There were a few minor reasons which will explain why the Reformation took place in Germany rather than in Sweden or England. The Germans bore an ancient grudge against Rome. The endless quarrels between Emperor and Pope had caused much mutual bitterness. In the other European countries where the government rested in the hands of a strong king, the ruler had often been able to protect his subjects against the greed of the priests. In Germany, where a shadowy emperor ruled a turbulent crowd of little princelings, the good burghers were more directly at the mercy of their bishops and prelates. These dignitaries were trying to collect large sums of money for the benefit of those enormous churches which were a hobby of the Popes of the Renaissance. The Germans felt that they were being mulcted and quite naturally they did not like it.
And then there is the rarely mentioned fact that Germany was the home of the printing press. In northern Europe books were cheap and the Bible was no longer a mysterious manu-script owned and explained by the priest. It was a household book of many families where Latin was understood by the father and by the children. Whole families began to read it, which was against the law of the Church. They discovered that the priests were telling them many things which, according to the original text of the Holy Scriptures, were somewhat different. This caused doubt. People began to ask questions. And questions, when they cannot be answered, often cause a great deal of trouble.
The attack began when the humanists of the North opened fire upon the monks. In their heart of hearts they still had too much respect and reverence for the Pope to direct their sallies against his Most Holy Person. But the lazy, ignorant monks, living behind the sheltering walls of their rich monasteries, offered rare sport.
The leader in this warfare, curiously enough, was a very faithful son of the church Gerard Gerardzoon, or Desiderius Erasmus, as he is usually called, was a poor boy, born in Rotterdam in Holland, and educated at the same Latin school of Deventer from which Thomas a Kempis had graduated. He had become a priest and for a time he had lived in a monastery. He had travelled a great deal and knew whereof he wrote, When he began his career as a public pamphleteer (he would have been called an editorial writer in our day) the world was greatly amused at an anonymous series of letters which had just appeared under the title of "Letters of Obscure Men." In these letters, the general stupidity and arrogance of the monks of the late Middle Ages was exposed in a strange German-Latin doggerel which reminds one of our modern limericks. Erasmus himself was a very learned and serious scholar, who knew both Latin and Greek and gave us the first reliable version of the New Testament, which he translated into Latin together with a corrected edition of the original Greek text. But he believed with Sallust, the Roman poet, that nothing prevents us from "stating the truth with a smile upon our lips."
In the year 1500, while visiting Sir Thomas More in Eng-land, he took a few weeks off and wrote a funny little book, called the "Praise of Folly," in which he attacked the monks and their credulous followers with that most dangerous of all weapons, humor. The booklet was the best seller of the sixteenth century. It was translated into almost every language and it made people pay attention to those other books of Erasmus in which he advocated reform of the many abuses of the church and appealed to his fellow humanists to help him in his task of bringing about a great rebirth of the Christian faith.
But nothing came of these excellent plans. Erasmus was too reasonable and too tolerant to please most of the enemies of the church. They were waiting for a leader of a more robust nature.
He came, and his name was Martin Luther.
Luther was a North-German peasant with a first-class brain and possessed of great personal courage. He was a university man, a master of arts of the University of Erfurt; afterwards he joined a Dominican monastery. Then he became a college professor at the theological school of Wittenberg and began to explain the scriptures to the indifferent ploughboys of his Saxon home. He had a lot of spare time and this he used to study the original texts of the Old and New Testaments. Soon he began to see the great difference which existed between the words of Christ and those that were preached by the Popes and the Bishops. In the year 1511, he visited Rome on official business. Alexander VI, of the family of Borgia, who had enriched himself for the benefit of his son and daughter, was dead. But his successor, Julius II, a man of irreproachable personal character, was spending most of his time fighting and building and did not impress this serious minded German theologian with his piety. Luther returned to Wittenberg a much disappointed man. But worse was to follow.
The gigantic church of St. Peter which Pope Julius had wished upon his innocent successors, although only half begun, was already in need of repair. Alexander VI had spent every penny of the Papal treasury. Leo X, who succeeded Julius in the year 1513, was on the verge of bankruptcy. He reverted to an old method of raising ready cash. He began to sell "indulgences." An indulgence was a piece of parchment which in return for a certain sum of money, promised a sinner a decrease of the time which he would have to spend in purgatory. It was a perfectly correct thing according to the creed of the late Middle Ages. Since the church had the power to forgive the sins of those who truly repented before they died, the church also had the right to shorten, through its intercession with the Saints, the time during which the soul must be purified in the shadowy realms of Purgatory.
It was unfortunate that these Indulgences must be sold for money. But they offered an easy form of revenue and besides, those who were too poor to pay, received theirs for nothing.
Now it happened in the year 1517 that the exclusive territory for the sale of indulgences in Saxony was given to a Dominican monk by the name of Johan Tetzel. Brother Johan was a hustling salesman. To tell the truth he was a little too eager. His business methods outraged the pious people of the little duchy. And Luther, who was an honest fellow, got so angry that he did a rash thing. On the 31st of October of the year 1517, he went to the court church and upon the doors thereof he posted a sheet of paper with ninety-five statements (or theses), attacking the sale of indulgences. These statements had been written in Latin. Luther had no intention of starting a riot. He was not a revolutionist. He objected to the institution of the Indulgences and he wanted his fellow professors to know what he thought about them. But this was still a private affair of the clerical and professorial world and there was no appeal to the prejudices of the community of laymen.
Unfortunately, at that moment when the whole world had begun to take an interest in the religious affairs of the day it was utterly impossible to discuss anything, without at once creating a serious mental disturbance. In less than two months, all Europe was discussing the ninety-five theses of the Saxon monk. Every one must take sides. Every obscure little theologian must print his own opinion. The papal authorities began to be alarmed. They ordered the Wittenberg professor to proceed to Rome and give an account of his action. Luther wisely remembered what had happened to Huss. He stayed in Germany and he was punished with excommunication. Luther burned the papal bull in the presence of an admiring multitude and from that moment, peace between himself and the Pope was no longer possible.
Without any desire on his part, Luther had become the leader of a vast army of discontented Christians. German patriots like Ulrich von Hutten, rushed to his defence. The students of Wittenberg and Erfurt and Leipzig offered to defend him should the authorities try to imprison him. The Elector of Saxony reassured the eager young men. No harm would befall Luther as long as he stayed on Saxon ground.
All this happened in the year 1520. Charles V was twenty years old and as the ruler of half the world, was forced to remain on pleasant terms with the Pope. He sent out calls for a Diet or general assembly in the good city of Worms on the Rhine and commanded Luther to be present and give an account of his extraordinary behaviour. Luther, who now was the national hero of the Germans, went. He refused to take back a single word of what he had ever written or said. His conscience was controlled only by the word of God. He would live and die for his conscience
The Diet of Worms, after due deliberation, declared Luther an outlaw before God and man, and forbade all Germans to give him shelter or food or drink, or to read a single word of the books which the dastardly heretic had written. But the great reformer was in no danger. By the majority of the Germans of the north the edict was denounced as a most unjust and outrageous document. For greater safety, Luther was hidden in the Wartburg, a castle belonging to the Elector of Saxony, and there he defied all papal authority by translating the entire Bible into the German language, that all the people might read and know the word of God for themselves.
By this time, the Reformation was no longer a spiritual and religious affair. Those who hated the beauty of the modern church building used this period of unrest to attack and destroy what they did not like because they did not understand it. Impoverished knights tried to make up for past losses by grabbing the territory which belonged to the monasteries. Discontented princes made use of the absence of the Emperor to increase their own power. The starving peasants, following the leadership of half-crazy agitators, made the best of the opportunity and attacked the castles of their masters and plundered and murdered and burned with the zeal of the old Crusaders.
A veritable reign of disorder broke loose throughout the Empire. Some princes became Protestants (as the "protesting" adherents of Luther were called) and persecuted their Catholic subjects. Others remained Catholic and hanged their Protestant subjects. The Diet of Speyer of the year 1526 tried to settle this difficult question of allegiance by ordering that "the subjects should all be of the same religious denomination as their princes." This turned Germany into a checkerboard of a thousand hostile little duchies and principalities and created a situation which prevented the normal political growth for hundreds of years.
In February of the year 1546 Luther died and was put to rest in the same church where twenty-nine years before he had proclaimed his famous objections to the sale of Indulgences. In less than thirty years, the indifferent, joking and laughing world of the Renaissance had been transformed into the arguing, quarrelling, back-biting, debating-society of the Reformation. The universal spiritual empire of the Popes came to a sudden end and the whole Western Europe was turned into a battle-field, where Protestants and Catholics killed each other for the greater glory of certain theological doctrines which are as incomprehensible to the present generation as the mysterious inscriptions of the ancient Etruscans.
THE AGE OF THE GREAT RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSIES
THE sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the age of religious controversy.
