OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe; Rise of Russia and Prussia; the Seven Years' War; Russia and Turkey; the Partition of Pol

Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). Peace of Westphalia to French Revolution (1648-1789).
Pages: <1> 2 3

In Sweden, the abdication, in 1654, of Queen Christina, daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, brought to the throne her cousin Charles X., who warred with Poland, Russia, Denmark, the emperor, and the elector of Brandenburg, the chief result being the Danish loss of all remaining territory in Sweden, and consequently of the absolute control of the passage of the Sound. On the king's sudden death in 1660, his son, Charles XL, became king as a minor. War with Denmark and Brandenburg, caused by Sweden's alliance with Louis XIV., brought a great defeat for the Swedes in 1675, at Fehrbellin, north-west of Berlin, from Frederick William, the "Great Elector." The French monarch, however, compelled the victor, in 1679, to restore to Sweden most of his conquests in Pomerama. Under the Swedish king's wise and energetic rule much improvement was made, and the country, at his death in 1697, was prosperous and powerful. The accession of his son Charles XII. (1697-1718), at 15 years of age, was the signal of attack from ambitious and revengeful neighbouring sovereigns, who little knew the character of their intended youthful victim. This brave, reckless, able, ambitious, hardy, virtuous sovereign is well known to British readers, in the salient points of his adventurous and extraordinary career, from the noble lines in Johnson's Vanity of Human Wishes. This strange hero's passionate and obstinate disposition, in public affairs, brought a downfall of power to the chief Scandinavian country. The reign opened with brilliant successes gained by the king over his three assailants, the tsar of Russia and the kings of Poland and Denmark. The Danes were forced to sue for peace, after invading Holstein, by Charles' invasion of Zealand, and the aid of an Anglo-Dutch squadron under Sir George Rooke. The king of Poland (Augustus II., elector of Saxony), who aimed at seizing Livonia, was defeated in 1701 and the two following years in three battles, and deposed from his Polish throne. In 1704 and 1706 two other victories of Charles forced Augustus to a humiliating peace, including the renunciation of alliance with Russia. The troops of the tsar Peter, the chief antagonist, had been utterly defeated in November, 1700, at the battle of Narva, to the south of the Gulf of Finland, where the young Swedish monarch, with only 8,000 warriors, stormed the Russian camp occupied by 50,000 men. Seven years passed away before Charles again invaded Russia, in January, 1708, with an army exceeding 40,000 men. He was now to encounter a different foe from the Peter of 1700. The Russian army had been well trained, and the sovereign had learned some strategy and tactics. After some initial success, Charles was led astray by the promises of the Cossack hetman (general) Mazeppa, and turned southwards, across the Dnieper, into the Ukraine, where he vainly besieged Pultowa. The promised large supports of Cossacks were not forthcoming; reinforcements from Sweden were intercepted; and at last, with an army reduced to about 20,000 men, and those exhausted by a hard winter endured with scanty supplies, Charles was forced to meet the tsar, who was in command of overwhelming numbers. The battle of Pultowa, fought on July 8th, 1709, founded Russian power on a new and firm basis as that of the leading nation in northern Europe, and ended at one blow Swedish ascendency. After desperate fighting and heavy losses, the Swedish army was broken up, and Charles was for five years a fugitive in Turkey. His territories were well defended for a time by the regency in Stockholm, and he placed the victor of Pultowa in difficulties by a Turkish invasion. Peter, however, extricated himself by bribery, and intrigue. In 1714 Charles returned to his country, and found himself confronted by a combination of Prussia, Saxony, Denmark, Hanover, and Russia. The king then formed a vast scheme for making terms with Peter by surrendering the Baltic provinces of Sweden; conquering Norway; invading the British Isles, and replacing the House of Stuart on the throne, with the aid of the Jacobite party and of Spain. Of this ambitious plan, the only part executed was the conclusion of peace with the tsar. A. third invasion of Norway closed in December, 1718, with Charles' death by a musket-shot from the fortress at the siege of Frederikshall. The war soon ended with the loss, to Sweden, of the duchies of Bremen and Verden, by sale to Hanover; of Stettin and western Pomerania, to Prussia, partly by sale; and of Livonia, Esthonia, and other Baltic territory, with the islands of Oesel and Dago, to Russia. Thus ended the position of Sweden as a prominent European power, held by her for about a century. In succeeding reigns, down to the accession of Gustavus III. in 1771, the royal power greatly declined, and the government was in the hands of rival parties of nobles - the "Caps" (Mutzen) and "Hats" (Hute) - .in the Council of State, respectively supporting a Russian and a French policy. Unsuccessful war with Russia in 1741-1743 ended in the Peace of Abo, whereby Sweden surrendered part of Finland. The reign of Gustavus III., beginning in 1771, was marked by his energetic and successful efforts to break down the power of the oligarchy; to promote agriculture, commerce, mining, science, and literature; and to provide benevolent institutions. The combination of these schemes with a desire to maintain his court in the splendour of a Swedish Versailles brought financial difficulties, increased taxation, unpopularity, and fresh trouble with the nobles, one of whose tools, Ankarstrom, assassinated the king at Stockholm in 1792. The history of Denmark, during the period under review, presents little of importance. Christian IV., whom we have seen in the Thirty Years' War, and who died in the year of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), did much for the country in extending her commerce, in legislative and financial reforms, and in his patronage of the arts and sciences. His popularity is attested by the commemoration of his name in those of the Norwegian towns Christiansand and Christiania. He had been much thwarted by the nobles, and under his son Frederick III., in 1660, the people rose against the oligarchy and gave the sovereign absolute power. Under this constitution, for about a century, the peasantry were practically serfs, and the middle classes had little influence; but before the close of the 18th century, under the generally benignant rule of the monarchs, many administrative improvements were made, and the tillers of the soil had become gradually free.

