The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

Excerpt

Many historians, in a dozen languages, have sought to explain why the Habsburg Monarchy declined and fell; none has ever seriously investigated the causes of its rise. Hence this book. Hence also the limitations of this book, since the first word on a subject cannot evidently also be the last.

Of course, some intelligent summary accounts exist for the period I have chosen, along with a number of impressive older studies concentrated upon foreign policy. There are lively specialist traditions in ecclesiastical, constitutional, legal, and cultural history, and there is good recent work on economic developments. Local history possesses a voluminous literature, much of it associated with the dozens of excellent scholarly journals which have long flourished throughout the area. But three crucial elements have, I think, been lacking in previous approaches. The first is a consistent account of the Central European Counter-Reformation and its concomitant socio-economic changes, which provided the framework for a new structure of power and a new set of attitudes. The second is a balanced view of the Monarchy as a whole, especially of the interaction between regions and central government, since the consolidation of the Habsburg state rested essentially on a series of bilateral agreements between the rulers and their mightier subjects. The third is an understanding of intellectual evolution from the Renaissance to the Baroque, for the enhanced authority of the dynasty depended at least as much upon mentalities as upon institutions.

There are thus (if a crude geometrical metaphor be excused) three dimensions to this study, corresponding to the three equal parts of the text: a lengthwise section through the material; a transverse section; and a sounding in depth. Yet the subject does not permit of any watertight compartments, and the political, social, and cultural threads which wove a casual juxtaposition of territories into a powerful and reasonably stable commonwealth cannot readily be disentangled. Nor can chronological limits represent more than approximate guide-lines: hence the terminal . . .

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