Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History

By Euan Cameron | Go to book overview

3
War, Religion, and the State

STEVEN GUNN


States and Borders

To the modern eye, the political map of sixteenth-century Europe looks more familiar in some parts than in others. France, Spain, and Portugal are recognizable; so are England and Scotland, though not yet united; so are the Benelux countries, though ruled as seventeen provinces by a single prince. In the centre of the continent, Germany and Italy are strangely parcellated, though the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor stretches tenuously over the first. To the north and east the impression is rather one of unlikely agglomeration, of rambling empires and multiple monarchies. These might prove unstable: the election of Gustav Vasa as king of an independent Sweden in 1523 broke the union more than a century old between the Danes, the Norwegians, and the Swedes. Or they might prove surprisingly stable, even when they combined very dissimilar peoples. The Greeks, Turks, Albanians, Bulgars, and Serbs were for the moment successfully blended in the expanding Ottoman Empire. The Catholic Poles, the Orthodox Ukrainians, the Ashkenazi Jews, the lately pagan Lithuanians, and the Lutheran German burghers of Danzig, Posen, and Thorn rubbed along together as denizens of the vast Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.

Even in the west, the appearance of familiarity is in part an illusion. International borders were vaguer than today, as islands of one ruler's jurisdiction or military control could be found well within the area ruled by a neighbour. The first map of Europe to attempt to show state borders was

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