http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iqYd3EFzks



  • A. The Medieval Legacy to the Era of Crisis:From roughly the time of the Carolingian Renaissance in the 1000s A.D. to around 1300, Europe experienced social and economic boom times. The social chaos and political anarchy caused by the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 450s A.D., followed by the incursions of the Vikings, Magyars, and Moors in their raids around the 900s were finally over and Europe emerged from the Early Middle Ages. During the Medieval period, the feudal aristocracy and the Catholic church emerged as the dominant political force and were instrumental in imposing social and economic order in the countryside. Peasants were organized within the manorial system as serfs; the guild system dominated economic life and imposed its own wage, price, and production controls in the system; and, in religious life, the church reached its zenith of power and influence over not only the spiritual but the secular life of Europe. Indeed, Europeans were feeling vigorous enough to launch an expansion of western Christendom between the 11th and 13th centuries in the form of the Crusades and missionary efforts in the Baltic border lands. However, the 14th century would be an era of multiple crises that would either weaken or even destroy many of the medieval institutions of Europe that seemed the most durable, and in their stead, pave the way for the development of modern Europe.
    • 1. Overpopulation from Medieval Times:Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Europe, organized along strict feudal/manorial lines, finally experienced the social and political organization neccessary for successful agriculture and sufficient crop yields. Since much of Europe had been virgin forest and unsettled land after the fall of the Roman Empire, the way was paved for its settlement: with increased crop yields, the population grew; as it grew, new areas had to be cleared and settled; as these new areas were settled, the increased harvests contributed to more population growth, and so forth. This population boom continued unabated until the beginning of the 14th century, when it was forced to taper because all the most easily cultivatable land had been claimed and, the guild system had imposed such tight economic controls that commercial life in the towns had begun to stagnate. In other words, the population of Europe had spurted upward without a simultaneous increase in production.
    • 2. Climatic Changes:The population situation came at a most unfortunate time, since, almost at the same time, the climate of Europe suddenly turned colder and wetter. Indeed, some historians believe that Europe may have entered a "mini Ice Age" in the 14th century, as evidenced by the heavy clothing depicted on portraiture of the time and later. These climatic changes meant crop failures. Crops either froze in the fields or else were subject to rot in the granaries from the dampness of incessant rains.
    • 3. Widespread Famine:The burgeoning population, dependent on an expanding food supply to meet their needs, now found themselves subject to periodic and widespread famines. Areas not actually killed off by starvation were so debilitated by hunger and chronic malnutrition that the population were ravaged by other destructive forces such as exposure (because of the increasingly cold weather), disease (such as rickets, beri-beri, and scurvy), and various plagues.
    • 4. Plague:The culture and lifestyles of the Medieval population was actually conducive to disease transmission which led to periodic and massive outbreaks of all manner of epidemics and plagues. Whole families lived together in close, cramped quarters, sleeping 10 to a straw pallet on the floor of a cottage whose basement was typically the animal stables. Because of the cold weather, people rarely washed (it was believed to cause sickness) or changed clothes until they rotted off of their bodies. As a result, in addition to the usual smallpox, typhus, typhoid fever, cholera, scarlet fever, measles; and, diseases caused by unsanitary conditions such as polio, hepatitis, and disentary, there was the first outbreak, in 1346, of an entirely new disease--The Bubonic Plague. This deadly disease was spread into Europe by the westward migrations of the Mongols, among whom lived rats--whose fleas carried the bacterium Yerisina pestis. The Bubonic Plague attacked the lymph nodes (known as buboes), causing them to swell and burst beneath the skin. As a result, the afflicted were often covered with black and blue marks, which caused the disease to earn the name "The Black Death." Victims suffered great fever, unquenchable thirst, delirium (they often tore off their clothes and threw themselves into fountains, ponds and streams and between screams, they gulped huge quantities of water) and ultimately died usually within 24 hours! It is estimated that upwards of 60% of Europe's population died off after this first wave of plague. This disease continued to ravage Europe at irregular intervals clear into the 19th century, when Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur arrived at the germ theory of disease transmission.
