Lecture: The Story So Far & 17th century Politics and Culture

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620): two women holding man down and cutting off his head as blood spurts

The Story So Far
Ancient Period (3500 BC - 500 BC)
The Classical Period (500 BC-AD 500)
Medieval Period (300-1500)
Renaissance, Reformation and War (1350 - 1648)

17th century Politics and Culture
Absolutism in France
Constitutionalism in Britain


Globe showing Europe

The Story So Far


Ancient Period (3500 - 500 BC)

The story begins around 3500 BC, when peoples in West Asia and north Africa settled into the Neolithic pattern of agriculture. It continues through the development of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations, and the rise of the Hebrew peoples.

Map of Mesopotamia

Sumeria: symbolic writing
The earliest Mesopotamian civilization, centered in the south, developed a symbolic writing system. Although they began as pictographs, Sumerian cuneiform evolved into a written language based completely on abstract symbols.

Assyrian Relief

Military Empire
Mesopotamia's geographic exposure to its neighbors left it open to attack. The result was the development of militarized states, including the most brutal, that of the Assyrian Empire. This empire was destroyed in 612 BC by a combined force of Babylonians and Medes.


Geography  Dominated by the unreliable and violent Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Mesopotamian were subject to droughts and floods. This gave them a pessimistic view of religion, where human-like gods played with people like toys. The afterlife was a ghastly place where souls ate dust and were slaves to the gods. It also gave them a penchant for change, and an impetus for developing sophisticated technologies.


Kings and law
Mesopotamian kings were mortals who needed to unify their rule through written law. One of the most famous collections of law is called Hammurabi's Code, which instituted punishments based on a person's rank in society.

Map of Egypt

Egypt was polytheistic, with many gods. But one pharoah, in a combination of personal spirituality and an effort to destroy the power of the priestly class, developed a cult to the worship of one god, Aton. When he died, his nephew Tut (originally Tutankaton, then Tutankamen) became pharoah. He died young and was buried in extraordinary splendor.

Tut Death Mask


Unlike Mespotamia, Egyptian geography was stable. The Nile River reliably rose and fell each year, leaving behind rich silt on either side for planting. This gave the Egyptians a benign view of the supernatural, with gods that helped humans. The afterlife was a pleasant continuation of life on earth.

Head of Pharoah

Egyptian kings were also part god, and thus had little need for written codes. If the pharoah said it was law, then it was law.

Egyptians relied on continuity to guide their lives, thinking of time as cyclical rather than linear. Change was seen as meaning discontinuity and strife. Although later creating an Empire of her own, originally Egypt relied on trade and diplomacy. An era of Nile droughts and unpredictability led to an era of empire.

Map of Palestine

The Hebrew belief in messiahs, people who rose to lead during times of trouble, led to a forward-looking faith in progress. Times past were seen as behind us, and the future stretched ahead as a time of promise where justice would be achieved and things made right. This is the origin of our idea of progress.

Solomon's Temple

Solomon's Temple
Despite nomadic origins, the Hebrews founded stable kingdoms in Palestine.They preserved their culture despite takeover by large empires like Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome.


The Hebrews became a people when Abraham left Mespotamia for the eastern Mediterranean. Abraham and his followers believed in one god, and that the Hebrews had been given a special mission of worship.

Invisible God
Unlike the civilizations that surrounded them, the one God of the Hebrews was everywhere, thus there were no images of him. He was invisible, which made religion portable. This separated the ceremonies of worship (performed by priests) from prayer (performed by believers). The Jewish religion was the first loyalty of a Hebrew, regardless of where s/he was living.

Study of the law
Priests would gradually fade from Judaism as the emphasis grew on studying the laws of God. During the Babylonian Empire, Jewish priests and rabbis (scholars) had been forcibly relocated to Babylon. Prophets and scholars living in Babylonian codified the laws of Moses and provided a textual base for studying God's law and interpreting it for future generations.


Classical Period (2000 BC - AD 500)

This is the era of Greek and Roman domination.

Map of Greece

In looking at the natural world, Greeks developed techniques of rationalism. Instead of explaining natural phenomena as the acts of gods, Greek scholars created explanations based on natural laws and reason. This is seen as the origin of our modern scientific world view.

Limited Democracy
Athens during the 5th century BC created a system of limited democracy. Male adult Greek citizens were all able to take part in decisions. Argumentation skills were necessary to dominate politics. People look to Athens for the origin of modern democracy.

Sparta and Athens
Unlike cosmopolitan Athens, Sparta was a land-based militarized city-state. Its ideas of collectivism, state responsibility, and military virtue contrast with Athens' focus on trade and individualism. The "Golden Age" of Athenian trade empire ended with the Peloponnesian War against Sparta.


Greek geography is dominated by rocky landforms and water. As a result, farming was limited and the sea became the source of products and trade. Geographic isolation produced competing city-states.

