Elizabeth towards War I


European matchlock musketeers of the Elizabethan period.

By the early 1570s the Puritans had grown significantly in numbers and in economic and political clout. They were not only unsatisfied, however, but increasingly discontented. At the same time that they were trying and failing to pressure the government into killing Mary Stuart, some of the more adventurous among them surreptitiously printed and distributed a First and then a Second Admonition to Parliament. These were bold, even treasonous complaints about how far the church had, under the Elizabethan settlement, departed from the gospel and from true religion. They reflected John Calvin’s absolute rejection of everything that the English reformers had retained from the time before Luther’s revolt, and they expressed the conviction that even the office of bishop was an abomination little less repulsive than the papacy itself. The authors of the Admonitions declared that in the pure first years of the Christian era the communities of the faithful had been led by deacons and elders, not by bishops, and that fidelity to Scripture and to Christ himself required a return to that aboriginal system. This was, in England, the genesis of Presbyterianism. Because it challenged the legitimacy of the church that Elizabeth had established upon becoming queen, it was taken as a challenge to Elizabeth herself. Her reaction should have surprised no one. Those responsible for publication of the Admonitions became hunted men, finally having to flee to the continent. They continued, from exile, to produce pamphlets condemning the Rome-ish corruptions of the Elizabethan church. That church became a dangerous environment for clergy of Calvinist-Presbyterian inclination, but their beliefs continued to spread.

Meanwhile the government’s program of killing Roman Catholicism through a slow process of discouragement, through harassment and disdain rather than murderous persecution, was not working out as hoped. The lifeblood of Catholic practice was the sacraments, and that loftiest of sacraments, the Eucharist, was not possible in the absence of a priest empowered to consecrate the bread and wine. Elizabeth and Cecil were not being foolish in expecting that, deprived of its priests, the Catholic community would atrophy, especially if at the same time it were punished in large ways and small and repeatedly accused of being disloyal to England and the queen. But eliminating the priesthood turned out to be considerably more difficult than it must at first have seemed. Among the Catholics purged from the English universities after Elizabeth ascended the throne was Oxford’s proctor William Allen, already well known as a scholar and administrator though not yet quite thirty years old. Like many of his academic coreligionists Allen drifted back and forth between England and the continent in the early 1560s, eventually deciding to become a priest and fixing his attention on the large numbers of onetime Oxford and Cambridge teachers and students who were now as adrift as he was. Many of these men had been drawn to the Catholic Low Countries, particularly to the universities at Louvain and Douai. It was at the latter that, in 1568, Allen found the financial support to start Douai College, a seminary where the faculty and all the candidates for the priesthood were English.

It is not clear that Allen began with the idea of developing a cadre of missionary priests to be sent back into England. His goal, rather, seems to have been to keep the intellectual life of the English Catholic community intact in preparation for a time when it would once again be welcome at home, and to engage the Protestant establishment in disputation while preparing a Catholic translation of the Bible. His college, in any case, attracted so many exiles that soon it was filled beyond capacity, and other seminaries were established elsewhere, most notably in Rome. As the students completed their studies and were ordained, some naturally yearned to return home and minister to the priest-starved Catholics of England. Such requests were granted, and the first of the young “seminary priests” slipped quietly across the Channel in 1574. As soon as the authorities became aware of their presence, the hunt was on. Inevitably the likes of Cecil and Dudley and Walsingham saw the products of Allen’s school as spies and instruments of subversion and wanted the queen to see them in the same way. Certainly the priests were a threat to the policy of trying to bleed English Catholicism dry with a thousand tiny cuts; almost from the moment of their arrival they infused fresh vitality into a community that was supposed to be dying. The first to be caught, Cuthbert Mayne, was a Devon farmer’s son who had taken two degrees at Oxford and become a Church of England chaplain before converting to Rome. He had then departed for Douai, where, in his early thirties, he enrolled in Allen’s seminary. Within months of his ordination he was back in the west of England and, under the patronage of a wealthy Catholic landowner, taking on the public role of steward in order to travel the countryside and deliver the sacraments. Captured inside his patron’s house by a posse of more than a hundred men, he was charged with six counts of treason, convicted, and offered a pardon in return for acknowledging the queen’s supremacy. Upon refusing, he was made an object lesson in how religion was once again a matter of life and death in England. He was hanged, cut down alive, and thrown to the ground so violently that one of his eyes was put out. He was then disemboweled, castrated, and quartered. By hanging him as a traitor rather than burning him as a heretic, the government was able to deny that it was returning to the Marian persecutions. In Mayne’s case as with the hundreds of priests who would follow him to the scaffold, the queen and her council maintained the fiction that they were killing Englishmen not for their beliefs but for seeking to deliver their homeland into the hands of foreign enemies.

As the suppression of Catholics entered a new, more desperate phase, so, too, and almost simultaneously, did the conflict with the Puritans. By the mid-1570s the queen had run out of patience with the practice known as “prophesying,” which was not a matter of making predictions but simply of preaching with a pronouncedly evangelical slant rather than staying within the boundaries prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. Somewhat oddly for a Protestant of her time, Elizabeth throughout her reign displayed a strong distaste for preaching and a determination to retain many of the trappings—clerical vestments, for example, and crucifixes—that growing numbers of her subjects were coming to regard as insufferable carryovers from the age of superstition. Such issues generated more and more heat as the 1570s advanced, until finally Edmund Grindal, the archbishop of Canterbury, was suspended for refusing to suppress prophesyings as the queen ordered. Canterbury remained an unoccupied see for years, and at times it must have appeared that Elizabeth was the head of a church of which she herself was almost the sole completely faithful member. It was her good fortune to have two sets of adversaries, the Puritans on one side and the Catholics on the other, who feared and despised each other far too much ever to combine against her. (Grindal, for example, had pleaded with the queen to stiffen the penalties for attending mass.) It also continued to be her good fortune to have the Queen of Scots as her most likely successor. So long as Mary Stuart drew breath, not even the most radical Protestant could possibly wish Elizabeth harm. The church that had taken shape under her direction was a peculiar and even improbable concoction of rather uncertain identity, no more Lutheran than Calvinist or Catholic. For the time being it was able to hang in a state of suspension easily mistaken for stability between the other contending parties.


In order to sell the story that the priests coming into England were the agents of a foreign enemy, England needed to have such an enemy. Though the pope would always be the ideal all-purpose bogeyman, no one could take him seriously as a military threat. The same was true of the Holy Roman Empire now that it was detached from Spain, run by a separate branch of the Hapsburgs, and fully occupied by intractable internal problems and external enemies as potent as the Turks. That left France and Spain, and so many factors made Spain the more compelling choice that not even the memory of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre could neutralize them for long. After the massacre, the Valois regime nominally headed by Charles IX made an effort to capture the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle and, upon failing, sensibly gave up on anti-Protestantism as the cornerstone of its domestic policy. Like England, it turned its attention to the most significant thing then happening in northern Europe: the ongoing revolt of the Dutch against Spanish rule, and Spain’s difficulty in bringing that revolt to an end. England and France alike were eager to contribute what they could to exacerbating Spain’s troubles. And England had a good story to tell in explaining its involvement: it could claim to be protecting the Dutch from the Roman Church (the Spanish Roman Church, specifically) and its Inquisition. England and France were also drawn together by the simple realization that it could be disastrous for either of them if the other became an ally of Spain’s. The 1574 death of King Charles at twenty-four did nothing to change the dynamics of the situation. He was succeeded by his nearest brother, the flamboyant Duke of Anjou, who as Henry II became the third of Catherine de’ Medici’s sons to inherit the throne. There remained one more brother, the young Duke of Alençon, who now assumed the Anjou title but is usually referred to as Alençon to keep him distinct from his brother. There was resumed talk, not particularly serious on either side, of marrying the young duke, disfigured by smallpox and bent by a spinal deformation but nearly twenty years old now, to the forty-one-year-old Elizabeth. Each side played the game in the faint hope that the other might attach more importance to it than it deserved.

Philip, meanwhile, was sinking deeper into the quagmire created by his rebellious Dutch subjects, and England and France were being drawn in with him. Philip had received from his father Charles V, thanks to the fifteenth-century marriage of Charles’s Hapsburg grandfather to the only daughter of the last Duke of Burgundy, a region of seventeen provinces, much of it reclaimed tidal plain, known for obvious topographical reasons as the Low Countries or—what means the same thing—the Netherlands. The rebellion had started in response to Philip’s efforts to impose a Spanish-style autocracy on the northernmost provinces, an almost fantastically prosperous center of trade and manufacturing where the Reformation had taken a strong hold and provided particular reason for resentment of Spanish interference. It had then spread southward as a newly appointed governor, the Duke of Alba, clamped down not only with harsh new taxes but with a reign of terror in which thousands of people, Protestants and Catholics alike, were brutally put to death. Militarily Alba was successful, bringing all but two of the provinces under control in years of hard fighting, but the savagery of his methods made reconciliation impossible. His successor Requesens tried to negotiate with the leader of the rebels, William of Orange, but resumed military operations after his overtures were spurned. In spite of crippling financial problems—Philip’s government was essentially bankrupt—Requesens, too, began to have some success, but he died in 1576 with the job of reconquest still incomplete. Much of what he had achieved was thereupon undone when his troops, finding themselves unpaid, went on a rampage of looting and vandalism. Their targets, necessarily, were the only provinces accessible to them: the ones still loyal to, or at least under the control of, Spain. Thus even the most Catholic sectors of the Netherlands were given good reason to hate the outsiders.

