Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History

By Euan Cameron | Go to book overview

4
Colonies, Enterprises, and Wealth: The Economies of Europe and the Wider World in the Seventeenth Century

R. A. HOUSTON


Introduction: Europe and the Wider World in 1600

Europe had gone through unprecedented change during the sixteenth century. The religious unity of Christendom, so long in conflict with Islam, had in the end been sundered from within by the 'Protestant' ideas of Martin Luther and his successors. The Renaissance monarchies which had emerged as the dominant political form at the end of the Middle Ages were beginning to give way to different types of state. The supranational monarchy presided over by Charles V had been divided between the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Habsburg dynasty, and the Low Countries hived off from the Holy Roman Empire to the crown of Spain. But the compact nation states which were to dominate political and military life by the eighteenth century were still emerging from obscurity--England, France, and Prussia. Warfare was the principal motor of these changes and had in turn profound implications for social and economic life. Europe was never truly peaceful at any time during the sixteenth or seventeenth century and at some periods all European powers were engaged in warfare both within the continent itself and across the known world.

If Europe's leaders were restless and bellicose, Europe's economies

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