VI 2 THE YEARS 1580 AND 1703

VI  2   THE YEARS 1580 AND 1703

1557 Lyon Du Rosne

En l’an cinq cens octante plus & moins,
On attend le siecle bien estrange:
En l’an sept cents & trois cieulx en tesmoins
Que plusiers regnes vn à cinq feront change.

In the year five hundred eighty more or less,
A well-strange age is tendered/woven/ensues:
In the year seven hundred and three the heavens tell
That many domains one to five will be changed.

Line 4, OF ‘vn à cinq’ would mean in modern French a spread of one to five whereas ‘un sur cinq’ would mean ‘one in five’. It could be that ‘un cinq’ might represent a union, ‘the Five Nations’ (and with regard to a designated state ‘en’, ‘au’ and ‘à’ are basically indifferent). Whatever, the year 1557 saw Nostredame write that a fistful of kingdoms/principalities/administrations will be changed in an unaccustomed way by the close of 1580-1703.

As well as any literal, figurative (or possibly astrological) significance the last line has it might also be suggesting that we play with changing the words (or ‘vn à cinq feront change’ might even intend us to change the vowels around). I’ll try simply rearranging letters to conjure a discrete series of fitting names. Among the possibilities are

Traité de Fleix, Philip/Felipe, France, Espagne, Portugal, roi d’Angleterre, République néerlandais, Huguenots, Protestants, Provinces-Unies, bandeirantes, Amérique portugaise, asiento, Amérique espagnole, La guerre de trente ans, Floride, Empereur Saint Romain, Louis le Roi Soleil, Nueva Planta, Basque, royaume de Navarre, Prusse, Pologne, Ottoman, Sultan, Alliance anti-francais, Front Nord, Hongrie, Allemagne, Italie, Marlborough and, even more futuristically, l’Union Europea

all of which I’ve used – mostly in English translation – in the following loose account of the period:

In 1580 the Duke of Anjou, wishing to fully focus military efforts on the Netherlands, negotiated the Treaty of Felix recognizing religious concessions and privileges to the French Huguenots. In that year Phillip II King of Spain and nominal King of England, national enemy of Portugal – the latter being also an enemy of France and of the encroaching Dutch with their holdings across the world – won the empty throne of Portugal and its far-flung empire yet lost any control of the Netherlands to the Protestant United Provinces.

Portuguese-native ‘bandeirantes’ or ‘flag followers’ expanded Portuguese America, starting-out in 1580 by slave-hunting. The English held a 30-year ‘asiento’ for this in Spanish America.

The game-changing Thirty Years War ceased in 1643 (and there are plenty of other very serious wars and their outcomes to consider during this 1580-1703 period).

The under-capacitated Spanish King Charles II had died in 1700. He had ruled a vast empire including kingdoms in Europe plus many overseas colonies. Last of the Spanish Habsburgs, he was succeeded by the Bourbon Habsburg Duke of Anjou who renounced all family claim to the throne of France and became Philip V of Spain, sparking the Spanish War of Succession (known in the Americas as the Queen Anne War with England and France being the main contenders over Spanish colonial provinces like Florida). The DutchRepublic, the English Monarchy and the Holy Roman Emperor actively opposed the resultant French-Spanish alliance.

Philip V of Spain meanwhile was following the example of Louis the Sun King and consolidating power to the monarchy in a way that English Kings literally couldn’t afford. During this whole period a mess of countries, kingdoms and territories were changing hands or ceding autonomy. Most of Spain’s politically independent kingdoms fell under the ‘Nueva Planta’ of Philip but not the Basque provinces nor the Kingdom of Navarre which were treated as special cases.

During this time, expansive French hegemony had been achieved but then faded. Construction of the powerful state of Prussia was being condoned. The Swedish King finally marched on Poland and effectively annexed it via a puppet head of state.

A common response to the high passions, inflicted degradations and sheer bloody-mindedness of the all-out French religious wars and English religio-political reprisals was a decline in demand for the religious commodity as a whole. People affected a mannered politeness as a sign of gentle good faith in each other, having sobered their responses to divers others, a new realization having rooted that a different form of belief does not of itself make somebody evil. (A doctrine that had been fundamental to Medieval Christianity).  Impassioned religious fervour became viewed as vulgar. Meanwhile previously smothered commercial activity took off like a rocket (or would have done had an equivalent of Stephenson’s Rocket then been invented) and a degree of factory methodology was to emerge gradually from here on, mainly in gun manufacture.

We have to take the nomination by Nostredame of the year 1703 as being quite precise (unless it’s meant to be 2703 or 3703) and sure enough this was an interesting year for a raft of different reasons. I’ve chosen European state politics as the likely sector to investigate but new heads of state generally for 1703 included the Ottomans Sultan Ahmed III and Grand Viziers Mehmed, Ahmed and Hasan. Was Nostredame focusing on Turkish developments over the period, perhaps?

Back in Europe, 1703 saw two major alliances, two uprisings and a grand design emerge. A Hungarian  revolt against Austrian Habsburg domination was proclaimed. The English manoeuvred Portugal into joining them against Spain. The two Habsburg Bourbon kings were into their feared alliance and so Savoy, which controlled the high passes between France and Italy, felt advised to join them. Anti-French Alliance campaigns were well underway – at the Northern Front, Hungary, Germany, Italy – while the Spanish army was bolstered by French soldiers and the Englishman John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, set about persuading others to implement his self-styled ‘Great Design’ for Europe. Is that the root source of today’s impossibly strained EU?