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The Transformation of the West
Course Guidebook

Professor Jennifer McNabb

Western Illinois University
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Jennifer McNabb, PhD
Professor of History
Western Illinois University

J ennifer McNabb is a Professor of History and the chair of the

Department of History at Western Illinois University. She received
her PhD in History from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2003.
Since joining Western Illinois University in 2005, Professor McNabb
has received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the
College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching
and for Service. She also served as the associate director of the university’s
Centennial Honors College.

Professor McNabb has spoken and published widely on social relationships

in early modern Europe, especially courtship and marriage. In addition to
articles in journals such as the Journal of Women’s History and Quidditas, she
has authored material for several textbooks on Western civilization and
European history. Professor McNabb has served as president of the Rocky
Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association and is the former chair
of the program committee of the Midwest Conference on British Studies.
In 2018, she was appointed as the chief reader for the Advanced Placement
European History Development Committee. 

Professor Biography i
Table of Contents

Professor Biography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i
Course Scope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

1 The Spirit of Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2 Rebirth: Classical Values Made New . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
3 The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . 16
4 The Rise of the Humanists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
5 Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
6 Renaissance Venice: Most Serene Republic . . . . . . . . . . 42
7 Renaissance Rome and the Papal States . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
8 Renaissance Italy’s Princes and Rivals . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
9 Renaissance Man as Political Animal . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
10 Women and the Italian Renaissance Court . . . . . . . . . . 74
11 Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . . 81
12 Painting in the High Italian Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . . 88
13 Italian Sculpture, Architecture, and Music . . . . . . . . . . 94
14 Letters in the Italian Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
15 Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
16 European Renaissance Monarchies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
17 The Birth of the Christian Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . . 122
18 Northern Renaissance Art and Music . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
19 Northern Renaissance Literature and Drama . . . . . . . . 135

ii Renaissance
20 Did Women Have a Renaissance? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
21 Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience . . . . . . . . . . . 149
22 Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience . . . . . . . . . . 157
23 Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor . . . . . . . 165
24 Renaissance Life: Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172
25 Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
26 Renaissance Faith: Medieval Contexts . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
27 Renaissance Faith: The Papacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
28 Renaissance Faith: Religious Uniformity . . . . . . . . . . 202
29 Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus . . . . . . . . . 209
30 Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe . . . . . . . . . . . 216
31 Renaissance and Reformation: Connections . . . . . . . . 224
32 English Reformation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
33 Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent . . . . . . . . . 241
34 Catholic Reformations: Spiritual Revival . . . . . . . . . . 248
35 Reformation Culture: Continuity and Change . . . . . . . 255
36 Renaissance War and Peace: Diplomacy . . . . . . . . . . . 260
37 The French Wars of Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265
38 The Dutch Revolt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273
39 The Spanish Armada . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 281
40 The Thirty Years’ War . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291
41 Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution . . . . . . . 298
42 Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Science . . . . . . . 306
43 Renaissance and Magic: Witchcraft . . . . . . . . . . . . . 312
44 Renaissance Encounters with Islam . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318
45 Renaissance and Exploration: Motives . . . . . . . . . . . . 324
46 Renaissance and Exploration: New Horizons . . . . . . . . 329
47 Early Modern Power: The New Global Rivalries . . . . . . 335
48 Renaissance Legacy: Burckhardt and Beyond . . . . . . . . 341

Table of Contents iii

Supplementary Material
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 347
Image Credits. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 369

iv Renaissance
The Transformation of the West

The Renaissance is perhaps the most famous period in history. Not since
the days of antiquity had such a collection of geniuses and powerful
personalities seemingly been assembled in one place and time.

If it’s accurate to say that Europe’s Middle Ages was one of the many
casualties of the devastating 14th-century catastrophe known as the Black
Death, the Renaissance represented a stunning rebirth that would do more
than bring Europe back to life. While life in the shadow of the plague
represented life at its most uncertain and chaotic, the Renaissance, in
contrast, celebrated the experience of being human and the pursuit of the
good life. The fusion of the quest for the good life with new visions of faith
and governance propelled the West toward modernity.

As a consequence, much has been written about the Renaissance and

its role in the development of the Western tradition. Some of the most
memorable accounts were authored by contemporaries who described
theirs as a new golden age, bequeathing to posterity a period populated
with extraordinary figures whose vision changed the world.

To some extent, that popular perception of the Renaissance is a myth.

This course will seek to uncover a fuller Renaissance, marked as much by
continuities as change. The Renaissance wasn’t the glittering playground
of the famous and the powerful; it was actually much more. In this course,
we’ll see that the ways Renaissance people came to understand their world
left a legacy that continues to inform the way we understand our own times.

This course will define Renaissance expansively, in terms of both topics

and chronology. It will cover the famous educational, literary, political,
and artistic achievements of the Italian states as well as their neighbors
and rivals north of the Alps. It will also take up explorations of the
Reformation, exploration, scientific and military revolution, and daily

Course Scope 1
life. Our Renaissance journey will stretch across three of the most dynamic
centuries in Western history, from the arrival of the Black Death in 1347
to the close of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.

In surveying these transformative centuries, we will take as our guiding

focus the same questions that absorbed Renaissance energies. We will
ask, as they did, what the value of education was, what defined a good
government, what justified war and the application of violence, what
determined the worth and opportunities of individuals, what shaped
personal and collective identities, and what it meant to be a person of faith.

Along the way, we will encounter writers and artists whose work made
them celebrities in their day and our own. We will meet the popes and
princes who served as their patrons, nursing their own ambitions to power
and fame. The less famous and familiar, too, will receive our attention, as
we seek to get a feel for what it was like for an ordinary person living in
extraordinary times.

After our introductions, we begin our investigations on the Italian

Peninsula, identifying the particular preconditions that fostered a
passion for the ancient world and funded a burst of artistic creativity and
achievement that still impresses. We then turn north to the states that
created a Christian Renaissance, where the political focus of the Italian
humanists was replaced with a passion for Christian antiquity and a more
perfect faith.

After a consideration of daily life for men and women during these
European Renaissances, we turn to the Reformation. The Renaissance
didn’t cause the Reformation, but the same questions that animated the
Renaissance shaped the work of and responses to religious reform. New
theories and practices about the arts of war and diplomacy both reflected
and informed the rivalries endemic in these centuries. This time witnessed
Europe’s reaching for new horizons, both real and figurative.

In the process, we will see Europe transformed, no longer medieval and

not yet truly modern, but having established a vision and value for the
experience of being human that serves as a foundation for our world. 

2 Renaissance
Lecture 1
The Spirit of
T h e picture of the Renaissance as a
reaction to the preceding centuries
of darkness and a return to the light
of civilization is a construct, and
modern learners are its most recent
audience. It’s a spectacular tale. It’s a
story of great people and their deeds—
in the halls of government, on the
battlefield, in the courts, and in the
universities, both near and far from
home. Like all the best stories, it has
its fair share of truth: The Renaissance
was an age of oils, bronze, ink, and
paper that represented dazzling
human achievement.

Lecture 1  The Spirit of Renaissance 3

A Complicated Picture
hh Every way in which the Renaissance seems to represent the coming
of modern sensibilities, there many ways in which the Renaissance
represents continuity with the preceding centuries. One of this course’s
goals is to help people be discerning customers of the Renaissance

hh Not everyone was enamored of the Renaissance world, after all. The
critical eye some turned on the laws, institutions, and traditions of
their own day can assist modern learners in gaining perspective on
the Renaissance. The methodologies of the rebirth itself—asking
questions, challenging authorities, and understanding the human
condition—actually prepared dissenting voices to launch their salvos
at the Renaissance.

hh The Renaissance left excluded many from its vaunted celebration of

humanity. However, the celebration it did create was truly remarkable.
The Renaissance bequeathed a novel spin on a very old idea: Humans
were capable of living a good life, and the pursuit of that good life was
a truly noble endeavor.

A Shift in Thinking
hh During the Middle Ages, humanity hardly celebrated itself. Christian
theologians focused on sin—the fallen state of humankind. God’s mercy
saved creatures whose innate wretchedness should have damned them.
There was nothing inspiring in the experience of being human in such
a figuration.

hh In the 14th century, with the birth of the Renaissance, there were
stirrings of an alternate way of thinking about humans: not as ruined,
but as worthy. This doesn’t mean that the Renaissance represented a
rejection of religion. However, this shift in thinking about the human
experience allowed for a different kind of redemption of humanity—one
focused on the here and now, rather than the hereafter.

4 Renaissance
hh This idea was embedded in the West’s own cultural and intellectual
heritage, which had been lost or displaced when Roman authority
succumbed to its long twilight. Humanism wasn’t new. It was a product
of the Greco-Roman tradition that Renaissance intellectuals such as
Petrarch began to take a keen interest in as they sought to find meaning
during times of crisis.

hh In the process, they posed a series of questions about what it means

to live a good life that are as relevant for people today as they were
600 years ago. Their questions included queries such as: What is the
value of education? What determines a person’s worth? What justifies
war, violence, and revolution? What role should faith play in the
human experience?

hh Renaissance thinkers believed that turning to the ancients could help

answer these questions and others. That meant first tracking down
the ancients, in their own words, on their own terms. It was a massive
project of recovery that Renaissance figures embraced with the devoted
zeal of the true convert.

hh The Renaissance was about more than

just imitating the ancients. These
practitioners of the Renaissance
didn’t want merely to read and
study the ancients; they wanted
to be in conversation with them.
That was sometimes literal, as
when Petrarch wrote letters to
his ancient hero, the Roman
statesman Cicero. More often,
though, this communication
took the form of studying the
lessons and legacies of the ancients,
and then asking: What would the
ancients do?

  Cicero (106 bce–43 bce) 

Lecture 1  The Spirit of Renaissance 5

hh Renaissance thinkers believed that the ancients could serve as moral,
political, and intellectual exemplars, providing a path for them in
the troubled times in which they lived. However, the Renaissance
had something that the ancients didn’t: Christianity. That meant the
Renaissance involved both ancient learning and the authority of true
faith. Christianity could provide answers to the human experience that
not even the pagan ancients had been able to identify in their quest
for knowledge.

hh This fusion of the classical and medieval worldviews meant that the
Renaissance man was endowed with a capability for achievement that
made him the very apex of creation. Man wasn’t a failure; he was the
masterpiece. This was an astounding declaration.

Suggested Reading

Brotton, The Renaissance.

Woolfson, ed., Renaissance Historiography.
Zophy, A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe.

6 Renaissance
Lecture 2
Rebirth: Classical
Values Made New
T h is lecture continues the course’s
introduction to the European
Renaissance by considering the period’s
key contexts and values, which set the
stage of a new era of questioning and
a new set of answers. The 14th-century
pandemic disease known as the Black
Death swept away somewhere between
one-third and one-half of the European
population as well as many of the
attitudes and practices synonymous
with the Middle Ages, making plague
the crucible in which Europe’s rebirth
was forged.

Lecture 2  Rebirth: Classical Values Made New 7

The Plague
hh It’s an exaggeration to say that any one event or process caused the
end of Europe’s Middle Ages. Still, there are reasons for identifying
the Black Death as a pivotal agent in changing the ways Europeans
experienced and understood their world.

hh Certainly those living—and dying—during the great mortality of

1347 to 1351 appeared to be aware of the fact they were caught up in
extraordinary times. For example, chronicler Agnolo di Tura, who lived
and worked in Siena, wrote with a combination of weariness and despair
about the depopulation of his city and the disintegration of its moral
fabric. He bleakly recounted burying his five sons with his own hands.

hh Those who lived through the firestorm of plague were capable of

recognizing that the medieval status quo was among the casualties of
the disease. Feudalism and manorialism withered in the face of the
plague. The population loss struck a fatal blow to the old political-
military order and socioeconomic hierarchy.

8 Renaissance
hh In various European territories, elites sought to use law to maintain
their traditional advantages. England’s Statute of Laborers, for example,
set wages at pre-plague levels and decreed that men and women work
under conditions clearly out of step with realities in a world where labor
was in short supply.

hh The value of labor soared following the plague. There simply weren’t
enough people alive to perform necessary tasks. As a result, workers
sought better conditions and economic liberties. In this way, the
plague helped initiate the end of serfdom—the untidy set of personal
obligations and restrictions of movement on which the socioeconomic
hierarchy of the Middle Ages rested.

hh The plague also eroded the power of the religious establishment.

Many members of the clergy died in attempts to alleviate the suffering
of others. Plus, the communal living conditions of the monasteries
fueled the spread of the disease and caused horrendous losses there.
The numbers of the dying overwhelmed the depleted ranks of the
parish priests.

hh In a move unthinkable without the context of the disease, laypeople

were authorized to hear confessions and supervise last rites. This
was a shocking concession of power for an institution that had spent
the better part of the previous 1,000 years accumulating a monopoly
over salvation.

Impact of the Plague

hh The plague wasn’t done with Europe in 1351. It kept coming back—once
a decade through the end of the century, and then once a generation
after that. The elevated mortality rate caused by plague coupled with
a lower fertility rate in the decades following the Black Death kept the
population from recovering.

hh Survivors waited longer to get married and start families, wishing to

explore new economic opportunities. Women had less impetus to rush
into marriage, given their expanded role in the post-plague workforce.

Lecture 2  Rebirth: Classical Values Made New 9

hh More broadly, the plague revealed to medieval people the stark and
transitory nature of mortal life. The catastrophe initiated an artistic
and literary focus on death and suffering for some, while for others,
it prompted a reconsideration of what constituted a good life. That
question was at the very heart of what became known as the Renaissance.

hh An important figure of the European Renaissance in the context of
the Black Death was the Italian scholar Petrarch (full name: Francesco
Petrarca). He was born in 1304 in the town of Arezzo on the Italian
Peninsula. His father’s political activities in nearby Florence had ended
with the family’s expulsion. As a result, Petrarch’s childhood and youth
were spent in exile, first in northern Italy and then in Carpentras. The
latter was near the city of Avignon, the home of the papal court, which
was itself in exile from Rome.

hh There, young Petrarch embarked on his education. He and his brother

studied Latin and then the law until their father’s death in 1326. Rather
than embrace the law as his profession, Petrarch instead took lower
clerical orders, becoming household chaplain for Cardinal Giovanni
Colonna in Avignon.

hh During his 17 years with

Colonna, Petrarch developed
close relationships with the
cardinal and his brother
Giacomo that continued
even after he left their service.
Those connections in some
ways became a blueprint for
Petrarch; he came to rely on
the cultivation of similar
bonds with patrons and
friends throughout his life.

  Petrarch (1304–1374) 

10 Renaissance
hh It was also during his years in the Colonna household that Petrarch
first caught a glimpse of Laura, the great love of his life. Many of the
poems that gained Petrarch fame and resulted in his designation as
poet laureate in 1341 were written in her honor. Laura, though, was
married and never returned his affections. She eventually succumbed
to the plague, and Petrarch was left to make sense of his profound loss.

hh Petrarch collected his feelings of grief, his fears of death, and his
meditations on his own life into a book of songs and verses, the
Canzoniere. In the process, he was creating his own literary mausoleum
through which to achieve immortality. The idea that literature could
articulate identity and create an everlasting legacy for its author was a
product of Petrarch’s deep appreciation for sentiments expressed by the
literature of antiquity.

Petrarch’s Passion
hh Some of his passion for the past was the result of Petrarch’s personal
history as an émigré. He developed his deep attachment to his
homeland and its cultural heritage as an outsider, someone for whom
Italy was as much an idea of grandeur and glory as it was a real home.
The experience of being a stranger in his own land gave Petrarch an
appreciation for Italy that fueled his intellectual and political activities.

hh Petrarch’s travels required him to develop a strategy to keep in touch with

friends and potential patrons. That’s how he became a pen pal to the
some of the richest, brightest, and most notable of his contemporaries,
gaining considerable celebrity in the process. He became a powerful
proselytizer of antiquity.

hh Petrarch’s letters, like those of the ancient Roman statesman Cicero he

admired so much, became a powerful vehicle for self-expression. His
passion inspired others to explore the past for clues as to how to live
admirably in the present.

hh Petrarch also collected his letters—350 or so of them—into a collection

known as the Letters on Familiar Matters. These circulated during
Petrarch’s own lifetime. Petrarch’s extensive correspondence is credited

Lecture 2  Rebirth: Classical Values Made New 11

with helping transform a rather diffuse interest in antiquity into an
identifiable movement. For example, Petrarch’s unbridled enthusiasm
for manuscripts helped launch a vibrant book trade, fueled by the desire
to locate and to collect texts, particularly older ones.

hh The yearning for ancient manuscripts was also joined by a more critical
consideration of their contents. A new spirit and practice of textual
criticism arose, one which sought to engage with the ancients and to
recapture their words and spirit, unspoiled by the errors or losses caused
by medieval neglect.

hh In the Renaissance scheme, classical antiquity represented an age of

unparalleled human achievement in politics and poetry, in oratory, and
in the arts. Those glories were then eclipsed by a cultural and political
death, represented by the coming of the barbarians and the initiation
of the Dark Ages. Those living during the Renaissance self-consciously
and self-confidently described their own period as one of recovery.
Their work would see the bright flame of classical civilization reignited.

The Renaissance Spreads

hh The Renaissance eventually became a pan-European process. It’s too
simplistic to say that the Italians exported the Renaissance. However,
an Italian connection was vital to the spread of the Renaissance beyond
Italian borders.

hh Italians living in other European cities as bankers or merchants acquired

the same passion for books and art as their countrymen to the south.
Giovanni Arnolfini’s commission of Jan van Eyck to paint the portrait
of him and his bride in 1434 is one particularly famous example.

hh Trade also supplied other lands with a material connection to Italian

books and art, supporting a bustling market for Italian objects by those
who gained an enthusiasm for them. The Italian humanists themselves
were also physically mobile, moving between the courts of Europe in
search of work or in the course of duty. Petrarch, for example, traveled
to foreign lands on diplomatic missions, including one to the court of
French King John the Good on behalf of the rulers of Milan in 1360.

12 Renaissance
Jan van Eyck’s
The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami

Lecture 2  Rebirth: Classical Values Made New 13

hh Northerners themselves travel south to experience the Italian
Renaissance firsthand. Among these travelers were the famous artists
Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer, who, like other northerners,
considered Italy a workshop in which to learn and to refine their skills.

hh The revival of classical texts that started in Italy also played a crucial
role in the westward expansion into the New World. For example,
among the texts that influenced Christopher Columbus’s strategy was
the ancient astronomer Ptolemy’s work Geography, a book first translated
in Renaissance Florence.

hh Building libraries stocked with classical transcriptions became the rage

in states as far distant from Italy as England. There, Humphrey, duke
of Gloucester, stocked his library and commissioned translations from
the likes of the famous longtime chancellor of Florence and humanist,
Leonardo Bruni. Duke Humphrey’s collection lives on to this day as
the result of his bequeathing his acquisitions to Oxford University.

hh Some of Duke Humphrey’s countrymen wished to expand their ability
to learn directly from the ancients, sparking an interest in Greek and
other languages. Perhaps the most famous of these students was the
English humanist Sir Thomas More.

hh In the north, the attention to texts and to the classical models they
provided found particular focus in social critique, especially as touching
the institutional church. The leading northern humanist, Desiderius
Erasmus, fused his enthusiasm for literary critique with a blistering
attack on the myriad abuses of the church in his day.

hh The critique he issued was, in some ways, a logical outgrowth of the

questioning of the church’s personnel, methods, and materialism that
had surfaced with special virulence during the plague and its aftermath.
Those conditions had established a certain framework for railing against
authorities that were seen abusing or misusing their power.

14 Renaissance
hh The quest to recover the classical biblical tradition fueled this northern
rebirth, creating a Christian Renaissance. Christian humanists
examined the earliest extant copies of the gospels and epistles and
subjected medieval translations and transcriptions to rigorous scrutiny.

hh In the process, they uncovered deep divergences of their contemporary

Christian communities and leadership from their apostolic roots. That
spirit of questioning would, during the early 16th century, merge into
a series of broad protests against the papal church collectively known
as the Reformation.

Suggested Reading

Petrarch, The Secret with Related Documents.

Witt, In the Footsteps of the Ancients.

