Stephen Davies on the Habsburg failure to dominate Europe

In his new book, The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity (see also this excerpt and this excerpt), Stephen Davies argues that the Wealth Explosion of his title happened, in Europe rather than in any the other places where it might have happened, because in Europe, uniquely, nobody was in a position to stop it. In particular, the Habsburgs, who might have achieved domination in Europe in the manner of the Ming Dynasty in China, the Mughals in India or the Ottomans in the Middle East, came close, but failed.

What follows is Davies describing how their attempt nearly succeeded, but finally fell away (pp. 150-152):

So the critical turning point for European and in significant ways world history (because of its impact on later events) was the decade of 1582 to 1592. In those years Phillip II played for the ultimate prize. Had he succeeded in his twin aims, of suppressing the Dutch and either dismembering the French monarchy or reducing it to client status, he would indeed have achieved a dominant position in Europe with no power realistically able to check him and the military revolution in Europe would have had the same result as elsewhere. However, in going for everything he failed in both of his major objectives.

Firstly, Phillip II tried to consolidate his apparent victory over the Dutch by invading and conquering England in 1588 via the ‘Invincible Armada’ which would have given him domination of the Northern Seas, as well as control of England’s wealth and resources. He saw this as both an opportunity and a strategic necessity. In 1585 Elizabeth I had finally entered the war in the Low Countries on the Dutch side through the Treaty of Nonsuch. Then in 1587 her cousin and heir, Mary Queen of Scots, had been executed. This opened up the opportunity for Phillip, as overthrowing Elizabeth would no longer bring a pro-French ruler to the English throne. The Armada came close to success and had it managed to transport the Spanish army from Gravelines to Kent no amount of patriotic rhetoric would have helped Elizabeth’s forces against Parma’s veterans. However, at a crucial point the naval superiority of the English, culminating in an attack by fire ships and combined with a change in the wind, forced the Armada to run round the eastern side of the British Isles. The Armada fatally distracted Parma from pushing home his advantage over the Dutch and gave them time to regroup.

Meanwhile in France, the state of the French monarchy went from bad to worse. In 1584 the Duke of Anjou, the youngest of Henri II’s four children and the heir presumptive to the childless Henri III, died and this left his cousin and head of the Huguenot faction Henri of Navarre as the heir to the throne. The Catholic faction headed by the Guises refused to accept his right and entered into the Treaty of Joinville with Phillip Il. (It was this and Parma’s successes that finally provoked Elizabeth into the treaty of Nonsuch). Then in 1588 a mass uprising by the Catholic League of the Guises drove Henri III out of Paris in the ‘Day of the Barricades: Later that year Henri III treacherously murdered the Duke of Guise at Blois, an action that destroyed any remaining support for him in Paris and the North and East of France. At this point the French monarchy barely controlled a few strongholds along the Loire, and France seemed in imminent danger of succumbing to the Habsburgs. Then, in 1589 Henri III was murdered in his turn, by a Catholic assassin. This meant that Henri of Navarre became King, as Henri IV. He proved to be one of France’s greatest rulers and brought the wars of religion to an end by firstly, becoming a Catholic (“Paris is worth a mass” as he said), secondly defeating the Guises despite intervention by Parma on their behalf, and thirdly by promulgating the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed limited freedom of worship to the Huguenots. This meant that France re-emerged as a great power whereas a few years earlier it had looked as though it would break up or fall under Spanish supremacy, like Italy.

Meanwhile the Dutch, on the ropes In 1587, were able to recover while the Armada and the war in France distracted Parma. William the Silent’s son, Maurice of Nassau, proved to be an outstanding general and military theoretician and he was able to recapture the key fortresses of Breda and Geertruidenburg and drive the Spaniards south of the Rhine and Maas. At this point the financial burden of the wars proved insupportable once more and in 1609 the Habsburgs were forced to sign the Twelve Year Truce with the Dutch. They had missed their chance.

Arguably though, the Habsburgs had one final try at a dominant position in Europe. Following the reunification of the ancestral Habsburg lands by Ferdinand of Styria in 1618 he became Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II and allied himself with his Spanish cousin Phillip IV, in an attempt to complete the unfinished task of Phillip II, The result was the Thirty Years War of 1618 to 1648, which laid waste large parts of Germany and came to involve almost every power in Europe. Towards the end of the war France, under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu, intervened directly on the anti-Habsburg side. French forces inflicted devastating defeats on the Spanish at Rocroi and Lens, which marked the end of Spanish military superiority in Europe. The war between France and Spain finally ended with the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, which marked the end of Spain as the premier great power in Europe.