Hungary was in evil case under the rule of the bigoted emperor Leopold I. (1657-1705), a man strongly influenced by the Jesuits. His deliberate efforts to "impoverish, enslave, and recatholicise" the country, as he himself expressed his purpose, caused a conspiracy, headed by Catholics, for the independence of the land, but the plot was detected, and the ringleaders died on the scaffold. An exterminating policy caused the destruction, in a few years, of thousands of Protestant families, and a Protestant rising, with an appeal to Turkey for aid, brought the invasion of 1683, in which Vienna was besieged by a Turkish host led by the grand vizier Kara Mustapha, and only saved by a united German and Polish army under Charles of Lorraine, and the famous John Sobieski, king of Poland, whose deliverance of the Austrian capital threw a gleam of glory over the declining days of his country. Before Leopold's death the Diet at Presburg declared the throne of Hungary hereditary in the House of Hapsburg. In 1686 Buda, having been for nearly a century and a half in Turkish hands, was stormed, after a long siege and five unsuccessful assaults, by Duke Charles of Lorraine, whose columns here, for the first time in war, advanced with fixed bayonets. In the following year the same hero defeated the Turks at Mohacs, the scene of a former great Hungarian defeat above recorded, and the war ended in 1697 with Prince Eugene's complete triumph at the battle of Zenta, on the Theiss. In 1699 the Peace of Carlowitz gave Austria possession of most of Hungary, and of Transylvania, and the Turkish frontier was, for the first time in a treaty, made to recede, with a significant warning to Ottoman aggression on Christendom. After another vain contest of the combined Hungarian nobles and peasantry against Austrian oppression, ending a period of constitutional struggles between the nation and the sovereign, a new war with Turkey began in 1716, and a victory of Prince Eugene soon wrested from the Moslem their last portion of Hungarian territory, and established the frontier of Hungary as it exists at the present day. The Turks left the country ruined and devastated, to be restored to fertility, civilisation, and prosperity only by the energetic efforts, during a century and a half, of her brave and patient people Under the emperor, Charles VI. (1711-1740), constitutional and religious liberty were enjoyed by Hungary, and their queen, Maria Theresa (1740-1780), continued the same policy, and showed- her gratitude to the people who supported her cause with so much magnanimity and self-sacrifice by earnest efforts to improve their condition in educational, religious, and industrial affairs: Joseph II. (1780-1790), an enlightened reformer in some respects, was not crowned as "king of Hungary" because he did not choose to swear fidelity to the constitution, and he ruled as an autocratic sovereign, whose chief fault was a disregard of national feelings, class interests, and prejudices, in his efforts to promote the welfare of his Hungarian subjects. His attempts were all resisted because the nation and their Diet were allowed to have no voice as to measures of reform, and his desire to Germanise the people wounded their strong feeling of nationality. In the end, all his illegal edicts were revoked, except those enjoining religious toleration, and the ancient constitution of the country was re-established.