Questions to Consider

1 Who was Petrarch, and how did his enthusiasm for

antiquity help shape the Renaissance?

2 Which classical values and practices did Petrarch and his

Italian contemporaries most admire, and why?

3 What impact did the Black Death have on

medieval society?

Lecture 2  Rebirth: Classical Values Made New 15

Lecture 3
The Medieval
Roots of Italian
T h is lecture focuses on one of the key
questions of the European Renaissance:
Why did it begin in Italy? The lecture
begins by seeking the answer in an
unexpected place: the reign of a foreign
ruler, King Charles VIII of France
(r. 1483–1498). The lecture also looks at
paradigm-shifting events like the plague
and changing systems of government.

16 Renaissance
Charles VIII
hh Charles VIII inherited the throne at age 13 from his more capable
father, Louis XI. Among Louis’s many legacies was a revival in France of
the cult of the medieval emperor Charlemagne. Charlemagne was king
of the Franks from 768–814 and king of the Romans from 800–814.

hh Louis drew on popular and mythological accounts of the medieval

emperor in propaganda that celebrated and reinforced his own
authority, a practice that would serve as a powerful influence over his
son. Charles VIII wished fervently to be a new
Charlemagne, and, inspired by his famous
predecessor, he went to Italy near the
end of the 15th century at the head of
a French army of 30,000.

hh One of Charlemagne’s most

significant contributions to the
development of the medieval
world in the West was the revival
of the notion of empire on a
grand scale—the grandest since
the days of the ancient Roman
emperors. Charlemagne’s heirs,
both familial and symbolic,
were animated by dreams of
Italian lands and authority.
That circumstance helps explain
why, in 1494, Charles VIII led
his army of 30,000 across the
Alps, marching through an Italian
Peninsula that was then the site of
perhaps the fullest flowering of the
Italian Renaissance.   Charlemagne (747?–814) 

hh Charles VIII’s misadventure in Italy set off shockwaves, which included

a long conflict waged largely on Italian soil between France’s ruling
house of Valois and the Holy Roman Empire’s ruling house of Habsburg.

Lecture 3  The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance 17

Crisis and instability provide a useful lens through which to view late
medieval and Renaissance Italy and to explore the conditions that
created, sustained, and challenged the Italian Renaissance.

hh Just as there was no Spain or Germany in the Middle Ages, there was
actually no Italy either, in the modern sense. The name is used as
shorthand for an easily identifiable geographic area rather than as an
acknowledgement of a politically unified nation-state. A unified Italian
state did not exist before, during, or for a long time after the Renaissance.

hh This lack of unity was a key point of distinction, separating the many
Italian states from other later medieval political units. Unlike the
northern monarchies, shaped by feudal imperatives and territorial
ambitions, the Italian Peninsula was home in the late Middle Ages to a
host of states that practiced a variety of political systems.

hh There were kingdoms and principalities in Italy, a notable one being the
Kingdom of Naples in the south. Equally notable were the dominions of
the popes—the Papal States—ruled by the pontiff from the city of Rome
(and occasionally from elsewhere).

hh North of the Papal States in central Italy, a variety of circumstances led

to the development of different models of governance. Urban life in
northern Italy survived the collapse of Roman imperial authority better
than anywhere else in western Europe. Those lands avoided the worst of
the urban contraction of the West that marked Europe’s so-called Dark
Ages, and they also benefitted most from the expansion of trading and
commercial networks in the 11th and 12th centuries.

hh Italy came to be caught up in the long struggle for power between

medieval popes and emperors that often saw both serve as absentee
landlords or as challengers seeking support. This often meant that
Italian territories gained a significant degree of autonomy in return for
their allegiance to one or the other, or as a consequence of collective
action to resist the authorities of these powerhouse princes, particularly
with regard to taxation.

18 Renaissance
Lecture 3  The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance 19
hh These political and economic realities helped to create a group of elites
not found elsewhere in Europe: a community of citizens, drawn from
the successful mercantile interests and the nobility, who, in northern
Italy, began making cities rather than country estates their home. These
citizens forged a new type of self-government: the commune.

hh The elites in these flourishing cities seized political control of their

governments. By the early 12th century, the roster of communes included
Lucca, Milan, Parma, Rome, Pavia, Pistoia, Verona, Bologna, Siena,
Florence, Pisa, Genoa, and Venice. These communes linked together
both an urban center and a surrounding hinterland. Politically,
they exhibited values that emphasized the rights, privileges, and
responsibilities of good governance for men whose occupations or
heredity traditions garnered them the status of citizen.

hh The notion of citizenship, cherished by the ancients, was little in

evidence in the feudal monarchies of the north. There, the model of
rulers and the ruled reigned supreme instead. By reestablishing the
notion of citizenship, the Italian states preserved an ideal of political
liberty that set them apart from other medieval Christians.

Connection with Empire

hh A key ingredient in the city-states’ legacy of independence comes from
the connection of Italian territories with the Holy Roman Empire.
This medieval empire in the German-speaking lands was the heir of
Charlemagne’s 9th-century imperial creation. German emperors, like
King Charles VIII of France centuries later, dreamed of Italy. Otto III
(r. 996–1002) was crowned emperor in southern Italy, for example, and
the young Hohenstaufen Frederick II (r. 1215–1250) ruled as Sicily’s
king before he was able to secure his patrimony in the empire itself.

hh Given the vastly different visions and strategies of the medieval

emperors, it’s tough to make generalizations about them. However, they
tended to agree on one tactic: As a group, the German emperors made
a habit of using their connections with Italy as a means of expanding
their holdings and authority elsewhere.

20 Renaissance
hh Frequently at war, both in the empire and abroad, they bargained with
the economically successful Italian states, seeking wealth in return for
granting a greater measure of political autonomy. Frederick Barbarossa
(r. 1155–1190), for example, agreed to enhanced self-government for the
members of the so-called Lombard League of northern Italy after they
resisted his attempts at greater imperial control.

hh By virtue of location and the ambition of merchants and investors,

the Italian states, more than any other area of the West, benefitted
from the contraction of Byzantium, the remnant of the old Eastern
Roman Empire. The seizure of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204
was just one cataclysm in a prolonged period of twilight that ended
Byzantium’s economic hegemony in the Mediterranean and resulted
in Italian ascendancy.

Limits of Liberty
hh Note that Italian liberty was limited in its application. It’s easy to get
excited about the political experiments of the Renaissance states and
to see in them the origins of what have come to be seen as identifiably
modern notions of participation and representation. However, the poor
and disenfranchised in the Italian states were, on balance, just as poor
and disenfranchised as their counterparts in other areas of Europe.

hh The city-states never seriously flirted with the idea of universal democracy.
Still, several Italian states had far more expansive political participation
than elsewhere in Europe. That’s because their governments were not
in the hands of monarchs or aristocratic oligarchies but were instead
republican in orientation, a product of the commune revolution.

hh The notion of a period of darkness persists for the period between
the decline of the Roman Empire and the coming rebirth of the
Renaissance. The culprit was the loss of classical culture, with the
glories of Greece and Rome squandered in the hands of barbarians.

Lecture 3  The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance 21

hh The Italian Peninsula was a site of preservation. It hosted the physical
ruins of the mighty Roman civilization that wrote its achievements
in architecture and carved its successes in stone. For example, the
Pantheon stood as a beacon to a lost world of grace and dignity, despite
the untidy legacy of its pagan past.

hh Note that imperial Rome did have a living legacy during the Middle
Ages in the form of the Byzantine Empire. That frequently sparked
tension between eastern and western contenders for Rome’s imperial
mantle. However, after the Byzantine emperor Justinian’s short-lived
successes in putting the empire back together in the 6th century, the
Byzantine Empire increasingly became a Greek, rather than a Latin,
empire. That left the Latin heritage to Italy.

hh Byzantium’s troubles during the Middle Ages prompted the flight of men
of learning and culture from the east to the west, particularly during the
Byzantine Renaissance of the 12th and 13th centuries. These Byzantine
scholars brought with them great quantities of classical learning.

Plague in Italy
hh Italy was subject to contemporary realities when the plague made
Messina its port of call in 1347. The plague was a game-changer for
Italy in many ways, but its exact role in the origins of the Renaissance
is the subject of intense contestation.

hh Some scholars have argued that the Renaissance was born of economic
contraction following the devastations of the plague in Italy. There, the
conditions of urban living helped the plague claim 50 percent of the
population, and competition in a declining economy served as fuel for
the Renaissance.

hh However, one of the key ingredients of the Renaissance recipe is the

availability of capital to support political, intellectual, and artistic
change. Alternate interpretations—most notably by Richard Goldthwaite
and Lisa Jardine—have emphasized the necessity of economic expansion
as an underpinning of the Renaissance.

22 Renaissance
hh Regardless, the Italian states were devastated but not cowed by the
great pandemic. Their hold over Mediterranean trade even grew, in
part because those who survived the plague had improved economic
opportunities and more disposable income than ever before.

hh The survivors and their heirs acquired a fashion for conspicuous

consumption: The plague fostered a more sanguine approach to worldly
goods that contributed to an increasingly vibrant consumer economy.
Wealth, then, was to be displayed and enjoyed rather than hidden or
given away for the health of one’s soul.

hh As the plague struck down those from all walks of life, it helped
loosen the traditional order of society and allowed for significant
social mobility. Merchants, craftsmen, and others of new money used
conspicuous consumption to demonstrate their improved status.

Political Structures
hh Increased social mobility raised the competition for political power
and offices, but that actually destabilized the practice of citizenship.
Elites began to respond to challenges to their power by increasing their
hold on the mechanisms of government. The imposition of oligarchical
power limited the practice of republicanism. Across the 15th century, a
gradual transition to lordships occurred in most areas.

hh Only Florence and Venice evaded the trend. When Florence succumbed
to Medici domination, only Venice remained of the major republics.
Venetian republicanism was a rather special brand that saw its patricians
jealously guard their control.

hh The transition from republics to lordships was often coded with

concerns for security. Lip service was given to traditional republican
institutions even as real power was increasingly concentrated in
the hands of individuals. This transition to lordships was aided by
the rise of military mercenaries—the condottieri—who fought under
contract to assist others in seizing power or to take power themselves.
A representative of this new lordly ruling class, Ludovico Il Moro (1452–
1508) of Milan, invited Charles VIII and the French into Italy in 1494.

Lecture 3  The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance 23

Interpretations of Crisis
hh The atmosphere of crisis drove educated men to study the classics. They
pioneered a new learning, dedicated to an exploration of the human
condition. In the writings of the ancient thinkers, the Renaissance
intellectuals found edification, advice, and solace.

hh Some used the lessons of the past as a call to a spirited defense of

republicanism, for example, as in the case of Renaissance Florence.
Others used the classics to seek an understanding of the divine—to
celebrate and dignify man as the highest of God’s creations. All devotees
of this learning found in the classics a valued roadmap to navigate their
own world—whether that was the world of the palazzo, the university,
the market, or the battlefield.

hh There were always battles to fight, as Italy negotiated the intense

rivalries within. The five powers of Milan, Florence, Venice, the Papal
States, and Sicily spent much of this period locked in a protracted
race for supremacy. The minor states also threw their own hats into
the international ring with regularity. Beyond the Alps, The imperial
Hapsburgs and French-ruling house of Valois joined the Turks in the
east as threats to everything the Italian states held dear.

hh The rebirth of classical civilization would have powerful aesthetic

elements, but the desire to know the ancients was born of necessity to
deal with crisis. First, the devastations of the plague prompted people
to question what it meant to live a good life, and then political crises
caused people to wonder what the ancients would do.

hh Although King Charles VIII of France died at 28 having failed to

recapture the glories of his hero Charlemagne, his coming to the
peninsula would result in Italy being a battleground between the Valois
and the Habsburg for decades. The fact that he was invited by Milan
illuminates both the vibrancy and the self-destructive impulses of the
Italian Renaissance states.

24 Renaissance
hh The political realities of the peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries
reveal that the Italian polities struggled with fundamental and
timeless questions about how best to order human society under the
structure of the state. Like the ancients before them, they debated who
possessed the rights to, and capability for, political engagement and
political dominance.

Suggested Reading

Jardine, Worldly Goods.

Law and Paton, ed., Communes and Despots in Medieval and
Renaissance Italy.
Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought.

Questions to Consider

1 What political and economic contexts shaped the origins

of the Italian Renaissance?

2 What role did the ancient past play in late medieval Italy?

3 In what ways did crisis, both internal and external, help

to initiate the Renaissance and to jeopardize Italian
political experiments?

4 Famous Renaissance historian Jacob Burckhardt described

the Italian state as a “work of art.” What do you think that
description means, and is it a useful way of thinking about
the Italian Renaissance city-states?

Lecture 3  The Medieval Roots of Italian Renaissance 25

Lecture 4
The Rise of the
T h is lecture focuses on one of the
most challenging of the foundational
concepts of the Renaissance:
humanism. The lecture delves into
what humanism was and was not during
the Renaissance centuries. Under the
influence of humanism, education
underwent vast changes, and some of
the consequences of those changes
proved enduring.

26 Renaissance
What Is Renaissance Humanism?
hh Renaissance humanism can be best understood as an educational and
cultural program based on the acquisition and demonstration of written
and spoken eloquence, a project best achieved through the critical study
of ancient texts. It’s a consideration of the experience of being human,
of how to express and appreciate the full breadth of human engagement
and activity.

hh Generally speaking, humanism subordinated metaphysical and

epistemological questions to considerations of private morality and
public good. While humanism has an intense interest in matters
of moral philosophy, it shouldn’t, in itself, be considered a new or
rival philosophy.

hh Regarding humanism’s origins, the rather unique economic and

political conditions of the Italian Peninsula in the later Middle Ages
called for a distinct knowledge and skill set. This was a type of training
for life that was less in evidence elsewhere in Europe, where education
was largely clerical in form and function.

hh The formation of universities in the 12th century drew and expanded
upon the relationship between theology and education. University
students were required to take clerical orders to qualify for study.

hh The medieval course of study involved seven subjects: the three-

discipline trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic—the language
arts—and the four-discipline quadrivium of mathematical studies that
included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. There were
universities whose more advanced emphases included training beyond
theology, specializing in medicine, as at Salerno, or law, as at Padua.

hh Universities were much in evidence on the Italian Peninsula in the later

Middle Ages. Theology, though, reigned supreme among the advanced
university curricula, particularly in the universities north of the Alps.

Lecture 4  The Rise of the Humanists 27

The type of scholarly inquiry that powered those theology curricula
was scholasticism—the application of logic to theology, perhaps best
associated with Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).

hh The initial excitement of the new methodological investigation of

faith represented by scholasticism had, by Petrarch’s time, come to be
seen in some quarters as giving way to sterile debates doomed forever
to incompleteness and irrelevance. Petrarch questioned the utility of
scholasticism and its reliance on medieval Aristotelian authorities,
chiefly on the grounds that it failed to provide much in the way of
assistance in achieving a good life.

New Learning
hh Petrarch put the focus squarely on an investigation of the classical,
rather than medieval, intellectual tradition and championed a new
emphasis on ethics. He wasn’t the only one to seek examples from the
ancients. Many Italians in the urban environment engaged in trade and
commerce and worked as secretaries and orators.

hh Their work required a proficiency in rhetoric and letter writing that led
to their quest for classical models. In ancient Latin texts, they found
examples of structure and phrasing that lent elegance to their own work.
However, some of them wanted more. Rather than being content with
familiar authors and texts, these professional writers and orators sought
to discover lost learning.

hh These circumstances resulted in a series of new informational and

educational markets. First, the increasing skill set of those most capable
practitioners in writing and oratory created a type of meritocracy, with
the choicest of appointments reserved for the most skilled and studied.
This, in turn, further fueled interest in studying and uncovering
Latin manuscripts.

hh Second, a passion for possessing such artifacts of ancient erudition

grew, leading to the emergence of a vibrant market for book collecting.
These markets and practices would help inform and shape the vision

28 Renaissance
of learning articulated by Petrarch and championed by those who
popularized his theories about the role of classical scholarship in
informing the experience of the good life—the humanists.

Men of Books
hh The author Pietro Paolo
Vergerio was one of a number
of authors who left behind a
body of literature outlining
the principles and strategies
of humanist education. Like
others who offered educational
treatises, Vergerio espoused a
deep love of books.

hh For Vergerio and the humanists,

the font of learning was to be
found in the literature of ancient
Rome and ancient Greece. Cicero   Pietro Paolo Vergerio (1370–1444) 
served as the greatest source of
inspiration, owing to his style and civic engagement in ancient Rome.
Additionally, the works of Seneca, Virgil, Livy, and Tacitus as well as the
Latin church fathers such as Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome were all
pored over by the humanists in the quest for Latin elegance.

hh The focus on classical texts ignited a desire to find what had been lost.
The Latin heritage was robust in its survival, but it was by no means
complete. Papal secretary and Florentine chancellor Poggio Bracciolini,
for example, went looking for forgotten manuscripts while attending
the Council of Constance (1414–1418), famously recovering Quintilian’s
text on rhetoric at a monastery.

hh The humanists recognized that the ancient Romans had themselves

been shaped by another great tradition of learning, that of ancient
Greece. The recovery of the classical Greek tradition proved more of a
challenge for early humanists, as Greek language had been a victim of
the triumph of Latin in medieval Christendom.

Lecture 4  The Rise of the Humanists 29

hh A breakthrough moment in the development of Greek studies in the
West occurred with the arrival of Manuel Chrysoloras. The Byzantine
scholar and statesman visited Florence in 1397 on a diplomatic
mission to secure support for
Byzantium in its fight against
the Ottomans.

hh While in residence in Florence,

Chrysoloras taught Greek.
One of the men he instructed,
Guarino Guarini (1370–1460),
journeyed to Constantinople,
spending five years in the
Byzantine capital. Others made
the trip to Constantinople as
well. They returned to Italy,
creating an Italian cadre of
Greek scholars and teachers
of Greek.
  Manuel Chrysoloras (1355–1415) 

The Humanist Curriculum

hh The lecture now turns to the humanist curriculum itself. When Vergerio
identified his subjects of instruction—grammar, rhetoric, history, moral
philosophy, and poetry—he was advocating for more than a shift in the
topics of educational emphasis. He was actually suggesting a significant
reconsideration of the purpose of learning itself.

hh By aligning these subjects with “free men,” Vergerio was commenting

on their utility for those whose who ruled. Note that he was addressing
his text to the son of the lord of Padua. In so doing, Vergerio seems
to be advocating an educational ideal reserved for the select few. He
deemed humanist learning appropriate for the children of the ruling
class—those who would themselves rule one day.

30 Renaissance
hh In reality, though, Vergerio’s text speaks of the transformational power
of learning that would reach beyond those in power. Education served
as preparation for a lifelong appreciation of learning that animated and
shaped personal and civic relationships. This was a new educational
philosophy about the utility of education.

Specific Schools
hh The study of the humanities required a different kind of educational
environment than that of the medieval universities or the middle-level
schools that offered instruction for those embarking on careers in
business or trade. The consequence was a new type of schoolmaster,
the pioneer of which was Vittorino da Feltre (1378–1446).

hh Vittorino’s school in Mantua, the Casa Giocosa, was the site of

instruction of the children of the ruler of Mantua as well as boys drawn
from a variety of backgrounds, elite and non-elite alike. Instruction and
activities in this palace school fostered both intellectual and physical
development as the product of a close interpersonal relationship
between teacher and student. This was a pronounced contrast to the
setting that marked medieval classrooms, where corporal punishment
was employed liberally.

hh Vittorino’s teacher, Guarino Guarini, created his own vision for

education in the classical tradition, with schools in Florence, Venice,
Verona, and finally Ferrara. He went there at the invitation of Marquis
Niccolo III d’Este (r. 1383–1441) to tutor his son. Among Guarino’s
scholarly achievements was the compilation of the first Renaissance
Latin grammar, Regulae grammaticales.

hh In a relatively short space of time, the instructional styles of Guarino and

Vittorino came to inform educational values and practices throughout
Italy. By 1500, the principles of humanist education dominated Latin
schools in Italy.

