In the first set of pivot dates, we concentrated on the Sixteenth Century. For this set, we will concentrate on the 17th Century in a series of posts. This is post number one of three. The Seventeenth Century was a time of agricultural and economic expansion of the north of Europe, as well as the flowering of two great nations, England and the Netherlands. In England, it was also a time of significant political upheaval due to the reign of  Charles I, the idea of rule by divine right and the resulting English Civil War. England was trying to find itself, deal with the question of religion left to it by the Tudors, and understand the relationship between the monarchy and Parliament. The relationship was to be in development for most of the century, culminating in the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the creation of the English Bill of Rights in ’88-’89. For the rest of Europe, the Continent, the Seventeenth Century was a time of religious wars and the great economic development of the Netherlands. There are so many dates from which to choose for our “pivot dates” that it is almost impossible to whittle it down to three, but whittle we shall. Amongst the swirling of events during the period, these three dates stand out as the most influential to my mind:

1618 – The Defenestration of Prague which ultimately ignites the Thirty Years’ War
1648 – The Peace of Westphalia
1649 – The beheading of Charles I of England

Yes, I’ve made note that these dates all occur in the first half of the Seventeenth Century, but should one look carefully at these dates, they fit the criteria established in the first article on pivot dates. They all have a rather long lasting and quite profound effect in the Europe as a whole, including the beheading of Charles I which I will get to later in this article. Let’s look at the first one, the Defenestration of Prague.

1618 – The Defenestration of Prague

What exactly was the defenestration of Prague? To put it succinctly, a disagreement arose between Protestants and Catholics over the forced stalling of protestant church building in violation of the Letter of Majesty which allowed the building of Protestant churches. Rudolf was quite conciliatory toward Protestants but was seen by the Habsburgs as increasingly unstable. He was replaced by Matthias in 1606. Matthias gradually whittled away at Protestant rights, and eventually designated a rather furious Catholic, Ferdinand of Styria as his successor. Ferdinand was elected as his successor in 1617, and being decidedly Catholic, whittled away more and more Protestant rights in Bohemia. Needless to say, the Protestant sect in Bohemia was not happy with this, nor were they happy that Ferdinand dissolved their council. When pressed by the now dissolved council on their part in convincing King Ferdinand to order a cessation of church building, the regents hesitated in their response. As a result, two of the kings representatives, both Catholic were found guilty by a Protestant court of violation of said treaty and convincing the king, and were thrown out of the windows of Prague Castle. Both Catholic emissaries (Imperial Regents) survived the fall by, as they said by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, whilst the Protestants who did the tossing responded by pointing out that both survived the fall because they fell into a pile of horse dung. Whatever the reason, they did survive, igniting the last truly great Europe wide battle over religion. This was actually the second defenestration to occur in Prague, the first occurring on July 30th, 1419 for completely unrelated reasons.

OK, now that we have all of that relatively straight, why is this a pivot date? To begin, this event triggered the last great religious war in Europe. Tens of thousands would perish in the name of God, either the Protestant God or the Catholic version. Second, it signaled during the second phase of the conflict, a twist due to the involvement of Albrect von Wallenstein. His power begins to grow during the Danish phase of the war and he begins to think less and less of “saving” Catholicism, and more and more about carving out his own territory. This initiates a land grab of sorts for the rest of the Danish and into the Swedish phase of the war. In short, the war turns from a religious conflict into a territory conflict. This would fuel a fundamental change in the direction of the Thirty Years’ War, ending with the International Phase in which Cardinal Richelieu of France would not only violate his Catholic vows and side with Protestants in the waging of the war, but systematically subvert the Catholic position of the Habsburgs in order to both consolidate and extend the rule of France, ostensibly in the name of Louis XIII. This, of course, sets the stage for Louis XIV and all that he, and France, were to become.

In the next post, we will take a look at the Peace of Westphalia and its importance as the next pivot date of the Seventeenth Century.