northampton, for example. To show even-handedness, James persecuted radical Puritans too. One consequence was a wave of emigration to the New World. By the end of James’ reign, approximately 80,000 English had crossed the Atlantic in one of history’s most significant migrations.

Engraving of James I at Parliament on 5 November 1605, by Renold Elstracke.

The third theme of the Stuart Period is the relative power of the monarch and parliament. The initial euphoria of James' succession ended with his first parliament, which he dissolved in very bad grace in 1604, having achieved his aims neither for the full union of England and Scotland, nor for the obtaining of funds. His difficulties owed more to mutual incomprehension than conscious enmity. One of the ways Queen Elizabeth had courted favour was by keeping taxes low, and requests for parliamentary subsidies to a minimum; in her view, parliament used them as a blackmail opportunity to give itself powers of government. It's not that she had been a big spender, quite the opposite, but that unwillingness to spend was another problem for the Stuarts. King James inherited a kingdom with minimal revenue streams, a boat load of debt from the war with Spain and in Ireland, and quickly gained a reputation for extravagance in financial matters. Unfortunately, England had been conditioned by the Tudors to expect tax rates that were ridiculously out-of-date, having taken no account of the 400% inflation over the previous century; the so-called 16th-century Price Revolution. When James tried to bring a little sanity to the systems, there was a perception gap between what was politically possible and economically necessary; by which we mean, when parliament thought it was being generous, it's subsidies still weren't coming close to meeting the financial needs of the state. And it could justify its actions as an attempt to curb the king's spending. The parliament of 1604 shaped the attitudes of both sides for the rest of his reign, and more consequentially his son's reign. Where his cousin Elizabeth had been a pragmatist, it was James' misfortune to be a theorist. In a speech, he expounded on his theory of monarchy, that, since a king was ordained by God to rule, every person and institution in the state owed him obedience; "the king becomes a natural father to all his lieges at his coronation". Parliament begged to differ, drawing-up a document, known as the Form of Apology, which asserted that their powers and privileges were an "ancient and undoubted birthright", and not something granted by the grace and favour of the monarch. As James's reign progressed, his government faced mounting debt. Robert Cecil took over the reins as treasurer himself in 1608, and proposed an ambitious programme of economic reforms, known as the The Great Contract, whereby the crown would give up certain feudal rights, in return for a guaranteed annual grant. The whole debate only served to demonstrate the gulf between king and parliament. The parlous state of the king’s finances demanded another parliament in 1614. James opened the so-called "Addled Parliament" with a conciliatory speech, but the members were in no mood to discuss anything other than their own grievances; the king dissolved it after just two months with not a single bill passed. After 1614, an exasperated James did not even summon parliament for seven years, instead turning to alternative sources of revenue. Cash was raised by selling hereditary titles to any knights or esquires who desired them, even inventing a completely new dignity, a baronet, which could be purchased for about £1,000; a peerage for £10,000. The king had another scheme to raise money; it was proposed that his son, Prince Charles, should marry a Spanish princess for a large dowry. For James, this was not only driven by an urgent need for funds, but by a long-held commitment to a peace policy and a desire to act as a bridge-builder between Catholics and Protestants in Europe. However, the proposed alliance with Catholic Spain was not well-received in Protestant England, where the recent Anglo-Spanish War had not been forgotten, and events on the continent had stirred up anti-Catholic feeling to a new pitch; the outbreak in Bohemia in 1618 of what became the Thirty Years’ War. James now faced an impossible dilemma; personally and politically averse to the European bloodbath, but forced to become involved because his daughter was married to Frederick V of the Palatine, one of the chief Protestant participants. When James reluctantly summoned parliament in 1621 as the only means to raise the funds necessary to assist his son-in-law, the hawkish assembly supported continental intervention, but did not want to pay for it; granting subsidies inadequate to finance a serious military operation. The House of Commons further displeased the king by impeaching Francis Bacon, who as Lord Chancellor was implicated in the sale of titles, and then by raising the matter of the prince’s marriage. James, now thoroughly exasperated, asserted that royal marriages were nothing to do with parliament. He angrily dissolved them, imprisoned two of their members, and personally tore their protest from the Commons Journal (the official record of the lower house) - a procedure that his son would try with less success. The king was often seriously ill with arthritis and gout during the last years of his reign, and virtually gave up trying to rule, leaving it to his son, Charles. James I died in 1625, widely mourned. For all his flaws, he had largely retained the affection of his people, who had enjoyed uninterrupted peace and comparatively low taxation during his reign. That would not be the legacy of his son.

Charles I in Three Positions (1635) by Van Dyck, representing his three kingdom, England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Charles I Stuart (1625-49) had been three-years-old when his father inherited the English crown. He spent a sickly childhood overshadowed by his charismatic and dashing older brother Henry, and his beautiful and assertive sister Elizabeth. He grew into a short, shy, and reserved young man with a pronounced stutter, ill at ease in the public spotlight. But that was fine; as the second son, he could afford to fade into the background. Then in 1612, eighteen-year-old Henry died, and all of a sudden Charles was thrust unwillingly into the succession. Acutely aware of the responsibilities he now faced, he did his best to prepare himself to be a good king. He studies, he thought deeply, he overcame his physical infirmity to become an adept horseman and marksman, but he would always lack the air of authority that came so naturally to his father and elder siblings; all his life he would be driven by a fear of appearing weak. By the time twenty-four-year-old Charles ascended to the throne, parliament was ready for a direct collision with the king. With the failure of his father's proposed Spanish match, despite a madcap journey incognito to Spain in 1623, attention turned to France. He soon married the devoutly Catholic daughter of the French king, Henrietta Maria (d. 1669). It was a happy match for Charles - she would bear him seven children - but it provoked fears in Protestant England that he would lift restrictions on Catholic "recusants" and undermine the established Church of England. When his first parliament met in 1625, trouble immediately arose because of opposition to the king's marriage and general distrust of his religious policy. It was customary that the first parliament of a new reign would grant the king a basic tax called "tonnage and poundage" for the duration of his reign; import / export duties used to finance the routine organs of government. The first parliament of Charles' reign, however, voted to grant him these duties for one year only. In this manner, it hoped to keep a check on the king's power by forcing him to summon regular parliaments, but Charles took it as a slap in the face. Parliament then followed up this insult to the king's royal dignity, by refusing to support his aggressive foreign policy. Unlike his father, Charles was committed to help his brother-in-law regain the Palatinate by waging a war with Spain. Although parliament was strongly supportive of the war, it would only granted him subsidies adequate for inexpensive naval attacks on Spain. The "tonnage and poundage" vote had put Charles on edge; this pushed him over. He dissolved parliament, which was absolutely his right, but it did nothing to resolve the fundamental impasse over the royal finances; only the king could summon parliament, so parliament was powerless without him; but only parliament can raise the necessary taxes (this was not merely a traditional right, but settle law that taxation without parliamentary approval was illegal), so the king was powerless without parliament. Although Charles set out to secure a more docile body - appointing troublesome members to be sheriffs of their county, thus making them ineligible for election - it was clear that the zeal and anger of his second parliament, meeting in 1626, had not noticeably diminished. A poorly conceived and executed naval expedition against the Spanish port of Cádiz was blamed on the Charles' favourite, George Villiers of Buckingham (d. 1628). Handsome and dashing, Buckingham's ambition and self-regard far outstripped his actual ability, but he had established himself as one of the few men that Charles called friend. Parliament saw him as a corrupt blunderer who needed to kept away from the levers of power, and tried to impeach him. To prevent this, Charles once again dissolved parliament before any resolution to the royal finances. Meanwhile, Buckingham had gotten England embroiled in a war with France in order to help the Huguenots, to go with the war with Spain, and, in desperate need of funds, the king turned to "forced loans"; simply demanding money from peers and gentry, and imprisoning those who refused. Most people paid but a few stoutly refused to pay up, most famously Sir Thomas Darnell and four other knights. At the subsequent trial, imaginatively known as the "Five Knight's Case", the court found in the king's favour; royal prerogative gave him broad powers to imprison without trial. But it was a pyrrhic victory, provoking so many people to refuse payment that the king was forced to recall parliament in 1628. In a conciliatory opening speech, Charles promised not to dissolve parliament, as long as it refrained from attacking Buckingham. Once assembled, the Common indicated that it would vote the king five subsidies in return for his acceptance of their complaints, as set out in the famous Petition of Right; it has since joined Magna Carta as the foundations of the English constitution. In form, it sought the king's recognition, not of new rights, but of four ancient liberties - taxation without parliamentary approval was illegal; freedom from arrest without due process of law; no billeting of soldiers without consent; no martial law in peacetime. Charles reluctantly accepted the Petition of Right, with the proviso that he would observe it "within the bounds of settle law"; settled law which had royal loopholes for almost everything. This should have marked the dawn of a new era of political peace, but it was not to be. In August 1628, the Duke of Buckingham - the king's favourite hated by parliament - was stabbed to death by a disgruntled officer who believed he had been passed over for promotion. Instead of reconciliation, the death of Buckingham embittered Charles, and emboldened parliament to press for further reform. Matters got so heated that Charles ordered parliament to be dissolved, which broke-up amidst pandemonium; members literally held the Speaker down in his chair while they tried to register their complaints. Charles was not amused, and would not summon another parliament for eleven years.

Riots over Charles' attempt to impose the The Book of Common Prayer on Scotland, in the run-up to the Bishops' War.

The following eleven years, during which King Charles decided to rule without a parliament, are referred to as the personal rule, or to opponents the "Eleven Years' Tyranny". With parliament out of the way, Charles governed his kingdoms through his royal councillors, among whom three men were most influential: William Laud (d. 1645), a vigorously conservative bishop as ascetic and unbending as any Puritan, who became the king's chief advisor on religious matters; Thomas Wentworth of Strafford (d. 1641), a talented but rancorous administrator, who became chief advisor on Ireland; and James Hamilton of Hamilton (d. 1649), the king's Scottish cousin, who had grown up alongside him in London and became chief advisor on Scotland. During the personal rule, Charles' policies were dictated by his lack of money. First and foremost, it meant making peace with both Spain and France, which proved easy enough since Spain and France were much too focused on one another to worry about England. To raise revenue without summoning parliament, Charles turned to aggressive use of the royal prerogative. If there was an all-but-forgotten statue that could be exploited for profit, then then the king was all for exploiting it. For instance, a medieval law was unearthed, requiring any gentleman earning more than £40 a year to be knighted, or face a fine. But the most notorious feudal holdover was "ship-money"; it had been a medieval device by which, at times of crisis, an emergency navy for the defence of the realm would be levied from each port providing one ship (or the money to provide one). Previously, its collection had been authorised only during wars, and only on coastal countries. Charles, however, argued that there was no legal bar to collecting ship-money from inland counties. The fresh attempt to levy taxation, on a dubious legal principle, provoked even more furious resistance than forced loans. The prosecution of former MP, John Hampden, for non-payment in 1637, provided a platform for popular protest; the judges found in the king's favour only by the narrow margin of 7-5. The king's agents were able to raise only 80% of the sums demanded in 1638, and less than 25% the following year. Taxation and the rights of parliament is traditionally thought of as turning public opinion against the king. But, in fact, there is no evidence of widespread and serious popular discontent; many who opposed ship-money later fought for the king in the civil war. The truly serious issue, as it had been for a century, was religion. The new source of disruption was a conservative movement known as High Anglicanism; or Arminianism after the Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius, whose teaching had violently split Dutch Protestantism. Like the Puritan radicals, High Anglicans wanted to "purify" the Church of England, but they emphasized order, clerical authority, and a powerful, obedient and properly appointed hierarchy of bishops and archbishops. They preached against Calvin's rigid theory of predestination, and in favour of church as a holy and beautiful place for formal prayer, regulated ceremonies and sacraments; basically rejecting everything that Puritans thought distinguished them from the "evil" Roman Catholics in the first place. Unfortunately for the Puritans, Charles seemed to favour an Arminian outlook, having befriended the rising star of the Church of England, William Laud, an Oxford academic, now bishop of London, as ascetic and unbending as any Puritan in views. In 1633, Laud was raised to the highest see in the land in 1633, and, with the king's blessing, launched a concerted effort to bring some religious uniformity to the Church of England, by restricting non-conformist preachers, insisting that liturgy be celebrated as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, and standardising the internal architecture of churches to emphasis the altar. To the more Puritan congregations, it all smacked of an attempt to undermine the English Reformation, and perhaps even to pave the way to return to Catholicism. It did not help that Laud was prosecuting "godly Protestants" who resisted his reforms, while at the same time the king's French-born wife was practising Catholicism right out in the open. In fact, the persecution was mild by the standards of the day, mostly admonitions. The most notorious act of the “tyranny” was the prosecution in 1637 of three Puritan critics - William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick - who had courted martyrdom by publicly attacking religious policy in extreme language, and then behaving provocatively before the court of Star Chamber; they had their ears sliced off, but not their heads. It was certainly not a conflict between freedom and oppression: the Puritans were at least as determined as Laud to force their own beliefs on others. If Charles' religious policy was ill-judged in England, then his decision to extend it to Scotland proved disastrous.

The signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. Charles had been barely scraping by financially for the last decade, because he studiously avoided getting sucked into a war. With the Covenant, it was clear to Charles that his Scottish subjects were in rebellion against him. The early success of the Covenanters then encouraged opponents of the king in his other realms of England and Ireland.

Raised in England since he was a toddler, King Charles had grown into a very English monarch. From the outset, he showed a lack of forethought and sensitivity when it came to handling the land of his birth: he did not visit until eight years into his reign; his belated coronation as King of Scotland was held with full Anglican liturgy; and bishops, who had been tactfully reintroduced by his father, were put on the Scottish privy council. But if the king's relatively benign neglect was getting people hot under the collar, their temperatures were pushed to boiling point by his unwelcome attention. Charles and Laud were convinced that the people of Britain should adhere to one common religion, and tried to impose a revised Book of Common Prayer on Scotland, designed to bring Presbyterianism into line with the more moderate practices of Anglicanism. On the face of it, the new prayer book was a singularly undramatic document - it had been revised by the Scottish bishops, who had made every effort to enshrined as much as possible of Scottish practice. What really angered the Scots was that it had been introduced by royal prerogative, without any discussion or vote of parliament; new laws imposed upon them by strangers. In July 1637, at its first use at St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, the congregation rioted, hurling colourful abuse, and then their stools at the hapless dean. Similar events unfolded all across Scotland. A more sensible king would have backed off at this point, but Charles was infuriated by the challenge to the royal authority. By the winter, the Scots had begun to organise a formal nationwide resistance. It had been a tradition for members of the Presbyterian church, when confronted by a crisis, to "covenant" themselves to a shared cause; self-consciously calling to mind the first covenant between God and Noah. They did so now in a National Covenant, first signed in Greyfriars' churchyard in Edinburgh in February 1638 and then circulated throughout Scotland. Among the first to take up the pen were men whose names would become synonymous with what were called the Bishops' Wars (1639-45); James Graham of Montrose (d. 1650), and Archibald Campbell of Argyll (d. 1661). But they were followed by hundreds more of every class; peers, educated gentry, ploughmen, and peasants. A more sensible king would have backed off at this point but Charles was infuriated by the challenge to the royal authority. He was determined to use English, and if necessary Irish, soldiers to reduce them to obedience, ignoring advice that he was “hazarding your three crowns”. In May, Charles sent his lord high commissioner, James Hamilton, to Scotland offering terms of truce, not so much to negotiate a settlement, but to buy time to raise an army. Hamilton was Charles' cousin, and had been raised alongside him in London. He was absolutely loyal to the king, but, as soon as he arrived, it was pretty clear that the Scots planned a national rebellion if he persisted in his religious innovations. So Hamilton convinced the king to call a General Assembly of the Scottish Church to try and work through the issues peacefully. Meeting in Glasgow in November 1638, it immediately got out of Hamilton's control. The Covenanters secured practically every nomination for themselves, through a combination of intimidation and genuine popularity, and then barred the Scottish bishops from the hall, the one group supportive of Charles. Ignoring Hamilton's attempts to guide the proceedings, the assembly went far beyond repudiating the new prayer book, and set about stripping-out every religious reform since King James had emerged from his minority, including the bishops. By the time it finally dissolved itself, everyone knew that, come the spring, it was going to be war. Charles was already preparing to deal with this nuisance in the north, sending summons out for an English army of 20,000 to meet the Covenanters head on, while another 5,000 would flank them by sea. But he found that there was no enthusiasm in England to fight the Scots. The nobles were reluctant to risk their lives for a royal cause they basically didn't care about; and if the king won, and became supreme, their liberties might be further at risk. And that is to say nothing of English Puritans who actively sympathised with their Scottish co-religionists. Charles managed to rally some 15,000 men at the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, but the vast majority were untrained conscripts who were ready to desert the first chance they got. The Scots had meanwhile sent urgent word to the veteran mercenary-soldier, Alexander Leslie of Leven (d. 1661), who had risen to the rank of field marshal in the legendary army of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the "Lion of the North". Leslie returned to Scotland, and immediately took over as commander-in-chief, bringing with him a cadre of experienced officers and a corps of battle-hardened troops. As a war, the First Bishops War of 1639 was a damp squib. The only fighting was in the north-east of Scotland, where Scottish royalists led by the Catholic George Gordon of Huntly (d. 1649) crossed swords with the Earl of Montrose. The naval expedition under Hamilton was unable to make its landing against well-prepared resistance, throwing the whole royalist strategy into disarray. Charles decided to postpone any attack upon the Scots until he was quite certain that he could defeat them, and so negotiate a truce; the Pacification of Berwick (18 June). If he was going to raise a bigger army to suppress rebellious Scotland then he was going to have to call another English parliament; there was no other option. In April 1640, the first parliament in eleven years met in Westminster. Like its predecessors, the members were more interest in redressing their grievances than in voting the king funds to pursue his war against the Scottish Covenanters. After much cajoling, Charles attempted to reach a compromise whereby he would cease to levy "ship money" in return for the parliamentary subsidies. But his offer was met with prevarication. In early May, Charles lost patience and dissolved parliament, after a session lasting just three weeks; which is why this is called the Short Parliament. Despite a shortage of funds, Charles sent a second army north for what is remembered as the Second Bishops’ War of 1640. It was even more dismal than the first. Bolstered by events in England, the Covenanters seized the initiative, crossing the border with their main army, scattering the king's forces at the Battle of Newburn (August 1640), and then occupying the undefended city of Newcastle. On English soil, Leslie maintained strict discipline with no sacking or looting, because he knew that this was going to come down to a political settlement in the end. Against this backdrop, twelve leading English lords presented Charles with an ultimatum; if the king failed to summon a parliament, they themselves were prepared to summon one under a precedent from the troubled reign of Henry III almost 400 years before. The king reacted in an equally medieval way, calling instead a long-defunct Great Council of Peers. By the time it met, Charles had already bowed to the inevitable, and announced that he would indeed summon parliament.

The Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, kneeling to King Charles during the ill-judged attempt to arrest five members of parliament.

The so-called Long Parliament, which convened for the first time in November 1640, became one of the great institutions of English history. It lasted in one form or another through the English Civil War, until it oversaw the Restoration twenty years later. If there was a moment during this entire period when parliament was fully united in opposition to King Charles (except for a few diehard royalists) then November 1640 was that moment. That unity would not withstand the enormous pressures that were about to force everyone to take sides in the forthcoming civil war, but, for now, the 450-odd members who came together in Westminster were ready for a reckoning with the king, and fairly represented the collective will of the English populace; or at least the third of males who could vote. The most influential opponent of Charles in the Commons was a Somerset Puritan, John Pym (d. 1643), one of the few veteran MPs returning from the sessions of the 1620s and '30s. As with the Short Parliament, the first order of business was venting frustration about the last eleven years, most especially religious innovation and taxation without parliamentary approval. Modern historian still debate which agitated the people more, but, whichever it was, the two issues were linked by a central theme; the king had been led astray by "bad" councillors, specifically Archbishop William Laud and Thomas Wentworth of Strafford. There was a subtler agenda behind these personal attacks of the Charles' most trusted advisers; to use the unprecedented leverage over the king to give parliament powers of government. The trial of the Earl of Strafford for high treason was the climax of the first phase of the Long Parliament. John Pym had good reason to fear Strafford. There is good evidence that Pym and his colleagues had engaged in some pretty treasonous correspondence with the Scottish rebels throughout the Bishops Wars, and may even have invited them to invade England. It was widely believed that Strafford was gathering evidence that could see them all beheaded. The trial was a travesty. The quick-witted Strafford tore apart his accusers and the pitiful evidence ranged against him; he was guilty of many misdeeds, but not treason. The key allegation by Sir Henry Vane was that Strafford, as governor of Ireland, had advised the king "You have an army in Ireland you may employ here to reduce this kingdom". It was obvious from the context Strafford had been referring to Scotland, but the prosecution launched into an utterly contrived argument that he had been taking about reducing England. With the case on the verge of collapse, Pym and his allies turned to blunter instrument, and introduced a Bill of Attainder, a terrifying medieval device whereby parliament simply declared one guilty of some crime without a legal burden of proof. Strafford might still have been saved but for Charles' ill-advised attempt to liberate him from the Tower of London by force. The scheme thoroughly alienated parliament, which passed the Bill of Attainder, and all that was left was for Charles to sign the death warrant. With excited mobs rioting in London, Charles, fearing for the safety of his family, reluctantly assented; the only political execution of his reign. On 12 May, the earl went to his death on Tower Hill in front of what was said to be the largest multitude ever gathered in England. Parliament, with the bit between their teeth, now prepared the Grand Remonstrance, an exhaustive and rather paranoid list of the king’s misdeeds since he had come to the throne. John Pym and his colleagues planned to use the document as the basis for extracting concessions from the king. Just at that moment, the crisis in England, precipitated by invasion from Scotland, was fatally aggravated by events in Ireland. In October 1641, another rebellion broke out, the Irish Confederate Wars (1641-1653), spurred by well-founded fears that a militant Puritan English parliament would re-double anti-Catholic measures and land confiscations. But a limited uprising by dispossessed Irish Catholic landowners soon got out of hand in a popular outpouring of hatred for recent Protestant colonists in the “Ulster Plantations". Thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered, sometimes with unusual cruelty. Protestants responded with violent reprisals in an orgy of ethnic and sectarian brutality. Gruesome stories soon trickled over from Ireland that 150,000 and more had been killed. The more sober truth was that about 5,000 English Protestants had been killed, and an equal number of Irish Catholics. But given English prejudice against Catholics, and the Irish in particular, these exaggerated stories were readily believed, If the Scottish uprising triggered the constitutional crisis in England (forcing Charles to recall parliament), then the Irish revolt raised the stakes considerably..All sides agreed that an army now had to be mustered to put it down, but the king’s opponents would not trust him to command it in case he used it against them and their Scottish allies. Sensing parliamentary unity wavering, John Pym pressed ahead urgently with the Grand Remonstrance, which was passed in the Commons by a mere eleven votes; and probably had no hope in the Lords. Increasing numbers of moderates were beginning to think the upheaval was getting out of hand. This glimpse of support tempts the king into an impetuous and disastrous move. He decided to make a dramatic personal appearance in parliament to arrest for treason five leading opponents, including John Pym. In fairness to Charles, Pym was hardly playing strictly by the constitutional rules himself. A rowdy mob permanently surrounded the Houses of Parliament menacing anyone who was not for Pym. When Pym lost a vote to publish and publicly circulate the Grand Remonstrance, he quietly leaked it to the underground presses. Charles had been warned that Pym was preparing impeach Queen Henrietta Maria for allegedly conspiring with Catholic powers abroad; where there was impeachment, there might well be attainder. On 4 January 1642, Charles went with his bodyguard and a few hundred armed courtiers to the Houses of Parliament. Leaving his escort outside, he entered the Commons alone, but found, as he said, that "all the birds were flown". Tipped off, the five men had already escaped by boat. He then asked the Speaker to help him find the offending members, who famously replied, "May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place, but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here". Much discomfited, he had to leave, his hands empty, his power visibly rejected. Within a week, Charles had left London for Hampton Court, and then the most defensible Windsor Castle; his wife, target of much hostility as a foreigner and a Catholic, travelled to safety in the Dutch Netherlands. He would not return to his capital for another seven years, and then only to stand trial for his life.

Cavliers and Roundheads, the familiar terms for the two sides in the English Civil War. The distinction has been immortalized in the comic classic of English history 1066 And All That by Sellar and Yeatman, where the Cavaliers were described as "wrong but romantic" and the Roundheads as "right but repulsive". We should not exaggerate the social or cultural differences between the two armies, which mainly derives from later literature and paintings. Parliament’s forces for most of the war were commanded by peers and their sons; at Edgehill, for instance, the proportion of noble officers on the parliamentary side was twice that on the king’s.

