Elliot Fernandez

Alliance System and military conflicts in Europe (1494-1606)

The politics of the 16th century was marked by the establishment of large monarchical states in Europe, which struggled to consolidate their power by controlling more territory, both in Europe and in the newly discovered territories in America and the Pacific.
Elliot Fernandez
Elliot Fernandez
He has a degree in History from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (2009) and a Master's in World History from Pompeu Fabra University (2011).
Post on 2023-01-11 | Updated on 2023-02-16

The Early Modern Age began in Europe in a climate of great political and military turbulence. Alliance System and military conflicts spread across the continent in an attempt to extend their power and control over more territory.

The new monarchies of the Renaissance

The birth of the new monarchies

The papacy and the Empire were the highest religious and political authorities in the European world until the 13th century. In the lower sphere, who held the power in the Holy Roman Empire were the free cities and the feudal lords. Between the superior and inferior powers, a new power was consolidating: the monarchies. Monarchies that increased their power by obtaining greater territorial control.

Three aspects were decisive in this process of consolidation of the new monarchical power during the period between 1450 and 1600:

  1. The End of Universal Authority:
    • Papacy: Universal power as vicar of Christ.
    • Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire: represented the power of the sword as the executing arm of the Church.
    • Between the 13th and 15th centuries, Christendom was divided into units that did not recognize the secular power of the papacy or imperial dependence.
    • The emperor's identification with the territory of present-day Germany limited his universal aspirations. Many kings granted themselves imperial attributes and symbols.
  2. The powers of lords and cities
    • During feudalism (the most important stage between the 10th and 13th centuries) the territory was divided into lordly areas, autonomous territories under royal control. The nobles considered the king as "primus inter pares" (in English: first among equals), one more among the nobles.
    • Urban progress (XII-XIII centuries) with the bourgeoisie as the leading social class that was occupying new spaces of municipal power. The agrarian interests linked to the feudal lords are contrasted against the interests of the new bourgeoisie linked to industry and commerce.
    • Representative Assemblies (Courts, Parliament, States General). They created awareness of territorial unity. In the 13th-14th centuries, a mixed form of government (kings and assemblies) developed that the new challenges of the Modern Age put into question throughout Europe.
  3. The appearance of the figure of the Renaissance prince
    • In 1513, the Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli recognized King Ferdinand II of Aragon as the model for the new Renaissance prince.
    • Marriage policy of the monarchies: family unions that provided them with considerable human and material means.
    • The new princes used the raison d'être (moral endorsement in the pursuit of power).

A Europe of composite monarchies and multiple identities

Internal government structures

Throughout the modern period, the scheme of duality of power was maintained. On the one hand, the royal power structures (State) and on the other the lordly jurisdictions (feudal lords and local powers). The new monarchies consolidated new internal governing bodies and new foreign policy instruments.

Institutional organization of monarchies:

Diplomacy and foreign action

The new markets abroad in the world and the configuration of the confessional Europe generated military and political conflicts. From 1550 Europe was the permanent scene of war. That is why the monarchies had to set up themselves with more accurate international policy tools. It was the birth of modern diplomacy.

The creation of the Hispanic Monarchy

The dynastic union between the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon

In 1469, the future queen Isabella I of Castile and the future king Ferdinand II of Aragon laid the foundations of the Hispanic monarchy through their marriage union. It put an end to the traditional enmities between the two kingdoms. The union between the two kingdoms was confirmed in Castile in 1474 with the ascension to the throne of Isabel and in 1479 with the beginning of the reign of Ferdinand in Aragon.

Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon
Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon

On the death of Isabel I in 1504, the crown of Castile passed to her daughter Joanna. Ferdinand of Aragon married Germaine of Foix in 1506, niece of Louis XII of France. From her marriage to Ferdinand II the Catholic, a son was born, John, who died shortly after his birth on May 3, 1509.

Institutions of the Crown of Castile:

Institutions of the Crown of Aragon:

From the time of Peter IV the Ceremonious, the Crown of Aragon was organized with the following central institutions:

The Crown of Aragon was a confederal type structure, because each territorial unit maintained its political sovereignty. The king legislated in the courts of each kingdom (formed by the three arms, except in Aragon). Ferdinand II introduced few innovations in this institutional structure. He promoted the creation of the Council of Aragon (1494) to decide on matters pertaining to the Aragonese territories.