If you will notice you will find that almost everybody around you is forever "talking economics" and discussing wages and hours of labor and strikes in their relation to the life of the community, for that is the main topic of interest of our own time.
The poor little children of the year 1600 or 1650 fared worse. They never heard anything but "religion." Their heads were filled with "predestination," "transubstantition," "free will," and a hundred other queer words, expressing obscure points of "the true faith," whether Catholic or Protestant. According to the desire of their parents they were baptised Catholics or Lutherans or Calvinists or Zwinglians or Anabaptists. They learned their theology from the Augsburg catechism, composed by Luther, or from the "institutes of Christianity," written by Calvin, or they mumbled the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith which were printed in the English Book of Common Prayer, and they were told that these alone represented the "True Faith."
They heard of the wholesale theft of church property perpetrated by King Henry VIII, the much-married monarch of England, who made himself the supreme head of the English church, and assumed the old papal rights of appointing bishops and priests. They had a nightmare whenever some one mentioned the Holy Inquisition, with its dungeons and its many torture chambers, and they were treated to equally horrible stories of how a mob of outraged Dutch Protestants had got hold of a dozen defenceless old priests and hanged them for the sheer pleasure of killing those who professed a different faith. It was unfortunate that the two contending parties were so equally matched. Otherwise the struggle would have come to a quick solution. Now it dragged on for eight generations, and it grew so complicated that I can only tell you the most important details, and must ask you to get the rest from one of the many histories of the Reformation.
The great reform movement of the Protestants had been followed by a thoroughgoing reform within the bosom of the Church. Those popes who had been merely amateur humanists and dealers in Roman and Greek antiquities, disappeared from the scene and their place was taken by serious men who spent twenty hours a day administering those holy duties which had been placed in their hands.
The long and rather disgraceful happiness of the monasteries came to an end. Monks and nuns were forced to be up at sunrise, to study the Church Fathers, to tend the sick and console the dying. The Holy Inquisition watched day and night that no dangerous doctrines should be spread by way of the printing press. Here it is customary to mention poor Galileo, who was locked up because he had been a little too indiscreet in explaining the heavens with his funny little telescope and had muttered certain opinions about the behaviour of the planets which were entirely opposed to the official views of the church. But in all fairness to the Pope, the clergy and the Inquisition, it ought to be stated that the Protestants were quite as much the enemies of science and medicine as the Catholics and with equal manifestations of ignorance and intolerance regarded the men who investigated things for themselves as the most dangerous enemies of mankind.
And Calvin, the great French reformer and the tyrant (both political and spiritual) of Geneva, not only assisted the French authorities when they tried to hang Michael Servetus (the Spanish theologian and physician who had become famous as the assistant of Vesalius, the first great anatomist), but when Servetus had managed to escape from his French jail and had fled to Geneva, Calvin threw this brilliant man into prison and after a prolonged trial, allowed him to be burned at the stake on account of his heresies, totally indifferent to his fame as a scientist.
And so it went. We have few reliable statistics upon the subject, but on the whole, the Protestants tired of this game long before the Catholics, and the greater part of honest men and women who were burned and hanged and decapitated on account of their religious beliefs fell as victims of the very energetic but also very drastic church of Rome.
For tolerance (and please remember this when you grow older), is of very recent origin and even the people of our own so-called "modern world" are apt to be tolerant only upon such matters as do not interest them very much. They are tolerant towards a native of Africa, and do not care whether he becomes a Buddhist or a Mohammedan, because neither Buddhism nor Mohammedanism means anything to them. But when they hear that their neighbour who was a Republican and believed in a high protective tariff, has joined the Socialist party and now wants to repeal all tariff laws, their tolerance ceases and they use almost the same words as those employed by a kindly Catholic (or Protestant) of the seventeenth century, who was informed that his best friend whom he had always respected and loved had fallen a victim to the terrible heresies of the Protestant (or Catholic) church.
"Heresy" until a very short time ago was regarded as a disease. Nowadays when we see a man neglecting the personal cleanliness of his body and his home and exposing himself and his children to the dangers of typhoid fever or another preventable disease, we send for the board-of-health and the health officer calls upon the police to aid him in removing this person who is a danger to the safety of the entire community. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a heretic, a man or a woman who openly doubted the fundamental principles upon which his Protestant or Catholic religion had been founded, was considered a more terrible menace than a typhoid carrier. Typhoid fever might (very likely would) destroy the body. But heresy, according to them, would positively destroy the immortal soul. It was therefore the duty of all good and logical citizens to warn the police against the enemies of the established order of things and those who failed to do so were as culpable as a modern man who does not telephone to the nearest doctor when he discovers that his fellow-tenants are suffering from cholera or small-pox.
In the years to come you will hear a great deal about preventive medicine. Preventive medicine simply means that our doctors do not wait until their patients are sick, then step forward and cure them. On the contrary, they study the patient and the conditions under which he lives when he (the patient) is perfectly well and they remove every possible cause of illness by cleaning up rubbish, by teaching him what to eat and what to avoid, and by giving him a few simple ideas of personal hygiene. They go even further than that, and these good doctors enter the schools and teach the children how to use tooth-brushes and how to avoid catching colds.
The sixteenth century which regarded (as I have tried to show you) bodily illness as much less important than sickness which threatened the soul, organised a system of spiritual preventive medicine. As soon as a child was old enough to spell his first words, he was educated in the true (and the "only true") principles of the Faith. Indirectly this proved to be a good thing for the general progress of the people of Europe. The Protestant lands were soon dotted with schools. They used a great deal of very valuable time to explain the Catechism, but they gave instruction in other things besides theology. They encouraged reading and they were responsible for the great prosperity of the printing trade.
But the Catholics did not lag behind. They too devoted much time and thought to education. The Church, in this matter, found an invaluable friend and ally in the newly-founded order of the Society of Jesus. The founder of this remarkable organisation was a Spanish soldier who after a life of unholy adventures had been converted and thereupon felt himself bound to serve the church just as many former sinners, who have been shown the errors of their way by the Salvation Army, devote the remaining years of their lives to the task of aiding and consoling those who are less fortunate.
The name of this Spaniard was Ignatius de Loyola. He was born in the year before the discovery of America. He had been wounded and lamed for life and while he was in the hospital he had seen a vision of the Holy Virgin and her Son, who bade him give up the wickedness of his former life. He decided to go to the Holy Land and finish the task of the Crusades. But a visit to Jerusalem had shown him the impossibility of the task and he returned west to help in the warfare upon the heresies of the Lutherans.
In the year 1534 he was studying in Paris at the Sorbonne. Together with seven other students he founded a fraternity. The eight men promised each other that they would lead holy lives, that they would not strive after riches but after righteousness, and would devote themselves, body and soul, to the service of the Church. A few years later this small fraternity had grown into a regular organisation and was recognised by Pope Paul III as the Society of Jesus.
Loyola had been a military man. He believed in discipline, and absolute obedience to the orders of the superior dignitaries became one of the main causes for the enormous success of the Jesuits. They specialised in education. They gave their teachers a most thorough-going education before they allowed them to talk to a single pupil. They lived with their students and they entered into their games. They watched them with tender care. And as a result they raised a new generation of faithful Catholics who took their religious duties as seriously as the people of the early Middle Ages.
The shrewd Jesuits, however, did not waste all their efforts upon the education of the poor. They entered the palaces of the mighty and became the private tutors of future emperors and kings. And what this meant you will see for yourself when I tell you about the Thirty Years War. But before this terrible and final outbreak of religious fanaticism, a great many other things had happened.
Charles V was dead. Germany and Austria had been left to his brother Ferdinand. All his other possessions, Spain and the Netherlands and the Indies and America had gone to his son Philip. Philip was the son of Charles and a Portuguese princess who had been first cousin to her own husband. The children that are born of such a union are apt to be rather queer. The son of Philip, the unfortunate Don Carlos, (murdered afterwards with his own father's consent,) was crazy. Philip was not quite crazy, but his zeal for the Church bordered closely upon religious insanity. He believed that Heaven had appointed him as one of the saviours of mankind. Therefore, whosoever was obstinate and refused to share his Majesty's views, proclaimed himself an enemy of the human race and must be exterminated lest his example corrupt the souls of his pious neighbours.
Spain, of course, was a very rich country. All the gold and silver of the new world flowed into the Castilian and Aragonian treasuries. But Spain suffered from a curious economic disease. Her peasants were hard working men and even harder working women. But the better classes maintained a supreme contempt for any form of labour, outside of employment in the army or navy or the civil service. As for the Moors, who had been very industrious artisans, they had been driven out of the country long before. As a result, Spain, the treasure chest of the world, remained a poor country because all her money had to be sent abroad in exchange for the wheat and the other necessities of life which the Spaniards neglected to raise for themselves.
