THE GOLDEN AGE: Why was the Golden Age – SO Golden?



A few people have questioned me recently about my open use of the term “Golden

Age” to cover the majority of the 17th century into the early 18th.

So I thought to myself that a historical article on the use of the term would

be a wonderful idea for our little website – and would in addition serve to

explain my justified use of the term to define our own favored era.

One can do a simple search of the term and find dozens of definitions in


From Wikipedia: “A golden age is a period in a field of endeavor when great

tasks were accomplished.”

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Full Definition of GOLDEN AGE: “a period

of great happiness, prosperity, and achievement”

Examples of GOLDEN AGE:

  • the golden age of art
  • a golden age for…country
  • timelines of history for differing countries that may have more than one
    golden period…

First Known Use of the term GOLDEN AGE in English – 1555

Of course scholars most commonly know the Golden Age to be the great period of

philosophy and celebrated philosophers of classical ancient Greece.

So what are some of these other Golden periods or ages?

Because we are speaking and reading in English here (the language of modern

western history which defines the metaphor in whatever self gratifying manner

its own historians see fit to define their past – what’s the old phrase:

“History is written by the Victors”),

I think it appropriate to begin with the English.


The English have numerous Golden Ages but there is only one that is germane to

my argument.

  • The Golden Age of Bede
  • The Golden Age of Elizabeth I
  • The Golden Age of Victoria

Of course most modern Brits and even many Americans like to think of one of

the last two I list – as a British Golden Age. Why wouldn’t they? During the

final period Britain dominated the world – “The Sun never set on the British


However, the period I mentioned briefly that is almost ignored now, takes a

little digging to find – and I find it quite amusing that it has become such a

historical footnote now. In the final conclusion at the end of this article I

will tell you why I believe this era is not listed among those other Golden

Ages I listed above and why it is also so ignored generally in the history

books by modern English speaking peoples from the 19th century to the present.

But first, I must make my case that it was indeed a Golden Age on par with (if

not even greater than) the other Golden Ages mentioned.

So this lesser known Golden era I refer to is the Golden Age of Charles II –

more commonly known now as “The Restoration”.

This era is quite frankly extraordinary in every way possible to English

history. It is a period of incredibly talented and famous English composers,

poets, architects, artists, playwrights, philosophers, scientists, gentlemen,

and libertines.

Lets consider this time viewed by its own contemporary chroniclers – of which

several refer to their own time – halfway into the reign of Charles as “our

own Golden Age”.

Why? Two simple reasons I think:

REASON Number 1) Backlash and Resurgence from prior times,
and extraordinary persons of distinction:

Because the Puritans under “The Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell, ruled England
with an iron hand for the twenty years prior to Charles II’s Restoration of the
Monarchy. Cromwell and the English Parliament had Charles I beheaded at the end
of the English Civil War. The Commonwealth of England came about as a result
and was viewed as a republic – with direct oversight by Cromwell (basically a
dictator). England had become a grim Puritan Protestant stronghold which
outlawed the theater and dominated England’s people with a strict code of
morality. Women (even nobility) were forbidden to wear the color red. It was
also frowned upon for men to wear any other color but black with a modest white
collar. The arts were frowned upon. Music in church services was even seen as
too stimulating and as being a distraction from the preaching of the word of God.

Is it any surprise then given this bleak backdrop that when Charles II came

home and the Monarchy was restored that the people rejoiced? The theaters were

reopened, people of every class again wore whatever colors they pleased and

the Puritans became a minority – many of them moving to the New World to

practice their restrictive religious beliefs.

Charles immediately set about proving to his people and to the world that he

was a great monarch. His reign is marked by immense extravagance and excess.

He hired artists and architects to transform his palace at White Hall into a

great Court and London into a great and enlightened city of the arts. Both

were accomplished during his reign. Grand models of London were poured over by

Charles who saw to every detail. Indeed it can be said that London received

the classical look it still enjoys today in many places, from Charles


The great architect that was his visionary and the work horse of its

materialization into reality was Sir Christopher Wren. Wren is probably best

remembered now for his design and building of Saint Paul’s Cathedral,

constructed in the flowing and ordered style of classical revival that so

marked Baroque architecture. Sir Christopher Wren

One of the leading composers of the age was Henry Purcell. Purcell was quite

simply ahead of his time. Purcell influenced not only his contemporaries but

many later composers. Purcell often fuses the music of the earlier

Renaissance with the Baroque. He fuses simple songs with simple lyrics with

the most movingly beautiful accompaniment. These lyrics though usually simple,

often hold profound truth or morbid reminders of our own very temporary mortal

state upon the earth.

Henry Purcell


Peter Pett



Pett was an important English Master shipwright of the time and a key member

of the Navy board that determined and approved future ship designs and builds.

He came from a long line of shipwrights and his designs were extremely

innovative and widely imitated. Pett set the standard for English warship

design of the day and is most famous for the great English warship –

Sovereign of the Seas That ship

was one of the longest lived in history and enjoyed a long and distinguished

career. She survived all three Anglo-Dutch Wars and the Dutch put prize

bounties on her for captains that would attempt destroying or capturing her.

She was taken on several occasions but always retaken by the English by the

end of the battles.
John Milton (1608 – 1674)


English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and a civil servant for the

Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious

flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost

(1667), written in blank verse.

Milton’s poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for

freedom and self-determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence

of his day. Writing in English, Latin, Greek, and Italian, he achieved

international renown within his lifetime, and his celebrated Areopagitica

(1644)—written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship—is among

history’s most influential and impassioned defenses of free speech and freedom

of the press.
Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)

English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy.

His 1651 book Leviathan established social contract theory, the foundation of

most later Western political philosophy. Though on rational grounds a champion

of absolutism for the sovereign, Hobbes also developed some of the

fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the

natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order

(which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the

view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on

the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves

people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.

He was one of the founders of modern political philosophy and political

science. His understanding of humans as being matter and motion, obeying the

same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential; and his

account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political

communities as being based upon a “social contract” remains one of the major

topics of political philosophy.

In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes also contributed to a diverse

array of other fields, including history, geometry, the physics of gases,

theology, ethics, and general philosophy.
John Locke (1632 – 1704)

English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of

the Enlightenment thinkers and known as the “Father of Classical Liberalism”.

Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the

tradition of Sir Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social contract

theory. His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and

political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many

Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His

contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in

the United States Declaration of Independence.

Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of

identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers

such as Hume, Rousseau, and Kant. Locke was the first to define the self

through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that, at birth, the mind

was a blank slate or tabula rasa. Contrary to Cartesian philosophy based on

pre-existing concepts, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas,

and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from the

senses and perception.

It should also be mentioned that Locke was rejected by Restoration England and

he was exiled to the Dutch Republic where he wrote many of his great works. He

returned to England with Queen Mary (Stuart) wife of the Dutchman and new

English King William III of Orange at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution

in 1688.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726)


Newton is one of the greatest minds and scientists of history. His

contributions to science and mathematics are undeniable. Newton’s “Principia”

formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated

scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. By

deriving Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from his mathematical description

of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories

of comets, the tides, the procession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena,

Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of

the Solar System. This work also demonstrated that the motion of objects on

Earth and of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles. His

prediction that Earth should be shaped as an oblate spheroid was later

vindicated by the measurements of Maupertuis, La Condamine, and others, which

helped convince most Continental European scientists of the superiority of

Newtonian mechanics over the earlier system of Descartes.

Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory

of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into

the many colours of the visible spectrum. He formulated an empirical law of

cooling, studied the speed of sound, and introduced the notion of a Newtonian

fluid. In addition to his work on calculus, as a mathematician Newton

contributed to the study of power series, generalised the binomial theorem to

non-integer exponents, developed a method for approximating the roots of a

function, and classified most of the cubic plane curves.
Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)


English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous

for the diaries he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man.

Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work,

and his talent for administration to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty

under both King Charles II and King James II. His influence and reforms at the

Admiralty were important in the early professionalization of the Royal Navy.

Pepys organized the Royal Navy into the great instrument it was later known

for the world over by reforming and reorganizing its training, officer

selection and promotion processes, refit proceedures, ship replacement, new

building design approval, procurement and resupply.

Samuel Pepys
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647 – 1680)


English poet, playwright, and courtier of King Charles II’s Restoration court.

The Restoration reacted against the authoritarianism of the Puritans and

Rochester was the embodiment of the new era. He is as well known for his

rakish lifestyle as his poetry, although the two were often interlinked. In

1669 he committed treason by boxing the ears of Thomas Killigrew in sight of

the King, and in 1673 he accidentally delivered an insulting diatribe to the

King. He was considered one of the great wits of the age. He died at the age

of 33 from venereal disease.
Wilmot was not just a man of letters and wit. He was a soldier and officer who

showed great bravery in battle during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. He served

under Lieutenant Admiral Lord Edward Montegu(Earl of Sandwich), Admiral Thomas

Teddeman and the famous Admiral Sir Edward Spragge. Only halfway into the war

Wilmot was a war hero. He was decorated, given a 1000 pound pension(an immense

amount at that time) and given the best quarters in Whitehall Palace close to

the King. He became a favorite thereafter of the King although the two were

often at odds because of Rochester’s acts and behavior.
Rochester’s contemporary Andrew Marvell described him as “the best English

satirist,” and he is generally considered to be the most considerable poet and

the most learned among the Restoration wits. His poetry (much of it censored

during the Victorian era) enjoyed a revival from the 1920s onwards. During his

lifetime, he was best known for “A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind”, and it

remains among his best known works today.

John Wilmot 2nd Earl of Rochester

Nell Gwynn (1650 – 1687)


Called “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living

embodiment of the spirit of Restoration England and has come to be considered

a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella.

She was the most famous Restoration actress and possessed a prodigious comic

talent. Gwyn (who was one of King’s favorite mistresses) had two sons by King

Charles: Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). The

surname of her sons is pronounced ‘Bo-Clare’. Charles was created Earl of

Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.