Castilianization of the Spanish Monarchy under the reign of Charles I

Upon the death of King Ferdinand II in 1516, the crowns of Castile and Aragon, based on Ferdinand's last will, passed to his daughter Joanna, sole heir to the Crown of Aragon and her father's successor in all their titles. But due to his alleged incapacity (it is not at all clear that this was the case) the regency was granted to his eldest son, Prince Charles of Habsburg and future emperor of the Holy Empire.

Charles I of Castile
Charles I of Castile and Aragon (Charles V Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire)

Prince Charles arrived in the Iberian Peninsula on September 19, 1517, when he was seventeen years old. Due to his education outside of Castile and coming to a foreign court, he immediately encountered the opposition of the nobility before his ascension to the throne: at the first courts held in Valladolid in 1518, the nobles demanded an oath from him of respect for the laws of the kingdom.

Territories of Emperor Charles V
European possessions of Emperor Charles V

Charles I of Castile (and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) had a disappointing initial stay in Castile, which had its peak during the revolt of the Comuneros (1520-1521). As a result of this conflict, the nobility was definitively neutralized against the triumphant authoritarian monarchy. The highest segment of the nobility was compensated by its support for the emperor, with whose interests it was closely identified, but the subordination of subjects to the monarch remained clear.

The monarchy of Charles I maintained a constant tension regarding the plurality of its kingdoms. Tension regarding the private interests of the dynasty over the interests of the territories. The interests of Castile were not always the same as those of Aragon.

Castile assimilated and integrated the different territories of the peninsula, except those that were integrated within the Crown of Aragon during the 15th and 16th centuries:

The Spanish Monarchy at the time of Philip II

The inheritance of Emperor Charles V

Philip II of Castile received from his father Charles I in 1554, in addition to the Crown of Castile and Aragon, the crown of Naples, the territories of the Spanish Netherlands, which were governed by his half-sister Margaret of Parma, and the Duchy of Milan. However, he did not bequeath the Imperial Crown, which was ceded to his brother Ferdinand I due to the latter's pressure.

Philip II of Castile
Philip II of Castile

King Philip II could not govern uniformly the different territories that were part of the Spanish Monarchy. Throughout his reign, he never travelled. In 1561, he established the court in Madrid, becoming the capital of his Empire. He always governed through his secretaries and the Councils.

Institutional structure and factions

In the institutional structure, the new Councils of Italy, Portugal and Flanders were created. Within the court there were strong tensions between the bureaucrats, the cliques and the factions (confrontation between the Duke of Alba and the Prince of Òboli). All of them had different political views (for example, in the Revolt of the Netherlands).

Peninsular religious problems

Through the tribunal of the Inquisition, religious problems were liquidated with blood and fire. The foci of Protestantism that arose in the Iberian Peninsula were repressed through the Inquisition: "autos de fe " of Valladolid (1559) and Seville (1559-1560). Publication of the indexes of prohibited books and the impossibility of studying abroad.

The religious unity of the monarchy was strengthened:

Aggressive foreign policy

The Spanish Monarchy at the time of Philip II was the hegemonic power in Europe.

Philip II
World possessions of the Spanish Monarchy at the time of Felipe II

It had two scenarios of struggle: in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic:

The Italian States

Italian political diversity

The Italian peninsula was a rich territory, where the economy and culture in the Early modern age bore great fruit. But from the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, there was no political unity in Italy. There were about twenty States under three political formulas:

Map of Italian territories in 1494
Map of Italian territories in 1494

In the Early Modern Age five Italian states were a territorial and political power: Milan, Venice, Florence, Papal States and Naples (Hispanic possession):