City-states like Athens, which relied on foreign trade, were open to the ideas of other peoples. They developed highly sophisticated societies, and philosophies based on the role and responsibilities of the individual person. Most people look to Ancient Greece for the origins of modern individualism.


Map of Hellenistic Empire

Cosmopolitanism and Freedom
The Hellenistic Empire broke up into kingdoms soon after Alexander's death, but retained a cultural unity. This era was one of extraordinary cosmopolitanism, where people began to identify themselves by what city they came from rather than their family or religion. Individualism seemed to be a technique for placing oneself in such a large world, where many religions, cultures, languages and people existed together. It was a time of unprecedented freedom and respect for women, who had been relegated to private roles in all previous cultures except for Sparta.


Alexander's Empire
A Macedonian king, Alexander's love of 5th century Athenian culture motivated him to create an empire. Beginning by capturing Greece itself, his army went on to conquer the Persian Empire which had taken over Greek colonies on the coast of Asia Minor. Accompanied by scholars and scientists, Alexander proceeded to expand this empire all the way to the Indus River. His intention was to spread the culture of the Greek world.

Head of Alexander

Map of Rome


As the Roman empire expanded, it brought new peoples into the Republic and experienced new challenges to ideas of citizenship and civic duty. Economic unity and taxation systems supported an increasingly independent military, providing opportunity for leaders like Julius Caesar to gain power.

Roman Forum

Life in the Empire
The Roman Empire would boast baths, aqueducts, water-powered grain mills, and solid roads. The Romans invented concrete and advanced techniques for building monumental structures. Rome itself was a huge city with many neighborhoods crammed with poor workers. In order to prevent revolt, Emperors provided "bread and circuses": free flour and cheap entertainment at the chariot races or gladiator fights.

The Fall of Rome
Overexpansion, weak emperors, health problems, and the expansion into the empire of "barbarians" from the east all caused the western half of the Roman empire to fall apart. The new religion of Christianity was providing an alternative spirituality, which was eventually adopted by the Empire in an effort to provide unification. Ultimately the empire would split into the western half, which would be controlled by the Germanic tribes, and the eastern half, which became the Byzantine Empire.


At first just a city on the Italian peninsula, Rome began expanding in the 6th century BC. It overtook its neighbors to the north, the Etruscans, and adopted their form of government and technology. Conquest of Greek colonies to the south brought trade, religion and science.

Two-house governing
The Roman Republic is the origin of our two-house government, where the Senate was controlled by land-holding patricians and the Council by plebeians.

Legion Soldier

Roman Victories
Rome expanded from the Italian peninsula to take over the Carthaginian empire, most of the Hellenistic empire, and beyond. One reason was the Roman legion, superior to the phalanxes and formations used by other armies. Gradually, soldiers' loyalty to Rome would be replaced by loyalty to individual commanders.

Medieval Period (300 - 1500)

Not a dark age at all, the Middle Ages was a time of expansion and reorganization.

map of barbarians

Custom as Law
Unlike the Romans, the tribal peoples were not literate. This meant that they had extraordinary memories, which people lose when they learn to read and write. They could listen to a story for hours, hear it once, and repeat it word for word. Their legal system was thus based on the memory and testimony of witnesses. Our system today of having witnesses in the courtroom and wedding chapel derive from Germanic custom.

Women in Barbarian Europe
Surprisingly to some people today, the tribes gave women more independence and respect than the Roman system they were replacing. In the warlike cultures of the tribes, women played a vital role in the community and could own property and act independently in legal issues. This would be lost with the readoption of Roman law.


Roman sources consider the migration of Germanic tribes an invasion which destroyed Roman civilization. The people who came from the 4th century onward were seeking land, and had no interest in the cities of the Roman Empire. They destroyed the infrastructure, and until they were Christianized by the Roman Church, sacked churches and towns alike.


The Roman Church
The division of Europe in tribal kingdoms left the Bishop of Rome as the only person who could claim any authority over all of Europe. Eventually separating from the other Christian bishops to the East, he became Pope, or father of the Church. This meant little until the tribes were Christianized.

Map of Charlemagne's empire

Carolingian Legacy
Charlemagne's Empire is considered the origin of the modern idea of Europe, although it only encompassed the western portion. Although the empire broke up into kingdoms after his death, Charlemagne's institution of Christian learning began a system of education for a rational system of government. The recovery of Justinian's Code, a Roman law compilation discovered in Byzantium, set the stage for the revival of Roman law.

The Church
During this era, the power of the Pope expanded enormously. Basing their supremacy on the Petrine theory (that Rome is the seat of power due to the martyrdom of St. Peter), Popes asserted their authority over matters temporal and spiritual. The network of the Church extended through a Europe run by bishops and priests, providing believers with a path to God. Popes came into conflict with kings and emperors trying to assert their own power over thse regions.


