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Overview

The Baroque era that encompassed the years of 1600-1750 was an age of opulence, as inspired by the court of Louis XIV of France and driven by the new wealth of the middle classes. The arts flourished in ornate, intricate and grandiose style, while discoveries in the sciences allowed humankind to better understand the natural universe. Religious fervor reached a climax during this period, as the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Europe erupted in war.

During the Baroque period, the British commonwealth under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell brought increased religious toleration, trade, and military victories to England. Cromwell, born in Huntingdon in 1599, was a strict Puritan with a Cambridge education. Although he began as an obscure and inexperienced member of Parliament in 1640, he quickly became one of the most powerful men in Parliament and played a decisive role in the revolution in 1648, which saw the trial and execution of the King and the abolition of monarchy and the House of Lords. As head of the army, Cromwell intervened several times to support or remove the republican regimes of the early 1650s. Eventually, he became head of state as Lord Protector, although he held that office under a written constitution which ensured that he would share political power with parliaments and a council. As Lord Protector for five years until his death in 1658, Cromwell headed a tolerant, inclusive and largely civilian regime, which sought to restore order and stability at home and win over the traditional political and social elite. Abroad, the army and navy were employed to promote England's interests in an expansive and largely successful foreign policy. English and Dutch forces struggled for control of various territories during this period, with England rising victorious. For example, England gained control of Jamaica in 1655, Bombay in 1661, New Amsterdam in 1664 and Gilbraltar in 1704. The English and Dutch also raced to colonize the Americas, establishing settlements from Virginia to New York.

Meanwhile, China experienced the end of the nearly three-hundred year old Ming Dynasty and the founding of the Manchu Dynasty. The decline and fall of the Ming empire was caused primarily by rebellions that racked the country during the seventeenth century and the aggressive military expansion of the Manchus. In addition, the virtue and the competence of the Ming emperors had experienced decline over the years, while the Mings concentrated all power in the hands of the emperor. During the Baroque period, the imperial government exacted increasingly burdensome taxes on the common people, largely to pay for extravagances at court and military expeditions against the Mongols and ever-increasingly aggressive Manchus. As these taxes inspired rebellion, the quelling of these rebellions by military force required more taxes. At the same time, the conflict against the Manchus depleted the resources of the Ming, so that by the early 1640s, the government was penniless. Seeing an opportunity to gain control, the Manchus led by Abahai, set up a civil administration known as the "Manchu-Mongol-Chinese rule" modeled after that of China, but with a Manchurian prince overseeing each ministry of government. When Abahai died in 1643, the crown fell to his son, Fu-lin, who was only six years old. The government then, fell into the hands of the regents, Jirgalang and Dorgan. Li Tzu-ch'eng, a rebel leader, attacked Beijing in late April of 1644. Without much resistance, he entered the city on April 25 and the last Ming emperor, the Ch'ung-chen emperor, hanged himself. Meanwhile, Dorgan proceeded towards Peking at the head of an army, presumably to aid the Ming. Li burned part of the forbidden city down and fled, while Dorgan buried the Ch'ung-chen emperor and schemed to place Fu-lin on the throne of China. Li was eventually hunted down and killed in 1645, shortly after Fu-lin was crowned ruler.

In other parts of the world, the Turks declared war on Crete, Poland and the Holy Roman Empire. Russia and Poland ended a thirteen-year war, and Peter the Great instituted a movement toward modernization in Russia. In Africa, Hausaland dominated the trade routes to Sahara, and Great Zimbabwe was replaced by several regional capitals in Transvaal, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. From the 1620s through the 1650s, African nations fought the Portugese in Angola and the Zambezi region. By the 1680s, the Portugese were driven eastward and finally expelled from the region, and the West Africa experienced the rise of the Asante kingdom.