With the king unwilling to make any further concessions to a parliamentary faction unwilling to back-down, armed conflict began to seem the only solution. The early months of 1642 were taken up with futile negotiations full of unreasonable demands, and barely concealed paranoia about the intentions of the other side. This flurry of public letters, however, was really about swaying public opinion, so that King Charles was able to claim that he was the aggrieved victim, while parliament could argue that the king was making was on his own people. Also hampering negotiations was the fact that royalist members of parliament steadily slipped-out of London to join the king's side, which had the unfortunate effect of skewing parliament decidedly radical, further polarising the political struggle, and pushing a peaceful settlement off the table. Meanwhile, both sides began raising forces, not because they were bent on war, but to defend themselves and strengthen their bargaining positions. England was the one major power in Europe without a standing army. Aside from a few mercenary adventurers who had seen service on the continent, the generation that fought the Civil War had no military experience to speak of, and it would showed; Gustavus Adolphus, they were not. The only thing resembling an army were the Trained Bands, local militias organised country by county which were supposed to receive regular drilling, though this was rarely the case in practice. Both sides tried to fold these militias into their field armies; parliament approved the quasi-legal Militia Ordinance (March 1642) claiming control of the Trained Bands, and Charles responded with his own equally unconstitutional Commissions of Array. The contradictory commands caused much disquiet. Many declared a state of armed neutrality, and resisted both parties. Those that did pick a side often proved as much of a hindrance as a help. The whole point of the militias were to defend their home counties; they were not keen on campaigning far from home, and could turn mutinous if not allowed to go home after a few months. As important as the men were the local arsenals. When Charles left London, he handed parliament control of, not only the largest city, commercial centre, and local militia in England, but its biggest armour and weapons cache in the Tower. He then moved too hesitantly to secure the other major cache in the port-city of Hull, which was in the hands of parliament represented by Sir John Hotham. Hotham refused to admit King Charles in the last week of April 1642, stating that the sovereign authority of the king was ultimately invested in parliament; he could not have declared in a more unambiguous manner a new doctrine of the unlimited sovereignty of parliament - an idea with a future. By the summer, the two sides were beginning to acquire a definite shape, known to history by the familiar terms "Cavaliers and Roundheads". These were originally derogatory names coined by the opposing side. The stereotypical royalist Cavalier had long flowing hair, fancy clothes, a feathered hats, an aristocratic manner, a preference for fighting on horseback, and a romantic attachment to authority. The stereotypical parliament Roundhead on the other hand was a joyless Puritan, with short hair cropped under a pudding basin, plain clothes, and an unconscionable desire to upend the natural order. Events now had a momentum of their own, each move prompting a counter-move and each rumour producing a further reaction. In June, the king appointed a new lord admiral of the English navy, and parliament countered by nominating the earl of Warwick to the same post. Warwick, a veteran captain popular with the sailors, worked quickly to consolidate his control of the navy, boarding and overpowering ships that declared for the king. In the long run that would be an outstanding advantage: parliament could move her forces more quickly to trouble spots, while the royalists constantly struggled with supply issues throughout the conflict. At the beginning of July, parliament declared that the king had already placed himself at the head of his force, and placed Robert Devereux of Essex (d. 1646) in charge of a parliamentary army. Essex was the son of Queen Elizabeth's last favourite, who had been executed for treason in 1601 after staging a half-baked rebellion. Ostracized from court, he had spent the 1620s serving in Protestant armies in the Dutch Netherlands and Germany, and then been one of the few members of the Lords demanding Strafford's head, no ifs no buts. Thus the parliamentary leadership could be assured that they were putting troops in the hands of man who both knew how to fight, and was willing to fight; on both counts they would be disappointed.


On 22 August 1642, King Charles raised the royal standard at Nottingham, signalling that he was at war with his Parliamentarian enemies; worryingly for the superstitious, it fell down that night in a storm. The First Civil War (1642-46) had begun. There was support for the king in northern England, the West Midlands, the West Counties, and Wales. Parliamentary strength resided above all in London, south-eastern England, together with the more commercially advanced towns and ports; the clothing towns in the West Yorkshire for example. However, the geographical division of a royal north-west and a parliamentary south-east is too broad a generalization. The most striking characteristic of the conflict is the split loyalty which often divides counties, towns, villages and sometimes families. Personalities, old quarrels, local history, local social and economic conditions, and above all religion counted, but so too did pay or other inducements; it was not uncommon for prisoners-of-war to turncoat, and re-enlist on their captors’ side. The most striking characteristic of the conflict is the split loyalty which often divides counties, towns, villages and families; in perhaps one in ten gentry families, fathers, sons and brothers were drawn to opposite sides. One heartbreaking letter from Sir William Waller (d. 1668) reveals the dilemma and mixed feeling that were unfolding all over the country, as friends were torn apart by forces not of their making, "The great God, that is the searcher of my heart, knows with what a sad sense I go about this service, and with what a perfect hatred I detest this war without an enemy. But I look upon it as sent from God, and that is enough to silence all passion in me. We are upon the stage and must act those parts that are assigned to us in this tragedy. Let us do so in a way of honour and without personal animosities. Whatever the outcome I will never willingly relinquish the title of Your most affectionate friend". By early September, Charles finally felt that he had enough men to march south with the strategic aim of reaching London, while Essex marched north to prevent him. With both armies now numbering over 15,000, it was inevitable that cavalry reconnaissance units would meet sooner or later. This happened in the first major skirmish at Powick Bridge near Worcester, where an advanced guard of parliamentary cavalry was scattered by their royalist counterpart under the king’s German nephew, Prince Rupert (d. 1682), the son of his sister and Frederick V, one time Elector of the Palatine. Dashing twenty-two-year-old Rupert was probably the most talented cavalry commander of the early war, but maddeningly ill-disciplined in the field. This was all too evident at the subsequent Battle of Edgehill (October 1642). It was widely believed that one great battle would resolve the issue, and for a brief moment it looked like it. As the two infantry lines clashed, Prince Rupert's calvary charge broke the parliamentary cavalry. But rather than wheeling around and attacking the exposed parliamentary centre, he galloped jubilantly in pursuit of his defeated enemy until nightfall brought a natural close to hostilities. Not for the last time in the war, the loss of discipline turned a potential royalist victory into an inconclusive mauling. Charles, never before in a battle, was himself horrified by the slaughter, and by the extent of the enemy that had been ranged against him. A more decisive commander would have immediately marched upon London, as Prince Rupert urged, but the king opted for caution, spending a week regrouping before resuming his advance. This of course gave parliament time to organise a defence, and, by the time the royalist army reached the outskirts of the capital, a 24,000 strong army stood at Turnham Green ready to stop them. Although urged to a engage such an obviously cobbled together host consisting mostly of armed citizens, Charles, fearing any grievous loss of life, ordered the retreat to Oxford. Thanks to its association with the still-imprisoned Archbishop Laud, Oxford was vehemently pro-royalist, and the king made his headquarters there for the rest of the war. A pause in hostilities for the winter prompted calls from some quarters for peace and accommodation, but it quickly became apparent that the recent bloodshed had only made each side dig-in even harder. From the spring of 1643, the war widened with skirmishes, minor battles, and sieges all over the country without much central planning or control. In northern England, Leeds was taken by the royalists, consolidating control of Yorkshire and forcing the parliamentarian to withdraw to Hull under Ferdinando Fairfax of Cameron (d. 1648), ably supported by his son thirty-year-old son Thomas Fairfax (d. 1671); later commander-in-chief of the New Model Army. In the West Midlands, the Battle of Roundway Down (July 1632) also went to the royalists, allowing them to take supposedly impregnable Bristol, England’s second port, To consolidate his position in the west, Charles' main army marched towards Gloucester, further up the river Severn. It was likely that the city would have fallen to direct assault, but the king, unwilling to risk the casualties that would incur, opted to lay siege. With hindsight, putting a higher priority on minimising losses over victory threw away Charles' best and last chance of ending the conflict on his own terms. After three weeks, a parliamentary relief force under the earl of Essex arrived on the scene and forced them to withdraw., For a few weeks the two armies turned and manoeuvred, marched and counter-marched, with the parliamentary army trying to withdraw to London, and the royalists cutting them off. As with Edgehill, both sides hoped the ensuing First Battle of Newbury (September 1643) would be decisive. It was not a battle notable for tactics or for strategy, but rather a grim and bloodstained "push of pike", in the phrase of the period. When night fell, Newbury turned out to be just as indecisive as Edgehill had been.

The Battle of Marston Moor was the largest battle of the civil wars, and perhaps the largest battle ever fought on English soil. The royalist defeat resulted in the loss of northern England, much of its manpower, and access to the continent through northern ports. Although they partially retrieved their fortunes with victories in southern England later in the year, this was to prove a fatal handicap the next year.

Over the second winter of the war both sides sought outside help. King Charles agreed a truce with the Irish Catholic rebels in order to free-up the English troops stationed in Ireland to come over and fight for him. Many were now concerned that Irish “papist” troops could join the royalist cause, Although highly impractical and never Charles' intention, the Scottish Covenanters immediately broke-off negotiations with the royalists, and make common cause with parliament. By the Solemn League and Covenant (September 1643), the parliamentarians were reinforced by a Scottish army of twenty-one thousand men under Alexander Leslie, in return for a commitment to reforming the Anglican Church into an exact replica of that in Scotland; an agreement negotiated by John Pym before his death from cancer in December. With the arrival of the Scots, the tide of victory started to turn in the rebels’ favour. Parliament's command of London and most of the significant ports already gave it far greater financial resources than those of the king. It now had armies of roughly twice the size of those commanded by the king. In northern England, once the Scots had fought their way south, the Fairfaxes were able to go back on the offensive, laying siege to York. Prince Rupert was sent north with a 17,000-strong army to restore the situation, only to be conclusively defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644). Hitherto Rupert’s great weapon, his cavalry charge, had been irresistible. By Marston Moor the parliamentary cavalry, under a certain Oliver Cromwell (d. 1658), was as proficient in the saddle as their royalist counterparts, and much more disciplined. In the end, that discipline, and the bravery of the Scottish infantry, turned the battle into a routed. Over 4,000 of the king’s troops died in probably the largest battle ever fought on English soil; parliament now controlled the north, a key source of recruits and supplies through northern ports. Yet the parliamentary campaigns of 1644 had almost as many setbacks as victories. In the Midlands, two parliamentary armies, under the earl of Essex and Sir William Waller respectively, converged upon Oxford in order to bring Charles to a decisive battle. To avoid being trapped, the king made a night march to escape to Worcester. Yet he was still in imminent danger until Essex made the controversial decision to divide the parliamentary army; Waller would continue the pursuit of the king, while he himself marched south-west to lift the siege of the Lyme Regis and perhaps capture the queen at Exeter. A series of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres saw Charles give Waller's army a mauling at Cropredy Bridge (June 1644), and then set-off in pursuit of Essex. His response was to move further west into the solidly royalist West Counties, where his army was trapped at Lostwithiel (September 1644); Essex and his cavalry escaped by cover of night, but more than 5,000 infantry were forced to surrender. By the time Charles doubled-back to the Midlands, Waller's army had been reinforced with troops from the north under another parliamentary general, the earl of Manchester. Largely through the incompetence of Manchester, the ensuing Second Battle of Newbury (October 1644) was inconclusive and the king was able to withdraw to the safety of Oxford. At the same time, a royalist revolt erupted in Catholic Highlands of Scotland, under the Marquess of Montrose and his Irish cousin Alaster "Colkitto" MacDonald (d. 1647), opening a new front in the war and forcing most of the Scottish Covenanters in England to return home.

Sir Thomas Fairfax, son of a Yorkshire peer, and commander of the parliamentary forces in the north from the outbreak of fighting in 1642. Before the war, he had served with the Swedish army, the most effective in Europe, and three of his brothers had been killed on the continent. Fairfax was made commander-in-chief of the New Model Army, and is credited with moulding it into a skilled and disciplined fighting force. He was worshipped by the soldiers, respected by his enemies. He was of course eventually overshadowed by his lieutenant Cromwell, who was more politically ambitious and radical in his actions.

