The struggle for sovereignty within and among states resulted in varying degrees of political centralization.
Three trends shaped early modern political development: (1) a shift from decentralized power and authority toward centralization; (2) a shift from a political elite consisting primarily of a hereditary landed nobility toward one open to men distinguished by their education, skills, and wealth; and (3) a shift from religious toward secular norms of law and justice.
One innovation promoting state centralization and the transformation of the landed nobility was the new dominance of firearms and artillery on the battlefield. The introduction of these new technologies, along with changes in tactics and strategy, amounted to a military revolution that reduced the role of mounted knights and castles, raised the cost of maintaining military power beyond the means of individual lords, and led to professionalization of the military on land and sea under the authority of the sovereign. This military revolution favored rulers who could command the resources required for building increasingly complex fortifications and fielding disciplined infantry and artillery units. Monarchs who could increase taxes and create bureaucracies to collect and spend them on their military outmaneuvered those who could not.
In general, monarchs gained power through the corporate groups and institutions that had thrived during the medieval period, notably the landed nobility and the clergy. Commercial and professional groups, such as merchants, lawyers, and other educated and talented persons, acquired increasing power in the state — often in alliance with the monarchs — alongside or in place of these traditional corporate groups. New legal and political theories, embodied in the codification of law, strengthened state institutions, which increasingly took control of the social and economic order from traditional religious and local bodies. However, these developments were not universal. Within states, minority language groups retained a more local identity that resisted political centralization. In eastern and southern Europe, the traditional elites maintained their positions in many polities.
The centralization of power within polities took place within and facilitated a new diplomatic framework among states. Ideals of a universal Christian empire declined along with the power and prestige of the Holy Roman Empire, which was unable to overcome the challenges of political localism and religious pluralism. By the end of the Thirty Years’ War, a new state system had emerged based on sovereign nation- states and the balance of power.
1.5.1: The new concept of the sovereign state and secular systems of law played a central role in the creation of new political institutions.
1.5.1.A: New Monarchies laid the foundation for the centralized modern state by establishing monopolies on tax collection, military force, and the dispensing of justice, and gaining the right to determine the religion of their subjects.
1.5.1.B: The Peace of Westphalia (1648), which marked the effective end of the medieval ideal of universal Christendom, accelerated the decline of the Holy Roman Empire by granting princes, bishops, and other local leaders control over religion.
1.5.1.C: Across Europe, commercial and professional groups gained in power and played a greater role in political affairs.
1.5.1.D: Continued political fragmentation in Renaissance Italy provided a background for the development of new concepts of the secular state.
1.5.2: The competitive state system led to new patterns of diplomacy and new forms of warfare.
1.5.2.A: Following the Peace of Westphalia, religion declined in importance as a cause for warfare among European states; the concept of the balance of power played an important role in structuring diplomatic and military objectives.
1.5.2.B: Advances in military technology led to new forms of warfare, including greater reliance on infantry, firearms, mobile cannon, and more elaborate fortifications, all financed by heavier taxation and requiring a larger bureaucracy. New military techniques and institutions (i.e., the military revolution) tipped the balance of power toward states able to marshal sufficient resources for the new military environment.
1.5.3: The competition for power between monarchs and corporate and minority language groups produced different distributions of governmental authority in European states.
1.5.3.A: The English Civil War -- a conflict between the monarchy, Parliament, and other elites over their respective roles in the political structure -- exemplified this competition.
1.5.3.B: Monarchies seeking enhanced power faced challenges from nobles who wished to retain traditional forms of shared governance and regional autonomy.
1.5.3.C: Within states, minority local and regional identities based on language and culture led to resistance against the dominant national group.