Reason Number 2) Under Charles II many historians argue that England was

finally brought into “Empire”. I believe this is a valid observation. The 17th

century saw a global explosion of trade and expansion by the seafaring

European nations that is unmatched in history. This early global race for

“empire” led to long standing conflicts and rivalries between the powers of

western Europe. The struggle only intensified throughout the century as the

trading leaders emerged. Throughout the century England expanded her merchant

marine fleets, navy, and colonial possessions. However, she was increasingly

at odds with her seemingly insignificant neighbor and unlikely competitor

across the English Channel – the United Provinces of the Netherlands. By the

middle of the century England and the Netherlands had emerged as the two most

powerful commercial opponents with the largest navies. This led to the

inevitable Anglo-Dutch trade wars which saw the largest and longest (age of

sail) naval battles in history.
Why had little Holland become such an impediment to England’s leadership and

rise as a world power? The Netherland’s unstoppable early industrialization

and trading expansion made her the center of European banking and finance

during the final decades of the Eighty(Thirty) Years War which essentially

broke the back of Spanish Imperial power both on the continent and abroad.

This decline in Spanish power allowed the other powers to muscle in on Spain’s

colonial possessions and world trade. Since the beginning of the 17th century,

the Dutch had been aggressively exploring, adding far flung colonies and

subduing the world’s trade. They had supplanted the Portuguese in the East

during the Dutch-Portuguese War (1601-1661). The Portuguese held only the

great fortress of Goa and Bombay at the conclusion of the war. The Dutch

seized Brazil in 1629-1630 and heavily colonized Surinam in the same decade.

They founded the Dutch West India Company and established the prosperous

colony of New Amsterdam on the North American seaboard.
The Dutch began to be seen as a menace by a resentful England, which looked

for any excuse to curb and check growing Dutch commercial power. Between the

long passed Amboina incident and Tromp failing to salute (dipping his flag as

the fleets passed) Admiral Robert Blake as he escorted a merchant fleet

through the English channel, the English got their war when Blake’s fleet

opened fire on Tromp. It was a costly war which achieved almost nothing.

During this first Anglo-Dutch War the English may have won in home waters

during the final year of the war, but the first two years had been disastrous.

It was also very costly abroad throughout and a disaster for the English

commercially. The Dutch lost some 1200 ships to privateers. That amount

doubled the size of the English merchant marine. However, it barely

compensated for England’s own losses to the Dutch. In addition, it was not

nearly so damaging to the Netherlands which possessed a merchant fleet of

between 10 to 15 thousand ships by that time. To make matters worse, the Dutch

seized English possessions abroad. The war was unpopular with both sides who

saw Spain as the great beneficiary. One of the key causes of that war was

Dutch trade with English colonies. The English merchants didn’t feel like they

could compete and many hired Dutch ships and captains under English colors.

This caused parliament to pass the first of the famous “Navigation Acts” which

forbade Dutch ships from carrying English goods to English colonies. By the

end of the war the acts were relaxed to an extent as part of the peace of

In addition to the competition in trade, a sort of arms race had developed

between the two countries as well. Since King Henry VIII, the English had

experimented with and developed more and more advanced iron cannon. The

English enjoyed the best iron ores in all of Europe. Iron was known to be

inferior to bronze which was the preferred material for cannon in that time.

Bronze did not rust aboard ships, it did not foul like iron, it did not heat

up as fast and cooled much faster – so faster rates of fire could be

maintained. Bronze was also much more reliable with a much longer life than

iron guns. It was not uncommon for bronze guns to be recycled for generations

of ships. It would not be out of the ordinary for a ship built in 1740 to

mount guns made in 1640 which had seen service on several different ships in

between. Bronze guns rarely blew up/failed while iron guns were known to fail

often. In addition, an equivalently bored iron gun weighed more because more

iron was required to reinforce the bore so the gun was larger and less compact

  • even though it fired the same size/weight of shot. However, bronze guns were

exorbitantly more expensive than iron guns, costing as much as 10 to 20 times

more. During the Elizabethan period English gun-making was a closely guarded

defense secret and the sale of guns was prohibited to foreign governments. By

1580 England possessed the best iron guns in Europe and by 1620, these guns

were considered to be almost as good as bronze guns but produced at a fraction

of the cost. By the early 17th century this policy had relaxed a bit and

England was selling guns in clandestine deals to Holland. The Dutch purchased

the guns for use in their war against Spain but also to try to unravel the

secrets of their manufacture. The Dutch spied on England’s gun works and

learned their secrets. Once the cat was clearly out of the bag by the 1630s,

England began selling guns to everyone (even her Catholic enemy Spain) in

order to compete with her trade rival Holland.
By Charles II’s time, the Dutch had grown their merchant fleets to between

20,000 – 25,000 ships. The English possessed roughly a tenth of that with

estimates by Lord Clarendon of fewer than 1500 English merchantmen abroad.

Clarendon urged that England build more ships and through parliament was able

to reinstate the Navigation Acts and add even more restrictive measures to

them. English merchants however found loopholes and continued to hire Dutch

ships, but with mixed English/Dutch crews and English captains flying English

colors. A second Dutch captain (1st officer) was most often aboard these

ships. They were supposed to have a majority of English sailors aboard but

this was often not the case and Dutch crews would speak and try to “act”

English when they were boarded for inspections.
Even though Charles II had enjoyed the safety and hospitality of the Dutch

during his exile in the Netherlands, he militantly sought to subvert them when

he came to power. As I described above, his reign was one of over-spending and

extravagance – of an amazing flowering of art and culture in England. However,

his reign is one of the most militant of any English monarch in history. For

the majority of his reign, England was at war.
Charles II sought to offer competition and thwart Dutch colonial efforts

around the globe. Fueled in this pursuit by his loyal minister Lord Clarendon

(who believed that the Dutch would destroy England if they continued to grow

globally unchecked), Charles funded venture after venture to undue Dutch

interests. Several new dockyards and hundreds of new ships were funded by

Charles’ government – both for trade and for war. Charles attempted to compete

with the Dutch in Guinea and West Africa, in North America, in the Caribbean,

Surinam, and even in the Dutch dominated East Indies by establishing spice

factories and forts at Amboina, and the tiny reef islands of Ai, and Run.

Indeed one of the causes (or pretexts for war) of the Second Anglo-Dutch War,

was the same as the 1st Anglo-Dutch War. For years the English felt like the

so called massacre at Amboina had gone unrevenged and since that time (1623)

the Dutch held Amboina as a their possession. This is fascinating given

today’s propaganda and common false pretexts for war that our modern

governments feed to the public, justifying the reasons for going to war.

Amboina was a battle cry for the English War Hawks prior to both wars.

Pamphlets and polemics exaggerating the Dutch quelling of the English

attempted coup to overtake Amboina using master-less Japanese Samarai mercenaries

(“ronin”), claiming that the surviving English citizens were tortured and

mutilated – these flyers were illustrated with gruesome woodcuts displaying

these supposed heinous acts. These exaggerations that had occurred decades

before, enraged the English public and the English got their wars. The English

ultimately won the 1st Dutch War although their global trade had nearly

collapsed by the end of it.

However during the second war only a few years later, the Dutch were a little

too large of a bite for Charles to digest. Not only did the English lose

horribly in their colonial possessions, but most of their trading ships were

taken or destroyed by Dutch privateers. In addition, the English lost the

decisive battles of the war at home this time around against a new, better

designed, better organized, and better led Dutch Confederate fleet. The final

humiliation was that the war had drained the English treasury to the point of

bankruptcy. With English trade virtually destroyed by the Dutch and the

English economy on the verge of collapse, the navy could not even be paid. The

fleet was laid up at Chatham and the English sued for peace. As the peace

talks were deliberately delayed by the English jockeying for the best

agreement possible under horrible circumstance, the frustrated Dutch

leadership became angry and sought to speed up the process by blockading the

Thames for over a month.

With the English still unmoved – the Dutch (led by a disgruntled English pilot

who had not been paid in some time), moved a fleet up the Medway, destroyed

Sheerness, broke the chain-boom there and continued up-river – destroying the

Royal dockyards at Chatham and burning the anchored English capital ships

there. They saved two, which they towed back home to Amsterdam – the English

flagship Royal Charles and the HMS Unity (which was the renamed Dutch warship

Eendracht that had been captured by the English in 1665).

This bold raid forced the English into quick peace concessions. Charles may

have lost the war but he was undeterred and continued to plan the ruin of the

Dutch state. His ministers (especially Clarendon) believed if they could just

defeat the Dutch, they could claim their possessions and wealth as their own.

Efforts were redoubled and funding acquired to rebuild the battered English

Navy and Merchant Marine.

After six years of preparation and rebuilding, Charles deliberately plotted to

turn several powerful German Princes and the French against little Holland –

finally bringing the combined fury of this alliance against the Dutch in 1672

during the Third Anglo-Dutch War and Franco-Dutch War. For the Dutch 1672 was

known as the Year of Troubles “rampjaar” (literally translated “Disaster

Year”). However, the Dutch through skillful diplomacy brought several powerful

German Princes into the war on their side and won several victories against

the French on land and many victories at sea. They broke the dykes in

strategic places to trap foreign invaders and limit their advance. At sea

DeRuyter succeeded in defeating the English and French fleets combined in four

great decisive victories – the Battles of Schooneveld(1st and 2nd), Solebay

and the Texel. This war was by far the most devastating for Charles. The

English lost most of its merchant fleet to Dutch privateers. Over 500 prizes

were brought into Amsterdam alone. Charles died never having overcome the


After Charles’ death his weak and openly Catholic brother James II took over.

