Powerful nations

Perhaps the most significant political trend of the century was the consolidation of power in the hands of monarchs ruling large kingdoms, or nations. During the Middle Ages (c. 500-c. 1500) many minor kings, dukes, and other nobles had governed small regions. They engaged in frequent, disruptive wars with each other. By the sixteenth century, however, nobles in the regions that became England, France, and Spain had come up with a system that promoted greater stability. They gave their support—in the form of taxes and soldiers—to a single powerful monarch. The unifying presence of a stable monarch ruling over a large area reduced the threat of frequent warfare and allowed trade to expand in the areas under the monarch's rule. The economies of France, England, and Spain improved as a result, helped along by the opening of trade routes in the New World in the Western Hemisphere. The monarch's power rested on the confidence that was entrusted in him or her by the country's many nobles, so it was not always stable.

Not all of the areas of Europe were so unified and organized. In what is now Italy, city-states were the primary form of organization, and they were controlled by wealthy families who were some of the leading figures of the Renaissance, such as the Medici family. These city-states thrived on banking and trade. In present-day Germany a variety of states were loosely organized under the authority of the pope. Both of these regions would not organize into unified nations until the nineteenth century.

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