  1. Duchy of Milan: it was the most disputed piece during the Italian Wars (1494-1559):
    • In the hands of the Visconti family between 1277 and 1447. Then it passed to the Sforza family, 1450).
    • Changes of possession between the French (pro-Visconti) and Hispanics (pro-Sforza) that did not alter their institutions. The power of the royal governor was controlled by a Congregazione dello Stato (parliamentary assembly, 1543).
  2. Republic of Venice: it was the largest territory of the Italian aristocratic republics. He controlled international trade with the East. It was the scene of artistic mannerism. Territorial expansion:
    • Plain of the Po: important cities such as Verona, Vicenza, Padua or Brescia.
    • Adriatic Empire (Istria and Dalmatia), to the islands of the Ionian, the Aegean (Crete and Cyprus). The Ottomans were the great enemies of the Venetians.
    • Institutional system headed by an elective and lifelong Dox; major decisions in the hands of a Great Council (2,000 of the main families). Senate of about 300 members (foreign policy).
  3. Republic of Florence: social and political instability. Authoritarian government of the Medici family. The governing body was the Signoria.
    • 1480: Board of Seventy, with finance and foreign affairs commissions.
    • Medici legacies: patronage, financiers' ability and economic prosperity.
  4. Papal States: secular power of the popes extended to both sides of the Apennines. More direct domain of Lazio, in dispute with great families such as the Orsini and Colonna.
    • Roman Curia (nepotism): secular affairs, headed by the cardinal secretary (foreign policy) and chamberlain (treasury).

The revolt of the Netherlands

The scene of fights between the different European monarchies that was Italy in the period between 1494 and 1559 then moved to the Netherlands. The Netherlands was a highly valued territory for: the high population, the commercial vitality of its cities, the agricultural and manufacturing success. Until the 15th century, the territory was the centre of the domains of the Dukes of Burgundy.

At the time of Emperor Charles V, these territories were in dispute between the French (Valois) and Spanish (Habsburg) monarchies. France had seized the Duchy of Burgundy, while the Habsburgs controlled the Netherlands.

With a constant presence of the emperor, he appointed a governor resident in Brussels who was assisted by an administration made up of councils, Secretary of State and finance. The Netherlands had the States General, an assembly that brought together all the territories and the main cities.

First Revolt (1566-1570)

Part of the territory of the Netherlands was the scene of war in 1554 (the Battle of Renty) during the Italian War of 1551-1559 (war between France and the Spanish monarchy). This war led to the exhaustion of the population. The war expenses and the accommodation of troops imposed on the inhabitants provoked their anger in the form of fiscal protest, led by the nobility.

From 1554, a spiral of revolts and repression began between the Calvinist population of Flanders and Brabant (urban minstrels) and the royal institutions (which issued edicts against Calvinist heresy from the provincial Inquisition):

Second Revolt (1572-1576)

Truce period (1576-1580)

The new governor of the Netherlands, John of Austria, accepted the Pacification of Ghent through the publication of the Perpetual Edict in 1577Recognized:

The pacification situation was a failure, and two blocks were fixed:

Secession and reconquest (1581–1588)

The Republic of the Seven United Provinces (1581-1609)

The Scandinavian monarchies

The Scandinavian area in the 16th century was an important commercial axis (straits of the sund). They were also a key point in the spread of Protestantism. The crowns of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (Finland) broke their unity with the end of the so-called Union of Kalmar (1397-1523) under Danish primacy.


Denmark under the reign of the House of Oldenburg. Triumph of Lutheranism (1536) and distribution of church property between the king and the nobility, a closed group that monopolized the positions and subjected the peasants to conditions similar to those of Eastern Europe. The toll of the passage through the Sund provided extraordinary income (2/3 of the royals) and allowed the control of Norway with some autonomy (villages of fishermen and foresters) and of Iceland.


The Sweden of the Vasa, who were never identified with the union of Kalmar. Gustav I (1523) needed nearly a decade to put an end to the noble and peasant revolts (spurred on by the Danes). He created the administrative bases of the new monarchy and made it hereditary in his family (1544).

Unlike Denmark, the role of the cities and the peasants was quite important politically and economically (peasants, fourth arm of the Riksdag or Parliament).

The successors of Gustav I undertook an aggressive foreign policy:

France during the Wars of Religion

The foundations of the Valois monarchy (1461-1559)

Period of government of the kings: Louis XI (1461-1483), Charles VIII (1483-1498) and Louis XII (1498-1515) :

The institutional organization:

Representative Assemblies:

The new monarchs: Francis I (1515-1547) and Henry II (1547-1559):

Territorial expansionism

1483-1515 important annexations:

The Italian Wars (1494-1559)

The Wars of Religion (1562-1598). 8 consecutive wars

Context prior to the religious conflict:

The Protestant offensive (1560-1570) :

The Catholic offensive (1580-1598):

The four British nations

Tudor England (1485-1603)

The War of the Roses (1455-1485) between the supporters of the houses of Lancaster and York meant the establishment of the Tudor dynasty on the English throne.