A group of English nobles (The Immortal Seven Immortal 7 approached Prince William

of Orange With an invitation to invade England and depose the absolute

monarchy. William was offered the crown jointly with his English wife Princess

Mary and with the stipulation of a parliamentary government. William who had

long been assembling an allied coalition against Louis XIV of France needed

the English and it was for primarily this reason that he launched a massive

Dutch invasion of England. The invasion force consisted of 463 ships and

around 50,000 Dutch and hardened Danish mercenaries. It was over twice the

size of Parma’s army and the famous Spanish Armada that had attempted invasion

a century before. This was not a bloodless revolution as many historians would

have us believe. There was loyalist military resistance and notable small

battles occurred both on the march to London and after the city was taken. The

period of William and Mary had begun. Not only was William able to keep the

Sun King at bay for over two decades after, but his reforms brought England

into the modern age. The stock market, organized central banking(The Bank of

England), the insurance industry, organization, reforms and standardization in

government, and a new age of parliamentary process(completely parted from any

church influences), were William’s Dutch legacy to Great Britain.
In 1702 William died and the last of the Stuarts came into power. Queen Anne

effectively ruled during the War of Spanish Succession. Perhaps her greatest

contribution to Britain and history was her appointment of John Churchill the

Duke of Marlborough,_1st_Duke_of_Marlborough to the

rank of Captain-General of Britain’s Armies. Churchill was an able veteran of

notable bravery that had learned his trade from one of the greatest generals

of history – Marshall Turenne of France. Much of Marlborough’s early career

was spent fighting on the side of the French. Indeed Louis XIV recognized and

awarded him for his bravery and gave him a colonel’s commission in the French

Army. Ironically, Marlborough’s greatest victory was against the French. In

August 1704 Marlborough won his famous victory at Blenheim. His stealthy march

from the Low Countries to Bavaria (250 miles in 6 days) and his brilliant

tactics set the benchmark by which subsequent commanders would be measured

against and would emulate until Napoleon. Blenheim is one of the great battles

of history and one of the greatest feats of British arms. Marshal de Saxe,

Frederick the Great and Napoleon himself would study Blenheim before their own

illustrious careers occurred. The discipline, the logistics (buying supplies

rather than just taking them), organized signaling and tactical focus (economy

of force and weighting main effort when outnumbered) marked the warfare of a

new age and effectively waved adieu to the Golden Age which preceded. Louis

was again put in check for the last time. The balance of power was restored to

the allies and the rise of Britain as the next great global super power was


Indeed, this was a Golden Age for England. She went from being a mildly

important middling commercial and military European power at the beginning of

the 17th century, to becoming one of the greatest trading nations and military

empires on earth by the end of it. (Possibly and arguably THE greatest power

on the planet).

….and now we will take a look at the other major players during the Golden




In France as well we also find the makings of a Golden Era that their

historians openly recognize and embrace. Indeed France’s own King, Louis XIV

was one of the longest living kings in history with the longest reign in

history – a 72 year reign beginning when he was five years old. His symbol was

the sun itself and lent to his pseudonym “The Sun King”. It was not only he

that saw himself in this way, it was the French people and aristocracy as

well. Louis thought of himself as literally second only to God. He believed

that his divine calling was to establish France as the greatest and most

powerful empire on earth. That power would not only manifest itself in

military might, but also in the arts.
French culture was the envy of Europe and was imitated everywhere and at every

court across the continent. Indeed it was considered proper in most places to

speak French at court and young blue bloods were tutored in it at a young age

whether in England or deep in the heart of Poland or Germany. French was

considered the language of diplomacy as well and when generals and staffs of

opposing armies sat down to parley, it was French they spoke to one another –

even when German faced Swede or Dutchman faced Spaniard.
French chateauesque and neo-classical architecture was imitated as well in

many places. Their food and their music were of great influence everywhere one

traveled in Europe. The French had a unique version of the baroque that is

nowhere better illustrated than by their great composers of the day. While the

Germans dominated the music scene a century later, it was the French and

Italians that were most influential in the 17th century. Composers like Rameau

and Lully presented grand works which reflected the greatness of the French

nation and aristocracy. Bright coronets and booming timpani were typical of

these musical offerings.
In music the French had some of the greatest composers of all time whose music

reflects the grandeur of France, its culture, its King and its people AND the

times that WERE the Golden Age.
Jean-Baptiste Lully

Jean-Baptiste_Lully_Nicolas_Mignard was an Italian-born French

composer, instrumentalist, and dancer who spent most of his life working in

the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the

French baroque style. He was described as “the prince of French musicians, …

the inventor of that beautiful and grand French music, such as our operas and

the grand pieces for voices and instruments that were only imperfectly known

before him. He brought it [music] to the peak of perfection and was the father

of our most illustrious musicians working in that musical form. … Lully

entertained the king infinitely, by his music, by the way he performed it, and

by his witty remarks. The prince was also very fond of Lully and showered him

with benefits in a most gracious way.”

Jean-Philippe Rameau

CA 247

CA 247 was one of the most

important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era.[1] He

replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is

also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time.

Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer


Royer became “maître de musique des enfants de France”, responsible for the

musical education of the children of the king. Royer directed the Concert

Spirituel and the Paris Opéra during from the 1720s onward, writing six operas

himself, of which the best known is the ballet-héroïque Zaïde, reine de


French playwrights of the era were some of the best of all time and certainly

the most complex comedies and tragedies of the Golden Age entertained the

afflent in Paris through the plays of Moliere, Racine and Corneille.
Moliere: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin


Best known by his stage name Molière, he was a master French playwright and

actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western

literature. Among Molière’s best known works are The Misanthrope, The School

for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois

Gentleman. He is considered one of the masters of parody and subtle pragmatic

truth introduced into comedic art in such a way that it can poke fun at human

hypocrisy and the evils that exist while still being overtly inoffensive.

Because of this intelligence in the comedy, many have attributed a

philisophical nature and genius to his work. In a time where people took

offense to almost everything, several of Moliere’s comedies were considered

offensive to the ruling class and Moliere (the favorite playwright of Louis

XIV) was not only protected by the King himself but his troupe was also

directly sponsored by Louis. This fact alone shows a pregressive and open mind

in the person of the King who has been labelled an ego-maniacal despot by many

modern western historians.
Jean Racine


Jean-Baptiste Racine was a French dramatist, one of the three great

playwrights of 17th-century France (along with Molière and Corneille), and an

important literary figure in the Western tradition. Racine was primarily a

tragedian, producing such many examples of neoclassical perfection. Racine’s

plays are renowned for elegance, purity, speed, and fury. Racine’s dramaturgy

is marked by his psychological insight, the prevailing passion of his

characters, and the nakedness of plot and stage.
Pierre Corneille

In science and philosophy France had her fair share of famous Golden Age

intellects in Rene Descarte, Blaise Pascal and Pierre De Fermat.
Blasie Pascal

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and

Christian philosopher. Pascal’s earliest work was in the natural and applied

sciences where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and

clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of

Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method.

He (with Schickard and Napier) is one the first inventors of a practical

calculation machine. He built 20 finished machines (called Pascal’s

calculators and later Pascalines). Pascal was an important mathematician,

helping create two major new areas of research: he wrote a significant

treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of 16, and later

corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing

the development of modern economics and social science. His two most famous

and enduring religious/philosophical works are the Lettres provinciales and

the Pensées. He also wrote an important works on the arithmetical triangle and

on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids.
Pierre de Fermat

Pierre de Fermat was a French lawyer at the Parliament of Toulouse and a

mathematician who is given credit for early developments leading to

infinitesimal calculus, including his technique of adequality. In particular,

he is recognized for his discovery of an original method of finding the

greatest and the smallest ordinates of curved lines, which is analogous to

that of the differential calculus, then unknown, and his research into number

theory. He made notable contributions to analytic geometry, probability, and

optics. He is best known for Fermat’s Last Theorem.
In France, the Reformation had been brutally suppressed. The Hugenot Protestant

minority was either butchered or exiled. The aristocracy continued to rule

with the Catholic Church fully empowered by their sides. This strengthened

both the monarchy and centralized government. Indeed it could be said that the

Church exercised such strong control that Cardinal Mazarin and Cardinal

Richeleu were almost seen as kings in their own right.

Concerning war, the French possessed the largest and strongest military

throughout the Golden Age. However France suffered in terms of providing it

with the best arms. To begin with France possessed the most inferior iron ores

on the continent. Secondly (with small exceptions) they did not possess the

skilled craftsmen necessary to produce quality arms on a mass scale. Many of

the Huguenots possessed such knowledge and skill but the persecutions after

the St. Bartholowmew’s Day massacre became so bad that the majority of

Huguenots fled France for the Netherlands. They continued to until the Edict

of Fontainebleau in 1685 when Protestantism was outlawed completely. The

remaining Huguenots then converted or fled in masse for the next 20 years. The

French became very dependent upon their neighbors for the supply of reliable

arms. The United Provinces of the Netherlands supplied France with the vast

majority of her cannon, arms and warships for over fifty years. The Dutch

became the great arms traders of the day founding, financing, operating,

expanding and providing technical labor to the German foundries at Wetzlar,

Asslar, and Marsburg, the Swedish Gun industry (which eventually became the

best in Europe), and the almost legendary Russian Gunworks at Tula.

Louis’ military architect, Vauban, The Great Vauban became famous for his nearly impregnable

“star” fortresses.

He brought modern warfare to a new pinacle making towns and forts nearly

impossible to take. Concerning seige, Vaubaun could often calculate to the day

when the town or fortress would fall when they followed his plan. Not only a

great seige engineer he was also one of the great generals of the day. As with

so many other notable gentlemen of the age Vauban was a “Renaissance man”, an

expert in philosophy and economics as well as a military man. Most of his

fortifications still stand as a testament of his genius and the extraordinary

chapter that was the Golden Age.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert Jean-Baptiste Colbert

supported the royal spending as much as possible, preventing France from going

bankrupt in all her various wars.


