The War of the Spanish Succession

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the Holy Roman Empire and France were concerned about the delicate balance of power in Spain. King Charles II of Spain was without an heir, and both Louis XIV of France and Leopold I of the Holy Roman Empire had set forth their preferred candidates for the throne. Some had tried to suggest the division of the Spanish territories between these two countries and Bavaria, but to no effect. On his deathbed, Charles II left his entire kingdom to the French candidate, Phillip. Louis XIV then took aggressive steps that greatly worried the surrounding territories. He refused to sever Philip’s ties to the French throne, thereby opening up the possibility of a single monarch of both France and Spain. He also tried to dominate trade with the Spanish colonies that had been previously controlled by England and the Dutch. The Holy Roman Empire, Austria, England, and the Dutch responded by resurrecting a pro-Leopold coalition in 1701 called the League of Augsburg. War was officially declared between the League and France in 1702. The war was not a decisive victory for either side. Treaties in 1713 and 1714 allowed Phillip to keep the crown of Spain in the Iberian peninsula, but none of the outlying territories. Milan, Naples, Sicily, and Belgium went to Austria, while England got Gibraltar, Minorca, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Hudson’s bay. The Dutch were exhausted by this conflict, and never again rose to the prominence they had once enjoyed. England came out on top, coming onto the world stage as a major power. France was extremely depleted, and this contributed to the infamous events to come in the 18th century.

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

The Edict of Nantes, granted by King Henry IV in 1598, gave religious freedom to the French protestants after the disastrous French Wars of Religion. Almost a century later in 1685, the edict was revoked by king Louis XIV, his grandson. The revocation was justified in an interesting way. Louis XIV said in his revocation document that the edicts granted by Henry IV (a converted protestant) were for “maintaining the tranquillity of his kingdom and for diminishing mutual aversion between the members of the two religions.” He said that Henry’s primary motive was not to promote Protestantism, but to help foster tranquillity that would make it easier for the protestants to convert back to Catholicism. He did not see the revocation of the Edict of Nantes as a reversal of the work of his predecessors, but as a continuation. According to Louis (speaking in the Royal “we”): “our endeavors have attained their proposed end, inasmuch as the better and the greater part of our subjects of the said R.P.R. [Religion Prétendue Réformée, the French protestants] have embraced the Catholic faith.” The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was considered by Louis XIV to be the last step in turning France back into a Catholic country, not the first step in turning around Henry IV’s policy of toleration.


Mercantilism is a economic school that was found in the 16th though 18th centuries. It saw trade as a sort of low-intensity warfare, in which one partner tried to get as big a piece of the “pie” than the others. It was focused on discouraging imports and on encouraging exports. The thought was that imports draw away the currency (gold and silver), and thereby diminish the country’s wealth, while exports draw in more currency and increase the wealth.  France was a great example of a Mercantilist policy at work. The production of luxury items was subsidized, and monopolies were granted to various areas of manufacture. The importation of lace was abolished, and people working in the lace industry were forced to work in factories because they might secretly produce their own lace if they worked at home. Fines were imposed on those who wore buttons that were not the conventional style because they were not produced by the subsidized factories. Calico prints became popular, but the subsidized fabric producers did not make calicos, so severe penalties were established against those who wore them. There were even executions put in place for the fashion offenders. Mercantilism was flawed in many ways. Trade is not a war, and is not, according to the Mercantilists, a zero-sum game. In normal free trade one partner does not “win” by getting a bigger share of the pie; the partners work together to make the whole pie bigger and thereby both increase each others’ wealth. Even though it was flawed Mercantilism did exist in the 16th-18th centuries, especially in absolutist governments.

Juan de Mariana’s Constitutionalism

Constitutionalism is the philosophy that there should exist some limit on the authority of the sovereign, or on the power of the established government. Constitutionalism does not rely on the existence of a physical document like the United States Constitution; instead, it usually relies on tradition. One of the key constitutionalist thinkers was Juan de Mariana, who lived in Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. He believed that kings must be held accountable by the people for their actions.  He also believed that tyrants could be legitimately killed by any individual acting on his own authority. The concept of the legitimacy of tyrannicide was not new to the world at that time. Scholastic philosophers had touched on it but never came up with specific circumstances in which it was lawful. According to Mariana, violation of the laws of religion, taxation without the peoples’ consent, or prevention of the meeting of a democratic parliament were all considered to be acts of tyranny, and therefore incurred the punishment of regicide. Mariana’s work that exhibited this concept, De Rege et Regis Institutione (On the King and the Royal Institution), caused outrage in France after king Henry IV was assassinated in 1610. Interestingly, the king of Spain did not imprison or arrest Mariana for his writings on the legitimacy of regicide. However, when Mariana published his work criticizing the act of debasing the currency, De Monetae Mutatione (On the Alteration of Money), Philip III of Spain (who was debasing the currency) imprisoned him for four months. That went to show what matters were of chiefest concern to the king. Juan de Mariana was a very important figure in the development of Constitutionalism. His somewhat revolutionary ideas on the specific circumstances that legitimized regicide contributed greatly to the philosophy’s development.

