General History in Outline and Story
IX . THE 'GREAT KINGS' OF EUROPE
54 . After the Reformation
55 . Peter the Great of Russia
56 . Louis XIV of France
57 . Frederick the Great of Prussia
54 . AFTER THE REFORMATION
The Reformation had put an end to the old Europe controlled by Emperor and Pope. What had before been a more or less united Christian society was now completely broken up into separate nation-states in competition with one another for power and money, for trade, and for colonies in the new lands overseas ; and these conditions are still to a great degree, with us. Chiefly as the outcome of the Reformation, the Dutch and English were the first to take up arms against rulers with unlimited power -- the first step in the long flight for the political rights of the masses which has been the great development of later history.
But it was a long time before the example of the Dutch and English had any effect on the other nations of Europe. Most of them went on being ruled by Kings over whom they had almost no control, and the common men had little part in their government. The Bourbons were in power in France, the Hapsburgs in Austria and Spain, the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, and the Romanoffs in Russia. These 'Great Kings' frequently took a very responsible view of their position, working hard to make their countries great, but in their relations with other nations they seemed to have no sense of right or wrong ; their designs were effected by the worst sort of false behavior, by force and by war. It is not surprising that the King of England, George III, said that political work was a low trade, not one for a man of good birth and straightforward behavior.
But the great changes, good and bad, for which these kings were responsible, did their part in undermining men's ideas and getting them ready for a complete reaction against the past -- such as came about suddenly in the French Revolution (1789). That violent outburst put an end to the Bourbon rule in France, but it was not till after the Great War of 1914-18 that Europe saw the last of the Great Kings.
55 . PETER THE GREAT OF RUSSIA
At the time of the Reformation the great and still half-barbarian country of Russia was under strong rulers named Tsars (possibly a form of 'Caesar'). In the Middle Ages Russia had been ruled first by the Northmen, and then, for two hundred years, it had been a part of the Empire of the Tartars of Asia.
At last (1430) the Russians made themselves independent of the Tartars, and the Prince of Moscow became the ruling power. In 1547 one of these princes, Ivan, took the name of Tsar of Russia. Ivan was named 'the Cruel,' and with good reason -- he had any of his chiefs who made trouble given to the dogs ! However, like Charles V before him, he became a monk in his last years (1584).
The most noted Tsar after Ivan was Peter the Great (1689-1725), who, though still ruling with a rod of iron, was a man who had great designs for his country. His purpose was 'to make a bridge between Europe and Asia' and to put Russia on the same plane of development as the countries of the West. To get the experience necessary for this, he went about Europe for two years taking note of everything -- going to the hospitals, museums, and libraries, getting medical knowledge, going over grain-crushing, paper-making, and printing works, and even putting on the dress of a common workman and working with his hands for a time at the shipbuilding trade. In England he was greatly surprised by the great number of law-experts in full dress at Westminster. "Why !" he said, "I have only two such men in all my Empire, and I am going to put one of them to death when I get back !"
In forcing the ideas and ways of the West so suddenly, however, on the Russians, who were half of the East in their outlook, Peter was attempting to go more quickly than was wise. Fear of him kept the unhappy Russians from open protest, but in their hearts they were bitterly against these 'changes for the better,' specially when they were made to take the hair off their chins and to put on European dress.
Till Peter's time Russia had been a land-locked Empire with no way out to the open sea, because the White Sea was shut in by ice and the Caspian was an inland water. To get outlets to the sea it was necessary to go to war with the countries in the way. "War is the business of kings," Peter said to his feudal chiefs ; "attacking animals is for slaves."
Now at this time the Swedes had a great King, Charles XII, and a great Empire on the Baltic, and the Turks were in control of the Black Sea, shutting in Russia north and south. So Peter went to war with the Swedes and the Turks. After a number of ups and downs he at last made a peace with Sweden by which Russia was given the Swedish lands at the east end of the Baltic. Against the Turks, however, he made little headway. After much fighting he took Azov on the Black Sea, but only to have it taken back by the Turks later.
On the land given up by Sweden, Peter put up a great town, Saint Petersburg, which was to be for Russia 'a window looking out on the West.' The new town went up on the wet fields of the river Neva as if with the help of a power greater than man. In one year it was done, but at the price of thousands of deaths among the workmen. St. Petersburg, with its great squares, its tall churches covered with gold and bright as jewels in the sun, was a work truly representative of the great ruler.
In this way Peter made Russia one of the great nations of Europe. In the space of one rule, by the force of one man, Russia came out of the shade into a place in the sun. But he was a 'barbarian' to the last. He even put his son to death some years before he himself came to his end. "Let not your hearts be turned from me because of all my wrongdoing !" were his last words, put down in a shaking hand on a bit of paper.