With no end to the war was in sight, parliament took decisive steps in early 1645 to overhaul the way their army was organized. This led to the creation of the New Model Army, England's first standing army. It differed from earlier armies in that soldiers were paid directly by parliament and liable for service anywhere in the country, rather than part-time militias tied to a particular county. It was to be professional, disciplined, uniformed in red coats (the standard English uniform for the next 200 years), and designed with the sole purpose of defeating the king in battle, so no more angling for political settlements. To that end, the Self-Denying Ordinance was forced through parliament, by which members of parliament were barred from military command, although they could be re-appointed if Parliament approved. The earls of Manchester and Essex were thus effectively forced to resign, since as members of the House of Lords they could not resign their titles. The man chosen as commander-in-chief of the New Model Army was Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had previously been the modest and capable commander of parliament’s northern army; he would prove himself totally up to the job. Of course, Fairfax would in time be overshadowed by his second-in-command, Oliver Cromwell (d. 1658). Cromwell had been born into a noble family, but, because his father had been a younger son, the extensive estates he inherited qualified him as landed gentry rather than nobility. He had sat unnoticed in the parliamentary sessions of 1628 and 1629 as the MP for Huntingdon, associated with the passionate and godly Puritan cause; his intense religion was the most important aspect of his character. When the Short and Long Parliaments convened, he was elected MP for Cambridge, and was an outspoken, if still minor, member of the opposition, though linked to Pym's inner circle through his cousin, John Hampden (1643). When the civil war broke out, he quickly proved himself a natural leader of men, and an eminently capable cavalry commander. The turning point in his life was the decisive role his cavalry played in the victory at Marston Moor, which lifted him to eminence in parliament no less than on the field of battle. Moreover, Cromwell's obvious military talent gained him one of the only exemptions from the Self-Denying Ordinance, thus putting him in a unique position in that he was able to play a central role in both the military and political struggle against the king. As a sign that extremists within the parliamentary cause were seizing power, Archbishop Laud was at last taken from the Tower to the place of execution on Tower Hill. The campaign season of 1645 proved decisive. When King Charles took the main royalist field army north to retake northern England, Fairfax and the New Model Army laid siege to Charles' headquarters in Oxford. In response, Charles wheeled around and, to relieve the pressure, took the parliamentary town of Leicester by storm. This proved a disaster. The plentiful spoils saw his army shrink to barely 9,000 men, as war-weary troops deserted to take their booty home, while Fairfax decided to break-off the siege and engage him. At the ensuing Battle of Naseby (June 1645), the parliamentary army heavily outnumbered him, but Charles decided to stand and fight; it would be his undoing. After a tremendous royalist cavalry charge broke the left-wing of the New Model Army, Prince Rupert failed to follow up, indulging in pillaging the parliamentary baggage train. In his absence, Cromwell’s cavalry cleaned up on the right-wing, and then charged the royalist infantry. Charles fled the field as the battle turned into a rout, leaving behind all his artillery and the veteran core of his army; over 1,000 dead and another 4,500 captured. To heap indignity upon dismay, women found in the royalist camp were marked as “whores” by having their noses slit or faces slashed; wives of Irish soldiers were murdered. Although such atrocities were rare in England, these were alarming signs. Charles also lost his personal baggage containing all of his private correspondence. It revealed the extent of his efforts to entice Irish Catholics to fight for his cause with promises of Catholic toleration. These plans were largely fantasy, but only confirmed the parliamentarians’ darkest fears for England under the kingly divinity of the Stuarts. After Naseby, the First English Civil War was all over bar the mopping up: the last significant royalist army in the field was defeated at Langport in July; the key port of Bristol capitulated in August; and the hope of aid from the Scots died when Montrose was comprehensively defeated at Philiphaugh in September. In April 1645, Charles escaped the siege of Oxford disguised as a servant, and, instead of surrendering to parliament, gave himself up to the Scottish Covenanters at Newark, in the hope of creating divisions among his enemies. In this he would eventually be successful, but, for the meantime, the Scots reached an agreement with the English parliament after lengthy negotiations; they handed-over the king and withdraw all Scottish forces from England, in return for the full repayment of their war debts, with more to follow. The First English Civil War was over.

A contemporary woodcut parody of King Charles’s imprisonment in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, showing him stuck in the bars of a window

With Charles in custody, the problem for the victors was that the defeated king was in a surprisingly strong political position. A war-weary nation greeted him with a strange warmth as he travelled south to comfortable internment at Holdenby House near Northampton in February 1647; public opinion associated the king with peace and a return to normality. Meanwhile, the parliamentary coalition had become bitterly divided about their cause, with the question of what to do about the Church of England forming a fault-line. A majority within parliament became known as the "Presbyterian party". They sought to honour the Solemn League and Covenant with the Scots, and impose an authoritarian Presbyterianism on England, that would be tough on heresy and radical sects, and give much religious, and hence social and political, power to committees of godly clergy and lay elders. In contrast, Oliver Cromwell was an "Independent"; as are a majority in the New Model Army and a minority in parliament. Puritans of this kind tended to be more exaltedly religious men, demanding the right to organise their own godly congregations and liberty of conscience for unorthodox Protestant beliefs. There was disagreement too about the political settlement with the king, but, aware of the division, Charles planned to play the factions against one another to get the best deal possible. During the first six months of 1647, the antagonism between the two side intensified, with the New Model Army itself becoming the focus. Its heavy cost, whether met through taxation or exaction from defeated royalists, caused mounting resentment. The obvious solution was to disband most of the army, but for a contingent to be sent to deal with the still ongoing rebellion in Ireland. The problem was that the New Model Army simply refused to disband until their demands were met, especially as they were owed large arrears of pay. Many too were preoccupied with indemnity for military actions taken during the war; soldiers feared being sued by litigious royalists for assault, theft, or destruction of property. These grievances turned the army into a political actor, forming its own political council with Cromwell as its leading light. In early June, Cromwell, with his usual genius for tactics, seized the most important piece on the chessboard. He despatched his able lieutenant George Joyce to seize King Charles from Parliament's control at Holdenby House, and carried him as hostage to the old Tudor palace of Hampton Court. Delving deeper into political waters, the army then demanded the expulsion of eleven Presbyterian MPs who had been particularly hostile towards them; the eleven, including one of the five men Charles had tried to arrest in 1642; the eleven men thought it prudent to withdraw from Westminster and eventually to flee abroad. The army was thus proving itself just as much an enemy to parliamentary privilege as the king had been. The Presbyterians became more conciliatory and more fearful after the expulsions, but did not calculate on the ferocious response of Londoners, who feared for their lives and property if the army came to rule. Mobs besieged parliament demanding that Independent members repudiate the army. Some sixty members, together with the Speaker, fled for the army camp at Reading, adding legitimacy to Fairfax's decision to march the whole army upon London to restore order. As soldiers marched through the streets of London in August, it was all very orderly and disciplined, but there was no mistaking the fact that the New Model Army was now the dominant power in the nation. The king was now negotiating directly with Cromwell and the other army leaders, who in turn were contending with more radical voices within their ranks; the Levellers. This fringe group has fascinated modern historians because of their revolutionary and prophetic ideas, such as government by consent of the people, universal male suffrage, and equality before the law; famously debated in a series of meetings in Putney held from late October 1647 and lasting three weeks. The proposals that emerged from Putney Debate were not well received by the army commanders, Fairfax and Cromwell, who suppressed the short-lived movement by threatening to resign; such ideas would not be revisited for another one-hundred-and-fifty years during the French Revolution. In the meantime, Charles took advantage of the deflection of attention away from himself by slipping away from Hampton Court, and making for the relative safety of the Isle of Wight. There he opened negotiations with the Scots, who now feared the English had never had any intention of meeting either their financial or spiritual obligations to their erstwhile brothers-in-arms. These negotiations led to a secret agreement known as The Engagement (December 1647), whereby the Scots undertook to invade England on Charles's behalf and restore him to the throne, on condition that Presbyterianism be established in England for a trial period of three years; and putting England on the path to renewed civil war.

Oliver Cromwell, landed gentleman, Puritan, politician, parliamentary general, "Angry heaven’s flame", and eventually king of England in all but name. Cromwell is one of the most controversial figures in British history, considered a regicidal military dictator by some (including Winston Churchill), and a hero of constitutional government by others. His tolerance of radical Protestant sects did not extend to Catholics, and his actions in Ireland have been characterised by some as genocide.

The Second English Civil War (1648-49) was both shorter than the first and more disperse, with revolts erupting simultaneously in many parts of the country in anticipation of the Scottish invasion. The first fighting broke-out in Wales, a sensitive area; as most of it had been solidly royalist during the war, in reaction against a virulent new strain of English xenophobia on the parliamentary side. There, unpaid parliamentary soldiers switch sides in fear of being disbanded without their wages. As Oliver Cromwell rode off to quell this initial uprising, Kent and Essex both flared-up, forcing Thomas Fairfax to cease preparations for a campaign against the Scots, and march east into what had been solidly parliamentarian territory. These revolts were characterised less by support for the king, than vehement opposition to parliament and the army. In order to wage their war against the king, parliament had been force to levy very heavy taxation, lock-up dissenters without due process of law, and billet soldiers without consent; basically everything they had railed against during Charles' personal rule. Without a coherent strategy to co-ordinate the scattered fighting into what might have been a successful rebellion, the fate of England depended on the Scots. But when the Scottish Engager army crossed the border in July, It was by no means the veteran army of Alexander Leslie. Recruitment had been severely hampered by the Scottish Presbyterian church, which actively preached against The Engagement, and it's pitiful three year trial period; religious union with England was now seen as essential in order to preserve Presbyterianism in Scotland. The Scottish army, under James Hamilton (d. 1649), made a slow progress southward through the rain and wind of an unseasonably cold summer; much smaller than expected, ill-trained, and so ill-supplied that they alienated potential supporters by plundering the countryside. They had hoped to link-up with the royalist uprising in Wales, but it was quickly crushed by Cromwell and his invincible cavalry. Then Cromwell turned on the Scots. The ensuing Battle of Preston (August 1648) was the first battle in which he enjoyed overall command, and a resounding victory; He then pursued the battered and broken remnant of the Scottish army, until it laid down its arms. With news of the victory, the royalist cause rapidly collapsed, though Colchester held-out for a few more weeks. The Second English Civil War made the First seem like a restrained and gentlemanly affair; no mercy was given. Rebel prisoners were sometimes executed in cold blood, and leaders were often sentenced to death by firing squad. Colchester was its distasteful and inglorious conclusion. Fairfax had decided to starve the city into submission. Having exhausted the cats and dogs, the inhabitants were forced to eat soap and candles. When the garrison commander tried to send 500 women and children out of the town, Fairfax refused to receive them and drove them back behind the walls. Trapped, as it was said, "by Captain Storm without and Captain Hunger within", the city surrendered at the end of August.

In truth, the trial and execution of the king was contrived by a small, if committed, minority faction who in no way represented the wishes of the nation. The Long Parliament had convened in 1640 with about 450 MPs, half of whom withdrew before the civil war. The parliamentary faction then saw more than half their number removed during Pride's Purge. The resulting minority Rump Parliament put the king on trial, but more than half their number refused to attend. In the end, just 67 MPs sentenced the king to death, of whom only 59 agreed to sign their names. At the moment of execution, the crowd did not cheer but groan, sensing a terrible deed had been done.

