Managing conflict in Europe in times of change

Timeline developed for Historiana by the Historical Content Team.

•To show how and why ideas and approaches to managing conflict in Europe have varied and changed over time. ;xNLx;;xNLx;•To show how Post-War developments towards greater stability in Europe have been different in terms of economic cooperation, political structures and pooled sovereignty.;xNLx;

1648-05-15 23:08:33

Peace of Westphalia

The Peace of Westphalia treaties of Münster and Osnabrück ended 30 years of European wars. In 1648 the religion of the ruler was still very important. The wars had partly been about who should have power and control; Roman Catholic or Protestant Christians. To try to bring peace to the German lands, it was agreed that Protestant German rulers would be protected by Sweden (a Protestant power) and Roman Catholic German rulers would be protected by France (a Roman Catholic power). It was hoped that these guarantees of protection would prevent religious conflict between German states and the persecution of Roman Catholic people by German Protestant princes and vice versa. This then would help to keep the German lands peaceful and stable. The rulers of the many independent German lands would decide what type of Christianity there would be in their land. Westphalia marks the beginning of the view that the most powerful countries in Europe should balance power in Europe between them and avoid one country having supreme power. French power grew as a result of Westphalia, and was agreed on condition that Catholic Europe recognised the independence of the Protestant Dutch Republic. In the Peace of Münster the Lords States General of the United Netherlands and the Spanish Crown, agreed on 30 January 1648 to end the 80 years of war between them. The Peace of Münster formed part of the Peace of Westphalia.

1648-05-15 23:08:33

System of Guarantees

Westphalia marks an important ideological milestone in the way the Great Powers managed Europe. They agreed to the importance of working to avoid the supremacy of one power. The Thirty Years War had made the Powers realise that such a large territory in the hands of one of the powers would have damaged the interests of the others. A 'balance' had not yet been written down. Nevertheless, the system of guarantors was in reality peace with an agreement to guard against power becoming imbalanced, because France or Sweden would intervene if any religious (or political) abuse took place against the German territories under their protection. Such an important diplomatic gathering (100+ parties were represented) fixed the norms and customs of diplomacy in Europe. The principles of sovereignty, non-interference in another country's internal affairs, and the respect of countries' established boundaries also find their legal basis in Westphalia.

1648-05-15 23:08:33

Religious divisions

The breakup of the western branch of Christianity is symbolically placed in time in 1517 - the year the German monk Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. This began a century of terrible infighting between christians in Europe. For the previous two-centuries there had already been religious tension with roots in the Hussite and the Lollards movements. While rebellion to papal authority had punctuated Christianity all through its history, the 16th century's Schism (division) was only the second great one after the first Schism between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches in 1054. The reasons why Luther, and then Calvin, Zwingli and others, were able to shape Christianity deeply with their teachings were many and diverse. One reason was political division in the Holy Roman Empire, for example enabling some princes to show their power by protecting Luther. Another reason was the rise of a more educated, more aware, class of towns people who were attracted to what the Reformed Churches required and offered, for example, the necessity for the individual to read the Bible him/herself: this needed widespread literacy and accounts for the subsequent education policies in Reformed States. In turn, this was fuelled by the technological development of printing. In the German territories there was less princely control of what was printed. In summary, Christian Western Europe was suddenly stricken by fierce religious division, which combined with pre-existing political ambitions and gave way to bloody conflicts and revolts. In the 1550s attempts to end violent conflict had produced the idea of 'cuius regio, eius religio' principle: that is, each territory would follow the religion of its ruler. In the peace of Westphalia this principle was finally applied.

1650-10-20 18:58:28

The age of absolute monarchy

During the period of the later 17th and most of the 18th century much of Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs. The term 'absolute monarch' is much debated, but certainly most people in Europe had no choice about who ruled them, and in most cases they were ruled by a hereditary monarch with great powers.

