Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Hi I'm John Green.

  • This is Crash Course European History and today we're going to look at what is sometimes

  • called theseventeenth century crisis.”

  • Now I know what you're thinking: This whole history business is just one crisis after

  • another.

  • And yes, dear viewer, it's true.

  • Humankind careens from disaster to disaster, but still we press on, like boats against

  • the current, and sometimes we even learn from previous disasters.

  • And since the Seventeenth Century Crisis involves climate change and catastrophic war, we should

  • maybe pay attention to this one.

  • [Intro] Let's begin with the Little Ice Age.

  • The Little Ice Age began in 1300, but it really escalated beginning in 1570 and then the climate

  • continued to cool for over one hundred years after that.

  • It was a global phenomenon.

  • In some places, the temperature may have shifted two degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit,

  • but the average was about half a degree Celsius.

  • That may not sound dramatic, but it was.

  • Intense rainfall, lack of sunshine, and lower temperatures decreased harvests or ruined

  • them entirely.

  • Europeans suffered hypothermia; the birthrate dropped; and famines became more common--as

  • did cannibalism.

  • In New England, the end of the 17th century was the worst part of the Little Ice Age.

  • 1797 was especially brutal: Settler Samuel Sewell noted in his diary: “To Horses, Swine,

  • Nett-Cattell, Sheep, and Deer, Ninety and Seven prov'd a Mortal yeer.”

  • Now, unlike contemporary climate change, the Little Ice Age was not caused primarily by

  • human behavior--it may have been caused by volcanic activity or orbital cycles or cyclical

  • lows in solar radiation.

  • We like to think of the Earth's climate as entirely stable, but it never has been.

  • That said, contemporary climate change IS caused by humans--and even the most ambitious

  • goals to limit it would result in an average global temperature change of 1.5 degrees celsius,

  • far higher than the average shifts seen during the catastrophic Little Ice Age.

  • And something else was also happening in the 17th century that felt as mysterious and strange

  • as lower temperatures: Higher prices, sometimes called a “price revolution,” that increased

  • prices for food and other goods.

  • This was caused partly by the growing population we discussed in our last episode, and partly

  • by inflation--more precious metals were entering Europe, especially due to mining in the Americas,

  • which decreased the value of coinage.

  • But this was really baffling for people--I mean, imagine that you're living in Spain

  • in the 17th century, watching precious metals pour into your country via the New World,

  • and despite all this new wealth, you're finding it harder to pay for bread, and clothing,

  • and almost everything else.

  • Inflation, like climate, is extremely complex, and also a hugely important historical force.

  • And so as prices soared and harvests declined, it really did feel like the 17th century might

  • just be the end.

  • As one pamphleteer from Spain wrote in 1643: “Every nation is turned upside down, leading

  • some great minds to suspect that we are approaching the end of the world.”[i]

  • And then there was the 30 Years War, which unlike the 100 Years War, actually did last

  • for 30 years.

  • The war, which took place from 1618 to 1648, was tremendously destructive in Central Europe--millions

  • of people were killed, including many from starvation brought on by the war.

  • Many different states within the quickly fracturing Holy Roman Empire were involved,

  • as were France and Sweden and Denmark and England.

  • The war started in 1618 over, you guessed it, religion.

  • It began when Ferdinand II, the devotedly Catholic new Hapsburg king of Bohemia, sent

  • representatives to inform powerful Protestants that Prague and the rest of Bohemia would

  • be Catholic territory from now on.

  • Unsurprisingly, the Protestant lords in Prague weren't terribly happy with this news.

  • In fact, the were so unhappy that they threw Ferdinand's representatives out--literally,

  • out the window, in the so-called Defenestration of Prague.

  • Did the center of the world just open?

  • Is there a window in there?

  • Now, this is a famous moment in European history, in part because it's called the Defensetration

  • of Prague, which is just irresistible, but in part because it was the SECOND defenestration

  • of Prague.

  • The first one occured in 1419 and resulted in the deaths of seven people, the second

  • one, the one we're concerned with now, resulted in the deaths of no people, because all four

  • of the defenestrated landed in a pile of manure.

  • Ferdinand's people, of course, called this a divine miracle, while the Protestants were

  • like, “they landed in poop!”

  • Ah, god I love history.

  • Soon after the defenestration, Ferdinand II was elected Holy Roman Emperor, which led

  • the Protestant Czechs to reject him as king of Bohemia, and choose the protestant Frederick

  • V of the Palitanate to replace him, and then war truly erupted.

  • The Czechs would be initially defeated by Hapsburg forces in the Battle of White Mountain

  • in 1620, and the Hapsburg family would in fact rule the area until 1918.

  • But that didn't settle the war--nor, in fact, did Ferdinand's next victories.

  • Let's go to the Thought Bubble.

  • 1.