Some years after Peter's death Russia and the other countries near her made, to their shame, a division among themselves of another Slav country, Poland -- the first and worst example of the cruel wrongs done in the name of nation-building. That troubled, unhappy country, whose great king had, only a little before Peter's time, kept the Turks from Vienna (1683), was taken completely off the map by one of the greatest crimes in history.
A little less than two hundred years later the behavior of the Turks to the Christians under their control was the cause of the Crimean War (1853-56) between Russia and Turkey, in which fear of the increasing power of Russia made France and England give their support to the Turks. The outcome put an end to Russia's attempts at further expansion in Europe, and after this her attention was turned chiefly to Asia, where all this time she had been slowly pushing forward. Before long she had got to the Pacific in one direction and to the north limit of India in another.
Almost up to our day the relations between Russia and other countries have been controlled by three fixed ideas handed down from the time of Ivan the Cruel -- the desire to become head of the Slav peoples ; the desire to get a free outlet on the Baltic and the Black Sea ; and the hate of her earlier rulers, the Tartars, turned equally against the peoples of middle Asia and the Turks of Constantinople.
56 . LOUIS XIV OF FRANCE
At about the same time as Peter the Great of Russia and Charles II and James II of England, there was living the most noted of all the Great Kings of Europe, Louis XIV of France (1643-1715). Never before had the government of France seemed so strong or so great as in the days of its 'Sun King.' He was by far the ablest man ruling by right of birth in later history. His power was unlimited ; the noted saying L'eat, c'est moi--' I am the State' -- the political organization of the country -- gives very well his idea of the position of a King.
It was Louis who put up Versailles with its beautiful gardens, and made it the meeting-place of the most highly polished society. The flower of French art and learning was grouped round him, and Versailles was ruler of the world in taste and in dress. In the morning, while he was being dressed, Louis gave a hearing to those who had come to see him, and these levees were copied by ruler everywhere. His were the great days of French building and of the French theatre.
Profiting by the example of Louis, every King and little ruler in Europe at this time was building a circle of the same sort round himself, using as much money as his nation and credits would let him. Among the looking-glasses and other beautiful things in the great houses of those days strange-looking men went about dressed in silk, with delicate openwork falling over their hands, and high powdered structures of false hair on their heads, balancing themselves in tall red shoes and supported by long thin sticks of polished wood ; and even more strange-looking women, with even greater masses of powdered hair, and wide skirts of silk supported on wire frameworks. And in the middle of it all was the great Louis, the sun of his society, smilingly acting his part -- all unconscious of the thin, unhappy, bitter faces looking at him from the dark places to which his rays took no comfort.
One of the most important things in the story of Europe after the Reformation is the great part take by France in British history. When Cromwell made a military agreement with France he was helping to make her strong. He had no idea that she would become a danger to England. But Louis XIV was a friend of the later Stuart Kings in their fight against the government, and was in no small degree responsible for the troubles caused by them.
Further, it was Louis' fixed purpose to get control of Europe -- like Spain in the fifteen hundreds and Napoleon in the eighteen hundreds. There was war between Britain and France again and again for a hundred years after William III of Holland became King of Great Britain in 1688.
The great desire of French rulers has ever been the expansion of France to what seem to the French her 'natural limits' -- the Rhine, the Pyrenees, and the Alps.
A short time before Louis became King she had got to the Pyrenees and was touching the Rhine in Alsace. Spain's power had gone down after the Armada, and Germany was still feeble from the wars of religion, and this gave Louis XIV great hopes. His idea was to get to the Rhine through Flanders, and on the death of the Spanish King, Charles II (1700), he saw his chance, not only of taking Flanders but of controlling all the Empire of Spain.
Charles having no offspring, had made the son of a son of Louis the ruler of Spain after him, and though it was certain that England, Holland, and Austria would never let France keep so much power in Europe without a fight, Louis was ready to make the attempt. This was the start of a war which went on for twelve years, not only in Europe but in America.
In the end a peace was made by which Austria was given a great part of the Spanish Empire in Europe, England got Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the Hudson Bay country from the French in North America, and Spain and its colonies went to Philip V (the ruler named by Charles) on condition that Spain and France were never united. So Spain was not joined to France though it was ruled by a Frenchman.
But the masses of common men under the Great Kings probably had very little idea what all the fighting was about, and certainly saw no good coming to them from it.
From Charlemagne to Napoleon there was no King so looked up to as Louis XIV. But present-day opinion about him is very different from that of his time, and if we put the question, "Who did most for the destruction of the 'old order' in France ?" the true answer is , "Louis XIV, its greatest representative."
It took more than one thousand million francs of the nation's money for the buildings and gardens of Versailles, and the King had fifteen other houses in addition.
Louis himself seemed to see the error of his ways on his death-bed (1715), and his last words were : "Do not take up my love of building and of war ; do something to make existence less hard for the men and women of France."