Lecture 4  The Rise of the Humanists 31

hh The acquisition of knowledge and, by extension, virtue—the chief drivers
of humanism—had long-reaching consequences for wider discourse
about the nature and capabilities of man. The study of ancient texts
led the humanists to a reconsideration of man’s condition that rejected
the medieval focus on the sinful, ruined state of mankind.

hh That idea had perhaps most famously been articulated by the 13th-
century pope Innocent III in his “On Contempt for the World.” In that
text, Innocent exposes the grotesqueries of man as a way to encourage
a striving for the world to come, rather than the mortal prison of
the body.

hh Humanists countered such lamentations on man’s state. For example,

the Florentine Giannozzo Manetti acknowledged the meager origins
of man but celebrated man’s ability to process his world through his
senses and through his reason.

hh Another thinker’s commentaries on the nature of man and his

promise have become the quintessential humanist manifesto. His
name is Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494). Pico’s inspiration
for what has come to be known as “Oration on the Dignity of Man”
drew on Christian philosophy, but also incorporated the results of his
examination of Arabic philosophy, the Jewish mystical tradition, and
a study of the occult.

hh On the basis of his consideration of these wide-ranging authorities,

Pico’s text expressed delight in man’s ability, unique among all of the
elements of God’s creation, to know the creator. This could be achieved
through man’s development of his mental capacity. For man alone, God
reserved the gift of possibility: Man could achieve anything.

hh It is worth noting that Pico’s stirring words never reached their intended
contemporary audience and resulted in his arrest, following their
examination by papal authorities. Pico died just a few years after his
arrest, still a young man with so much of the limitless promise he
celebrated left unfulfilled.

32 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Black, Education and Society in Florentine Tuscany.

Kallendorf, trans., Humanist Educational Treatises.
Witt, In the Footsteps of the Ancients.

Questions to Consider

1 What is humanism, and what values and practices did

humanists prize during the Renaissance? How did those
values and practices represent a challenge to medieval
understandings of mankind and its purpose?

2 What subjects and educational approaches did

Renaissance humanists recommend, and why?

3 In what ways did Renaissance schoolmasters create an

educational revolution?

4 How did humanism yield new debates about human

potential, and what position did humanists take?

Lecture 4  The Rise of the Humanists 33

Lecture 5
Florence: Age
of Gold
T h is lecture focuses on Florence, a
central city of the Renaissance. Its
vaunted republican government was
vigorously extolled by the writer
Leonardo Bruni and others, and
towering figures in the fields of
the literary and visual arts were
residents. Florence was a birthplace of
Renaissance energies and ideas during
the 14th and 15th centuries. However,
liberty and equality were not the
universal experience of all who called
Renaissance Florence home.

34 Renaissance
Background on Florence
hh Much of what scholars know about Florence and its environs comes
from an extraordinary piece of evidence: the Castato (tax survey) of 1427.
The records generated by the survey give a glimpse into a particular
historical moment in Florentine history.

hh The tax survey pointed to a marked urban/rural division, in

demographic as well as economic terms. The city itself was home to 14
percent of the Florentine state’s population, but city dwellers controlled
67 percent of the state’s documented wealth.

hh Florence’s social divisions were clear. At the top was an elite dominated
by the nobility and old merchants (the magnati and grandi) and a group of
new merchants, bankers, and others of the professional class (the popolo
grasso). Next came the artisans and shopkeepers from the lower guilds
(the gente mezzana). At the bottom were the popolo minute, comprised
of wage earners, servants, and non-laborers (the aged, vagrants, and
criminals among them).

hh The upper 1 percent of the population controlled 25 percent of the

wealth. A single family—the Strozzi—possessed 2.6 percent of the taxable
wealth of the city, and five other families—the Alberti, Albizzi, Bardi,
Medici, and Peruzzi—controlled close to 10 percent of the taxable wealth.

Historical Context
hh In the 13 century, a number of circumstances coalesced to put Florence

on the trajectory to great wealth and power. Florence supported the

papacy in the long urban struggles in Italy between the Guelf and
Ghibelline factions. This conflict pitted supporters of the German
Holy Roman Emperor against those of the popes.

hh Florence backed the pope and was rewarded for its longtime loyalty
with certain privileges. Chief among them were serving as a center for
papal banking and collecting dues owed the papacy and transferring
that enormous wealth to Rome. Trading on their economic advantages,

Lecture 5  Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold 35

Florentine elites also gained control the raw materials for the city’s wool
industry, which, by the early 14th century, employed approximately one-
third of the population.

hh The new merchant elite who controlled this profitable industry

would come to challenge the Tuscan feudal and older urban elites for
dominance in the Florentine commune. These popolo grasso (which
translate to “fat people”) bristled at their exclusion from political access
commensurate, as they felt, with their ambition and resources.

hh The urban folk of middling status also found their own restricted access
to political opportunities unacceptable, even as they fretted about the
presence in the city of large numbers of unskilled wool workers, the
ciompi. They worried that poverty of these laborers could easily spill
into armed demonstrations of discontent.

hh As a consequence of this imbalance of political and economic realities,
Florence was due for extreme changes. That process began in the 1280s,
when rich merchants were deemed, by papal intervention, eligible to
participate the government via representatives known as priors selected
by the greater merchant guilds. There were seven of these: three
cloth guilds, plus the furriers, the silk merchants, the physicians and
apothecaries, and the bankers and money-changers.

hh The newly enfranchised merchants staged a coup in 1283 that made

the priors the executive power of the state. They left other institutional
structures of the government, such as the two councils, and personnel,
such as the podestà (the state’s chief military commander), unchanged.

hh During the next decade, the policies of this new merchant-elite

government sparked aristocratic outrage, particularly the decree to
liberate the commune’s serfs. That move was interpreted as a direct
affront to the landed elites, who stepped up their expressions of dismay
in the form of public violence.

36 Renaissance
Lecture 5  Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold 37
hh To stem the rising tide of disorder, a codification of the political
revolution was required. It came in 1293 in the form of the Ordinances
of Justice. The legislation’s legacy was far-reaching, as it finalized the
form of Florentine government for the next two centuries.

hh The reform recognized participatory rights for 14 additional guilds and

expanded the number of priors to 8. One of them, aided by 1,000
soldiers, would be designated the standard bearer of justice, responsible
for ensuring peace and stability. The magnates were further required
to swear an oath of allegiance to the new government and prohibited
from serving as prior.

hh These were sweeping changes that effectively disenfranchised the

traditional elites. They resisted, sometimes with considerable vigor. In
the early years of the 14th century, for example, two competing Guelf
factions played out a devastating civil war. This conflict resulted in
Petrarch’s father’s exile from Florence.

hh The victory of the more conservative Guelf faction subsequently saw

their leadership plunge Florence into economically ruinous wars and
problematic taxation policies that threatened to destabilize the prosperity
of the city-state. This government even invited foreign princes to rule
during times of particular crisis during the 1320s and 1340s.

hh The imported foreign leaders didn’t stay, but bigger changes were on
the way for Florence, coming by virtue of disasters both manmade and
natural. The manmade disaster came courtesy of the renunciation by
Edward III of England of his debts to the Bardi and Peruzzi banking
houses in 1343. That threw the city-state into financial disorder and
set off a chain reaction of failure for the conservative elites in Florence.

hh The subsequent political reforms sought to stabilize the state’s finances.

They created a single public debt, support for which offered annuities.
The system meant that bondholders were literally invested in the fiscal
well-being of the state.

38 Renaissance
hh These reforms also opened the office of prior, by this point 9 in number,
to all guildsmen. It required that 6 come from the 14 lesser or craft
guilds. A final constitutional adjustment sought to limit the influence
of individual families, prohibiting multiple members of the same family
from holding important communal office concurrently.

hh The natural disaster was the Black Death. By some estimates, the loss of
population in Florence was 70 percent. Survivors enjoyed greater access
to commercial and political opportunities than before and believed
additional benefits would follow.

hh The revolt in 1378 of Florence’s wool workers, the ciompi, was an effect
of this tide of rising expectations for the lower orders. However, their
gains were short-lived. The innovations were suppressed and followed
by the resurrection of the closed aristocratic government that had
preceded them.

Outside Challenges
hh Next, Florence faced challenges from external forces. One challenge
from the outside came in the form of war with the duchy of Milan. In
a conflict that played out between 1385 and 1402, Florentine resources
and resolve were stretched to the breaking point. It also bequeathed
the republic with some of its most eloquent defenders, including
Leonardo Bruni.

hh Milanese leader Gian Galeazzo Visconti’s death in 1402 brought an end

to the immediate Milanese threat. A jubilant Florence then successfully
won its own quest for expansion, soon capturing Pisa and coming to
dominate most of the rest of Tuscany.

hh During these years of trial, Florence benefitted from the achievements

of some of its most talented statesmen-humanists. In addition to Bruni,
who served as chancellor of the republic in 1410–1411 and again from
1427–1444, other civic leaders were Poggio Bracciolini and Coluccio
Salutati. They were instrumental in cementing the key link between
humanism and state service that gave particular definition to the
Florentine Renaissance.

Lecture 5  Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold 39

hh These statesmen-scholars weren’t intent just on studying the ancients.
Instead, they sought the internalizing of classical values and their
application in solving contemporary problems. Additionally, the
medieval emphasis on apostolic poverty was gently pushed aside by
scholarship that justified the acquisition of prosperity and considered
it to be a vehicle for virtue.

The Medici
hh A new family came to dominate the affairs of the republic: the Medici.
As the conservative tendencies that set in after the revolt of the ciompi
in 1378 solidified, resistance formed in opposition. The champion of
the anti-oligarchy forces was Cosimo de’ Medici.

hh The Medici in the early part of the 15th century were not part of the
establishment. They were new to wealth and not supporters of the
firmly entrenched Albizzi family. The Albizzi-Medici enmity played
out in public when, in 1433, Cosimo was exiled at the instigation of
the ruling oligarchy.

hh The tables turned the next year, when a triumphant Cosimo returned
to the city, riding the crest of a wave of support. The Albizzi oligarchs
found themselves on the outs. In the wake came six decades of Medici
domination of the republic.

hh Cosimo took up the mantle of first citizen, massaging the intent of

the republican constitution to see his own will done. Offices were not
outright demanded for Medici supporters, but the committee that made
official appointments owed its allegiance to Cosimo.

hh Despite alterations to the functioning of the Florentine republic

Cosimo’s achievement of first-citizen status represented, he was much
lamented at his death in 1464. His far less capable son Piero assumed
power. His imperious nature set people’s teeth on edge and may have
brought the Medici moment crashing to an abrupt halt had not Piero
himself been halted by death.

40 Renaissance
hh Next up, the young man waiting in the wings was Lorenzo de’ Medici (r.
1469–1492). Among his achievements were supporting the young artist
Michelangelo and surviving the papal-engineered Pazzi Plot of 1478. He
saved Florence in the war that followed by slipping away to Naples to
flip the leader of the pope’s army to his own side.

hh Lorenzo was less oblique in his exercise of authority than his grandfather
had been. He created a new body—the Council of Seventy—in 1480,
exhibiting the suspicion of insurgence that would become increasingly
pronounced in his later life. The body was a group hand-selected by
Lorenzo and then, afterward, self-selecting. Its power at the heart of the
Florentine state continued to Lorenzo’s death in 1492.

Suggested Reading

Crum and Paoletti, eds., Renaissance Florence.

Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families.
Howard, Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence.
Najemy, A History of Florence.

Questions to Consider

1 What circumstances helped make Florence so vibrant a

center of political and intellectual activity that it is often
heralded as the center of the Italian Renaissance?

2 How did Florence’s rivalry with Milan influence

republican politics and humanism?

3 What justifications did intellectuals and statesmen offer

in defense of political activity and wealth? How did they
define the good life in Renaissance Florence?
Lecture 5  Renaissance Florence: Age of Gold 41
Lecture 6
Venice: Most
Serene Republic
T h is lecture dives into the complex
history and legacy of Venice during the
period of the Renaissance. It surveys the
rise of Venice and also looks at aspects
that complicate the designation Venice
has long enjoyed as a homogenous state
of peace, prosperity, and good order.

42 Renaissance
Shaping Venice
hh Like Florence, Venice was shaped by the fortunes of its merchant elite.
Florence had its wool trade as the backbone of its economic might
and civic identity. In Venice, it was the business of shipbuilding—
centered around the work of the state shipyards—that powered
Venetian prosperity.

hh The crusading years had been good ones for Venice. The crafty doge
(“duke”) Enrico Dandolo (r. 1192–1205) presided over Venetian
interests in the famously disastrous Fourth Crusade. For Venice, the
failure of the Latin crusaders to pay the promised fee for passage to the
Holy Land allowed Dandalo to divert the impoverished crusaders first
to Christian Zara, a city with which Venice was at war, and then on to
Constantinople, reached by the soldiers of Christ in 1204.

hh In the great Byzantine capital, the crusaders pillaged and plundered,

deposing the native emperor and putting one of their own number
in his place. They never actually made it to the Holy Land, despite
papal exhortations to stop beating up their fellow Christians. The
crusaders were content instead to enjoy the spoils of their eastward
trip and pay off the Venetians who’d provided their transportation.
That pragmatic approach to business—putting gold before God—became
a Venetian hallmark.

hh Beginning at the turn of the 14th century, the state linked its future to
maritime success by provisioning fleets of merchant galleys, escorted
by the protection of warships, headed for various ports in the eastern
Mediterranean. Ambitiously, they also went to England and the
Low Countries.

hh By the start of the 11th century, Venice had broken free of the last
vestiges of the loose Byzantine control that had marked its early history.
Within 100 years, it had become a commune, the doge having been
downgraded from his former position as monarch to first among equals.

Lecture 6  Renaissance Venice: Most Serene Republic 43

Social Setup
hh In contrast to Florence, Venice never experienced the tensions that
resulted from different visions of power offered by a great landed class
of feudal nobles and an urban-oriented merchant elite. The former
simply didn’t exist, and since Venice didn’t possess a landed empire for
much of its early republican period, its merchants had no aspirations
of withdrawing to the countryside.

hh Further, Venice was relatively free of two other key conditions that
fueled political instability and change in Florence. Because of Venice’s
location and customary linkage with Byzantium, the city was not
divided into Guelf-Ghibelline factions, and because it lacked a large
population of disgruntled workers, there were not regular clamorings
for popular sovereignty. There were no Venetian equivalents to the
Florentine wool workers who rebelled in 1378.

hh The laborers who built the great Venetian fleets were well compensated
for their efforts by the state. The fabled glassworkers of Murano,
too, were kept docile: They were well treated on the one hand and
threatened on the other with dire consequences for any suspected proto-
industrial espionage that would have threatened Venetian domination
of the luxury glass market.

hh Such realities made Venice the state and Venice the business one and
the same. This conflation played out through the institutionalization of
elite control in 1297’s closing of the Venetian Great Council, the chief
authority of the republic. This prevented any new members from joining
the council. It thereby solidified the authority of the 200 or so families
and their 1,500–2,000 adult male representatives, aged 25 and older. In
a single stroke, the lesser orders were placed on the outside looking in.

hh The outside groups staged no rebellion in hopes of enhanced authority.

They enjoyed nearly all of the freedoms of the ruling elite without
having to shoulder the burden of performing state business at their
own expense.

44 Renaissance
Lecture 6  Renaissance Venice: Most Serene Republic 45
hh The Great Council was the font from which power flowed in the republic.
From their own noble number, the members elected the senate—that is,
the legislative assembly. The senate had a minimum age qualification
of 40. The Great Council also elected the officials responsible for the
numerous tasks of administration and the implementation of policy.
The doge, for much of this period, was largely a ceremonial position
elected with a complicated set of procedures.

hh Venice sought to seek an expansion of its holdings to shore up its
security and advance its interests, particularly at the expense of the
other maritime republics of Pisa and Genoa. The trio of states had all
enjoyed the fruits of crusading and came to be locked in a showdown
for primacy.

hh Venice’s role in the Fourth Crusade and the state’s narrowing

of its power base allowed Venice to pull ahead. Venice gained at
Constantinople’s expense, first in picking up the luxury trade in the
eastern Mediterranean long dominated by the Byzantines, and second
in chipping away parts of Byzantine holdings in Greece and beyond.

hh Venice was also aided by the feuding of its two rivals. In 1284,
Genoa delivered a devastating blow to Pisa. In 1380, Venice emerged
triumphant, defeating Genoa in a naval battle to mark the high point
of the War of Chioggia.

On the Mainland
hh This trajectory of ascent allowed Venice to embark on what was to be the
inviolate foreign policy principle of the republic: to construct a landed
empire on the Italian mainland. Beginning in the early 14th century,
Venice joined the ranks of the competing states in northern Italy.

hh Its motives were obvious. First, the republic desired its own breadbasket,
something it didn’t possess. Venice had been in the practice of importing
its food, an unenviable position. Second, Venice sought better defense

46 Renaissance
of its economic activity: serving as the purveyor of luxury goods to
Europe north of the Alps. Its position was vulnerable to the aggressions
of other powers on its non-Adriatic edges, a circumstance that could
be redressed with increased control of lands to the west and north.

hh The Venetian republic began a methodological and dogged project of

imperial growth. It began by tangling with Verona. Located on the
Adige River, Verona was the greatest power in the area. Venice emerged
triumphant in its struggle with Verona and boldly embarked on a series
of conflicts with powers far and wide.

hh By the early 15th century, the list of Venetian conquests was growing
to include Vicenza, Verona, Bassano, Padua, and Friuli. Only the
protracted resistance of Milan, from 1425 to 1454, prevented Venetian
supremacy. That Milanese resistance came to be a significant drain on
Venetian resources.

hh The bad news mounted. The final fall of Constantinople to Mehmed

II’s Ottoman forces in 1453 meant a loss for Venice, which had enjoyed
uniquely advantageous trading privileges in the grand old city. The
dynamism of the Turks also destabilized the eastern Mediterranean,
another circumstance that exposed Venice to its rivals.

hh Such circumstances meant that Venice was receptive to the overtures

of peace offered by the Peace of Lodi in 1454. It initiated the uneasy
cessation of hostilities among the leading Italian states that stretched
until the French invasion of Charles VIII in 1494 and the initiation of
the devastating half-century of Habsburg-Valois Wars.

hh Still, for Venice, its republic ruled over its empire, with its hard-won
land at the northern edge of the Italian boot and its subject lands
along the Dalmatian and Greek coasts into the Aegean region, Cyprus,
and Crete. The republic possessed a remarkable degree of territorial
integrity all the way until another conqueror under a French flag,
Napoleon, arrived in 1797.

Lecture 6  Renaissance Venice: Most Serene Republic 47

Venice and the Renaissance
hh Renaissance Venice here had a complicated relationship with the chief
idea of the Renaissance: humanism. Petrarch himself, the father of
humanism, lived for a time in Venice. He left his carefully acquired
library to the republic.

hh Other highly educated Venetians served as bearers of the humanist

standard. For example, noted humanist Pietro Bembo (1470–1547)
wrote a work entitled The History of Venice, over which he labored for
nearly 30 years.

Comparisons to Florence
hh The Venetian elites had much less to gain from humanism than
their Florentine counterparts. In Florence, republican crises offered
opportunities for public debate to shape policy, and skills in rhetoric
could make the man. The Venetian republic had less room for the
valorization of the individual and preferred instead the celebration of
the might of the merchant state.

hh In Florence, humanism proved a valuable training ground for people

seeking entry to service in the secretariat; however, in Venice, these
so-called lower positions were reserved for the non-elites. Whereas
selection as chancellor in Florence was a mark of great distinction for
a man of learning, in Venice, there was far less drama connected to
selection for leadership.

hh The Venetian patricians, closely and jealously guarding their own

privileges, had far more interest in the practical education of their
sons. They contended that training in commercial and navigational
ventures were more valuable than studying letters. A living foreign
language could be useful, for example, in matters of business. That
wasn’t the case for Ciceronian Latin.

48 Renaissance
hh The influence of new artistic fashions and techniques was much more
marked in Venice. Examples include the architecture, paintings, and
sculptures of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Ducal Palace as well as public
and private monuments. Venice contributed much to the dynamism of
the later stages of the artistic Renaissance.

