At the end of the 15th century, in the glorious period known as the Renaissance, the German states in the Holy Roman Empire lacked strong, unified central governments and local nobles or small political units fragmented political authority. Local powers, such as cities, nobles and princes, remained autonomous and prevented the Holy Roman Empire from utilizing its resources and organizing itself like the new monarchies in the other European states. At the same time, the population was rising and trade was increasing.
Social mobility also increased, but poverty became its counterpart. In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation shattered the unity that Western Christendom had experienced for over a thousand years. The novel ideas of religious thinkers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and their Protestant successors, transformed traditional views of God, human beings and society. As a result, the moral stature, organization, and power of the Catholic Church was also altered by the Catholic Counter-Reformation. As religious upheavals intensified, revolutionary thought erupted on many other levels of society. In the 17th century, the governments in the German states became centralized, writers and artists expressed their discontentment, and the European countries began to colonize the New World.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the German states entered into an era dominated by warfare, revolt and upheaval. The Thirty Years' War involved Germans in some of the most horrific battles that had ever been fought on the European Continent. The Scientific Revolution changed the way Germans looked at nature and the way they thought about physical things. In the German states, Prussia and Austria emerged as great and rival powers. Their absolutist monarchies centralized their governments and increased their political control. Brandenburg-Prussia gained control of both East and West Prussia, as well as numerous other German territories. In this period, Prussia emerged as the chief military power on the continent and its army became a model of skill and efficiency. Prussia's government also made it a haven for political and religious refugees, including Salzburg Protestants fleeing from Catholic Austria, French Huguenots, and colonists from Holland and Flanders.
The 18th century was an age of absolutism and empire, demographic growth, economic development, and enlightenment. After the French Revolution, Napoleon created a France that was powerful enough to challenge the Holy Roman Empire and the other European states combined. The Congress Of Vienna, which concluded the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, gave the rich territories of the Rhineland and of Westphalia to Prussia. At this time, the various German states began to move toward the creation of a modern and united German nation. After the Revolutions of 1848, and the rise of Bismarck, Germany expanded territorially, developed its economy, and emerged as a great world power. German Unification was proclaimed in 1871, by which time Germany had attained roughly the size and boundaries it would have in the 20th century.
The 19th century also witnessed social and economic revolutions, which complimented the political revolution of German Unification. Industrialization and urbanization created large cities that were largely populated by the newly created working class. German thinkers, such as Kant, Hegel, and Marx, provided radically new political philosophies that redefined the course of Western thought.
- ^ Swyrich, Archive materials
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