The German tribes were conquered by the Franks under Charlemagne at the end of the 8th century, and - often forcibly - Christianized. After Charlemagne, the Germans came under the rule of his descendants, the kings of the East Franks.
When the Carolingian line of East Frankish kings died out, in 919, the German dukes elected one of their number, Henry of Saxony, as their king (reigned 919-936). Henry and his son Otto (reigned 936-973) campaigned with great success, defeating the Magyars, expanding the East Frank realm in this region and conquering a large part of Italy. In 962, Otto had himself crowned emperor in Rome, by the pope. He thus founded that political entity known to European history as the Holy Roman Empire.
The expansion of the Holy Roman Empire eastward is accompanied by the expansion of that branch of the Christian Church headed by the pope. Wherever the frontier advances into pagan territory – and sometimes ahead of it – the Church sets up bishoprics, and brings previously heathen peoples within the fold of Christendom.
Central Europe has experienced great upheavals with the coming of the Magyarsclick to view East Central Europe 979AD
Internal disorder and Viking raids have brought chaos to the land of the west Franks, as royal authority declines and the power of local lords risesclick to view France 979AD
Italy has become fragmented amongst several different statesclick to view Italy 979AD
Scandinavian raiders and traders voyage far and wide in the great age of the Vikingsclick to view Scandinavia 979AD
The Low Countries are divided amongst a number of semi-independent countiesclick to view The Low Countries 979AD
By the mid-11th century the Holy Roman emperor was the leading ruler within Europe. His power and prestige was such that he was able to nominate popes. Within his realm, the Church played a vital role in maintaining order and civilization within the empire, and in upholding imperial power, especially in the frontier regions. Thus, when the pope sought to assert control over the appointment of bishops, at the expense of the emperor, this was a direct challenge to the emperor's authority. This led the the "Investiture Controversy", which lasted for two generations and only ended in the Concordat of Worms (1122), a compromise which left both pope and emperor with a say in the appointments of bishops in Germany.
This struggle seriously damaged the authority of the emperors, which was followed by a prolongued civil war for control of the imperial crown. Anarchy spread throughout Germany and centralized authority virtually ceased. Local magnates and cities were left to manage their own affairs, and even after the anarchy was brought to an end by the strong rule of Frederick Barbarossa (reigned 1152-90), these local powers were left largely untouched. In Italy especially, imperial control had become merely a formality, and Barbarossa's repeated attempts to re-impose Imperial authority failed. At the Peace of Constance (1183), the Italian cities' self-government was recognized, so long as they pledge fealty to the emperor and paid taxes.
While this political fragmentation was occurring a population upsurge has been taking place in Germany (as in other European countries) and thousands of German peasants are seeking farmland in the more sparsely populated regions to the east, especially in Saxony and Brandenburg. In the north east, the Holy Roman Empire expands with the annexation of the duchy of Pomerania (1181).
Several able kings have gradually expanded royal authority within France, at the expense of the regional lordsclick to view France 1215AD
Powerful nations are emerging in Central Europeclick to view East Central Europe 1215AD
In Italy, the northern cities, above all Venice, are growing in wealth and power, while in the south Norman adventurers have created one of the most amazing kingdoms of the Middle Agesclick to view Italy 1215AD
The Scandinavians have become Christians and are colonizing the Baltic coasts.click to view Scandinavia 1215AD
The beginnings of a centuries-long land reclamation effort is going on in the Low Countriesclick to view The Low Countries 1215AD
The emperor Frederick II (1212-50) was not only Holy Roman emperor; he was also king of southern Italy. This is where he had been brought up, and was his chief concern. While he sought to strengthen his power in Italy, the German magnates were left largely to their own affairs. After his death, the imperial crown fell once again into dispute. The power of the German magnates continued to be enlarged as opposing candidates showered favours and grants on them. The greater magnates came to rule their territories as virtually sovereign princes.
The Golden Bull of 1356 ended the disputes by requiring that the emperor be elected by the seven leading princes of the empire - a practice which will remain broadly in force for centuries to come. One result is that it ensures that emperors are elected who will not interfere with the autonomy of the princes, by now independent rulers within their own states.
The Holy Roman Emperor is now Albert II of Hapsburg. The Hapsburgs are more interested in building up their own family lands than in the thankless task of restoring centralized power to the empire, and the family will hold the imperial title, with one short break, until the end of the empire itself (in the 19th century).
The kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden are all ruled by one monarch
click to view Scandinavia 1453AD
The kingdom of France has emerged victorious from the 100 Years Warclick to view France 1453AD
The union of Poles and Lithuanians under one crown creates a huge dual kingdomclick to view East Central Europe 1453AD
In Italy, the Italian Renaissance is in full swingclick to view Italy 1453AD
The dukes of Burgundy now rule the Low Countriesclick to view The Low Countries 1453AD
In 1519, a monk called Martin Luther protested against abuses in the Church. This protest gathered a momentum of its own, sparking off that great episode in European history known as the Reformation. With the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, seeking to uphold the Catholic Church, Germany descended into war. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) restored peace with the compromise that Germans must either be Catholic or Lutheran; nothing else. Their religion depended upon that of their prince – if he was a Catholic, so must they be, if a Lutheran, they also.
Continuing tensions between the Hapsburg emperors seeking to impose Catholicism (and a more centralized control over the empire), and the German princes wishing to preserve their religious and political autonomy, led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in 1618. The war drew in many European powers, and German and foreign armies ravaged Germany. Perhaps a third of the German population perished.
The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) has at last ended the fighting. Its many clauses include formal recognition for the 365 German principalities as autonomous states. Any remaining imperial power, on the part of the Holy Roman emperor, is now at an end, though he remains a figure of outstanding prestige within European politics.
The kingdom of France is now ruled by a highly centralized monarchyclick to view France 1648AD
Incessant conflict between the Italian states has led to the Peninsula coming under Spanish dominationclick to view Italy 1648AD
Much of Central Europe is threatened by the Ottoman Turksclick to view East Central Europe 1648AD
Sweden has become a leading European power
click to view Scandinavia 1648AD
The prosperous new nation of the Netherlands has appeared on the map of Europeclick to view The Low Countries 1648AD
The outstanding development of the last century or more has been the rise of the state of Brandenburg-Prussia. This state was, like much of Germany, devastated during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), under its very capable ruler, Frederick William (known to history as the Great Elector), it began its rise to power. He took every opportunity to strengthen the state economically, and was able to take advantage of Poland’s weakness to make himself sovereign duke of Prussia (1657).
A generation later, his son was recognized as king of Prussia (1701), and the state expanded again when it gained much of western Pomerania from Sweden, by the Peace of Stockholm (1720). The next ruler was the stern militarist Frederick William I (1713-40), who devoted his efforts to building up an efficient army, which has stood at the heart of the state ever since. His son, Frederick II, "the Great" (reigned 1740-86), occupied the Hapsburg territory of Silesia. In the great mid-century wars, Prussia managed, sometimes by the skin of its teeth, to keep its independence, retain its Silesian conquests – and add some other territories along the way.
Much of Central Europe is now divided between Austria and Prussiaclick to view East Central Europe 1789AD
France is on the verge of Revolution!click to view France 1789AD
Italy has become a magnet for European aristocrats visiting it on the "Grand Tour"click to view Italy 1789AD
Sweden has experienced decline as a European power
click to view Scandinavia 1789AD
The Netherlands have become a centre of world-wide commerceclick to view The Low Countries 1789AD
The more than twenty years of war which followed the French Revolution in 1789 deeply affected Germany. French armies occupied large areas of the country on several occasions, and it was only after some dramatic defeats that Prussia and Austria were able to rally, and lead the German states in the defeat of Napoleon. The political map of the region was altered for ever when the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved by Napoleon, in 1806. The Treaty of Vienna (1815) has created a Germanic Confederation, with Austria as President, and the more than 300 German states have been reduced in number to 39. Prussia, as one of the leading victorious powers, has significantly expanded its territory, particularly in the Rhine Valley and Saxony.
The French Revolution has changed France for goodclick to view France 1837AD
The movement for Italian independence and unity is growingclick to view Italy 1837AD
Norway is now under the control of Sweden
click to view Scandinavia 1837AD
The small country of Belgium has appeared on the map of Europeclick to view The Low Countries 1837AD
All of Central Europe is now divided between Russia, Austria and Prussiaclick to view East Central Europe 1837AD
In 1848, taking their cue from the revolution in Paris that year, a wave of revolutionary uprisings swept through the German states, demanding constitutional government and the unification of Germany. This achieved very little, and the conservative government of the princes had all won back control the next year (1849).
