Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands William IIIWilliam III
Chalres XIICharles XII 351-153


Sweden was a great power for much of the seventeenth century. Charles X was so successful a soldier that only Dutch intervention prevented Swedish domination of the entire Baltic region.
When Charles X died in 1660, his son Charles XI was only four years old. A regency was established under an older relative, Count Magnus de la Gardie (1622-86). Charles was not educated academically or in statecraft, and spent his time hunting bears.



The Treaties of Oliva (1660) and Copenhagen (1660) confirmed Sweden's dominant position in the Baltic region. The Swedes continued their long-term alliance with France in the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1661), in which they contracted to support the French candidate for the Polish throne. Sweden joined the Triple Alliance (with the Dutch Republic and Britain) against France in 1668, but then reverted to alliance with the French. In the Treaty of Stockholm (1672) France guaranteed an annual subsidy of four hundred thousand crowns (600,000 if war broke out) for Swedish support in Germany.
In 1674, Sweden fulfilled this treaty by attacking Brandenburg-Prussia, and Charles XI began to direct his country's affairs personally. Sweden was defeated by the Prussians at the Battle of Fehrbellin and lost Pomerania.
The Swedes defeated the Danes in the bloody Battle of Lund (December 1676) and again at Malmo (1678). Louis XIV effectively dictated the terms of the Treaties of Nijmegen and Saint Germain which restored Sweden's German territories.
Charles XI resented Louis XIV's patronizing attitude and dedicated the rest of his reign to building up his power domestically. Both he and ordinary Swedes (clergy, burghers and peasants) blamed the Swedish nobility for the defeats it had suffered, and in October 1680 the commoners in the Riksdag allied with Charles to strip the aristocracy of some of their land, and much of their power and privileges.


Tidö Castle built by Axel Oxenstierna

The Swedish aristocracy's taste for conspicuous consumption and architectural pomp reinforced the resentment felt by ordinary Swedes

The Riksdag of 1682 confirmed the king's right to give and take back royal land in accordance with his perception of national needs. By the time of Charles XI's death he had increased the crown's landholding from almost nothing to about a third of Swedish land.
Charles XI died suddenly at age 42 and was succeeded by the fifteen-year-old Charles XII.
Poland (temporarily joined with Saxony under Augustus the Strong), Russia and Denmark hoped to take advantage of the king's youth and attacked Swedish territory, but Charles XII proved no easy nut to crack. His military skill and daring led to the defeat of Denmark and Poland-Saxony. Charles XII's initial successes against Russia led him to underestimate Peter the Great, and this proved his downfall.
Charles XII had a number of opportunities to make peace, but he refused them because he wanted further to extend Swedish power. His aggression instead accelerated Sweden's decline from great power status.

"Certainement il n'y a point de souverain qui, en lisant la vie de Charles XII, ne doive être guéri de la folie des conquêtes. Car, où est le souverain qui pût dire: J'ai plus de courage et de vertus, une âme plus forte, meilleures troupes que Charles XII? Que si, avec tous ces avantages, et après tant de victoires, ce roi a été si malheureux, que devraient espérer les autres princes qui auraient la même ambition, avec moins de talents et de ressources?"

Voltaire on Charles XII.
[Certainly there is no ruler who would not be convinced of the folly of conquest by reading the life of Charles XII. For what ruler can say: I have more courage and virtues, a more determined spirit, better troops than Charles XII? So if with all these advantages, and after such victories, this king was so unfortunate, what hope is there for other princes who have the same ambition, but less talent and resources?"]


The Netherlands

The great challenge met by the Dutch in the later seventeenth century was repelling the attacks of Louis XIV. In the wars of the Grand Alliance (1687–97) and the Spanish Succession (1701–14), the United Provinces concluded the alliances and mustered the resources needed to repel the (far larger) French state.