Henry VII (1485-1509) was the first monarch of the new Tudor dynasty. The priorities of his government were:

Henry VII of England
Henry VII of England

Henry VIII (1509-1547), "expansive and expensive policy". Anglican schism, three key processes:

Consolidation of the Parliament

The English Parliament is a legislative assembly with medieval origins. It has two chambers: the Lords and the Commons. The king shared sovereignty with Parliament: King-in-Parliament. The two basic functions of Parliament were: to approve taxes and to legislate. Taxes basically served to finance the war. The expansive policy of Henry VIII made him go to Parliament 6 times between 1510 and 1516.

In 1530 the absolute sovereignty of the Parliament was established. This meant that Parliament could legislate on all matters. At this time the laws of the Anglican Reformation were being passed which separated England from Rome. Main legislation that passed during this period in Parliament:

Contention of Parliament in the time of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Distinction between Commonwealth affairs and State affairs (religious, marriage, royal succession, and foreign policy).

The political and fiscal structure

Organization of government at Westminster (late 15th century):

Reorganization of the Treasury:

English territorial expansionism


The territory of Wales had its origins in Celtic culture from the arrival of the Saxon and Norman population. In the time of Edward I of England (1239-1307) this territory was occupied and organized politically (Rhudlan Statute of 1284). This statute was in force until the laws of Henry VIII of England in 1536.

Between 1536 and 1542, direct control of Wales by the King of England was established. Meanwhile, the Anglican Reformation and the arrival of the printing press had a negative impact on Welsh culture. William Morgan promoted the translation of the Bible into Welsh.


The Scottish territory had a complex composition due to its scant Romanisation. During the Middle Ages, there were constant conflicts against Norman expansionism: a first stage of vassalage with England (1174) and subsequent occupation and annexation (1296).

With the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton of 1328 Scotland regained its independence. The treaty was signed by Robert I of Scotland and the English Parliament. But Scotland had two permanent problems throughout the Middle Ages: constant English intervention and clan divisions.

Alliances and conflicts:

Spread of Protestantism:


The island of Ireland has Celtic roots, aside from Romanization. Ireland experienced a strong medieval Christianization. The Irish colonized Armorica (French Britain). The clan division allowed the Normans to intervene with papal endorsement to control the Irish Church (1170-1172).

The English domain of the island of Ireland was limited to the area of ​​the English Pale (territory under direct control of the English king in Dublin). In 1366 the Statutes of Kilkenny were approved, "more Irish than the Irish".

16th century:

Ireland's employment process:

Century of revolts:

The multinational Habsburg Empire

The House of Habsburg

Feudal lineage originating in the territories of Aargau, in Switzerland. From Alsace, they consolidated their domains in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1450 and 1500 they seized the Empire, a multinational territory based on respect for the different institutional systems:

Danubian Europe: constitution of the Austrian monarchy (hereditary states and incorporated states). Division into two Empires: Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

German territories

The emperor of the Empire was chosen according to the procedure described in the Golden Bull of 1356 by a college of electors formed by: 3 ecclesiastics (archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne) and 4 secular (King of Bohemia, Duke of Saxony, Marquis of Brandenburg and Count Palatine of the Rhine).

Institutional organization of the Empire:

Evolution of the Empire during the 16th century

The hereditary territories of Austria

Austria had dominion over peripheral lands: Swabia of the Hohenstaufen, the main medieval lineage par excellence, Lower Austria, Carinthia, Styria and the Tyrol.

Recognition as king in Hungary and Bohemia (1526). Austria poured into the Danube (mental separation from Germany). He promoted the plurinational state, the new Austrian monarchy.

Double retaining wall:


Central Asian population (Hungarian is not an Indo-European language) Europeanized and early Christianized. Intense Germanic influence, especially in the urban area.