Philip, ruler of the most powerful nation of the sixteenth century, depended for his revenue upon the taxes which were gathered in the busy commercial bee-hive of the Netherlands. But these Flemings and Dutchmen were devoted followers of the doctrines of Luther and Calvin and they had cleansed their churches of all images and holy paintings and they had informed the Pope that they no longer regarded him as their shepherd but intended to follow the dictates of their consciences and the commands of their newly translated Bible.
This placed the king in a very difficult position. He could not possibly tolerate the heresies of his Dutch subjects, but he needed their money. If he allowed them to be Protestants and took no measures to save their souls he was deficient in his duty toward God. If he sent the Inquisition to the Netherlands and burned his subjects at the stake, he would lose the greater part of his income.
Being a man of uncertain will-power he hesitated a long time. He tried kindness and sternness and promises and threats. The Hollanders remained obstinate, and continued to sing psalms and listen to the sermons of their Lutheran and Calvinist preachers. Philip in his despair sent his "man of iron," the Duke of Alba, to bring these hardened sinners to terms. Alba began by decapitating those leaders who had not wisely left the country before his arrival. In the year 1572 (the same year that the French Protestant leaders were all killed during the terrible night of Saint Bartholomew), he attacked a number of Dutch cities and massacred the inhabitants as an example for the others. The next year he laid siege to the town of Leyden, the manufacturing center of Holland.
Meanwhile, the seven small provinces of the northern Netherlands had formed a defensive union, the so-called union of Utrecht, and had recognised William of Orange, a German prince who had been the private secretary of the Emperor Charles V, as the leader of their army and as commander of their freebooting sailors, who were known as the Beggars of the Sea. William, to save Leyden, cut the dykes, created a shallow inland sea, and delivered the town with the help of a strangely equipped navy consisting of scows and flat-bottomed barges which were rowed and pushed and pulled through the mud until they reached the city walls.
It was the first time that an army of the invincible Spanish king had suffered such a humiliating defeat. It surprised the world just as the Japanese victory of Mukden, in the Russian-Japanese war, surprised our own generation. The Protestant powers took fresh courage and Philip devised new means for the purpose of conquering his rebellious subjects. He hired a poor half-witted fanatic to go and murder William of Orange. But the sight of their dead leader did not bring the Seven Provinces to their knees. On the contrary it made them furiously angry. In the year 1581, the Estates General (the meeting of the representatives of the Seven Provinces) came together at the Hague and most solemnly abjured their "wicked king Philip" and themselves assumed the burden of sovereignty which thus far had been invested in their "King by the Grace of God."
This is a very important event in the history of the great struggle for political liberty. It was a step which reached much further than the uprising of the nobles which ended with the signing of the Magna Carta. These good burghers said "Between a king and his subjects there is a silent understanding that both sides shall perform certain services and shall recognise certain definite duties. If either party fails to live up to this contract, the other has the right to consider it terminated." The American subjects of King George III in the year 1776 came to a similar conclusion. But they had three thousand miles of ocean between themselves and their ruler and the Estates General took their decision (which meant a slow death in case of defeat) within hearing of the Spanish guns and although in constant fear of an avenging Spanish fleet.
The stories about a mysterious Spanish fleet that was to conquer both Holland and England, when Protestant Queen Elizabeth had succeeded Catholic "Bloody Mary" was an old one. For years the sailors of the waterfront had talked about it. In the eighties of the sixteenth century, the rumour took a definite shape. According to pilots who had been in Lisbon, all the Spanish and Portuguese wharves were building ships. And in the southern Netherlands (in Belgium) the Duke of Parma was collecting a large expeditionary force to be carried from Ostend to London and Amsterdam as soon as the fleet should arrive.
In the year 1586 the Great Armada set sail for the north. But the harbours of the Flemish coast were blockaded by a Dutch fleet and the Channel was guarded by the English, and the Spaniards, accustomed to the quieter seas of the south, did not know how to navigate in this squally and bleak northern climate. What happened to the Armada once it was attacked by ships and by storms I need not tell you. A few ships, by sailing around Ireland, escaped to tell the terrible story of defeat. The others perished and lie at the bottom of the North Sea.
Turn about is fair play. The British nod the Dutch Protestants now carried the war into the territory of the enemy. Before the end of the century, Houtman, with the help of a booklet written by Linschoten (a Hollander who had been in the Portuguese service), had at last discovered the route to the Indies. As a result the great Dutch East India Company was founded and a systematic war upon the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in Asia and Africa was begun in all seriousness.
It was during this early era of colonial conquest that a curious lawsuit was fought out in the Dutch courts. Early in the seventeenth century a Dutch Captain by the name of van Heemskerk, a man who had made himself famous as the head of an expedition which had tried to discover the North Eastern Passage to the Indies and who had spent a winter on the frozen shores of the island of Nova Zembla, had captured a Portuguese ship in the straits of Malacca. You will remember that the Pope had divided the world into two equal shares, one of which had been given to the Spaniards and the other to the Portuguese. The Portuguese quite naturally regarded the water which surrounded their Indian islands as part of their own property and since, for the moment, they were not at war with the United Seven Netherlands, they claimed that the captain of a private Dutch trading company had no right to enter their private domain and steal their ships. And they brought suit. The directors of the Dutch East India Company hired a bright young lawyer, by the name of De Groot or Grotius, to defend their case. He made the astonishing plea that the ocean is free to all comers. Once outside the distance which a cannon ball fired from the land can reach, the sea is or (according to Grotius) ought to be, a free and open highway to all the ships of all nations. It was the first time that this startling doctrine had been publicly pronounced in a court of law. It was opposed by all the other seafaring people. To counteract the effect of Grotius' famous plea for the "Mare Liberum," or "Open Sea," John Selden, the Englishman, wrote his famous treatise upon the "Mare Clausum" or "Closed Sea" which treated of the natural right of a sovereign to regard the seas which surrounded his country as belonging to his territory. I mention this here because the question had not yet been decided and during the last war caused all sorts of difficulties and complications.
To return to the warfare between Spaniard and Hollander and Englishman, before twenty years were over the most valuable colonies of the Indies and the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon and those along the coast of China and even Japan were in Protestant hands. In 1621 a West Indian Company was founded which conquered Brazil and in North America built a fortress called Nieuw Amsterdam at the mouth of the river which Henry Hudson had discovered in the year 1609
These new colonies enriched both England and the Dutch Republic to such an extent that they could hire foreign soldiers to do their fighting on land while they devoted themselves to commerce and trade. To them the Protestant revolt meant independence and prosperity. But in many other parts of Europe it meant a succession of horrors compared to which the last war was a mild excursion of kindly Sunday-school boys.
The Thirty Years War which broke out in the year 1618 and which ended with the famous treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was the perfectly natural result of a century of ever increasing religious hatred. It was, as I have said, a terrible war. Everybody fought everybody else and the struggle ended only when all parties had been thoroughly exhausted and could fight no longer.
In less than a generation it turned many parts of central Europe into a wilderness, where the hungry peasants fought for the carcass of a dead horse with the even hungrier wolf. Five-sixths of all the German towns and villages were destroyed. The Palatinate, in western Germany, was plundered twenty-eight times. And a population of eighteen million people was reduced to four million.
The hostilities began almost as soon as Ferdinand II of the House of Habsburg had been elected Emperor. He was the product of a most careful Jesuit training and was a most obedient and devout son of the Church. The vow which he had made as a young man, that he would eradicate all sects and all heresies from his domains, Ferdinand kept to the best of his ability. Two days before his election, his chief opponent, Frederick, the Protestant Elector of the Palatinate and a son-in-law of James I of England, had been made King of Bohemia, in direct violation of Ferdinand's wishes.
At once the Habsburg armies marched into Bohemia. The young king looked in vain for assistance against this formidable enemy. The Dutch Republic was willing to help, but, engaged in a desperate war of its own with the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs, it could do little. The Stuarts in England were more interested in strengthening their own absolute power at home than spending money and men upon a forlorn adventure in far away Bohemia. After a struggle of a few months, the Elector of the Palatinate was driven away and his domains were given to the Catholic house of Bavaria. This was the beginning of the great war.
Then the Habsburg armies, under Tilly and Wallenstein, fought their way through the Protestant part of Germany until they had reached the shores of the Baltic. A Catholic neighbour meant serious danger to the Protestant king of Denmark. Christian IV tried to defend himself by attacking his enemies before they had become too strong for him. The Danish armies marched into Germany but were defeated. Wallenstein followed up his victory with such energy and violence that Denmark was forced to sue for peace. Only one town of the Baltic then remained in the hands of the Protestants. That was Stralsund.
There, in the early summer of the year 1630, landed King Gustavus Adolphus of the house of Vasa, king of Sweden, and famous as the man who had defended his country against the Russians. A Protestant prince of unlimited ambition, desirous of making Sweden the centre of a great Northern Empire, Gustavus Adolphus was welcomed by the Protestant princes of Europe as the saviour of the Lutheran cause. He defeated Tilly, who had just successfully butchered the Protestant inhabitants of Magdeburg. Then his troops began their great march through the heart of Germany in an attempt to reach the Habsburg possessions in Italy. Threatened in the rear by the Catholics, Gustavus suddenly veered around and defeated the main Habsburg army in the battle of Lutzen. Unfortunately the Swedish king was killed when he strayed away from his troops. But the Habsburg power had been broken.
