7 Historical Events that happened in the 17th Century

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The seventeenth century was important to history for both science and geography. New minds all over the European continent began making important steps to help us make sense of the world around us, while wars across the globe were shaping it into something more closely resembling what we see now when looking at a map. Nations and Empires were built, new political and scientific systems were established, and in the theatre of war, many people died.

1. The crowns of England and Scotland unite (1603)

Portrait of James I of England in state robes (1566-1625)
Portrait of King James VI and I of Scotland, England, and Ireland by Paul van Somer, circa 1620.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Elizabeth I of England died childless in 1603, the nation was left with no obvious successor. They decided to borrow King James VI of Scotland, making him King James I of England and Ireland, marking the first time the two nations shared a monarch. The first King of Great Britain ruled until he died in 1625 but took part in several historically significant events before he did. First, he was the assassination target of the Gunpowder Plot, in which various conspirators including Guy Fawkes were thwarted in their attempts to blow up the Houses of Parliament. James also sponsored the creation of the King James Version of the Bible, which was finished in 1611 and became one of the most widespread books in history, being a significant driving force in the spread of the English language and culture around the globe. 

2. Russia’s Time of Troubles ends (1613)

Tsar Michael I
Tsar Michael I of Russia, crowned in 1613.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When the final Rurikid Tsar died without an heir in the final years of the 16th century, Russia was sent into crisis. The instability in establishing a new dynasty was exacerbated by a great famine between 1601-1603, and internal conflict caused by a series of imposters, known as the False Dmitrys, all claiming to be rightful Rurikid heirs to the throne, with False Dmitry I even managed to sit on the throne for a year before he was ousted. Making matters even more complicated was the opportunistic Polish, who after years of meddling captured Moscow and thus the state, putting a Polish man on the throne in 1610. Now seeking independence and desperate for stability, the Troubles ended when a new Russian Tsar with appropriate lineage was chosen. Tsar Michael I was crowned in 1613, the first of the Romanov dynasty that would rule for 300 years, and independence was established soon after. 

3. Europe’s Thirty Year War (1618–48)

Thirty Year War
The death of Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim during the Battle of Lützen painted by Hans Makart.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Following the establishment of Lutheranism and religious freedom from the Catholic Church in preceding decades, an attempt by the King of Bohemia to impose Catholicism on his peoples in 1618 triggered several separate wars that ravaged the continent for three decades. Now known as the Thirty Year War, it involved many nations across Europe fighting for a variety of reasons. As religious denominations in the Holy Roman Empire struggled for dominance, other opportunistic European states stretched the boundaries of their territories, and in the case of the Dutch, fought for independence. The wars ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia, establishing not only an entirely different-looking European continent but also a principle of sovereignty that serves our understanding of nation-states today.

4. The Mayflower brings the Pilgrims to North America (1620)

The Mayflower
The Mayflower.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Feeling the Church of England was beyond redemption, 102 Puritan passengers (plus a crew of around 30) departed from Plymouth, England aboard the Mayflower on 16 September 1620 to seek the Promised Land of the New World. The voyage across the Atlantic took a grueling 10 weeks, competing with storms that threatened to sink the ship, or at the very least cut their voyage short. However, the Pilgrims, as they have come to be known, arrived and set anchor on 21 November 1620, suffering only one casualty, establishing the Plymouth Colony in Cape Cod, and changing North American culture forever.

5. The Fall of China’s Ming Dynasty (1644)

Wanli Emperor
Wanli Emperor.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The ancient Ming dynasty of China, ruling from 1368, had a series of setbacks in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, from earthquakes wiping out hundreds of thousands of people, to famine, to plague, all of which aided to their final downfall. A rival Manchu warlord named Nurhaci recognized the weakness of Ming authority in the North and declared war against them in 1618. They gained small victories over China in the years to follow, and when Beijing was taken in 1644 by an unrelated rebel army, the Manchus saw their opportunity. Renaming themselves the Great Qing in 1636, they fought the rebels at the Battle of Shanhai Pass in 1644 claiming victory and beginning the Qing’s rule under Nurhaci’s grandson, the first Qing Emperor Shunzhi. They would go on to establish the nation of China and would rule until 1912.

6. The Great Turkish War (1683-1699)

Battle of Vienna during the Great Turkish War
The Battle of Vienna on September 12, 1683, during the Great Turkish War.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

With the Ottoman Empire at its peak, expanding north in to Europe and taking huge swathes of lands from Hungary, their expansion was stalled for the first time during the Battle for Vienna in 1683, when they attempted to take the capital. A new Holy League was formed to push the Ottomans back, known as The Great Turkish War, comprising of various nations in Europe, despite many of them already fighting a separate war with France. The Battle of Mohács in 1687 was another crushing defeat for the Ottoman Sultan, and the decisive Battle of Zenta (1697) led to victory for the League. The Ottomans were forced to sign the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 and cede large portions of Southern Europe, ultimately ending their previously unstoppable growth.

7. Isaac Newton publishes Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)

Isaac Newton
Portrait of Isaac Newton, 1689.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By the 17th century, the Scientific Revolution was in full swing, with great minds all over Europe were making discoveries and completing works that would change our understanding of the world around us forever. Arguably none were as important as Newton’s Principia. Not acting in isolation, Newton read the works of his predecessors in Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes, building on their initial ideas to form his own theories, and mathematically prove what they had hypothesized. The first edition of Principia was published 5 July 1687 and set in place his laws of motion and universal gravitation, as well as establishing mathematical methods still used today in modern calculus. It is largely considered one of the most important works in human history.

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out 7 Historical Events that took place in the 16th Century!

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