Rebels & Rulers, 1500-1660: 2 — Conspectus, typology, causality by Perez Zagorin

Germany’s Peasant Revolt of 1524 to 1525 was the largest and bloodiest popular uprising in Europe until the French Revolution of 1789. (WikiCommons)

The revolutions selected for consideration in this book almost all occurred in the century and a half between the beginning of the sixteenth and the middle of the seventeenth century. Moreover, with the main exception of the German peasant war, they belong almost entirely to the history of three states: England, France, and the Spanish empire. The rationale for this choice of locale in space and time as the basis for a study of early modern revolutions is explained by a number of reasons.

Far across the abyss of time, before the French revolution and the emergence of industrial society, lies spread out and stretching backward into the past the Western Europe of the old society. Dominated in its polities by monarchies and princes and in its social structures by nobilities and aristocracies, still rural despite its great capital cities, still agricultural despite its commerce, manufactures, and bourgeoisie, this is the society that grew out of the feudal world and was eventually to be transformed during the nineteenth century into the industrial world. One phase of its life history, the last, which was disrupted by the French revolution, is usually known as the ancien régime. The whole of its history is commonly described as the early modern era, extending from about 1500 to the late eighteenth century and the outbreak of the French revolution.

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Rebels & Rulers, 1500-1660: 1 — The concept of Revolution and the comparative history of Revolution in early modern Europe by Perez Zagorin

There are at least two reasons that might be cited for undertaking the historical and comparative investigation of revolution. The first is the desire to make a revolution, the second is the desire to prevent it. Perhaps nearly everybody is susceptible to the one reason or the other, but there is yet a third reason that gives the study of revolution a compelling interest and significance, even though its appeal is doubtless much more limited. This is that the understanding of revolution is an indispensable condition for the fuller knowledge and understanding of society. Depending on how we define it, revolution may be common or uncommon, frequent or rare. But in the case of societies, nations, and communities that have experienced revolution, we cannot claim to understand them adequately without understanding their revolutions. In a deep and therefore a nontautological sense, it is true that every people gets the revolution it deserves and equally true that it gets only the revolutions of which it is capable.

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