At this juncture, with his position in the Low Countries seemingly almost lost, Philip was rescued by the fact that his father, the emperor, had, in the course of his long career, produced illegitimate branches of the Hapsburg family tree on which grew a pair of genuinely brilliant figures. First among them was Philip’s younger (and illegitimate) half-brother Juan, known to history as Don John of Austria, a charismatic, even heroic character who in his youth had run off to pursue a military career in spite of being steered toward the church by both Charles and Philip. When he became governor-general of the Netherlands in 1576, Don John was almost thirty and not only a seasoned veteran of the Turkish conflict but the victor of the great Battle of Lepanto. He didn’t want the Dutch assignment but accepted it with the thought that it might give rise to an opportunity to fulfill an old romantic fantasy: that of invading England and liberating Mary, Queen of Scots. The situation he found himself in was very nearly unmanageable, but after two years he was making such good progress that William of Orange, in desperate straits and without hope of getting assistance from England, invited the Duke of Alençon, still under consideration as a possible spouse for Elizabeth, to become leader of the rebellion and, by implication, ruler of the Netherlands. Alençon was utterly unqualified to take command of anything, but he was eager to make a place for himself in the world and attracted by the possibility of carving a kingdom out of the Netherlands. The Dutch of course had no real wish to accept such an unprepossessing specimen as their chief but as brother and heir to the king of France he carried with him the implicit promise of substantial help. He eagerly accepted Orange’s invitation, discovered that there was no serious chance of getting meaningful assistance from his brother the king, and leaped to the conclusion that nothing could satisfy his needs more quickly and completely than a successful courtship of the English queen. Discussion soon resumed through diplomatic channels, and when word came from England that Elizabeth would never consent to marry a man she had not seen, Alençon made preparations to cross the Channel.

Elizabeth towards War II


What is often depicted as the apotheosis of the Elizabethan Age, the turning point at which the wisdom of everything the queen had done was made manifest and the way was cleared for England’s emergence as the greatest of world powers, came in the third week of July 1588. It was then that Philip’s mighty Armada came plowing up the Channel into England’s home waters, found Drake and Elizabeth’s other sea dogs waiting, and was put to flight. It was indeed an escape for England, even a victory, though it was accomplished as much by weather and Spanish mistakes as by weapons.

Don John, though continuing to progress inch by painful inch closer toward the defeat of the rebellion, was physically and mentally exhausted by the struggle and chronically short of essential resources. When in October he contracted typhus and died, his loss must have seemed another lethal setback for the Spanish cause. But before expiring he had nominated as his successor yet another product of Charles V’s extramarital adventures. This was Alessandro Farnese, a son of Charles’s bastard daughter, great-grandson of his namesake Pope Paul III. Farnese was almost exactly Don John’s age, had been raised and educated with him as well as with King Philip’s son Don Carlos, and had been second in command both at Lepanto and in the Netherlands. Usually remembered as the Duke of Parma, a title he would not inherit from his father until ten years after becoming governor-general in the Netherlands, he was no less gifted a soldier than Don John and a canny diplomat as well. Building on what Don John had accomplished, he began to coax the southern and central provinces (which would remain Catholic and evolve long afterward into Belgium, Luxembourg, and France’s Nord-Pas-deCalais) back into the Spanish camp. The seven northern provinces—the future Holland—proved however to be too strong and too determined for Farnese to overpower them. And so the war went bitterly on, poisoning northern Europe.

Influential members of Elizabeth’s council, Robert Dudley among them, were not satisfied with merely assisting the Dutch rebels financially and leaving the military glory to Orange and his countrymen. Elizabeth, however, was still as wary of continental wars as she had been since the Le Havre debacle of a decade and a half before. She was sensitive to the costs of such wars and the unpredictability of the results. She had learned how difficult it was to manage seekers after glory, men convinced that where war was concerned it was absurd to take orders from any woman, even a queen. She sent money to Orange, but only in amounts calculated to keep him from putting himself completely under French domination. A strong French presence in the Low Countries, with their proximity to England across the narrowest part of the Channel, was less unattractive than Spanish dominance there, but not by a wide margin.

From this point forward the Dutch revolt, the religious divisions of France and England, and nagging uncertainty about the English succession all became impenetrably intertwined. The elfin little Duke of Alençon arrived in England, and to the amazement of her court, Elizabeth gave every appearance of being smitten with him. She was easily old enough to be his mother, and there was something pathetic in her infatuation with this youth whom she playfully called her “frog.” As it dawned on people that marriage was not out of the question, council and court separated into factions. Elizabeth meanwhile made clear that this time she regarded her choice of a husband as no one’s business but her own. When a loyal subject named John Stubbs published a statement of opposition to the much-talked-of marriage, both he and his printer had their right hands chopped off.

Robert Dudley was opposed, too, and probably for a multitude of reasons. He wanted to make war in the Netherlands, but he was sure that he and not the absurd Alençon should be the commander. To this wish were added his evangelical leanings, and a consequent dislike of the idea of a Catholic consort for the queen. But Dudley had kept his antipathy for Catholics within bounds when other possible husbands were under discussion, and this time more personal factors undoubtedly were in play. In 1578, after years of widowhood during which he had lived at the queen’s beck and call and lamented the fact that because neither he nor his brother Ambrose had children the Dudley line seemed doomed to end with them, he had impregnated the beautiful Lettice Knollys, daughter of the veteran privy councilor Sir Francis Knollys and widow of the Earl of Essex. The two were secretly married—secretly because Dudley knew what the queen’s reaction would be—and when Elizabeth learned she was angry and hurt. She arranged to complicate Dudley’s life financially by withdrawing certain remunerative favors, but he was allowed to remain at court and soon was restored to his old place as favorite. His bride, already the mother of several children by her first husband, gave birth to a son who was christened Robert. But she was forbidden to appear at court. (The boy, Lord Denbigh, would be the last child born legitimately into the Dudley family and would die at age three.) All this could well have injected an element of spite into Dudley’s reaction to the queen’s marriage plans.

By the early 1580s Elizabeth’s uncertainties, hesitations, and ambiguous policies had enmeshed her in a tangle of political, military, and religious conflict. In 1585 it all finally blossomed into a war that would consume the last eighteen years of what increasingly looked like an overlong reign. Much of the trouble grew out of the determination of the government’s most influential and militant Protestants—Cecil certainly, but even more his protégé Francis Walsingham—to make the queen believe that the survival of Catholicism in England posed a threat not only to domestic peace but to her very life. As early as 1581 Walsingham was asking Lord Hunsdon, Elizabeth’s cousin and one of the men to whom she had entrusted the management of the north after the revolt of the earls, to amend his reports so as to give a darker—and to the queen more alarming—appraisal of the loyalty of the region’s still-numerous Catholics. In that same year Parliament, with Cecil ennobled as Baron Burghley and dominating the House of Lords while continuing to control the Commons through his agents, passed bills making it high treason for a priest to say mass and condemning anyone attending mass to life imprisonment and confiscation of property.

This was more than Elizabeth was prepared to approve, and the penalty for “recusancy” was reduced to a fine of £20 per month—a sum so impossible for most subjects as to be no different from confiscation. The queen’s efforts to find a middle ground, to avoid being so soft on the old religion as to outrage the evangelicals or persecuting the Catholics so savagely as to leave them with nothing to lose, resulted in a policy that sometimes seemed incoherent. An innovation called “compounding,” which permitted Catholics to elude the statutory penalties by purchasing what amounted to a license to practice their faith, was soon followed by a royal proclamation declaring all the priests entering England to be traitors regardless of what they did or refrained from doing. Life became increasingly difficult for Catholics, but the Puritans complained that it was not being made nearly difficult enough. As the queen refused to approve the most draconian of Parliament’s anti-Catholic measures, the conflict between her church and her growing numbers of Puritan subjects became chronic and deeply bitter. When the archbishop of Canterbury whom she had suspended years earlier died in 1583, Elizabeth was able at last to appoint a primate, John Whitgift, whose views accorded with her own. He soon began a program aimed at purging the clergy of Puritans and suppressing Puritan practices. The Elizabethan church, therefore, was soon waging religious war in one direction while Elizabeth’s government did so in another.

And the fighting in the Netherlands dragged wearily on. Philip II’s financial problems had eased in 1580 when the king of Portugal died without an heir and he, as the son and onetime husband of Portuguese princesses, successfully laid claim to that crown. This gave him control of the Portuguese fleet and the vast overseas empire that went with it. The following year, when the so-called United Provinces under William of Orange formally repudiated Spanish rule, Philip had the wherewithal to respond by putting more resources into the capable hands of his governor-general and nephew Farnese. The result was a sequence of successes for the Spanish army and calamities for the rebellion, all of it deepening the difficulties of the English. The little Duke of Alençon, whose dalliance with England’s queen had advanced to the point where a betrothal was announced by both parties only to founder on the old religious obstacles (how could even the queen’s husband be allowed to hear mass at the Elizabethan court?), went off to try his hand as leader of the rebellion. He showed himself to be even more inept than his worst critics had expected, and died of a lung ailment not long after returning to France a thoroughly discredited figure.

In that same year, 1584, William of Orange was assassinated by an apprentice cabinetmaker eager to strike a blow for the Catholic faith, the Guises allied their Catholic League with Spain, Farnese took the city of Antwerp from the rebels, and English policy lay in ruins. Philip meanwhile was repeatedly being goaded by the raids of Francis Drake and other English pirates—if pirates is the right word for thieves who found financing at the English court and were welcomed as heroes when they returned from their raids—on ports and treasure fleets from the coast of Spain to the New World. Now he appeared to be near victory in the Low Countries, and if he achieved his aims there the English had given him an abundance of reasons to turn his army and navy on them. When Drake, on a 1585 West Indies voyage financed by Elizabeth and Robert Dudley and others, burned and looted Cartagena and Santo Domingo and other Spanish ports and brought his ships home loaded with booty, it was the last straw for Philip. He ordered work to begin on the assembly of a great fleet and the planning of an invasion of England.