Even more importantly, in 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years War formally recognised the permanent division of Europe into distinct sovereign states, that is to say that there was no hegemon or true supra-national power, and set up a set of rules to govern relations between them. The so-called ‘Westphalian System’ remains the basis of international relations to this day. …

A nearly invisible new bridge from Battersea to Pimlico

There’s a bridge right near where I live that is wending its way through politics to the point where geography and physics and civil engineering will take over, and they will actually start building it.

I refer to the biking-and-walking-only bridge that will eventually join Battersea to Pimlico:

The bridge is at the stage where they are trying to pacify objectors to it. Hence this Canaletto-like pseudo-photo, in which the actual bridge itself is hardly to be seen at all! How could anyone possibly object to this wraith-like presence, scarcely visible through the mist rising from the river and bathing everything in obscurity? The steel struts that will eventually to be seen holding up the actual bridge are invisible in this pseudo-photo, so it’s just as well that the bridge itself, as (just about) seen here, is made by laser-beams projecting into the mist and weighs nothing at all! If you want to protest, protest about those big lumpy old boats clogging up the river and making such a rumpus, not the ghost bridge.

That’s the trouble with infrastructure. Those who will be disrupted by it know exactly who they are, or they think they do. But the far greater number of people who will have their lives somewhat improved by by this or that item of infrastructure only find out about this after it comes on stream. On in this case, on river.

My guess is: I will like this bridge, and will quite often walk across it, if only to avoid a there-and-back-the-same-way walk to and from Battersea. (Now, to avoid this, I often take the train from Battersea to Victoria, and then walk home from there, past my local supermarkets.) But that’s only a guess. Meanwhile, those who now live in the peace and quiet of Georgian Pimlico just know that their sleep will from now on be ruined by noisy bike gangs at 4am, making their way from Notting Hill (after a spot of carnival rioting) to Brixton, and if not by that then by something else equally unwelcome, perhaps originating in Battersea and walking across the river, while probably being drunk. Why take the chance? So, if they can stop the bridge, they’ll stop it, just to make sure.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Challenging a Victorian myth with Twitter

Tom Holland, agreeing with this lady, says that this thread is a perfect illustration of why the Cromwell Museum’s approach to Twitter …:

… is an absolute model of what museums can achieve with the medium …

What the Cromwell Museum was saying, quite a while back now, was this:

A myth about Oliver Cromwell seen in films & TV is that he dressed dourly in black. The idea that all Puritans did is a Victorian myth; there isn’t a single contemporary portrait of Cromwell in black. He’s always depicted instead in armour or fine clothes.

Interesting. I agree that this is a very good use of Twitter.

I am still pondering whether to bother with Twitter. Its censorious left-wing political preferences repel me, and its wearisome slagging contests seem hard to avoid. (Said he, slagging off Twitter itself.) Postings like the above make me suspect that I may persevere. They also tell me how to use Twitter myself, if I ever do this more actively than now, even though I am not a museum.

LATER: See also, this, about another “myth”, this time based on a misunderstanding of clothing evidence.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Cats – Dogs – Hitler – and Surrey don’t win

Indeed:

I encountered this on Twitter this afternoon. This is now all over the www. But, I could not discern who had first taken this photo, or what they had said about it. Twitter is bad like that. People shove up photos like this one, but never say what their provenance is. The worst offender when it comes to not linking when they should is “You Had One Job”, a gang of internet thieves, basically. Whom I will not dignify with a link.

This has been a holding operation. I have three quarters finished at least two different postings, but I don’t want to rush them.

This one, on the other hand, I do want to rush. You want a funny caption? Do your own.

You what? I’m angry, and taking it out on you people? Damn right I’m angry. Surrey amassed a stupendous 250 in their T20 innings against Kent earlier this evening, and then instead of Kent failing to chase this down (Kent would definitely have failed to chase this down), it bloody rained and the two points were shared between the two sides. There ought to be a rule that says if you make that many, and then it rains, you automatically win. But is there such a rule? Is there? Of course not.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Weird unrehearsed performance anxiety dream

This morning, I had a strange dream. What with attending a couple of recent song performances given by GodDaughter2, my subconscious somehow persuaded itself that I was also having to do some singing, in front of a similarly discerning audience. But of course I had no idea what I was supposed to be singing. Also, my singing is ridiculous, and it has been ever since my voice broke. Nobody sane would gather into an audience to hear it. Nevertheless, there I was, on a stage, waiting to perform, with three other actual singers, totally clueless. So far so ordinary. A classic unrehearsed performance anxiety nightmare.

At this point, however, a slightly more conscious layer of my subconscious deduced, in an actually quite relaxed manner, that this was an unrehearsed performance anxiety nightmare. At which point, it told me to look the audience straight in their eyes, and I said words to the following effect: “This performance may seem like it’s going to be a dream for you, but actually, it’s really a nightmare. My nightmare. And I’m not having it. I’m not going to do any performing, and I am not going to feel bad about this. I’m out of here.” And I was. I left the stage, and all those present just had to deal with it.