One of La Fontaine's stories give us a picture of the unhappy French countryman of those days. An old woodcutter with branches on his back, bent and protesting under his weight of wood and years, was walking with slow steps, attempting to get back to his poor little house. At last, overcome by pain and sad feelings, and unable to take another step, he put down his wood and gave himself up to viewing his cruel condition.
"What pleasures have I in this existence ? Is there anyone on the round earth as poor as I am? My woman, my sons and daughters, the army men forced on me for food and beds, my taxes, my debts, and the work from which I am never free -- all make a complete picture of the unhappiest of existences."
57 . FREDERICK THE GREAT OF PRUSSIA
Berlin, now the German seat of government, was for a long time a small town in the flat, uninteresting, half-Slav land of Prussia, outside the limits of the true Germany. Its rulers slowly made it a strong country, till, in the time of Frederick the Great (1740-86), Prussia became one of the European Powers.
Like most Prussians, Frederick had great belief in military power. One of his desires was to have in his army a division of men well over six feet tall. An Irishman seven feet high was seen in London by the head of the Prussian Embassy, and was given about 1,300 pounds to go to Frederick -- very much more than the Prussian representative himself go in a year.
Further light on the qualities of Prussia's Great King is given by a noted story. "How goes our school business?" he said one day to the man in control of education. "Very well," was the answer ; "in the old days, when the general opinion was that man had a natural tendency to be bad, school teachers were very hard ; but now, when it has been made clear that man has a tendency to be good, school teachers are more kind." "Ah !" my dear man," said Frederick, "you haven't as great a knowledge of men as I have."
It was in the time of Frederick, with his low opinion of men, that the long fight between Austria and Prussia was started. Frederick, seeing his chance while Maria Theresa, the daughter of the newly dead Emperor, was having trouble in getting control of her Empire, took an army into Silesia and made it his. At first Maria Theresa was forced to let him have it, but later France and Austria, though they had been on opposite sides for hundreds of years, became united against the Prussian King, and the outcome was the Seven Years' War (1756-63), in which almost every country in Europe took part. And so the crime of taking Silesia was 'the little stone broke loose from the mountain,' rolling against others, great and small, which in their turn went rolling against others till all the mountainside was in motion. The effects of this war were not limited to Europe, but were in the full sense world-wide.
In Europe it was the start of a fight which was never truly ended till a hundred years later, when after completely crushing the armies of Austria and France, Prussia at last became the chief power in Europe.* In America, India, and on the seas, it was one of the greatest fights in history for overseas colonies and trade, and for the sea power on which these are dependent.
The two chief fields of war overseas, India and North America, were very different. In India there was a great nation whose learning went back to the earliest times ; but in the great tree-covered stretches of North America there were only some nomad groups of Red Indians and a small number of French and English colonies edging its rivers and seas. Black men were fighting one another in India, and red men were putting one another to death in America, so that Frederick of Prussia might keep the land he had taken by force and trick.
But the war had much greater effects than this. The far-seeing English Prime Minister, William Pitt, head of the government almost all through the war, made Canada and India parts of the British Empire by siding with Frederick the Great.
Three of the fights of the Seven Years' War made future history for hundreds of years to come. That of Rossbach was the first step in the new birth of Germany, the long process by which it became united under Prussia and the Prussian Kings. After Plassey, where Clive made the name of England feared and respected by the rajahs of India, Europe became important in the East as she had not been from the time of Alexander the Great. Wolfe's great fight against Montcalm at Quebec gave the power of France in North America its death-blow, and the United States of America its start. By taking away the fear of the French, which had been keeping the colonies under the wing of the mother country, and by opening the way to the Mississippi basin, Pitt had made possible the birth of the great American Republic.
* Prussia overcame Austria at Sadowa in 1866, and France at Sedan in 1870.
And so, from the story of the Great Kings, we see how the wars of religion after the Reformation gave way to wars for trade and colonies. the nations went to war against one another for their private interests. They had no thought of forming part of a greater organization, such as the Church and the Empire of the Middle Ages, when 'the world' was smaller. Chiefly for this reason the theory of the rights of nations seems to one great writer to be 'a step back in history.' That is an idea on which a very interesting discussion might be based.
DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK
I . -- THE FIRST STAGE
II . -- THE EARLY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EAST
III. -- THE GREAT DAYS OF GREECE
IV . -- THE GREAT DAYS OF ROME
V . -- THE MIDDLE AGES
VI . -- THE 'NEW BIRTH' OF EUROPE
VII. -- NEW FORCES IN RELIGION AND THE GROWTH OF A NEW OUTLOOK
VIII -- THE EXPANSION OF EUROPE OVERSEAS
IX . -- THE 'GREAT KINGS' OF EUROPE top
X . -- THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
XI . -- THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEON
XII. -- THE BIRTH OF NEW NATIONS
XIII -- THE WORLD OF THE PRESENT DAY