  • So on the one hand you have the imperial forces,

  • 2. led by the Catholic Hapsburg Ferdinand II,

  • 3. and on the other hand you have protestant Frederick V

  • 4. and his allies among the protestant aristocrats of central Europe.

  • 5.

  • The Hapsburgs went on to crush Frederick's allies.

  • 6.

  • In the 1620s, Ferdinand took the Palatinate from the defeated Frederick

  • 7. and awarded it to his Catholic ally, Maximilian of Bavaria.

  • 8.

  • Ferdinand then awarded other lands to Catholic allies

  • 9.

  • that had belonged to defeated protestant princes,

  • 10. and he decreed that in conquered territories those who had bought Catholic lands, like

  • monasteries, had to return them.

  • 11.

  • Furthermore, all citizens needed to return to the Catholic Church or else leave their

  • homes.

  • 12.

  • The Little Ice Age, inflation, and war had crashed the economies,

  • 13.

  • making it difficult for people to dispose of their property before they moved.

  • 14.

  • And we see this again--and again and again--in refugee crises throughout history.

  • 15.

  • So it seemed the Catholics Hapsburgs were going to win,

  • 16.

  • but then the Protestant king of Denmark, Christian IV, a hugely wealthy ruler,

  • 17. decided to enter the war to block imperial expansion,

  • 18.

  • protect Protestants,

  • 19. and preserve the traditional rights of the many hundreds of independent kingdoms,

  • and duchies, and cities in the Holy Roman Empire.

  • 20.

  • And that meant that the war, instead of being over, was just getting started.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble.

  • So, Emperor Ferdinand hired the wealthy Albrecht von Wallenstein to confront the Danish menace

  • and to continue conquering the Protestant princes in the empire, thus restoring more

  • property to the Catholic Church.

  • Wallenstein was Czech- and he'd been born a Protestant, but he'd converted to Catholicism

  • as a teenager and then married a widow who died a few years after their marriage, leaving

  • him a lot of property.

  • But that was just the beginning of Wallenstein gaining property via death and/or marriage.

  • Wallenstein did his conquering with such gusto and success that Ferdinand constantly rewarded

  • him with more estates.

  • And when Wallenstein married again, he gained even more wealth and prestige.

  • He started out as hired help, but eventually grew to be powerful in his own right.

  • It's a real Holy Roman Empire Dream story.

  • You know, you start out in the war-making mailroom, and then eventually work your way

  • up to being the CEO of war.

  • He raised armies of tens of thousands of fighters who laid waste Protestant lands and slaughtered

  • hundreds of thousands of people.

  • He also had army officers go house-to-house, collecting regular contributions ortaxes

  • to support the ever growing military forces.

  • And as he built his army, he justified raising taxes.

  • Wallenstein expanded the battlefield, in the 30 years war, by seeking out any nearby Protestants

  • whose lands could be captured and returned to the Catholic side, thereby bringing new

  • entrants into the war.

  • The Netherlands came to the Palatinate's rescue; Spain, Italian states, and France

  • also got involved, as did Sweden, a military powerhouse at the time.

  • Unlike today, when the Swedes are primarily a Flat Packed Home Goods powerhouse.

  • Then in 1626, Danish King Christian IV, a Protestant, lost half his army in the battle

  • of Lutter.

  • Ferdinand II's confidence soared, and with it his counter-reformation zeal; in 1629 he

  • issued the Edict of Restitution—a sweeping confiscation of formerly Catholic lands and

  • a harsh directive for non-Catholics to emigrate.

  • And Ferdinand was merciless.

  • When his armies would defeat the rebels, Ferdinand had those taken prisoner disemboweled after

  • their right hands were hacked off.

  • His German prince allies counseled moderation, but Ferdinand preferred the advice of his

  • Jesuit priest to push the Counter-Reformation ever further.

  • Ferdinand, his confessor announced, couldlose all his kingdoms and provinces and

  • whatever he has in this world, provided he save his soul.”[ii] So there would be no

  • compromise.

  • Then in 1631, Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus defeated the imperial army at the Battle of

  • Breitenfeld, the first major Protestant victory of the war, which was by then thirteen years

  • old.

  • Though Gustavus Adolphus was killed in battle the next year, that Catholic defeat heartened

  • Protestant forces, who kept the war going.

  • Meanwhile, the war stopped being about JUST religion.

  • For instance, Louis XIII of France had allied himself with the Swedish king, even though

  • Louis was Catholic and the Swedes were Protestant, because Louis didn't want the Holy Roman

  • Empire to become too powerful.

  • Over time, the daily realities of the war became even more brutal, as armies simply

  • wandered across central Europe killing and scrounging for food.

  • Young and old peasants and townspeople were stabbed or captured and tortured to death

  • as waves of soldiers went from house to house.

  • The first waves took obvious treasure, and then each successive wave settled on smaller

  • objects like copper and other base metal coins or tiny silver trinkets.

  • Those were the