In AD 800, a Germanic king of the Frankish tribe became ruler of the first unified empire since Rome.


Charlemagne's people had formed an alliance with the Pope to achieve this end. The Church supported the Christian Franks, and in turn the Franks supported the Church. This led to the expansion of Christianity throughout Europe and the institution of civic authority.

map of Crusades

As the invasions quieted down, Europe was left with a highly militarized feudal society. The result was numerous wars amongst the lords. At the same time, bishops in the east were pleading for support against the expansion of Muslim kingdoms in Palestine. Popes saw an opportunity to channel the violence of European knights and unify Europe under the cause of Christianity, not coincidentally also increasing their own power. The Crusades were not always successful, but they provided an outlet for Christian culture and the opportunity of possessing lands to the east.


Chivalric culture
The cult of knights and ladies emerged into its own culture, creating a foundation for our modern ideas of romantic love. It also put women on a pedestal. While this might have been an improvement from women being derided by Church fathers as the founders of evil (because of Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eden), it did not increase rights for women.


Viking invasions and feudalism
During the 9th century, Europe again experienced invasions. From the north, Vikings began raiding coastal towns, eventually moving into the regions and setting up farms. From the east, Magyars and other eastern tribes threatened, and from the south, Muslim Saracens from north Africa raided Italian and Spanish ports. The result was decentralized government, since kings were unable to respond quickly to such threats. A feudal system developed, with kings partitioning their land among lords loyal to them. These lords in turn partitutioned their areas. Those receiving land pledged military service to their lords.

medieval shops

Trade and Towns
Once the invasions had settled down, markets emerged to trade the new surpluses of agriculture. Most historians agree these markets became the basis of towns. Medieval towns were controlled by merchant guilds, with craft guilds controlling the production of goods.

Unlike aristocratic women, townswomen might experience considerable independence as part of a guild or running a business. The most independent vocation for females was that of midwife, a woman who cared for pregnant women and delivered their children.

Black Death map

The Late Middle Ages was also a time of war and corruption. The Hundred Years' War, fought as much by ordinary people as trained knights, dragged on between France and England. The Church was corrupt, having moved the Pope's court from Rome to Avignon to secure protection from the French king. The papal court was extravagant and distant from the increasing needs of the people. The Church had no answer for why everyone was dying, considering it God's punishment and telling people to pray. The result was that many began to turn away from the Church, worshipping God directly in ways that violated Church dogma. This mysticism would provide the foundation for later attacks against the Church, but it provided some comfort to people tormented by famine, disease, and war.


Around 1300, the climate of Eurasia became cooler and wetter. Crops unused to these conditions began to fail, and famine resulted. Poor nutrition and cooler climate led to a decrease in people's immunity, and many caught colds.

Black Death
In 1347, bubonic plague arrived in Italy. A blood-borne disease from Central Asia, it was brought in the belly of fleas who lived on Eurasian Black Rats. These rats travelled on ships from the east, living happily among people and nesting in crowded port towns. Although plague was deadly, it was not usually easy to catch. But the respiratory problems of the population turned the plague into a pneumonic form, easily communicable through coughing and sneezing. An epidemic ensued which killed off 1/3 to 1/2 of the entire population of Europe, and changed its culture.


Renaissance, Reformation and War (1350 - 1648)

Venetian Trade Map

But there was more to the Renaissance than just recovering the classical past. Old knowledge was updated to fulfill new agendas. Those who looked to a pre-Christian past for information found themselves with a great respect for those who had lived and written during ancient times. Pre-Christian sources provided a perspective from before the communitarianism of the Church, and revealed a time when people acted according to earthly motives and opportunities. Those who prized the efficacy of human action, and exalted the role of human beings in determining their destiny, were called humanists.

Civic Humanism
Some down-to-earth politicans and philosophers applied humanism to the particular character of the Italian city-state. This created a form of civic patriotism which fueled economic, political and military competition among the city-states. This competition led to a fast spread of humanist knowledge along with the trade goods.


Christian Humanism
In the north of Europe, civic humanism never took hold because of the continuing problems of disease and war. Instead, humanist ideas combined with Christian traditions and mysticism to produce Christian Humanism. Christian Humanists like Erasmus criticized the worldliness of the Catholic Church and argued for the revival of true Christian virtues, such as peace, humility and charity.


Around 1350, a scholar named Petrarch revived the classics through his letters to dead classical figures like Virgil. Petrarch bemoaned the terrible times he lived in (this was during the plague years) and longed for the days of the classical past. Classicists recovered the works of Greek and Roman writers, and translated them into vernacular languages.

Renaissance Women

Wealth from trade
The trading families of Renaissance Italy became very wealthy, but medieval standards did not value monetary wealth. In increasing their social status, the wealthy merchant classes spent much money on patronizing the arts and sciences. Renaissance artists became famous creating commissioned works incorporating the new values and scientific perspective.