Suggested Reading

Chambers and Pullan, eds., Venice.

Lane, Venice.
Norwich, A History of Venice.

Questions to Consider

1 What did Venice have in common with fellow republic

Florence, and what were the most pronounced differences?

2 Why did the legacy of Rome have a limited impact

on Venice?

3 How did the privileged Venetian oligarchy protect and

project its power?

4 Why did Venice come to seek a landed empire, and how

did that quest impact the republic?

Lecture 6  Renaissance Venice: Most Serene Republic 49

Lecture 7
Rome and the
Papal States
T h is lecture investigates the political and
intellectual conditions of Rome as the
Renaissance vectors of classicism and
republicanism played over the Italian
Peninsula. Rome’s legacy as the pope’s
seat of spiritual and secular authority
meant that the city was never quite
secure or free of contestation. The role
of the new learning in Rome challenged
the wisdom of centuries and powerfully
exposed the dangers that humanism
could unleash to the status quo.

50 Renaissance
Cola di Rienzo
hh In the middle of the 14th century, the Italian leader Cola di Rienzo was
drawing lessons from antiquity and seeking actively to put them into
place in his own world. He was also involved in a quest for vengeance
against a noble who’d murdered his younger brother, which was reputed
to have contributed to the animosity he held toward the Roman elites.

hh Rienzo rose as a young man to some prominence in his city, performing

diplomatic and administrative duties that would take him to the papal
seat in Avignon and earn him preferment from Pope Clement VI. The
years between 1344 and 1347 saw Rienzo return to his native city again
and embark on what would turn out to be his life’s work: the liberation
of Rome from the manipulations of both pope and emperor and to
bring Rome back to its ancient republican self.

hh He gathered a core of supporters and plotted an insurrection that would

return the city to the people. The conspirators struck on May 20, 1347,
unseating the aristocratic government and declaring the establishing
of a new Roman republic.

hh For seven months, Rienzo controlled the city. However, he struggled

to maintain control and was ousted from power by an alliance of the
Roman elites and the papacy, both of which were outraged at their
reduction in authority.

hh Rienzo soldiered on from exile, seeking the support of the greatest

enemy to this entrenched Roman elite: the new German emperor.
Rienzo traveled in 1350 to lobby Emperor Charles IV (r. 1347–1378)
for aid, but Charles demurred. Rienzo spent time on the run from his
enemies before being bound over for imprisonment in Avignon in the
summer of 1352, where he was slated to stand trial for heresy.

hh Rienzo’s liberation came at the instigation of new Pope Innocent VI

(r. 1352–1362). Innocent was working on a restoration project of his
own, wishing to return the papacy to Rome from its exile in the north
at Avignon, and he believed Rienzo’s popularity would assist him in
making that goal a reality.

Lecture 7  Renaissance Rome and the Papal States 51

hh The complex allegiances at play in
the drama of Cola di Rienzo cut
to the heart of the realities
facing Rome coming into
and throughout the
Renaissance. It was the
site of aspirations and
inspiration, and yet it
often descended into
a fractious, unstable,
cutthroat chaos.

hh Rienzo staged a second

comeback in early 1354.
However, this second act
would prove as unsuccessful
as its predecessor: He was killed
in an uprising led by political
rivals on October 8.   Cola di Rienzo (1313–1354) 

Enhancement of Papal Authority

hh The enhancement of papal authority is one of the most important
processes of the Middle Ages. From the bishop of Rome’s position as
one of five patriarchs of the Christian church to the spiritual leader of
Western Christendom, the rise of the medieval papacy is breathtaking
in its scale and scope.

hh The papacy drew on a trio of key justifications of its vision of its

authority, both spiritual and territorial, and all were wrapped up with
Rome itself. The Petrine Doctrine in the book of Matthew recognized
the heirs of St. Peter as the “rock” upon which Jesus built his church,
and Peter was the first bishop of Rome. The 4th-century Donation of
Constantine recounted a transfer of authority from the Roman emperor
Constantine (r. 306–337) to Pope Sylvester (r. 314–335). The 8th-century
Donation of Pepin (756), a land grant from the Frankish king to the
papacy, established the Papal States in the territories around Rome.

52 Renaissance
hh These ideas and others helped to communicate that there was
something special about the bishop of Rome’s authority that set the
pope above all others in Christendom and made him a prince. The
pope was, however, a prince without an army. Popes needed to rely on
other protectors, developing, for example, a mutually beneficial but
tension-filled relationship with the Frankish kings.

hh In medieval conceptions of authority, there were three leaders—

monarchs, popes, and aristocrats—but the amount of authority was itself
finite, initiating intense competition among these three groups. The
acquisition of power by one would, in this way of thinking, correspond
with a reduction of power by the others.

hh The city of Rome was at the center of this competition in key ways. It
was the site of imperial ambitions by the German monarchs who came
to be known as the holy Roman emperors. It was the papal seat and
the capital of the Papal States. It was also populated by ancient noble
families who considered it their birthright to wield control over the
city and its government.

hh This battle saw the three forces rise and fall as they jockeyed for power
with one another. The pontificate of Pope Innocent III (r. 1198–1216)
represents the zenith of papal authority: Innocent assisted his godson
Frederick II (r. 1215–1250) to reclaim his inheritance and oust Otto IV
as holy Roman emperor. Innocent also helped bring King John of
England (1199–1216) to his knees in a series of developments that would
lead to the Magna Carta. Additionally, he called the Fourth Lateran
Council of 1215 that asserted the pope’s power to make doctrine for
the whole church.

Fall of Papal Authority

hh The papacy’s time at the top eventually drew to a close. Within a century,
Pope Boniface VIII (r. 1294–1303) had been humbled by the French
king, and the papacy itself had become a French institution. Boniface’s
great rival was King Philip IV of France (r. 1285–1314). Philip was
locked in combat with Edward I of England and strapped for resources.

Lecture 7  Renaissance Rome and the Papal States 53

  Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1235–1303) 

hh In what represented a major breach in protocol, Philip made a bold move:

He operationalized a scheme to tax his French clergy without papal
consent. Boniface objected and attempted to mount counterarguments
that issued sweeping statements of his own authority.

hh Philip’s eventual response was swift and devastating. He dispatched

soldiers to confront Boniface in Anagni, and on their arrival, they
pillaged and plundered the papal villa and threatened the pope with
forced transport to France.

54 Renaissance
hh Boniface’s captivity was short lived, but its consequences were not.
The aged pope died just a few weeks later, suffering from shock and
humiliation. A French cleric—Clement V (r. 1305–1314)—was selected
pope, and he and moved the papal seat away from Rome. Clement
relocated the papal court to Avignon, located on the Rhone River,
where it was within sight of French territory and, some muttered, under
the thumb of French kings.

hh There, the papal court would stay for seven decades in what has become
known as the Avignon Exile. The pope’s withdrawal from Rome meant
the city was abandoned to the ambitions of its leading, feuding factions.

The Western Schism

hh In 1376, Pope Gregory XI (r. 1370–1378) restored the papacy to Rome,
out of a sense of duty and as a response to mounting criticism. The
Rome to which he returned, however, was just as unruly as ever. After
Gregory’s death in 1378, the pressures of the Roman mobs resulted in
the election by the harassed cardinals, many of whom were French, of
an Italian: Pope Urban VI (r. 1378–1389).

hh To the cardinals’ dismay, the new pope seemed determined to curb

clerical abuses, among them the overweening power of the cardinals
themselves. In response, they mutinied, declaring his election invalid
and voting in favor of one of their own, Robert of Geneva (r. 1378–1394).

hh Urban responded by excommunicating the rogue cardinals and

their newly elected pope, initiating an even greater fissure within
Christendom: the Western Schism. From 1378 to 1417, Christendom
possessed two popes, one ruling from Rome and the other from Avignon.
That divided the loyalties of Christians throughout Europe. For a
period near the end of the schism, there were even three living popes.

hh The Council of Constance (1414–1418) took as one of its chief aims the
resolution to the plurality of popes. They accomplished the task with
the election of Martin V (r. 1417–1431) and the deposition of the three
rivals. Rome was a one-pope city once more. One subsequent pope was

Lecture 7  Renaissance Rome and the Papal States 55

Sixtus IV (r. 1471–1484), whose ambitious plan to shore up the pope’s
political control included masterminding the elimination of the Medici
in Florence in the conspiracy known as the Pazzi Plot.

hh Sixtus IV’s reputation for ambition and cunning is eclipsed by the last
15th-century pope. His reign name was Alexander VI (r. 1492–1503),
but he was born Rodrigo Borgia. He relied on his power of persuasion,
threats, and money to advance on the papal throne itself.

Humanism in Rome
hh Rome was more than the playground of the popes and their families
during the Renaissance. Although Florence gets the lion’s share of the
credit for producing humanists during the Renaissance, a number of
them also hailed from Rome.

hh Rome, for example, became the headquarters for Renaissance

Ciceronianism, which is the attempt to institutionalize the supremacy of
the Latin of ancient Roman orator and statesman Cicero. This program
took as its aims the standardization of Cicero’s particular brand of
written elegance and the promulgation of its use. Papal secretary Pietro
Bembo was one of the movement’s staunchest proponents.

hh Roman humanists even included popes in their number. Pope Pius II

had earned a poet laureate’s crown before his ascension to the holiest of
offices. However, profound differences separated the values and goals of
humanism from those of the Christian church, especially as advanced
in the curriculum of scholasticism and as expressed in the revival of
interest in ancient philosophy.

hh No career might bring those intellectual and practical tensions into

greater focus than that of famed scholar Lorenzo Valla. Valla was a
Roman native who studied with Renaissance schoolmaster Vittorino
de Feltre. Valla’s proficiency with language, including a mastery of Latin
and Greek, earned him a professorship at the University of Pavia, which
was itself a dynamic institution in the new learning.

56 Renaissance
Valla’s Work
hh After four years in residence at Pavia, Valla found himself at odds
with a popular instructor in the field of law, Bartolus de Saxferrato
(1313–1357). Valla decided to depart his university post.

hh Valla then became an itinerant scholar, speaking and lecturing in a

number of cities. Valla helped shape the linguistic direction of the Italian
Renaissance with his Six Books of the Elegances of the Latin Language,
a manual of Latin syntax and grammar heralded as an important
institutionalization of Ciceronian Latin as well as a denigration of post-
classical Latin, including the Latin of the medieval church, as barbaric
and unaccomplished.

hh While serving at the court

of Alfonso V of Aragon
(r. 1416–1458), Valla embarked
on the work for which he enjoys
his greatest fame: De falso credita
et ementita Constantini donation
declamation (translation: The
Treatise on the Donation of
Constantine). It represents a
masterful work of textual and
historical criticism that served
as a model for scholars in the
Renaissance and far beyond.   Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457) 

hh In the treatise, Valla turns his considerable intellect to broad questions

of textual authenticity and the received tradition, using as his case study
one of the most famous fakes in history: the Donation of Constantine.
This was the document purported to authorize the bishop of Rome’s
worldly authority, courtesy of the gift of Roman emperor Constantine
the Great (r. 306–337). It had been pointed to for centuries to justify
the pope’s temporal authority.

Lecture 7  Renaissance Rome and the Papal States 57

hh Valla discovered that the document could not possibly have originated
during the days of Constantine. In his treatise, Valla carefully and
systematically laid out the grounds for his diagnosis of the piece as
a fraud. For example, he pointed out errors of language usage and
inconsistencies of text and time.

hh He also found no contemporary textual evidence of Constantine’s

bequest, something he considered strange, given the significance of such
a momentous gift. He masterfully refuted claims that this corroborating
evidence existed, calling out by name those sources cited by others that
were, in fact, empty of reference to the Donation of Constantine.

hh Valla also analyzed the two historical figures at the center of this
alleged granting of authority: Emperor Constantine and his bishop of
Rome, Sylvester. Valla concluded that the transfer was completely out
of character for both men.

hh Valla’s sharp words and wits were welcomed at an Aragonese court then
feuding with the pope. However, the Roman humanist would find his
continued polemics less enthusiastically embraced by King Alfonso after
the ruler of Aragon made his peace with the papacy in 1443.

hh Valla nearly fell afoul of an inquisitorial trial over his investigation

into the issue of whether the Apostles’ Creed had been composed
by the Twelve Apostles. His deliverance came at the hands of King
Alfonso himself. The humanist then returned home to Rome, making
his own peace with the pope and earning the post of scribe and a later
appointment as a papal secretary.

58 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Buchard, At the Court of the Borgia.

Collins, Greater than Emperor.
Stinger, The Renaissance in Rome.

Questions to Consider

1 How did Rome’s connection to its ancient past and to the

Christian church make it a space both of inspiration and
of contestation during the Renaissance?

2 Who was Cola di Rienzo, and what did role did he play in
Roman politics?

3 Cola di Rienzo failed to institute “good government” in

the city of Rome. How would Romans have defined “good
government” during the period of the Renaissance?

4 What factors led to the Avignon Exile and the Western

Schism, and what circumstances brought a return of the
papacy to Rome?

Lecture 7  Renaissance Rome and the Papal States 59

Lecture 8
Renaissance Italy’s
Princes and Rivals
F o r all of its beauty and creativity, Renaissance
Italy was also a place of endemic violence,
where balance and stability were often in short
supply. For example, the warlord Francesco
Sforza (1401–1466) made himself master of
Milan. Previous lectures discussed the two
great Renaissance republics of Florence and
Venice as well as the pope’s dominions in
central Italy. This lecture looks elsewhere in
Italy, first at the two remaining great power
players: Naples and Milan. Then, it examines
the eclipse of the age of the republics by
the age of the tyrants. At the turn of the
14th century, a number of elite families and
strongmen played on the weaknesses of
merchant oligarchies, sweeping into positions
of authority they would enjoy as long as their
cunning, martial prowess, and ability to sire
heirs held.

60 Renaissance
Naples and Sicily
hh This lecture’s exploration of Renaissance government begins in the
south of Italy. The lands of Naples and nearby island of Sicily had
for centuries been an intense battleground. The Byzantines, Muslims,
Normans, and German holy Roman emperors all jockeyed for position,
with the pope frequently throwing in his lot with one group then
another, in the effort to safeguard his own interests. Pope Innocent III,
for example, created an alliance first against and then in support of
Hohenstaufen ruler Frederick II.

hh One of Innocent’s successors helped set the south on the trajectory it

would follow for several hundred years and, ironically, allow powers
north of the Alps to make Italy their own battleground. That dubious
distinction goes to Pope Clement IV (r. 1265–1268). In seeking to
dislodge the Hohenstaufen emperor in the south, Clement invited
Charles d’Anjou (r. 1262–1285) to Naples in 1266.

hh Charles’s successors, the Angevins, expelled the Hohenstaufen threat

and created a dynasty that ruled Naples for nearly two centuries. Their
control of Sicily, though, was less successful: Within 20 years, they lost
the island to King Peter III of Aragon, who’d successfully claimed Sicily
on behalf of his wife, one of the Hohenstaufens.

hh The two kingdoms, Naples and Sicily, were ruled independently by

their respective dynasties until 1442. The Aragonese emerged victorious
against the Angevins and forged the so-called Kingdom of the Two
Sicilies. It was under the leadership of Alfonso V of Aragon (who
became Alfonso I and ruled until 1458).

hh The reunion of Naples and Sicily was short-lived; the kingdoms were
divided again at Alfonso’s death, this time among the Aragonese
themselves. The Angevin legacy in the south did not disappear; Angevin
claims reverted instead to the French crown. This circumstance allowed
the French king Charles VIII, with the encouragement of Milan, to bring
his army to Italy in 1494. In turn, that initiated the devastating five-
decade conflict of the Habsburg-Valois Wars, which would destabilize
Italy’s Renaissance.

Lecture 8  Renaissance Italy’s Princes and Rivals 61

Verona and Padua
hh The lords of southern Italy ruled by virtue of their ancient royal blood.
In the north, though, different sorts of men came to rule. Even in the
age of republicanism, the idea of shared governance was never without
its challengers. There were still plenty of wealthy, privileged, ambitious
men who sought to expand their own authority at the expense of others.

hh Serving as examples are the communes of Padua and Verona, whose

path to despotism during the 13th century was in part shaped by political
developments beyond Italy. In Verona, the harsh rule of a governor
who’d been installed by Emperor Frederick II led the city to identify
the head of a local noble family to serve as governor.

hh If they’d intended their pick to secure the autonomy of the formerly

vibrant commune, they chose poorly. Members of the Scaligeri family
instead transformed the offer of leadership into lordship, ruling the city
without even lip service to republican ideals for more than a century.

hh In response to Veronese expansion, nearby Padua made its own bid for
continued independence by turning to Jacopo da Carrara to serve as
“perpetual captain” in 1318. That invitation led to a century of signorial
control by the Carrara family until 1405, when both Verona and Padua
would be absorbed by Venetian ambitions for their westward empire.

Events in Milan and Florence

hh Milan, like many of the other communes, was destabilized by
factionalism. The supporters of popes and emperors—the Guelf and
Ghibelline parties, respectively—subverted republicanism for their own
cause. The archbishop of Milan, Ottone Visconti (1207–1295), saw
opportunity in the struggle. Defeating rivals in 1277, Visconti pivoted
into a position of domination over the city. He left the government in
the hands of a nephew in 1287 when he retired to a monastery.

hh The Visconti faction had grand plans, and they had the might to bring
defeat to much of Lombardy. They also threatened the great republics
of Venice and Florence, and perhaps even prompted the creation of
civic humanism in Florence.

62 Renaissance
hh In 1395, the power of the Visconti was legitimized with a ducal title by
the papacy (in return for a massive payment). This first Visconti was
Duke Giangaleazzo. His drive southward into Tuscany nearly toppled
the Florentine republic.

hh The Florentine humanists touted the conflict as a colossal clash between

freedom and tyranny, and they needed all of the republican rhetoric
they could muster when the Milanese surrounded the city and dug in
to bring the Florentines to heel. The threat abated when Giangalezzo
died from the plague.

The Sforza
hh Later in the century, Visconti control gave way to the Sforza family. Two
sons of Bianca Maria Visconti and the mercenary general Francesco
Sforza would take turns leading the duchy: Galeazzo (r. 1466–1476)
and Ludovico, who guided the state as regent on behalf of his nephew
Giangaleazzo II (r. 1476–1494).

hh When Giangaleazzo II died, Ludovico (r. 1494–1498) ruled as duke

himself with wife Beatrice d’Este at his side. It was Ludovico’s
political maneuverings that brought the French to Italy in 1494 and,
consequently, also brought Ludovico’s own fall from power.

hh Milanese independence was a casualty of the Sforza as well: The state

would be dominated by the French until 1535 and then by the Spanish
until the War of the Spanish Succession resulted in the dismemberment
of Spanish holdings.

Mantua and Urbino

hh Despite the relative instability of the time, two smaller Italian states
became cultural dynamos during the Renaissance, flourishing under
the patronage of their lords and ladies: Mantua and Urbino. Like
Milan, Mantua was one of the members of the Lombard League that
triumphed over Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

Lecture 8  Renaissance Italy’s Princes and Rivals 63

64 Renaissance
hh However, Mantua would lose its commune identity to the aspirations of
the house of Gonzaga in 1328 during a period of intense rivalry between
the Guelf and Ghibelline factions in the city. The Gonzaga served as
imperial vicars; their allegiance to the German emperors was actively
maintained through diplomatic contacts and marriages.

hh Mantua was also a leading center for the educational reform that laid
the foundation for Renaissance humanism. For example, Vittorino da
Feltre (1378–1446), who was a chief proponent of the new learning,
received the patronage of Mantuan despot Gianfranceso Gonzaga.
Vittorino’s school, known as the House of Joy, numbered among its
pupils Gonzaga’s own children and the children of other elite families,
both male and female.

hh The Gonzaga reached the height of their cultural authority under the
rule of Francesco II Gonzaga (r. 1494–1519), who was rivaled in fame by
his wife, Isabella d’Este (1474–1539). Mantua became a powerful draw
for artists and writers. Among those Renaissance figures who counted
Isabella as a patron were Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo, Castiglione,
and Pietro Aretino.

hh Duke Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino (1422–1482) was one of the

students of the Gonzaga-created House of Joy. Although he embarked
on a long career as a skilled mercenary, Federico shared little else with
many of the mercenary captains of the Renaissance, like the always-
scheming Francesco Sforza of Milan (who frequently shifted his loyalties
to the highest bidder).

hh Federico da Montefeltro earned a reputation for honesty and generosity—

as well as a massive fortune, gratefully supplied by the employers who
valued his loyalty. Federico also had a deep and abiding devotion to
learning that shaped his life and helped turn his court into a capital city
of the Renaissance. That court was presided over for two extraordinary
generations, first by Federico and his wife Battista Sforza, and then by
their sole surviving son Guidobaldo and his wife Elisabetta Gonzaga.