Reign of Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490):

Lodislaus VII Jagiellon (1490-1516), successor of Maries Corvinus. From a dynasty of Lithuanian origin, he was king of Bohemia. Weak man who made a pact with the Habsburgs in 1515: an alliance with Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg, with whom in the future his kingdoms would be under the influence of the Habsburgs, since he married his two sons to grandsons of the Germanic emperor

Louis II (1516-1526) only reigned for ten years, abandoned by large social sectors (peasant revolt of 1514), faced 100,000 Turks and died in Móhacz (1526).

The throne of royal Hungary passed into imperial hands and the central plain and Transylvania to the Ottomans (John Zápolya, voivode of Transylvania and vassal of Istanbul).


With the allied states of Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia, they were part of the Empire. The king of Bohemia was an imperial elector. Territory of conflicting ethnic complexity: Slavic Czechs dominated. Germanization process underway (since the 13th century) which caused two civil wars at the beginning of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Jordi Podebrady (House of Poděbrady) was the first European king to reject Catholicism and support the Hussite reform movement (patriotic affirmation, social revolt and religious reform).

The most important contribution of the Habsburgs to Bohemia was during the time of Emperor Rudolf II (1575-1611). Prague became the imperial capital ; a gesture of complicity or attempt at Germanization on the ground.

Ottoman Empire

The birth of an empire

The political organization of this empire does not correspond to the canons discussed so far. The Turkish Empire made conquests that have left an important trace. It was not an exclusively Turkish or Islamic empire. The usual language of the imperial administration was Turkish, but many of its ministers were of Christian and Jewish origin.

In 1453, the Ottomans took part in a momentous event in European history: the fall of Constantinople. The Ottomans put an end to the last vestige of the Eastern Roman Empire. It was from the conquest of Constantinople that the Ottomans began the race of territorial expansion, in the years of Sultan Selim I (1512-1520):

The internal organization of the empire

  1. The Sultan: Eastern despotism based on his authority (without counterweights). Originally chosen among the descendants of the founder of the empire in the 14th century, Osman I.
    1. First task: eliminate all brothers (and their children) to secure power through civil war; then, ministerial environment (of eunuchs and renegades) completely faithful.
    2. Often, the son of a Christian slave; the sultan had only one son by slave, when he was born, separated and sent as governor to the provinces.
  2. The central administration:
    1. Grand Vizier: Empire-wide government functions; presides over the highest court, Imperial council or Divan (ulema in the interpretation of Islamic law).
    2. Administration: mainly personal slaves of the sultan; meritocracy: social ascent (from palace schools to Beylerbeyi provincial governor ); many viziers were Balkan or Albanian.
  3. The territorial organization:
    1. Mehmet II (1451-1481) began centralization, completed by Suleiman I (1520-1566): division into Sancaks ; 1534, 34 in Europe and 63 in Asia.

The Ottoman army

  1. Human composition: empire, product of the process of military conquest. Origins: border state of the Byzantine Empire, forced to organize itself as a military machine.
    • Two forms of recruitment:
      1. Mobilization of the feudal cavalry of the timariots (timars or fiefs granted in usufruct to warlords in exchange for soldiers). 16th century: tendency towards patrimonialization; sedentary and demobilized gentlemen.
      2. Specialists trained from childhood: Janissary infantry corps; product of the devshirme (blood tax): Christian children educated in Islam and subjected to military discipline (marriage ban).
  2. Funding: 80,000 (1550). Bundle of tribes: tithes of the Muslims, tributes of the subjugated peoples (Jews and Christians), on the land or customs duties (double the income of Charles V).
  3. Weaponry: traditional weaponry (bows, short swords or javelins), firearms; field artillery (1450), a key role in the fall of Constantinople. Initially, huge guns: difficult to place and excessive heating (cadence hours).

The occupation of the Balkans


Chronology: expansion (1459-1561) and stabilization (1561-1608):

The Mediterranean expansion

The Republic of Venice was the main rival in the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the control of the shores of the Aegean and the Adriatic. Venice had the support of the corsairs of the North African ports (especially Tunis and Algiers).

Chronology: first notice, violent maritime campaign culminating in the capture of Otranto (1480).

1499-1503: successes in the fight against Venice.