Few monarchs have better earned the title of "Great" than Peter I. of Russia, who became tsar in 1689, at 17 years of age. Left untrained in his early youth, he possessed a natural ability and a resolution which enabled him to surmount all obstacles; to show himself equal to the highest duties of the general and the statesman; to rule a vast empire; to create a nation; to give Russia, for the first time, a high place in the European system of politics and war. No stranger mixture of barbarism and culture ever filled a throne. This man of "stately form, intellectual forehead, piercing black eyes, Tartar nose and mouth, and gracious smile which could swiftly change into a frown black with all the stormy rage and hate of a barbarian tyrant," had to the last the personal habits of a semi-savage, living in his palace like a hog in a sty. He could, in a large measure, impress civilisation on a nation, sweeping away evil customs, reforming society, and forcing his subjects to adopt more enlightened methods than those of their ancestors, but he never tamed or polished himself. Devoted to the work of self-improvement in acquiring knowledge for the sake of his country, and keeping his brain ever at work on schemes for the national benefit, this same man, who found Russia Asiatic, and left her European, at one time displayed the best qualities of an enlightened ruler, and at another was merely a brutal and ruthless tyrant, who crushed opponents with terrible severity, and put to death his own rebellious son. One of his rarest gifts - amounting to positive genius - was his swift and accurate estimate of the men proper to aid him in his great work of changing a semi-oriental, degraded, and benighted people into a modern and civilised community. For his own education, for suggestions concerning schemes of reform, and for practical aid in carrying out those plans, Peter was largely indebted to two foreigners, both of Scottish origin, Patrick Gordon and Frangois Lefort. The latter, a native of Geneva, served for a time with the Swiss Guard at Paris, and went to Russia in 1675, where he became a commander of new troops who were raised to counteract the influence of the "streltzi" or old militia. Lefort became the leading personage in Russia, next to the new tsar, and had a large share in forming an army on the European model, and in founding the Russian naval force. Gordon, a native of Aberdeenshire, born in 1635, ran away from a Jesuit college in Prussia in 1653, and then became a soldier of fortune for several years under the Swedish flag. In 1661 he entered the Russian service, and his work in reforming discipline soon gave him the rank of colonel. Gallant service against Cossacks, Turks, and Tartars raised him in 1688 to the position of general, and his intimacy with Peter was cemented by the zeal and courage which he displayed in crushing the conspirators against the tsar's throne and life in 1689. Nine years later, during Peter's absence in western Europe to study ship-building and other mechanical arts, Gordon suppressed the formidable rebellion of the "streltzi" which caused the tsar to finally break up that antiquated force.

The visit of Peter to England is narrated in a lively style by Lord Macaulay towards the end of his History. For three months he worked hard at acquiring information, living partly at Deptford, among the shipwrights, drinking and smoking after his day's toil with his companions at a waterside tavern; and partly in London, where he lodged in Norfolk Street, Strand, visiting the king (William III.) at Kensington House; attending a sitting at the House of Lords, and seeing a play. At Lambeth Palace he saw the ceremony of ordination performed, and beheld in the archbishop's library the first good collection of books on which his eyes had rested. He declared that he had never imagined that there were so many printed volumes in the world. At Portsmouth he witnessed a sham sea-fight, to his intense delight; from Oxford University he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. On leaving England in April, 1698, Peter showed his appreciation of our country by carrying off about 500 engineers, artisans, gunners, surgeons, and other workers with hand and brain as instructors for his subjects in the arts of peace and war. We have seen how the tsar fared in his contests with Sweden, and his extension of Russian territory in Europe. Towards the close of his reign, ending in 1725, war with Persia opened the Caspian to Russian trade by the conquest of territory including the towns of Derbend and Baku. He left his country, in many respects, regenerated and transformed, and firmly placed on the high road to further improvement and development of her material resources. On the political side, Peter established autocratic power by destroying that of the boyars and of the Sobor or States-General, introducing in their stead a senate nominated by the sovereign. The rank of patriarch in the Church was abolished, and the emperor became the head of that institution. Authority was centralised in the hands of various boards or committees, resembling modern cabinets or ministries, under the tsar's immediate control. The seat of government was transferred from Moscow to St. Petersburg, the city Created by himself on the banks of the Neva. Serfdom became intensified into slavery. All Russians of every class were the subjects of the tsar in equal degree, without interference with distinctions of class in regard to each other. Internal order was maintained, and plots against the throne were checked, through the action of a powerful secret police. The courts of justice and the financial system were remodelled. Agriculture and other industries, education, the fine arts, literature and learning, were earnestly promoted. New breeds of cattle were introduced; communications, in a region of countless rivers, were improved through the connection of streams by canals. In social matters, the Mongol principle was weakened by efforts to raise the low position of women. With the zeal of a drill-master, Peter strove, and with much success, to force, or as some writers express it, to "knout," his barbarous subjects into civilisation.

>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2 3

Pictures for Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe; Rise of Russia and Prussia; the Seven Years' War; Russia and Turkey; the Partition of Pol

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About