Lecture 8  Renaissance Italy’s Princes and Rivals 65

hh One of Duke Federico’s great projects was the construction of a
marvelous palace full of artistic masterpieces. Another of Federico’s
projects was the creation of an expansive library. Housing more
than 1,100 volumes, Federico’s library featured editions of works of
classical literature. The library was augmented by treatises of medieval
Muslim scholars Ibn-Sina and Ibn Rushd, better known in the West as
Avicenna and Averroes.

Suggested Reading

Cockram, Isabella d’Este and Francesco Gonzaga.

Kohl, Padua under the Carrara.
Martines, Power and Imagination.

Questions to Consider

1 How did the transition from citizen militias to mercenaries

impact Italian states during the 14th and 15th centuries?

2 What forces and individuals most shaped the rivalries in

southern Italy?

3 How did the ambitions of Milan both spur Renaissance

developments and initiate troubles for the peninsula?

4 Why did republicanism fail during the Renaissance?


66 Renaissance
Lecture 9
Renaissance Man
as Political Animal
T h is lecture focuses on three men—
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527),
Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529), and
Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472)—
whose lives and works all exemplify
different iterations of that perhaps most
well-known creation of the Renaissance:
the Renaissance man. The common
element that binds Renaissance men
together is their cultivation of a level
excellence in multiple areas. This
lecture will make the concept a bit more
precise by historicizing it.

Lecture 9  Renaissance Man as Political Animal 67

The Renaissance Man Defined
hh The Renaissance man can perhaps best be understood as an educational
and political ideal, a man as well schooled in the art of warfare as he
was the languages of classical antiquity and love. He could exhibit all of
the requisite courtly graces as easily as he could pluck up an instrument
and contribute an engaging tune.

hh Key to the Renaissance man was the concept of modeling—that is,

finding exemplars whose personal lives and public careers could serve as
a source of inspiration and even provide a blueprint and sort of virtual
counselor in times of trouble. The ancient world provided marvelous
exemplars, as Petrarch suggested in his writings. Perhaps, then, it’s
unsurprising that the men of the Renaissance took up politics as a
chief virtue, so serious a concern were issues pertaining to the nature
and operation of government among the ancients.

Leon Battista Alberti

hh Leon Battista Alberti is often pointed to as emblematic of the
Renaissance man. The son of a prominent exiled Florentine, his talents
were many. He was a renowned architect, designing churches, elite
residences, and military fortifications designed to withstand cannon
fire. He was also a cryptographer and an Italian grammarian. He
dabbled in astronomy and geography, and was the author of plays and
novels, among other pursuits.

hh Most famously, he wrote an autobiography in which he refers to himself

in the third person. This description of his accomplishments is dazzling,
and he doesn’t shy from according himself praise: “His genius [he wrote]
was so versatile that you might almost judge all the fine arts to be his.”

hh He used his autobiography to provide a catalogue of his achievements in

the visual and literary arts. He also devoted time to his physical acumen
and noted his ability to resist vengeful impulses. All in all, he was an
accomplished man, if one prone to self-praise.

68 Renaissance
Baldassare Catiglione
hh The most famous text associated with this lecture’s second Renaissance
man, Baldassare Castiglione, is more focused on the intersection of
individualism and service. In his Book of the Courtier, Castiglione offered
to posterity one of the most famous descriptions of Renaissance court
life and the courtly gentleman.

hh Castiglione was himself of noble birth, with a family seat near Mantua.
An accident while in the service of Urbino’s vaunted mercenary army
led to a period of convalescence at the court of Guildobaldo da
Montrefeltro and his wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga. That visit stretched into
an 11-year stay in Urbino, marked by both personal and professional
satisfaction, largely as the result of Castiglione’s platonic devotion to
Duchess Elisabetta and entrance into her courtly circle.

hh The book, set in 1506 but begun in 1508

as Duke Guidobaldo’s health declined,
takes the form of four dialogues.
Each is associated with a successive
night’s conversations among the
residents of the duke’s court.
Three of the four dialogues
take as their aim a description
of the perfect courtier.
The other comments on
characteristics befitting the
ideal court lady.

hh Even the three books that

focus on men, though, are not
without the strong influence of
women. It is Duchess Elisabetta
and, later, Emilia Pia who
control the dialogue, a reminder
that the duke’s illness has created a
female-dominated court.
  Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529) 

Lecture 9  Renaissance Man as Political Animal 69

hh According to Castiglione’s book, the ideal courtier must be of noble
birth owing to favorable public opinion. He should also be attractive
and skilled in the arts of war, although not overly brutish. His most
important quality is dedication to his master: the prince.

Niccolò Machiavelli
hh To understand the Renaissance man of Niccolò Machiavelli, it’s
essential to take into account his own personal and political context.
That involves the history of Florence following the death of powerful
ruler Lorenzo de’ Medici.

hh Lorenzo’s son, Piero, took over after his death in 1492. After a two-year
interval, the Medici were expelled from a state then under the sway
of social critic and mystic Girolamo Savonarola and reeling from the
invasion of the French king Charles VIII.

hh In some ways, Lorenzo played the seminal role in initiating the

Medici’s declining popularity. In 1491, he invited Savonarola, then
already a preacher and theologian, to serve as prior of Florence’s San
Marco monastery.

hh Almost immediately upon his

assumption of power in San
Marco, Savonarola went on
the warpath. He offered
scathing indictments of the
institutional church and
of the Medici, whom he
charged with subverting
Florence’s republican
ideals. This was why, after
the expulsion of Piero de’
Medici, the Florentines
rallied around Savonarola
to guide their newly
restored republic.

  Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) 

70 Renaissance
hh Savonarola determined that the best way to proceed was to target the sin
and corruption with which he considered the city to be rife. He pointed
in particular to the blasphemous influence of the classical tradition
and rebuked the Florentines for their moral failings. He exhorted the
Florentines to fear God, to love the common good, to love one another,
and to love justice.

hh Savonarola overreached his role as critic, though, in subjecting the

church to his blistering commentary. His continued exposure of clerical
errors reached upward toward the papacy itself. Pope Alexander VI was
not content to be the object of Savonarola’s abuses.

hh Savonarola was excommunicated in May 1497, and almost exactly one

year later, he was executed, having lost support to a counter-faction in
Florence seeking an alternate vision of republicanism. It was this second
version of the restored republic following Savonarola’s failed experiment
that Niccolò Machiavelli served.

Machiavelli’s Rise and Fall

hh By the time of his selection as second chancellor in 1498, Machiavelli
seems to have earned a reputation for his opposition to Savonarola.
The victory of the anti-Savonarola faction gave the appearance of
establishing for Machiavelli a successful career in service to his state.

hh As second chancellor, Machiavelli presided over the government’s

correspondence with its territories and localities throughout Tuscany.
His tasks were augmented with various diplomatic assignments as well
as secretarial work with the Ten of Liberty and Peace, a Florentine
military council. After 1507, he served in a post that put him in a
supervisory position over a new militia comprised of men drawn from
Florence’s subject territories in Tuscany.

hh Machiavelli’s political ascendancy came to an abrupt halt with the

restoration of Medici authority in 1512. The citizen militia to which
Machiavelli had devoted so much time and attention never even got
the opportunity to act in defense of Florentine liberty. The Florentine
government succumbed to chaos and collapse.

Lecture 9  Renaissance Man as Political Animal 71

hh The Medici returned in triumph and reestablished their control.
Machiavelli was dismissed from his post and put on a watch list, being
required not to leave Florentine territory for a year. A mere three
months later, he was associated with a plot to remove the Medici. He
protested his involvement, but to no avail. He was arrested, tortured,
and sentenced to life imprisonment, a fate he was spared as the result
of a general amnesty.

The Prince
hh After his release, Machiavelli retreated from public life and dedicated
himself to literary pursuits, of which the political treatise The Prince has
come to be his most famous product. Though the book is dedicated
to Lorenzo de’ Medici, he apparently was not its originally intended
recipient. Machiavelli had instead identified Guiliano de’ Medici,
Lorenzo’s uncle and the brother of newly installed Medici pope Leo X,
as a potential patron.

hh Ever pragmatic, Machiavelli followed Guiliano’s changing fortunes.

Guiliano fell out of favor with his brother, and Machiavelli retrained
his eye on young Lorenzo instead. It was to this member of the next
generation that Machiavelli appealed.

hh The Prince is a complex text. It valorizes the authoritarian exercise of

power in stark, uncompromising language. Machiavelli blends lessons
from the ancient past with a deep consideration of the present in The
Prince. His much-decried celebration of the actions of forceful leader
Cesare Borgia is but a single angle of a text that discusses princely rule
and also takes as its focus the state of the peninsula as a whole.

hh Machiavelli uses the text to call for Italian unification as a means of

ending the destructive external threats the Italian states faced from
France and the Empire. He intimates that a strong leader—a man willing
to test his virtue and to bend fortune to his will—is the one who can
free Italy from its current troubles.

72 Renaissance
hh Ultimately, The Prince is evidence of an astute and calculating political
mind at work. Machiavelli wasn’t a humanist, but he does represent
another version of the Renaissance man, for whom politics was the
very stuff of life.

Suggested Reading

Brown, The Medici in Florence.

Martines, Fire in the City.
Witt, In the Footsteps of the Ancients.

Questions to Consider

1 Is a generic label like Renaissance man useful for an age of

celebrated for its individualism?

2 How do you think Castiglione’s perfect courtier would

have fared at the court of Machiavelli’s prince?

Lecture 9  Renaissance Man as Political Animal 73

Lecture 10
Women and
the Italian
Renaissance Court
T h is lecture steps inside the 15th-
and 16th-century Italian courts to
investigate the ways in which a number
of smart, powerful, and cunning
women helped steer the course of the
Renaissance. It examines the concept
of the Renaissance woman in general,
women’s roles in education and
patronage, and a notable courtesan.

74 Renaissance
The Renaissance Woman
hh A prevalent concept is that of the Renaissance man, who emerged
with the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance man ushered in new
ideas about masculinity and marked a profound break with many of
the gender ideals that dominated the Middle Ages. However, despite
the activities of many notable women, no new concept of femininity
emerged akin to that which developed for masculinity.

hh A Renaissance woman might have sported different fashions than

her medieval counterpart, but the general expectations of both were
roughly parallel. In many ways, the ancient trio of chastity, silence,
and obedience still formed the core of approved feminine behavior
into the Renaissance centuries. Women were still primarily identified
as daughters, wives, and mothers, under firm patriarchal control of
fathers, husbands, and sons.

hh Many women in the Italian Renaissance could draw on neither the

political nor the economic power their male counterparts could
command. In all of the activities that mattered most to Renaissance
men—civic activity, humanistic study, artistic endeavor, business
enterprise, and so on—male achievements towered over those of women
(where they could be found), both in number and in perception of
impact and historical significance.

hh Rather than comparing Renaissance women with men, it is perhaps

more constructive to consider the activities in which women did
participate. This lecture will keep its focus on the women connected
to the Italian Renaissance courts, who possessed greater privilege than
their non-noble counterparts.

hh Among the lordly families of the Italian courts during the Renaissance,
there was a tradition of educating daughters, often alongside sons. Great
schoolmasters such as Vittorino da Feltre had female pupils drawn
from these great families, and the question of female education was the
subject of considerable interest and commentary by elite men.

Lecture 10  Women and the Italian Renaissance Court 75

hh For example, Leonardo Bruni, the longtime chancellor of the city of
Florence, wrote a letter on the subject of education in 1405 to Lady
Battista da Montefeltro. She was the wife of Galeazzo Malatesta (the
lord of Pesaro) and the daughter of Duke Antonio II of Urbino. The
letter offered a particularly restricted curriculum. Bruni claimed that
rhetoric was “outside the province of women” and that new learning
celebrating classical ideals and values would be lost on a woman for
lack of application.

hh Bruni continued his letter to Lady Battista by enumerating the subjects

he felt “properly open” to women, with history, religion, morals, and
poetry chief among them. Commentaries like Bruni’s reflect a gendered
vision of Renaissance education that trained men to impact their world
and women, especially those of the court, to beautify and dignify it.

hh Evidence of education for highborn daughters bears out the familial

traditions of female education in the Italian lordships. This speaks to
the existence of a shared educational culture among women; education
became a female practice among these families and made female
learning a recognized
accomplishment. Such
a pattern of female
education existed among
the Sforza of Milan,
for example.

hh A case study is Bianca

Maria Visconti, whose
status as the illegitimate
daughter of Duke Filippo
Maria did not prevent
her from acquiring a
humanist education,
perhaps because the duke

  Bianca Maria Visconti (1425–1468) 

76 Renaissance
had no legitimate heirs. She was raised in the Visconti castle, where an
impressive variety of texts in Latin, Italian, and other languages served
as her schoolbooks.

hh Bianca’s marriage to Francesco Sforza, who ultimately became master

of Milan, made her a duchess. She proved a capable guardian of her
husband’s lands and title during his absences from the duchy, and she
won a reputation for her learning and her clear thinking.

hh Patronage was one way that noble women were able to contribute to the
flowering of Italian Renaissance culture. In a society that commodified
beauty and learning, women’s ability to serve as brokers of fashion and
taste through patronage was significant. Through their commissioning
of art, music, poetry, prose, architectural projects, and more, women
were able to wield considerable cultural capital.

hh The spaces of the courts, then, were their chance to assemble a dazzling
array of talent and to display an impressive Renaissance product. Female
patrons subsidized some of the most famous artists of the Renaissance.
Duchess Isabella, wife of Franceso Gonzaga of Mantua, provides a
notable example.

hh Isabella’s marriage to Francesco was not a happy one, but she channeled
some of her considerable energy into establishing Mantua as a major
site of patronage and herself as an arbiter of style and culaure. She was
a prodigious letter writer and corresponded with leading humanists
including Pietro Aretino, Ludovico Ariosto, Pietro Bembo, and
Baldassare Castiglione.

hh The payroll list of artists commissioned to paint for Isabella includes

names like Giovanni Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Andrea
Mantegna, Antonio da Correggio, and Lorenzo Costa, among others.
Isabella also curated an impressive collection of ancient Roman art.

Lecture 10  Women and the Italian Renaissance Court 77

hh This lecture closes with a look at a final category of elite women: the
cortigiana onesta (“honored courtesan”). These women were celebrated
for their grace, beauty, and refinement. Their lovers were men of power
and prestige.

hh The courtesans occupied a social and sexual space outside of the

constraints of contemporary ideals of femininity. They possessed a
degree of freedom denied to most women to pursue their talents without
fear of the loss of reputation, although the source of that freedom was
quite different from the noble ladies of the court.

hh The term cortigiana is derived from the masculine cortigiano, which refers
to a man who served at court. The cortigiana was, in fact, the female
equivalent of the courtier. The residences of the most accomplished and
glamorous courtesans became an alternative kind of court themselves.
Within these environments, women interacted with literary figures and
artists while cultivating their own intellectual life.

Veronica Franco
hh Veronica Franco (1546–1591) serves as a case study of courtesans. Franco
was a native of Venice, where a reputed 10 percent of the population
worked in the sex trade. Veronica’s own mother was one of them. She
appeared, as Franco later noted, in a directory of courtesans in 1565.
That same list also included Franco’s own name.

hh Franco was the only daughter of four children born to her parents, and
under the tutelage of her brothers’ teachers, she gained a fine education.
She also gained a husband at a young age, but the marriage didn’t last.
At 18, Franco was pregnant with another man’s child, having separated
speedily from her husband to pursue a career as a courtesan.

hh Franco’s clients were men of high status. When King Henry III of
France paid a state visit to Venice in 1574, for example, Franco was one
of those selected to entertain the king, an endorsement of her famous
wit and musical ability.

78 Renaissance
hh Note that Franco didn’t celebrate the sex trade, or minimize the
dangers of a life on the margins of polite society. She warned that,
“It’s a most wretched thing, contrary to human reason, to subject one’s
body and labor to a slavery terrifying even to think of.” Franco wrote
from experience about the fragility of what looked in some ways to
be a charmed life: When she accused a tutor she’d hired for her sons
of stealing, he denounced her to the Inquisition in 1580 on a charge
of witchcraft.

hh Franco’s talented self-defense, coupled with assistance from the powerful

men in her circle, led to an acquittal. However, the remainder of her life
was plagued with financial troubles, and she died in poverty at age 45.

hh A large deal of what scholars know about her life is courtesy of her
writing. In writing of her experiences, in both poetic and prose forms,
Franco was not unique among courtesans. She serves as a single
representative of a group of Renaissance women—Tullia d’Aragona
of Rome and fellow Venetian Gaspara Stampa among them—who
cultivated and exhibited their literary skills in a way that helped support
the entrance of the women into contemporary literary culture.

hh Franco was a wildly successful editor; she collected poetry from the men
in the literary circle of longtime patron Domenico Venier for inclusion
in anthologies she dedicated to leading members of the Venetian elite.
In 1575, Franco published a collection of her own poetry, the Terze rime.
The style it represented, a challenge-and-response pattern of 11-syllable
verses, is a testament to Franco’s creativity and verbal acumen.

hh She didn’t shy away from using her platform to advance the capabilities
of women. For example, she wrote:

When we women, too, have weapons and training,

we will be able to prove to all men
that we have hands and feet and hearts like yours;
and though we may be tender and delicate,
some men who are delicate are also strong,
and some, though coarse and rough, are cowards.

Lecture 10  Women and the Italian Renaissance Court 79

hh Franco also published a collection of 50 letters that offers a glimpse
into her life and thoughts, cataloging activities both mundane and
meaningful. These letters are evocative of similar collections by ancient
authors, most notably Cicero and Seneca, and her male contemporaries.
They reveal a woman with deep passions, pronounced opinions, and
a strong sense of self.

Suggested Reading

Kaborycha, ed., A Corresponding Renaissance.

Kelly, “Did Women Have a Renaissance?”
Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan.

Questions to Consider

1 Why did noble families cultivate female learning? What

does that suggest about the role and expectations of
elite women?

2 Do you consider patronage an active or a passive activity?

What kind of influence could female patrons have on
artistic trends?

80 Renaissance
Lecture 11
Painting in the
Early Italian
T h is is the first in a sequence of lectures
taking Renaissance art as their
focus. Said lectures will emphasize
the historical context of art they
consider. In particular, a focal point
will be the Renaissance’s emphasis on
the experience of being human and
the celebration of the human body.
Another focal point will be the function
of art within both its public and
private spaces.

Lecture 11  Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance 81

hh In the space of a six-year career, the achievements of Tommaso di
Giovanni di Simone Cassai (1401–1428) left behind a legacy of creative
and innovative genius cited by leading artists of the Renaissance as an
inspiration for their own work. He is better known by his nickname:

hh Masaccio’s early commissions

included pieces on traditional
religious themes, one example
being a multi-panel altarpiece
including a rendering of the
famous Adoration of the
Magi scene for a church in
Pisa. His trademark style
includes human figures with
weight and solidity, rendered
in deep, vibrant hues that
add a liveliness and realism
absent in the pieces of his
medieval predecessors and
even his contemporaries.   Masaccio (1401–1428) 

hh His series of frescoes—paintings on wet plaster—of the Brancacci Chapel

in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence would become
Masaccio’s greatest masterpiece. For example, his depiction of Adam
and Eve’s expulsion from Eden has the power to startle and to impress.

hh Another of his works, Holy Trinity, demonstrates his innovative

application of linear perspective. A single, central vanishing point
creates the illusion of depth within the flat surface of the painting. Note
that linear perspective owes its Renaissance discovery to Massacio’s
friend and influence, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446).

hh Masaccio didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his great achievements. After
leaving the Brancacci Chapel to the work of others to complete, Masaccio
journeyed to Rome for new projects, but he died shortly after his arrival
in the Christian and pagan Roman capital. He was 27 years old.