The Decline of Spain

Spain had stepped onto the stage as a world power with several key events that occurred in the late 15th century. With the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon to Queen Isabella of Castile in 1469, Spain went from being several small kingdoms to nearly what we would recognize today. In addition, the Muslim stronghold in Spain was finally defeated at the recapture of Grenada in 1492 after nearly 800 years of occupation. This new strength gained from centralization gave Spain the means to expand further, reaching out to the New World. However, all good things must come to an end.

The decline of Spain was marked by a crucial event that took place in 1588. Philip II, who was also the governor of the Netherlands, was the King of Spain. He believed that religious unity would strengthen his territory, so he began an inquisition of the Protestants. However, after pressure from his daughter, the regent of the Netherlands, he ended the persecution. The Protestants then began getting fearless, holding large public meetings where members showed up armed. Radical iconoclasts also vandalized Church property. Eventually the situation escalated into a rebellion when Philip sent in the Duke of Alba with 10,000 troops. During this time the English had been aiding the Dutch revolt by attacking Spanish shipping. Philip retaliated by sending in the Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships, with the purpose of escorting the Spanish army to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. The Armada was decisively defeated by the English in 1588. Spain suffered great loss, and the Armada returned with only 67 of the 130 ships that had went out. 15 ships were wrecked on the return voyage. 20,000 men were dead, and those that remained were nearly dead from disease by the time they made their way home. This event marked the decline of Spain as a world power

Economic issues also contributed to the Spanish decline. Many industries were controlled by government aided monopolies, excluding any beneficial competition. Much of Spain’s wealth came from New World gold, which would not last forever. Severely effected by plagues, the population was devastated. In Aragon and Castile, the population went from 10 million in 1590 to 6 million in 1700. The Duke of Lerma, a government official appointed by Philip III, expelled all of the Moriscoes (converted Muslims) from Spain, an act the severely disrupted the economy. Around 400,000 people were told they had to leave the county in three days. There were several rebellions, among which were the Catalonian Rebellion and the rebellion of the Portuguese, who won their independence in 1668. All of these are examples of factors that contributed the decline of Spain in the years following the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

The defeat of Spain’s naval fleet at the hands of the English, the government monopolies, the reliance on gold from the New World, the plagues and rebellions that devastated Spain; all these are examples of how this once-great country fell into decline. One of the most important outcomes of this decline was that Spain was forced to scale-back on its exploits across the seas and focus more energy on the issues at home.

Cardinal Richelieu

Nobleman, statesman, clergyman, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) was quite an accomplished individual who had great influence on the politics of France.cardinal_de_richelieu_mg_0053 Elected King Louis XIII’s chief minister in 1624, Richelieu held a great amount of power in his hands. He was chiefly concerned with the centralization and political success of France.

In an attempt to reduce the power in the hands of the nobility, he ordered all fortifications not needed for the defense of the borders to be destroyed. This included many private fortresses and castles belonging to the nobility, an action that did not endear him to them. He did not allow his religious convictions to get in the way of what he thought was the political good of France.

During the Thirty Years’ War, France was concerned about the growing victories of the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, against the Protestant forces. There had been tensions between France and the Holy Roman Empire because northern Italy, if captured by the Hapsburgs, would provide a link between the Holy Roman Empire and Hapsburg Spain, and thus encircle France. In 1629, Cardinal Richelieu tried to balance power in the war by financially supporting the entrance of Sweden into the war. Richelieu had allied Catholic France with Protestant Sweden, putting religion, the catalyst of the war, in the backseat.

A Cardinal, Richelieu was perhaps not as concerned with religion as pertained to politics as he should have been. He suffered criticism for his move in allying with the Protestant powers, but he succeeded in diverting the basis of the war away from religion and toward the political struggle between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Even though he was a high-ranking clergyman, his first and foremost objective was the success of France.