Dr. Ronald Fritze
January 21, 2004
An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia regitur orbis?
[Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?]
That is a question that Count Axel Oxenstierna, the first minister of Sweden, rhetorically asked his son in a letter written in 1648. It is a question that many people were probably asking and answering in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Right now we are studying France and how Richelieu and Louis XIII used that kingdom's resources to beat down the power of Spain, but at great cost in lives, suffering, and national wealth. People asked if it was worth the effort at that time. We continue to ask the same question centuries later.
We will soon be turning away from France to look at Spain, the primary target of France's foreign policy. Spain's kings and ministers tried to maintain and to expand their realm's power and influence. Instead, endless conflicts and numerous enemies sapped Spain's resources and energy to a dangerous degree. Problems were allowed to grow so large that there was not enough wisdom to solve them.
What about 1648? That was the year that saw the signing of the great Peace of Westphalia, ending the brutal Thirty Years War. Oxenstierna participated in that peace. The peace left large parts of Germany devastated, but even victorious Sweden paid a terrible price. The adult male populations of whole Swedish villages had virtually disappeared to feed the national army's appetite for soldiers.
Sweden emerged the great power of northern Europe, but it was a fleeting glory. Swedish supremacy was severely challenged within twenty-five years and was crushed forever a short seventy-five years later.
The Old Regime.
January 9, 2004.
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."