Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Three wars and an invasion

The War of the Reunions
In 1683-4 Louis XIV fought his third war, the War of the Reunions. In many respects it was a continuation of the two previous wars and was part of the ongoing struggle between France and Spain for the mastery of Europe.

In 1670 he had set up several Chambers of Reunion to investigate whether France had been given all the territories to which it was legally entitled following the Thirty Years’ War and the War of Devolution. The Chambers resolved that more areas, mainly small towns and villages surrounding the cities that had been ceded by treaty, should be awarded to Louis and when French troops were sent to these areas they were generally unopposed. In effect, the reunions were a legal veneer for annexations.


In 1680-1 the French attacked Orange, where the Dutch Stadhouder William’s family had its hereditary estates. In August 1681 they occupied the town, pulled down its walls and let loose the dragonnades. This was a final insult to William as a sovereign prince. For a while though he was helpless, as the States General would not allow him to increase the number of armed forces. In September 1681 the Protestant city of Strassburg was taken from the Empire and renamed Strasbourg, giving the French control of much of the lower Rhine. The barrier town of Luxembourg was then besieged (it fell in June 1684).

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Louis XIV and religion

During the reign of Louis XIV religion was still a vital issue. The king had been granted the title of ‘most Christian King’ by the pope. Though he could not define doctrine, it was the king’s right to direct affairs of religion in France and therefore to govern relations between church and state. The church was the strongest moral and ideological support for the monarchy. The crown made use of priests and bishops to inform the population of laws and victories and bishops often played an important role in local government. The Church formed the First Estate. Although it was exempt from the taille, the Assembly of Clergy which met every year was obliged to grant a free gift of several million livres to the monarchy.

Louis XIV: the early wars


[This painting by Pierre Mignard represents Lous'' capture of of Maastricht in 1673.]

France: the international situation
In 1661 France had just emerged from 25 years of foreign war against the Habsburgs of the Spanish and Austrian empires. Since her entry into the Thirty Years’ War in 1635 French foreign policy had aimed at breaking the potential stranglehold on France occasioned by the rise of Spanish power and Spain’s possession of territories round the borders. The costs of the war were such that in 1648 both France and Spain went bankrupt - but France slightly less so than Spain.

One of the ‘big stories’ of the late 17th century is the transformation of the military and financial institutions of the state to enable it to fight large-scale wars in Europe and beyond.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Louis XIV and absolute monarchy

‘For monarchists everywhere, the turbulent 1640s proved to be the darkest decade before the dawn of a new era of authoritarian government often characterized by historians as “the age of absolutism”. Tim Blanning, The Pursuit of Glory (Penguin, 2007, 207).
The inheritance of Louis XIV
Louis was born 5 September 1638, the ‘God-given’, ‘miraculous’ child of Louis XIII and his Habsburg wife, Anne of Austria, after twenty-two years of marriage; he was baptised Louis-Dieudonné. He succeeded his father in May1643 aged four. From the start he was treated as a king.  He was taught that if he ruled in accordance with the will of God, his reign would be numbered as one of the most glorious in the history of France.

Throughout his reign he was acutely aware of his inheritance. French jurists had defined that the line of kings had followed each other in legitimate succession from Hugh Capet (987-96). This succession had to be male. The Salic law had the advantage of keeping foreigners off the throne but it created problems if there was no male heir. Before Louis’ birth the Bourbon line had come uncomfortably close to extinction. Louis himself only raised one legitimate child and was succeeded by his great-grandson (his son, grandson and one great-grandson predeceased him).

In his Memoirs, begun in 1661 for his son, the Dauphin. Louis set out a view of himself as a wise ruler, appointed by God, a glorious prince, dedicated to the pursuit of la gloire (glory, reputation). His reign coincided with the greatest period of French cultural and political dominance Рle grand si̬cle.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Poor relief in ancient Rome: a comparison

If you want to make a comparison between poor relief in Christian Europe before the welfare state and provisions for the poor in the classical world, then this site provides fascinating information. As you will see, the bread dole in ancient Rome, doesn't have much resemblance to the concept of charity.

Thanks, Caryl.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The problem of poverty


[This is a picture of the Corsham almshouses in Wiltshire, founded by Lady Margaret Hungerford.]]

A widespread fear of the disorderly poor meant that the early-modern state was preoccupied with the question of poverty.

The largest group of people classed as paupers were the elderly. Widows and abandoned wives could account for a third or more of the recipients of poor relief. However, their best support remained their relatives. In eastern and southern Europe older people often lived in three-generational multiple family households, or moved from the household of one married child to another. But in Italy and Spain those without relatives could be abandoned. The poor relief records of Seville and Barcelona show that the poverty of a widowed mother and her daughter could turn the daughter into a prostitute and the mother into a procuress.

Old Age

William Harvey

This post is heavily biased to English history and is indebted to Pat Thane's Old Age in English History (Oxford University Press, 2000).

According to Psalm 90, the human life-span was 70. But in the early modern period some people lived beyond that age:Titian 1488/90-1576; William Harvey 1578–1657; Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679. The average age of death of the nine 17th century archbishops of Canterbury was 73 and the average age of appointment 60. In 1635 there was immense excitement over the death of Thomas Parr (‘Old Parr’) who died in London allegedly at the age of 153, having boasted that he had committed adultery at the age of 105. He was dissected by William Harvey who attributed his death to the sulphurous air and rich living of London. Perhaps significantly, he did not question his longevity and it was not until the 19th century that such claims were disbelieved.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Invention of Germany

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, 1740-86
Click here for the second of Misha Glenny's programmes on Germany. This deals with the rise of Prussia to great power status in the eighteenth century and is very relevant to next term's programme.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Galileo and his daughters: a case study

This post is taken from Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love (London: Fourth Estate, 1999).


Galileo Galileo had three children, a boy and two girls, Virginia and Livia, the result of his long liaison with Marina Gamba of Venice. Virginia was born in August 1600, Livia a year later. Because the girls were illegitimate they were deemed unmarrigeable and soon after Virginia’s thirteenth birthday she was placed at the Poor Clare convent of San Matteo in Arcetri, where she lived out her life in poverty and seclusion.  She took the name of Suor Maria Celeste and Livia became Suor Arcangela.

The seventeenth-century family


In the seventeenth century the family was the basic unit of society. It was the place of residence and of the pooling and distribution of resources for consumption. For many a small farmer and craftsman it was also the basic unit of production. For most people the place of work was also the place of residence.