82 Renaissance
hh However, Masaccio had managed to leave a legacy that helped shape the
Renaissance. For example, according to contemporary accounts, young
Michelangelo copied Masaccio’s works during his artistic apprenticeship.

The Medieval Art Scene

hh To understand how revolutionary Masaccio’s artistic innovations were,
it’s necessary to consider the art scene of the later medieval world.
Medieval art doesn’t boast household names, like those of the artists of
the Renaissance, but instead contains the work of anonymous craftsmen
and artisans, many of whose individual identities have been lost to time.

hh Researchers don’t know many names in part because of the ways items
were produced during the Middle Ages. Artisans began their training
as young apprentices, and they learned their craft in the workshop
of a master. That master would have been a member of guild, which
regulated the quality of items produced.

hh Individualism was actively discouraged; mimicry was the order of the

day. Apprentices copied the works of their masters until they could
reliably reproduce the style for themselves. Standardization was the key
to ensuring a satisfied customer.

hh The medieval world of Christian Europe was a decorated one, although

perhaps less spectacularly so than its successor. For example, many
European cathedrals still contain stained glass windows constructed
during the Middle Ages. However, most art didn’t serve primarily
as objects of beauty to be admired. They were instead designed for
edification or memorial.

hh As a result, artists were craftsmen on par with other men of trade,

possessing no special cultural designation or recognition. The most
successful among them seem to have been astute businessmen, but
they didn’t possess great fortunes. Most weren’t recognized as figures
worthy of great admiration or adulation, as their Renaissance successors
would be.

Lecture 11  Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance 83

hh The images of human figures these craftsmen produced tended to be
representational rather than rendered from life. Realism wasn’t the
priority; the lesson of the piece was. Many artistic images existed to
glorify Christian faith rather than to celebrate humanity.

hh The great exception to this late medieval picture was Giotto. Giotto
trained in a workshop in Florence in the Byzantine style, a circumstance
that gave him a connection to classicism and the realism associated with
it. In his rendering, human figures appeared solid and rounded, rather
than flat. They interacted with one another in realistic ways.

hh One of Giotto’s masterpieces exemplifies these innovations: the

Lamentation, a fresco painted in a chapel in Padua. It’s part of much
larger series of 38 images depicting the
lives of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

hh The Lamentation gives the

viewer access to this most
intimate of moments,
as Christ’s followers
mourn his death and
grieve over his body.
From the clasped
hands pressed to
the cheek of one of
the mourners to the
outstretched arms
of another, these are
recognizably human
reactions and gestures.

  Giotto (1266–1337) 

84 Renaissance
hh Not until the early 15th century were Giotto’s achievements in realism
matched. Timing was important: The recovery of classical learning and
values gained cultural traction, and humanism began to make its mark
on the culture of the Italian states.

hh The new learning suited the new approach to art that emphasized
individualism and realism, taking inspiration from and modeling
classical forms. Artists began to consider the examples of antiquity as
worthy of imitation and adaptation to their own environment.

hh Even though many of the greatest examples of Early Renaissance art

were religious pieces, they joyfully displayed and celebrated the human
form with an emotional resonance and depth lacking in their medieval
counterparts. Renaissance painters used mathematical principles of
perspective and the study of anatomy to give increased realism to
their images.

Artistic Patronage
hh Artists’ innovations transformed the look and experience of Italian
painting during the Early Renaissance. However, this was an age of
patronage, and the taste of those who paid the bills still held powerful
sway. Their fashion for subjects and styles and colors and media
ultimately did much to determine the visual Renaissance.

hh Art communicated powerful messages. Corporate patrons—guilds

of armorers or stonemasons, for example—commissioned works to
celebrate their trade, and to advertise their business. That’s how they
broadcast their skill and their power.

hh Patronage during the Early Renaissance also saw civic institutions

calling on artists to decorate public spaces to commemorate their
power and values. Private patrons also subsidized artists; a relationship
with a prominent and wealthy patron was the ultimate goal of most
Renaissance artists. They painted to satisfy a customer and in hopes of
securing the next commission.

Lecture 11  Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance 85

hh Artists worked on contracts, with prices and deadlines clearly stipulated
and often with very specific instructions on the images to be created.
Some of these agreements were incredibly detailed, even down to the
individual pigments to be employed in the paintings.

Sandro Botticelli
hh Many examples exist to attest to the productive energy that animated
the system of Early Renaissance patronage. Sandro Botticelli (1445–
1510) serves as a case study. Botticelli landed one of the greatest patrons
of later 15th-century Florence: Lorenzo the Magnificent. Lorenzo’s circle
of artists prized innovation, and Botticelli responded with images
influenced by classical antiquity and pagan mythology.

hh Primavera celebrates the birth of spring, with the wood nymph Chloris
being transformed into Flora by Zephyrus, the god of west wind, while
the Three Graces dance nearby and the god Mercury stands poised to
pluck the fruits of spring.

hh Another example is Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, which blurs the

line between past and present to commemorate the Medici as the
leaders of the Florentine state. Cosimo de’ Medici kneels before the
Christ child, while Cosimo’s two sons, Piero and Giovanni, complete
the traditional trio of wise men. All three were dead at the time of the
painting’s creation in the 1470s.

hh Lorenzo the Magnificent, whose patronage Botticelli was already

beginning to enjoy, and his brother Giuliano are among the assembled
onlookers in the painting. According to many, so is Botticelli himself,
in the form of a confident young man gazing out of the frame on
the far right. The artist was beginning to be a figure worthy of
commemoration himself.

86 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Dunlop, Painted Palaces.

O’Malley, Painting under Pressure.
Randolph, Engaging Symbols.

Questions to Consider

1 In what ways do you think painting during the Early

Renaissance fits with the broader Renaissance quest for
the good life?

2 What might have motivated Renaissance patrons to

subsidize artists? Were the motivations different from their
subsidizing of humanists?

Lecture 11  Painting in the Early Italian Renaissance 87

Lecture 12
Painting in the
High Italian
T h e Early Renaissance housed its fair
share of brilliant artists. However,
even their magnificent achievements
were eclipsed by the leading figures of
the High Renaissance, the title given
to the fullest flowering of the visual
Renaissance. That vibrant period,
credited with a veritable artistic
revolution in painting, is the focus of
this lecture.

88 Renaissance
A Shift
hh One of the factors that distinguishes the High from the Early
Renaissance is a marked shift in the ways contemporaries viewed the
work and personalities of artists themselves and then communicated
those assessments to posterity. Previous assessments that put painters
and other artists at the level of mere craftsmen were replaced by
commentary extolling their mastery.

hh Now, artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael

rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful. They became people of
note themselves. Additionally, to supply the demand for Renaissance art,
many artists were needed whose names don’t immediately leap to mind.
Yet their work, too, is part of the fabric of the Renaissance tapestry.

hh Talent also gave female artists value and a position in society as well,
often catering to same-sex patrons who supported their efforts. Artistic
skill didn’t make a woman invulnerable, though, to the challenges faced
by other women during the Renaissance centuries.

Leonardo da Vinci
hh This lecture will use the artist, architect, and engineer Leonardo da
Vinci as its first case study. Despite his immense level of talent, many
of Leonardo’s patrons were destined to be disappointed by his level of
commitment to their projects. Time and again, he was long on ideas
but rather short on delivery, in part because his talents and interests
were so many. He liked challenges but was always eager to move on to
the next one.

hh Regardless of Leonardo’s failures to produce, his patrons weren’t in

short supply, in part because his talents as a painter were indisputable.
His own master Verrochio was said to have given up painting when
he realized how much his young apprentice’s skills outshined his own.

hh Leonardo’s paintings were actually few in number, but they serve as

highlights of the High Renaissance. For example, The Last Supper of
Christ, the fresco for a monastery in Milan, was as revolutionary as the
experimental paints Leonardo used. It was an experiment gone wrong:

Lecture 12  Painting in the High Italian Renaissance 89

Just a few years after its completion, the pigments began to break down.
However, the work is undeniably arresting in its depiction of one of the
most electrically charged moments in the Christian tradition.

hh Other examples include his two famous portrait studies: Lady with
an Ermine and the Mona Lisa. The enigmatic appeal of the latter
seems infinite, so thoroughly has she been absorbed into the cultural
landscape of the Western tradition.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine

90 Renaissance
hh The subject of the Mona Lisa seems in some ways to have become
emblematic of the Renaissance itself. There’s something appealing in
her gaze that trumpets her uniqueness. She is also tinged with an air of
mystery, which works well with a prominent theme of the Renaissance:
the desire to uncover what is beyond the surface.

The Grind
hh Even after the emergence of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael,
plenty of less famous artists continued toiling away. They worked for
different commissions and patrons, and their workshops cranked out
plenty of somewhat mundane portraits and decorative paintings. This
could be grueling work.

hh Renaissance workshops were hives of activity, employing many people

who hustled to meet deadlines or face the wrath of angry customers.
Some of that activity wasn’t glamorous, even for the master artist
himself. In addition to serving as the lead talent, he also had to oversee
such tasks as packaging paintings for delivery, their transportation and
installation, and even their continued maintenance, should a piece
become damaged.

hh Carefully negotiated contracts between artists and patrons included

minute details about every aspect of the production process.
Subcontracting played a role as well: Shops might contract out gilding
or woodwork, for example, to avoid having to supervise such projects

The Role of Female Artists

hh The art scene in the Italian Renaissance was most definitely a
commercial enterprise. It was also a largely male enterprise, at least on
the side of production. However, women painters played an important
role during the Italian Renaissance.

Lecture 12  Painting in the High Italian Renaissance 91

hh They were often from families of artists, but others were self-taught, and
these women had successful careers in part because they were women.
They were able to trade on their novelty to secure commissions and to
receive the patronage of other women.

hh The writer Giorgio Vasari mentions just a handful of women in his

Lives of the Artists. It’s a testament to the skill of these women that he
mentions any, given that Renaissance artists were so much a fraternal
organization. He tends to focus on their virtue rather than their skill.

Specific Female Artists

hh Vasari’s account of Sofonisba Anguissola and her sisters is an example
of his focus on virtue rather than instinctive talent of the sort to be
found in male artists. Vasari is complimentary of the sisters’ gifts,
but his constant reminders of their being maidens seems a means of
domesticating them by associating them with their womanliness.

hh Sofonisba had a career many would have found enviable. Her early
work, which often took the form of domestic scenes that featured herself
and her sisters, gained considerable attention. It attracted the praise of
Michelangelo, for example.

hh Additional portraits found her future employment. After completing

a painting of the Spanish duke of Alva, Sofonisba then acquired
employment at the Spanish court. There, she served as a tutor and
lady-in-waiting of Elisabeth of Valois, wife of Philip II (r. 1556–1598).

hh Sofonisba was a trailblazer. There were women artists before, but many
of those who followed her were inspired by her success and the reception
of her work. One of them was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656), the
first woman to receive admission into Florence’s prestigious Academy of
Fine Arts. Like her male counterparts, Gentileschi selected her subjects
from the classical and biblical past, but unlike the men, she tended to
focus on depictions of strong—and often wronged—women.

hh The emotion behind some of these images of women was likely more
than academic for Gentileschi. As a young woman, she’d been raped by

92 Renaissance
an apprentice of her father, and she became embroiled in the lengthy
attempt to prosecute him for the crime.

hh That gave her work an element of sensationalism for both contemporaries

and for subsequent generations as well: Her personal life and troubles
loomed larger than her artistic catalogue. That imbalance is beginning
to be righted, as her paintings—including a powerful rendering of the
Judith and Holofernes story and a striking self-portrait of the artist as a
young woman—are heralded as indicators of a complex, creative artist,
rather than simply curiosities.

hh Scholars are increasingly shining light on the lives and projects of these
women. The Emmy-winning program Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of
Florence and the book on which it was based are perhaps the most visible
projects to recover the other side of the Italian artistic Renaissance.

Suggested Reading

Fortune, Invisible Women.

Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci.
Johnson, Renaissance Art.

Questions to Consider

1 What factors do you think explain the celebrity status of

Renaissance artists, then and now? Do we find them so
compelling because of how different they seem from us, or
because of how similar or modern they appear?

2 Why do think the vision of the world created by the artists

of the Italian Renaissance continues to serve as an artistic
standard today?
Lecture 12  Painting in the High Italian Renaissance 93
Lecture 13
Italian Sculpture,
and Music
D u ring the Renaissance, a clear pattern
emerged of Italian civic leaders striving
to present their states as works of art.
Civic environments were carefully
planned to communicate the fruits
of their designers’ study of classical
texts on proportion and space and to
order the world in an aesthetically and
functionally pleasing way. This lecture
takes a look at the work of sculptors
and architects during the Italian
Renaissance, and also spends some time
on music makers.

94 Renaissance
Civic Spaces
hh In public civic spaces in Renaissance Italy, messages of citizens and
patrons and artists intersected in monuments of stone, bronze, marble,
and brick. These were the places in which civic identity and pride were
both imagined and reinforced.

hh For example, in Piazza San Marco, Venetians saw the statue of the
tetrarchs, relocated from a humbled Constantinople in the wake of the
Fourth Crusade. The intertwined figures were designed to memorialize
the ancient leadership of the Roman Empire, and the piece served as a
sign of the contemporary Venice’s maritime and commercial dominance
over the former Mediterranean leader.

hh During the Renaissance, such public pieces spoke volumes about the
ways magistrates and despots wished to create and impart identity
for themselves and their states. However, the narratives patrons
and planners provided were as unstable as many of the Italian city-
states themselves.

hh Take, for example, Florence’s magnificent sculpture David, freed

from a massive block of Carrara marble by Michelangelo. David was
a popular Renaissance subject. The Old Testament shepherd-turned-
king catapulted to fame thanks to his victory in the showdown with
mighty Philistine warrior Goliath.

Multiple Renderings of David

hh Michelangelo wasn’t the only person to sculpt David. The Florentine
government rewarded Donatello’s marble David with a spot in the Piazza
della Signoria. The great Florentine square played host to the most
important of the state’s civic institutions. As fitting this location, the
marble David was provided an inscription reading, in translation, “To
those struggling courageously for the fatherland, God grants help even
against the most terrible enemies.”

hh Just a handful of years before, Florence had itself been granted aid
against a most terrible enemy when Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351–1402)
of Milan died of plague before he could defeat the republic. The right-

Lecture 13  Italian Sculpture, Architecture, and Music 95

triumphing-over-might lesson communicated by David, coupled with
the statue’s placement in the Piazza della Signoria, made the piece an
appropriate civic guardian for the virtuous republic.

hh In addition to the marble one, Donatello also made a bronze David,

which was likely commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici (1389–1464) for
display in the family’s palazzo. It was made during the period when
the integrity of the Florentine republic, having staved off another
challenge from Milan in the 1420s, was being compromised by Cosimo’s
growing influence.

hh This David, too, would wind up featured in the Florentine square. It was
relocated to join its creator’s marble version in the Piazza della Signoria
after the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494. Like the state
itself, such pieces would be liberated from Medici domination.

hh In the wake of the reestablishment of the republic, the magistrates would

again turn to the image of David to dominate this public showplace
of Florentine values. The honor of exemplifying the republic went to
Michelangelo’s massive marble version. Today, the original is housing
in the Uffizi Gallery. Replicas also reside in the piazza and high atop
the hill overlooking the city.

hh Renaissance artists and patrons used the past to inform and understand
their present, a circumstance that imbued public objects and space with
tremendous ideological and practical power. An example is the work of
Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446), who discovered the
laws of perspective and applied them in his designs.

hh The most famous of Brunelleschi’s projects came after he’d returned

to Florence from time in Rome. The task Brunelleschi took up was
a significant public as well as spiritual concern: the completion of
Florence’s cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

96 Renaissance
hh The large space of the center of the cathedral was still exposed to the
elements in the early 15th century, no architect capable of enclosing it
due to the massive weight a dome for the space would have required.
Brunelleschi’s proposed strategy was as innovative as it was impressive—
and it was inspired by the ancients.

hh Brunelleschi designed a huge dome for the cathedral, the largest

built since the days of old Rome’s construction of the Pantheon. It
cleverly utilized ribbed vaulting, an inner and outer shell, and other
techniques that displace some of its weight. Its magnificence dominated
the Florentine horizon and became a source of pride to its residents.

hh The dome of Santa Maria represented the intersection of faith, civic

imperatives and identity, and classicism that would become a feature
of the Renaissance environment. The interplay of these dynamic
Renaissance design forces was also on particular display in Rome, where
Julius II (r. 1503–1513) launched several projects as a patron.

hh Among the spaces whose decoration Julius oversaw were the Sistine
Chapel and the papal apartments in the Vatican Palace. He also oversaw
the laying of the foundation stone for the new St. Peter’s Basilica
in 1506, among other activities.

Lecture 13  Italian Sculpture, Architecture, and Music 97

hh Keep in mind that artists and architects, while creative, were often
restricted by the stipulations of their patrons. That means the
unfettered creativity often associated with the Italian Renaissance can
most prominently be found in its music.

hh A sizable number of classical treatises on musical theory were in

circulation, but these pieces emphasized theory rather than practice.
The ancients had explored the rules of harmony and extolled the virtues
of music, in the form of the grand celestial symphony that ordered the
universe. It was those commentaries they left for future generations.

hh Lost, however, were the actual musical sounds of the ancient world.
Examples of ancient music were no longer extant for Renaissance
musicians to consult. However, because examples of classical music
hadn’t survived antiquity, there was much more freedom for Renaissance
musicians to explore and create.

hh Fifteenth-century music’s forms and functions in the Italian states

exemplified many characteristics of the Renaissance. Religious spaces
were filled with voices, singing the divine service. The proportions of
great cathedrals were devised with sensitivity to the sound of voices in
enclosed spaces.

hh An emphasis on secular themes and settings also helped move music

out of the religious sphere and into the environment of the princely
courts. Music was an important component of the soundscape of courtly
life. Professional musicians found employment in these settings, and
music became increasingly regularized, thanks in part to the growing
popularity and expansion of print.

hh In this atmosphere of increasing professionalism, there was also plenty

of room for the amateur singer and instrumentalist. The cultivated
Italian courtier was expected to be able to number musical proficiency
among his achievements.

98 Renaissance
hh The subject of music comes up in Castiglione’s conduct manual The
Courtier. The participants of Castiglione’s imagined dialogue debate the
merits of music, with the foil Gasparo Pallavicino suggesting that music
was effeminate—perhaps suitable for women, but not men.

hh The rest of the company takes the opposite tack, in defense of music.
Ludovico da Canossa, for example, claims the courtier’s knowledge
must be both theoretical and practical. His defense of music draws on
classical exemplars, even reminding his listeners that Socrates himself
took up a stringed instrument known as the cithern as an old man.

hh In sum, music was a monument of sound. It evoked the desired values

of the ancients even as it allowed its practitioners and hearers to enjoy
and ornament the present.

Suggested Reading

Brown, Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.

King, Brunelleschi’s Dome.
Randolph, Engaging Symbols.

Questions to Consider

1 Have you visited any the monuments mentioned in this

lecture? What messages did they communicate to you
about the Renaissance?

2 Do you think other forms of communication replaced

physical monuments as means by which states disseminate
messages and comment on their values?

Lecture 13  Italian Sculpture, Architecture, and Music 99

Lecture 14
Letters in
the Italian
T h is lecture examines the lives and careers
of a trio of Renaissance authors who used
their words to help write the Renaissance
into the pages of history. The Renaissance
can be seen as a product of a particularly
successful public relations campaign:
It was an age of wonders, genius, gold,
and grace, in no small part because
contemporaries said so—and then left
their assessments to posterity. Scholars
can’t accept these articulations of the
Renaissance at face value, but they can
study them to think about the ways in
which Renaissance writers described their
world. That’s the goal of this lecture.