Da Vinci Madonna

Reformation Map


Catholic Reform
Historians argue as to whether the reforms instituted by Pope Paul III in the 16th century were a response to Protestant rebellion or an independent clean-up of the Catholic Church. Either way, reforms were instituted clearing up issues of orthodoxy and instilling formal training for priests, concrete responsibilities for bishops, and a revived papacy.


This Catholic Reformation emphasized the emotional appeal of the relationship with God, affirming the mystics who abided by Church orthodoxy. Baroque art reflected these trends.


The group that would be called Protestants advanced medieval mysticism and Christian humanism by claiming that all Christians should read the Bible for themselves.

A monk, professor, and translator of the Bible into German, Martin Luther had a personal crisis in which he concluded that salvation occurred by faith in God alone. Good works and sacraments did not instill faith.


His Ninety-Five Theses (1517), presenting his reasons and denying the power of the Pope, started the Protestant Reformation. Because of its start in the support of competing German princes, Lutheranism stayed a predominately German phenomenon.

A French lawyer, John Calvin developed ideas of predestination (if God is all powerful, he already knows the destiny of every soul). Calvin codified Protestantism and created a community in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvinism achieved an international focus: French Calvinists were called Huguenots, English Calvinists were called Puritans.

Trade Goods Map

European expansion created a colonial system, where colonies were developed in the Americas, coastal Africa, and India. Spain and Portugal controlled the Americas, and the French, British and Dutch competed for Africa and Asia. As trade ports were set up, and Iberian-run plantations and mines in the New World, what historians have called the "Columbian Exchange" evolved. Plants and animals from Europe (cattle, sheep, horses, wheat) came to the Americas, and American plants and animals (especially the potato, tomato, and cocoa) came to Europe. Slaves were purchased from coastal West African tribes to supply labor for the plantations, which was needed because European diseases had killed off 90% of the Native Americans who first contacted them.

Spanish Armada

Trade wars
By the 16th centuries, Europeans were involved in global trade wars to dominate the colonies. Spain and England were particularly at odds in the Caribbean, and England and France in India.


Iberian Expansion
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople, the cross-over city between Europe and Asia. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and had been Christian-controlled under the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans became wealthy taxing all those who passed through the city, which they renamed Istanbul. Portuguese explorers began to look for ways to sail around Africa to get the goods they wanted from Asia.


In fighting the Muslims and pushing them out of Spain, the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) brought Catholic ideals to the fore. Spain would sponsor voyages to compete with Portugal in trying to find a sea route to Asia. After being rejected by several courts due to his faulty geographic ideas, Italian navigator Christopher Columbus was finally sponsored by Spain for a voyage to sail west. Although he thought he'd found islands near India (the latitude was the same), he'd actually discovered a New World.

Wars of Religion map


Catholic vs Protestant
Internally, Europe was torn apart in the 16th and early 17th centuries by wars of religion. Catholics and Protestants fought for religious and political control of principalities and kingdoms. Battles often took place in the streets and villages, and civilians were often involved.

Gustavus Adolphus

Thirty Years War
Between 1618 and 1648, most European countries were involved in alliances against each other. Though at first it was strictly Protestant against Catholic factions, by 1648 the motives had shifted. Nationalism became more important than religion, for example when Catholic France allied with Protestant Sweden to prevent the expansion of German and Spanish Habsburgs.

Overview: 1648 - present


Modern politics
In the early modern era, kings will struggle to increase their power through taxation and the creation of professional standing armies. Some, like Louis XIV of France, will achieve legendary status as absolute monarchs.
Louis Xiv

Scientific Revolution
Concepts of rationalism and empiricism (knowledge gained through the five senses) will combine to create the scientific method. We use this all the time: develop a hypothesis (or thesis), gather data, and reach conclusions.

Applying scientific rationalism to society will bring us to the Enlightenment of the 18th century, which will give birth to ideas like political liberalism. Several of today's economic and political philosophies will have their origins in this era.



The application of cheap coal-based fuels to run steam engines will create a power and technology revolution. This will lead to steam-powered pumps, railroads, and steamships.

American and French Revolutions
Enlightenment concepts of political liberalism will create movements for independence and freedom. The American and French Revolutions, based on the natural rights of man, will set precedents for the world.

The new industrial classes, who own the factories, will attempt to create social status for themselves through the application of moral and ethical standards. These will include the separation of male and female spheres of life.


Among the art movements we'll encounter is Impressionism, which sought to balance the portrayal of nature with the challenges of the new technological landscape.

World War I
The Great War will begin in 1914 as a result of secret alliances and a political assassination. Millions will lose their lives, and the aftermath will leave Europe scarred for generations.

Russian Revolution
During the war, Russia will become a communist country through two revolutions.


Among the modern art movements will be several that will reflect the anxiety of the war years, reflecting the questioning of civilization and reality.