For Elizabeth and her council it was a nightmare scenario, though undeniably they had brought it on themselves. They had provoked the Spanish king’s open enmity at last, and had done so in such a penny-pinching way as to leave their rebel clients virtually at his mercy. The prospect that Philip might soon subdue the Low Countries was, under these circumstances, vastly more frightening than it had been when the revolt began. And so at last there seemed no alternative except to do exactly what Elizabeth had never wanted to do: send troops. Robert Dudley was delighted, especially when he was ordered to take command. He was well into his fifties by now, however, and his experience of war was decades in the past and not really extensive. But his enthusiasm was such that he took on a ruinous load of personal debt to cover his expenses—Elizabeth was not going to pay a penny more than she was forced to—and once in the field he found that he was neither receiving satisfactory support from home nor able to outwit or outfight his seasoned Spanish adversaries. The arrival of English troops was sufficient to avert the collapse of the rebellion but not sufficient to produce victory; the result was the further prolongation, at greatly increased cost, of a conflict that offered vanishingly little hope of a truly satisfactory outcome. England’s intervention had persuaded Philip, meanwhile, that he could never recover his lost provinces—might never again know peace within his own domains—unless England was humbled. The invasion that he had in preparation began to seem not just feasible but imperative.

Overt war with Spain provided a new basis for portraying England’s Catholics as agents of a foreign enemy and therefore as traitors. Suppression, along with the hunting down and execution of missionary priests, intensified. Inevitably, persecution further eroded the number of practicing Catholics, but at the same time, it gave rise to a cadre of young fanatics desperate enough to plot against the queen’s life. This development—like Philip’s anger a direct outgrowth of the government’s actions—was the best possible news for Francis Walsingham with his network of spies, torturers, and agents provocateurs. It gave him new evidence to draw on in making Elizabeth believe that it was necessary to do more to exterminate the old religion. None of the most notorious and supposedly dangerous plots against Elizabeth had the slimmest chance of success, and Walsingham himself probably actively encouraged at least one of them in order to entrap gullible young true believers. He may even have concocted the last of the conspiracies (the so-called Babington Plot, which led to Mary Stuart’s confessing to planning an escape and being accused, but not really proved guilty, of assenting to Elizabeth’s assassination) in order to get a deeply reluctant Elizabeth to approve Mary’s execution. Historians have often argued that the need to eliminate the Queen of Scots is demonstrated by the fact that after she was beheaded in February 1587 there were no more plots against the queen’s life. But it is possible that, once Mary was dead, Cecil and Walsingham no longer saw any need to put such plots in motion, nurse along the ones that they discovered, or exploit their propaganda value when the time was ripe for exposure.

What is often depicted as the apotheosis of the Elizabethan Age, the turning point at which the wisdom of everything the queen had done was made manifest and the way was cleared for England’s emergence as the greatest of world powers, came in the third week of July 1588. It was then that Philip’s mighty Armada came plowing up the Channel into England’s home waters, found Drake and Elizabeth’s other sea dogs waiting, and was put to flight. It was indeed an escape for England, even a victory, though it was accomplished as much by weather and Spanish mistakes as by weapons. But it changed very little and settled nothing. It was less a culmination than a bright interlude, and it led only to the fifteen years of trouble and decline that would be the long final third of Elizabeth’s reign.

Poland Early 18th Century – The Reign of Anarchy I



Augustus II of Poland.



17th Centruy Polish Dragoons

By the last quarter of the seventeenth century it was becoming obvious to all that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a very different kind of political unit from all the surrounding states, and that it did not lend itself to the conduct of the kind of policies they were pursuing. Commentators referred to it as ‘the Polish Anarchy’. It was also evident that this curious polity was an expression of a culture which was growing increasingly alien to that of the rest of Europe.

At one level, Polish society differed little from that of other countries, and fed on the same literary and cultural canon. There was nothing particularly exotic about magnates such as the Treasurer of the Crown Jan Andrzej Morsztyn (1620-93). A gifted writer, he effortlessly wrote short erotic poems and aphorisms, religious and lyrical verse, and made fine translations of Corneille and Tasso. Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski (1642-1702), son of the rebellious Marshal Jerzy Lubomirski, spent two years on a grand tour before starting on a political career which was to culminate in his appointment to the office of Marshal by Jan III in 1676. He was a brave soldier and a discriminating patron of the arts, and in 1668 he married Zofia Opalińska, a bluestocking with a passion for music and mathematics: together they covered every conceivable interest from engineering to astrology. He wrote Italianate comedies as well as some of the best seventeenth-century religious verse in Polish, dissertations on current affairs and a treatise on literary taste, and translated a number of foreign works.

These and other magnates patronised the arts and studded the towns and the countryside with palaces and churches in a synthesis of the Baroque style that owed much not only to Italy and Austria but also to France and the Netherlands.

If Renaissance architecture suited the style and thought of the Poles of the sixteenth century, the Baroque might have been invented for those of the seventeenth. It awakened a degree of sensual appreciation of form, ornament and luxury which found immediate satisfaction in and complemented the increasing contact with the East. This fed on war just as well as on peacetime trade. Ottoman armies believed in comfort and splendour, and as a result the booty could be spectacular. ‘The tents and all the wagons have fallen into my hands, et mille autres galanteries fort jolies et fort riches, mais fort riches, and I haven’t looked through all of it yet,’ wrote a triumphant Jan III to his wife from the Turkish camp outside Vienna a few hours after the battle.

By the early 1600s the Polish cavalry had adopted most of the weapons used by the Turks as well as many of their tactics. The hetmans used the Turkish baton of command, and the horse-tails which denoted rank among the Turks were borne aloft behind them too. The Poles also dressed more and more like their foe, and even the Tatar habit of shaving the head was widely practised on campaign. So much so that on the eve of the Battle of Vienna the King had to order all Polish troops to wear a straw cockade so that their European allies should not take them for Turks, from whom they were all but indistinguishable. With Sobieski’s accession to the throne, military fashion invaded the court and became institutionalised. This ‘Sarmatian’ costume became a symbol of healthy, straightforward patriotic Polishness, while French or German clothes were equated with foreign intrigue.

The Poles also had a feeling for the beauty of Islamic art, which was not generally appreciated in western Europe. Eastern hangings replaced Flemish tapestries and arms joined pictures on the walls of manor houses. At the Battle of Chocim, Jan Sobieski captured a silk embroidery studded with ‘two thousand emeralds and rubies’ from Hussein Pasha which he thought so beautiful that he wore it as a horsecloth for his coronation. A few years later he gave it as the richest gift he could think of to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who put it away and wrote it down in his inventory as ‘una cosa del barbaro lusso’.

Turkish clothes suited Baroque architecture, and servants were dressed up accordingly. Wealthy szlachta often kept captive Tatars or janissaries at their courts, but they also dressed their Polish pages as Arabs and their bodyguards as Circassian warriors. This taste was carried so far that religious music was provided in Karol Radziwiłł’s Baroque chapel at NieświeŻ by a Jewish orchestra dressed as janissaries.

There had never been any sumptuary laws in Poland and the tendency to show off was unrestrained. Money still had no investment role in the minds of most Poles, and all surplus went into movable property of the most demonstrable kind. Inventories made on the death of members of the szlachta are illuminating. A poor gentleman would be found to possess a horse or two, fine caparisons and horsecloths, saddles, arms and armour, a small number of rich clothes, jewellery, perhaps some personal table-silver, a few furs and lengths of cloth, and little in the way of money. Inventories of country houses and castles reveal the same pattern. Jewellery, clothes, silver, saddlery, arms and armour, cannon, uniforms for the castle guard, furs, lengths of cloth, Turkish, Persian and Chinese hangings, banners, tents, horsecloths and rugs, Flemish tapestries and pictures are listed. Furniture hardly figures, except where it is made of silver.

The Polish magnate’s coat was a tradable item, so stiff was it with gold thread. Every button was a jewel, the clasp at his throat and the aigrette on his fur cap were works of art. The French traveller Verdum noted that Jan III wore 200,000 thalers’ worth of jewels on a normal day, and that on a great occasion his attire would be worth a considerable proportion of his (by no means negligible) weight in gold. Urszula Sieniawska, whose inheritance was being disputed by a number of relatives in 1640, left no fewer than 5,000 diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires in her jewel case. Maryanna Stadnicka, wife of the Palatine of BeŁz, left 8,760 pearls. In 1655, when they looted the Lubomirskis’ Wiśnicz, the Swedes required no fewer than 150 carts to carry away the booty. Many collections were so vast that the looting made only a slight impression. The inventory of żółkiew, one of the Sobieski family seats, drawn up after Peter the Great had personally looted it in 1707, still lists upwards of seven hundred oil paintings in the castle.

These castles were also full of people, on the principle that the more there were surrounding a man, the more important he was. Poor relatives and landless friends, the sons of less wealthy henchmen and clients of one sort or another would form a court around a magnate. On top of this, he would employ teachers for his children, musicians, whole corps de ballet, jesters and dwarfs, chaplains, secretaries, managers and other officers. After that came servants, stable staff, kitchen staff, falconers, huntsmen, organists, castrati, trumpeters, units of cavalry, infantry and artillery. The fashion for show attendants meant that there were dozens of hajduks, wearing Hungarian dress, pajuks, in Turkish janissary costume, and laufers in what looked like something out of Italian opera, covered in ostrich feathers. These attendants had no purpose beyond standing about or running before the master when he rode out. The numbers were impressive. When Rafał Leszczyński’s wife died in 1635, he had to provide mourning dress for just over 2,000 servants—and neither cooks nor kitchenmaids were included, as they were not seen. Karol Radziwiłł’s army alone amounted to 6,000 regular troops.

