Reference Maps

Europe in 1500
Looking at a map of Europe in 1500, it is easy to imagine that the outlines of modern nation-states, or at least a few of them, were somehow destined to take the shapes familiar in the twenty-first century. But this impression is misleading: the idea of the nation as a kind of organism with an economy and distinctive political and legal structures was only beginning to form; the impact of central institutions on everyday life was still slight; most states were culturally and linguistically diverse; in most of Europe, zones of judicial authority rarely corresponded exactly with administrative districts or the boundaries of ecclesiastical governance. Broadly speaking, the most consolidated monarchies were situated on the Atlantic. The political landscape of Italy was dominated by wealthy, powerful, and largely independent city-states, most notably the Republic of Venice. In central Europe a vast federation—the Holy Roman Empire—was acquiring legal and political structures that would remain with it through the eighteenth century. In this map, its boundary is shown by a thick maroon line. Eastern Europe was characterized by sprawling monarchies, some of them centralized and expanding—the Ottoman Empire—others more loosely organized, such as Poland-Lithuania. Two major shifts were about to take place: the first occurred in 1519, when the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, the Low Countries (Flanders and the Netherlands), and Austria fell to the heir of the Habsburg dynasty, Charles V (1519-1556); in 1526 the dynasty acquired Bohemia, Silesia, and Hungary as well. The second shift involved Turkish expansion: under stultans Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman I (1520-1566), Ottoman power enveloped Wallachia, almost all of Hungary, the Levant (Syria and Palestine), and Egypt.

Religious Divisions of Europe
Beginning with the "Luther Affair" of 1517-1519, the institutional fabric of western Christianity began to unravel. What eventually became known as the Protestant Reformation ended the obedience to papal authority of churches in large parts of central and northern Europe and created Protestant minorities in much of the rest. But the reformers sought to remove Roman authority, not replace it; when church reform combined with political interests, the result was both the doctrinal fragmentation of Protestantism and alliances between reform movements and secular authorities, from city-states to monarchies. By the middle of the sixteenth century, the legal principle was firmly established that those who possessed sovereign rule over a territory should also enjoy the right to determine that territory's official religion. In most parts of northern Germany and Scandinavia, Lutheranism became the official religion of monarchs and their subjects; the brand of Protestantism founded by Jean Calvin, reformer of Geneva, became official doctrine in most of Switzerland, parts of Germany, and Scotland; in England, too, the state church was Protestant. In eastern Europe, where few monarchs possessed the power to impose religious conformity on subject aristocracies, the result of these processes was complex mix of confessions. In this map, regions that remained under the authority of Rome are shown in golden-yellow. Calvinist minorities are shown by diagonal green stripes. Scattered throughout Europe were small communities of radical Anabaptists, shown here by maroon triangles.

Europe in 1690
By 1690, the main phase of witch persecution was past; but the political map of Europe still bore the stamp of those sixteenth-century shifts. After a long series of military confrontations, the kingdom of France had expanded to the west; the Empire, weakened by a century and a half of religious strife and warfare, had become little more than an institutional framework for the mediation of disputes among its largely sovereign member states; the Habsburg dynasty, which under Charles V had embraced Spain, Austria, Bohemia, the Netherlands, and parts of Italy, had been divided since 1556 in two branches, Spanish and Austrian; the Spanish branch retained the Netherlands and the Italian lands, while the Austrian Habsburg held the German- and Czech-speaking territories, along with a more-or-less hereditary claim to the imperial crown. The Swiss Confederation and the Dutch Republic had both exited the Empire and freed themselves both of Habsburg domination. By 1700, however, the Dutch Republic was past its prime, eclipsed in wealth and power by the island kingdom of Britain. In eastern Europe, the long-dominant Ottoman Empire began a long slow decline: after its disastrous siege of Vienna in 1683, the weakened Turkish monarchy was driven from Hungary, Croatia, and Transylvania. In northern Europe, another great power—Sweden—was losing ground to a relative newcomer on the European scene: Russia.