European History Pt. 17 — The East

Up until this point, we have stayed heavily in western Europe, looking at Spain, France, the English, and the Dutch. In these countries, commerce was creating novel political institutions along with a commercial class and various classes of society.

Eastern europe was very different. Here, centralized power was lacking and a landlord class controlled all of the power, containing an entire political universe within them. The book I’m using, A History of the Modern World, now turns to the developments of the failing empires in the east, the Holy Roman Empire, the Polish Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.

Holy Roman Empire 

We’ve looked at the Holy Roman Empire before, but we now pick up its story after the peace of Westphalia in 1648. At this point, the HRE, largely germanic countries, have been devastated by the 30 years’ war. They are backwater (e.g. they develop a stock market 50+ years after western european states).

The key thing to remember is that the HRE was divided into a mess of small kingdoms. These kingdoms had relative autonomy and sparred with each other using deceipt, marriage, threats, and commerce. The situation was fluid. No one knew where centralization would occur and who would aggrandize themselves by bringing together the little people. It was out of these fluid little states that Prussia and Austria would be born.

Republic of Poland

I have no experience with Poland as empire and so it was hard for me to get  a feel for its character. It was Catholic, there was no middle class, but there were Jews who had been given shelter by the toleration of the Poles. The official and political language was LATIN! Anyway, the point is that the Polish  king had no power, no taxes, and no army. His revenue was about 1/75th the income of Louis XIV at this time. Poland was spread thin, over territory with a rebellious aristocracy who were kings in their own castles. The time was ripe for consolidation, and it would happen chiefly by other powers.

Ottoman Empire

In 1529, Suleiman the magnificent invaded western europe and almost took Austria. He was repulsed, and the Ottoman empire looked largely the same as it had under him.

An interesting fact. Since taxes were higher for religious minorities, the Turks had NO desire to convert them to Islam or to assimilate them, because they drew more income from Christians if they REMAINED christians.

The book doesn’t make it clear exactly why the Ottoman empire was weakening at this time and in fact, it would last longer than the Holy Roman Empire and Polish Republic. At the time, the Ottoman empire was on friendly terms with the French and gave them privileges when French (usually Catholics) needed religious adjudication that was not Islamic.


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