Colbert founded the Academy of Sciences (now part of the Institut de France),

the Paris Observatory, which he employed Claude Perrault to build and brought

Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712) from Italy to superintend, the Academies

of Inscriptions and Medals, of Architecture and of Music, the French Academy

at Rome, and Academies at Arles, Soissons, Nîmes and many other towns. He

reorganised the Academy of Painting and Sculpture which Mazarin had

It could also be said that France possessed the greatest general of the day in

Henri the Vicomte de Turenne


The Great General Henri Turenne

Turenne was the grandson of Prince William the Silent and learned his trade in

the employ of the great Dutch general Prince Maurice of Nassau. He quickly

showed his aptitude and bravery and soon earned him a captaincy based on

reputation – not birth. In addition Turenne was raised Hugenot and was a

knowledgeable man of faith fiercly devoted to Protestantism for most of his

life. During the 1630s, his family persuaded him to come into the service of

the King of France which he did (although he did still continue to fight for

the Prince of Orange occasionally). He quickly ascended the ranks being

promoted to Marshal de Camp (equivalent to Major General) after leading the

assault during the siege of La Mothe. Always leading and never afraid, his

courage was undeniable and coupled with sound strategy won him victory after

victory. He rose to become the Marshal General of France – one of only six men

in history to ever achieve that rank. He was a favorite of Louis XIV who

believed his armies were unbeatable as long as Turrenne led them. Turenne

fought alongside some of the great generals of the time including the Great

Conde. He began his career for France fighting in the final battles of the

Thirty Years War. He opposed the King during the first half of the French

Civil War(The first war of the Fronde) but was forgiven along with most of the

other aristocrats that had taken up arms against the King. He fought as a

royalist in command of the King’s army during the Second War of the Fronde. He

practically crushed the entire rebellion and subsequently retook Paris for the

King defeating the Great Conde at the Battle of the Faubourg Saint Antoine

He again showed his great aptitude for war fighting against the Spaniards in

the Franco-Spanish wars(1635-1659). In 1668 Turenne converted to Catholicism

at the continued requests of Cardinal Richelieu. This was not a fully

politically motivated decision. Turenne was fiercly devoted to both France and

his King. In the years prior to his decision, plots against the government and

assassination attempts against the ruling class were always from protestant

dissenters. Many letters were written back and forth between Turenne and his

protestant wife throughout the 1650s/60s discussing possible conversion to

Catholicism based on reconciliation of certain doctrines according to their

consciences. One of the key points was that Protestantism had become too

fragmented and could not agree on core doctrinal differences among the

splinter groups. Turenne fought against the Dutch during the Franco-Dutch war

(1672-1675) rapidly advancing to the gates of Amsterdam almost unopposed.

Bitter Dutch resistance forced Turenne to get his army to higher ground when

the Dutch broke the dykes to deny the French access to many key strategic

points. Numerous fierce and indecisive battles for individual cities ensued

and it was during the siege of Turkheim that Turenne earned a reputation of

brutality for allowing his troops to loot the city and massacre the

population. This marked both the low point and beginning of the end of the

great general’s career. Turenne was killed by a cannonball during the first

barrage of the Battle of Salzbach(1675). Among Turenne’s victories are

Breisach, “Route de Quiers”, the Italian Campaign of 1639-40, Freiburg,

Phillipsburg, Allerheim, Zusmarshausen, Battle of the Faubourg Saint Antoine,

Rethel, Sainte-Menehould, Mouzon, Arras, Battle of the Dunes, Battle of

Enzheim, and the Sack of Turkheim.

France under Richelieu poured millions into it’s navy and was determined not

to be dependent upon the Netherlands for the majority of its ships and guns

during the last quarter of the century. By 1670 France had cut off almost all

trade with the Netherlands and exercised protectionist economic policies.

Colbert ensured that the newest ships in France’s arsenal were now completely

French in both design and construction, rather than Dutch and counted among

the largest and most beautiful ever built. The largest warship on earth at

that time was La Soleil Royal – named in tribute of her patron “The Sun King”.

In addition, France had set up numerous new armories.
However, even resorting to desperate spying upon the English to learn their

methods of iron gun making and bringing in thousands of skilled technicians

from England, Holland and Sweden – most of the French guns continued to blow

up during testing due to poor iron mixtures. Colbert became despondent over

the situation and demanded the gun makers stop casting guns with fancy

decorations – believing that this was not only an unnecessary extra expense for

a gun that would likely blow up anyway, but also because he thought the extra

decorative material might be part of the problem. Even though it was NOT part

of the problem, after this change and dramatic shift in gun design and

manufacture, French guns were always made more plainly and compact than any

other country in Europe up to modern times. Finally in the mid 1670s the

armories at Perigord and Angoumois began casting dependable iron guns as good

as those of England. By 1680 the other armories were closed and Perigord and

Angoumois grew into industrial centers, producing guns as fast as possible.

They actually met the demands of the western French ports for armaments.

Colbert continued to buy bronze guns by the hundreds, but not from the

Netherlands any longer. The great foundries of Liege in the Spanish

Netherlands (which had started out as bell factories), produced France’s

bronze cannon.

Louis’ wars dominated Europe and finally ended with the destructive War of

Spanish Succession in which he attempted to unite the Kingdoms of France and

Spain into a single Catholic superpower. France dominated in these wars and it

took the efforts of “Grand” alliances of combined nations to contain French

power. Louis cared little about religion when it came to war as many of his

predecessors before him. The French were known for fighting on the side of the

Protestants when it suited French interests. Initially Louis XIV was part of

the League of the Rhine and fought against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of

Saint Gotthard in 1664. The battle was won by the Christians, chiefly through

the brave attack of 6,000 French troops led by La Feuillade and Coligny.

However as Louis increasingly viewed the Hapsburgs as an impediment to

achieving his aims of making France the continental (and global) superpower,

he turned on his former allies, to include the German Emperor. He is famous

for renewing the old “Unholy Alliance” between France and the Turks (which was

first formed by his ancestor Francis the First in 1526). In 1688 he turned on

the Turks assisting his German allies in taking Belgrade while plotting to

invade the German princes territories in the west while the Emperor was

engaged in the east.

The final conflict of Louis’s reign could be said to have no real winners.

However, most of the players gained something from the war. France’s ambitions

to unite with Spain were realized with the Bourbon King Philip V (Louis’

grandson the Duke of Anjou) crowned king, however the new King was forced to

give up rights to hereditary territories that had been under Hapsburg control

for centuries under peace concessions. France also gained territorially with

Alsace, Lorraine and Landau annexed to France. The Netherlands gained the

concessions she desired – checking French power for almost a century after. By

the Treaty of Utrecht the Netherlands effectively blocked all French, Spanish,

and Austrian trade through the Scheldt. With the Scheldt closed to commerce,

the Netherlands continued to enjoy a European trading and transport hegemony

centered around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the great Rhine and Maas rivers –

where the goods of the European continent continued to flow in and out of. The

Netherlands also continued to enjoy a strengthened line of fortress cities

along her southern border into the now Austrian (formerly Spanish)

Netherlands(Belgium). Holland’s old enemy Spain was no longer a threat to her

southern borders. However, Holland had incurred a mountain of debt and would

never again be the power she once was. The Dutch Navy now became second to

England and continued to decline from thereafter. The Austrian Empire grew

markedly with former Spanish Hapsburgs possessions coming under Austrian

control across the continent. England gained key strategic and colonial

territories from Spain with Gibraltar, Minorca, and from France she obtained

immense areas of land in what is now Canada. The French also ceded half of St.

Kitts in the Caribbean to Britain. England was now the dominant power in

Europe and with the Act of Union in 1714 was from then on known as the Kingdom

of Great Britain. Truly she was now an empire realized.
Spain and Germany were the big losers. The old German Empire which was already

a patchwork quilt of rival princes was now virtually gone, replaced with

completely independent Kingdoms/Principalities with no further fealty or ties

to a higher “elected” – “Emperor”. For all intensive purposes, Austria and

France dominated or assumed control of the German border states. Spain now

with a Hapsburg ruler lost her possessions in the Southern Netherlands, her

Mediterranean possessions and all of her Italian possessions. Spain was now

nothing more than a shell of her former glory.

With England and France clearly emerging as the strongest players at the end

of the conflict, the stage was now set for the next century’s power struggles

  • primarily dominated by these two expanding empires. The Golden Age was over.



In Spain, the 17th century is known as the Siglo de Oro (literally the “Golden

Century”). Spain saw her final apex of power in the early 17th century during

the beginnings of the Dutch revolt. Although continual loss of numerous

possessions throughout the century was a historical trend(* Flanders during

the Dutch War of Independence{80 Years War}, Italian holdings to France, Savoy

and Austria, and the return of the Kingdom of Portugal’s lands which had been

an important part of the Spanish Empire for 88 years (1580-(1640-1668) – as

well as Caribbean possessions to Holland{Surinam and islands in the Antilles},

England{Jamaica, Belize & islands in the Antilles}, and France{Haiti, Tortuga,

and islands in the Antilles})[not to mention all of their pirates], Spain

herself continued to be a dominant power in Europe, the greatest power in the

Americas and still flourished during the years of her demise – especially in

the arts.

The largest territorial power in the Caribbean, Spain contained the largest,

most populated, richest, and most developed cosmopolitan cities in the New

World. However, she was hard-pressed to defend her towns and commercial fleets

against foreign government’s privateers and pirates. Piracy during the Golden

Age was worse than ever before with pirate lords like Laurens de Graaf, Sir

Christopher Myngs, and Sir Henry Morgan commanding entire fleets of vessels

and thousands of men in their attacks. What made matters worse is that these

pirate lords would operate outside of any national interest. Morgan would

blatantly violate orders given by the English government to defend Jamaica and

attack Spanish cities instead. Myngs operated against the Spanish even when

England and Spain were at peace and had warrants for his arrest issued by the

English crown. De Graff had no loyalty to any government and operated his

fleet under the Brotherhood of the Coast and “against all flags”. He might

have been Dutch but he did not do Holland’s bidding. Occassionally he would

help the French when it was of benefit to him. These great pirate leaders to

whom most of the other notable corsair captains of the day operated under (and

learned their trades from) had one common quarry – rich Spanish ships and


The greatest source of Spain’s wealth flowed back to Seville from these New

World possessions in the form of the Tierra Firma Flota and Plata Flota

(treasure fleets). Spain’s dependence on these annual convoys was obvious to

all other powers who all greedily plotted to take these fleets for themselves.

In 1628 the Dutch Corsair Piet Heyn seized the entire treasure fleet at the

Bay of Matanzas. As a result, Spain went bankrupt while Holland received over

eleven million florins from Heyn’s haul. This was money that was badly needed

in Holland’s war of rebellion against Spain. Even though this is the only time

in history an entire treasure fleet was ever taken, Spanish officials became

so paranoid – that by law, no galleon was allowed to travel alone thereafter.

This did deter many pirates, however, the stronger groups of corsairs were

sometimes known to lay in wait for/or follow stragglers – contenting

themselves with cutting out a couple of slower prizes from the larger fleet.