In the course of the second civil war, the army had resolved that King Charles must go; denouncing him as, "that man of blood". Oliver Cromwell himself had been inclined to leniency towards the king, but the renewal of war had shifted him into the radical camp. The king, he decided, had had become a menace to the stability of the state; he was too dangerous, too slippery, and had supporters in all three kingdoms. After Preston, Cromwell was seized with a sense of destiny and of religious purpose; as a soldier and as a politician he saw,himself as doing "God's work", and he did it, single-mindedly. Yet a majority of the Lords and Commons still wished to negotiate with the king; they, together with the large part of the population, now wished for peace at any price. Indeed, Charles was in a more tractable mood, no doubt because his military options were effectively at an end. He submitted in large part to the religious, military, and constitutional demands of the parliamentary negotiators in the Newport Treaty. But events were moving towards an uncontrollable finish. On the first day of December, Charles was forcibly removed from the Isle of Wight, and imprisoned under twenty-four-hour guard in the dreary Hurst Castle in Hampshire; and thereafter in Windsor Castle. Then on 6 December 1648, in what is called Pride’s Purge, 143 Presbyterian MPs were ejected from parliament by troops under Colonel Thomas Pride. It was the first, and last, military coup d’état in English history, and reduced the Commons to the so-called Rump Parliament of about 150 members acceptable to the army; many more stayed away in protest, so that the Rump had barely 80 regular attendees. On 20 January 1649, Charles was conducted into Westminster Hall to be put on trial for his life. To the refusal of the House of Lords to participate, the Commons declared themselves to be the supreme power in the state; that they represented the people. Like Cromwell, Charles was seized with a sense of destiny; he was prepared to be martyred for the principles for which he fought. For once, he overcame his stammer and spoke loudly and clearly over the three day trial, though refused to defend himself or even to plead. He was asked to plead forty-three times altogether, but would not recognise the jurisdiction of the court, stating, "I would know by what power I am called hither, by what lawful authority?" Sir Thomas Fairfax pleaded for his life. The Prince of Wales, from exile in the Dutch Netherlands, sent a blank sheet of signed paper, so that parliament might write down any conditions it wished. Even Algernon Sidney, a prominent republican political theorist, was among the MPs who refused to attend the trial, stating, "First, the king could be tried by no court; secondly, that no man could be tried by that court". These pleas made no difference. With the outcome inevitable, the king was unanimously sentenced to death by the just 67 MPs who attended the final day of the trial, of whom only 59 agreed to sign the warrant, including Cromwell. On the morning of 30 January 1649, King Charles I was led to the scaffold that had been hastily constructed outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was so bitter cold that he wore two shirts, for if people saw him shiver they might mistake it for fear. When the head was severed from the body, there was no cry of triumph, only "such a groan by the thousands then present, as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again", according to an eyewitness. Realizing the unpopularity of their action, the army hurriedly hustled the thousands of appalled spectators out of Whitehall. In the days and weeks that followed, parliament formally abolished the office of king, along with the House of Lords; Britain had become a republic, known as The Commonwealth (1649-53). Historians have traditionally dated the end of the civil wars as 1648, but this reflects a particularly Anglocentric viewpoint; as does the term "English Civil War", since the conflict involved Scotland and Ireland too. Cromwell soon turned his attention to Ireland where turmoil had been continual since the rebellion of 1641, and a royalist army, in a fragile coalition with Irish Catholics, remained to threaten the English republic. Moreover, the uncooperative Scots, furious at the English failure to consult them before killing their king, had proclaimed the eighteen-year-old Prince of Wales the new king as Charles II Stuart.

Cromwell in Ireland[]


In the midst of the English Civil War, Ireland was convulsed by eleven years of warfare, beginning with the Rebellion of 1641. The situation in Ireland was complicated in the wake of the Tudor Conquest of Ireland. In the north, the lands of exiled Gaelic Irish lords had been parcelled-out to predominantly Scottish Presbyterian families; the first phase of what would later be called the Plantation of Ulster. In order to help pay for the plantation, King James I turned to the commercial guilds of London, that were already backing colonies in north America. The guilds built their own city on the site of Derry, renamed Londonderry after them. These Presbyterians would never be assimilated with Gaelic Irish society as the earlier Anglo-Norman settlers had; traditionally called the New English and Old English respectively. By 1640, 75% of all land in Ulster was owned by Protestants, though the native Irish still outnumbered them as tenant farmers. The province, formerly a hotbed of native rebellion, was well on the way to becoming the Northern Ireland we know today. In the rest of Ireland, things were different. Whether Gaelic Irish and Old English, Catholics still owned the majority of land, though they lived in constant fear of being accused of disloyalty and losing their estates, as had happened in Ulster. At least under King Charles I, with his more moderate brand of Protestantism, there seemed hope of a degree of religious tolerance and secure land tenure. With the outbreak of the Bishops War in 1638, Charles’ lord deputy of Ireland, the earl of Strafford, negotiated with Irish Catholic lord to mobilise an Irish army to put down the rebellion in Scotland, in return for concessions. Then in late 1640, the king's conflict with the Long Parliament began. By mid-1641, Strafford had been executed for treason, and the Irish army ordered to disband. Faced with the prospect of a militant Puritan English parliament, Irish Catholics would rebel.

The Portadown Massacre, one of a number of notorious events during the Irish Confederate Wars, that have marred Catholic and Protestant relations in Ireland for centuries.

The rebellion of October 1641 was intended as a bloodless coup, with the main objective being to use surprise to take Dublin and other key strongholds, and then issue demands. However, betrayed by informants, the plan was foiled and events quickly spiralled out of the control into anarchy. The Irish Confederate Wars (1641-53) quickly descended into a horrifying sectarian bloodbath between Irish Catholics (both Gaelic Irish and Old English) on one side, and Protestant settlers on the other. In Ulster, it unleashed a spasm of rage from the dispossessed known as the Ulster Massacres. Protestant settlers were beaten, robbed, expelled from their homes into the winter, and, as the violence escalated, killed. The Portadown Massacre (November 1641) was one of the notorious incident, where about 100 planters including women and children were rounded up, taken to the bridge in the town, stripped naked, and forced at pikes-point into the freezing River Bann to perish. Soon pamphlets appeared in London claiming that over 200,000 Protestant settlers had lost their lives; modern estimates suggest a more modest number of 4,000, although many more no doubt died from deprivation and disease. The English government forces responded very much in kind, with brutal and absolutely indiscriminate reprisals against the civilian population. By the summer of 1642, the rebellion had become more of a conventional war between the Irish Catholics controlling more than two-thirds of Ireland, and the English controlled enclaves around Cork, Dublin, Carrickfergus, and Derry. With the full outbreak of the English Civil War, no English troops were available to put down the rebellion, which allowed the Catholic rebels to coalesce into something resembling a united movement, with effectively a separate government in Kilkenny known as Confederate Ireland (1642-52). Choosing the lesser of two evils, the Confederates professed loyalty to King Charles against the more radically Puritan parliament. The English force in Dublin under the Earl of Ormonde also remained loyal to the king, but negotiations didn't go beyond a ceasefire with the Confederates, that allowed some of his forces to withdraw to England to fight for Charles. However, the Protestant forces in Cork and Ulster declared allegiance for parliament, and repeated attempts to dislodge them were an abysmal failure. By the time of the second phase of the civil war in 1648, there had been a reshuffling of allegiances in English held Ireland: Dublin reconciled with parliament, while Cork and Carrickfergus switched allegiance to the king. In the end though, this made no difference.

Oliver Cromwell at the siege of Drogheda. The parliamentarian reconquest of Ireland was unquestionably severe, even by the standards of the day, and Cromwell remains a figure of infamy in Irish history. Whether this reputation is deserved or not has provided fine sport for historians ever since. On the one hand, it is difficult not to sense a degree of guilt and self-justification in Cromwell's personal letters about the campaign. On the other hand, Cromwell was far from the most viscerally anti-Catholic member of the English parliament.

With the parliamentary victory in the English Civil War and execution of King Charles, Oliver Cromwell was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland, with orders to being Ireland, "to the obedience of the parliament of England". In August 1649, Cromwell launch his infamous invasion of Ireland. The first phase of the English Civil War had been almost a restrained and gentlemanly affair, while the second phase often saw no quarter given; the Irish phase would see the savagery escalation once again. Three centuries later, Winston Churchill, still wrestling with the Irish Question, remarked of Cromwell's legacy, "he cut new gulf between the nations and the creeds; upon us all still lies the curse of Cromwell." Landing in Dublin, almost the only parliamentary stronghold in Ireland, Cromwell's strategy was to secure control over the east coast, and then move into the interior. In early September, he besieged the key walled-city of Drogheda. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the garrison of both Irish Catholics and English royalists refused to surrender, so Cromwell opened up with his cannons and soon had a breach. At this point in a siege, the garrison would normally surrender, but the Irish still refused. This prompted Cromwell to issue his infamous order to give no quarter. After the city was stormed, the entire garrison was killed in the ensuing massacre, along with any priests and monks in the city, and no doubt many civilians; 3,000 died in the slaughter. The carnage at Drogheda was repeated two weeks later at Wexford. The military aim was to terrorize the rebels into abandoning resistance, but no terms of surrender were offered that would guarantee their lives and property, so most fought on. In the following March, Kilkenny fell, the capital of Confederate Ireland, and that same month the royalist forces in Carrickfergus reconciled with parliament. By April, Cromwell was at Clonmell, one of the last major centres of resistance. Although he wound-up taking the city against spirited resistance, it came at the heavy cost of around 2,000 casualties, after the defender lured the New Model Army into a clever trap. This was Cromwell's last action in Ireland, for he was recalled by parliament in May to deal with the renewed threat of a Scottish invasion in support of the future King Charles II. The Irish campaign was entrusted to Cromwell's son-in-law, Henry Ireton. The last two years of the war were a brutal scorched-earth mop-up campaign against Irish resistance reduced to guerilla warfare, that caused massive loss of life among the general population from famine, disease, and deprivation. Ireton himself died of bubonic plague just before the surrender the largest Irish guerrilla forces in May 1652, on condition that they would be allowed to go into exile. This is generally considered to be the end of the Irish Confederate Wars, although pockets of resistance held-out for another year.


Had the royalists won the English Civil War, the result could have been an autonomous Catholic ruled Ireland. Instead, what happened next changed the Irish social order irrevocably. Rather than limiting blame to the rebel leaders, the English seemed perfectly willing to blame the Irish collectively. What parliament needed was not Irish heads but Irish land, in order to clear its debts from the civil war. The Act of Settlement (1652) decreeing that only those Catholic landowners able to prove their constant support for the parliamentary cause would escape having their estates confiscated. To have been merely neutral was itself a crime; those were obliged to exchange their lands for new poorer lands in Connacht, west of the River Shannon. In Irish popular memory, Cromwell is said to have declared that the Irish nobility must go "to Hell or to Connacht". A handful of large Irish Catholic landowners survived, but the grand narrative was of dispossession. In 1640, about 70% of all land in Ireland was in the hands of the Catholics; by 1660 the figure was only about 22%. Across the country a new Protestant ruling class was being installed. But English dreams of a pacified Ireland have always been hostage to external events. By 1688, Cromwell was long dead and the monarchy restored, but King James II was a Catholic, and when his son was born, the nightmare of Protestant England under a Catholic dynasty was at hand. Haunted by the memories of Queen Mary's persecutions, Protestant noblemen ask William of Orange to invade England and reestablish a Protestant monarchy. The result was a glorious and largely bloodless revolution; it would not be bloodless in Ireland.

Commonwealth and Restoration in England[]

Cromwell at Dunbar, by Andrew Carrick Gow. The Battle of Dunbar was probably Cromwell's finest hour on the battlefield. Outnumbered, in a weak defensive position, and low on supplies, his surprise attack won a decisive victory.

Following the execution of Charles I Stuart, the government of the Commonwealth of England was formally declared in May 1649, after acts had been passed to abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords. Political power resided in the Rump Parliament, which swelled from 75 to 213 members in the year following the regicide. There was also an elected thirteen-member executive arm called the Council of State, with Oliver Cromwell as its first chairman. The New Model Army continued to exert considerable political influence as well. The Commonwealth faced the immediate threat of King Charles' eldest son, 19-year-old Prince Charles (d. 1685); the future Charles II. Prince Charles had spent the civil war living in exile in the Dutch Netherlands. Although the continental power were sympathetic to his plight, they offered no actual support, having just settled the brutal Thirty Years' War. In June 1650, Prince Charles landed in Scotland, having agreed the Treaty of Breda (1650) whereby he would be crowned the king of Scotland. Alas, parliament had caught wind of this renewed royalist alliance, and moved quickly to nip it in the bud. A preemptive invasion of Scotland was immediately launched under Cromwell, having just returned from Ireland. Thomas Fairfax had first been offered the command, but, increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the country, refused and resigned his command. Cromwell was in Scotland before the end of July, in what proved a difficult campaign. With the Scots difficult to pin-down and constantly harassing his supply lines, he soon found himself outnumbered and in a weak defensive position near Dunbar. The Scots then settled in for a siege, believing Cromwell had no choice but to withdraw his army from Scotland by sea. Instead of withdrawing, Cromwell launched a devastating surprise attack, that routed a Scottish army almost twice as large at the Battle of Dunbar (September 1650). In the weeks that followed, Cromwell took Edinburgh, forcing the Scottish government to withdraw to Stirling. This disaster prompted Charles II and the Scots to descend into a period of bitter squabbling, that finally ended with the ill-advised decision to invade England once again; historians speculate that Cromwell had left the route south deliberately open, in order to lure them into a trap. Marching into England, Charles II hoped to find royalist support, but was left sorely disappointed; the nation was completely war-weary after a decade of fighting. Cromwell finally caught-up with the Scots and won an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Worcester (September 1651). Prince Charles himself barely escaped with his life, after hiding in a famous "royal oak tree" at Boscobel, and making the journey back to the continent in disguise. Worcester mercifully marks the end of the English Civil War.

