The Habsburg Bid for Mastery, 1519-1659

Who were the Habsburgs?

The Habsburgs were a European royal family who had their fingers in a lot of
different countries but they are particularly associated with Austria and

What were the Habsburgs trying to do during the approximately 150-year
period covered by this chapter, 1519 to 1659?

They were busily trying to dominate Europe.

Were the Habsburgs successful in their attempts to dominate Europe?


What are 2 major reasons the Habsburgs were not successful in their attempts
to dominate Europe?

1.. The other European countries kept getting together to thwart their
2.. Warfare was becoming more expensive to wage and they kept having big
financial problems because of the costs of the constant wars they had to
fight in their attempts to dominate Europe.
In what way did the wars fought by the Habsburgs between 1500-1650 preview
20th century conflicts?

This is one of the first appearances of wars that spanned several countries.
Previous wars had tended to be localized. However, the Habsburgs often found
themselves fighting simultaneously in different countries for mastery of the
European continent.

What religion were the Habsburgs?

They were Roman Catholics.

Was religion a factor the wars the Habsburgs fought between 1500-1650?

Yes. In general, the Habsburgs and their allies were Roman Catholics and
their opponents were Protestants.

What did Martin Luther do in 1517 that caused the Habsburgs a lot of grief
over the years?

He revolted against the Roman Catholic Church and effectively started the
Protestant movement.

What was it about the Roman Catholic Church that had Luther's shorts all in
a knot?

Like most human institutions that have been successful for a long time,
people in positions of power start getting too comfortable and greedy. High
Church officials were living lavish lifestyles and making money off
distasteful activities like the sale of indulgences.

What the hell are indulgences?

The right to have sins cleared off your record. In other words, you would
pay off a church official and you could escape time in purgatory for your
sins after you died.

What did Protestants believe?

Basically, they believed in a more personal relationship between the
individual and God without the necessity for a big Church bureaucracy in
between. They believed in simplicity in worship which is why early
Protestant churches are quite plain and austere in contrast to the lavish
Catholic churches and cathedrals of the time.

Under which Habsburg king did the Habsburg holdings really spread out all
over Europe?

The Emperor Charles V. (easy mnemonic -Think of your friend Charles
staggering all over Europe with a 5th of whiskey)

What European lands did Charles V control?



The Netherlands


Bohemia (part of Germany today)

The southern half of Italy

A fair chunk of France (Burgundy)

How did Charles V get all this land?

He inherited it from his ancestors who had acquired much of it through
cleverly arranged dynastic marriages.

How do King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (you know, the ones who
sent Christopher Columbus out to look for India) figure into this picture?

Charles V's grandfather arranged for Charles V's dad to marry their
daughter. Thus the Habsburgs acquired Spain and all the Spanish lands in the
New World.

Was Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter ugly?

A real bowser. Why else do you think they had to put up such a generous

Were the French pleased about Charles V's good fortune in inheriting this
vast expanse of land?

Not exactly. It appeared to them that Charles V was attempting to encircle
them. Check the map on page 34 of the Kennedy book and you will see why.

Did the Habsburgs have a plan to rule the world along the lines of Napoleon
or Hitler?

According to Kennedy, the answer is no. They just sort of acquired all this
land and they wanted to preserve their holdings and, if possible, add to
them. There was not a conscious effort to "rule the world."

Throughout the period covered by this chapter-particularly in the early
period-the Habsburgs were fighting pretty regularly over holdings in Italy.
With whom were the Habsburgs fighting over Italy?


Was Italy a unified country at this time?

No. Italy wasn't unified until many years later in the 1800s. At this time
Italy was a collection of principalities and city states (e.g., Milan,
Venice, Genoa, etc.)

Who was Charles V fighting with in the Central European area around Hungary
and Austria?

The Turks.

How did Turkey get its name?

The country is shaped like a large, flightless bird.

What is the Ottoman Empire?

The Turkish Empire that at various times controlled the same lands in
Hungary, the Balkans, Austria, and southern Germany as the Habsburg Empire.
Through the period of this chapter there was constant conflict between the
Ottoman and Habsburg Empires in south central Europe.

How did the Ottoman Empire get its name?

The Turks loved to recline on large, ornate sofas (also known as "ottomans")
while they smoked their hookahs; hence the name, "Ottoman Empire."

Did the French and Turks cooperate against the Habsburgs?

For the most part they fought separately against the Habsburgs, but at one
point the French and Ottoman fleets did combine in an assault against the

Throughout this time Charles V was trying to consolidate his holdings in
Germany. Was Germany a united country?

No. Like Italy, Germany was not united into what we now think of as Germany
until the 1800s. In the1500s and 1600s Germany was a collection of different
principalities and provinces.

Where did Protestantism first flourish and attract large numbers of

In the German states.

What are two major reasons the Habsburgs had a hard time controlling their
German holdings?

1.. The Protestant Germans resisted control by the Roman Catholic
2.. Other interests in and around Germany (France, the Turks, the German
princes, and even the Pope) all felt threatened by Habsburg dominance of
Germany and did all they could to resist it.
The title of this chapter is "The Habsburg Bid for Mastery, 1519-1659." What
is the significance of the 1519 date?

1519 was when Charles V was named "Holy Roman Emperor" and really started
running the Habsburg show.

