The Hapsburg Sandwich: Take a deep breath: In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile became joint rulers of Spain, creating a personal union for that kingdom. In 1477, Maximilian I Holy Roman Emperor married Mary of Burgundy, bringing a patchwork of states under direct Hapsburg control in central Europe. Then, these two families, so recently brought together themselves, were joined by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella’s daughter Joanna to Max and Mary’s son Philip. Their son first became Charles I of Spain, and, then, in 1519 was elected Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. Phew!
Why do I call this the Hapsburg Sandwich? Well, Charles thus inherited a large portion of Europe, seen in the following map:
This raised the prospect of a universal monarchy for Europe.
In the middle, however, “sandwiched” by the Hapsburg lands, was a strong, unified Catholic France, possessed of a distinct national identity (born of the Hundred Years’ War), which had no intention of being subsumed by this imperial behemoth. Hence…
The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich: In 1529, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith, laying siege to the Hapsburg capital of Vienna, leading Catholic France to ally with the Muslim Empire in 1536 in an attempt to counterbalance Hapsburg power. In 1543, a combined Ottoman and French fleet captured Nice. In 1544, the Ottomans, at France’s request, also took Naples from the Emperor. They would continue to project power into Europe for another 150 years!
The Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich is thus a major historical example of Western nations being absorbed by the question of the temporary “balance of power” while discarding ideology and common values.
Of course, it’s true to say that the only integrating ideology that Europeans had at the time was Christianity, and that the Ottomans did not really have the ability to conquer Europe, so one might argue that what France did might actually have been for the best–in the moment.
However, viewed in its full historical context, one sees that what followed was a wholesale abandonment of principles in European foreign policy. In that regard, the Anti-Hapsburg Sandwich seems to be a watershed point. Once the Reformation had done its work of disintegrating Christendom, Europe regressed into a period of pragmatism characterized by the projection of power for its own sake. Its “grand” monarchs, Louis XIV of France, Peter “the Great” of Russia, and Frederick “the Great” of Prussia, would initiate countless wars of aggression against their neighbors and their imperial targets.
And–which only made matters worse–it was at this point, when Western politics was devoid of principled guidance, that Europe became entangled by the “Eastern Question,” i.e. the question of what to do with the Middle East.