100 Renaissance
Francesco Datini
hh The correspondence of merchant Francesco Datini (1335–1410) offers
one glimpse of the world of letters that helped mark 14th-century Italy
as a culture on the cusp of becoming expansively literate. Datini’s early
life was shaped by the devastations of the Black Death, which claimed
the lives of three of his siblings, his mother, and his father, a merchant
member of the guild of tavern keepers in the city of Prato.

hh After a period of apprenticeship in Florence, young Datini moved in

1350 to Avignon, then serving as the seat of the papacy at the height of
the so-called Avignon Exile. Datini also acquired in Prato the property
that would develop into his primary residence, the Palazzo Datini.

hh During this early period of Datini’s career, he formed valuable

relationships with men of trade in Avignon, Florence, and Prato, and
he acquired wealth and a sound reputation as a purveyor of arms, art,
and other luxury goods. He also acquired in 1376 his life partner and
wife, Marghertia Bandini.

hh Datini went on to win significant prestige in Prato and a sizable fortune:

His estate was valued at 100,000 florins at the time of his death in
1410. Scholars know much about his life thanks to some 150,000 letters
found under a staircase in his home in the late 19th century. They are
mostly comprised of business correspondences.

hh The reach of Datini’s commercial network is amply demonstrated by

the variety of languages featured in the letters, ranging from the local
Tuscan and other Italian dialects to Latin, Catalan, Castilian, Arabic,
Provencal, and Hebrew.

hh These letters indicate that Datini, and others of his status group of
ambitious merchants and men of commerce, considered letter writing
an essential tool to support their success. Datini and other merchants
considered it important to record their business transactions and
directives as well as their personal thoughts.

Lecture 14  Letters in the Italian Renaissance 101

hh There’s a sense in these materials that the writers considered their
activities, personal and commercial, worthy of recording. For example,
the long and sometimes turbulent marriage between Francesco and
Margherita is charted by this correspondence, and the letters between
husband and wife are also remarkable in their liveliness in expressing
the couple’s affection and frustrations. Datini knew his own mind and
how to formulate his thoughts on the page.

Giorgio Vasari
hh The next writer this lecture turns to is the artist and biographer Giorgio
Vasari. He was born in Arezzo, but his artistic career would soon take
him to Rome and Florence. He was often in the employment of the
Medici, who exercised authority in the early 1530s over both Florence
and the papacy.

hh Vasari was a successful painter, working on frescoes for the Roman

chancery and the town hall in Florence, among other projects. Vasari
achieved prominence as an architect as well. He was commissioned
to complete projects involving public works and urban planning, the
renovation of medieval churches, and a property of Pope Julius III
(r. 1550–1555) on the outskirts of Rome.

hh Vasari’s most substantial contribution

to the Renaissance is The Lives of the
Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and
Architects, first published in 1550.
It was intended to recount the
events of great lives and to inspire
others. Vasari’s work also offers
an insider’s view of the patronage
scene that drove the art production
market, particularly in Florence.

  Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) 

102 Renaissance
hh Vasari offers a chilling assessment of the struggles artists faced to thrive
in an environment that commodified art and its producers: “Florence
treats her craftsmen as time treats its own works, which, when perfected,
it destroys and consumes little by little.”

hh However, Vasari’s Lives also offers lively, splashy accounts of artists’

activities. In his biography of Raphael, for example, Vasari dishes on
an incident of “artistic espionage.” Following a showdown between
Michelangelo and Pope Julius II over the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo
fled Florence. The famous architect of St. Peter’s Basilica, Bramante, had
the keys to the chapel. Bramante gave his friend Raphael special access,
“to the end that he might be able to learn the methods of Michelangelo.”

hh Raphael was profoundly inspired by what he saw, immediately

repainting one of his own recently completed pieces. This revision,
Vasari comments, “made the manner immeasurably better and more
grand, and gave it great majesty.” In an artistic environment that thrived
on competition, Bramante and Raphael’s actions were tantamount to
professional betrayal.

hh Above everything else, Vasari’s great encyclopedia of artists’ biographies

celebrates his own predecessors and contemporaries. He identifies them
as men whose skills make the details of their lives worth knowing.
For example, take this sentence from the opening of his biography of
Leonardo da Vinci:

In him was great bodily strength, joined to dexterity, with

a spirit and courage ever royal and magnanimous; and the
fame of his name so increased, that not only in his lifetime
was he held in esteem, but his reputation became even
greater among posterity after his death.

hh The talents of the Renaissance artists made them geniuses, but it was
Vasari’s words that made them celebrities. Vasari’s descriptions of
the works and lives of artists made them larger than life, and for his
contemporaries, made them living legends.

Lecture 14  Letters in the Italian Renaissance 103

Francesco Guicciardini
hh Another author in the employ of the Medici, at least for a time, was
Florentine historian Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540). Guicciardini’s
efforts changed the field of history itself. His training was extensive,
covering languages, classics, and the law.

hh He entered the service of the restored Florentine republic during a

period in which Medici hegemony was on hiatus. He taught law to
Florentine students at the request of the republican magistrates. He
also traveled to the court of Ferdinand of Aragon (r. 1475–1504) in
1512 as an ambassador.

hh During his absence, the Medici returned to Florence. When

Guicciardini himself traveled to his native city, he found his
opportunities had expanded to include papal service as well, now that
the Medici controlled the throne of St. Peter. The Medici popes Leo X
(r. 1513–1521) and Clement VII (r. 1523–1534) relied on Guicciardini’s
talents in statecraft.

hh The brief resurgence of the Florentine republic in 1527 saw Guicciardini

tarred with the Medici brush as a traitor to the state, but his political
exile was short lived. He returned to the position of trusted advisor. This
time, he served Duke Alessandro de’ Medici. Following Alessandro’s
assassination in 1537, Guicciardini served Cosimo I de’ Medici before
the young grand duke dismissed him from service.

hh Guicciardini personally favored a greater degree of shared elite

governance for Florence, and his writings didn’t shy away from
chastising the personal and political flaws of the Medici. That tension,
between political ideals and realities, animated his writing during his
years in retirement. It was his attempt to make sense of the events of
his own times in his History of Italy that revealed him as one of the most
astute writers of the Italian Renaissance.

hh Guicciardini opens his History with the Medici troubles of the 1490s
and the invasion of Charles VIII of France in 1494, and records his
insights on the turbulent decades that followed. He offers an insider’s
perspective on the events he catalogues.

104 Renaissance
hh Guicciardini excelled in his consideration of causation and context. He
put history into the hands of great men, but he sought to explore their
motivations in both his History of Italy and his History of Florence. For
example, his description of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the History of Florence
reveals care in understanding context and political circumstances.

hh He was a master at setting the scene, describing a city in “a state of

perfect peace” that was “sustained both by its abundant supplies and
its flourishing and well-established business enterprises.” However, the
death of Lorenzo “turned everything upside down.” The Florentine’s
assessment speaks to his understanding of the powerful intersection of
past, present, and future over which historians preside.

Suggested Reading

Mayer and Woolf, eds., The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early

Modern Europe.
Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance.

Questions to Consider

1 How does thinking about written accounts from the

Renaissance as the product of self-fashioning by their
authors problematize the information presented?

2 What does the project of writing as a means of self-

expression suggest to you about the culture of Italian
Renaissance and how it differed from its medieval
predecessor? Why and how did the written word come to
have so much power?

Lecture 14  Letters in the Italian Renaissance 105

Lecture 15
Statecraft: A
New Path
T h is lecture turns its attention to the
feudal kingdoms of the Late Middle Ages
to provide an understanding of what the
lands north of the Alps were like at the
beginning of the Italian Renaissance.
This section of the course marks a new
geographic focus, and that shift has
embedded itself in the nomenclature of
this part of European history: It’s referred
to as the Northern Renaissance. It involved
educational reform and a renewed
interest in classical learning, humanism,
and artistic innovation. The period also
saw the cultural fruits of the movement
of peoples: Italians to the north and
northerners to Italy.

106 Renaissance
Northern Changes
hh When the authority of ancient Rome unraveled in the north, its former
dominions found their way into the hands of peoples known to history
as the barbarians. These were groups of nomadic raiders, many of whom
were put on the move by the greatest barbarian of them all: Attila the
Hun (d. 453).

hh These barbarians saw their world very differently from the Romans, at
least in the beginning. They didn’t have empires or emperors. Instead,
tribal and clan organization was supreme.

Lecture 15  Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path 107

hh The barbarians moved in search of increased safety, increased
opportunity, and other complex reasons. Some settled in Roman lands
at Rome’s invitation. The empire got into a dangerous game of playing
various tribes against one another. That strategy sometimes offered
short-term gains, but more often resulted in disaster. For example, a
disgruntled barbarian coalition defeated the Romans in 378 at the
Battle of Adrianople, and the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410.

hh However, some barbarians saw the advantage of joining Rome and

became Latinized. They settled in Roman lands and served in the
Roman army.

hh The most significant cultural gap was religious: The barbarians were
pagans. In the west, Christian Rome lost its struggle for supremacy
in the 5th century to the pagans. Rome to the east simply went on
expanding and contracting down to 1453. This was Byzantium.

Cultural Changes and Preservation

hh The Renaissance humanists may have deplored the coming of the
barbarians as initiating the loss of all things Roman, but the barbarians
actually preserved a number of key features of the classical world.
For example, they settled down in fixed geographic locations and
built kingdoms.

hh The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes went to the British Isles, where they
overwhelmed the Romano-Brit populations and formed Anglo-Saxon
England. The Visigoths ended up in Iberia, and the Franks went to the
northern part of modern France; from there, they pushed outward to
the south and east.

hh In central Europe and Scandinavia, a number of tribes settled and

jockeyed for power. These tribes also came to embrace Christianity at
varying speeds. For example, the Visigothic state in Iberia embraced
Christianity but subsequently lost power. The author of its undoing
was a newly emergent faith from Arabia: Islam.

108 Renaissance
The Arrival of Islam
hh The 1st-century of Islam was eventful for the fledgling Christian areas.
Within a century of Muhammad’s death, significant portions of the
Mediterranean were lost, including the Vandal kingdom in North
Africa and the Visigothic kingdom in Iberia.

hh The Muslims even sent a raiding party toward the heart of Christian
Europe. Its advance was halted by a Frankish force under the leadership
of Charles Martel. The 732 Battle of Tours helped set in motion a couple
of massive shifts in the development of the Western world.

hh First, the dynasty of Clovis was finished: The ruling Merovingians were
seen to have outlived their usefulness as leaders. It was an impression
aided, if not actually constructed, by their successors, the family of
Charles Martel, known as the Carolingians.

hh Second, that Carolingian usurpation helped cement an important

relationship between Frankish kings and the bishop of Rome. The
papacy recognized the dynasty of Charles’s son Pepin (r. 751–758), and
in return, the Franks assisted the papacy with a host of problems on
the Italian Peninsula, particularly involving a rambunctious barbarian
tribe, the Lombards. In 756, the Donation of Pepin made the pope a
secular prince, with the gift of what become known as the Papal States.

hh The relationship between papacy and Frankish monarchy was enhanced

further during the rule of the greatest Carolingian of them all:
Charlemagne (r. 768–814). Despite later protestations, Charlemagne
found himself crowned king of the Romans at the instigation of Pope
Leo III on Christmas Day in the year 800.

The Vikings
hh There would soon be far more pressing matters to tend to: a new, pagan
menace, rising from the north in the form of the Vikings. The Frankish
kingdom, which had grown under Charlemagne to incorporate much
of modern France and a portion of modern Germany, descended into
royal and aristocratic squabbling.

Lecture 15  Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path 109

hh The squabbling was driven primarily by the tendency of the formerly
barbarian tribes to elect their leaders and to practice partible inheritance
(the practice of giving all heirs a piece of the patrimony). Partible
inheritance sound equitable, but the division of holdings generation
after generation reduced any pretensions of central authority.

hh By the 9th century, the Vikings had Christian Europe in a vice. In

addition to the Vikings, the Muslims were active in the Mediterranean,
and a new pagan menace, the Magyars, were driving in from the east.
Christendom had no real champion. The decentralized holdings of
nobles offered little resistance in the face of such significant threats.

hh In response to the troubles, one of the key organizing principles of the
medieval period was born: feudalism. This was a relationship of mutual
obligation among elites involving the granting of land in return for
military service. Lords offered protection to their vassals, to whom they
gave land (fiefs). Vassals, in return, pledged loyalty to their lords. This
system helped stabilize the lands long enough for the Vikings and the
Magyars to be somewhat pacified through conversion.

hh Feudalism was predicated on intensely personal relationships. Those

feudal relations could establish and sustain order on a small scale. The
trouble was extending authority beyond the local.

hh That brings up the primary political arrangement that dominated the

north in the period leading up to the Renaissance: feudal monarchy.
Powerful lords sought more power, but the more power they gained,
the more distant they were from those over whom they theoretically
had power.

hh The distance was caused by a practice known as subinfeudation.

In essence, vassals began parceling out land to trusted subvassals.
Subvassals sometimes ran into questions of loyalty; for instance, the
situation would be complicated if subvassal were simultaneously pledged
to two vassals who went to war with one another.

110 Renaissance
A Complicated Picture
hh Kings at the top of this complicated chain had quite a challenge in
ensuring loyalty. Feudal monarchy, as a general rule, trended toward
weakness. A survey of the three medieval kingdoms of England, France,
and the German Holy Roman Empire—all formed during the 10th and
11th centuries—demonstrates a handful of persistent troubles that
undermined the acquisition of authority.

hh First, royal succession presented problems. For example, in England,

kings tended to have too few sons—or too many. In the empire, there
was the matter of imperial election—that is, the notion that the German
aristocrats selected their kings. That would eventually solidify in the
13th century into a particular formula, where seven imperial electors
determined the emperor.

hh France alone had success in the heirs department. The house of French
king Hugh Capet (r. 987–996) had remarkable staying power. For almost
350 years, Capetian queens produced male heirs (or were put aside so
that the business of procreation could be completed successfully).

Noble Problems
hh The second complicating factor was the nobility. Like the kings and
like the clerical leadership, nobles fancied themselves natural leaders,
and they liked their autonomy. French nobles picked Hugh Capet,
for example, because they thought he’d leave them alone. They chose
poorly. The Capetian kings would spend much of the Middle Ages
slowly taking land and authority away from the nobles through a series
of marriages, wars, and negotiations.

hh In England, the royal family itself grew massive, thanks to the

enthusiastic activities of Edward III (r. 1327–1377). Competing branches
of the royal family tree gave the ruling monarchs fits.

hh In the empire, the German dukes, too, liked their authority. The failure
of the Saxon and Franconian dynasties to produce heirs allowed the
dukes to meddle in imperial politics because they persisted in exercising
their authority to elect emperors.

Lecture 15  Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path 111

Foreign Entanglements
hh A third issue was foreign entanglements. Holy Roman emperors wished
they were lords of Italy. English kings wished to rule France. French
kings wanted more power in their own lands, but were less distracted
by other lands.

hh For the English and German monarchs, dreams of greatness abroad

often led to compromise or rebellion at home. Take, for example, John
of England (r. 1199–1216), who thirsted for French glory. His legendary
incompetence led his frustrated nobles to engineer a contract known as
Magna Carta to safeguard their rights and curb the abuses of the king.

hh The Germans’ desire for greatness in Italy is directly related to the

fourth issue facing medieval monarchs: how to get along with the
papacy. That was another ingredient into the recipe of feudal monarchy
trending toward weak authority.

New Monarchies
hh Changes were coming in the form of what are known as the New
Monarchies. The goal was simple: Kings wanted to be boss in their
own lands. The emperors kept mucking about in Italy, but in the 15th
century, England gave up the ghost with regard to a combined Anglo-
French monarchy. It allowed them to concentrate on internal control.

hh Their efforts focused on weakening the aristocrats through threats of

financial penalty, legal restrictions, and reduction of their independent
military strength. Another focus was on protecting borders and ensuring
the loyalty of people residing within said borders.

hh The sense of the state was aided by the formation of new, self-conscious
national identities, supported by the rise of the vernacular literary
tradition and other cultural factors. All in all, this approach heralded
the coming of the nation-state: a new political entity shaped by a
singular power but influenced by a growing recognition of the diversity
of peoples in Europe.

112 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan.

O’Meara, Monarchy and Consent.

Questions to Consider

1 Which individuals and developments do you identify

with the Northern Renaissance, and what is your
understanding of the key differences between the Italian
and Northern Renaissance?

2 What do you think distinguished the Italian city-states

from their northern contemporaries at the start of the
Italian Renaissance?

Lecture 15  Renaissance Statecraft: A New Path 113

Lecture 16
T h is lecture focuses on the rivalries
north of the Alps. It’s common to
hear about the Italians as having
created modern politics during the
Renaissance, but it’s important to
recognize the developments of the
northern states as changing the course
of Western political development as
well. The lecture begins on the Iberian
Peninsula and moves on to other areas,
including France, England, and the Holy
Roman Empire.

114 Renaissance
The Iberian Peninsula
hh The medieval history of Iberia was appreciably distinct from that of
its neighbors in Christendom. That’s because for nearly 800 years,
the peninsula was ground zero of a holy war between Christians and
Muslims. It all began when the Christian Visigothic kingdom gave way
in 711 in the face of the first explosive period of Islamic expansion.

hh The Muslims enjoyed many victories during Islam’s first century, but the
unity of their new empire didn’t long survive: By 750, the first dynasty
had fallen and been replaced in the east. The Iberian lands of the west,
however, served as a stronghold of the remnants of the fallen dynasty,
in the form of the caliphate of Córdoba.

hh The presence of a Muslim state in the west was both a practical and an
ideological threat to the newly Christian kingdoms nearby and to the
Christians on the peninsula who wanted their lands returned to their
own governance and faith. The subsequent process was the Reconquista,
a centuries-long recapturing of Iberian lands by Christian leaders.

Lecture 16  European Renaissance Monarchies 115

hh Christian success came in fits and starts. Nevertheless, during the course
of the Middle Ages, the Muslims’ zone of control was slowly reduced
as they were driven down the peninsula. As the Christians gained
land, they created a number of new kingdoms, the most powerful of
which were Castile and Aragon. Portugal gained its independence, as
did Navarre. By the 13th century, only the southern portion of the
peninsula, Granada, remained under Muslim domination.

Isabella and Ferdinand

hh The Iberian kingdoms shared many features, but they were not unified.
However, the middle of the 15th century saw the formation of a Spanish
power alliance. The partners were Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand
of Aragon. The former was the heiress of the greatest of the Spanish
kingdoms, and the latter controlled Naples and nearby Sicily as well as
other Mediterranean islands in addition to Aragon.

hh Their marriage in 1469 brought a significant degree of unity to the

Spanish kingdoms, although it’s still anachronistic to speak of a singular
Spain in this period. The various kingdoms retained, among other
things, their own legal and legislative customs as well as separate systems
of taxation.

hh Aside from their famous patronage of Genoese explorer Christopher

Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella’s largest impact came courtesy of
their religious policies. They oversaw the final stage of the Reconquista:
In 1492, the final Muslim stronghold of Granada fell. The same year
saw Ferdinand and Isabella expel approximately 200,000 Jews from the
Spanish lands as well, ordering the Jews to leave their wealth behind.

hh The drive for religious purity was in fact a key feature of Spanish policy
under Ferdinand and Isabella. Worried that Jews who’d converted to
Christianity secretly remained loyal to their former religion, the Spanish
pair sought and received permission from Pope Sixtus IV to establish
the Inquisition in their lands in the early 1480s. This worry extended
to recently converted Muslims as well—the Moriscos.