The English attempted sending actual military expeditions to take a “flota”,

but they always seemed to miss them. The famous battle with Grenville’s

Revenge happened during one of these forays. However, instead of finding the

treasure fleet, the English unwittingly stumbled into a battle with a much

larger Spanish military fleet of heavy war galleons – mistaking it for the


Spain’s enemies were helped by their often nationally aligned pirate allies

who wrested numerous possessions away from her. The English had held Belize

since 1624 but became well entrenched in Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas and

the Antilles by the 1650s. France seized Tortuga and Haiti as well as

fortified ports in the Antilles. France also challenged Spain in the Americas

by making large claims in “New France” consisting of huge areas of the North

American continent (Louisiana and Canada). The Netherlands took and held

Brazil for over 40 years. Holland’s most lucrative claims/colonies became rich

Surinam and Curacao as well as many prosperous established ports in the


In the case of Spain’s leadership/kings, after the death of Phillp II, the

Spanish Empire continued to decline largely due to weak monarchs and

leadership in the government – and an ineffective and over-expensive

bureaucracy. Neither Philip III nor Lerma was emotionally or intellectually

capable of the fundamental reappraisal and changes to foreign policy – which

Philip II’s failures desperately required. The Treaty of London (1604) ended

16 years of Anglo-Spanish war and the Spanish and Dutch concluded a 12-year

truce, beginning in 1609. The years from 1610 to 1630 were the last period in

which Spain clearly dominated Europe both militarily and culturally. For the

first of these two decades Europe enjoyed a kind of Pax Hispanica – (Peace of

Spanish dominance)

However, Spain was constantly at war to preserve her European possessions,

beginning with the disastrous loss of the Eighty Years War in Flanders. The

resulting loss of that war was a Dutch explosion onto the world scene as one

of the greatest sea powers on earth and the greatest commercial power for over

a century after. Spain struggled after the 30 Years War to put down revolts

and rebellions across her Italian possession and in Catalonia.

In 1621 Philip III died. Philip IV (1621-1665), a boy of 16, left the

effective powers of kingship in the hands of his former gentleman of the

chamber, the Count (later Count-Duke) de Olivares. Militarily, Spain was in a

favorable position to restart the war with the United Provinces at the

expiration of the truce in 1621. Despite enormous sums sent annually from

Castile to Flanders, the Spanish armies could not break Dutch
resistance. From 1630, when Sweden and France actively intervened in the war,

Spain rapidly lost the initiative.

Don Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel Ribera y Velasco de Tovar, Count of Olivares

and Duke of San Lúcar la Mayor, Grandee of Spain (January 6, 1587 – July 22,


Count-Duke Olivares


Famous Quote: “God is Spanish and fights for our nation these days.”

Olivares, an able politician directing the Spanish government, presented to

the king a number of plans for a far-reaching reform of government and

society. None of these plans was put into practice. In 1639 riots and open

rebellion broke out in Catalonia. As a result the liberties and privileges of

Catalonia were fully restored in 1652. The revolt of Catalonia gave the

Portuguese their opportunity. the Portuguese nobility decided to seize power

in Lisbon and proclaimed the Duke de Bragança as King John IV of Portugal

(December 1640). In 1647, popular revolutions broke out in Naples and Palermo

(Sicily), and soon these two cities were in the hands of revolutionary

governments. Philip IV came to terms with the United Provinces, recognizing

their full independence (Treaty of Münster, January 1648). In 1668 Spain

formally recognized the independence of Portugal.

For 10 years Philip IV’s widow, Maria Anna of Austria, acted as regent for

Charles II (1665-1700). She allowed her government to be dominated by her

confessor, the Austrian Jesuit Johann Eberhard (Juan Everardo) Nithard. In

1669, Nithard was overthrown by Don Juan José of Austria, an illegitimate son

of Philip IV. Don Juan José planned some promising reforms but died in 1679.

In three successive wars with France (1667-68, 1672-78, 1689-97), Spain lost

Franche-Comté (Treaty of Nijmegen, 1678) and some Belgian frontier towns to

France but still managed to hold on to the greater part of the southern

Netherlands and the Italian dominions. The last years of the childless and

clearly dying Charles II were occupied by the maneuvers of the European powers

for the Spanish succession or, alternatively, for the partition of the Spanish

empire. The dynasty ended with the death of Charles II, on Nov. 1, 1700. The

resultant war of the Spanish Succession saw a long and bloody attempt by

France to put a French King on the throne

There can be no doubt about the economic and political decline of Spain in the

17th century and especially in its second half. However, Spain’s own

historians and indeed historians worldwide still consider this time the “Siglo

de Oro” (Golden Century). It is not clear that there was a comparable cultural

decline or even decadence comparible to Spain’s decline in power, as has

sometimes been maintained. Certainly, Calderón, Velázquez, and Murillo had no

successors of comparable stature. The court of Charles II was neither

financially nor psychologically capable of playing the patronage role that

Philip IV’s court had played. Some of the supposed decline, however, may have

been more a matter of changing styles in painting and architecture that did

not please the more conservative contemporaries, nor many later historians.

In literature the Spanish 17th century was a great period of the theater with

numerous notable playwrights:

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)


Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright. His major work, Don Quixote,

considered to be the first modern European novel, is a classic of Western

literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written.

His influence on the Spanish language is so great that Spanish is often called

“la lengua de Cervantes” (“the language of Cervantes”). He was dubbed “El

Príncipe de los Ingenios” (“The Prince of Wits”) by scholars and men of his

time and beyond. I have always been very fond of Don Quixote. For years it was

one of my nick names when I was in the Army. Here we find a character that

holds onto genteel manners, hospitality, honesty, integrity, chivalry and the

old fashioned and traditional ways of behaving and living at a time when

others have abandoned these ideals and mock him for holding true to his

beliefs. I find it fascinating that considering the subject, one cannot help

thinking that Cervantes himself was writing about his own experiences and even

making fun of himself. He was born 50 years before the Golden age began and

died in its first decades. He must have watched the world change dramatically

from the medieval and renaissance of his boyhood into the early modern era.

Probably very much like the young cowboys of the frontier United States felt

at the beginning of the 20th century as cars, phones, airplanes, electronic

inventions, mass production and indoor plumbing came onto the scene.

Lope de Vega (1562-1635)


Spanish playwright, poet and novelist. He was one of the key figures in the

Spanish Golden Century of Baroque literature. His reputation in the world of

Spanish literature is second only to that of Cervantes, while the sheer volume

of his literary output is unequalled, making him one of the most prolific

authors in the history of literature.
Nicknamed “The Phoenix of Wits” and “Prodigy of Nature” (because of the volume

of his work) by Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega renewed the Spanish theatre

at a time when it was starting to become a mass cultural phenomenon. He

defined its key characteristics, and along with Calderón de la Barca and Tirso

de Molina, took Spanish baroque theater to its greatest heights. Because of

the insight, depth and ease of his plays, he is regarded as one of the

greatest dramatists in Western literature, his plays still being produced

worldwide. He was also one of the best lyric poets in the Spanish language,

and author of several novels. Although not well known in the English-speaking

world, his plays were presented in England as late as the 1660s

Calderón (1600-1681)


Dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods

of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest. Born when the

Spanish Golden Age theater was being defined by Lope de Vega, he developed it

further, his work being regarded as the culmination of the Spanish Baroque

theater. As such, he is regarded as one of Spain’s foremost dramatists and one

of the finest playwrights of world literature.

Poetry and the novel were immortalized by the likes of Quivedo, Gongora and

Cervantes(author of the famous Don Quixote).

Fransico de Quevedo (1580 – 1645)


Famous Spanish nobleman, politician, writer, and infamous duelist of the

Baroque era. Along with his lifelong rival, Luis de Góngora, Quevedo was one

of the most prominent Spanish poets of the age. His style is characterized by

what was called conceptismo. This style existed in stark contrast to Góngora’s

culteranismo. This poetry often poked fun at noted individuals, the Spanish

government, and even sometimes the Church(which was a dangerous thing in 17th

century Spain with the Inquisition at the height of its power). Lesser men

were afraid to challenge Quevedo for his insults and wit as Quevedo was feared

both because of his popularity and his unmatched skill with a blade. Some have

even suggested that the famous character Cyreno de Bergerac was given some of

Quevedo’s attributes by the author Edmund Rostund.

I love this clip showing Quevedo with Captain Aletriste:


Góngora (1561-1627)


Spanish Baroque lyric poet. Góngora and his lifelong rival, Francisco de

Quevedo, are widely considered the most prominent Spanish poets of all time.

His style is characterized by what was called culteranismo, also known as

Gongorism (Gongorismo). This style existed in stark contrast to Quevedo’s


Diego Velasquez (1599-1660)


In painting, Diego Velasquez can easily be compared with the Dutch masters of

the time. In some of his works he surpasses them in many ways. One of my

favorite paintings of all time is the Surrender of Breda illustrating a great

Spanish success early on in the 80 years war with the rebelling Netherlands.

This painting is grand in scale and depicts the soldiers of each army so well.

Everyone has a distinct expression. In addition his art often gives us glimpse

right into the heart of the Spanish royal court.

Velásquez, Las Meninas - Family of Philip IV 1656f
Surrender of Breda



In music of the time, the ‘zarzuelas’, ‘églogas’ and the ‘comedias harmónicas’

belonged to musical drama for which contemporary dramatists wrote. This type

of dramatic music was important in the development of dance and the theater

and was very popular – especially with the middle and lower classes. These

Spanish musical styles spread across Europe and into the new world and were

mimicked and copied in many other countries. Spanish baroque music was often

unique in that the culture itself “soaks through” into the feeling and fabric

of the music. The percussion and Moorish influence can be found in the

mysterious themes most often written in minor keys. Here are some examples:


Ignacio de Jerusalem: Choir master and composer for the Viceroy and Cathedral

of Mexico City



The 17th Century WAS the DUTCH century. This century not only marked little

Holland as the greatest economic, maritime, and naval power on earth, but also

saw the simultaneous formation of the Dutch nation and identity itself. Not

only did the little Netherlands defeat every major power in Europe during this

time, (sometimes combined), but her military minds/leaders, thinkers and

artists were unsurpassed by any other nation. This unique holistic synthesis

and unstoppable creative, expanding, phenomena that was the Dutch nation of

the 17th century has no other parellel or similar peer of comparison in all

the worlds history. This was a NEW previously never seen deal at the time.

