Front Page Titles (by Subject) 85.: The Character of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries - Judgments on History and Historians
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
85.: The Character of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
The Character of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
To what extent can the thesis be supported that the sixteenth century was fanatical, and the seventeenth bigoted? At any rate, there is a spiritual difference between the first and the second phase of the Counter Reformation, between which stands Henry IV. The first period is more popular and lives more among the masses; that is the case especially in France. Then, too, its guiding personalities still have a shade more passion, they still experience the issues directly, while the men of the second period take them over complete and decided, and now administer them mechanically.
For men with a Jesuit upbringing, like Ferdinand II, it was a foregone conclusion that the world must be brought back again by any methods; they never knocked their heads out or wavered about the main goal.
On the other hand, the peoples (the middle-class elements were far less significant than in the sixteenth century) were appreciably more tired and less spontaneous, e.g., the French Huguenots and Catholics. In Germany the great danger did not produce any popular stirring any more, except in Upper Austria and Bohemia. The Thirty Years’ War remained merely a matter of the governments long after the populations had been fleeced, and on the Protestant side most of these governments were small and weak.
Afterwards, Gustavus Adolphus with his vigor is in great contrast to all the others. That is true also of the earlier Upper Austrian Peasants’ War. Catholicism was at an enormous advantage. As long as it was united (but after Urban VIII it no longer was), it also knew what it wanted; in comparison with Protestantism, which was divided and consisted of mere governments, it had an ecumenical mentality or, at least, basis.
But the behavior of Spain remains symptomatic of the change from one century to the other. Here there is actually a difference between fanaticism and bigotry. Philip II stands spontaneously at the head of all Catholic activity; Philip III (overthrow of the Duke of Lerma) and Philip IV (proclamation of the Netherlands armistice) let themselves be drawn into the cause again only out of “fausse honte” [false shame].
A peculiar interlude was Lerma’s period. A pleasure-seeking parvenu has established himself in the fanatical, world-monarchical state of the Spaniards, to the grief of all those working for the cause, apparently with a very bad conscience toward the house of Austria. To be sure, the high Spanish officials act without him, too, on their own account.