In the years after 1849, the rise of Prussia to a position of leadership within Germany, under the brilliant statesmanship of its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, led inexorably to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The French army was crushed at the battle of Sedan and, following its victory, Prussia announced the creation of the German Empire.
The German Empire is a federal system in which the constituent states retain much of their power, but are under the overall suzerainty of the king of Prussia, who now has the title "Kaiser" ("Caesar", or "Emperor"). An Imperial parliament, the Reichstag, has been established, but it has comparatively little power compared to that of the Kaiser and his ministers.
The unification of Germany presents Europe with a new power in its midst. Germany is the second most populous state in Europe after Russia, and, more importantly, one of the leading industrial powers in the world.
Central Europe is divided between the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empiresclick to view East Central Europe 1871AD
France has been defeated in a war with Prussiaclick to view France 1871AD
After many difficulties Italy has become a united countryclick to view Italy 1871AD
Denmark has experienced traumatic defeat at the hands of Prussia
click to view Scandinavia 1871AD
Both Holland and Belgium are constitutional monarchiesclick to view The Low Countries 1871AD
Since 1888, the German Empire has been ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Germany has become the leading industrial nation in Europe, particularly with regard to heavy industries such as iron, steel, coal, chemicals and railways. She is also by far the strongest military power, with an army built around the old Prussian army with its proud traditions, and a new navy that compares well with the British navy in the North Sea, in terms of size, equipment and efficiency.
Central Europe remains divided between the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empiresclick to view East Central Europe 1914AD
France has a huge overseas empireclick to view France 1914AD
Despite weak government, Italy has an expanding industrial economyclick to view Italy 1914AD
Norway is now an independent nation
click to view Scandinavia 1914AD
Belgium and Holland maintain their neutrality in the power-politics of Europeclick to view The Low Countries 1914AD
Germany was defeated in World War 1, and the Kaiser went into exile. Germany lost much of its territory and other humiliating conditions were imposed upon it. This undermined Germans' faith in their new democracy, which took a further knock with the onset of the Great Depression, in 1930. Many looked to Adolf Hitler and his Nazis, who came to power democratically but soon turned Germany into a totalitarian state. They delivered on their promises to cut unemployment and restore Germany to a position of strength, but Hitler’s ambitions were by no means satisfied. His march into Poland brought about World War 2 (1939-45).
The end of the war found Germany once again a defeated nation, its cities ruinously bombed, its industries all but annihilated and its land occupied by foreign armies. The country was been divided into West and East Germany. West Germany is a democracy, her people prosperous, and her political climate stable. She is a founder-member of European Common Market (founded in 1953), and in 1955 she was accepted as a full member of NATO. East Germany is governed as a one-party state by the Communist party. She is a member of the Warsaw Pact. Although, by Communist standards she has a powerful economy, she is falling well behind West Germany.
Eastern-central Europe is divided amongst several countries, most now under Soviet controlclick to view East Central Europe 1960AD
France has experienced the full brunt of two world warsclick to view France 1960AD
After the defeat of Mussolini in World War 2, Italy has become a leading member of the European Communityclick to view Italy 1960AD
Finland has had to fight hard against Russia for its independence
click to view Scandinavia 1960AD
Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg have all experienced invasion and occupation by Germany during World War 2click to view The Low Countries 1960AD
In 1961 a physical expression of the division between Communist Eastern Europe and Democratic Western Europe was erected by the Communists in the form of the Berlin Wall. West Germany continued to thrive and enjoy continuing political stability. East Germany fell further and further behind her western sister in economic development – a main reason for the building of the Berlin Wall, which served as much to keep the East Germans in, as the West out.
With the implosion of the Communist regimes in Europe in 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down. This, more than any other event, symbolised the fall of communism in Europe and the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Communist regime in East Germany paved the way for Germany to become a single country again, which it did in 1991. In the years which followed, the German people struggled hard to merge their economies together into a single entity, but they have succeeded in doing so, and Germany now has by far the most powerful economy in Europe.
All countries of East-central Europe are members of the EUclick to view East Central Europe 2005AD
France is a leading member of the EUclick to view France 2005AD
Despite a series of weak governments Italy has had a thriving economyclick to view Italy 2005AD
The Scandinavian countries are amongst the most prosperous nations in the world
click to view Scandinavia 2005AD
Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg are amongst the most prosperous countries in the worldclick to view The Low Countries 2005AD
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