Ferdinand, who was a suspicious sort of person, at once began to distrust his own servants. Wallenstein, his commander-in-chief, was murdered at his instigation. When the Catholic Bourbons, who ruled France and hated their Habsburg rivals, heard of this, they joined the Protestant Swedes. The armies of Louis XIII invaded the eastern part of Germany, and Turenne and Conde added their fame to that of Baner and Weimar, the Swedish generals, by murdering, pillaging and burning Habsburg property. This brought great fame and riches to the Swedes and caused the Danes to become envious. The Protestant Danes thereupon declared war upon the Protestant Swedes who were the allies of the Catholic French, whose political leader, the Cardinal de Richelieu, had just deprived the Huguenots (or French Protestants) of those rights of public worship which the Edict of Nantes of the year 1598 had guaranteed them.
The war, after the habit of such encounters, did not decide anything, when it came to an end with the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Catholic powers remained Catholic and the Protestant powers stayed faithful to the doctrines of Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. The Swiss and Dutch Protestants were recognised as independent republics. France kept the cities of Metz and Toul and Verdun and a part of the Alsace. The Holy Roman Empire continued to exist as a sort of scare-crow state, without men, without money, without hope and without courage.
The only good the Thirty Years War accomplished was a negative one. It discouraged both Catholics and Protestants from ever trying it again. Henceforth they left each other in peace. This however did not mean that religious feeling and theological hatred had been removed from this earth. On the contrary. The quarrels between Catholic and Protestant came to an end, but the disputes between the different Protestant sects continued as bitterly as ever before. In Holland a difference of opinion as to the true nature of predestination (a very obscure point of theology, but exceedingly important the eyes of your great-grandfather) caused a quarrel which ended with the decapitation of John of Oldenbarneveldt, the Dutch statesman, who had been responsible for the success of the Republic during the first twenty years of its independence, and who was the great organising genius of her Indian trading company. In England, the feud led to civil war.
But before I tell you of this outbreak which led to the first execution by process-of-law of a European king, I ought to say something about the previous history of England. In this book I am trying to give you only those events of the past which can throw a light upon the conditions of the present world. If I do not mention certain countries, the cause is not to be found in any secret dislike on my part. I wish that I could tell you what happened to Norway and Switzerland and Serbia and China. But these lands exercised no great influence upon the development of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I therefore pass them by with a polite and very respectful bow. England however is in a different position. What the people of that small island have done during the last five hundred years has shaped the course of history in every corner of the world. Without a proper knowledge of the background of English history, you cannot understand what you read in the newspapers. And it is therefore necessary that you know how England happened to develop a parliamentary form of government while the rest of the European continent was still ruled by absolute monarchs.
THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION
HOW THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN THE "DIVINE RIGHT" OF KINGS AND THE LESS DIVINE BUT MORE REASONABLE "RIGHT OF PARLIAMENT" ENDED DISASTROUSLY FOR KING CHARLES II
CAESAR, the earliest explorer of north-western Europe, had crossed the Channel in the year 55 B.C. and had conquered England. During four centuries the country then remained a Roman province. But when the Barbarians began to threaten Rome, the garrisons were called back from the frontier that they might defend the home country and Britannia was left without a government and without protection.
As soon as this became known among the hungry Saxon tribes of northern Germany, they sailed across the North Sea and made themselves at home in the prosperous island. They founded a number of independent Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (so called after the original Angles or English and the Saxon invaders) but these small states were for ever quarrelling with each other and no King was strong enough to establish himself as the head of a united country. For more than five hundred years, Mercia and Northumbria and Wessex and Sussex and Kent and East Anglia, or whatever their names, were exposed to attacks from various Scandinavian pirates. Finally in the eleventh century, England, together with Norway and northern Germany became part of the large Danish Empire of Canute the Great and the last vestiges of independence disappeared.
The Danes, in the course of time, were driven away but no sooner was England free, than it was conquered for the fourth time. The new enemies were the descendants of another tribe of Norsemen who early in the tenth century had invaded France and had founded the Duchy of Normandy. William, Duke of Normandy, who for a long time had looked across the water with an envious eye, crossed the Channel in October of the year 1066. At the battle of Hastings, on October the fourteenth of that year, he destroyed the weak forces of Harold of Wessex, the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings and established himself as King of England. But neither William nor his successors of the House of Anjou and Plantagenet regarded England as their true home. To them the island was merely a part of their great inheritance on the continent—a sort of colony inhabited by rather backward people upon whom they forced their own language and civilisation. Gradually however the "colony" of England gained upon the "Mother country" of Normandy. At the same time the Kings of France were trying desperately to get rid of the powerful Norman-English neighbours who were in truth no more than disobedient servants of the French crown. After a century of war fare the French people, under the leadership of a young girl by the name of Joan of Arc, drove the "foreigners" from their soil. Joan herself, taken a prisoner at the battle of Compiegne in the year 1430 and sold by her Burgundian captors to the English soldiers, was burned as a witch. But the English never gained foothold upon the continent and their Kings were at last able to devote all their time to their British possessions. As the feudal nobility of the island had been engaged in one of those strange feuds which were as common in the middle ages as measles and small-pox, and as the greater part of the old landed proprietors had been killed during these so-called Wars of the Roses, it was quite easy for the Kings to increase their royal power. And by the end of the fifteenth century, England was a strongly centralised country, ruled by Henry VII of the House of Tudor, whose famous Court of Justice, the "Star Chamber" of terrible memory, suppressed all attempts on the part of the surviving nobles to regain their old influence upon the government of the country with the utmost severity.
In the year 1509 Henry VII was succeeded by his son Henry VIII, and from that moment on the history of England gained a new importance for the country ceased to be a mediaeval island and became a modern state.
Henry had no deep interest in religion. He gladly used a private disagreement with the Pope about one of his many divorces to declare himself independent of Rome and make the church of England the first of those "nationalistic churches" in which the worldly ruler also acts as the spiritual head of his subjects. This peaceful reformation of 1034 not only gave the house of Tudor the support of the English clergy, who for a long time had been exposed to the violent attacks of many Lutheran propagandists, but it also increased the Royal power through the confiscation of the former possessions of the monasteries. At the same time it made Henry popular with the merchants and tradespeople, who as the proud and prosperous inhabitants of an island which was separated from the rest of Europe by a wide and deep channel, had a great dislike for everything "foreign" and did not want an Italian bishop to rule their honest British souls.
In 1517 Henry died. He left the throne to his small son, aged ten. The guardians of the child, favoring the modern Lutheran doctrines, did their best to help the cause of Protestantism. But the boy died before he was sixteen, and was succeeded by his sister Mary, the wife of Philip II of Spain, who burned the bishops of the new "national church" and in other ways followed the example of her royal Spanish husband
Fortunately she died, in the year 1558, and was succeeded by Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the second of his six wives, whom he had decapitated when she no longer pleased him. Elizabeth, who had spent some time in prison, and who had been released only at the request of the Holy Roman Emperor, was a most cordial enemy of everything Catholic and Spanish. She shared her father's indifference in the matter of religion but she inherited his ability as a very shrewd judge of character, and spent the forty-five years of her reign in strengthening the power of the dynasty and in increasing the revenue and possessions of her merry islands. In this she was most ably assisted by a number of men who gathered around her throne and made the Elizabethan age a period of such importance that you ought to study it in detail in one of the special books of which I shall tell you in the bibliography at the end of this volume.
Elizabeth, however, did not feel entirely safe upon her throne. She had a rival and a very dangerous one. Mary, of the house of Stuart, daughter of a French duchess and a Scottish father, widow of king Francis II of France and daughter-in-law of Catherine of Medici (who had organised the murders of Saint Bartholomew's night), was the mother of a little boy who was afterwards to become the first Stuart king of England. She was an ardent Catholic and a willing friend to those who were the enemies of Elizabeth. Her own lack of political ability and the violent methods which she employed to punish her Calvinistic subjects, caused a revolution in Scotland and forced Mary to take refuge on English territory. For eighteen years she remained in England, plotting forever and a day against the woman who had given her shelter and who was at last obliged to follow the advice of her trusted councilors "to cutte off the Scottish Queen's heade."
The head was duly "cutte off" in the year 1587 and caused a war with Spain. But the combined navies of England and Holland defeated Philip's Invincible Armada, as we have already seen, and the blow which had been meant to destroy the power of the two great anti-Catholic leaders was turned into a profitable business adventure.