In the midst of post-war depressions, fascism will become a nationalistic, militaristic alternative to more socialist programs. Emerging first in Italy, fascism will become the policy of the Nazi government of Germany.

World War II
The expansion of the fascist powers will lead us into World War II, where the nations and colonies of the Allied powers will fight Italian fascists, German Nazis, and Japanese imperialists.

Mussolini and Hitler


Cold War
Allied during World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States will face each other during the Cold War, which lasted from 1945-1989. Soviet Communism and American Capitalism will face off at several sites throughout the world. The Korean and Vietnam Wars will demonstrate the power of Asian communism as well.

In the post-World War II depression, Europe will lose many of her colonies to nationalist revolutions. These revolutions will be based on the same Enlightenment ideas of earlier revolutions, but will be impacted by Cold War rivalries as well.

Berlin Wall

Current Trends
The goals of the European Common Market will come close to reaching fulfillment in the creation of the European Union. Globalization will impact Europe and the rest of the world.


17th Century Politics and Culture

Louis XIV

Music: "Galliard Battaglia" by Samuel Scheidt (1621), a dance.



"L'état c'est moi." (I am the state) -- Louis XIV

Absolutism: France

The term absolutism refers to the absolute control of a single ruler of a country. Although such total power did not truly occur anywhere in the seventeenth century, France came close.

painting of Louis XIIILouis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu

King Louis XIII (13th) of France was the son of Marie de Medici, who was related to the wealthy Renaissance Medici family of Italy. Despite the force of her personality, nobles in France gained tremendous power and independence during her regency. Fortunately, she was the patron of Cardinal Richelieu, who helped her make decisions. Upon the accession of Louis XIII, Richelieu continued his role as advisor.

Louis XIII was not a strong man or a strong king.

painting of Anne of AustriaHe was acknowledged as being somewhat feminine in his character, and had homosexual tendencies. He preferred hunting and parties to affairs of state. Married at age 14 to Anne of Austria, a Spanish-Austrian princess, he tended to ignore his passionate and intelligent wife, who intimidated him. He became so reliant on Cardinal Richelieu that he left affairs of state to the older man, who was really the creator of French absolutism.

Richelieu was determined that despite the poor raw material, the king of France must become absolute ruler. The key was controlling the nobility. Richelieu created the intendant system, giving high positions to middle-class officials who would be dependent on the king and owe nothing to noble families. Cardinal RichelieuThese men were sent to collect taxes and enforce the king's laws. Any noble who refused found his men drafted into the king's army. Richelieu thus created the system that Louis XIV would later use as a model for his own power. There were even rumors, never proven, that Richelieu was the birth father of Louis XIV.

Louis XIV, the Sun King

Richelieu died in 1643, the same year as Louis XIII, having provided a successor to help Anne rule. Cardinal Mazarin assisted Anne during her time as regent, while little Louis grew up. Within five years, the nobility rose again in series of civil wars known as The Fronde. 10-year-old Louis watched in horror as nobles battled outside the palace for his own crown. The boy vowed that he would never again permit such threats to his power.

His creation of Versailles, and his own image as the Sun King, was more than Bust of Louis XIVvanity. Life at Versailles showed Louis XIV's plans to "domesticate the nobility". Nobles were required to spend each winter at Versailles instead of on their country estates. Anyone who did not attend found his family without royal support or patronage. During their months at Versailles, nobles took on common tasks to get closer to the king. They did gardening work, served at the king's table, and even emptied the king's chamber pot (potty) to get the king's ear and earn royal favors. In addition to continuing Richelieu's policies, and following the advice of his royal economist, Colbert, Louis XIV created a court that would be a model for all would-be absolutists.


Constitutionalism: Britain Click here for audio

Unlike France, which had no tradition of representative government, England did. Since the 13th century, the English Parliament had tried to assert its authority over the making of law. During the reign of King Henry VIII, Parliament had even determined the national religion by supporting Henry's separation of the Anglican church from the Pope's authority. Henry's Protestant daughter Queen Elizabeth had confirmed Parliament's authority and cooperated with them, but when she died without an heir in 1603, the throne passed to her cousin, Scottish king James VI (James Stuart).

James I

James VI became James I of England. He spoke little English and was accustomed to clan politics. His ideas were absolutist, gained from the ancient battles of Scottish kings.

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As you can see, James wanted to create the kind of system that was emerging in France. He earned many enemies in Parliament, and by the time he died there was a battle for sovereignty

Sovereignty is the right to make law. Parliament, dominated by a House of Commons full of highly educated new gentry, was arguing that they held sovereignty. The king believed it was the monarch who held sovereignty. Writing from the comparative safety of France, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would support the sovereignty of the king using historical argument. Hobbes claimed that in a "state of nature", before government, human life was "nasty, brutish and short". A strong monarch was needed, and people gave up their liberty for his protection.

