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Kingdoms Struggle for Power in Europe

Kingdoms in Western Europe by the l500’s were undergoing important changes. In several countries kings were asserting their authority over local nobles and bringing order throughout their realms. Towns, which were growing in size and number, encouraged ways of living different from the hemmed-in daily routine of serfs on a manor. There was a new interest in man and his world. This new interest paved the way for discovery of the Americas and renewed contacts with old civilizations in the East.

During the next two centuries these same trends continued. At the same time, Europe’s history in the 1500‘s, 1600’s and 1700’s was greatly influenced by struggles between the new king states. These rivalries and wars grew out of the desire of kings to expand their territories or to prevent other king states from becoming too powerful. Those nations which were united under powerful monarchs, like France under Louis XIV, became more prominent. Others which were not united, like Poland, become victims of stronger states.

This category explains why the Kingdom of Germany under the Holy Roman Empire remained weak and why Central Europe was plagued by religious and political wars. The story of how France was unified under all powerful monarchs is related and tells how fear of France’s power in Europe and rivalry for colonies between France and Great Britain led to a world wide struggle. For the first time in the study of world history, you will read about Russia, one of today’s leading countries. An account of the growth of Russia from a remote half Asiatic country into a powerful force in European affairs.

The Growth and Expansion of Russia


Andrei was carving a wooden sleigh. So expert was he in the use of a knife that he could make a toy sleigh, driver and all, in two long winter evenings. Another night would be enough for the horse, which wasn’t difficult, but Andrei always had a hard time with the yoke that went over the neck. The yoke was shaped like a big wishbone and Andrei could never understand why Russian horses wore such high and heavy yokes. “Just like us peasants!” thought Andrei, “We too carry heavy burdens and are little more than slaves.” Andrei thought many things that he didn’t say. One didn’t have to he a peasant to learn that lesson in Russia 400 years ago. Look at the terrible death that the local boyar, or noble landlord, had suffered! The ruler of all Russia, Ivan justly nicknamed the Terrible, had been merciless. Even Andrei, who hated all landlords, had pitied the wretched boyar. Andrei lived in a region where streams flowed out to three seas — the Baltic, the Black and the Caspian. It was a level land of great pine forests where trappers caught fur-bearing animals and of clearings where farmers grew barley and flax. It was a land of snow and biting cold more than half of each year. Now it was winter and Andrei was carving toys for sale. When spring came, Andrei would put away his knife and pick up his hoe. Much — too much — of what Andrei earned, summer or winter, would go to the new landlord. Badly off as Andrei was, his sons were to be in a still worse position. To prevent their leaving the farms, the government bound the peasants to stay on the land of their masters. Thus they became serfs, in many ways …

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France and England Clash Over Power

Colonial Wars

If you are fortunate enough to visit eastern Canada, undoubtedly you will wish to include the city of Quebec in your travels. Quebec is perched on the sides and the summit of a steep, rocky promontory overlooking the St. Lawrence River. With narrow, winding streets and French speaking population, the city is a reminder of past centuries when France controlled much of what is now Canada. On September 13, 1759, on the plain outside Quebec, was fought one of history’s decisive battles. For several years English and French forces had been battling in North America, but neither side had been able to defeat the other. Montcalm, the French general and his army felt reasonably secure in their natural fortress at Quebec. Finally, however, James Wolfe, a brilliant young English general, worked out a bold plan for making a direct attack on the French stronghold. Wolfe discovered a narrow path leading up the steep cliff from the riverbank. To fool the French he kept the English fleet farther up the St. Lawrence. Then, on the night of September 12, the English soldiers in small boats drifted noiselessly down the river. In the darkness they climbed stealthily up the rocky path. Having surprised the guards at the top of the cliff, Wolfe and his forces at dawn were ready for battle. The French forces inside the city were short of provisions. Although his men were poorly trained, Montcalm led them out of Quebec to meet the English. The French were no match for Wolfe’s well-disciplined troops. At the height of the battle, as the English swept toward Victory, Wolfe received a fatal wound. A famous historian has given us the following report of Wolfe’s last moments. “They run! They run!” cried one of the soldiers who were carrying the stricken general from …

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France Becomes the Leading Country of Europe

Louis XIV

From early morning until midnight every great French noble and those who hoped to be great, worked at doing and saying what would please the King in his palace at Versailles. From all over France came these noblemen, for the only road to success was by way of the Grand Monarch’s favour. In 1670 a French bishop described the tremendous power of the King in these words: “Behold an immense people united in a single person; . . you see the image of God in the King, and you have the idea of royal majesty . . . borrowed from God, who gives it to him for the good of the people.” So the nobles flocked to Versailles to see and — much more importantly — to be seen and known by the King. These courtiers, or nobles at the court, had no easy time carrying out the endless ceremonies at Versailles. The following account gives you a picture of what courtiers had to do. The courtier was obliged to leave his bed for the icy corridors of Versailles at a very early hour. He then attended the King at Mass, at his dinner, his walk, his supper at ten, his going to bed at midnight and whenever he changed his boots and coat, as well as at any entertainments which happened to be taking place. The ceremonies of the King’s rising involved the attendance of 150 or 200 people. Long before eight o’clock the anteroom was filled with a whispering crowd studying requests they had to make. As the clock struck, the valet in chief entered the King’s bedroom and pulled up the gold and white blinds . . . When the King was fully roused, there filed in a brilliant assembly of the princes of the blood [those …

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The Hapsburgs and Rivals Keep Europe in Turmoil

central europe

There he sat in the great hall in the German city of Worms. His bright eyes and wide forehead gave him an air of distinction. You would not quickly forget that face. Before him was gathered an assembly of high ranking nobles and churchmen from many parts of Europe. For this man was Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Archduke of Austria, ruler of the Netherlands and half of Italy, as well as King of Spain and master of Spain’s vast possessions in the New World. Yet Charles, who belonged to the famous Hapsburg family of Austria, was only 21 years old when he came to Worms in the year 1521. He had been elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire only two years before and he hoped to settle many pressing problems in conference with the assembled notables. Perhaps it was just as well for the young monarch that he could not look into the future. Perhaps it was fortunate that he could not foresee some thirty-five years of struggle within his empire. He did not know that he would be fighting French men and Italians and Turks, as well as the Protestants of his own empire. Nor is it likely that in 1521 Charles V would have believed that the time would ever come when he would gladly and freely hand over his vast powers and lands to others. Yet after a reign of 37 years Charles told another group of nobles: “I am no longer able to attend to my affairs without great bodily fatigue. . . . The little strength that remains to me is rapidly disappearing. . . . In my present state of weakness, I should have to render a serious account to God and man if I did not lay aside …

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