Forcible dissolution of the Rump Parliament in 1653 by Oliver Cromwell.

By late-1651, Oliver Cromwell had not been able to play a full role in parliament for almost two years, while he was away on campaign. During this time, the Rump Parliament had been wrestling with the task of establishing a more permanent constitutional system. This meant a new religious settlement, new law social reform, and, above all, how to elect a new parliament. The current parliament had been sitting for 11-years, and after drastic purges was a blatantly unrepresentative body. On his return to London, Cromwell was not best pleased with what he saw: profound enmity between political factions; a radical Puritanism claiming to know God’s will for others; conservatives tasting real power and engaging in flagrant corruption; almost no progress on reforms; and a marked reluctance to face re-election. To be entirely fair, the question of fresh elections was not as easy as it sounds. The political reality was that at least half the country still harboured royalist sympathies, and any new parliament might just immediately restore the monarchy. During the French Revolution, the French parliament face this same question, and came-up with no effective solution either. By early 1653, Cromwell had grown increasingly exasperated with parliament's inaction. He also had doubts about a war with the Dutch Netherlands that parliament had provoked. In April 1653, Cromwell personally submitted a proposal for dissolving parliament and fresh elections, but the rump returned instead to debating its own bill. Cromwell was so angered by this that exasperation turned to sudden action. He entered Westminster to address the house, passionately denouncing how the ideals of the civil war had been reduced to self-interest; his speech famously ended, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” When the members protested, Cromwell called in a battalion of armed soldiers clear the chamber.

Commonwealth half-crown, depicting Oliver Cromwell and the Latin inscription "Oliver, by the Grace of God of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland etc. Protector".

Oliver Cromwell's decision to dissolve the Rump Parliament was probably an impromptu act. It was also unquestionably a military coup, that snuffed out the last pillar of the old political once of king, Lords, and Commons. For the next six years, Cromwell cast about to find a way of governing England, that allowed him to avoid accusations of running a military dictatorship, and without delivering the country to either royalists or radicals. The first attempt was the so-called Barebones Parliament, a parliament of 140 member entirely nominated by Cromwell and the army. Factional infighting and political deadlock caused this assembly to dissolve itself after just six months. The next experiment was the Protectorate, based on John Lambert's Instrument of Government, the first written constitution in English history. It was grounded in the idea of separation of powers between interlocking branches of government: a 460-member legislative parliament; an independent 13-man executive council; and a powerful Lord Protector designed to be a "king in all but name" straddling both while simultaneously being restrained by both. For instance, the Protector could delay but not veto a parliamentary bill, and the council could veto the Protector on military matters. In September 1654, the first Protectorate parliament convened, with high hopes that it would get the country back on track. Unfortunately, the assembly was quickly dominated by those pushing for a more radical, properly republican constitutions. This parliament was dissolved after just four months. The Lord Protector was now in almost the exactly same position as king Charles in the 1630s: he did not want to call another parliament, and, without parliamentary approved taxes, needed to raise revenue through legally dubious means. For almost two years, England became essentially as a military government, with the realm divided into eleven districts each administered by one of Cromwell's major generals. These generals collected taxes, ran the courts, and maintained public morality; theatres and brothels were closed, along with horse-races and gambling dens, and everybody had to go to church. In September 1656, Cromwell finally bowed to the inevitable, and called a second Protectorate parliament. After much wrangling, the new parliament came-up with an astonishing conclusion; perhaps things had been better in the old days. In March 1657, Cromwell was presented with the Humble Petition, a reformed constitution which, for instance, reinstated the House of Lords. But the really controversial thing was that Oliver Cromwell himself should become king. After a period of deliberation, Cromwell rejected the crown, but a compromise was eventually reached allowing him to remain merely Lord Protector. Feeling confident, Cromwell now allowed a number of radicals, who had been purged from the second Protectorate parliament, to enter the assembly. This promptly blew up in his face. Parliament quickly descended into political acrimony, and was dissolved yet again, having this time lasted 17-months. Despite these domestic problems, the Commonwealth of England was internationally a force to be reckoned. English generals were now well-respect on the continent, after 20-years of near constant warfare. Although most countries were appalled by the trial and execution of the English king, the French had no qualms about agreeing a military alliance against the Spanish, and a reasonable diplomatic compromise was eventually reached with the Dutch. But the republican experiment in England could not survive the death of its leader.

General George Monck declares for free-and-fair parliamentary elections and the restoration of the monarchy in the form of King Charles II

In September 1658, Cromwell died of natural causes at the age-of-59, having nominated as his successor his eldest son, Richard, just like any other king. Richard Cromwell was affable and well-liked, but had almost no political experience, and had never served in the army, which had been the real source of his father's power. People called him Tumbledown Dick and that's pretty much what happened. Without Cromwell's blend of force-of-personality, pragmatism and integrity, as well as the army's intense devotion, all the old factional rivalries were suddenly unleashed. Richard, incapable of governing, simply left office after less than a year, leaving the army grandees and parliament to their squabbling. In November 1659, the army forcibly dissolved parliament, and made the bizarre decision to recall the old Long Parliament, which it thought would be easier to work with. Decisive action to end this confusion was eventually taken by Cromwell's close colleague, George Monck (d. 1670), who had spent the last decade as military governor of Scotland. In January 1660, Monck crossed the border with his forces, and slowly marched on London, determine to restore order. With him was the one man whose name carried more weight with the army than everyone else's put together; old retired Thomas Fairfax. Reaching London in early February, Monck's stated intention was to restore the power and authority of parliament. To this end, he insisted that parliament dissolve itself, and call for entirely free-and-fair elections; the first in England for two decades. The only question in this election was not whether to forge ahead with republicanism, but how to restore the monarchy. When the newly elected parliament met in April 1660, it had a document to consider recently issued by Prince Charles, now in exile in Spanish Belgium. The Declaration of Breda (April 1660) offered restrictions on the restored monarchy, a pardons for everyone involved in the civil war, Protestant religious tolerance, security of property, and parliamentary control of army finances. A month later, Prince Charles was invited to London and proclaimed by parliament, Charles II Stuart (1660-1685), king of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. One of the first bills passed by parliament and given the royal assent was pardoning all offences committed since 1637, with just one exception; the 58 men who had signed the death warrant on Charles I. 24 of them had already died, and 13 were eventually hunted-down and executed, while the rest fled into exile. Oliver Cromwell himself was exhumed from Westminster Abbey, his corpse hanged-drawn-and-quartered, and his head stuck on a pole on top of the Houses of Parliament, where it remained for twenty-five years.

Historians have argued at length about the legacy of the English Civil War. The radical Puritan triumphalism of the Commonwealth was followed by a conservative Anglican backlash after the Restoration. The idea did survive that an English monarch could not govern without parliament's consent, and arbitrary royal taxation was definitively dead-and-buried. The publication of more than 20,000 books and pamphlets on political and religious issues would by itself have made these two decades a great epoch in English political education. Yet the really permanent gains in parliamentary sovereignty would only really be made during the subsequent Glorious Revolution of 1688. Both Charles II and his brother James II were drawn to Catholicism, from their time in exile in the French and Spanish courts. In Charles' case it remained a closely guarded secret, but his younger brother, acting more from religious conviction, was less inclined to caution. Faced with the nightmare of Protestant England under a Catholic dynasty, Protestant noblemen ask William of Orange to invade England and reestablish a Protestant monarchy.

Habsburg Spain in Decline[]


For a period of 125-years, including the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella, of Charles V Habsburg, and of Philip II Habsburg, Spain was the wealthiest and most powerful country in Europe. When Philip conquered Portugal in 1580, he not only united the entire Iberian Peninsula, but also both of Europe’s greatest overseas empires. The Iberian Union (1580-1640) eased overlapping spheres in the Indian Ocean, while silver and gold from New World mines continued to poured across the Atlantic, Philip II died in 1598, and with that event the story of Spain's greatness ended. If Spanish history teaches anything, it is that highly debt-leveraged regimes must sooner or later, "pay the piper". Another thing which is quite as obvious is that the nations must accept the advancing tide of modernity, or perish. Although Spain was at the height of its power under Philip II, under the glittering surface, its serious problems were already growing manifest. Even a mountain of silver could not pay for all the warring: against France in the 1520s, the Ottoman Turks in the 1530s, German states in the 1540s and 1550s, the Dutch Netherlands in the 1560s that lasted 80-years, England in the 1580s, and France again in the 1590s. Philip was forced to default on loans four times during his reign; some of which had been accrued by Charles V to secure the imperial crown, which brought great dignity and grandeur, if not much substantial benefit to Spain. But cancelling debt was a short term fix, that only heightened the crisis. New loans to keep the Spanish government afloat could only be secured at crippling interest rates, thus transferring more wealth to the German and Italian bankers who were willing to risk loaning money to the crown. Then there were the structural problems within Spanish society. Like in France, the nobility had the privilege of being largely exempt from taxes. Their devotion to past military glories and disdained commercial ventures were even stronger than those of nobles elsewhere, meaning they largely lived off the rents of their estates. This contempt for trade was reinforced by its association with converts (conversos and moriscos), who tended to be the sort of well-educated urban professionals that in other parts of Europe were becoming bureaucratic officials and royal ministers. Though wealthy merchants could sometimes buy land and noble titles, after doing so, they expected to live off rents too. The Spanish middle class was tiny, and there were few support programs to develop industries or improve agricultural productivity. Meanwhile, the government saw no solution to the 16th-century price revolution other than increasing taxes to raise more revenue, but this came at the same time as nobles were increasing rents to buy imported luxuries. The peasants already lived near subsistence level and could not pay, often abandoning their lands to drifting into cities as vagabonds.

Philip IV of Spain has long been held responsible for the decline of Spain, but this was mainly due to structural problems largely beyond the control of any one ruler. He died broken-hearted, expressing the pious hope that his heir would be more fortunate than himself.

After the death of Philip II, with no longer a powerful master-mind to hold the state together, the signs of decline became increasingly visible. The reigns of Philip III Habsburg (1598-1622) and Philip IV of Spain (1621-65), spanning seven decades, constituted a golden age of Spanish literature and art. Miguel de Cervantes produced the western world's first great novel, Don Quixote. Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón established Spanish theatre. Diego Velázquez, painter to the Spanish court, transformed his unglamorous masters into masterpieces. Francisco de Zurbarán, El Greco (born Doménikos Theotokópoulos), and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo fleshed out in glorious paint the certainties of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. But in the practical world of politics, economics and international affairs the period presents a very different picture. Spanish armies had not been able to quash the Dutch Revolt (1566-1648), and Philip III turned to peace negotiations instead. The Twelve Years' Truce allowed Spanish Belgium to recover, but it was a de facto recognition of Dutch independence; formally recognised in 1648. Dutch and English ships gradually took over much of the trade with the Spanish colonies, and Spanish attempts to prohibit this were futile. Each year the New World mines produced less silver and gold, while the African slaves forced to work in them still died in prodigious numbers. Philip IV of Spain (1621-65) has long been criticized in particular, for the laxity of his rule and dependence on royal favourites. In recent years, historians have argued that, rather than simply weakness or incompetence, this represented an attempt to establish the sort of centralized administration that his contemporaries, Louis XIII and Richelieu, had introduced in France. However, domestic reform failed under the immense pressures of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), which Spain entered on the side of its Habsburg cousins; and the related Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659) continued even after the Peace of Westphalia. In May 1640, a widespread revolt erupted in Catalonia on the French frontier, provoked by the presence of large numbers of Castilian troops and encouraged by secret agents working for Cardinal Richelieu; known as the Reapers' War (1640-59). By 1644, the French had virtually annexed the province, but Spanish forces gradually drove them out. The matter was finally settled in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), with an adjustment of the border and the marriage of Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa, daughter of Philip IV. The other European powers would only consent to this marriage upon Louis solemnly renouncing all claim to the Spanish crown for himself and his heirs; a renunciation that later had an eventful history. In the same year of 1640, Portugal to revolt against Spanish rule too.

The Acclamation of the King John IV Braganza of Portugal. The House of Braganza would rule Portugal until 1910, when a republic was declared.