Certainly other newer nations like the United States can compare themselves to

the Netherlands now (with a war of rebellion against the contempory superpower

of the day, a democratic ideal and documents like the Constitution that would

form the heart of a new free republic, incredible expansion, etc.), however at

the time, it had never happened in that way before. I find it amusing as the

product of an American public education that I was taught at a young age that

the U.S.A. was the first country to have and experience all of those things.

Wow were my teachers and text-books ever wrong.

Like with so may other great historic muscle movements – it had a bloody


The growing rift of religious differences between Catholic Spain and the

citizens of the exploding protestant majority in her Hapsburg possession of

the north – “Flanders”, led to a well educated Dutch movement demanding reform

in the Churches of these northern Spanish held provinces. Violence on the part

of the Dutch citizenry spilled into the churches with the destruction of

icons, statues, windows, etc. that depicted “graven images” considered

idolatry and against the commandments of the Holy Scriptures. The Spanish sent

the Duke of Parma to deal with the religious zealots. He swept through Dutch

towns and purged them of their Protestant “heretic” rebels with the worst

depredations imaginable. He rounded up local populations into their own

churches, bolted the doors and set them on fire. This purge culminated in the

simultaneous public executions of many leading Dutch citizens – which in turn

sparked the beginning of the bloody “Eighty Years War” of liberation (1568 –

1648). Leading this struggle for freedom was William of Orange(the Silent).

The continuing resistance against the brutal Spanish occupation stoked the

fires of national self-consciousness which resulted in the Dutch forming a

united nation with a single language and government apparatus.

William was initially resistent to becoming the head of state for the

provinces and sought out others whom he thought had a better claim upon the

lands than his own. This search was futile, culminating in a violent

deportation of one French candidate who William had attempted to enthrone. As

Prince of Nassau, William could not use his own title to claim sovereignty

because those dominions were held through hereditary ancestral fealty to a

higher prince/sovereign. However, his holding of the tiny independent French

country/principality of Orange had no such inpediments and was held completely

free of any higher lord. So William used this argument to finally bolster his

own claims to the provinces of the Netherlands that he was a Prince in his own

right independently free of any higher potentate. These claims were

legitimately recognized by the other European powers and bordering neighbors.

In 1581 the Northern Provinces declared their independence forming “The

Republic of the United Provinces”. King Philip II of Spain branded William of

Orange “as the enemy of the human race” and set a kingly bounty on his head of

25,000 gold florins. Willem was assassinated two years later by a catholic

fanatic that had infiltrated his household as a trusted servant. This was the

first assassination of a head of state with a handgun in history.

The long bloody war continued and finally turned slowly in the United

Provinces’ favor. The Spanish relied on fortified towns to maintain their

foothold, but slowly lost them one by one to Dutch seiges. At one point the

Spanish were forced to negotiate a truce which lasted for 12 years until 1621.

With the conflict continuing Spain suffered disasterously. Holland had built

one of the largest most powerful fleets on earth during the truce and now not

only used it to subdue the world’s trade, but attack Spain in her own home

waters. Spain lost entire Armadas to the Dutch during the Battle of Gibralter

(1607) and the Downs (1621), with Holland hardly losing a ship. In addition,

the Dutch became experts in using naval forces on her many rivers and canals

to defeat Spanish land bound military forces. It was not unusual during these

times for the Princes of Orange to order deliberate flooding of specific

invaded areas to trap the Spanish forces in water up to their chests while the

Dutch engaged them with regiments of musketeers aboard shallow draft barges.


Prince Maurice of Nassau(Orange)
Maurice of Nassau (Dutch: Maurits van Oranje; 14 November 1567 – 23 April 1625)
was sovereign Prince of Orange from 1618, on the death of his eldest half brother,
Philip William, Prince of Orange, (1554–1618). Maurice was stadtholder of the United
Provinces of the Netherlands (except in the province of Friesland) from earliest 1585
until his death in 1625.

Maurice organised the Dutch rebellion against Spain into a coherent, successful
revolt and won fame as a military strategist, and became the first Generaladmiral
in history. Maurice set out to revive and revise the classical doctrines of Vegetius
and pioneered the new European forms of armament and drill.

Maurice was a son of William the Silent and Princess Anna of Saxony. Only 16 when his
father was murdered in Delft in 1584, he soon took over as stadtholder (Stadhouder).
He was appointed captain-general of the army in 1587, bypassing the Earl of Leicester,
who returned to England on hearing this news.

Click the link to see the unbelievable number of battles he fought. Maurice organized the
rebellion against Spain into a coherent, successful revolt. He reorganized the Dutch States
Army together with Willem Lodewijk, studied military history, strategy and tactics,
mathematics and astronomy, and proved himself to be among the best (if not THE best)
strategists of his age.

The training of his army is especially important to early modern warfare and the Military
Revolution of 1560-1650. Previous generals had made use of drill and exercise in order to
instill discipline or to keep the men physically fit, but for Maurice, they “were the
fundamental postulates of tactics.” This change affected the entire conduct of warfare,
since it required the officers to train men in addition to leading them, decreased the size
of the basic infantry unit for functional purposes since more specific orders had to be given
in battle, and the decrease in herd behavior required more initiative and intelligence from the
average soldier. One major contribution was the introduction of volley fire, which enabled
soldiers to compensate for the inaccuracy of their weapons by firing in a large group. It was
first used in European combat at the battle of Nieuwpoort in 1600.

Maurice founded a whole new school of military professional practice. These pointed the
way to the professional armies of the future by reapplying Roman tactics and innovating in
the fields of logistics, training, and economics (e.g.paying troops regularly and on time).
Many graduates of service under Maurice, such as his nephew the Marshal Turenne, or his
disciples such as Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, applied the Mauritian reforms to great
effect during the remainder of the 17th century.


Matters became even worse for the Spaniards when the able privateer and

Admiral, Piet Heyn (who was also responsible for seizing the capital of

Portuguese Brazil), seized the entire Spanish treasure fleet in 1628. This

bankrupted Spain and filled Dutch coffers. Holland had rapidly expanded into

both the West and East Indies and wrested away control of most Portuguese

colonies to form a virtual monopoly of trade with the East. This monopoly

became so expanisve that it led the English Parliament to pass “The Navigation

Acts” prohibiting English merchants from shipping goods on Dutch ships or to

allow Dutch captains to fly English flags of convenience under English

shipping contracts. It futher required that these ships must be crewed by a

majority of Englishmen if the Captain, master or owner of the ship was Dutch.

These continuing acts led to more and more friction and were a key cause of

both the 1st and 2nd Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Birth of Corporate Finance and Dutch Wealth:

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries the Dutch – traditionally able

seafarers and keen mapmakers – began to trade with the Far East. As the

century wore on, they gained an increasingly dominant position in world trade,

a position previously occupied by the Portuguese and Spanish.

Several other factors contributed to the flowering of trade, industry, the

arts and the sciences in the Netherlands during this period. A necessary

condition was the supply of cheap energy from windmills and from peat, easily

transported by canal to the cities. The invention of the sawmill enabled the

construction of a massive fleet of ships for worldwide trading, for defense of

the republic’s economic interests by military means, and a major export

industry of supplying ships to other countries. This period came to be known

as the “Golden Age” for these reasons. By 1640 there were more ships in the

trading fleets of Holland than in all of England and France combined!

Banking was one of the young republic’s strong suits. This came about largely

as a result of war and natural geography. Antwerp had been Europe’s richest

city with the largest and richest concentration of bankers/banks in the world

prior to the Eighty Years War. When the Dutch revolt began, the fledgling

Dutch navy – largely consisting of pirates (or “sea beggars”), blockaded the

Scheldt river to prevent commerce and trade(goods) from flowing in or out.

This blockade lasted for decades and forced the Spaniards to build a large

canal into Oostend. However, the great Spanish held fortress cities of Oostend

and Dunkirk were both blockaded as well. Naval skirmishes were common outside

of these towns with local Flemish privateers/pirates loyal to the Spanish

cause (Dunkirkers/Dunkirk pirates) often sallying out to break the blockade so

they could prey on inbound Dutch convoys or assist Spanish relief squadrons

attempting to run the blockades into the cities.

With Antwerp in Spanish hands and trade almost completely choked off by the

Dutch navy, the next great trading city (with a large port and a confluence of

rivers flowing into it from within continental Europe) was Amsterdam. Most of

the bankers fled to Amsterdam after the Spanish sacked Antwerp. Many of these

bankers were Jews which were discriminated against horribly by Spain. With all

of the great bankers migrating and all of the trade moving north in and out of

the Maas and Rhine rivers – avoiding the conflict zones and blockades –

Amsterdam inevitably became the worlds next global entrepot and in the coming

century would far outshine Antwerp’s former greatness.

In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie

or VOC) was founded. It was the first-ever multinational corporation, financed

by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. This company

received a Dutch monopoly on Asian trade and would keep this for two

centuries. It became the world’s largest commercial enterprise of the 17th

century. Spices were imported in bulk and brought in huge profits – due to the

efforts and risks involved and seemingly insatiable demand. To finance the

growing trade within the region, the Bank of Amsterdam was established in

1609, the precursor to, if not the first true central bank in the world.

In addition “Futures” trading was born in the Netherlands of this time. It all

started with the tulip bulb. The Dutch now famous for their tulips originally

imported them from the east. The exotic flowers became a phenomona and sold

like wildfire. More and more varieties continued to be offered with differing

color combinations and and stripes/markings. Forecasting of new shipments with

descriptions of how they would appear started an exchange of purchased

promisory notes for X number of the new shipments of bulbs. These notes could

then be subsequently traded for even more money to others who were keen to own

the newest bulbs months before they arrived. Notes for certain extremely rare

and desireable color combinations of bulb soared in price. As Dutch botanists

and horticulturalists learned to cross breed tulips to achieve new

combinations themselves at home in Holland, the bulb trade exploded. During

the time of these first venture stock companies all manner of items and

forecasted profit began to be traded on sheets of paper (promisory notes),

sometimes years before company fleets would return home. This was the birth of

modern trading and venture capitalism.

The arts were greatly patronized in the 17th century Netherlands. Their composers
were not as well known and the music was less dramatic or embellished but still
quite beautiful and almost illustrates a kind of pragmatism. In the case of Wassenaer,
much of his music was written anonymously because he didn’t see it fitting for a
nobleman to be a composer – and really considered it more of a hobby.

