The history of Austria is one of warfare against invaders from the east, and the infidel Turks in particular. Leopold I, the ruling Hapsburg, has brought peace and prosperity, and maintained a first-class military machine. This gives the Austrians the potential to become a truly great power, either within the borders of the old Empire, to the south in Italy, or to the east. This latter scheme requires the Turks to be persuaded – at sword point – that their destiny lies outside Europe.
Britain’s strength lies at sea, but in trade and colonisation as much as naval power. The English and Scots like to think that they can sleep safe, that no foreign invader or tyranny need worry them. They are partly right, but only as long as there is no centralised Continental power. A nation that can unite the resources of Europe will surely crush the dream of Albion. This, then, is the fundamental aim of Britain: to side with the weak in Europe against the strong – and steal as many overseas possessions as possible while doing it!
In 1700, France is the pre-eminent power in Western Europe, with an unrivalled army, vast colonies and a King who is respected and feared by all, both at home and abroad. Few nations pose any real threat to its well-equipped armies and heavily fortified borders. France is surrounded by possibilities, and beyond Europe there are other continents to conquer and colonise: New France in North America, and the riches of India. The untrustworthy British may have to be swept aside or crushed, but what is wrong with that?
The Maratha Empire or Confederacy was born in violence, as the result of the successful overthrow of Mughal rule less than a generation ago. Perhaps now, though, it is time to think of expansion. For now, the Europeans want only money and trade, but soon they will be after concessions, a little piece of land here, another piece there, until all is ruled by foreigners from across the sea. Unless a strong hand guides India, it is possible that the rule of Mughal outsiders will be replaced by the lordship of European outsiders.
Ottoman power is unmatched in its extent and grandeur, straddling the traditional trade route between Europe and Asia. The Ottomans also have power over the whole of the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. Strategically, the Empire is in a potentially strong position: the Balkans are a natural bastion to defend Istanbul, and a possible springboard for conquest into central Europe. Control of the Mediterranean would allow a Sultan to do as he pleases with the smaller European powers. And to the east, the route to India offers the chance of riches.
Poland’s problems, and enmities, are those of any state surrounded by ambitious rivals, all of whom are looking to become stronger at someone else’s expense. And yet, these rivalries could be turned to advantage. The Russians have no divine right to dominate the steppes, or the Swedes to control the Baltic. The various German states need allies, the same as other nations, and cannot expect to take anything they want without a struggle. A Polish leader who picked his alliances carefully, and his wars equally so, could do much to make his country great.
Prussians have always had to fight, but that has made them competent, not bloodthirsty. They have the potential to become a great continental power thanks to their martial traditions, many of which can be traced back to the Teutonic Knights. These could form the basis of a truly world-beating army. Under the right guidance, they could unite the German-speaking peoples into a single entity, dominate the Baltic and, perhaps, extend their reach far beyond the confines of Central Europe.
Russia has boundless resources to draw upon, and the steadfast courage of its people to bolster its armies. It can be a formidable foe, and a difficult one for an enemy to attack. To the west lies the wealth of Europe and access to the wider world through a port on the Baltic. To the south, there are fellow Slavs and Orthodox Christians in the Balkans to be incorporated into a Greater Russian Empire. And beyond, there is a wider world awaiting conquest by the sons of the Mother Russia.
The Spanish have a long been conquerors and colonisers in distant parts. But Spain has suffered from King Charles II’s weakness of mind and government. When he dies, what forces will shape the destiny of the Empire? Will Spain once again face its Protestant rivals down? Will new there be a new generation of conquistadores to plant the Spanish flag on distant shores? His successor will have much to ponder, but a brave nation to lead back to greatness!
Sweden dominates Scandinavia and the Baltic, a Northern European empire that is the legacy of the incomparable warrior-king, Gustavus II Adolphus. As the new century dawns, Sweden is a strong, aggressive state, surrounded by jealous rivals from whom she has taken territory in the last hundred years. Sweden’s armies are the equal of any in Europe, and her navy is not without resources and skill. With a home empire secured, who is to say that an overseas empire cannot be taken and held too?
Having tamed their land, the Dutch have now embraced the sea and become the foremost naval power in the world. Dutch merchantmen range across the world’s oceans, and the wealth of the world passes through Dutch ports. For the future, the Dutch have much to be hopeful about. They have a strong navy, and a tradition of victory. There is wealth aplenty in every corner of the world, if only the Dutch have the will to go and take it!
The United States of America has a future of boundless possibilities. A continent stretches away to the West, and no one is entirely sure what is to be found there. The Atlantic swell washes against the eastern seaboard, and beckons American seamen onwards: trade and adventure lie that way too. There may still be scores to settle with the British in Canada, or ambitious nations from Europe to discourage. There is much to do, if this newest and boldest of nations is to survive and prosper!