Portugal was under Spanish Habsburg rule from 1580, which began promisingly. with Philip II promising to preserve Portugal’s autonomy, to merge the crowns rather than the kingdoms, and to appoint only Portuguese to the administration. Though Philip was honourable, his son and grandson proved to be considerably less so, treating their second kingdom as a Spanish province, to raise money and tropes for Spain’s wars, and appointing Spaniards to govern Portugal. The Portuguese particularly resented what they perceived as Spain prioritizing its own colonies, and neglecting the defence of the Portuguese ones. The uprising in Catalonia gave fuel to Portuguese Restoration War (1640-68). When Philip IV tried to raised Portuguese troops to quell the uprising, a group of conspirators launched an almost bloodless in December 1640. Within a matter of hours, the Spanish governor was a prisoner, her garrison driven from Lisbon, and a prominent nobleman acclaimed as King John IV Braganza (1640-56). The news spread like wildfire throughout the country, and, literally the day after the coup, John was effectively sovereign of Portugal. Portugal immediately renewed the old alliance with England, including the marriage of John's daughter to Charles II of England; she brought a large dowry, ceding Bombay to England. In return the English promised support against continued Spanish hostility, but it was barely needed. A preoccupied Spain made only half-hearted attempts to recover Portugal, and formally recognised Portuguese independence in 1668.

The sickly Charles II Habsburg (1665–1700) was the last Habsburg ruler of Spain. It is a historical truism that the royal family became dangerously inbred through seeking wives from the Austrian branch of the family, and indeed the facts look startling. Three successive generations of Spanish kings (Philip III, Philip IV and Charles II) had descendants of the Maximilian I Habsburg (d. 1519) as both parents. The famous Habsburg jaw, visible in Maximilian and prominent in Philip IV, was so extreme in Charles II that it amounted to a disability; one of many. He married twice but had no children; he was almost certainly impotent. With no heir and powerful foreign claimants, the coming War of the Spanish Succession.became an obsession for all of Europe.

Rise of the Dutch[]

The Leo Hollandicus ("Holland Lion") was used in both heraldry and map design to symbolize the Netherlands with the shape of a lion, inspired by the familiar heraldic motif. The earliest example was drawn in 1583, when the Dutch were fighting the Spanish for independence.

The Twelve Years' Truce of 1609 was a watershed moment for the Dutch Netherlands, marking the point from which its independence received de facto recognition by other European states; France, England, and the Hanseatic League almost immediately signed defensive pacts with the young republic. The Truce did not completely end hostilities with Spain, which continued intermittently until the Peace of Westphalia (1648), bringing formal recognition and independence from the Spanish crown. This political independence was facilitated by explosive economic growth. During the so called Dutch Golden Age (1588-1672). her wealth, trade, science, art, and military strength were among the most acclaimed in Europe. The Dutch - traditionally able seafarers and keen merchant - began trading in the Indian Ocean in 1596, and their emergence as a colonial power was swift and remarkable. The Dutch also became the dominant middlemen between European countries, profiting from a favourable positioned at a crossing of east–west and north–south trade routes, and connection to a large German hinterland through the Rhine. Dutch traders shipped staples and luxuries from Western Europe to the Baltic lands, and returned with raw materials such as grain, metals, and timber. They had the largest merchant fleet in Europe in the 17th century, numbering at its height over 15,000 ships. Amsterdam became Europe’s most important commercial centre, and dramatically increased its population; from 30,000 in 1570 to 200,000 in 1700. In the 17th-century, the Dutch were by far the most urban Europeans; almost two-thirds of them live in towns. Real estate was became so precious that the distinctive style of Dutch townhouses developed; very slim, deep, and several stories high. National industries expanded as well. The Dutch were at the forefronts of early modern capitalism, adapting new technology, simplifying production processes, and sharpening division of labour. Ships brought raw materials from all over Europe and around the world to the Netherlands, where merchants invested in manufacturies (trafieken in Dutch) that specialised in processing and refining products for re-export: raw sugar was refined into table sugar, and raw diamonds cut into gems in Amsterdam; gin distilled in Schiedam; tobacco cut in Rotterdam; whale blubber boiled into oil in the Zaanstreek; clay made into ceramics at Delft; and paper, leather-goods, and glass produced in many Dutch towns. Even the ships themselves became a commodity, with the invention of the Dutch Fluyt ("fly-boat") in the late--16th-century; this was the first mass-produced ship, made of pine or fir, soft woods that could be cut by wind-driven sawmills. To finance all this growing trade and industry, the Bank of Amsterdam was established in 1609, the precursor to, if not the first true central bank.

Syndics of the Drapers' Guild by Rembrandt, depicting wealthy Amsterdam bourgeoisie. It was painted in 1662, at the height of the Dutch Golden Age.

Dutch success was often regarded as an enviable mystery in other parts of contemporary Europe, and historians differ in their explanations. Some historians, notably Max Weber, linked Dutch successes to the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism, which emphasizes frugality, education, and hard work; the so-called "Protestant work ethic". One problem is that the Dutch were hardly frugal, but spent money wildly on elaborate dinners, imported carpets, brass chandeliers, oil paintings of their families, and, most famously, ever more exotic types of cultivated tulips. Their own willingness to spend explains some of Dutch prosperity. Religious tolerance explains more of it; Dutch humanism Desiderius Erasmus had been a strong advocate. Once survival was assured, the Dutch enjoyed a climate of religious tolerance unique in the Europe of the 17th-century; they did not allow Calvinists the upper hand in government. Individuals and groups fleeing religious or political persecution in other parts of Europe were welcome in the Netherlands; refugee converts (conversos and moriscos) from Spain; French Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; those opposed to Stuart or Cromwellian rule in England. These newcomers added to the earlier Protestants migrated northwards from Catholic Belgium, and brought much wealth and skills. They shared the streets of Dutch cities with thousands of Jews from all over Europe, who in the 1670s built what is still the largest synagogue in the world outside Israel. What we might call “civic freedom” also played a role. It was far easier for successful artisans or lesser merchants to rise in stature, to marry into elite families, to gain provincial offices, and to ultimately move into the highest circles of power, than anywhere else in Europe, where conservative nobles always resisted social mobility. The climate of intellectual freedom attracted scientists and thinkers too. The French philosopher René Descartes lived most of his adult life in the Netherlands, where he felt freer to publish than he did in France. The English philosopher John Locke published many of his important works while living in Amsterdam.

Not surprisingly, the success of this upstart republic provoked the envy and hostility of other European state. The Dutch and English were major rivals for world trade and naval power, and fought a series of three Anglo-Dutch Wars in 1652, in 1665, and 1672. The Dutch prevailed, for the most part, in the first two wars, but the third was a disaster. The English agreed an opportunistic alliance with Louis XIV of France - also known as the Franco-Dutch War (1672-78) - who virtually overran the Dutch Netherlands with a magnificently equipped French army; Maastricht fell to siege in just 17 days, Utrecht was occupied without a fight, and Amsterdam was only saved by the classic Dutch manoeuvre of breaching the dykes and flooding the plain. In Dutch history, the year 1672 is simply known as the Rampjaar ("Disaster Year"). Although circumstances allowed the Dutch to regain all the territory lost in the early stage, the English became the masters of the trade routes and keepers of the resulting wealth, thus ending the Dutch Golden Age.

European Colonial Rivals[]

In the 17th-century. up and coming European powers - primarily the Dutch Netherlands, England, and France - began establishing colonial empires of their own. By 1600, Portugal had connected a string of fortified trading posts from Lisbon to Nagasaki into a lucrative commercial network, shipping spices and other Asian goods to Europe, as well as carrying goods of all types between Asian countries. The centuries-old Indian Ocean trade network involving merchants from many different regions altered relatively little in order to allow the Portuguese to collect a little tribute and handle some trade. That changed with the entry of the Dutch and then the British and French into Asian waters. The Dutch were the trading imperialists par excellence. Their opportunity arose when Portugal was brought into dynastic union with Spain in 1580. This excluded Dutch seamen from the profitable re-export trade of Asian goods from Lisbon to northern Europe, which had been mainly in their hands. The background of the Eighty Years’ War with Spain was an additional incentive for the Dutch to enter areas where they might make profits at the expense of the Iberians. The first Dutch expedition round the Cape to the far east, in 1595, was captained by Cornelis de Houtman (d. 1599), a Dutch merchant whose only knowledge of the orient came from privileged nautical information stolen from Lisbon by spies. Although the voyage was beset with trouble, the survivors got beck to Holland with a modest cargo of pepper that just about covered the cost of the expedition. This symbolic victory prompted great excitement. Soon at least ten private vessels were setting off each year from the Netherlands to find their fortune in the east. Investment in such ventures was very high risk, not only because of the usual dangers of shipwreck, disease, and piracy, but the interplay of demand and supply could make the price of spices tumble, thereby ruining profitability. This situation led Dutch merchants in 1602 to agree to pool their resources in a new form of commercial enterprise, the Dutch East India Company, which was given a national monopoly on trade with the east. Unlike the Portuguese whose empire building was mostly funded by the crown, the Company was a "joint-stock company" which separated operational managers from investors, who now bought shares rather than simply backing a single expedition; profit was given annually to investors, based on all the Company’s expeditions together, so that risk was minimized. This form of business organization was adopted by other companies in the Netherlands and later elsewhere. Although there were some spectacular collapses, most were generally profitable and increasingly fashionable; the circle of investors grew to include men and women with only a small amount of disposable income, as well as major merchants and bankers. The Dutch parliament (States General) provided financial support to the Company in its early years and granted it extensive privileges and powers: allowing it to establish colonies; to appoint governors with political sovereignty over territories; to build forts; to maintain armies and navies; to take as many of Spain and Portugal's colonies as they can; and to wage war against indigenous states. With these powers the Company took only a few decades to deprive Portugal of the spice trade. The Portugal's Indian Ocean empire relied on four strategic bases, Goa, Malacca, Macau, and the Spice Islands (the Moluccas in Indonesia); the first connected the Indian Ocean with Portugal proper; the second connected Goa to East Asia; the third was the hub for the trade with China and Japan; and the fourth was the single source of the most valuable spice of all, cloves. In 1604, the Dutch began a prolonged navel blockade of Goa. In 1619, they destroyed the port of Jakarta in Java, and rebuilt it under the name Batavia as the capital of the Dutch Indian Ocean empire, thereby threatening Malacca, which would finally be conquered in 1641. The Dutch could not expel the Portuguese from Macau, although they sent four expeditions against it, but succeeded in setting themselves up on Taiwan, from which they built up an indirect trade with the mainland of China. In 1639, the Portuguese were expelled from Japan, leaving the Dutch as the only foreigners with whom the Tokugawa Shoguns retained any contact, further threatening the commercial viability of Macau. In 1641, the Dutch completely exclude the Portuguese from the Spice Islands. To protect their market, they eradicated the clove trees on all the islands except two - Amboina and Ternate - which also limited production and kept prices high. Dutch forces also captured many small states from both the Portuguese and local rulers, including Sri Lanka in 1640. The early history of the Dutch colonies is a grim one of bloody battles, enslavement of the remaining population, forced transported, insurrections, and extermination; one recent study estimated that enslaved people made up almost half of the population in the Dutch Indian Ocean empire. The trade of local merchant ships - including Chinese junks - was deliberately destroyed in order to concentrate all sources of profit in the hands of the Dutch. How unpleasant the Dutch could be would be shown in Jakarta in 1740. Dutch merchants had brought in unskilled Chinese labourers - later called "coolies" - needed for sugar production, with terms of employment that were close to slavery. This kept the price of sugar relatively low, but not low enough to compete with sugar produced by African slaves in Brazil, so Chinese labourers were ordered to be shipped to tea plantations on Sri Lanka. When rumours spread that they would actually be thrown overboard on the way, the Chinese rioted, which the Dutch met with deadly force; every Chinese resident of the city was killed, probably totalling around 10,000 people. By the 1660s, there thus existed a Dutch supremacy in the Indian Ocean, and an important Dutch interest in the China seas. To a remarkable degree this reproduced the earlier Portuguese pattern, although there survived Portuguese stations at Goa, Diu, East Timor, and Macau. The Dutch commercial empire rested on naval power, and was to be surpassed. The unlikely challenger for Indian Ocean supremacy was Britain.