Anthonie Heinsius (1641-1720)

The struggle against France was directed by William III, ably assisted by Anthonie Heinsius (van der Heim). Heinsius valued the liberties of Holland and the other provinces, but believed that ending French aggression was more important. He cooperated with William - defending the Stadholder's authority against states rights' advocates.


After the murder of De Witt in 1672, the Netherlands considerable financial strength was directed by William into the war against France.
In 1688, the Dutch backed William in his gamble to seize the English throne, sending some of their best regiments across the stormy Fall seas in 1688. The gamble paid off, and thereafter English military and commercial power was shifted against Louis XIV.
Englishmen complained that their armed forces and money were being exploited by the Dutch; Dutchmen complained that England benefited from the peace they had fought so long for. The English war was fought largely at sea, ("Britain's best bulwarks are her wooden walls" i.e. ships) and English commerce and seaborne trade expanded to some extent at Dutch expense. The Dutch fought to secure their eastern and southern borders against French aggression, and could not have achieved this without English support.
The Dutch economy suffered in the 1690's as Louis XIV did all he could to disrupt Dutch commerce. Wages and living standards continued to fall even after the Peace of Rijswick (1697) restored some normality to European trade.

Jacob von Ruisdael (1628-82)
View of Haarlem

One of the last great Dutch masters was Jacob von Ruisdael (1628-82), who painted realistic landscapes concentrating on the delicate effects of sunshine and cloud.


The wars with France from 1672 also inhibited Dutch culture: the art market crashed and the golden age of Dutch painting ended.


View of the Westerkerk
Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712)

The increase in the Stadholder's influence involved a return to Calvinist orthodoxy such that the universities became reluctant to hire Cartesian and other progressive philosophers.




Between 1640 and 1660 religious and political divisions in England resulted in open conflict, military dictatorship and constitutional experiments. In 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II acceded the throne.


Nell Gwyn (Gwynne) Barbara Villiers

Charles II and two of his fifteen or more mistresses: Nell Gwyn & Barbara Villiers


Charles II was inclined toward absolutism but was careful not to antagonize Parliament or people. He was also inclined to allow some toleration for the Roman Catholics who had proved his father's faithful supporters. Indeed, Charles II finally converted to Catholicism. Nevertheless, he refrained from too openly opposing Anglican repression of Catholics.
Charles II's reign saw the rise of two political parties - Whigs and Tories.

"The Cofferous Mob"
Coffee houses became a favored location for political debate and organization

Whigs and Tories were the earliest political parties in the modern sense: i.e. an organized group of people, sharing political ideals who direct their efforts to ensuring that those with similar beliefs, policies and aims be elected to power.
History had witnessed court factions, networks of political patronage and even (in Republican Rome) political groupings based on family connections. However, only in seventeenth century England did the rise of representative government and regular popular elections produce the emergence of party politics.


The Whigs advocated limited, constitutional monarchy and toleration for Protestant dissenters. Their central basis of support was amongst the Protestant sects and the London merchants, but many noblemen and gentlemen who feared Catholicism, absolutism and French expansion joined Whig ranks.
[The term Whig was taken from extreme Scottish Presbyterians who fought against royal power from the 1640's onwards].
The Tories favored strong royal government and the preservation of the Anglican Church and its privileges. Tory sentiments were strongest amongst the landowning gentry of the English countryside.
[The term Tory was taken from Irish Catholic outlaws who murdered English settlers and soldiers during and after the Irish Rebellion].

"Wit and fool are consequents of Whig and Tory; and every man is a knave or an ass to the contrary side"


"I have always said the first Whig was the Devil"

(Samuel Johnson).


The tensions between Whig and Tory reached their height in the Exclusion Crisis (1679-81). Charles II's marriage to Catherine of Braganza had produced no heir, and so his younger brother, James Duke of York was next in line for the throne.