The heads of great houses took themselves seriously, and much of this splendour was dictated by a feeling of self-importance. When Karol Radziwiłł’s intendant commented that he lived better than the King, the characteristic reply was: ‘I live like a Radziwiłł—the King can do as he likes.’ Every major event in the life of the family was treated with pomp, and ceremonies were constructed round it. When a child was born, the artillery fired salutes and occasional operas were staged. When the master returned from the wars, triumphal arches were erected and fireworks let off.

It was more than mere show—it was a style of behaviour which introduced ritual into every action and translated its significance into visible activity. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the practice of religion as it developed in the seventeenth century, partly under the influence of the taste of the faithful, partly as a result of the Church’s continuing policy of bringing every aspect of the life of the Commonwealth within its own ambit, if not actually under its control.

Control was not something that could be effectively exerted over the likes of Karol Radziwiłł, who summed up his attitude in a letter to Anna Jabłonowska in 1764: ‘I praise the Lord, believe not in the Devil, respect the law, know no king, because I am a nobleman with a free voice.’ A man whose ideal was the cult of unbounded liberty did not take easily to having, for instance, his sexual freedom restricted by laws even more nebulous than those of the Commonwealth. The hold on society which the Church did have was based on a juxtaposition of life and ritual which succeeded in making religion into an integral part of every person’s regular activities. The leaders of the Counter-Reformation insisted on the inseparability of the Church as an institution from the Commonwealth as an institution, of piety from patriotism. They were largely successful in that they bred the notion in the average Pole that the Catholic Church ‘belonged’ to him in much the same way as the Commonwealth did. Churches were used for sejmiks and for the sessions of local tribunals. National commemorations and holidays were fused with religious feasts. The priesthood became for the poorer nobility much what the civil service or army were in other countries—the only noble profession and a refuge for upper-class mediocrity.

Outward signs of the faith were encouraged in every way. The cult of the Virgin and of the saints, which had died away during the Reformation, made a triumphant comeback. Every town, village, institution, guild and confraternity was provided with a patron. Pictures of the Virgin before which miracles allegedly took place were ‘crowned’ and declared to be miraculous. The solemn coronation of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa took place on 8 September 1717 before 150,000 faithful. By 1772 there were a staggering four hundred officially designated miraculous pictures of the Virgin, each one a centre of pilgrimage and a recipient of votive offerings of jewellery, money, tablets and symbolic limbs.

From the purely religious sphere, the ritual spread into every other. When a man of substance died, a huge architectural folly, a castrum doloris, would be erected in the church as a canopy for his coffin, and this would be decorated with symbols of his office and wealth, his portrait and coat of arms, and with elaborate inscriptions in his honour. The ritual included the old Polish custom of breaking up the dead man’s symbols of office and, if he were the last of his family, shattering his coat of arms. Neighbours, friends, family, servants and soldiers would pay their last respects in more or less theatrical ways, while congregations of monks and nuns sang dirges and recited litanies. The funeral of Hetman Józef Potocki in 1751 took two weeks, for six days of which 120 pieces of cannon saluted continuously (using up a total of 4,700 measures of powder). Over a dozen senators, hundreds of relatives and entire regiments congregated in Stanisławów to pay their last respects in the church which was entirely draped in black damask, before a huge catafalque of crimson velvet dripping with gold tassels, decorated with lamps, candelabra, Potocki’s portrait, captured standards, pyramids of weapons and other symbols of his office and achievements.

This Sarmatian lifestyle was a unique growth, produced by cross-pollenation between Catholic high Baroque and Ottoman culture. Everything about it was theatrical, declamatory and buxom. It was inimical to the bourgeois ethic of thrift, investment, self-improvement and discipline which was beginning to dominate western Europe, and as a result it was condemned, even by Poles of later centuries. At its worst, sarmatism was absurd and destructive, encouraging as it did outrageous behaviour and an attitude that bred delusion. But it did permit what was possibly an irreconcilable collection of people to reach a kind of harmony. As Jan III’s English physician Bernard Connor commented: ‘It is certain had we in England but the third part of their liberty, we could not live together without cutting one another’s throats.’

And it helps explain how the Commonwealth was able to go on functioning, in a kind of parallel world, along lines that defied logic. The delusional condition it created was an essential ingredient in the survival of a polity whose constitution had broken down and which should have imploded or been conquered by one of its increasingly powerful neighbours.

The election that followed the death of Jan III in 1696 was a fiasco. The principal candidates were the King’s son Jakub; François Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti; and Frederick Augustus Wettin, Elector of Saxony. Jakub Sobieski was rapidly eliminated from the contest by the intervention of Saxon troops. On 27 June 1697 the szlachta assembled on the election field voted overwhelmingly for the Prince de Conti, and the Primate proclaimed him king. On the same evening a small group of malcontents elected Frederick Augustus, who marched into Poland at the head of a Saxon army. On 15 September, while the Prince de Conti was sailing into the Baltic, Frederick Augustus was crowned in Kraków by the Bishop of Kujavia, as Augustus II of Poland. At the end of the month the Prince de Conti came ashore only to discover that he had been pipped at the post. His supporters were not keen to start a civil war, so he re-embarked and sailed back to France. It was the first time that a deceased monarch’s son had not been elected to succeed him; that the successful candidate had been debarred from the throne by military force; and that the new incumbent was also the ruler of another state.

The twenty-seven-year-old Augustus was nothing if not picturesque. Universally known as Augustus the Strong and described by one of his subjects as ‘half bull, half cock’, he could break horseshoes with one hand, shoot with astonishing accuracy, drink almost anyone under the table, and fornicate on a scale which would be unbelievable if he had not left platoons of bastards to prove it. He was not a stupid man, and he intended to turn the Commonwealth into a centralised monarchical state. Like Jan III, he saw war as the surest way to gain prestige and a free hand to carry out his plans.

In 1698 the Livonian nobleman Johann Patkul, who had been forced to flee his province by the occupying Swedes, turned up at the court of Augustus II with an appeal for help from the Livonian nobility. Although they wished to rejoin the Commonwealth, Augustus saw an opportunity of acquiring the province for himself. Soon after, he met Tsar Peter I (later known as Peter the Great), who was on his way back to Russia from western Europe, and in the course of an all-night drinking bout the two men planned a joint war against Sweden. Augustus suggested to his uncle King Christian V of Denmark that he join them and take Bremen and Werden from Sweden as a reward. In 1699 an agreement was signed between Peter I, Frederick IV of Denmark (who had succeeded his father Christian V) and Augustus II. Augustus was not allowed to enter into such treaties as King of Poland. It was therefore an alliance of Muscovy, Saxony and Denmark that went to war on Sweden the following year.

The allies had made a mistake in thinking that they could easily defeat the eighteen-year-old Swedish king, Charles XII. This callow youth was endowed with inhuman energy, reckless bravery and a faith in his own destiny that was soon echoed in the popular myth that he was invulnerable. He made short shrift of the Danes, beat off the Saxon army attempting to take Riga, and then turned on the Russians, whom he drubbed at the Battle of Narva. Augustus decided it was time to sue for peace.

Charles XII would have none of it and demanded that the Poles dethrone Augustus if they did not wish to be invaded. The Commonwealth was not technically at war with anyone, and the problem of how to deal with the situation was aggravated by profound internal divisions. In 1702 the Sapieha family placed Lithuania under Swedish protection, and in April Charles XII entered Wilno. The Lithuanian rivals of the Sapieha appealed to the Tsar, and Muscovite troops moved into the Grand Duchy in support. But Charles XII had already moved into Poland in pursuit of Augustus. Incensed by this invasion, the szlachta who assembled in a rump Sejm at Lublin in 1703 called for war with Sweden. The following year those loyal to Augustus II voted to ally with Muscovy against Sweden. At this point Charles XII met Stanisław Leszczyński, Palatine of Poznań, an intelligent man of twenty-seven for whom he developed a great esteem, and arranged for him to be elected king by some eight hundred szlachta assembled for the purpose. There were now two kings of Poland, neither of them with much of a following or an army, and they were being swept along by Peter I and Charles XII respectively in a contredanse which took them twin-stepping around the Commonwealth, until Charles had the idea of invading Saxony. There he finally pinned down Augustus and extorted his abdication of the Polish throne. Stanisław I was king.

Charles decided that the time had now come to take on Peter I. He laid his plans with Stanisław and with Ivan Mazepa (originally Jan Kolodyński), a former page to Jan Kazimierz who had served Peter I loyally as Ataman of the Cossacks on the Russian side of the Dnieper. Their independence was being eroded by Muscovite rule and they dreamt of reuniting Ukraine. An alliance against Russia was formed, on the basis of an independent future for Ukraine in alliance with Poland. But on 8 July 1709 Charles XII and Mazepa were routed by Peter at Poltava.

The war was over, and Augustus II re-ascended the Polish throne, a little wiser but incomparably worse off for the events of the last ten years. When he and Peter had planned the Northern War on that night in 1698, he had been the stronger partner. After ten years of bungling he was little more than the Tsar’s client, dependent on his support and protection. There was no clear way out of the predicament for him or for the Commonwealth, as the power balance in eastern Europe had altered dramatically during those ten years.

Poland Early 18th Century – The Reign of Anarchy II


Polish army throughout the 18th century, by Karol Linder.


Sweden had been wiped out as a significant power by the débâcle of Poltava. Turkey was decisively defeated (Hetman Feliks Potocki’s victory at Podhajce in 1697 was the last Polish-Tatar battle), and by the Treaty of Karlowitz in January 1699 the Commonwealth regained Kamieniec and the whole of left-bank Ukraine. France, despairing of its potential allies in the east—Turkey, Sweden and Poland—shifted its theatre of confrontation with the Habsburgs to Spain and Italy. Distracted by the War of the Spanish Succession, the Habsburgs had failed to take advantage of the recent Northern War.