Charles I and English Civil War

James' son Charles also believed in the sovereignty of the monarch. He angered Parliament with almost every act he did, including marrying a Catholic French princess and allowing Catholic-style ritual into the Anglican church. He demanded money from Parliament when war with Scotland threatened, and enforced taxes like "ship money" that were very unpopular. All this despite the fact that he was a very nice man, a good father, and a patron of the arts.

Ultimately these conflicts dissolved into the English Civil War, where a Parliamentary army was raised against the king. As you can read in your text and this overview of the war, the war tore England apart and ended with Charles' death at the hands of a small band of Parliamentary members with extreme Puritan views. Having disposed of the king, and thus the very idea of monarchy, the military dictatorship of the Commonwealth ruled England.

During the discussion of how to form the new government, other groups emerged with even more radical agendas than the Parliamentarians. The Diggers, for example, began claiming or reclaiming land for displaced peasants. The Levellers believed that all men should have the right to vote whether or not they owned property.

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As you can see, the Parliamentarians insisted that only property owners should have rights in the new society. But the radical's points were not forgotten.

In 1660, a group of conspirators including ruling Parliamentary leaders and Anglican bishops plotted the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Oliver Cromwell, charismatic leader of the Commonwealth, had been dead for three years, and his son was incompetent. Without bloodshed, Charles I's son was brought from France to regain the throne. The result was the court of Charles II, which was every bit as extravagant as that of Louis XIV. In many senses it was a reaction to the austerity of life under the Puritans.

But Charles II died, and rule passed to his brother, James II. Like his brother, James had Catholic tendencies, which worried Parliament. Unlike his brother, James was open about his Catholicism, using priests as advisors. Since James was fairly old, Parliament and Anglican bishops seemed content to wait until he died, when his Protestant daughter Mary (married to Protestant Dutch ruler William of Orange) would take over. But when James fathered a son and baptised him Catholic, Parliament created another revolution.

Glorious Revolution (1688)

When James II was told to leave or face the consequences, and William and Mary offered the throne, it was called the Glorious Revolution. As with the Civil War, a political philosopher explained the action, providing the justification for the removal of a monarch:

bookWorkbook document: John Locke's Second Treatise (1689)

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Locke's basic premise was that in a "state of nature", people were free, and required government only to protect rights to property. If a government did not protect natural rights (which Locke defined as "life, liberty, and property"), the people had a right to remove that government. A revolutionary idea, Locke's argument provided a future justification for the removal of any government, and the enforcement of Parliamentary


Click here for musicListen to a Pavane, a type of music popular in the 17th century (this one written by the Earle of Salisbury in 1611). Music like this commonly accompanied court masques.

drawing of Oberon masque constume
Costume for Oberon, a character in a court masque

Two of the most popular forms of theatre in the 17th century were the masques enjoyed by elites at court, and the neo-classical plays produced by professional theatre companies.

Court masques

A court masque was a play performed by and for elites, and encouraged their participation in the major roles. I can think of no contemporary form which resembles it. Much money was spent to impress guests. Costumes were extravagant, and the most renowned architects of the day were employed to design sets. See some costumes, and the Banqueting House and sets designed by famous English architect Inigo Jones.

French neoclassical theatre: the French Academy

The French Academy, which had been established under Richelieu, created rules for all theatre to be seen in France. These rules were:

  1. Real time: all plays had to take place in real time, so if a play were two hours long, it had to realistically show two hours of action. No flashbacks or bouncing ahead in time.
  2. Comedy or tragedy: no mixing of the forms was allowed (see below).
  3. Verisimilitude (realism) : nothing could happen in the play that couldn't happen in real life. No magic, no people disappearing, no flying around.
  4. Five acts: of equal length, no more or less.
  5. Moral lesson: each play must contain a moral lesson as its theme.

Not following the rules meant your play would not be performed in France.

Tragic maskA neo-classical tragedy

bookWorkbook Document: Phaedra by Racine

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In the Greek tradition, tragedy has rules too. A tragedy has to involve the fall of an elite figure (no ordinary people) due to his/her own hubris, or excessive pride. Through participating with this character, the audience is supposed to achieve catharsis, a release of emotion. Racine achieved all of these.

Comic maskA neo-classical comedy

bookWorkbook Document: Tartuffe by Moliére

Unlike tragedy, comedy must be about ordinary people. In comedies, there may be humor, much of it raunchy, and the lowliest characters are often the smartest. Comedies tended to be political, poking fun at figures of the day, which is why some of them are too obscure for today's audiences. But Moliére was particularly good at creating characters with universal appeal. His protection under Louis XIV made it possible for him to openly make fun of French elites, including churchmen and nobles. And remember, he did it all using the neo-classical rules.

