I have not attempted in the following pages to write the history of Europe in the seventeenth century in detail. The chronicle of events can be found without difficulty in many other works. I have therefore endeavoured as far as possible to fix attention upon those events only which had permanent results, and upon those persons only whose life and character profoundly influenced those results. Other events and other persons I have merely referred to in passing or left out of account altogether, such as for instance the history of Portugal and the Papacy, the internal affairs of Spain, Italy, and Russia. Following out this line of thought I have naturally found in the development of France the central fact of the period which gives unity to the whole. Round that development, and in relation to it, most of the other nations of Europe fall into their appropriate positions, and play their parts in the drama of the world’s progress. Such a method of reading the history of a complicated period may, of course, be open to objection from the point of view of absolute historical truth. The effort to give unity to a period of history may easily fall into the inaccuracy of exaggeration. The picture may become a caricature, or so strong a light may be shed on one part as to throy the rest into disproportionate gloom. It would be presumptuous in me to claim that I have avoided such dangers. All that I can say is, that they have been present to my mind continually as I was writing, and that I have been emboldened to face them both by the fact that the history of the seventeenth century lends itself in a very marked way to such a treatment, and by the conviction that it is far more important to the training of the human mind, and the true interests of historical truth that a beginner should learn the place which a period occupies in the story of the world than have an accurate knowledge of the smaller details of its history. To know the meaning and results of the Counter-Reformation is some education, to know the official and personal names of the Popes none at all.
With regard to the spelling of names I have endeavoured to follow what I humbly conceive to be the only reasonable and consistent rule, that of custom. It seems to me to be as pedantic to write Henri, Karl, or Friedrich, as it is admitted to be to write Wien or Napoli, and inconsistent on any theory except that of the law of custom to write anything else. But with regard to some names, custom permits more than one form of spelling. It is as customary to write Trier as Troves, or Mainz as Mayence. These cases mainly arise with reference to names of places which are situated on border lands, and are spelt sometimes according to one language, and sometimes according to another. In these cases I have followed the language of the nation which was dominant in the period of which I treat, and accordingly write Alsace, Lorraine, Basel, Koln, Saluzzo, etc. The use of an historical atlas is presumed throughout.
ALL SOULS COLLEGE, OXFORD