At this point it got strange. Instead of me waking up, the dream carried right on. The media decided to take an interest. There were TV crews interviewing the other performers, the ones who had actually been doing some rehearsing. What was that about? Who was that bloke? It was quite a drama. As it would be, if a performer made a speech like the one my subconscious and I had just made. I tried to hide behind a door in the room where all this media frenzy was unfolding, but the media spotted me and advanced towards me. Only then did I wake up.

What did this mean? What was my subconscious telling me? The usual unrehearsed performance anxiety nightmare seems to say: rehearse better. This revised version seemed to say: relax. But relax about what, exactly?

They say that if you have a weird dream, then if you just write it down, as best you can, or, if you are the picture-drawing sort, if you draw yourself a picture, then whatever message your brain was trying to get noticed in another part of itself is from then on regarded as having been noticed, and the weird dream does not return. What matters is not the accuracy and quality of what you write or draw. Simply making the effort is enough.

It feels to me like this was something to do with getting old. Getting old means that you just get less bothered about things generally, and unrehearsed performance anxiety nightmares in particular. Time was when you worried about such things. Now, you just bugger off out of there. If others object, that’s their problem.

Also, if you think this is a bizarre blog posting, … well, you know, ditto.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

I came for bridges but mostly what I got was leaves

The pattern with all my best photo-expeditions is that there is an Official Designated Destination, and then there is all the other stuff I get to discover. The principle purpose of the ODD is to get me out of my snug little home and into the big wide world that is Outdoors, to see both the ODD and whatever else I bump into in the vicinity of the ODD.

And the ODD for my recent trip to Brittany via Paris was the top of Quimper Cathedral, from which I hoped to photo the numerous bridges across the river that flows through the middle of Quimper, past the Cathedral. Civilians are only allowed to climb to the top of Quimper Cathedral on very particular and rare days, and you have to book in advance. April 29th was such a day, which is why I journeyed to Quimper on April 28th. (I could not leave home earlier than that because on April 27th I had one of my Last Friday of the Month meetings.)

My Hostess (GodDaughter 2’s Mother) journeyed with me from London to Quimper, via Paris, and my Host (GodDaughter 2’s Father) and I duly presented ourselves at the big front door of the Cathedral, at the appointed hour of 4pm.

As we approached, we had already seen from below where we were presumably headed:

And so it proved.

So, how would all those bridges look?

Until this moment, the best picture of the bridges of Quimper that I had been able to take was this, which I found in a Quimper shop, way back in 2006:

But alas, in April 2018, the trees of Quimper were all covered in leaves, and when I pointed my camera at the bridges, leaves was pretty much all I got:

This was about the best I got of any of those bridges:

I see four bridges there. There are a lot more than four bridges in the middle of Quimper. Trees I like. But, I hate leaves on trees.

Was I upset about this, having come all that way? Not really. I’ve always wanted to see this view, and now I have seen it, along with lots of other things to be viewed from the same spot. This spot turned out, bridge-wise, not to be nearly as good as I had hoped, but at least I now know this. I’m not going to die wondering.

Besides which, the Official Designated Destination is not justified only by how good the thing itself is. At least as important is what else it causes me to encounter, and I encountered plenty. If the ODD is a disappointment, the trip as a whole can still be great, as this one was.

Now that I am home, I did a little further image googling, and in among a mass of photos of the bridges of Quimper from ground level, with the nearest bridge almost entirely blocking the view of all the others, I found this one aerial shot:

I can tell you from the scaffolding that this photo, even though this is the first time I’ve ever seen it, was probably taken in 2006, because all my Quimper Cathedral photos when I went there in 2006 also had one of the Cathedral towers smothered in scaffolding. That was in September. My guess is that the above aerial photo was taken earlier that summer.

Tourisme Bretagne needs to get in touch with 6k. If he’s not free to photo those bridges from above, maybe he could recommend someone. Or maybe they could find a place towards the top of a building closer to the bridges whose owner would be willing to allow bridgists to come and photo all the bridges. Those bridges are a huge tourist asset, and they need to get them seen, and photoed by visitors, in all their glory.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Yet more photoers

Yes, I don’t think I’ll ever get totally tired to taking photos of photoers, like the ones below, all taken during a recent walk with my friend Tony (who is GodDaughter2’s Dad) along Victoria Street, past Westminster Abbey and Parliament, and then on over the River and past the Wheel.

Lots of woolly hats and gloves and furry clothes, and hair. I especially like how the hair of the lady in 2.2 is lit up green, and also a bit of red.

Click and enjoy:

Seven smartphones. Two old school cameras, like my one. Smartphones have totally swallowed the dedicated-but-little camera market, although you do still see them around.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog