The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXIII
THE RISE OF ABSOLUTISM AND OF THE MIDDLE CLASS

IN this closing chapter we have to note political and economic conditions and the course of events in the leading countries of western Europe during the last half of the fifteenth century and the first few years of the sixteenth. This time was one of transition from the later Middle Ages to what is known as modern history. Its chief general features will prove to be the growth of absolute monarchies, the passing of the medieval nobility and the rise of a prosperous middle class, and the prominence of international relations and European diplomacy. The most striking particular changes are the progress of the new Burgundian State, the increasing fortune of the House of Hapsburg, the sudden rise of Spain and Portugal to national greatness owing in part to the voyages of discovery. Other important events were the Wars of the Roses in England, the reign of the crafty Louis XI in France, and the French invasions of Italy. We shall now take up the countries of western Europe in the following order, Germany, Burgundy, Switzerland, France, England, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and then close with the accession of Charles V.

Introductory outline

The reign of the Hapsburg emperor, Frederick III ( 1440- 1493), has been well epitomized as "the longest and dullest of all German history. The most careful inspection can reveal only a few things that are worth remembering." Frederick was slow, poor, and powerless. For the most part he merely watched the course of events, consoling himself with gardening and astrology, and mumbling his favorite maxim, "Rerum irrecuperabilium summa felicitas oblivio" (What can't be helped had best be forgot), and the acrostic of words beginning with the five vowels, "Austriœ est imperare orbiuniverso,"

Frederick III of Germany

-614-

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