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Map of Europe showing Netherlands

Dutch Golden AgeClick here for audio

The wealth of the Netherlands (which includes the populous province of Holland) was provided by the merchant trade. By the 17th century, this wealth was astronomical, and merchants controlled the constitutional government. Although the Netherlands itself comprised a small area of land (much of it waterlogged) in northern Europe, the Dutch dominated much of the world's trade. Expanding world-wide, the Dutch controlled global colonies, such as New Amsterdam (later New York). In each colony, the first permanent building was the counting house! Since they had not been born into the aristocracy, the wealthy middle class strove to gain social status by using their wealth to purchase luxury goods and patronize artists.

Rembrandt made his living doing portraits and pictures for the middle class, though he eventually came into disfavor with his patrons. An example is one of his greatest paintings, The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and of Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburgh, always called The Night Watch. These merchants had banded into a sort of Neighborhood Watch to protect warehouses of goods and keep the peace on the streets at night. They wanted a portrait showing them clearly in this noble role. What they got was this:

Rembrandt's Night Watch

Some faces are not portrayed clearly at all, and some are in the dark. Rembrandt refused to compromise his painting, even for his patrons, so he eventually turned to painting portraits for his own pleasure rather than for money. He died a poor man, but an incredible painter.

Judith Leyster self-portrait, smiling at viewer in front of painting she's working on Judith Leyster was also a Dutch Golden Age painter; this is a self-portrait. She was a pupil of Frans Hals, and sometimes her work has passed as his work in art markets. Indeed, until the 19th century, many of her works sold as Hals paintings, until the cleaning of one of them revealed her signature: a star with initials, a play on her name, which means "lode star" or "guiding light". She specialized in "genre paintings", works portraying daily life and interiors. Genre paintings were very popular during this time.

The art of portraits

In a time of powerful kings, being court painter was the best way for an artist to achieve wealth and status. In England, Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck became court painter the Charles I. He created pictures revealing the character of the king.

Notice the king's beard/moustache. It's now called a "Van Dyck" because of these paintings.

painting of Charles I standing next to his horse, with groom
Las Meninas

Valezquez's Las Meninas (1656) gives us a different kind of portrait, and one of the most discussed pictures in history. This quotation is from British historian Sir Kenneth Clarke:

"Our first feeling is of being there. We are standing just to the right of the King and Queen, whose reflections we can see in the distant mirror, looking down an austere room in the Alcazar (hung with del Mazo's copies of Rubens) and watching a familiar situation. The Infanta Dona Margarita doesn't want to pose. She has been painted by Velasquez ever since she could stand. She is now five years old, and she has had enough. But this is to be something different; an enormous picture, so big that it stands on the floor, in which she is going to appear with her parents; and somehow the Infanta must be persuaded. Her ladies-in-waiting, known by the Portuguese name of meninas, are doing their best to cajole her, and have brought her dwarfs, Maribarbola and Nicolasito, to amuse her. But in fact they alarm her almost as much as they alarm us, and it will be some time before the sitting can take place. So far as we know, the huge official portrait was never painted."

This picture also shows how in the 17th century, the painter himself (here putting himself in as part of the painting) is becoming more important than the patron.

Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian painter, broke away from the traditional genre paintings and painted works of religious and spiritual significance. Scholars have noted that her subject matter may have been influenced by her having been raped by her teacher; it has been suggested that the violence of her work may have been cathartic. (My personal opinion is that, because the rape trial was highly publicized, the reaction may have been to the trial as much as the rape.) I find this interesting, since I've never heard of such a personal view being applied to a male painter, and I don't like the power of her work "explained" in such a way. You decide:

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620): two women holding man down and cutting off his head as blood spurts
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1620)

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1630): she is viewed from the side, with the canvas off to the left, leaning toward the viewer and looking intently at her canvas as she paints

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1630)

In the 2003 film Girl With a Pearl Earring, about painter Johannes Vermeer, award-winning cinematographer Eduardo Serra worked hard to get the lighting right to make the whole movie look like a Vermeer painting. You can even see it in the trailer.

Vermeer Milkmaid


Girl With A Pearl Earring Trailer Excerpt (with music only)


Cavalier costume

This is the "Cavalier Style". You may recognize it if you've every seen any "Three Musketeer" movies.

Characteristic are the long curled hair for men, close-to-the-head style with ringlets for women. Both required curling irons, bars of metal heated in the fire. Note the Van Dyck on the man, and lots of French lace on both (the result of Colbert's subsidies for the lace industry in France). Since the man is not wearing a sword, I assume the cane contains one; no gentleman would appear in the streets unarmed.

The clothes and hairstyles generally required some help from personal servants, thus indicating the status of the wearer.

These are Dutch merchant women. The things around their necks are ruffs, material starched and curled with a hot iron. The bigger and fancier the ruff, the wealthier the woman. The muff is fur, probably from New World colony trade.

Notice that the colors are not extravagant; they reflect the Spanish desire for darker hues, since the Netherlands were controlled by Spain until the Dutch Revolt of the 1640s.