For now at last, after many years of hesitation, the English as well as the Dutch thought it their good right to invade the Indies and America and avenge the ills which their Protestant brethren had suffered at the hands of the Spaniards. The English had been among the earliest successors of Columbus. British ships, commanded by the Venetian pilot Giovanni Caboto (or Cabot), had been the first to discover and explore the northern American continent in 1496. Labrador and Newfoundland were of little importance as a possible colony. But the banks of Newfoundland offered a rich reward to the English fishing fleet. A year later, in 1497, the same Cabot had explored the coast of Florida.
Then had come the busy years of Henry VII and Henry VIII when there had been no money for foreign explorations. But under Elizabeth, with the country at peace and Mary Stuart in prison, the sailors could leave their harbour without fear for the fate of those whom they left behind. While Elizabeth was still a child, Willoughby had ventured to sail past the North Cape and one of his captains, Richard Chancellor, pushing further eastward in his quest of a possible road to the Indies, had reached Archangel, Russia, where he had established diplomatic and commercial relations with the mysterious rulers of this distant Muscovite Empire. During the first years of Elizabeth's rule this voyage had been followed up by many others. Merchant adventurers, working for the benefit of a "joint stock Company" had laid the foundations of trading companies which in later centuries were to become colonies. Half pirate, half diplomat, willing to stake everything on a single lucky voyage, smugglers of everything that could be loaded into the hold of a vessel, dealers in men and merchandise with equal indifference to everything except their profit, the sailors of Elizabeth had carried the English flag and the fame of their Virgin Queen to the four corners of the Seven Seas. Meanwhile William Shakespeare kept her Majesty amused at home, and the best brains and the best wit of England co-operated with the queen in her attempt to change the feudal inheritance of Henry VIII into a modern national state.
In the year 1603 the old lady died at the age of seventy. Her cousin, the great-grandson of her own grandfather Henry VII and son of Mary Stuart, her rival and enemy, succeeded her as James I. By the Grace of God, he found himself the ruler of a country which had escaped the fate of its continental rivals. While the European Protestants and Catholics were killing each other in a hopeless attempt to break the power of their adversaries and establish the exclusive rule of their own particular creed, England was at peace and "reformed" at leisure without going to the extremes of either Luther or Loyola. It gave the island kingdom an enormous advantage in the coming struggle for colonial possessions. It assured England a leadership in international affairs which that country has maintained until the present day. Not even the disastrous adventure with the Stuarts was able to stop this normal development.
The Stuarts, who succeeded the Tudors, were "foreigners" in England. They do not seem to have appreciated or understood this fact. The native house of Tudor could steal a horse, but the "foreign" Stuarts were not allowed to look at the bridle without causing great popular disapproval. Old Queen Bess had ruled her domains very much as she pleased. In general however, she had always followed a policy which meant money in the pocket of the honest (and otherwise) British merchants. Hence the Queen had been always assured of the wholehearted support of her grateful people. And small liberties taken with some of the rights and prerogatives of Parliament were gladly overlooked for the ulterior benefits which were derived from her Majesty's strong and successful foreign policies.
Outwardly King James continued the same policy. But he lacked that personal enthusiasm which had been so very typical of his great predecessor. Foreign commerce continued to be encouraged. The Catholics were not granted any liberties. But when Spain smiled pleasantly upon England in an effort to establish peaceful relations, James was seen to smile back. The majority of the English people did not like this, but James was their King and they kept quiet.
Soon there were other causes of friction. King James and his son, Charles I, who succeeded him in the year 1625 both firmly believed in the principle of their "divine right" to administer their realm as they thought fit without consulting the wishes of their subjects. The idea was not new. The Popes, who in more than one way had been the successors of the Roman Emperors (or rather of the Roman Imperial ideal of a single and undivided state covering the entire known world), had always regarded themselves and had been publicly recognised as the "Vice-Regents of Christ upon Earth." No one questioned the right of God to rule the world as He saw fit. As a natural result, few ventured to doubt the right of the divine "Vice-Regent" to do the same thing and to demand the obedience of the masses because he was the direct representative of the Absolute Ruler of the Universe and responsible only to Almighty God.
When the Lutheran Reformation proved successful, those rights which formerly had been invested in the Papacy were taken over by the many European sovereigns who became Protestants. As head of their own national or dynastic churches they insisted upon being "Christ's Vice-Regents" within the limit of their own territory. The people did not question the right of their rulers to take such a step. They accepted it, just as we in our own day accept the idea of a representative system which to us seems the only reasonable and just form of government. It is unfair therefore to state that either Lutheranism or Calvinism caused the particular feeling of irritation which greeted King-James's oft and loudly repeated assertion of his "Divine Right." There must have been other grounds for the genuine English disbelief in the Divine Right of Kings.
The first positive denial of the "Divine Right" of sovereigns had been heard in the Netherlands when the Estates General abjured their lawful sovereign King Philip II of Spain, in the year 1581. "The King," so they said, "has broken his contract and the King therefore is dismissed like any other unfaithful servant." Since then, this particular idea of a king's responsibilities towards his subjects had spread among many of the nations who inhabited the shores of the North Sea. They were in a very favourable position. They were rich. The poor people in the heart of central Europe, at the mercy of their Ruler's body-guard, could not afford to discuss a problem which would at once land them in the deepest dungeon of the nearest castle. But the merchants of Holland and England who possessed the capital necessary for the maintenance of great armies and navies, who knew how to handle the almighty weapon called "credit," had no such fear. They were willing to pit the "Divine Right" of their own good money against the "Divine Right" of any Habsburg or Bourbon or Stuart. They knew that their guilders and shillings could beat the clumsy feudal armies which were the only weapons of the King. They dared to act, where others were condemned to suffer in silence or run the risk of the scaffold.
When the Stuarts began to annoy the people of England with their claim that they had a right to do what they pleased and never mind the responsibility, the English middle classes used the House of Commons as their first line of defence against this abuse of the Royal Power. The Crown refused to give in and the King sent Parliament about its own business. Eleven long years, Charles I ruled alone. He levied taxes which most people regarded as illegal and he managed his British kingdom as if it had been his own country estate. He had capable assistants and we must say that he had the courage of his convictions.
Unfortunately, instead of assuring himself of the support of his faithful Scottish subjects, Charles became involved in a quarrel with the Scotch Presbyterians. Much against his will, but forced by his need for ready cash, Charles was at last obliged to call Parliament together once more. It met in April of 1640 and showed an ugly temper. It was dissolved a few weeks later. A new Parliament convened in November. This one was even less pliable than the first one. The members understood that the question of "Government by Divine Right" or "Government by Parliament" must be fought out for good and all. They attacked the King in his chief councillors and executed half a dozen of them. They announced that they would not allow themselves to be dissolved without their own approval. Finally on December 1, 1641, they presented to the King a "Grand Remonstrance" which gave a detailed account of the many grievances of the people against their Ruler.
Charles, hoping to derive some support for his own policy in the country districts, left London in January of 1642. Each side organised an army and prepared for open warfare between the absolute power of the crown and the absolute power of Parliament. During this struggle, the most powerful religious element of England, called the Puritans, (they were Anglicans who had tried to purify their doctrines to the most absolute limits), came quickly to the front. The regiments of "Godly men," commanded by Oliver Cromwell, with their iron discipline and their profound confidence in the holiness of their aims, soon became the model for the entire army of the opposition. Twice Charles was defeated. After the battle of Naseby, in 1645, he fled to Scotland. The Scotch sold him to the English.
There followed a period of intrigue and an uprising of the Scotch Presbyterians against the English Puritan. In August of the year 1648 after the three-days' battle of Preston Pans, Cromwell made an end to this second civil war, and took Edinburgh. Meanwhile his soldiers, tired of further talk and wasted hours of religious debate, had decided to act on their own initiative. They removed from Parliament all those who did not agree with their own Puritan views. Thereupon the "Rump," which was what was left of the old Parliament, accused the King of high treason. The House of Lords refused to sit as a tribunal. A special tribunal was appointed and it condemned the King to death. On the 30th of January of the year 1649, King Charles walked quietly out of a window of White Hall onto the scaffold. That day, the Sovereign People, acting through their chosen representatives, for the first time executed a ruler who had failed to understand his own position in the modern state.
The period which followed the death of Charles is usually called after Oliver Cromwell. At first the unofficial Dictator of England, he was officially made Lord Protector in the year 1653. He ruled five years. He used this period to continue the policies of Elizabeth. Spain once more became the arch enemy of England and war upon the Spaniard was made a national and sacred issue.
The commerce of England and the interests of the traders were placed before everything else, and the Protestant creed of the strictest nature was rigourously maintained. In maintaining England's position abroad, Cromwell was successful. As a social reformer, however, he failed very badly. The world is made up of a number of people and they rarely think alike. In the long run, this seems a very wise provision. A government of and by and for one single part of the entire community cannot possibly survive. The Puritans had been a great force for good when they tried to correct the abuse of the royal power. As the absolute Rulers of England they became intolerable.
