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From Reformation to Revolution

THE Reformation had destroyed the old Europe over which Emperor and Pope had presided. Henceforth, instead of a united Christendom, Europe was divided into separate nation-states, striving with each other for power and wealth, for trade and for colonies in the new-found lands; and some of these rivalries still remain with us. Largely as a result of the Reformation, the Dutch and the English, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, led the way in the long struggle for political freedom within their own borders -- which is the theme of modern history.

But it was long before other peoples of Europe followed the Dutch and English example. Instead, they were ruled by more or less absolute kings, and the peoples had little share in the government. The Bourbons ruled in France, the Hapsburgs in Austria and Spain, the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, and the Romanoff Tsars in Russia. These monarchs held high ideas of their duties to their own states, but in their dealings with other states they seemed to have no honour; they gained their ends by shameless intrigue, force, and war. No wonder that England's monarch, George III, declared politics "a trade for a rascal, not for a gentleman."

Yet the great changes, both good and bad, which the monarchs made, helped to unsettle men's minds and to make them only too ready to break with the past altogether -- as they began to do when the French Revolution (1789) burst upon the Grand Monarchs of Europe. After that great upheaval, as we shall see, the Bourbons lost the throne of France.