Absolutism and wars of succession

Bonn around 1700
Bonn around 1700

Holy Roman Empire, at the end of the 17th Century. After the Thirty Years War, large areas were desolated and deserted. Since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the Catholic, Protestant and Calvinist confessions were recognized, but the Anabaptists were persecuted.

With their demands for religious liberty and a radical separation between church and state, they were a threat to the authorities, and therefore heavily prosecuted. Anabaptists refusing to recant could be executed on the spot, without legal proceedings.

War of the Palatinate Succession (1688-1697)

The Early Age of Absolutism is dominated by Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), the “Sun King”. In his struggle to obtain predominance in Europe, Louis XIV of France repeatedly imposed wars on his neighboring countries. He did not seem to care about his own people’s pain and hunger (a theme in “The Man in the Iron Mask”).

In 1688 Louis claimed the Palatinate crown. When Prince Elector of the Palatinate, at the same time Duke of Berg, did not give in, French troops occupied the Palatinate and neighboring regions. The War of the Palatine Succession (1688-1697) broke out. Almost all European rulers and many German princes joined forces against Louis XIV. In the Archbishopric of Cologne, however, Louis had an ally. His candidate for the Archbishop’s position got more votes than the Emperor’s, Joseph Clemens of the Wittelsbach family. Immediately he moved into his residence at Bonn and had French troops march into the region. Bonn and Siegburg were occupied. That brought Emperor Leopold I and the Pope into the arena, and with their help Joseph Clemens became Archbishop on September 20, 1688. The imperial troops under the command of Frederick III, Prince Elector and Duke of Brandenburg-Prussia, besieged Bonn in summer 1689. The city was bombed for about three months until it capitulated in October 1689. A lot of damage had been done.

Königswinter and other villages go up in flames

On March 23, 1689, about 600 French mercenaries crossed the Rhine, Oberkassel and Dollendorf were sacked, plundered and burnt. Then they marched to Königswinter and destroyed almost the entire town, shortly after also the nearby village of Rhöndorf. Then finally the soldiers from Brandenburg under Frederick III were there and chased the French mercenaries. In the fortified city of Bonn, the French could hold out until October 12, 1689, then the city was conquered by the Brandenburgers. Also in the Palatinate the army of Louis XIV was on the brick of defeat. Before retiring, they plundered and burned down entire villages and cities.When finally peace was made in 1697 in Rijswijk, France did not obtain anything, but large regions in the west of the Empire lay in ashes.

War of the Spanish Succession

Yet, only a couple of years later the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) broke out. Again the Elector-Archbishop Joseph Clemens of Cologne sided with Louis XIV – he and his older brother Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria probably hoped to get the Spanish Netherlands (about today’s Belgium) and a king’s crown for their family. Thereupon, in 1702 Bonn was again occupied by imperial troops from Brandenburg under Frederick I. Joseph Clemens fled into exile in France and was outlawed. Again, Bonn was bombed.

Absolute Monarchy

Although the dukes fought Louis XIV – his sumptuous court life at Versailles impressed them greatly, and who could created his own little Versailles. Most likely, they didn’t think of their subjects whose taxes and hard work; financed the is court, campaigns and reconstruction. The kingdom to which Germany was at that time was ruled absolutist. Since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 were the princes ruled as sovereigns in their states. Who had the means to build a standing army, that is an army of professional soldiers, that was always ready for use. Later, even whole regiments were rented.

The peace in Europe did not last long. Frederick II of Prussia (1740-1786) waged three wars against Austria and its allies. The Seven Years War (1756-1763) brought Prussia close to the edge, but in the end it was next to England, France, Austria and Russia, the fifth major power in Europe.

Early Modern Period
Early Modern Period | Lutherans, Calvinists, Anapabtists | Thirty Years’ War | Absolutism and wars of succession | Emigration to North America

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