When Cromwell died in 1658, it was an easy matter for the Stuarts to return to their old kingdom. Indeed, they were welcomed as "deliverers" by the people who had found the yoke of the meek Puritans quite as hard to bear as that of autocratic King Charles. Provided the Stuarts were willing to forget about the Divine Right of their late and lamented father and were willing to recognise the superiority of Parliament, the people promised that they would be loyal and faithful subjects.
Two generations tried to make a success of this new arrangement. But the Stuarts apparently had not learned their lesson and were unable to drop their bad habits. Charles II, who came back in the year 1660, was an amiable but worthless person. His indolence and his constitutional insistence upon following the easiest course, together with his conspicuous success as a liar, prevented an open outbreak between himself and his people. By the act of Uniformity in 1662 he broke the power of the Puritan clergy by banishing all dissenting clergymen from their parishes. By the so-called Conventicle Act of 1664 he tried to prevent the Dissenters from attending religious meetings by a threat of deportation to the West Indies. This looked too much like the good old days of Divine Right. People began to show the old and well-known signs of impatience, and Parliament suddenly experienced difficulty in providing the King with funds.
Since he could not get money from an unwilling Parliament, Charles borrowed it secretly from his neighbour and cousin King Louis of France. He betrayed his Protestant allies in return for 200,000 pounds per year, and laughed at the poor simpletons of Parliament.
Economic independence suddenly gave the King great faith in his own strength. He had spent many years of exile among his Catholic relations and he had a secret liking for their religion. Perhaps he could bring England back to Rome! He passed a Declaration of Indulgence which suspended the old laws against the Catholics and Dissenters. This happened just when Charles' younger brother James was said to have become a Catholic. All this looked suspicious to the man in the street People began to fear some terrible Popish plot. A new spirit of unrest entered the land. Most of the people wanted to prevent another outbreak of civil war. To them Royal Oppression and a Catholic King—yea, even Divine Right,—were preferable to a new struggle between members of the same race. Others however were less lenient. They were the much-feared Dissenters, who invariably had the courage of their convictions. They were led by several great noblemen who did not want to see a return of the old days of absolute royal power.
For almost ten years, these two great parties, the Whigs (the middle class element, called by this derisive name be-cause in the year 1640 a lot of Scottish Whiggamores or horse-drovers headed by the Presbyterian clergy, had marched to Edinburgh to oppose the King) and the Tories (an epithet originally used against the Royalist Irish adherents but now applied to the supporters of the King) opposed each other, but neither wished to bring about a crisis. They allowed Charles to die peacefully in his bed and permitted the Catholic James II to succeed his brother in 1685. But when James, after threatening the country with the terrible foreign invention of a "standing army" (which was to be commanded by Catholic Frenchmen), issued a second Declaration of Indulgence in 1688, and ordered it to be read in all Anglican churches, he went just a trifle beyond that line of sensible demarcation which can only be transgressed by the most popular of rulers under very exceptional circumstances. Seven bishops refused to comply with the Royal Command. They were accused of "seditious libel." They were brought before a court. The jury which pronounced the verdict of "not guilty" reaped a rich harvest of popular approval.
At this unfortunate moment, James (who in a second marriage had taken to wife Maria of the Catholic house of Modena-Este) became the father of a son. This meant that the throne was to go to a Catholic boy rather than to his older sisters, Mary and Anne, who were Protestants. The man in the street again grew suspicious. Maria of Modena was too old to have children! It was all part of a plot! A strange baby had been brought into the palace by some Jesuit priest that England might have a Catholic monarch. And so on. It looked as if another civil war would break out. Then seven well-known men, both Whigs and Tories, wrote a letter asking the husband of James's oldest daughter Mary, William III the Stadtholder or head of the Dutch Republic, to come to England and deliver the country from its lawful but entirely undesirable sovereign.
On the fifth of November of the year 1688, William landed at Torbay. As he did not wish to make a martyr out of his father-in-law, he helped him to escape safely to France. On the 22nd of January of 1689 he summoned Parliament. On the 13th of February of the same year he and his wife Mary were proclaimed joint sovereigns of England and the country was saved for the Protestant cause.
Parliament, having undertaken to be something more than a mere advisory body to the King, made the best of its opportunities. The old Petition of Rights of the year 1628 was fished out of a forgotten nook of the archives. A second and more drastic Bill of Rights demanded that the sovereign of England should belong to the Anglican church. Furthermore it stated that the king had no right to suspend the laws or permit certain privileged citizens to disobey certain laws. It stipulated that "without consent of Parliament no taxes could be levied and no army could be maintained." Thus in the year 1689 did England acquire an amount of liberty unknown in any other country of Europe.
But it is not only on account of this great liberal measure that the rule of William in England is still remembered. During his lifetime, government by a "responsible" ministry first developed. No king of course can rule alone. He needs a few trusted advisors. The Tudors had their Great Council which was composed of Nobles and Clergy. This body grew too large. It was restricted to the small "Privy Council." In the course of time it became the custom of these councillors to meet the king in a cabinet in the palace. Hence they were called the "Cabinet Council." After a short while they were known as the "Cabinet."
William, like most English sovereigns before him, had chosen his advisors from among all parties. But with the increased strength of Parliament, he had found it impossible to direct the politics of the country with the help of the Tories while the Whigs had a majority in the house of Commons. Therefore the Tories had been dismissed and the Cabinet Council had been composed entirely of Whigs. A few years later when the Whigs lost their power in the House of Commons, the king, for the sake of convenience, was obliged to look for his support among the leading Tories. Until his death in 1702, William was too busy fighting Louis of France to bother much about the government of England. Practically all important affairs had been left to his Cabinet Council. When William's sister-in-law, Anne, succeeded him in 1702 this condition of affairs continued. When she died in 1714 (and unfortunately not a single one of her seventeen children survived her) the throne went to George I of the House of Hanover, the son of Sophie, grand-daughter of James I.
This somewhat rustic monarch, who never learned a word of English, was entirely lost in the complicated mazes of England's political arrangements. He left everything to his Cabinet Council and kept away from their meetings, which bored him as he did not understand a single sentence. In this way the Cabinet got into the habit of ruling England and Scotland (whose Parliament had been joined to that of England in 1707) without bothering the King, who was apt to spend a great deal of his time on the continent.
During the reign of George I and George II, a succession of great Whigs (of whom one, Sir Robert Walpole, held office for twenty-one years) formed the Cabinet Council of the King. Their leader was finally recognised as the official leader not only of the actual Cabinet but also of the majority party in power in Parliament. The attempts of George III to take matters into his own hands and not to leave the actual business of government to his Cabinet were so disastrous that they were never repeated. And from the earliest years of the eighteenth century on, England enjoyed representative government, with a responsible ministry which conducted the affairs of the land.
To be quite true, this government did not represent all classes of society. Less than one man in a dozen had the right to vote. But it was the foundation for the modern representative form of government. In a quiet and orderly fashion it took the power away from the King and placed it in the hands of an ever increasing number of popular representatives. It did not bring the millenium to England, but it saved that country from most of the revolutionary outbreaks which proved so disastrous to the European continent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
THE BALANCE OF POWER
IN FRANCE ON THE OTHER HAND THE "DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS" CONTINUED WITH GREATER POMP AND SPLENDOUR THAN EVER BEFORE AND THE AMBITION OF THE RULER WAS ONLY TEMPERED BY THE NEWLY INVENTED LAW OF THE "BALANCE OF POWER"
As a contrast to the previous chapter, let me tell you what happened in France during the years when the English people were fighting for their liberty. The happy combination of the right man in the right country at the right moment is very rare in History. Louis XIV was a realisation of this ideal, as far as France was concerned, but the rest of Europe would have been happier without him.
The country over which the young king was called to rule was the most populous and the most brilliant nation of that day. Louis came to the throne when Mazarin and Richelieu, the two great Cardinals, had just hammered the ancient French Kingdom into the most strongly centralised state of the seventeenth century. He was himself a man of extraordinary ability. We, the people of the twentieth century, are still surrounded by the memories of the glorious age of the Sun King. Our social life is based upon the perfection of manners and the elegance of expression attained at the court of Louis. In international and diplomatic relations, French is still the official language of diplomacy and international gatherings because two centuries ago it reached a polished elegance and a purity of expression which no other tongue had as yet been able to equal. The theatre of King Louis still teaches us lessons which we are only too slow in learning. During his reign the French Academy (an invention of Richelieu) came to occupy a position in the world of letters which other countries have flattered by their imitation. We might continue this list for many pages. It is no matter of mere chance that our modern bill-of-fare is printed in French. The very difficult art of decent cooking, one of the highest expressions of civilisation, was first practiced for the benefit of the great Monarch. The age of Louis XIV was a time of splendour and grace which can still teach us a lot.
Unfortunately this brilliant picture has another side which was far less encouraging. Glory abroad too often means misery at home, and France was no exception to this rule Louis XIV succeeded his father in the year 1643. He died in the year 1715. That means that the government of France was in the hands of one single man for seventy-two years, almost two whole generations.
It will be well to get a firm grasp of this idea, "one single man." Louis was the first of a long list of monarchs who in many countries established that particular form of highly efficient autocracy which we call "enlightened despotism." He did not like kings who merely played at being rulers and turned official affairs into a pleasant picnic. The Kings of that enlightened age worked harder than any of their subjects. They got up earlier and went to bed later than anybody else, and felt their "divine responsibility" quite as strongly as their "divine right" which allowed them to rule without consulting their subjects.
Of course, the king could not attend to everything in person. He was obliged to surround himself with a few helpers and councillors. One or two generals, some experts upon foreign politics, a few clever financiers and economists would do for this purpose. But these dignitaries could act only through their Sovereign. They had no individual existence. To the mass of the people, the Sovereign actually represented in his own sacred person the government of their country. The glory of the common fatherland became the glory of a single dynasty. It meant the exact opposite of our own American ideal. France was ruled of and by and for the House of Bourbon.
The disadvantages of such a system are clear. The King grew to be everything. Everybody else grew to be nothing at all. The old and useful nobility was gradually forced to give up its former shares in the government of the provinces. A little Royal bureaucrat, his fingers splashed with ink, sitting behind the greenish windows of a government building in faraway Paris, now performed the task which a hundred years before had been the duty of the feudal Lord. The feudal Lord, deprived of all work, moved to Paris to amuse himself as best he could at the court. Soon his estates began to suffer from that very dangerous economic sickness, known as "Absentee Landlordism." Within a single generation, the industrious and useful feudal administrators had become the well-mannered but quite useless loafers of the court of Versailles.
Louis was ten years old when the peace of Westphalia was concluded and the House of Habsburg, as a result of the Thirty Years War, lost its predominant position in Europe. It was inevitable that a man with his ambition should use so favourable a moment to gain for his own dynasty the honours which had formerly been held by the Habsburgs. In the year 1660 Louis had married Maria Theresa, daughter of the King of Spain. Soon afterward, his father-in-law, Philip IV, one of the half-witted Spanish Habsburgs, died. At once Louis claimed the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium) as part of his wife's dowry. Such an acquisition would have been disastrous to the peace of Europe, and would have threatened the safety of the Protestant states. Under the leadership of Jan de Witt, Raadpensionaris or Foreign Minister of the United Seven Netherlands, the first great international alliance, the Triple Alliance of Sweden, England and Holland, of the year 1661, was concluded. It did not last long. With money and fair promises Louis bought up both King Charles and the Swedish Estates. Holland was betrayed by her allies and was left to her own fate. In the year 1672 the French invaded the low countries. They marched to the heart of the country. For a second time the dikes were opened and the Royal Sun of France set amidst the mud of the Dutch marshes. The peace of Nimwegen which was concluded in 1678 settled nothing but merely anticipated another war.
A second war of aggression from 1689 to 1697, ending with the Peace of Ryswick, also failed to give Louis that position in the affairs of Europe to which he aspired. His old enemy, Jan de Witt, had been murdered by the Dutch rabble, but his successor, William III (whom you met in the last chapter), had checkmated all efforts of Louis to make France the ruler of Europe.
The great war for the Spanish succession, begun in the year 1701, immediately after the death of Charles II, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, and ended in 1713 by the Peace of Utrecht, remained equally undecided, but it had ruined the treasury of Louis. On land the French king had been victorious, but the navies of England and Holland had spoiled all hope for an ultimate French victory; besides the long struggle had given birth to a new and fundamental principle of international politics, which thereafter made it impossible for one single nation to rule the whole of Europe or the whole of the world for any length of time.
That was the so-called "balance of power." It was not a written law but for three centuries it has been obeyed as closely as are the laws of nature. The people who originated the idea maintained that Europe, in its nationalistic stage of development, could only survive when there should be an absolute balance of the many conflicting interests of the entire continent. No single power or single dynasty must ever be allowed to dominate the others. During the Thirty Years War, the Habsburgs had been the victims of the application of this law. They, however, had been unconscious victims. The issues during that struggle were so clouded in a haze of religious strife that we do not get a very clear view of the main tendencies of that great conflict. But from that time on, we begin to see how cold, economic considerations and calculations prevail in all matters of international importance. We discover the development of a new type of statesman, the statesman with the personal feelings of the slide-rule and the cash-register. Jan de Witt was the first successful exponent of this new school of politics. William III was the first great pupil. And Louis XIV with all his fame and glory, was the first conscious victim. There have been many others since.
THE RISE OF RUSSIA
THE STORY OF THE MYSTERIOUS MOSCOVITE EMPIRE WHICH SUDDENLY BURST UPON THE GRAND POLITICAL STAGE OF EUROPE
IN the year 1492, as you know, Columbus discovered America. Early in the year, a Tyrolese by the name of Schnups, travelling as the head of a scientific expedition for the Archbishop of Tyrol, and provided with the best letters of introduction and excellent credit tried to reach the mythical town of Moscow. He did not succeed. When he reached the frontiers of this vast Moscovite state which was vaguely supposed to exist in the extreme Eastern part of Europe, he was firmly turned back. No foreigners were wanted. And Schnups went to visit the heathen Turk in Constantinople, in order that he might have something to report to his clerical master when he came back from his explorations.
Sixty-one years later, Richard Chancellor, trying to discover the North-eastern passage to the Indies, and blown by an ill wind into the White Sea, reached the mouth of the Dwina and found the Moscovite village of Kholmogory, a few hours from the spot where in 1584 the town of Archangel was founded. This time the foreign visitors were requested to come to Moscow and show themselves to the Grand Duke. They went and returned to England with the first commercial treaty ever concluded between Russia and the western world. Other nations soon followed and something became known of this mysterious land.
Geographically, Russia is a vast plain. The Ural mountains are low and form no barrier against invaders. The rivers are broad but often shallow. It was an ideal territory for nomads.
While the Roman Empire was founded, grew in power and disappeared again, Slavic tribes, who had long since left their homes in Central Asia, wandered aimlessly through the forests and plains of the region between the Dniester and Dnieper rivers. The Greeks had sometimes met these Slavs and a few travellers of the third and fourth centuries mention them. Otherwise they were as little known as were the Nevada Indians in the year 1800.
Unfortunately for the peace of these primitive peoples, a very convenient trade-route ran through their country. This was the main road from northern Europe to Constantinople. It followed the coast of the Baltic until the Neva was reached. Then it crossed Lake Ladoga and went southward along the Volkhov river. Then through Lake Ilmen and up the small Lovat river. Then there was a short portage until the Dnieper was reached. Then down the Dnieper into the Black Sea.
The Norsemen knew of this road at a very early date. In the ninth century they began to settle in northern Russia, just as other Norsemen were laying the foundation for independent states in Germany and France. But in the year 862, three Norsemen, brothers, crossed the Baltic and founded three small dynasties. Of the three brothers, only one, Rurik, lived for a number of years. He took possession of the territory of his brothers, and twenty years after the arrival of this first Norseman, a Slavic state had been established with Kiev as its capital.
From Kiev to the Black Sea is a short distance. Soon the existence of an organised Slavic State became known in Constantinople. This meant a new field for the zealous missionaries of the Christian faith. Byzantine monks followed the Dnieper on their way northward and soon reached the heart of Russia. They found the people worshipping strange gods who were supposed to dwell in woods and rivers and in mountain caves. They taught them the story of Jesus. There was no competition from the side of Roman missionaries. These good men were too busy educating the heathen Teutons to bother about the distant Slavs. Hence Russia received its religion and its alphabet and its first ideas of art and architecture from the Byzantine monks and as the Byzantine empire (a relic of the eastern Roman empire) had become very oriental and had lost many of its European traits, the Russians suffered in consequence.
Politically speaking these new states of the great Russian plains did not fare well. It was the Norse habit to divide every inheritance equally among all the sons. No sooner had a small state been founded but it was broken up among eight or nine heirs who in turn left their territory to an ever increasing number of descendants. It was inevitable that these small competing states should quarrel among themselves. Anarchy was the order of the day. And when the red glow of the eastern horizon told the people of the threatened invasion of a savage Asiatic tribe, the little states were too weak and too divided to render any sort of defence against this terrible enemy.
It was in the year 1224 that the first great Tartar invasion took place and that the hordes of Jenghiz Khan, the conqueror of China, Bokhara, Tashkent and Turkestan made their first appearance in the west. The Slavic armies were beaten near the Kalka river and Russia was at the mercy of the Mongolians. Just as suddenly as they had come they disappeared. Thirteen years later, in 1237, however, they returned. In less than five years they conquered every part of the vast Russian plains. Until the year 1380 when Dmitry Donskoi, Grand Duke of Moscow, beat them on the plains of Kulikovo, the Tartars were the masters of the Russian people.
All in all, it took the Russians two centuries to deliver themselves from this yoke. For a yoke it was and a most offensive and objectionable one. It turned the Slavic peasants into miserable slaves. No Russian could hope to survive un-less he was willing to creep before a dirty little yellow man who sat in a tent somewhere in the heart of the steppes of southern Russia and spat at him. It deprived the mass of the people of all feeling of honour and independence. It made hunger and misery and maltreatment and personal abuse the normal state of human existence. Until at last the average Russian, were he peasant or nobleman, went about his business like a neglected dog who has been beaten so often that his spirit has been broken and he dare not wag his tail without permission.
There was no escape. The horsemen of the Tartar Khan were fast and merciless. The endless prairie did not give a man a chance to cross into the safe territory of his neighbour. He must keep quiet and bear what his yellow master decided to inflict upon him or run the risk of death. Of course, Europe might have interfered. But Europe was engaged upon business of its own, fighting the quarrels between the Pope and the emperor or suppressing this or that or the other heresy. And so Europe left the Slav to his fate, and forced him to work out his own salvation.
The final saviour of Russia was one of the many small states, founded by the early Norse rulers. It was situated in the heart of the Russian plain. Its capital, Moscow, was upon a steep hill on the banks of the Moskwa river. This little principality, by dint of pleasing the Tartar (when it was necessary to please), and opposing him (when it was safe to do so), had, during the middle of the fourteenth century made itself the leader of a new national life. It must be remembered that the Tartars were wholly deficient in constructive political ability. They could only destroy. Their chief aim in conquering new territories was to obtain revenue. To get this revenue in the form of taxes, it was necessary to allow certain remnants of the old political organization to continue. Hence there were many little towns, surviving by the grace of the Great Khan, that they might act as tax-gatherers and rob their neighbours for the benefit of the Tartar treasury.
The state of Moscow, growing fat at the expense of the surrounding territory, finally became strong enough to risk open rebellion against its masters, the Tartars. It was successful and its fame as the leader in the cause of Russian independence made Moscow the natural centre for all those who still believed in a better future for the Slavic race. In the year 1458, Constantinople was taken by the Turks. Ten years later, under the rule of Ivan III, Moscow informed the western world that the Slavic state laid claim to the worldly and spiritual inheritance of the lost Byzantine Empire, and such traditions of the Roman empire as had survived in Constantinople. A generation afterwards, under Ivan the Terrible, the grand dukes of Moscow were strong enough to adopt the title of Caesar, or Tsar, and to demand recognition by the western powers of Europe.
In the year 1598, with Feodor the First, the old Muscovite dynasty, descendants of the original Norseman Rurik, came to an end. For the next seven years, a Tartar half-breed, by the name of Boris Godunow, reigned as Tsar. It was during this period that the future destiny of the large masses of the Russian people was decided. This Empire was rich in land but very poor in money. There was no trade and there were no factories. Its few cities were dirty villages. It was composed of a strong central government and a vast number of illiterate peasants. This government, a mixture of Slavic, Norse, Byzantine and Tartar influences, recognised nothing beyond the interest of the state. To defend this state, it needed an army. To gather the taxes, which were necessary to pay the soldiers, it needed civil servants. To pay these many officials it needed land. In the vast wilderness on the east and west there was a sufficient supply of this commodity. But land without a few labourers to till the fields and tend the cattle, has no value. Therefore the old nomadic peasants were robbed of one privilege after the other, until finally, during the first year of the sixteenth century, they were formally made a part of the soil upon which they lived. The Russian peasants ceased to be free men. They became serfs or slaves and they remained serfs until the year 1861, when their fate had become so terrible that they were beginning to die out.
In the seventeenth century, this new state with its growing territory which was spreading quickly into Siberia, had become a force with which the rest of Europe was obliged to reckon. In 1618, after the death of Boris Godunow, the Russian nobles had elected one of their own number to be Tsar. He was Michael, the son of Feodor, of the Moscow family of Romanow who lived in a little house just outside the Kremlin.
In the year 1672 his great-grandson, Peter, the son of another Feodor, was born. When the child was ten years old, his step-sister Sophia took possession of the Russian throne. The little boy was allowed to spend his days in the suburbs of the national capital, where the foreigners lived. Surrounded by Scotch barkeepers, Dutch traders, Swiss apothecaries, Italian barbers, French dancing teachers and German school-masters, the young prince obtained a first but rather extraordinary impression of that far-away and mysterious Europe where things were done differently.
When he was seventeen years old, he suddenly pushed Sister Sophia from the throne. Peter himself became the ruler of Russia. He was not contented with being the Tsar of a semi-barbarous and half-Asiatic people. He must be the sovereign head of a civilised nation. To change Russia overnight from a Byzantine-Tartar state into a European empire was no small undertaking. It needed strong hands and a capable head. Peter possessed both. In the year 1698, the great operation of grafting Modern Europe upon Ancient Russia was performed. The patient did not die. But he never got over the shock, as the events of the last five years have shown very plainly.
RUSSIA vs. SWEDEN
RUSSIA AND SWEDEN FIGHT MANY WARS TO DECIDE WHO SHALL BE THE LEADING POWER OF NORTH-EASTERN EUROPE
IN the year 1698, Tsar Peter set forth upon his first voyage to western Europe. He travelled by way of Berlin and went to Holland and to England. As a child he had almost been drowned sailing a homemade boat in the duck pond of his father's country home. This passion for water remained with him to the end of his life. In a practical way it showed itself in his wish to give his land-locked domains access to the open sea.
While the unpopular and harsh young ruler was away from home, the friends of the old Russian ways in Moscow set to work to undo all his reforms. A sudden rebellion among his life-guards, the Streltsi regiment, forced Peter to hasten home by the fast mail. He appointed himself executioner-in-chief and the Streltsi were hanged and quartered and killed to the last man. Sister Sophia, who had been the head of the rebellion, was locked up in a cloister and the rule of Peter be-gan in earnest. This scene was repeated in the year 1716 when Peter had gone on his second western trip. That time the reactionaries followed the leadership of Peter's half-witted son, Alexis. Again the Tsar returned in great haste. Alexis was beaten to death in his prison cell and the friends of the old fashioned Byzantine ways marched thousands of dreary miles to their final destination in the Siberian lead mines. After that, no further outbreaks of popular discontent took place. Until the time of his death, Peter could reform in peace.
It is not easy to give you a list of his reforms in chronological order. The Tsar worked with furious haste. He followed no system. He issued his decrees with such rapidity that it is difficult to keep count. Peter seemed to feel that everything that had ever happened before was entirely wrong. The whole of Russia therefore must be changed within the shortest possible time. When he died he left behind a well-trained army of 200,000 men and a navy of fifty ships. The old system of government had been abolished over night. The Duma, or convention of Nobles, had been dismissed and in its stead, the Tsar had surrounded himself with an advisory board of state officials, called the Senate.
Russia was divided into eight large "governments" or provinces. Roads were constructed. Towns were built. Industries were created wherever it pleased the Tsar, without any regard for the presence of raw material. Canals were dug and mines were opened in the mountains of the east. In this land of illiterates, schools were founded and establishments of higher learning, together with Universities and hospitals and professional schools. Dutch naval engineers and tradesmen and artisans from all over the world were encouraged to move to Russia. Printing shops were established, but all books must be first read by the imperial censors. The duties of each class of society were carefully written down in a new law and the entire system of civil and criminal laws was gathered into a series of printed volumes. The old Russian costumes were abolished by Imperial decree, and policemen, armed with scissors, watching all the country roads, changed the long-haired Russian mou-jiks suddenly into a pleasing imitation of smooth-shaven west. Europeans.
In religious matters, the Tsar tolerated no division of power. There must be no chance of a rivalry between an Emperor and a Pope as had happened in Europe. In the year 1721, Peter made himself head of the Russian Church. The Patriarchate of Moscow was abolished and the Holy Synod made its appearance as the highest source of authority in all matters of the Established Church.
Since, however, these many reforms could not be success-ful while the old Russian elements had a rallying point in the town of Moscow, Peter decided to move his government to a new capital. Amidst the unhealthy marshes of the Baltic Sea the Tsar built this new city. He began to reclaim the land in the year 1703. Forty thousand peasants worked for years to lay the foundations for this Imperial city. The Swedes attacked Peter and tried to destroy his town and illness and misery killed tens of thousands of the peasants. But the work was continued, winter and summer, and the ready-made town soon began to grow. In the year 1712, it was officially de-clared to be the "Imperial Residence." A dozen years later it had 75,000 inhabitants. Twice a year the whole city was flooded by the Neva. But the terrific will-power of the Tsar created dykes and canals and the floods ceased to do harm. When Peter died in 1725 he was the owner of the largest city in northern Europe.