The modest cut of the dresses (compare to the Cavalier neckline, above) reflects the moral conservatism of both the middle class in general, and Protestants in particular.

Dutch costume
Late 17th c costume After the puritanical styles prevalent in England during the Commonwealth (1649-1660), Charles II returned to the throne. Thus his reign overlapped that of extravagant Louis XIV of France, and the courts became the dictators of fashion for the elites. The passionate Charles liked his women in déshabillé, looking like they just got out of bed. Thus the style for elite women got more, um, casual.
costume 1693

By the 1690s, absolutists were firmly in power. The elite classes got unbelievably extravagant in their dress.

First the man. The hairstyle for men got very long, so much so that most had to wear a heavy wig. Ribbons were also the norm as well as lace. You can see the beginning, believe it or not, of the modern business suit, as the coat got shorter. High heels made men walk with a sway in their step, and here the sword is worn low for easy sitting. His face is powdered.

She is powdered also, with black "beauty patches" in various shapes. Such patches were to offset a perfect face, and were sometimes shaped like moons, stars, or even horse-and-carriages. The headress is called a fontage, and is a Spanish style. The fan was also required to go with the fontage.

See this style in action:

Film clip (with period audio) from The Draughtsman's Contract
No Flash? Try here.


Development of family

Historians note three stages in the development of the modern family:

  1. Medieval extended familymedieval house
    Until the 16th century, families were accustomed to little privacy or individuality in the home. Beds were shared, and often the family slept in one room. Although the reasons might include tradition, the affordability of having or building only one bed, and the comfort of having children close to, a major reason was warmth. The only heated room in most European houses was the kitchen, which had a big open hearth and fire for cooking. In 1500, Europe was entering a "Little Ice Age", which meant colder and wetter climate conditions. Warmth was important! Extended families of aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. lived in the same dwelling. Starting a household required the inheritance of land, which didn't happen unless someone died.
  2. Smaller groupings (1550-1650)
    As the merchant class gained its independence and expanded, families became more authoritarian and more stable. Life expectancy in the 16th century was poor, as bad as in Paleolithic times: the average age at death was 25-30. Children often had stepmothers and stepfathers as parents died and the remaining parent remarried. Households continued to be extended, although producing items in the home (especially cloth), provided a greater opportunity for some to establish a separate household nearby. By 1650, things were improving. For women, the average age at death was 32 and rising fast; by the 1790s it would be about 50.
  3. Nuclear family
    House with chimneysThe idea that only parents and their children could occupy a dwelling emerged in the middle class around 1640. There was a decline in illegitimacy (possibly a result of religious strictures), and a new warmth, in two senses. The climate was still cold, but the fireplace and chimney were new trends in architecture. Fireplaces and chimneys allowed safe fires in rooms other than the kitchen. Although expensive to build, they provided local heat, and led to the creation of the "bedroom".

Couple in bedAbout this time, middle-class people began to marry later in life than they had before, out of necessity. Though sons of aristocracy could marry whenever in life their parents decided (some very young to secure alliances), and peasants could marry whenever their landlord permitted, sons of merchants had to wait till they could afford it. That was usually around 25 or 30 years old, and for some it never happened. In fact, the number of unmarried men increased from 5% in the Middle Ages to 15% during this period.

Also, middle-class people tended to marry someone about the same age. Previously, older men (who had some money) had preferred much younger women (with more childbearing years in them). But merchants needed mature helpmates. A male merchant wanted a wife who was secure in her personality, and confident and skilled enough to run both household and business when he had to be away. The self-assuredness you see in the paintings of Judith Leyster and Artemesia Gentileschi is the result of this maturity.

Middle-class women

Women had public significance in the middle class. Wives handled sales directly, and were in charge of distribution and paying bills. If the husband was a craftsman, she assisted in manufacturing as well. Many jobs were considered extensions of domestic care-taking duties and were thus permitted for women: running a tavern, midwifery, food preparation, innkeeping.

But independence was within known limits in the 17th century. "Market women" competed intensely with one another for sales, and sometimes ended up in court for using slanderous epithets against each other. "Whore", "thief", and "asshole" were the most popular. In court, women were not allowed to plead their case. Their husbands had to enter their plea, and a frequent defense was, "she's only an irrational woman". The wife was allowed in the courtroom only to beg for a lower fine.

"Ritual kiss":  witches kissing the ass  of the devil
"Ritual kiss": witches kissing the ass of the devil


The 17th century saw the end of most witchcraft trials. During the sixteenth century, they had emerged due to several causes: a demographic imbalance of male and female, religious conflict, and a reaction against the emerging dominance of women. Both women and men suspected of having made a contract with the Devil were hanged or burned at the stake.

But by the middle of the 17th century, scientific trends were developing which forced accusers to prove actual harm in court. This led to a decline in witch trials, one of the last taking place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.







All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.