1665-09-15 18:24:02


Mercantilism was the most important economic school of thought between the 15th and the 17th century in Europe. Mercantilist theory expected that in a transaction between two parties one would gain only if the other lost (a zero-sum game). This concept was applied for example in international trade, where individual countries were supposed to carefully watch over the amount of foreign goods they imported, which had to be always less than the country's exports. The theory said that a country could not afford to spend more money on imports than what it would gain on exports (as one country's loss was their competitor's direct gain). Mercantilism was born in England and had been applied under Elizabeth I, and was generally applied by most states in Europe. The most famous example of the application of the theory was 1665-1680s France, under the government of Jean-Baptiste Colbert. This concept had a direct impact on the way countries saw international free trade, on the way they saw the role of colonies (which were often prevented from trading with foreign or certain countries), and on the reason why a country would wage war. Other aspects of the theory concerned maximisation of profits and production - which suggested using the largest amount of land for those ends. This idea of 'maximisation' inevitably meant that workers had to be subjected to 'economic oppression' and had to live on minimal subsistence levels, with no space for education or free time: the more they worked, the more they would produce. In effect, some mercantilists also believed that economic growth could be infinite, by bettering production systems.

1675-05-15 10:58:41

Armed forces

In the later 17th century armed forces were still essentially part of the royal household. In most of Europe, the ruler of a territory would raise fighting men for their own personal political aims. These men were not necessarily from the territory of the ruler. Men known as mercenaries sold their fighting ability for money. The concept of a national army did not develop until the later XVIII century.

1694-09-15 18:24:02

The founding of the Bank of England

Banking is concerned with lending money, creating deposits, and (in the past) creating common enterprises, and has a long history. Modern banking developed in the 14th century. Rich banking families have marked Europe's history: the Medicis' rule in Florence, and the central role of the Fuggers in the elections of the Holy Roman Emperors (for instance, Charles V's) are examples. The role of banks was central to the political and economic policy choices of governments and rapidly evolved throughout the centuries. In the 17th century, banks' 'notes' (promissory notes) had become essential in economically advanced countries, especially England. In London, these notes became very trustworthy as they contained London goldsmiths' promise to pay (which allowed loans to be advanced with reasonable safety). While banking was born in the rich city States of Northern Italy and in Germany, its turning point took place in England. Towards the end of the 17th century, after a series of naval defeats at the hands of the French crown, William III's government found itself with no funds and no credit to rebuild its naval power. The government then decided to attract funds by establishing the Bank of England and having public subscribers incorporated (i.e., they would have guaranteed shares in the Bank). The Bank of England thus became effectively a central and public Bank, at the service of the State, and also started issuing banknotes. The action was successful, and the English, then British (once the Act of Union of 1707 united the crowns of England and Wales and Scotland) government was able to rebuild a strong navy which was instrumental in Britain's rise to be the major world power of the 18th-19th century. In addition, the efforts needed for such a huge undertaking prompted a radical industrial development, which in turn laid the seeds for the Industrial Revolution.

1701-01-01 05:35:10

The War of Spanish Succession

The War of Spanish Succession was a fight about whether the next Spanish king should be a relation of the King of France or of the Holy Roman Emperor. This was an important question as both France and the Holy Roman Empire had been rivals for years. If the Spanish king was connected to the Holy Roman Emperor, then France would be encircled by enemies. If the Spanish king was connected to the French king then the Holy Roman Empire would lose power to France. The two sides, led by the rulers, fought a war to decide who should dominate Europe.

1701-01-01 05:35:10

Religion as part of power politics

Religion continued to be an important part of political strategy in Europe. For example, Great Britain as a Protestant power became involved in the War of Spanish Succession in part to defend the interests of the protestants in the Low Countries.

1713-05-01 12:32:36

The Treaty of Utrecht

The Treaty of Utrecht brought to an end the Spanish Wars of Succession with a compromise that prevented either France or the Holy Roman Empire becoming supreme in Europe. The idea of a balance of powers was now applied to the whole of Europe and not just the German lands. The Treaty of Utrecht is seen as a further development of the international rule of law. It is significant as it introduced a century of shifting alliances and incidental wars of succession which further altered the geopolitics of Europe. Whereas no ruler in the main powers abandoned the dream of continental supremacy, none managed to replicate Charles V's or Louis XIV's exploits.

Managing conflict in Europe in times of change

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