What is the significance of the title "Holy Roman Emperor?"

It had been set up around 500 years earlier and was supposed to represent
the political side of the Pope's spiritual empire. However, by the 1500s the
title of "Holy Roman Emperor" was beginning to diminish in importance and
had come to mean the person who ruled the Austrian Empire.

What did Charles V do in the years 1555 and 1556 that fundamentally changed
the Habsburg Empire?

He essentially retired and split the Habsburg Empires into Spanish and
Austrian branches.

In 1555 Charles V abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor (ruler of Austria). Who
did he give the job to?

He gave the title of "Holy Roman Emporer"to his brother, Ferdinand I.

In 1556 Charles V abdicated as king of Spain. Who did he give the Spanish
job to?

He made his son, Philip II, the king of Spain.

After the split between the Eastern (Austria) and Western (Spain) branches
of the Habsburg Empire in 1555-56, one branch remained relatively calm for a
while but the other branch was regularly embroiled in wars. Which branch had
all the trouble?

The Spanish branch found itself almost constantly at war for the next
hundred years.

Shortly after Philip II took over the Spanish branch of the Habsburg Empire
relations with the Netherlands got much worse. What are two reasons for the
deterioration of relations with the Netherlands?

1.. Protestantism had become very popular in the Netherlands and the
Catholic Philip was not tolerant of Protestantism.
2.. Philip increased taxation against the Dutch which they did not like at
What did Philip II do in 1580 that pissed off the British?

He annexed Portugal.

Why did the Brits care about Portugal?

At this time Portugal was an important maritime power with an impressive
fleet and overseas colonies (like Brazil). England was mainly a maritime
nation and it felt threatened by Spain's instant enlargement of its maritime

What did the British do to thwart the Spanish Habsburgs?

They started aiding the Dutch in their revolt and attacking Spanish ships on
the high seas.

Aside from wanting to diminish Spanish naval capabilities, what additional
incentive was there for the British to attack Spanish ships?

Many of them were full of gold and silver from Spain's American colonies
which the British were pleased to take off their hands.

What decisive naval battle occurred in 1588?

The English fleet defeated and destroyed the Spanish Armada.

Were the Spanish Habsburgs ever successful in suppressing the Netherlands?

No, in 1948 they gave the Dutch full independence.

What was the Thirty Years War?

The series of conflicts between the Hapsburgs and the Dutch, French,
Germans, and Swedes.

When was the Thirty Years War?

1618 to 1648.

How long did the Thirty Years War last?

About 30 years.

What was the name of the treaty that ended the Thirty Years War?

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

Did the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 bring peace to the Habsburg lands?

Not altogether. It ended the wars in Germany but the Habsburgs continued to
fight with the French until 1659.

What happened in 1659?

The Treaty of the Pyrenees ended the war between Spain and France in 1659.

What the hell are "Pyrenees?"

The Pyrenees are the mountain chain between Spain and France.

So the title of this chapter is "The Habsburg Bid for Mastery, 1519-1659."
What happened in 1519 and what happened in 1659?

1519 was when good old Charles V took over as Holy Roman Empire and really
started expanding Habsburg influence. 1659 is when the Treaty of the
Pyrenees ended the period of conflict he had stirred up.

So was "The Habsburg Bid for Mastery" successful?

Not really. The strategic situation in Europe wasn't that much different in
1659 than it was in 1519. Sorry, Charlie.

What sorts of weapons were the armies using the wars of this period?

Pikes, swords, crossbows, and arquebuses.

What in the world is an "arquebus?"

It is similar to a Metro Bus. Only kidding. It is a sort of primitive
firearm that would be placed in a forked support and fired.

We said earlier that fighting the wars of the period 1519 to 1659
practically bankrupted the Habsburgs. Since the weaponry seems pretty basic,
why was warfare so expensive?

Because much of the fighting was naval warfare and ships are expensive.
Also, the foot soldiers were mostly mercenaries who had to be paid or they
wouldn't fight.

You mean the soldiers weren't brave volunteers fighting for the glory of
Spain or whatever country they happened to live in?

Not quite. Most of them were professional thugs who didn't even live in the
countries they were fighting for. For example, 4/5 of the "Swedish" army
that fought against the Habsburgs in Germany was made up of mercenaries from
Scotland, England, and Germany.

What big advantage did the Spanish Habsburgs have in financing their
military adventures?

Gold and silver from their American possessions-mainly from Mexico and Peru.
This was a critical source of "hard currency" that enabled the Spanish
Habsburgs to continue to build ships and pay for soldiers. Remember-at this
time you had agricultural economies. It was difficult for states to raise
revenue. There was little income for them to impose an income tax on.

What does Kennedy say was the main historical significance of "The Habsburg
Bid for Mastery, 1519-1659."

He says that it advanced the evolution of the European nation-state. In
other words, Europe started to become more a collection of national entities
than a bunch of gangsters (kings) running around with their followers.

Why did the period 1519-1659 advance the evolution of the European

The increased expense of fighting the wars of this period required the
development of governmental bureaucracies to raise the revenue required to
build ships and raise armies.

So all these people got slaughtered in these wars so we could have
government bureaucrats?

Yes. As you can see, it was all worthwhile.