Dutch Painting:

Dutch Golden Age of Painting


To this day the “Dutch Masters” are considered some of the greatest artists to

ever live. Men like Rembrandt, Backhuysen, Storck, Vermeer, Bosch, Ruisdael,

Claesz, and the family of Van de Veldes were not only prolific painters but

experts in their favored media and subjects. Rembrandt was as good at still

lifes as he was with landscapes, but he is best known for his great portraits

and portrait scenes. The Van de Veldes are still considered at the very top of

the genre for marine painting. They produced an almost photographic quality

record of ships and sea battles for that era. Much like later war

correspondents who would photograph events, the Van de Veldes accompanied the

Dutch Confederate Fleet into action and would make sketches and water colors

on the scene which would later become their larger than life paintings. Dutch

still-lifes are known to this day to have a realism that almost transcends the

photographic. Color, light, and reflection attain near perfection in many


Indeed, foreigners remarked on the quality and enormous quantities of art

produced at the time, and the large fairs where paintings were sold at. It has

been roughly estimated that around 1.3 million Dutch pictures were painted in

the 20 years after 1640 alone. The volume of production meant that prices were

exceptionally low, except for the best known artists. The distribution of

pictures was very wide – “yea many tymes, blacksmithes, cobblers etc., will

have some picture or other by their Forge and in their stalle. Such is the

generall Notion, enclination and delight that these Countrie Native have to

Painting” from the report of an English traveller in 1640. There were for

virtually the first time many professional art dealers, several also

significant artists, like Vermeer and his father, Jan van Goyen and Willem

Kalf. Rembrandt’s dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh and his son Gerrit were among

the most important.

Everyone wanted a painting to show off their success (just a little) in a

distinctly Dutch way. The Dutch who frowned upon excess or “showing off” are

usually depicted in dark hues and rarely wearing bright colors. This is

extraordinary in that this trend was not just among the common middle/burgher

class, but can also be seen in the rich as well – including women. Often a

painting depicting a nobleman or rich merchant will give only minor hints of

his high station – small clues to his class and/or success can be seen in a

fine lace collar or ornate sword hilt. There was an almost guilt experienced

by successful Dutchmen in being so rich and successful, when cast in the

shadow of the Dutch devotion to their egalitarian, frugal and modest ways set

forth in their Protestant Calvinist religious beliefs. A painting was not

considered sacralige if it was not the object of veneration or worship. While

paintings (especially of religious themes) were not approved of in any church,

those of everyday scenes or family portraits were considered just fine if they

were hung in the home. They were seen as a good investment and money well

spent on something of value that could be enjoyed – but that did not come off

as overly pompous or “showing off” too badly.

Science, Philosophy and Education:

The Dutch Republic arguably had the distinction of possessing the greatest

universities, scientists and thinkers (confined to this relatively small geography) during this

short period than in any other place in history


Anglo-Dutch Wars:

In 1650, the Dutch Prince-Stadtholder of the Netherlands William II died, and

several months after his heir William III was born. Johan de Witt became the

acting ruler/steward of the Republic of the United Provinces at that time –

appointed the title of “Grand Pensionary” in 1653 he sought to promote the

prosperity of the trading companies and Dutch merchant oligarchy. He caused

the Princes of Orange to waive their hereditary rights to rule the country and

temporarily abolished the Stadtholder position as the office of executive

power in Netherlands.

DeWitt was an extremely shrewd executive and used every trick at his disposal

to beat the English during the trade wars. English trade was all but

completely crippled by both the well defended ironclad monopoly of trading

colonies/spice islands, and also by agressive Dutch privateering globally. In

home waters the first battles of the Second Anglo-Dutch War were inconclusive,

however the Dutch later gained the upper hand in the large fleet actions. This

was prominently due to lessons learned in the loss of the first Anglo-Dutch

war in the 1650s. The Dutch no longer relied on heavily armed merchant ships

for their navy. The new Dutch navy was both professional, led by some of the

best and most experienced admirals on earth and was a large well supplied and

equipped fleet of the fastest, latest warships which even though smaller than

the English capital ships were both extremely durable and armed with larger

guns…36 pounders vs the English 32 pounders.

Michiel de Ruyter See my article on him here: DeRuyter


Menno, Baron van Coehoorn (1641 – 1704)



Dutch soldier and military engineer. He made a number of influential weaponry

innovations in siege warfare and fortification techniques. He was also known

as the “Dutch Vauban”, after his famous French counterpart, Sébastien Le

Prestre de Vauban.

The circumstances of the time and the country turned Coehoorn’s attention to

the art of fortification, and the events of the late war showed him that

existing methods could no longer be relied upon. Coehoorn gained most of his

knowledge and insights on the building of fortification by having to capture

many of them himself. His first published work, Versterchinge de Vijfhoeks met

alle syne Buytenwerken (Leeuwarden, 1682), at once aroused attention, and

involved the author in a lively controversy with a rival engineer, Louys Paan

(Leeuwarden, 1682, 1683; copies are in the library of the Dutch Ministry of

Defence). The military authorities were much interested in his work, and

entrusted Coehoorn with the reconstruction of several fortresses in the

Netherlands. This task he continued throughout his career and his experience

made him the worthy rival of his great contemporary Vauban. He formulated his

ideas a little later in his chief work, New fortress Construction (Nieuwe

Vestingbouw op een natte of lage horisont, Leeuwarden, 1685), in which he laid

down three systems, the characteristic feature of which was the multiplicity

and great saliency of the works, which were calculated and in principle are

still eminently suited for, flat and almost marshy sites such as those in the

Low Countries. Essential to his new approach was the ability to fight an

active defence on the outer shores of the enveloping ditch, made possible by

constructing an extra protective wall around the fortification.

He borrowed many of the details from the works of his Dutch predecessor

Freytag, of Albrecht Dürer, and of the German engineer Speckle, and in general

he aimed rather at the adaptation of his principles to the requirements of

individual sites than at producing a geometrically and theoretically perfect

fortress. Throughout his career he never hesitated to depart from his own

rules in dealing with exceptional cases, such as that of Groningen. Subsequent

editions of Nieuwe Vestingbouw appeared in Dutch (1702, and frequently

afterwards), English (London, 1705), French (Wesel, 1705), and German

(Düsseldorf, 1709). Coehoorn’s individual assessment of each fortification and

focus on existing natural advantages and disadvantages is the main difference

in thinking from Vauban, who adhered more strictly to mathematics and standard


The fortifications of Coehoorn at Bergen op Zoom

In the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–1697) Coehoorn served as a brigadier.

At the battle of Fleurus he greatly distinguished himself, and he defended

Namur, a fortress of his own creation, when it was besieged by the French in

  1. Namur was taken by Vauban; but the Dutch engineer had his revenge three

years later in the Siege of Namur of 1695, when van Coehoorn retook Namur,

despite Vauban having spent the interval improving the defences with his

skill. Coehoorn became lieutenant-general and inspector-general of the

Netherlands fortresses. He commanded a corps in the army of the Duke of

Marlborough from 1701 to 1703, and in the constant siege warfare of these

campaigns in the Low Countries his technical skill was of the highest value.

The swift reduction of the fortress of Bonn and the siege of Huy in 1703 were

his crowning successes. He was on his way to confer with The Duke of

Marlborough prior to the famous campaign culminating in the Battle of

Blenheim, when he died of a stroke.


Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645),

Dutch jurist. Along with Alberico Gentili and Francisco de Vitoria, he laid

the foundations for international law, based on natural law. A teenage

intellectual prodigy, for his involvement in the intra-Calvinist disputes of

the Dutch Republic, he was imprisoned and then escaped hidden appropriately in

a chest of books. He wrote most of his major works in exile in France.

It is thought that Hugo Grotius was not the first to formulate the

international society doctrine, but he was one of the first to define

expressly the idea of one society of states, governed not by force or warfare

but by actual laws and mutual agreement to enforce those laws. As Hedley Bull

(Hugo Grotius and International Relations, 1992) declared: “The idea of

international society which Grotius propounded was given concrete expression

in the Peace of Westphalia, and Grotius may be considered the intellectual

father of this first general peace settlement of modern times.”

Additionally, his contributions to Arminian theology provided the seeds for

later Arminian-based movements, such as Methodism and Pentecostalism and he is

acknowledged as a significant figure in the Arminianism-Calvinism debate.

Because of his theological underpinning of free trade, he is also considered

an “economic theologist”.


René Descartes (1596 – 1650)


Some would say I need to include him with the French geniuses because he was

indeed French. However, he spent the majority of his life in the Dutch

Republic – this is where he both taught as a great scholar and professor at

the University of Leiden, and also where he made his observations,

discoveries, and wrote his books. Descartes was one of the great philosophers,

mathematicians, and scientists of the modern era.

He has been dubbed the father of modern philosophy, and much subsequent

Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to

this day. In particular, his Meditations on First Philosophy continues to be a

standard text at most university philosophy departments. Descartes’s influence

in mathematics is equally apparent; the Cartesian coordinate system — allowing

reference to a point in space as a set of numbers, and allowing algebraic

equations to be expressed as geometric shapes in a two- or three-dimensional

coordinate system (and conversely, shapes to be described as equations) — was

named after him. He is credited as the father of analytical geometry, the

bridge between algebra and geometry, crucial to the discovery of infinitesimal

calculus and analysis. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the

scientific revolution and has been described as an example of genius.

Descartes refused to accept the authority of previous philosophers, and

refused to trust his own senses. He frequently set his views apart from those

of his predecessors. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, a

treatise on the early modern version of what are now commonly called emotions,

Descartes goes so far as to assert that he will write on this topic “as if no

one had written on these matters before”. Many elements of his philosophy have

precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century,

or in earlier philosophers like Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he

differs from the schools on two major points: First, he rejects the splitting

of corporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejects any appeal to

final ends—divine or natural—in explaining natural phenomena.[9] In his

theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation.

Descartes laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, later

advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the

empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.

Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all well versed in mathematics as well as

philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.

His best known philosophical statement is “Cogito ergo sum” (French: Je pense,

donc je suis; I think, therefore I am), found in part IV of Discourse on the

Method (1637 – written in French but with inclusion of “Cogito ergo sum”) and

§7 of part I of Principles of Philosophy (1644 – written in Latin).