    • 5. Peasant Uprisings:The breakdown in social and political order following famine and plague led to the outbreak of peasant uprisings. Initially, the upper classes seemed to be spared by these ravages. It was probably due to the fact that these classes initially retained the means to remain better fed during hard times which means that their resistance to disease was better; they did not typically sleep huddled together over their own stables; and, they had the means to change their clothes more frequently. Nevertheless, the peasantry found themselves squeezed between their own hard times and the duties and obligations they owed to the lord of the manor. Adding insult to injury for the peasantry was the appearance that the upper classes' lifestyle had remained unaffected while they themselves were starving and dying while still having to maintain their usual work load. These social tensions led to massive peasant uprisings and revolts such and the Jacquerie in France in 1358 and Wat Tyler's Rebellion in England in 1381. These uprisings started as tiny pockets of discontent which exploded in strength and scope very quickly. Typically, after a few initial victories, these revolts were savagely suppressed and few reforms were ever forthcoming.
    • 6. Wars: In addition, wars were common in the 14th century. There were frequent wars between feudal lords and between the feudatories and their own king. Wars between kings, such as the 100 Years' War (1337-1453) were more spectacular and featured Edward III's and Henry V's claim to the French throne, and Joan of Arc's 6 month-long rally in 1429 that inspired the French to drive the English back to the French port of Calais. Unfortunately, after she helped to gain the cowardly dauphin Charles VII the throne of France, Joan was captured in battle by the English, who hated her and gleefully handed her over to church authorities who tried her as a witch and heretic. The ungrateful Charles didn't attempt to save her and she was burned at the stake on May 30, 1341.
  • B. The Aftermath of the Era of Crisis:Not surprisingly, all over Europe, these multiple disasters increased the peoples' feelings of fear, superstition, pessimism, fatalism, and religiosity. Nowhere are these feelings more graphically illustrated than in the paintings of the era. The well-known and highly stylized, almost cartoonlike "medieval" art, which lacked perspective and detailing gave way to very realistic figures. The themes turned deeply religious, emotionally intense, and introspective. Figures were depicted in tortured, writhing and contorted, greatly suffering poses. Christ's agony on the Cross was a great theme in many paintings, as was the "Dance of Death" which featured skeletons who cavorted among the living; as well as the Last Judgement which graphically showed the tortures of the damned. In literature, authors often mentioned the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, War, Plague, and Death. These themes became very deeply embedded in the popular culture and the artistic community would continue to draw on them for inspiration well into the 15th century.
    • 1. Changes in the Countryside:Ironically, the depop-ulation of Europe following the 14th century brought about drastic changes in the social, political and economic order of Europe. There were changes in land tenure and in the manorial system. In order to recover their prosperity, manor lords had to entice a smaller number of peasants back to work with greater incentives such as reductions in the peasants' manorial duties and a lightening of restrictions on their rights. Often peasants would hold out for a contractual relationship spelled out on paper and worked to get a rent-based agreement instead of the labor-service based one. Thus serfdom began increasingly to break down in Europe. Peasants also worked to obtain the right to sell their own produce on the open market in nearby towns, or even to ship their produce to areas farther afield. This mechanism broke down manorialism's subsistence-based, closed economy (the manor grows what the manor eats--no more, no less).
    • 2. Changes in the Town:As towns were repopulated, they developed new urban institutions to replace the old ones which had contributed to the economic stagnation of the late13th century. For example:
      • a. The Guild Systembroke down because of the deaths of so many master craftsmen. The remaining artisans were able to charge higher fees for their goods regardless of guild directives. In addition, the demand for workers in the towns neccessitated higher wages. Guild guidelines on these issues and others increasingly became disruptive of civil order and ultimately caused the guilds to become marginalized and increasingly irrelevant.
      • b. Bankers, insurers, and individual entrepreneurs now found, with the decline of guild influence in the marketplace, that the economy was open to them. They gradually came to make up a whole new breed of townsman who made his wealth through trade: the middle class capitalist. These merchants, wealthy enough to buy their education and interested in expanding their trade, were responsible for inventing new ways of handling money and trade transactions. Many of the mechanisms of modern banking--lines of credit, check writing, loans, simple and compound interest payments, and investment--all developed in the following century. These merchants also did much to create modern bureaucracies staffed by literate, highly-trained experts who worked for a salary (rather than feudal obligation or Chivalric code, etc.) These changes, which contributed to the overall, longrange decline of the feudal world of the Middle Ages, would be instrumental in ushering in the period of the Renaissance in western Europe. This Renaissance would have its beginnings in the Italian city-states of Florence, Genoa, and Venice.