James, Duke of York
painted c. 1660

James was widely known to be a Catholic, and the Whigs wanted to exclude him from the succession, as they feared that he would undermine the Church of England (whose Supreme Governor was the king). The Tories believed that James would keep his Catholicism private and uphold the state religion, so they defended his hereditary right to ascend the throne.
The Tories triumphed (1683) and a number of leading Whigs, including Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury and his client the philosopher, John Locke fled to the Netherlands.
In February 1685, Charles II died from complications following a stroke, and James succeeded him.


"He had been, he said, an unconscionable time dying; but he hoped that they would excuse it."

"Let not poor Nelly [Nell Gwyn] starve".

Both quotations are attributed to Charles II on his deathbed, where he seems to spoken more epigrammatically than when healthy.


James II and the Glorious Revolution
James II acceded in February 1685; in June his rule was challenged by James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (1649-85) who tried to raise rebellion in the West of England (a center of strong Protestant and Whig sentiment).


Monmouth had been recognized by Charles II as his illegitimate son by Lucy Walters (although Monmouth's strong physical resemblance to one of Walters' other lovers made others doubt this).


A few hundred volunteers joined Monmouth's small force which marched almost aimlessly around before being utterly routed by royal troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor (July 1685). Monmouth fled but was captured, cowering in a ditch, and executed a week later.
After Monmouth's rebellion, Judge George Jeffreys presided over the so-called "Bloody Assizes" which sentenced more than 300 of the rebels to death and transported hundreds more as slaves to the West Indies.
James II then tried to build up absolute political power, and combined this with a policy of religious toleration for Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. He replaced Tory officials with Whigs in the hope that they would endorse toleration for Catholics as a quid pro quo for the toleration of Dissenters. However, the Whigs were deeply suspicious of James II and feared his pro-Catholic policies. Tories too were alarmed by the appointment of Catholics to positions of power.

Mary of Modena

James II had married Ann Hyde and they had had two daughters Anne and Mary. [Family Tree].
Mary had married William of Orange and Anne was known for her fidelity to the Church of England.
In 1673, James married Mary of Modena. She bore him a number of children but all died in infancy. However, on 10 June 1688, a live, healthy male child was born. Suddenly, England was faced with the prospect not only of a Catholic monarch, but of a Catholic succession.

Shortly after the birth of James II's son, seven influential Englishmen wrote to William of Orange asking him to deliver England from the tyranny of James II. William's army landed 5 November 1688. It rapidly became clear that almost nobody would fight for James II who fled to the Continent. Later, many supporters of the Revolution would argue that this flight amounted to abdication.

Two Treatises of Government by John Locke provided a theoretical justification for resistance to James II. Locke wrote much of the Two Treatises at the time of the Exclusion Crisis, but the book was first published only in 1689.


William summoned a special "Convention" Parliament, which met in January 1689 and offered the crown jointly to William and Mary.The Acts of Settlement of 1689 and 1701 excluded Catholics from inheriting the English throne, leading to the eventual succession of George I.
The Parliament also issued a Bill of Rights, justifying the Revolution and outlining rights of Englishmen. (It was a major influence on the American Bill of Rights or first Ten Amendments to the Constitution of 1791).
The Glorious Revolution partially satisfied both Whigs and Tories. The Whigs obtained the limited, constitutional monarchy they wanted and a a certain degree of religious toleration for Protestant Dissenters. To satisfy the Tories, the Church of England retained its privileged position - only Anglicans were eligible for senior state offices.
Neither Whigs nor Tories were completely happy, and bitter party conflicts continued during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). However, England was basically united in the conflict against France, and achieved military victories that put the country amongst Europe's foremost powers. English trade and industry began to grow and colonial expansion continued, laying the basis for the future British Empire.


The “Glorious Revolution” was one of the very few revolutions of modern history to deserve its name. It was achieved with gloriously little bloodshed: – few died in the revolution itself and no “Terror” followed afterwards. It achieved real change: - rather than substituting one set of masters for another (Bonaparte for Louis; communists for Czarists), the government of England became more responsive to the political nation, and liberties under the law expanded. Only the American Revolution rivals the Glorious Revolution as such a significant step forward on the road to liberal democracy.




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