Franciscus Sylvius (1614 – 1672)

Dutch physician and scientist (chemist, physiologist and anatomist) who was an

early champion of Descartes’, Van Helmont’s and William Harvey’s work and

theories. He was one of the earliest defenders of the theory of the

circulation of the blood.

In 1669 Sylvius founded the first academic chemical laboratory . For this

reason, the building in which much of the Leiden University chemistry and

natural science faculties are housed has the name Sylvius Laboratory. His most

famous students were Jan Swammerdam, Reinier de Graaf, Niels Stensen and

Burchard de Volder.

He founded the Iatrochemical School of Medicine, according to which all life

and disease processes are based on chemical actions. That school of thought

attempted to understand medicine in terms of universal rules of physics and

chemistry. Sylvius also introduced the concept of chemical affinity as a way

to understand the way the human body uses salts and contributed greatly to the

understanding of digestion and of bodily fluids. The most important work he

published was Praxeos medicae idea nova (New Idea in Medical Practice, 1671).
The engraving by J. Voort Kamp published in 1641 that led to the lateral

sulcus being named after Franciscus Sylvius

He researched the structure of the brain and was credited as the discoverer of

the cleft in the brain known as Sylvian fissure by Caspar Bartholin in his

1641 book Casp. Bartolini Institutiones Anatomicae[5] In this book, it is

noted that in the preface that “We can all measure the nobility of Sylvius’s

brain and talent by the marvelous, new structure of the brain” And also, “In

the new images of the brain, the engraver followed the design and scalpel of

the most thorough Franciscus Sylvius, to whom we owe, in this part, everything

that the brain has the most, or the most wonderful of”.

Christiaan Huygens (1629 – 1695)


Prominent Dutch mathematician and scientist. He is known particularly as an

astronomer, physicist, probabilist and horologist. Huygens was a leading

scientist of his time. His work included early telescopic studies of the rings

of Saturn and the discovery of its moon Titan, the invention of the pendulum

clock and other investigations in timekeeping. He published major studies of

mechanics and optics, and a pioneer work on games of chance. In addition,

Huygen’s body of work and formulas in the discipline of physics were the first

known accurate mathematical notations and models concerning what we now know

as the Laws of motion, impact and gravitation. Huygens’ time pieces (clocks and

watches – first patented in 1675) contained many new break-throughs at the

time and are the forerunners of many modern descendents.



It seems to me like every brief history of the 17th century leaves Sweden out

as nothing more than a footnote. It can’t be completely ignored and has to be

mentioned in the history books “here and there” to fill in essential holes

that would otherwise exist in a larger historical understanding – however, few

English speaking historians seem to take the time to actually cover it to even

a slight or deserved degree. To me Sweden simply cannot be ignored. She WAS

indeed one of the “super powers” of the Europe of her time and involved in

numerous important conflicts of the Golden Age. In several of the larger

conflicts she was a key and essential player – indeed during the Thirty Years

War it was Sweden that saved the protestant cause and turned the tables

against the might of the Catholic League. Sweden struggled throughout the 17th

century to become one of the great world powers and – in a somewhat similar

timeline to France – was thwarted in these endeavors by large alliances formed

specifically to prevent Sweden from becoming a dominant power on par with

England or France. Sweden also had her fair share of great men during this

era. I apologize because I am also neglecting to give Sweden her due in the

detail I have on the countries above, however I will address/examine a couple

of items of interest.

Sweden’s army adopted the Dutch model of Prince Maurice and indeed expanded

and improved upon it. Sweden’s army was quite possibly the most disciplined

and professional of the age. It became the model to copy by the 1650s. At sea,

Sweden’s navy had participated (and was dominant) in many conflicts in the

16th and 17th centuries. Simply study the Scanian Wars to understand how

large, long term and complex these struggles were. Despite being a Protestant

power, and being a leader in the arms trade/cannon production (founded by the

Dutch), by the middle of the 17th century, Sweden found herself engaged in

conflicts against the Netherlands who took the side of Denmark. Sweden’s navy

was a fascinating hybrid in that although the DUtch model of command and naval

construction was the norm, they added many English practices both in ship

development and in ship handling/drill.

One of the things I have always personally liked about the Swedes are that

they were extremely literate and had spilled onto the scene of early modern

Europe – not as some backwater – but as a major developed cosmopolitan and

educated power. Look at the great Gustavus Adolphus who was so moved by the

Reformers that he joined them and saved the entire Protestant movement from

certain destruction if he had not intervened. He was killed acting as the

defender of the Protestant cause at the monumental Battle of Lützen. Although

interred in a great tomb in Stockholm, his sword was left in Wittenburg as

well as a monument to him adjacent the grave of Martin Luther at Wittenburg.

The King’s successor Queen Christina was one of the most fascinating women of

history. She was known as the scholar queen and read constantly. The most

important single thing Christina was interested in as her armies overran city

after city in central Europe was not victories, gold or glory – but books.

Christina gave her generals orders to carefully loot the libraries of the

conquered places and send the books carefully back to Stockholm for her to

examine. Indeed, Stockholm is a great repository of knowledge to this day

because of the queen. Interestingly enough, numerous countries have requested

the return of specific rare and valuable books taken as spoils of war. Sweden

has declined all requests and considers them their own after 400 years.

Christina would not go along with social norms (she commonly dressed as a man

and hunted as well) nor her duties requiring her to marry and bare offspring.

On the contrary her disdain for convention caused her to abdicate the kingdom

to her cousin (a German Wittelsbach – Bavarian Kings) King Gustav X. Christina

so wanting access to the greatest library on earth, became Roman Catholic and

took up residence in the Vatican to study. The pope described Christina as “a

queen without a realm, a Christian without faith, and a woman without shame”.

She spent many years in study in Rome and is one of the only women buried in

the Vatican Grotto.



Sweden my friends is worth the time to study. Her great persons of note are

every bit as interesting as the others I mention above. However, its time to

end this article now.

End of the Golden Age:

The end of the age was marked by a decline in the Dutch military machine that
had been so incredibly active the entire century before. The navy was no longer
seen of great importance. If you look at paintings from the time of William and
Mary one sees ships flying the colors of both countries simultaneous. King
William built up the English Navy to guard the trade of both the Dutch and
English states. The Dutch always saavy to make a profit, saw a peacetime
dividend – and thus, built fewer and fewer vessels of war as time went on –
and concentrated on building trading ships instead. Indeed when the Dutch
were called upon to honor the decades old alliance with England during the
Georgian age in the mid 18th century, they were asked to provide a squadron
of 20 warships to assist England in an endeavor against Spain. The Dutch
could send only four ships and they were old and nearly unfit. Their
commander had not been to sea in over 20 years. This sharp Dutch decline
ran in a directly counter direction to an unstoppable English(British after
the Act of Unions 1714) explosion onto the world scene.

….And now back to the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this article – concerning
that this time period is not considered to be an “Golden Age” by the Brits (who seem to be
quite alone in this boat). The previous paragraph is one obvious instance of the “why”
– one would much rather admire a society coming into its zenith and actions thereafter
than the time preceding (regardless of how grand, earthshaking and turbulent).

The Royal Navy of the 18th century is almost an object of worship to many Anglophiles and
students of history. Indeed it is both a formidable and admirable edifice and immeasurable
volumes of narrative admiration have been already been written elevating Nelson and Britain’s
actions during the Napoleonic Wars to Olympian heights.

However, I think this is only one reason. The other is far more seedy and

embarrassing. The 18th century into the 19th and finally into the Victorian era became

increasingly a time of prim and proper virtue, morality and behavior. “Stiff

upper lip” became not just a phrase but a way of living. It was improper to

show weakness or anything even slightly resembling weakness. Anything unsavory

in the public view or even just to ones own family or neighbors should and

would be dutifully ignored. It was better to shovel anything that smelled even

slightly “under the rug”, as it were. It’s interesting that this practice has

been continually followed from thereafter until modern times, even though all

that stuff under the rug is now just clearly becoming unbearably RIPE at this


Charles II’s court was the model of liberality and decadence. Despite all of
its greatness and great men, it was a model of excess and carnality. Add to
this that the great and powerful English military machine not only failed to
subdue its small neighbor across the channel, and in a complete “turnaround”
was utterly defeated by them in dozens of battles around the globe and in two
major wars, and one begins to get that special rug smell. In both of these
wars England was forced to her knees in coming to the peace table.

In the case of the 2nd Dutch War, her capital ships and navy yards were
destroyed in view of the nations own capitol and the flagship seized as spoils
of war. Humiliating doesn’t begin to describe this chapter in English history.
Regardless of all of the incredible notable people, great victories,
achievements and discoveries that I described above, (as my old military
mentors used to say) “a thousand atta-boys can be wiped out with just one big
AH S&it”. Add to this a great plague and the great London fire and there is
the frosting on top.

This time became an embarrassment to the British because of these unsurpassed

losses – historical egg on the face. When you consider that many of England’s
greatest naval victories during the Golden Age were achieved by nothing more
than “pirates”, it just makes matters all the worse. Why – two of Englands
greatest admirals – Myngs and Spragge had both been infamous pirates earlier
in their careers. This is something that would NEVER have been tolerated or
even considered in Nelson’s navy.

It makes matters all the worse when you consider that both of these great

men lost their lives to the Dutch in epic battles. Men like Rochester became

an embarrassment and indeed his books of prose were banned during the 18th

century and into the Victorian era.

So a quick analysis brings us to the conclusion that the reason Britain

refuses to acknowledge this time as a Golden Age, or indeed “THE” Golden Age,

(even though all of the other great European powers of the time do regard it

as thus) is simply because they would quite rather ignore it now instead. This

seems a bit ignominious and unfair when you consider that it was the actions

of the great men of this time that allowed Britain to become the great empire

she is known for now in the century following.

So the next time you wonder about why there are so many movies, series, and

novels in English about Aubrey, Hornblower, Sharp’s Rifles, etc, etc ,etc. and

few movies offered about the century prior – now you know.

…and knowing is half the battle. What strikes me most is that the people of
this time just seem so much more human, and……real.

MK (A.S.)

by with no comments yet.
%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar