the collapse of france and spain-- 2/20/24

Today's selection -- from A Radical History of the World by Neil Faulkner. The discovery of overwhelming amounts of gold in the New World brought Spain global dominance, and the Hundred Years War brought unity to France, but both countries quickly faced collapse:


The archetype of sixteenth-century absolutism had been Habsburg Spain, but the state had rested on too narrow a social base, had been too constrained by local privileges, and had relied too heavily on imported bullion. The burden of three great military struggles — of Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire, of the Counter-Reformation against the Protestants, and of Habsburg imperialism against France — had brought Spanish absolutism to collapse by the first half of the seventeenth century.


“Almost the entire burden of the Spanish Empire had fallen on a Castilian population of about five million. France, on the other hand, had a population of 20 million. And whereas Spanish absolutism had been compromised by the relative autonomy of Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia, France had become a more unitary polity in the course of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). During the long struggle against a succession of freebooting English expeditionary forces, the French nobility had rallied around the monarchy. It had required national taxation and elements of a national army to win the war. Here was the kernel of French absolutism.


“Even so, France was vast, its communications primitive, its administrative structures rudimentary, the territorial power of its feudal lords deeply entrenched. It therefore remained, from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, highly fractured and ever liable to burst apart.


“The Italian Wars (1494 -1559) provided an effective outlet for surplus feudal violence, and enhanced the power of the monarchy as a mechanism for centralising military power in what was becoming ‘ a continent of warring states'. But the monarchy was not yet strong enough to endure the consequences of defeat in Italy, and when the conflict ended, France fell apart in the Wars of Religion (1562-98),as aristocratic factionalism and secessionism fused with a range of religious and social conflicts."


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author:

Neil Faulkner

title:

A Radical History of the World

publisher:

Pluto Press

pages:

166-170
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