European frontiers were unstable.
There was no clear demarcation between the lands of the Ottoman Sultan and those of the Habsburg Emperors. Transylvania recognized Turkish suzerainty. Moldavia and Wallachia were Christian provinces within the Ottoman Empire. Belgrade was Turkish until 1688.
At the end of the century the Russian empire expanded westwards. Poland and Sweden lost territory.
The eastern frontier of France became a major theatre of war in the 17th century.
States and Dynasties
Emperor Ferdinand II (1578-1637)
There were two branches of the Habsburg dynasty.
- The Austrian Habsburgs. They ruled two overlapping empires: their hereditary lands and the Holy Roman Empire, which included Bavaria, Brandenburg and Saxony. All these were major states whose rulers were able to hold their own in conflicts with the Emperor.
- The Spanish Habsburgs. At the beginning of the century, the king of Spain was the most important ruler after the Emperor. In 1600 the seven Dutch provinces were near the end of their successful revolt. This meant that the Spanish lands were now entirely Catholic. Spain ruled Castile, Aragon, Portugal, Catalonia, The Spanish Netherlands, the County of Burgundy, the Italian possessions.
Britain. From 1603 England and Scotland were ruled by the same monarch but the two kingdoms had separate parliaments and legal systems.
France. France had just emerged from a bitter series of religious wars with the accession of the Bourbon king, Henry IV. The wars had shown how far France was still a federation of provinces. Henry’s Edict of Nantes (1598) allowed Protestant enclaves within a Catholic country.
The United Provinces. In 1600 the seven United Provinces, created by the Union of Utrecht (1579) were still rebels fighting for independence from Spain. In 1609 they gained temporary recognition from Spain in the Twelve Years’ Truce.
The government consisted of the Stadtholder, the States-General meeting at The Hague and the States-General of the individual provinces. There was no real unity.
The eastern Baltic was an area of considerable instability. During the early seventeenth century Sweden, Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and Denmark were at war with each other. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had come into existence in 1569. It covered 900,000 square kilometres, twice the size of France, and encompassed the area of modern Poland and Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and the western half of the Ukraine. Its population of 11 million was twice that of Denmark and Sweden combined. Both Sweden and Poland took advantage of Russia’s ‘Time of Troubles’ to gain territory. Poland was an elective monarchy, a situation that could lead to constitutional deadlock and (at worst) to anarchy.
The Ottoman Empire can be seen, in retrospect, as in decline from its great days in the sixteenth century.