Lecture 4: Fifteenth Century Europe: Cultural Changes: The Renaissance.

  • A. The Renaissance Marks a Rebirth of Learning:Renaissance is a French term which means rebirth or revival.
  • In European history, it is roughly a 200 year period from the beginning of the 15th to the end of the 16th centuries, during which time there was a strong revival of learning, spurred on by the activities of the newly wealthy classes and their interest in educational pursuits.
  • More specifically, the Renaissance marked a rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman ideas, art, culture and philosophy.
  • 1. The End of Medieval Scholasticism:Indeed, the thinkers of the day sincerely believed that they were responsible for "rescuing" European civilization from the Dark Ages, a thousand year stretch of stagnation into which the Catholic church had led it. It is true that the medieval world had been dominated by the church and the prevailing intellectual theme of the Middle Ages had been Scholasticism, in which all learning was aimed at a better understanding of the fundamental truths of Christianity by defining, systematizing, and reasoning.
  • 2. The Birth of Humanism and Individualism in Learning:Renaissance scholars engaged in a new philosophy of learning, that of Humanism, which emphasized the "humane" literature of the ancient classical writers who had regarded man as a living person interacting in a vital, dynamic world.
  • These "Humanist" scholars initially studied rhetoric, or literary prose composition and exposition.
  • They soon began to delve into other areas such as history, astronomy, physics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, poetry, philosophy, politics, and the fine arts. The entire focus of scholarship thus shifted away from otherworldly contemplations to more mundane, or secular ones.
  • Thus, by extension, the focus was away from God and religion, to man and society. Individualism became the byword of the Humanists.
  • 3. The Ideal of the "Renaissance Man:" The ideal Renaissance man was one who had an insatiable curiosity, broad interests and many talents.
  • He should be the master of all he undertook or studied, and he should be engaged in studying many things. He should work toward developing a sharp, critical, questioning mind which did not rely on unquestioning faith; and, he should work toward maximizing his potential throughout his lifetime.
  • The most famous Renaissance men during the time were Lorenzo de Medici "The Magnificent" of Florence--capitalist, banker, politician, and patron of the arts; Leonardo daVinci--painter, sculptor, architect and inventor; Michaelangelo--painter and sculptor; Galileo--physics (discovered the law of falling objects), mathematics (dynamics and motion), astronomy (developed the telescope and produced evidence to support Copernicus' theory that the Earth revolves around the sun); and, Niccolo Machiavelli--formulated early principles of scientific statesmanship and founded the modern study of political science. Other notables are Dante (Divine Comedy); Petrarch ("the Father of Humanism"); Boccaccio (The Decameron).
  • B. Why the Renaissance Began in the Italian City-States: the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, and Florence had had a head start in the creation of wealth in the aftermath of the Crisis of the 14th Century. Obviously, Italy was the initial center of the Renaissance because the ruins and remains of the Roman Empire stimulated curiosity about this past civilization.
  • In addition, these city-states were proximate to the advanced civilizations of the Byzantines, Muslim Arabs, and Ottoman Turks, with whom they were impressed and from whom they received new ideas. Indeed, these eastern civilizations had been the repository of much of western Europe's culture and learning since the collapse of Roman rule.
  • Many Renaissance scholars found, to their surprise, that copies of supposedly long-lost ancient Greek or Roman texts could be found written in Arabic script in some Islamic library in the Muslim world. The vast quantities of money flowing into these city-states from their middleman control of trade goods destined for western European markets freed the newly wealthy classes to enjoy the leisurely pursuit of knowledge and allowed the educated to fancy themselves patrons of the arts.
  • Most of the great works of Renaissance art and civic beautification projects were commissioned by rich Renaissance men who wanted to be surrounded by the things they had studied in books. The Renaissance also stimulated the development of a new form of economic organization--capitalism; while, in turn, capitalism allowed for the further evolution of the Renaissance. 1. The Development of Capitalism:Capitalism is the economic system in which private individuals invest money in order to make more money. They let their money work for them. This springs from a natural human impulse--whatever their form of government--to make a profit and to advance themselves and their families.
  • The capitalistic motive has always existed; however, after the fall of the Roman Empire, western civilization disintegrated and money all but went out of circulation for hundreds of years.
  • At the height of the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries, soldiers returning from the Holy Lands not only brought back tales of the great and wonderful Muslim civilization they fought against but they also brought back a taste for earstern trade goods such as spices and silks.
  • The Italian city-states gained notariety both for their work in ferrying the Crusaders from Europe over to Constantinople and the Holy Lands and for coming back on the return voyage loaded with those eastern goods.
  • With the sack of a fellow Christian city, Constantinople, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Venetians gained control over the failing Byzantine Empire for the next 50 years, together with all its wealth and its control over the east-west caravan routes. Thus, the Venetians became the earliest of the Italian city-states to gain the capital neccessary to finance both the Renaissance and overseas expansion. Even following their ouster from Constantinople in 1261, the Venetians continued, by virtue of their superior fleet, to control the sea-based trade routes and maintain dominance in the eastern Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, and Black Seas. Genoa and Florence soon followed suit.
  • During the Renaissance, Italian merchants began to accumulate vast fortunes from east-west trade, they looked for ways to invest their capital.
  • 2. Early Investment Opportunities: They began by lending it to various kings, who were always strapped for cash, so they could raise their own paid armies, thus liberating them from dependence on the feudal nobility for the raising of troops.
  • This political dynamic was responsible for the ultimate ascendency of European monarchs over their aristocracy which not only caused the further decline of feudalism, but led to the period of political absolutism of the 17th century.
  • C. The Renaissance Moves Northward: By the middle of the 16th century, Italy had begun to decline as a center of the Renaissance. By then, most of the important trade routes were via the Atlantic, therefore the Mediterranean declined as an entrepot for eastern goods. Thus, most of the more notable advances of this movement began to be made in the Netherlands, France, and England, while Portugal and Spain took the early lead in overseas exploration.
  • 1. Northern (Religious) Humanism:The classical studies that had been introduced to the north by students who had studied in Italy brought with it the Humanist bent in philosophy. Both northern and southern Humanism rejected medieval scholarship and valued classical civilization; however, the north was less concerned with sensuality, aesthetics, and the enjoyment of life, which had characterized the Italian Renaissance.
  • Northern Humanism became more religious in nature and was concerned with purifying the Christian religion and encouraging a return to Simple Christian Piety. The northern Humanists attacked the abuses of the Church; they deemphasized ritual observance as the core of relgious life; they worked to refine the Bible by going back to the original Hebrew and Greek texts; and, in education, Classicism became the paramount style--education was changed to favor what came to be known as the "Humanities," from the Humanists' interest in classical civilizations. 2. The Invention of Printing:The northern Humanists' desire to reform the Bible and attack the abuses of the Church naturally led them to conclude that the public ought to be able to read the Bible for themselves and thus be liberated from church dictates. Toward those ends, a German printer by the name of Johann Gutenberg invented movable type and created the first mass-produced copy of the Bible in 1450. These Gutenberg Bibles circulated widely and were printed in the vernacular--common native languages. Soon, all manner of literature, most of it directed toward self-help ("how to" books), cookbooks, and dime novels (the "Blue Books") all were tremendously popular. In addition, northern Renaissance literature seemingly became more nostalgic as it began to feature elements of medieval popular culture


Sixteenth Century Europe: Cultural Changes--The Reformation.
  • A. The Causes of the Reformation:The Reformation, or the challenge to papal authority, was inevitable as conditions changed in Europe as a result of the Renaissance. 1. Widening Horizons--Individualism & Nationalism: As social, physical, and intellectual horizons widened, the Catholic Church was increasingly seen to be inadequate for the changing times.
  • The emphasis on individualism and the corporeal (rather than spiritual) world, the new focus on nationalism and capitalism, and, the spread of the printing press and vernacular Bibles to an increasingly literate public all threatened the position of the Church. 2. Resistance from National Monarchies:It could not continue to be both a religious and a political institution, because the newly emergent powerful monarchs and their rising nationalities would not accept political interference from outside their own boundaries: directives from Rome might conflict with national interests. For example, the Church tried citizens in their own courts; it owned vast amounts of land in various countries; and, was exempt from many domestic taxes.
  • Kings also disliked the moral curbs placed on their policies and behaviors.
  • 3. Capitalists' Concerns: In addition, Renaissance interest in capitalism promoted the idea that strong national governments could better protect trade and profit than a far away Church; and, the business classes came to resent any of their national wealth that was siphoned off by tithes to Rome; and, came to severely criticize and resist the canonical prohitions against the taking of interest on loans, and the concept of the profit motive itself. In short, the northern Renaissance became the cancer that ate away at, and ultimately destroyed, the foundations of Europe's religious unity.
  • B. Earlier Threats to Church Influence:In 1303, the Pope, Boniface VIII asserted papal supremacy over the French king, Philip IV's attempt to tax the church on French soil. Philip responded by taking the Pope prisoner; and shortly afterward, a Frenchman, Clement V, became Pope and moved the papal see to Avignon. From then until 1378, the popes all lived at Avignon and this period in history is known as the "Babylonian Captivity." In the interim, a great deal of anti-papal sentiment had been growing. In 1378, Pope Gregory XI's decision to return to Rome precipitated a crisis known as the Great Schism in which several competing popes were elected by their own factions in their respective countries. Finally, in 1417, as a result of the Conciliar Movement, the Council of Constance (1414-1417)was convened and the Great Schism was healed with the election of a pope who satisfied all disputants. This debacle did much to damage the prestige of the papacy among many Europeans. 1. Abuses Within the Church: Even popes had become patrons of the arts as a result of the Renaissance and they needed money to finance their collections. They therefore began the practice of simony (the sale of church offices) to the highest bidder as a means of expanding their income. Not only were the clergy thus elected unfit for their duties, but there were many cases in which a person held several Church offices at the same time.In addition, many clergymen ignored their vows of celibacy and openly kept mistresses on the side. There was also the famous problem of the sale of dispensations and indulgences.
  • A dispensation was a remission from Church laws which permitted a person to do something normally against canon law (like marrying one's cousin); while an indulgence was a remission from punishment due to sins forgiven during confession. The theory was that the souls of people who had committed venal (rather than mortal) sins had to spend a certain time after death in an intermediate mini-Hell called Purgatory. There they were to be "purged" of those sins in preparation for salvation. The living could "give" a "contribution" to the Church for an indulgence which could shorten the time their dead relative spent in Purgatory. Finally, there was the sale of false sacred relics which the Church passed off as authentic. Noah's Ark could have been built with pieces of the True Cross. The income from these sources allowed the Church to finance the building of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. The public came to believe that the Church cared more about its own financial wellbeing than their spiritual one.
  • 2. Various Early "Heretical" Movements:In the 14th and 15th centuries, there were several attempts at reform that, although ultimately failed, did pave the way for the Reformation. The most important of these early reformers were: a. John Wycliffe (1320-84),a priest and theologian at Oxford who attacked the Church because of its wealth, its political power, and the worldliness of its clergy. He denied the supremacy of the Pope; believed in the primacy of the Scriptures; denied transubstantiation; expressed his opposition to war; and, condemned various practices of the Church such as the sacraments, confession, pilgrimage, and clerical celibacy. He believed in predestination and also translated the Bible into English which was against Church doctrin, into order to enable the common people to read it for themselves and gain guidance by it. His followers were known as the Lollards, and after his death, they were ruthlessly persecuted and driven underground where their movement survived until the advent of the Reformation. Another pre-Reformation radical was
  • b. Jan Huss (1369-1415), a Bohemian, or Czech, priest who picked up Wycliffe's teachings in order to spread them throughout Central Europe. Huss was promised safe passage by the Council of Constance which desired only to question him. The Council treacherously reneged on its promise when Huss arrived, and promptly excommunicated, arrested, and tried him as a heretic. He was found guilty and was burned at the stake. Huss' supporters jumpstarted the Hussite Wars (1419-34) a series of rebellions that were ultimately suppressed by the Holy Roman Emperor's armies.