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Bolstered by the unprecedented flow of wealth from the New World, Spain is the greatest power in Europe. Under the 43-year rule of Philip II, the cold, somber, fanatical and Most Catholic of Majesties, it became the first empire in history to stretch around the globe after Philip acquired the Portuguese throne in the 1570s. Philip is committed to exterminating heresy and restoring a Catholic and orthodox Europe. The Netherlands, the economic jewel of his empire, has been swept by a Lutheran and Calvinist tide. Although his father Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) preferred a live taxpayer to a dead Protestant, Philip cannot hold to such a practical stance and has taken brutal measures. Spain is allied with the House of Guise against Henri IV.

William of Orange (William the Silent) nearly succeeded in uniting the Netherlands against Spain, but religious discord wrecked this dream and he ended up with only the Northern provinces, who declared him hereditary stadtholder (he was assassinated in 1584, but the House of Orange still rules).

Although the might of Spain is formidable, there are cracks in its invincibility. The kingdom is mortgaged and over-extended, the wealth of the New World has gone into making war. English Sea Dogs and Dutch Sea Beggars raid its sea trade (the French do their share when they can), and the English defeated the Armada in 1588. Philip is near the end of his reign -- died in 1598, the same year that the Peace of Vervins will be signed between France and Spain. This treaty will mark the beginning of peace and prosperity in France and the rise of French power in Europe.

Culturally, this is the age of Cervantes and El Greco, but Spanish orthodoxy and the Inquisition do not encourage original thought. This is also the century of Ignatius Loyola, the creation of the Society of Jesus and its rise as a force to be reckoned with in the Counter-Reformation. (By the way, the Jesuits have been banned from France after one attempted to assassinate Henri IV around Christmas 1594).

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Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, and has until 1603 before the end of her age. This is an age of heroes, although most of them are coming to the end of their careers: Hawkins, Frobisher, and Drake have died. Raleigh has been exploring the Orinoco looking for El Dorado.

The Drake and the English defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, which was a high point in the development of British national pride.

This is an age of genius: Shakespeare has written his historical plays and many of the comedies, although the great tragedies have yet to come. Marlowe died in a tavern brawl in 1593, cutting short a promising career. Spenserís Faery Queen has recently been published.

The charming Earl of Essex is still Elizabethís favorite, and has not yet committed the treason that will lead him to the block. In 1591 she sent him to aid Henri IV in his struggle against the League, but he wasnít very useful. Elizabethís money has been: she has contributed around 400,000 pounds over the years to Henri IV.  She disapproves of him having made a separate peace with Spain in 1598.

There have been bad consecutive harvest years in England (as elsewhere in Europe) in the 1590s. However, things are looking up in the East India trade.

In 1587 Elizabeth of England finally executed Mary Queen of Scots (a Guise, and queen of France during François IIís brief reign) after 20 years of captivity. Her son, James VI is king of Scotland, and the likely heir to the throne of England. He is prey to the usual factionalization and squabbling of the Scottish nobility, and has been since an infant. The Calvinist religion of Knox prevails in Scotland.

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The Papacy and the Italian States

The current pope is Clement VIII. The church has run through quite a few in the last few years: Gregory XIII (1572-1585, the calendar pope), Sixtus V (1585-1590, considered one of the great popes for his patronage of the arts and rebuilding of Rome in the baroque style, but also the excommunicator of Henri IV), Urban VII (1590, lasted 2 weeks), Gregory XIV (1590-1591), Innocent IX (1591, lasted 2 months), and now Clement VIII (1592-1605). Clement VIII is a pious, serious pope who naturally supported the Catholic side against Henri IV in France. He has just accepted Henri IVís conversion. He took a lesson from his predecessor Clement VII, who lost England for the Catholic church by opposing Henry VIII too obstinately, and declined to do the same to France. He later mediated the peace between France and Spain in 1598 (Treaty of Vervins), which was rather favorable to France.

All the great Italian city-states are pretty much sliding downhill, in terms of political and economic glory. Venice had its last great moment at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, where the Turks were soundly defeated, breaking their power over the Mediterranean. (They were quite perceptive about recognizing Henri IV as king of France early on, though). Naples was conquered by the Spanish in 1504, and is the center of Spanish power in Italy. Milan is in the hands of the Spanish. In Florence, the Medici are not what they once were, although Grand Duke Ferdinando I is a good ruler. Although extravagant, he is committed to the well-being of Florence and maintaining her independence. He built hospitals, a college at Pisa, and expanded the fleet in the port of Leghorn. His policy of religious toleration drew many Protestants and Jews to Leghorn. His niece, Maria deíMedici will marry Henri IV in 1600 and become the mother of Louis XIII.

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Germany and Eastern Europe

Rudolph II, the son of Emperor Maximilian II, is the Holy Roman Emperor and head of the Hapsburg house. Although a learned man, an astrologer and astronomer, he is an incapable ruler. He is currently at war with the Turks. The Hapsburgs have acquired the crown of Bohemia (1547) and claim the crown of Hungary, which has been divided, the prince of Transylvania being a vassal of the Turks, but otherwise reasonably independent. Sigismund Bathory is the current Prince. He defeated the Turks at Giurgevo, and his uniting with the Hapsburgs against the Turks was not well-received by the Hungarian nobility. The Hungarians are mostly Calvinists at this point. The Hapsburgs are fervently Catholic and will cause much suffering forcibly converting their population back to the Church.

The last Jagello king of Poland died in 1572, and the monarchy became elective. Their first choice was Henri, duc díAnjou, the brother of Charles IX. However, as soon as Charles died in 1574, Henri fled Poland to become King of France (Henri III). The current king is Sigismund III, son of King John of Sweden. He was raised by Jesuits and is quite violently supporting the Counter-Reformation. After his fatherís death in 1592 he claimed the Swedish throne. He spends a lot of his time and Polish blood at war in Sweden and is pretty useless to Poland.

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Over the past 30 years Moscow has been expanding its control over Russia, accelerating greatly in the past 10 years. In the 1550s Moscow expanded into the Khanate of Kazan and Astrakhan, and by 1582 even Siberia had fallen under Russian control.

Ivan IV (called "the Terrible"), who had ruled Russia for most of the 1500s, died in 1584, leaving a tremendous power vacuum. The nominal czar is Feodor I, a weak and feeble son of Ivan IV. The actual government is in the hands of the boyars, notably Nikita Romanov (related to Ivan IVís first wife) and Boris Godunov, brother-in-law of Feodor. Russia is currently in social, economic, and dynastic turmoil -- but it looks like the Romanovs will emerge victorious.

There is some extremely limited contact between Russia and the lands to the west of it (i.e. Europe), and the Russians tend to view Europeans as barbarians, which is only fair as the Europeans tend to view Russians as barbarians. [Note that Ivan IV sent France a diplomatic note deploring the St. Bartholomewís Day massacre.] Montaigne records meeting the ambassador of Muscovy in Rome, and mentions that they "knew so little of our lands" that he brought letters of introduction to the Pope and to the governor of Venice, thinking Venice to be ruled by the pope.

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The Ottoman Empire

Suleiman the Magnificent died in 1566, and none of his successors have measured up to him. Mohammed III is the current sultan. The phenomenal decline of the empire began around 1585, due to the abandonment of the government to favorites, widespread corruption, and the placating of the Janissaries so they have become a veritable praetorian guard, making and unmaking sultans at will. Turks still ravage the coasts of the Mediterranean, in spite of the loss at Lepanto, but there is more or less peace between Spain and the Turks. Dutch, English, and French trade has been increasing with the Levant.

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-c. t. iannuzzo