Great Powers in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Great

Powers in the 17th and 18th Centuries

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Great Britain,

France, and the Hapsburg Empire were all competing for the fate of Europe.

France, in particular, was caught between
being a continental power or a world power; taking control of the Rhine
and most of Central Europe, or taking control of The New World. France’s
primary goal at the time was for control of the Rhine, but this goal was
not without obstacles. Great Britain’s main concern was to keep the
balance of power in Europe on their side, while expanding overseas.

The Hapsburg Empire’s goals were dealing with conquering the Holy Roman

Empire and the Germanic states, in turn taking over the entire continent
from the inside out. All 3 of these great powers were being opposed
from their pursuits, and survival was always the top concern. Also,
after 1660, a growing multipolar system of European states made decisions
within each state based more on national interest than before, when most
conflicts and militaristic decisions were based on religion.

Louis XIV(1661-1715) is responsible for
a considerable gain in the power of France. He had huge armies, (at
some points reaching up to half a million troops), that were organized
with barracks, hospitals, parade grounds, and depots to support them.

Along with an organized enormous fleet at sea, France became a true hybrid
power. Its energies were diverted between continental aims and maritime
and colonial ambitions. For two decades with no real competition,

France was successful, but other powers soon built up enough recourses
and power to challenge it. By 1713, and the Treaty of Utrecht, France’s
boundaries were established covering the Saint Lawrence River valley, the

Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, the West Indian islands of Saint Domingue,

Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Constantly defending these territories
with the navy, and wars on land with Italy and other states, split French
energy into the navy and military. Never putting enough effort into
just one of these two divisions, French strategy was described as a constant"falling between stools", with no direction. If one of the two divisions
were solely concentrated on, French success within that division would
have been much more successful. Also, France’s economy was not strong.

France was much wealthier than countries such as England, but the weak
economical structure, tax strategy, interest policies, and lack of a proper
system of public finance in France made less money per capita than in than
most states. Each tax collector took a "cut" from whatever he collected,
then each receiver of that took a cut before passing it on to a higher
level, plus each person received 5 percent interest on the price he had
paid for office. Thus, much of the taxpayer’s money was going to private
hands. The system was greatly flawed, and it showed, in how much
money the government got to spend on the navy and military. Geographical
placement of France boxed it in to one big lowland, with openings to the

North, which was good for defense, but not as good for expansion and conquest.

France could have been much more powerful if it wasn’t for their long list
of economical and strategic disadvantages.

Great Britain domestically "stabilized"
after James II was replaced by William and Mary in 1688. It fulfilled
its potential as being the greatest of the European maritime empires.

It showed very stable and fast-growing commercial and industrial strength,
and a flexible, while successful, social structure. The "financial
revolution" was a huge part in the role Great Britain played during this
time. The tax structure was much less resented by the public than
that of France, or any other country. Britain had a system of loans
and interest that increased their total income greatly. Three-quarters
of extra wartime funds used to help Britain’s troops came from loans, while
outgoing loans had an interest fee. The Bank of England in 1694 controlled
the national debt as well as much of the stock exchange, while growth of
paper money without much inflation helped the economy.

As a result of the organization of England’s
economy, foreign investors flocked to the British government stock.

Technological and other breakthroughs were constantly allowing the system
to better itself, and providing even more of an advantage for Britain.

For the entire 18th century, Great Britain’s economic system was the most
efficient in Europe. Credit for such a good system was "the principal
advantage that England hath over France." The geographical location
of Great Britain also contributed to their success. It was described
as situated to neither be "forced to defend itself by land, nor