Prussia on the other hand had taken full advantage of the opportunities on offer to strengthen its military and diplomatic standing. On 18 January 1701 Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, had dubbed himself ‘Frederick I, King in Prussia’: he could not call himself King of Prussia, since Prussia was not a kingdom, or King of Brandenburg, since that was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The subterfuge caused much mirth in the courts of Europe.

In similar vein, in 1721 Peter I of Muscovy took the title of Emperor of All the Russias. Nobody laughed at this. The recent wars had shown that Russia was not only a growing power, but also that it was strategically unassailable. And Peter had made it clear that he would be playing an active part in the affairs of Europe by extending his sphere of influence westward, into Poland.

The Sejm of 1712 had reached deadlock on reforms proposed by Augustus II, whereupon he brought in troops from Saxony. This rallied the opposition, which in 1715 formed a confederation to resist him. Peter I offered to mediate. With some reluctance, the offer was accepted, and a Russian envoy arrived in Warsaw—accompanied by 18,000 troops who were to keep order. The ensuing Sejm of 1717 was known as the Dumb Sejm. It sat in a chamber surrounded by Russian soldiers, the deputies were forbidden to speak, and the Russian mediator forced his solution on it, couched in the Treaty of Warsaw.

This laid down, amongst other things, that Augustus II could keep no more than 1,200 Saxon Guards in Poland. The Polish army was fixed at a maximum of 18,000 men and the Lithuanian at 6,000, which was deemed sufficient since Moscow arrogated to itself the role of protector, and promised to leave a Russian force in the Commonwealth. Augustus II, who wanted these troops out at any cost, secretly offered to cede Peter some border provinces in exchange for a withdrawal. A lesser man might have accepted, but Peter refused and went on to publish Augustus’s proposals with the degree of indignation befitting the protector of the Commonwealth’s territorial integrity.

On 1 February 1733 Augustus II died of alcohol poisoning in Warsaw. His last words were: ‘My whole life has been one un—interrupted sin. God have mercy on me.’ He had hoped to ensure the succession of his son Augustus to the Polish throne, but this seemed unlikely since Stanisław Leszczyński, whose daughter had married Louis XV of France, was expected to stand for election and to win easily. Russia, Prussia and Austria signed an agreement to throw their combined strength behind the young Saxon, who had already promised to cede Livonia to Russia if elected.

The 13,000 who assembled for the election voted unanimously for Leszczyński, who had travelled to Warsaw incognito. In Paris Voltaire composed an ode of joy, but Russian troops were already on the move. On 5 October 20,000 of them assembled 1,000 szlachta outside Warsaw and forced them to elect Augustus of Saxony. Five days later France declared war on Austria and started the War of the Polish Succession. King Stanisław’s supporters gathered in confederations all over the country and the city of Gdańsk raised a sizeable army on his behalf. Two years of sporadic fighting ensued, but France made peace, having got what she wanted from Austria in Italy. Stanisław was given the Duchy of Lorraine as a consolation prize by his son-in-law, and Augustus III ascended the Polish throne.

The Commonwealth had effectively ceased being a sovereign state in 1718 with the imposition of the Russian ‘protectorate’. It had also virtually ceased to function as a political organism. The Sejm was not summoned between 1703 and 1710, the years of the Northern War, which meant that no legislation was passed and no state taxes could be levied. When the Sejm did sit again, it was hardly more effective. Of the eighteen sessions called under Augustus II, ten were broken up by the use of the veto. The King had tried to impose stronger government, but his policies were poorly thought out. He had an unfortunate conviction that a show of strength by the Saxon army was a necessary prelude to any change, and this had the effect of provoking resistance even in those who would otherwise have agreed with him. In the last years of his reign he did manage to gain the support of a group of magnates and szlachta, but their programme for reform was cut short by his death in 1733.

His son Augustus, Poland’s new monarch, was obese and indolent: he would spend his days cutting out bits of paper with a pair of scissors or else sitting by the window taking potshots at stray dogs with a pistol. He also drank like a fish. Augustus III reigned for thirty years. He spent only twenty-four months of that time in Poland, feeling more at home in Saxony. Yet he was not as unpopular with the szlachta as might have been expected—he never made the slightest attempt to curtail their prerogatives and increase his own. Only one Sejm completed its session under his rule, the army dwindled to half its theoretical size, and all visible signs of nationwide administration disappeared.

This state of affairs favoured the magnates, or rather the dozen or so men who stood at the pinnacle of wealth and power, who had turned into something approaching sovereign princes. It was to the courts of the leading families and not to the royal court at Warsaw or Dresden that foreign powers sent envoys and money. The Potocki, Radziwiłł and similar families involved half of Europe in their affairs and their activities were monitored at Versailles and Potsdam, at Petersburg and Caserta. The marital intentions of the young Zofia Sieniawska were a case in point.

The only daughter of Adam Mikołaj Sieniawski, Hetman and Castellan of Kraków, and of ElŻbieta Lubomirska, Zofia was a formidable heiress. In 1724 she married Stanisław Doenhoff, Palatine of Polotsk, no pauper and also the last of his line, who died four years later. Every family in Poland produced a suitor in the hope of coffering her fortune. Louis XV was quick to realise what was at stake, and the young widow was invited to Versailles, where she might be married to the Comte de Charolais, a Bourbon in search of a throne; Augustus II tried to monitor her suitors; the Duke of Holstein wanted her for himself; the Habsburgs threw their influence behind the Duke of Braganza, for whom they had royal ambitions; and St Petersburg sent ambassadors and money to influence her choice. The interest in the widow was well-founded. In 1731 she settled for the poorest of all her suitors, Prince August Czartoryski, turning his family into the most powerful in Poland over the next hundred years.

The power of these families rested on a combination of wealth and control of their lesser peers, and reflected a growing disparity between rich and poor. The figures for the Palatinate of Lublin provide an example of the dramatic change in the distribution of land over the previous two hundred years. In the 1550s, 54 per cent of all land owned by the szlachta was in holdings of under 1,500 hectares, but by the 1750s only 10 per cent was in such medium holdings. In the 1550s only 16 per cent was in estates of over 7,500 hectares, but by the 1750s over 50 per cent was accounted for by these. The large estates grew larger, the small ones smaller, with the result that by the mid-eighteenth century about a dozen families owned huge tracts of land, another three hundred or so possessed lands equivalent to those of the greatest English or German landlords, and as many as 120,000 szlachta families owned no land at all. The remainder owned small estates which provided little more than subsistence for the family and its dependants.

The ravages of war, outdated methods, lack of investment and the continuous downward trend in agricultural prices condemned these to a vicious circle. Between 1500 and 1800 average yields increased by 200 per cent in England and the Netherlands, by 100 per cent in France, and by only 25 per cent in Poland. Inventories dating from this period show that even in such well-ordered areas as Wielkopolska small estates were in a condition of decrepitude, with buildings falling down, implements worn out and livestock depleted.

The underlying problem was not limited to Poland, and affected the whole of Central Europe, where the old property relationship between landowning lords and tenant peasants proved a formidable obstacle to the adoption of more profitable capitalist solutions. This would have entailed emancipating and at the same time expropriating the peasants, who would then have been in a position to enter into regular contractual relations with the landowners. But the upheaval involved would have been ruinous to both parties. As a result, the only means open to the landowner of intensifying production was to exploit his tenants to the limit, and their only option was a passive participation in this process of their own enserfment.

There was technically no such thing as a serf in the Commonwealth. No peasant belonged to anyone; he was his master’s subject only insofar as he had contracted to be in return for a house and/or rent-free land. Every peasant, however abject, was an independent entity enjoying the right to enter into any legal transaction. Since, however, the relevant organs of justice were controlled by the land—owners, his rights often turned out to be academic. By the seventeenth century the landowners in effect exercised almost unlimited power over their tenantry. How far they were inclined or able to abuse this power varied greatly from area to area, depending on the morality of the master rather less than on the level of education and determination of the peasant. Unlike in Germany, Hungary and almost everywhere else in Europe, let alone Russia, there were no peasant revolts in Poland after the Middle Ages, and no organis—ation to track fugitives. Confrontation with the landlord took place in the courts, such as they were. But the peasant of the 1700s was caught in a poverty trap which impaired his ability to stand up for whatever theoretical rights he had, and he was a poor successor to his forebears.

The most pauperised segment of the population were the Jews, who had been profoundly traumatised by the massacres perpetrated by the Cossacks in 1648 and the Russians in the 1650s. Jewish communities found it difficult to revive economically in a climate of mercantile stagnation which also exacerbated conflicts with Christian merchants, while their institutions ceased to function properly. The palatines who supervised the finances of the kahals in their provinces had done so only sporadically during the decades of war and unrest, with the result that venality and nepotism became characteristic features of their affairs. When a royal commission did eventually look into the kahal finances, it was discovered that most of the communities were on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of massive embezzlement and eccentric banking operations with the Jesuits. The whole Jewish state within the state had to be wound up in 1764 as a result.

The overwhelmingly destitute masses of Polish Jewry lived in an increasingly hostile environment, and it was out of this that Hasidism was born. This was a mystical ecstatic cult, rejecting painful realities and offering a spiritual palliative that attracted vast numbers of the poorest Jews in the teeming provincial shtetls of the Commonwealth. It was founded in Podolia by Izrael ben Eliezer (1700-60), also known as Baal Shem Tov, a charismatic who preached that since God was everywhere He should be worshipped in every thing and every action, even in eating, drinking and dancing. The joyful ceremonies he encouraged appealed to the poorest Jews but drew the ire of orthodox rabbis. They had also had to contend with the heresy of Shabbetai Zevi, who had proclaimed himself Messiah in the 1660s, and acquired a sizeable following. It was the son of one of his disciples who caused the greatest ructions in the Jewish community. Jakub Frank (1726-91) in turn proclaimed himself Messiah and decreed that Poland was the Promised Land. His following grew rapidly. Orthodox rabbis invoked the law to curb the heresy, which turned it into a public issue. The Bishop of Lwów staged a public debate between Talmudic experts and the Frankists, with the Jesuits as adjudicators. To the delight of the Jesuits, Frank succeeded in confounding his accusers and then announced that he and his sect would convert to Catholicism. Frank was baptised in 1759 with the King himself standing godfather, and all the converts were ennobled.

These outbursts of fervour stemmed from the psychological and material Babylon from which there seemed to be no possibility of escape. The depressed shtetls and the stinking Jewish slums of the larger towns were an eyesore which struck all foreign travellers. Yet they were only the darkest spots on a grim landscape of decrepitude and poverty, a poverty made all the more stark by the occasional evidence of fabulous wealth, and by the quantity of new building on a spectacular scale.

A new kind of grand country residence came into existence, no longer defensive but outward-looking and palatial, often modelled on Versailles or one of the great residences of minor German sovereigns. Craftsmen such as Boule, Meissonier, Caffiéri and Riesener in Paris were flooded with orders from Poland. But this magnificence and patronage did not correspond to any deeper artistic or intellectual revival. These buildings were an incidental excrescence, not connected to any informed taste or vision. The Branicki Palace at Białystok contained a theatre with four hundred seats, equipped with one Polish and one French troupe of actors and a corps de ballet, but while the stables held two hundred horses, the library boasted no more than 170 books. Hetman Branicki was not the man to repair the constitution.

The szlachta still believed wholeheartedly in the principles on which the Polish constitution had been founded: personal freedom, representation, accountability, independence of the judiciary, and so on. They knew that the constitution was malfunctioning, but believed that, with some justification, to be the fault of the magnates and of high-handed behaviour by successive kings, who naturally tended to try to turn the Commonwealth into a centralised monarchy. All attempts at reform which issued from the crown or the Senatus Consulta included some measure that would strengthen the central authority, and that ensured their rejection by the szlachta. They had developed an almost obsessive fear of absolutism and an attendant defensiveness with respect to their gloried prerogatives. In the last decade of the seventeenth century and the first of the eighteenth, they had mooted the idea of holding a ‘mounted Sejm’, that is to say appearing at Warsaw in the ranks of the levée en masse in order to challenge the magnates of the Senate on a more equal footing, but this proved too difficult to arrange. Faced with even the slimmest threat to their rights and immunities, they wielded their weapon of last resort, the veto.

The single deputy’s power to block the will of the Sejm by registering his objection derived from the principle that consensus must be reached for legislation to have real force. Its use to invalidate decisions reached by a majority was technically legal though contrary to the spirit of the law. It was first used in 1652, but was not invoked again for seventeen years, and not for another ten after that. It was not until the period between 1696 and 1733 that it became endemic to parliamentary life, and that was a feature of the level to which this had sunk.

Those who made use of the veto tended to be obscure deputies from Lithuania or Ukraine, usually acting on behalf of a local magnate or a foreign power. The device was so convenient to these that in 1667 Brandenburg and Sweden agreed to go to war if necessary ‘in defence of Polish freedoms’ (i.e. to stop the Poles from abolishing the veto), and over the next hundred years the same clause was contained in virtually every treaty made between the Commonwealth’s neighbours.

While many lamented the abuse of the right of veto, they stood by the right of their fellows to exercise it, just as during the Reformation ardent Catholics had refused to allow the persecution of people guilty of sacrilege. It was first and foremost a question of liberty. The phenomenon of the veto, normally viewed as a baffling aberration and the ultimate symbol of the Commonwealth’s political impotence, did serve a specific purpose, that of preventing it from becoming an absolutist monarchy, which it could easily have done in the period of instability and war at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. As far as the szlachta was concerned, absence of government was preferable to arbitrary government. And many had come to see government as unnecessary anyway.

When the Commonwealth had imploded under the combined assault of the Cossacks, Tatars, Swedes, Brandenburgers and Muscovites in the 1650s, the szlachta had held regional sejmiks to deal with essential local issues. This form of administration turned out to be not only more efficient, but also more accountable and less costly than central government. As a result, local land sejmiks, sejmiki ziemskie, and law and order sejmiks, sejmiki boni ordinis, became favoured instruments of local administration, responsible for electing judges, officers of the law and commanders of the militia; collecting taxes, raising troops and nominating functionaries.

Since life could go on normally without a national Sejm, the szlachta felt justified in proclaiming its dispensability. People began to believe that anarchy, in its literal sense of ‘no government’, was something of an ideal state, particularly as it denied the crown and the magnates the instruments through which to pursue their sinister aim of curtailing the szlachta’s liberties. This was particularly relevant in times of war and instability such as the first decades of the eighteenth century, when a central Sejm might invoke national emergency to bring in pernicious legislation.

The Commonwealth therefore continued in a state of suspended animation, with no central administration beyond that which could be paid for from the king’s personal revenue, and no organ of government other than the Senatus Consulta, which had no writ. Its internal and external affairs were as much the business of Russia, and to a lesser extent of Prussia and Austria, as its own. The three powers looked on its territory more and more as a sort of noman’s-land. Russia moved her troops about it as though it were a training ground, while Prussian and Austrian armies took short cuts through it, in times of war even setting up depots and garrisons in convenient Polish towns.

Consequences of Königgrätz


Battle of Königgrätz, by Georg Bleibtreu. Oil on canvas, 1869.

While there is general consensus about the momentous consequences of Königgrätz, there is no agreement about why the battle went the way it did. Historians continue to debate whether it was Prussian competence or Austrian incompetence that accounted for the outcome. The safe answer, which has the added advantage of being true, is that it was a bit of both.

There is no question that Benedek played his hand badly. He failed to decisively attack the Prussians when they were at their weakest, while wending their way through the passes of the Giant Mountains. He then failed to take advantage of his initial success at Königgrätz on the morning of July 3. Until the early afternoon, the Austrians had a large numerical advantage over their Prussian opponents. If Benedek had gambled on an all-out offensive, he might have been able to crush the Elbe Army and the First Army before the Second Army arrived. Failing that, Benedek should have retreated while the going was still good. Instead he stayed in place, leaving his right flank dangerously exposed, and suffered the consequences. Moltke later commented that “[n]o one, of course, dreamed” that the enemy would open themselves up in this fashion.

The needle gun further contributed to the Austrian defeat. Time after time, their superior breechloaders allowed small Prussian units to maul more numerous adversaries. Fransecky’s heroic 7th Division never could have held its pivotal position in the Swiepwald were it not equipped with rapid-fire rifles. As Friedrich Engels wrote afterward: “It may be doubted whether without [the needle gun] the junction of the two Prussian armies could have been effected; and it is quite certain that this immense and rapid success could not have been obtained without such superior fire, for the Austrian army is habitually less subject to panic than most European armies.”

Railways also helped determine the outcome. In just twenty-one days, the Prussians transported 197,000 men and 55,000 horses. Their rapid concentration and advance caught the Austrians off guard. The whole conflict lasted just seven weeks. The war against France four years later took slightly longer, because the French people refused to admit they were beaten, but the major combat was also relatively brief, in large part because the Prussians once again were able to transport and concentrate troops more rapidly than their foes.

Of course, railroads and guns do not operate themselves. The human factor must never be lost sight of. Observers generally agreed on the superior motivation and training of Prussian troops. An English journalist found that, in contrast to the peasant conscripts who made up the Austrian ranks in 1866, the Prussian “rank and file are men of education, who know what they are fighting about, not mere machines drilled to mechanical perfection.” They were thus “more in earnest, more thoughtful, more willing to risk their lives for a principle, whether false or true, more imbued with a sense of duty.”

Prussian commanders were also more thoughtful and more earnest than their Austrian counterparts. Above all, the genius of Helmuth von Moltke towered over the battlefield. As a reward for his service, the chief of staff was awarded a large cash grant by his grateful king, which allowed him to purchase a thousand-acre estate in Silesia. A few years later, his victory over France would earn him promotion to field marshal and the title of count. All those accolades were fully deserved. It is true that Moltke’s plans did not work perfectly in 1866; the General Staff did a particularly poor job of meeting the army’s logistical requirements. But Moltke and his “demigods” were far ahead of anyone else in harnessing industrial technologies to the demands of warfare. Their only rivals in this respect were Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and the other Union leaders who had marshaled superior manpower, factories, railroads, and riches—though not superior technology per se (the North and South had roughly comparable weapons)—to crush the Confederacy. But their knowledge was lost after 1865, when the United States disbanded what had been for one brief moment the most powerful army in the world, whereas the German Army continued to develop Industrial Age warfare in accordance with Moltke’s high-risk credo: “Great successes in war cannot be gained without great dangers.”

The most important military innovation associated with Königgrätz—and the most lasting—was the superb planning that went into the Prussian victory. War had become too complex to be managed by one person, even a great captain like Napoleon, Frederick the Great, or Helmuth von Moltke. A whole management system was now required, and all across Europe, states copied the Prussian model of the General Staff. All of the continental armies adopted such Prussian innovations as staff rides, war games, and, above all, the writing of complex war plans in peacetime. Many even imitated Prussia’s spiked helmets. The Prussians still retained an edge, however, because no other general staff enjoyed the kind of unfettered power that theirs had. This advantage proved much more lasting than any technological edge, which did not—could not—last long in an age of frenetic weapons innovation.

Within days of Königgrätz, every army in Europe was rushing to buy its own breech-loading rifles, many of them superior to the thirty-year-old needle gun. Four years later, when Prussia went to war against France, its infantrymen were at a disadvantage in small arms. The French were armed with a newer breech-loader called the Chassepot that had three times the range of the needle gun. They even had a primitive machine gun called the Mitrailleuse, capable of firing 150 rounds a minute, though they were never able to make very effective use of it. Just as Austrian infantry had been slaughtered charging Prussian rifles in 1866, so Prussian infantry was slaughtered charging French rifles in 1870. Prussia prevailed anyway, ironically enough, because of its artillery. While its cannons had been inferior in 1866, they were superior by 1870. Having seen that muzzle-loaders were outdated, the Prussians scrapped them after 1866 and reequipped their entire force with Krupp’s breech-loading rifled cannons made of cheap and durable cast steel. France continued to rely on old bronze muzzle-loaders. Better artillery gave Prussia a crucial edge in 1870 that allowed its gunners to annihilate the French army from long range.

Such technological flip-flops were to become common in the Industrial Age, when plummeting manufacturing costs allowed a state to completely reequip an army of hundreds of thousands within a relatively short period. No army could now afford to wait twenty years or more to field a new weapon, as the Prussians had waited for the needle gun. It was even more unthinkable that any army could rely on the same gun for a century and a half, as the British army had relied on the Brown Bess from the 1690s to the 1840s. In the Industrial Age inventions could transform the battlefield within months.

In those circumstances it proved impossible for any state to develop and maintain a lasting technological edge over equally sophisticated adversaries. Europe was swept by arms races in the decades before World War I, but no power gained an enduring advantage. By 1914 all the major combatants had repeating rifles, machine guns, quick-firing artillery, railroads, telegraphs, and all the other inventions that had transformed warfare.

They also had large conscript armies to operate those weapons. Following Prussia’s victories in 1866 and 1870–71, every major European state except Great Britain copied the Prussian system of putting a large portion of its young men through military training, conscripting them for a few years of active-duty service, and then keeping them in reserve for wartime. Just as Prussia had been subdivided into military districts, so too France, Russia, Italy, and other states were subdivided to facilitate mobilization. And just as Prussian mobilization plans had been drawn up by officers schooled in its War Academy, so other European states set up staff colleges of their own (France’s École Supérieure de Guerre was founded in 1880) to bring their officers up to Prussian standards.

Finnish Forces in Barbarossa I

_10_ Finnish Soldiers during Barbarossa



The OKW was given the responsibility under the Barbarossa Directive to make the necessary arrangements to put Romanian and Finnish contingents under German command. There is no evidence that this was seriously tried with respect to Finland. Command and command relationships were discussed during the Finnish delegation’s visit to Germany in May 1941. The Germans wanted General Falkenhorst to command the forces in north and central Finland while Mannerheim would command in the south.

German planners had previously assumed that Mannerheim would be given overall command in Finland. This is reflected in the OKW directive on April 7, 1941. That idea was now dropped, and their chance of bringing Mannerheim, a rather independent individual, under their control was lost as well. In doing so the Germans disregarded another well-known warning of their military philosopher and theorist Clausewitz that the worst situation is where two independent commanders find themselves operating in the same theater of war.

Ziemke and Erfurth speculate that this change came about because of an OKW desire to command in an active theater of operations. There was probably another and more practical reason. Hitler became exceedingly worried about the security of northern Norway and the iron and nickel mines in Sweden and Finland after the British raid on the Lofoten Islands in March 1941, and began a major force build-up. Mountain Corps Norway was an integral part of the defense of north Norway and Hitler and the OKW may well have been reluctant to place a good part of this area under Finnish command. Falkenhorst was still the German armed forces commander in Norway and it made some sense to also have him as commander in central and northern Finland.

Mannerheim wrote after the war that he received indirect feelers—from General Erfurth to General Heinrichs—about assuming overall command in Finland. There is some confusion in the sources as to when these feelers were made. Mannerheim gives the time of the offer as June 1941 while Erfurth places it in June 1944. Mannerheim writes about the 1941 offer that he was not attracted by the idea and gives as his reason a reluctance to become too dependent on the German High Command. Mannerheim does not mention the 1944 offer in his memoirs but Erfurth writes that Mannerheim replied to it on June 29, 1944, with the statement that he was too old to take over the additional responsibilities that the position of commander in chief of all forces in Finland would entail. The 1944 offer, if made, was probably an attempt to tie Finland firmly to Germany at a time when it was beginning to go its own way.

In addition to failing to settle on an overall commander, operations in Finland came under two separate German headquarters. The German commander in chief in northern and central Finland, whose main focus was on isolating Murmansk, reported to the OKW after Hitler’s changes to the command structure following the Lofoten raid in March 1941. OKH—responsible for operations on the Eastern Front—was left to deal with operations in southern Finland. The axiomatic belief in both Germany and Finland that the looming war would be short was probably the greatest contributing factor to this deficient command arrangement. This short-war scenario undoubtedly made many feel that no elaborate command structure or long-range plans were necessary.

There was no joint German–Finnish campaign plan much beyond the initial attacks. The loose and informal nature of the coalition, the lack of long-range planning, and an ineffective command structure posed increasing problems as the war dragged on. These massive violations of long-standing military principles could have been rectified by Hitler and the OKW, but they failed to act.

Finnish Forces in Barbarossa II



The development of a staff study by Group XXI (Army of Norway) for operations in Finland based on Directive 21. The study was expanded by Marshal von Brauchitsch on January 16 to include examining the feasibility of a German–Finnish southeast drive in the area of Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega, and the White Sea. The Army of Norway was asked to make recommendations for supply operations and command relationships. This study, begun in late December, was completed on January 27, 1941, and given the code name Silberfuchs (Silver Fox).

The Finnish Army would carry the main burden of the attack. The bulk of their forces would be concentrated in the southeast for an attack east of Lake Ladoga towards the Svir River. The Finnish Army was to defend the frontier north of Lake Ladoga with relatively weak forces, and additionally was responsible for the security of the coast and the Åland Islands. The staff study assumed that the overall command in Finland would be given to the Finns because they were providing the preponderance of forces.

The planning and preparation for Renntier was not wasted, but expanded by making it part of the operations assigned to Mountain Corps Norway. The main German attack was a drive from Rovaniemi through Salla to Kandalaksha on the White Sea. This drive would cut the Murmansk Railroad and sever lines of communication between Soviet forces in Murmansk and on the Kola Peninsula from the rest of the Soviet Union.

The forces allocated to the main drive consisted of one German and one Finnish corps. The German corps—XXXVI Corps—consisted of two infantry divisions and SS Kampfgruppe Nord reinforced by a tank battalion, a machinegun battalion, an antitank battalion, an artillery battalion, and engineers. Kampfgruppe Nord would provide security for the assembly of the two infantry divisions. Part of the German forces would turn north when they reached Kandalaksha. In conjunction with one reinforced mountain division advancing from Pechenga towards Murmansk, the forces that turned north would destroy the Soviet forces on the Kola Peninsula and capture Murmansk.

The Finnish corps—III Corps—consisted of two divisions (3rd and 6th) plus border guards. Its main mission was to launch a secondary attack on the German right flank against Ukhta (Uhtua) and then on towards Kem (Kemi) on the White Sea. This drive, if successful, would also cut the Murmansk Railroad. The bulk of the German forces advancing on Kandalaksha would turn south after reaching that town and link up with the Finns in the Kem area for a joint drive southward behind the left wing of the main Finnish Army.

The operations proposed in the Silberfuchs staff study assumed that Sweden would allow German troops and supplies to cross its territory from Norway to Finland. It was planned that five divisions (later increased to seven) would be left in Norway for its defense and that the Army of Norway would supply all German units. This would involve large supply, construction, and transportation assets and many of these would have to come from Germany.

The OKH Operation Order

The German Army issued an operation order at the end of January for operations in Finland using the Army of Norway staff study as its basis. Hitler approved the order on February 3, 1941.

The OKH order assigned the defense of Norway as the highest priority of the Army of Norway. Only forces over and above the requirement for the priority mission would be used in Finland where the mission of German forces was limited to the defense of the Pechanga area until Finland entered the war. At that time the order laid out two possible courses of action. The first was that proposed in the Army of Norway staff study, while the second would come into being if Sweden refused transit of troops. If this materialized, the Germans would launch an attack through Pechenga with the mission of capturing Murmansk.

As far as the mission of the Finnish Army, some disagreements had developed and certain things remained unresolved. Finnish participation in the planning had been indirect and remained so because Hitler’s order on February 3, 1941 specified that all potential allies should be brought into the planning process only when German intentions could no longer be disguised. The Army order gave the Finnish Army the mission of covering German deployments in central Finland and the capturing of Hanko. The Germans wanted the bulk of the Finnish Army to undertake offensive operations towards the southeast when German Army Group North crossed the Dvina River. The Germans accepted offensives on both sides of Lake Ladoga as long as the main effort was made on the east side of that lake. The Finnish Army was expected to make a sweep around the eastern shore of the lake and isolate Leningrad by affecting a junction with Army Group North in the Tikhvin area.

Fernando VI (1746–59), King of Spain

Portrait by Louis Michel Van Loo

The Franco-Spanish fleet commanded by Don Juan José Navarro drove off the British fleet under Thomas Mathews near Toulon in 1744.

Fernando VI (1746–59) ascended to the throne at the age of thirty-three, mature and well trained in the business of government. As the second son of Felipe V and his first wife María Luisa Gabriela of Savoy, Fernando was not first in line for the throne, but upon the premature death of his older brother Luis I in 1724, he became the heir, ahead of his half-brothers Carlos and Felipe. Historians often consider Fernando VI as the first “Spanish Bourbon,” not only because he was born in Madrid, but also because his government chose not to continue the reliance on France that had characterized the long reign of his father. Open to question is whether that was a useful strategy for Spain at the time.

In contrast with the active and warlike stance of Spain under his father and stepmother, Isabel Farnese, Fernando consciously chose the pursuit of peace as the best way to serve his people. He shared his father’s ability to recognize talent among the pool of potential advisers at court; he appointed a series of competent men to the highest posts in his government and let them do their jobs without royal meddling. The king set the tone and direction of his administration, but he felt no need to try to control every aspect of government.

Fernando’s wife Barbara of Braganza, the Portuguese ruling dynasty, set the tone for the cultured court life in Madrid and in the other palaces of the realm. Because both the king and queen had a passion for music, orchestral and vocal performances and multimedia spectacles occupied an important place in court entertainments. Domenico Scarlatti, the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, had served as the queen’s music tutor in Portugal and came to the Spanish court with his royal patroness. He spent the rest of his life serving the royal couple and writing hundreds of compositions for them. The queen also patronized Father Antonio Soler, a notable Spanish composer who studied with Scarlatti. To organize the elaborate spectacles and outings that defined the life at court, the royal couple hired Carlo Broschi, the famous castrato singer better known as Farinelli. As the court traveled from palace to palace on a regular annual round, taking advantage of the seasonal attractions in each venue, Farinelli made sure that they had sufficient amusements to distract them from the tedium of daily life and political responsibilities.

These distractions were of particular importance for the king, who lived under the same cloud of depression that had haunted his father. Also like his father, Fernando depended heavily on the loving support of his wife. In the arcane language that historians use to describe that dependence, he was uxorious, a characteristic often attributed to the Spanish Bourbon kings as a whole. When it became clear, after years of devoted marriage, that the royal couple would have no heir, both the king and queen felt the lack of children keenly. The lavish entertainments that they sponsored at court can be seen, at least in part, as an attempt to fill the emptiness in their lives.

Court culture included an affinity for the mathematical and scientific interests of the Jesuits as well as the early stirrings of the Spanish Enlightenment, most notably in the writings of the Benedictine monk Benito Feyjóo. Lamenting that Spain had fallen behind its European neighbors in intellectual pursuits, Feyjóo argued tirelessly for a new spirit of inquiry, particularly in the sciences. Although his writings met with strong criticism from traditionalists, Feyjóo enjoyed the steadfast support of the king.

Although Fernando sent his stepmother Isabel Farnese into retirement at the palace of La Granja, he did not entirely abandon her quest to recover territories in Italy lost in 1714. His half-brother Carlos had inherited the duchies of Parma and Piacenza in 1731, when the Farnese line died out. Carlos conquered Naples in 1735. That same year, the Habsburg emperor ceded the kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Sicily and Naples) to Spain, in exchange for Parma and Piacenza. Carlos reigned as king of the Two Sicilies from 1735 to 1759, and Fernando regained the duchies of Parma and Piacenza for his half-brother Felipe by allying with France in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–8).

Thereafter, Italy ceased to be the major focus of Spanish foreign policy, and the Bourbon “Family pact” with France no longer defined Spain’s relations with its European neighbors. The main proponent for this new posture was José de Carvajal y Lancaster, a Spaniard of Anglo-Portuguese origins on his mother’s side and one of the king’s foremost advisers on foreign affairs from 1746 to 1754. He held the posts of Secretary of State and president of the Junta de Comercio (Trade Committee), as well as serving as the head of the Council of the Indies. After the War of the Austrian Succession ended, Carvajal moved away from the pro-French policy of his precursors. Although England continued to pose the most serious threat to the Spanish Empire, Carvajal followed the Portuguese example by choosing cordiality rather than confrontation with England as the best way to protect Spain’s interests abroad.

The king and Carvajal also worked to end friction with Portugal regarding the borders between Spanish territories in South America and Portuguese Brazil. By the Treaty of Limits in 1750, Spain and Portugal agreed to a frontier that many Spaniards branded as too favorable to the Portuguese. In effect, the treaty abandoned considerable territory in Uruguay to Portugal, bordering on the missions that the Society of Jesus had established in Paraguay among the Guaraní people. Despite the crown’s support for missionary activities in the American empire, officials in Madrid faulted the Jesuits for managing their missions largely without regard to the crown’s interests and supervision. The dramatic story of Portuguese harassment of the Jesuit missions and their eventual dismantling serves as the basis for the 1986 film The Mission.

Predictably, the Jesuits were angry about the terms of the treaty, and many members of the Spanish elite agreed with them. Among their supporters, the Jesuits could count the marquis of La Ensenada, who had continued as a key adviser to the crown during the reign of Fernando VI. Like José Patiño before him, Ensenada held responsibility for numerous government ministries, dealing with finance above all, as well as war, the navy, and the Indies. The responsibilities of Ensenada and Carvajal overlapped at several points, and they disagreed about many aspects of Spanish policy, both in Europe and abroad. For example, Ensenada was pro-French, as well as pro-Jesuit, whereas Carvajal remained wary of both of those positions.

Conspiracies at court swirled around Ensenada in the aftermath of the Treaty of Limits, and he encountered royal displeasure for corresponding about its terms with King Carlos of Naples, Fernando VI’s half-brother. In 1754, Ensenada’s enemies brought about his fall from favor, an outcome that the English ambassador Benjamin Keene claimed as his doing. Even though Ensenada’s career ended in disgrace, he accomplished a great deal during his decade in power, including the negotiation of a new agreement with the Vatican: the Concordat of 1753. Settling a series of jurisdictional disputes between the papacy and the Spanish crown, the Concordat clarified and arguably increased the role of the crown in the religious life of Spain.

Perhaps the most important legacy of Ensenada’s tenure in office was his focus on the need to strengthen the Spanish economy and rebuild Spanish shipping capacity for both military and mercantile needs. Like his rival Carvajal, he thought the crown should play a major role in building up all the resources of the state, both human and material. With a growing population and a strong economy, Spain could defend its interests in Europe and abroad. The government inquiry called the “Catastro de la Ensenada” set out to survey the landed wealth of the kingdom, preparatory to instituting a single tax (“Única Contribución”) based on wealth. That inquiry, carried out by the system of intendants reinstalled in 1749, remains the most important source of information on the Spanish economy in the mid eighteenth century. Much as Ensenada had hoped, the Catastro suggested that both the population and the economy were indeed experiencing impressive growth. Tapping into that growth in the guise of tax reform met resistance, however, from the large landowners who would have paid most of the new tax. Faced with their resistance, the “Única Contribución” never came into effect.

Instead of general tax reform, Ensenada had to settle for piecemeal revisions of existing taxes. He also instituted other reforms that contributed to the goals of a stronger Spanish economy with an enhanced military capability. For example, he set up seed banks (pósitos) that helped poor farming families survive through lean times without depleting their seed for the next planting. As for the military, after years of preparatory work, in 1748 his office published a thoroughgoing new set of naval regulations for ship construction, manning, and general administration.

Key to Ensenada’s naval reform was the creation of three large naval districts, with headquarters at Ferrol on the north coast, Cartagena on the Mediterranean, and Cádiz on the southern coast west of Gibraltar on the Atlantic. Moreover, Ensenada was able to install a marine registry (matrícula), based on economic incentives, which his precursors had planned but had not implemented. With the registry in place, the government could ensure a steady supply of crewmen for the navy, based on a strengthened merchant marine, and without relying on coercion or violence to enlist them. With the support of the king, Ensenada had been able to secure huge resources for the navy, even with the country at peace, and new ship construction up to the early 1750s aimed to make Spain into a formidable naval power once again. Jorge Juan y Santacilia pioneered the new science of hydrography to study how ships moved through water, and Spain’s new warships took advantage of the best in modern design and the best materials available.

With both Carvajal and Ensenada out of power after 1754, government reforms lost their momentum in all spheres. Ricardo Wall, a mediocre bureaucrat of Irish ancestry, became the dominant adviser to the king. Although some historians consider him pro-English, he seems to have lacked any clear vision for the direction of Spanish foreign policy. Some of Ensenada’s appointees stayed on in the government, presumably with their pro-French and anti-English sentiments intact. In the growing rivalry between France and England, the neutrality that Wall and the king seemed to favor was not necessarily a bad choice. Even though England still posed the greatest threat to the empire, France had been an unsteady ally. Only through avoiding a renewal of warfare could Spain hope to concentrate on continued economic growth.

When warfare broke out in 1756, Fernando VI refused to participate, even though the stakes clearly included control of overseas territories. Most of Europe would know the conflict as the “Seven Years War,” whereas North American historiography would call it the “French and Indian War.” Spain would call it the “First Anglo-French Maritime War,” denoting both its major antagonists and its global character. In the fluid diplomatic climate of the times, the war featured a “diplomatic revolution,” in which France allied with Austria rather than Prussia, and England allied with Prussia rather than Austria. Although England wanted a Spanish alliance as well, Spain probably benefited from her neutrality in the short term, not least because the Spanish monarchy was in serious disarray in the late 1750s.

Queen Barbara of Braganza died in 1758, and her death afflicted the king beyond all reason. He soon sank into the same black depression that had claimed his father at the end of his life. By the time Fernando died in 1759, madness reigned. Both King Fernando and Queen Barbara are buried in the Convent of the Royal Salesians in Madrid, on the street that bears the queen’s name near the National Library.

Although his reign lasted only fourteen years, Fernando VI continued the Bourbon reform program, as well as the royal building program begun in his father’s reign. That was possible because the king appointed capable men loyal to the interests of the crown and of the Spanish state. Like other European monarchies at the time, Spain had developed an identity apart from that of its monarch, so that government business and the loyalty of the citizenry did not depend as heavily as they had in the past on the person of the king. That was fortunate, given the king’s battles against mental illness. Despite those battles, however, Fernando worked hard to be an enlightened king to his people and to keep Spain out of the wars that dominated the mid eighteenth century and drained his neighbors’ treasuries. That was a difficult posture to maintain, however, because Spain was a second-rank European power with a first-rank global empire, viewed by its rivals and allies alike as an attractive prize.