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European State Building History

The process of European state building, which became the foundation of modern European states, began in 14th-15th centuries, after the concluding phases of the Hundred Years’ War. It was followed by a period of civil unrest, when a great number of professional soldiers sought employment under various dukes, magnates, and administrators, thus splitting lands into areas of influence, with constant in-fighting. In these situations, the monarchs held little power of their own and had to take drastic measures in order to consolidate their states. Actions of national leaders such as Louis XI of France, Maximilian Habsburg of Germany, Ferran and Isabel of Spain, and Ivan III of Russia led to the creation of national monarchies, which were strong, authoritarian, and centralized states.

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If we analyze all four cases, we will see specific objectives that the monarchs had to reach in order to secure their rule. The first and primary goal was to gain control over taxation. It allowed them to depend less on public support, as their actions and methods rarely solicited such. They abolished taxation rights of respective cities and localities, and instead directed the tax flow into their own treasuries. The money gained from taxation was used to build standing armies of paid professional soldiers, in contrast to semi-militia paramilitary formations. They also hired professionals from different areas, such as accountants, administrators, scientists and others, in order to keep control of their accounts, process information and organize labor more effectively.

The second objective was to take control of the Church. The Church used to be one of the building blocks of medieval states and societies, as it had the power to control the hearts and minds of the population, justify monarchial actions and decrees, promote ideas and thoughts beneficial to the state, and conduct research. Many medieval intellectuals, scientists, writers, and administrators had connections to the Church. This institution also possessed a great deal of wealth, lands, and resources, and had a powerful influence on the court. Gaining control of such a powerful tool was paramount to medieval state-building. This venture was made possible largely due to the crisis of the Papal state, which weakened the ties between Vatican and the leaders of national religious communities, allowing monarchs to take control.

Having a strong leader in charge of a monarchy was a prerequisite for its success and longevity. Monarchs had to use their powers to put down rebellions, conduct diplomacy and intrigues in order to win the favor of the middle class, and have a strong grasp on the state economy, as they had to tax, regulate trade, promote their own state economy through protectionism and subsidies, and so on. These leaders rarely operated in terms of honesty or political morality, as they were only concerned with the welfare of their own countries and states.

To summarize, the building blocks of European national monarchies were:

  • Centralized state control over taxes
  • Paid professional army
  • Control over the Church
  • Strong leadership.

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