The British East India Company actually received its charter two years earlier than the Dutch one, in 1600, but it struggled at first to compete with the well-established Dutch; it got a bloody nose in 1623 trying to establish a factory on the Spice Islands. This ended any English attempt to intervene directly in the spice trade, and they were faced with a need to change course; and did so. The upshot was the Company concentrated on its interests in India, establishing fortified trading posts in Surat (1619), Madras (1639), and later Bombay (1668), which was granted to Charles II Struart as part of the dowry of his Portuguese bride. Company envoys spent much of the 17th-century requesting an imperial decree from the Mughal rulers of India granting them regular trading privileges throughout the vast Mughal Empire. They were given privileges in a few areas, but even these were revoked when the Company declared war on the Mughals in 1686 to speed up the process and lost disastrously. Only an abject apology, including full prostration in front of the Mughal emperor, and a large fine persuaded the emperor to allow the Company to re-establish itself and setup a new trading port in Calcutta in 1690. In India the main rivals of the English were not the Dutch or Portuguese, but the French. They set up an East India Company in 1664, in order to compete for trade in the east, and established colonies at Chandernagore (1673) and Pondichéry (1674). What was at stake did not emerge for a long time. England and France dealt less in spices and more in new types of commodities, especially cotton and silk textiles, saltpeter (for gunpowder), and, by the 18th century, tea and opium. While spice had a solid profit, in the long-term, such commodities would prove to have a much larger potential market.

Jan van Riebeeck, viewed by the Afrikaner population of South Africa as the founder of their nation.

Meanwhile, Dutch ships, sailing the long voyage to and from the east, had made a habit of calling at the bay below Table Mountain, to barter for fresh food with the Khoikhoi tribes of the region. In 1652, the Dutch East India Company tasked Jan van Riebeeck (d. 1677) with establishing a permanent colony. During the ten years that van Riebeeck spent in the settlement, Cape Town became a well-established settlement, with a fort, a stout earth ramparts and wooden palisades, and eight miles of coast brought under cultivation to provision passing Dutch ships. Van Riebeeck also initiated two developments of significance for the future. First, he convinced the Company that the colony would make an ideal place for employees to retire. After several years of service, men would be granted farms of their own to cultivate, becoming known as Vryburgher ("free citizen"). The second innovation was that van Riebeeck imported slaves to do domestic and agricultural work. At first, slaves came from all over the Dutch Indian Ocean empire, but later Mozambique became the main source. Cape society, thus, grew rapidly and, from the start, slavery formed an integral part. By the mid-18th-century, the Cape's population had swelled to about 26,000 people of European descent and 30,000 enslaved people.


Spain claimed all North America, but this was long been contested by other European powers; "prescription without possession availeth nothing", said the British. The earliest colonies were tiny, underfunded, and often dependent on indigenous peoples for their survival. Half failed, whether through disease, abandonment, economic collapse, indigenous opposition. or conquest by another power. British-sponsored voyages to the Americas began with those of John Cabot in 1495, but nearly a century later New World promoters like Sir Walter Raleigh (d. 1618) were still trying to encourage a first successful settlement. He had himself founded a small colony at Roanoke Island off what is now North Carolina in 1585, but the colonists vanished within a few years. About twenty years later, James I of England (d. 1625) supported new efforts to establish permanent colonies along the coast. A charter was granted to the joint-stock Virginia Company, which settled at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, though it took several years and appalling difficulties before the colony’s stability was assured. John Smith (d. 1631) was one of seven men appointed by the Virginia Company to serve on the colony's council, but his energy and resourcefulness soon established him as the de facto leader of the 100 or so colonists. Smith soon became involved in a famous romance with Pocahontas (d. 1617), the 13-year-old daughter of a tribal chieftain, who helped negotiate peaceful relations with the local Indians. Four more ships reached Jamestown in 1609, bringing the number of settlers up to 500, but Smith had to return to England where the Virginia Company had grown impatient for reward on their speculative investment. In his absence, there was an appalling famine during the winter, that reduced the 500 to just 60. In the spring of 1610, the survivors abandoned Jamestown, and, only after meeting a resupply ship, was it finally decided to persevere with this difficult attempt at colonization. Colonists experimented with different cash crops, as well as grain and root crops for their own use, and gradually established a system of indentured servitude to supply the necessary labour; young men, usually very poor, who worked a set period of years for a landowner in exchange for their passage. The first African slaves came to English North America in 1619. Jamestown was followed, in 1620, by the Plymouth settlement in New England, far to the north of Jamestown. It was founded by perhaps the most famous boatload of immigrants to North American, the Pilgrim Fathers. They were part of a radical Puritan group from Lincolnshire led by William Bradford, which had moved once before to live according to their Christian consciences in a freer land. In 1608, they sailed for Holland, famous at the time for religious toleration, but the group began to dwindle as members adapted to Dutch Calvinism or returned to England having spent their savings. In 1620, Bradford persuaded the group to seek even more freedom in a place of their own. Their journey on the Mayflower lasted eight weeks before sighting land in early November, though it took more than a month to select a suitable coastal site to settle; naming it Plymouth, in echo of their port of departure from the Old World. New England winters are notoriously severe, and only half the group survived that first winter. When the first harvest was reaped in November 1621. the survivors thanked the Lord for nature's bounty in the ceremony of Thanksgiving, with local Indians sharing in this first annual celebration. A large indigenous fowl, the turkey, made an admirable centrepiece. The national holiday of Thanksgiving is not the only great tradition which the Pilgrim Fathers bequeathed to modern America. Their example of self-reliance became a central strand in the American ideal. The success of the Plymouth settlers soon caused other colonies to be established by groups equally unhappy with the religious situation in England, mostly Puritans – who set up Massachusetts (1628), Connecticut (1636), and Rhode Island (1636) – but also Catholics - who established the colony of Maryland (1632). Each of these colonies was chartered by the crown, which allowed the colony the right to make local laws, as long as these did not go against the laws of England. Most of them established some sort of representative assembly, to which propertied males could vote members, though in Massachusetts only those men who were full members of the church had the right to vote; a virtuous man could only become a full member at the invitation of those already enjoying that exalted status. Meanwhile in 1621, the Dutch parliament (States General) chartered a West India Company, modelled on the already very successful East India Company, and gave it a monopoly to trade and found colonies along the entire length of the American coast. In 1609, Dutch-sponsored voyages under the English captain Henry Hudson (d. 1611) had explored the great inlet of New York Bay, and the river now known by his name, which he hoped would prove a channel through the continent; he claimed the region for the Dutch as New Netherlands. In 1624, a party of thirty families was sent out to establish the first Dutch colony at Albany on the upper Hudson River, primarily as a base for fur-trading operations. It was soon discovered that the area was susceptible to mosquitoes in the summer and the freezing of its waterways in the winter. When Peter Minuit (d. 1638) became director of the New Netherland in 1626, he instead purchased the island of Manhattan from Indian chiefs, and built a fort and settlement at its lower end; he named the place New Amsterdam. The Dutch company founds it easier to make money by piracy than by the efforts of colonists - they captured of a Spanish Treasure Fleet off Cuba in 1628 - but New Amsterdam was an exceptionally well-placed seaport and soon became a major hub for trade; the place where pelts, lumber, and tobacco were loaded, to be shipment to Europe. In 1638, Sweden established the first of several colonies along the Delaware River, but most of these were conquered by the Dutch, who saw them as a rival. Most of the Swedish colonists stayed, however, adding to the mixture of settlers in the Dutch colonies. Further north, Henry IV of France (d. 1610) sponsored Samuel de Champlain (d. 1635) in the exploration and settlement of the St Lawrence River, claimed for France by Jacques Cartier in the 1530s. Champlain founded Acadia (1605), Quebec (1608) and Montreal (1611), and worked tirelessly to explore the region, becoming the first European to describe the Great Lakes. He also formed long-term alliances with the several Indian tribes by providing military assistance against the Iroquois. But progress was slow. By Champlain's death in 1635, the French population numbered only a few hundred, while the English colonies to the south were much more populous and wealthy. In 1527, Cardinal Richelieu. chief minister to Louis XII of France, sought to rectify this situation by founding the Company of One Hundred Associates, which pledged to transport at least 200 settlers to the colony each year, though that target was never reached. Richelieu's religious policy didn't help, for he forbade non-Roman Catholics from living in New France, and many French Huguenots chose instead to move to the English colonies. By 1660, the French colonies still had only about 2,300 European inhabitants; Boston alone had a larger population at the time. A series of French explorers, fur-traders, and missionaries, including Jacques Marquette (d. 1675) and Louis Joliet (d. 1700), move from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi river system of central North America, establishing a string of forts, trading posts, and a few small missions. These early French colonies were based on a single product; fur, especially beaver, destined to be made into felt hat, which were the height of fashion in Europe.


While the North America was dominated by four powers, the Caribbean was contested by many. The Spanish had only settled the larger islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba, and Trinidad, and the many smaller islands were largely unattended, except for occasional raids in search of slaves. By the mid-16th-century, other European ships were fishing in the same waters, sometimes preying on Spanish ship, but as often smuggling all types of European goods needed by Spanish colonists. During the Thirty Years' War, when Spanish troops were busy fighting in Europe, the British, French, and Dutch all established their own colonies on the Caribbean islands. The first British settlement on any island was the result of an accident. In 1609, seven ships left England with several hundred settlers, food, and supplies for the recently founded colony at Jamestown in Virginia. However the flotilla was broken up by a storm, and one ship found safety on Bermuda. When news of the island reached England, a party of sixty settlers was sent out in 1612. From this small beginning, the British acquired valuable footholds in this region, establishing themselves on Barbados (1627), Nevis (1628), Antigua (1632), and Montserrat (1632), and Bahamas (1648). The French, hard on their heels, occupied St Kitts (1627), Dominica (1632), and Martinique and Guadeloupe (1635). The Dutch took control of St. Martin (1631), and Aruba (1636). And even Denmark and Poland briefly acquired islands. The French, Dutch, and English all established settlements on the Guianas too, the north coast of South America, where they hoped to grow tropical crops, but these were regularly harassed by the Spanish and Portuguese, and took decade for them to gain a firm footing. Because the Dutch were at war with Spain and Portugal at the time, their activity had a clearer military mission. In 1630, they established themselves in Pernambuco, the sugar-producing region of Portuguese Brazil, though they were not able to retain it. When Portugal proper successfully revolt against Spanish rule in 1640, local Portuguese colonists rebelled against the Dutch, and Brazil reverted to Portugal in 1654. Later in the 17th-century, Spain lost two large sections of the central Caribbean to her European enemies. An English fleet invaded and captured Jamaica in 1655. And in 1664, France occupied the western half of Hispaniola (now known as Haiti). The sovereignty of many colonies changed hands frequently; the tiny island of St. Martin, for example, changed hands at least sixteen times before it was finally divided between the Dutch and the French. Although the colonies of the Caribbean and northern South America were often at war with one another, their basic economic and social structures were very similar. At first they grow tobacco or cotton in small holdings, primarily worked by white indentured servants. But it soon became clear that the most profitable produce was sugar, which created a much larger demand for labour than indenture contracts could supply, and African slaves, supplied by merchants from many countries, met this need. Sugar could only be produced profitably on a large scale, so wealthy planters often bought out their neighbours, then turned the day-to-day operation of the plantation over to those same individuals, now hired as overseers. Although laws regarding slavery set harsh punishments for slaves who ran away, many did attempt to escape. Most were probably returned, but runaway slaves, called "maroons", formed villages in mountains, swamps, and jungles beyond the reach of colonial authorities. Some of these settlements grew so large that they were the actual governing power in certain areas. Maroons were often central figures in slave revolts, which began in the 16th-century and continued throughout the time of plantation slavery. Most revolts were brief, local, and small, though a few spread more widely. Fear of slave revolts was ever present, and intensified by simply looking around, for by the end of the 18th-century the vast majority of the Caribbean population, no matter which European state controlled the colony, were slaves from Africa. In 1789, estimates of the population of the French Caribbean include about 56,000 whites, 700,000 slaves, and 23,000 "free people of colour"; some slaves were freed, especially women who were the sexual partners of white men, along with their children.

The development of colonial empires and international trade meant that European wars in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often spread beyond Europe itself. In the Anglo-Dutch Wars (1652-74), British ships attacked Dutch holdings in Africa, the Caribbean, and North America, eventually gaining New Amsterdam, which was renamed New York. During the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–97), French and British colonists in North America massacred each other, while during the War of the Spanish  Succession (1701–13), the British attacked Spanish forts in Florida and the French attacked Portuguese Brazilian ports. The colourfully named War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739–48) started after an English sea captain appeared before parliament with his ear, claiming it had been cut off by Spanish authorities boarding his ship in the Caribbean. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-08), French ships  captured British-held Madras in India, while British colonists captured Louisburg in Canada from the French. The Seven Years' War (1755–63) was so global in scope that it could almost be called the first “World War,” involving conflict in North America, the Caribbean, the Pacific, and India, as well as in Europe.