116 Renaissance
hh The Inquisition created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, where
neighbor reported on neighbor. Officials could wield their considerable
authority for personal gain. It gave an element of militancy to Spanish
faith long after the Reconquista was over.

hh A later momentous event for all of Europe was the death of Ferdinand
in 1516. The inheritor of the Spanish kingdoms was the same young
man who would also rule the Low Countries, already a prosperous
northern trading center, and the Habsburg lands of Central Europe. He
was Charles I of Spain, who was shortly elected holy Roman emperor.

hh England’s 15 century had also been a tumultuous one. The early

years featured an aristocratic usurpation. The trouble over the crown

stemmed in no small part from the robustness of Edward III’s family
tree. Although Edward’s medieval predecessors had sometimes struggled
to provide male heirs, he didn’t suffer that particular problem.

hh His most capable heir, Edward, died before his father, leaving behind
him an imperious, unpopular son who ruled as Richard II (r. 1377–
1399). Resistance to Richard’s reign led to the ascension of Henry
Bolingbroke. He ruled as Henry IV from 1399 to 1413.

hh This rupture to the line of succession would have disastrous ramifications

throughout the century that followed, igniting a series of conflicts as
various branches of the royal family fought for supremacy. It hadn’t
appeared that would be the case in the 1410s, when Henry IV’s son
and namesake became England’s king.

hh Henry V (r. 1413–1422) seemed to be putting England on a path to

its greatest destiny: His resumption of the Hundred Years’ War with
France saw England’s stunning upset victory at Agincourt in 1415 and
set the stage for the unification of the crowns of England and France.
Henry V’s early death of dysentery, however, left his infant son to rule as
Henry VI (r. 1422–1461 and 1470–1471). English victory was not to be.

Lecture 16  European Renaissance Monarchies 117

hh The unraveling of England’s cause was the result of many factors, not
least of which was the charismatic Joan of Arc, whose visions and valor
turned the tide. The final battle in the long conflict came in 1453, with
England’s holdings in France slashed and its identity forever changed.
War with France, though, would quickly be replaced by civil conflict.

Civil Conflict in England

hh England’s loss of continental territories and Henry VI’s incompetence
rankled the English aristocrats. One of them was Richard, duke of York.
He was himself a grandson of Edward III, and he drew on his heritage
and extensive holdings to position himself as the leader of England.

hh The ascendancy of the House of York at the expense of the king and
the House of Lancaster initiated the Wars of the Roses, a three-decade-
long conflict that locked English aristocrats in mortal combat. Richard,
duke of York, never achieved his bid for the crown, but two of his sons
would rule England.

hh The first, Edward IV (r. 1460–1470 and 1471–1483), demonstrated

tremendous promise. He seemed poised, with the birth of two sons, to
bequeath England with a dynasty strong enough to forestall challenges.

hh However, Edward’s final years saw the king lose his vigor and descend
into dissolute self-indulgence. He died young, leaving behind the royal
siblings. They disappeared under the guardianship and protection of
their uncle, a man who is often dubbed the most evil king in English
history: Richard III (r. 1483–1485).

hh It’s uncertain exactly what role Richard had in the disappearance of his
nephews. However, it’s easier to gauge Richard’s failure to secure the
crown from the ambitions of a distant Lancastrian claimant, Henry
Tudor (r. 1485–1509). Richard was killed in a clash between his army
and Henry’s in 1485.

118 Renaissance
Henry VII
hh Henry Tudor, now reigning as Henry VII, had a tall order in front of
him. Henry’s problems were many, and his solutions were a mixture of
innovation and tradition. To secure his throne from other claimants,
Henry put the nobles on lockdown. The Court of Star Chamber—so
named for the stars on the ceiling of its meeting room in Westminster—
cracked down on aristocratic shows of defiance of the new king and
his rule. It demanded obedience and punished dissent with crushing
financial penalties.

hh For a man who’d come to power by war, Henry was cautious in his
foreign policy. Peace was more profitable than war, so Henry built
bridges with fellow powers.

hh Another element of Henry’s strategy to stabilize his authority involved

marriage. He took as his bride Elizabeth of York, one of the daughters
of Edward IV and sister of the two missing princes, whose absence
became permanent. Four Tudor children survived into their teenage
years, and each was matched with a rival power.

hh Henry VII created other powerful legacies that would shape the Tudor
century. He preferred a small privy council of professional men to the
older curia regis comprised of nobles. Henry avoided Parliament when he
could, but he and his councilors expanded the reach of royal governance
and curtailed autonomy where it existed.

hh The civil court system grew, as did the administrative scope of the
Justices of the Peace, local, amateur governors who enforced peace and
good order throughout the realm. When he died in 1509, Henry VII
left behind a stable, orderly, pacified England—and a full royal treasury.

hh France was the greatest beneficiary of England’s 15th-century unraveling;
as England’s cause in the Hundred Years’ War waned, it was France’s
that waxed. After disastrous defeats at the hands of Henry V and his
winning of the concession from Charles VI that the French crown
would pass to Henry and his successors, France recovered.

Lecture 16  European Renaissance Monarchies 119

hh The man Joan of Arc helped make king, Charles VII (r. 1422–1461),
may have struggled initially to secure his throne. However, once in
power, he set about righting his ship of state. To his advantage was a
French taxation system that privileged the king’s ability to prosecute
war. The representative body that emerged in medieval France, the
Estates General, guaranteed the monarchs certain exactions.

hh Charles developed a permanent royal army, the first of its kind in the
region. He also gained useful concessions from the pope that helped
nationalize the selection of clerical officials. Royal power also expanded
at the expense of the aristocracy: One of the great medieval French
royal projects was the expansion of the monarchs’ control beyond the
Ile de Paris, the traditional hereditary domain of the Capetian kings.

The Holy Roman Empire

hh The German-speaking lands known as the Holy Roman Empire didn’t
have a great track record for monarchical strength. Because of problems
with dynastic succession, rambunctious nobility, a longstanding rivalry
with the papacy, and dreams of Italy, the medieval emperors tended to
be weak kings.

hh While there was an expectation that heredity would play a significant

role in succession, the empire retained the practice of electing their
leaders, which was common among the barbarians who settled those
lands during late antiquity. In the empire, seven electors enjoyed the
power of selecting the next monarch.

hh The archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne cast votes in the imperial
election, as did the elector of Saxony, the margrave of Brandenburg,
the count of the Palatinate, and the king of Bohemia. However, Holy
Roman Emperor Charles V was ruler of more than the Empire.

hh He inherited the Spanish lands and the Low Countries as well

as the Aragonese Mediterranean holdings. Overseas, his captains
were establishing what would become a vast and lucrative empire in
the Americas.

120 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Major, From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy.

Mulgan, The Renaissance Monarchies.
Zmora, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe.

Questions to Consider

1 What role do you think internal 15th-century challenges

played in shaping the northern monarchs’ quest for power
during the subsequent century? What weaknesses or crises
were they seeking to address?

2 What major differences in statecraft and policymaking

do you see between the Italian states and the northern
monarchies surveyed here? How different was government
in action in these areas?

Lecture 16  European Renaissance Monarchies 121

Lecture 17
The Birth of
the Christian
T h is lecture focuses on the cultural
and intellectual developments of the
Northern Renaissance (also known as
the Christian Renaissance). The lecture
starts by exploring the initiation of
the northern rebirth, focusing on the
texts and methods that led to a cultural
awakening. It also introduces some
of the prominent northern humanists
as well as the ideas and ideals that
animated on their commentary.

122 Renaissance
Modern Devotion
hh In the northern Europe of the Late Middle Ages, many Christians
embarked on a quest to enhance their faith in ways that emphasized
individual piety rather than collective obedience. The quest for a
good, pious life in challenging times led to the proliferation of new
expressions of spiritual commitment.

hh The opportunity to embrace a life of penitential observance without

the abjuration of the material world and family was offered by the
tertiary orders attached to the Dominicans and Franciscans. This was
a powerful outlet for those seeking greater spiritual engagement. The
confraternal movement, popular in Italy and elsewhere, was linked to
tertiary orders and emphasized piety and charity.

hh However, an alternate path came through the teachings of Gerard

Groote (1340–1384), a lawyer-turned-Carthusian-monk who failed
to find the spiritual satisfaction he sought within the confines of the
monastery. He embarked on a faith quest, leaving the cloister behind
him and pioneering what came to be known as the Devotio Moderna
(the Modern Devotion).

hh Groote’s teachings emphasized the value of simplicity, contemplation,

and the study of religious texts. It promoted an inward piety that
avoided the ritual and the habitual in favor of the active pursuit of
personal spiritual development, and it had great appeal for both men
and women.

hh The most famous practitioner of the Modern Devotion was Thomas

à Kempis (1380–1471). His De Imitatione Christi, a text depicting the
author’s journey toward a more intimate relationship with God, was
profoundly influential and is still one of the most popular works of
Christian devotional literature.

Lecture 17  The Birth of the Christian Renaissance 123

The Movement Grows
hh The surge in lay piety acted as the stimulus for a new kind of educational
commitment that helped build a foundation for the Northern
Renaissance. Groote’s popular vision of piety involved education; the
inward meditation on texts, particularly the Bible, required of a good
Christian demanded it.

hh The Modern Devotion gained adherents in the most urbanized area

of Europe outside of Italy—that is, the northwest corner known as the
Low Countries. Those who followed Groote’s instructional model
called themselves the Brethren of the Common Life. They devoted
themselves to their piety and lived in common, free of the distractions
and divisiveness of private possessions.

hh The movement, which thrived between the 14th and 16th centuries,
created some of the finest schools in northern Europe. One of their
students was the man dubbed the prince of humanists: Desiderius
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536).

hh Erasmus captured the inquisitive, questioning, and critical spirit
associated with the Italian Renaissance in his work. After his early
education, he was ordained a priest. A well-traveled man, he found
inspiration and edification in the Greek and Latin classics.

hh He wrote an educational treatise dedicated to Emperor Charles V and

took up war and international policies among his many themes, but on
the whole, he was less interested than those in the south in the power
of the classics to provide a foundation for the contemporary revival of
ancient political values and forms.

hh Erasmus believed that ancient scholarship had an even higher purpose

than political concerns: It could be used to prompt a moral revival.
Erasmus’s time in Venice in the early 16th century offers one example
of his efforts. Since the fledging efforts of print pioneer Johannes
Gutenberg in the 15th century, printing had become big business.

124 Renaissance
  Erasmus (1466–1536) 

hh By 1500, roughly 1,000 print shops dotted the map of Europe. These
shops had produced an astounding 20 million copies of books during
the second half of the 15th century. That was a figured dwarfed by the
estimated 150–200 million copies produced during the next century.

Lecture 17  The Birth of the Christian Renaissance 125

hh Erasmus spent time during his sojourn in Venice in the shop of one of
the most influential printers of all: Aldus Manutius (1449–1515), who
had a humanist education himself. His workshop was more than a
place of business; it was a vibrant community of scholars and craftsmen
whose energies and efforts were altering the cultural and intellectual
landscape of Europe.

hh Erasmus published two of his key texts with Manutius. Those were
1500’s Adages, a text of sayings culled from his comprehensive review
of classical literature, and 1512’s De copia, a Latin manual of style
and exempla.

hh The highly influential text published between the two, Enchiridion militis
christiani (The Handbook of the Christian Knight/Soldier), gives a taste
of Erasmus’s ideas about Christian living. It required diligence and
vigilance: The good Christian was akin to a knight, not in the sense of
external militancy but in terms of internal discipline. Erasmus called for
a Christian rebirth repeatedly in his impressive collection of writings.

Beyond Matters of Faith

hh Northern humanists expanded the horizons of their scholarship beyond
matters of faith. German humanism, for example, has an identifiably
proto-national bent to it. Conrad Celtis saw cultural development as a
contest. He pitted Germans against Italians for supremacy, exhorting
them to take up the legacy of the barbarians who’d terrorized Rome,
this time to inflict intellectual victories.

hh Perhaps the most famous humanist public servant was England’s

Thomas More, chancellor during part of the reign of Henry VIII.
More engaged in contemporary debates about law, order, justice, and
good governance, topics that found a particularly lively, imaginative
expression in his Utopia.

126 Renaissance
hh Utopia is a complex combination of fanciful fiction and political
philosophy that manages to speak to a particular historical moment
and to remain timeless. Its account of an island people somewhere
in the New World and yet nowhere, per the title, stands nearly every
contemporary social, economic, and political convention on its head.

hh There’s no private property, and the Utopians live communally in well-

ordered dwellings, distributed to ensure the proper ratio of people to
resources. Greed is unknown. Universal healthcare is provided, and a
plurality of worship practices is tolerated.

hh The opening outlines many of contemporary England’s ills. Many

of these would have resonated with a wider European readership,
particularly narrator Raphael Hythloday’s commentary on crime and
punishment. More’s text also rails against the agricultural practice of
fencing off land previously reserved for common use to create more
pasture by those who sought to enrich themselves and impoverish
others in the process.

hh More was not alone in his advocacy for greater attention to matters
of social justice. A group of Tudor statesmen and humanists known
collectively as the Commonwealth Men sought to address the social
ills of their day through government intervention. They believed the
truest purpose of the state was to advance the welfare of its subjects.

hh As a consequence, they took measures like advocating stronger

interference of the state in the economy. They also pioneered ideas
about government’s responsibility to alleviate poverty that culminated
in the first, tentative steps toward one of the Renaissance’s greatest
social experiments: the English Poor Laws.

hh These laws took many forms during the 16th century and beyond, but
their underlying principle—that government should take up the duty
of providing charity to its most needy citizens—was linked in key ways
to the larger reform agenda of the Northern humanists.

Lecture 17  The Birth of the Christian Renaissance 127

Suggested Reading

Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe.

Houston, Literacy in Early Modern Europe.
Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe.

Questions to Consider

1 Erasmus is called the prince of humanists. Do you think

he’s deserving of that title, or should it be awarded to one
of the Italian humanists?

2 What do you think most distinguished the Christian

humanists from their Italian counterparts? How did they
appear to put the past to work in their own times?

128 Renaissance
Lecture 18
Art and Music
T h e Northern Renaissance shared
much with the Italian Renaissance,
but the two also differed in key ways.
That familiar rubric of similarity
and difference exists concerning the
subject of art as well. The northern
painters, sculptors, and musicians
were also in search of commissions,
but in the process of giving artistic
expression, they and their patrons left
behind a dazzling legacy of what it
meant to be human in the 15th, 16th, and
17th centuries.

Lecture 18  Northern Renaissance Art and Music 129

Matthias Grünewald
hh Artist Matthias Grünewald (c. 1470–1528) created what is considered
his greatest masterpiece for the Monastery of St. Anthony at Isenheim.
That was a town in the Alsatian region of what is today northeastern
France but was in the early 16th century part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The masterpiece was the altarpiece to be displayed in the sanctuary of
the church.

hh Contemporary altarpieces produced in Italy had begun prioritizing

the presentation of a single scene. However, Grünewald favored the
old style, featuring polyptychs, or many scenes, flanked by wings with
additional images. These wings could be opened and closed as suited
to both the preservation and the mystery of the piece.

hh For his monastic patrons at Isenheim, Grünewald created a massive piece

depicting the crucifixion of Christ on its exterior, with St. Sebastian
on the left and St. Anthony on the right. When the outer wings were
opened, scenes honoring the Virgin Mary’s life were revealed. Finally,
with the opening of the innermost wings, a series of carved and gilded
figures are flanked by painted scenes from the life of St. Anthony, a
fitting thematic focus to honor the monastery’s patron saint.

hh The outer scenes reveal important points about the form, function,
and contexts of Northern Renaissance art. The crucifixion is not a
serene sacrifice on display, in which a dying Christ manages to be
elevated beyond mortal pains. Instead, this is a suffering Christ, his
body covered in suppurating wounds.

hh Meanwhile, Grünewald’s depiction of St. Anthony’s image captures

temptation and torment. He looks out with a serene expression, but a
demon appears over his shoulder to menace him.

hh The images reminded the viewer of the biblical lesson that torment was
purposeful, with the ability to purify and even sanctify. It would also
have communicated the message that the mortal world was transitory
and that all suffering would cease. That would have been quite
impactful for audiences at the time, whose world involved hardships
such as the plague.

130 Renaissance
The Function of Art
hh Art had purpose and function during the Renaissance. As a
consequence, it offers a valuable window into the decorations of
daily living and the devotional life of past people. Exactly what and
who were being celebrated in the north had much to do with the
context and circumstances of political, religious, economic, and social
conditions there.

hh Unlike the Italian city-states, many of which had powerful republican

political traditions, in much of the north, monarchs ruled. They were
the ones who paid for sumptuous tapestries, paintings, and other fine
objects to celebrate their wealth and to project their power.

hh Interestingly, though, it was in two parts of Europe without the tradition

of strong monarchy that artistic activity flourished and that created the
look and feel of the Northern Renaissance: the cities of Flanders in the
Low Countries of northwestern Europe and those of the Holy Roman
Empire. These two areas enjoyed an economic prosperity from maritime
trade and commercial enterprise that allowed their elites the ability to
underwrite the culture of the Northern Renaissance.

hh Artists were active elsewhere, but it was Flemish and German artists
whose work would be most in vogue in the north. They frequently
found employment in foreign courts, particularly England and France,
exporting their signature styles throughout the northern lands. Their
style’s most identifiable emphasis was realism.

People in Northern Art

hh Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525–1569) turned his artistic
eye to the rustic people in the countryside. His paintings captured the
rhythms of their daily lives, with activities like dancing, socializing,
and working. It was a subject previously considered unworthy of artistic
comment, but pieces like Children’s Games and The Peasant Wedding serve
as a glorious celebration of human life.

Lecture 18  Northern Renaissance Art and Music 131

hh People populated northern European art. Portraiture had far more
cache among northern artists than those in Italy. Italian artists
considered portrait art more mechanical and less dynamic than other
projects, although many Italian workshops bustled with activity to meet
commissions for portraits.

hh In the north, though, portrait artists were celebrated as such, including

the Germans Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) and Hans Holbein
the Younger (1497–1543). The lives and careers of both men were
powerfully shaped by the advent of the Reformation.

hh Cranach came to serve as an illustrator of the Reformation. His studies

of early Reformation theologians, including Luther himself, helped
communicate the dignity of these leading figures and, by extension,
the righteousness of their cause.

hh Hans Holbein fled the upheaval of Reformation at home. He ended up

spending a significant portion of his working life in England, where he
was witness to another Reformation at the court of Henry VIII.

hh Holbein is blamed, somewhat unfairly, for the shortest and arguably the
most unsuccessful of Henry’s marriages, this one to the German princess
Anne of Cleves. Holbein was commissioned to paint Anne during the
marriage negotiations, as the king had yet to see his proposed bride.
Holbein’s portrait shows a demure young woman, pleasing enough to
the king to elicit his agreement to the match.

hh Henry was far more impressed with Holbein’s image of Anne than with
Anne herself. The marriage couldn’t be called off by the time Henry
came face to face with Anne. However, it was hastily undone, and Anne
was given some nice country estates to retire to, while Henry searched
for his fifth wife.

132 Renaissance
Music of the Northern Renaissance
hh The court of the dukes of Burgundy served as a hive of accomplished
visual artists. The dukes also employed musicians, including Guillaume
Dufay (c. 1400–1474), considered by many to be the most important
composer of his era.

hh Dufay was born in the north, but he traveled to and lived in Italy for
a while. That circumstance apparently helped him generate a hybrid
musical style, a blend of the late medieval sound popular in France and
of the early Italian Renaissance.

hh Dufay moved nimbly between the secular and the sacred, composing
music for both. One of his musical innovations involved replacing the
medieval chants traditionally used for the Mass with more dynamic
and complex secular tunes.

hh Dufay composed popular music as well, pieces that were to accompany

the feasting and social gatherings in courts and in the homes of
prosperous merchants. He helped spearhead a new direction for music,
away from religious spaces and into civic and domestic spaces.

hh The other great northern composer was Frenchman Josquin des Prez
(1450–1521). His talents were greatly admired among contemporaries,
who saw him as a visionary. Josquin’s fame stretched the length of
Christendom, although comparatively little is known about his personal
life. Among his many patrons were Ercole d’Este of Ferrara and France’s
Louis XII.

hh Like Dufay, Josquin contributed both sacred and secular music in a

prolific career. His polyphonic sound added a complexity to vocal music
that inspired many subsequent composers.

Lecture 18  Northern Renaissance Art and Music 133

Suggested Reading

Atlas, Renaissance Music.

Borchert, Van Eyck to Dürer.
Haribson, The Mirror of the Artist.

Questions to Consider

1 Do you include the work of northern artists in your roster

of most famous Renaissance images, or do you associate
northern art more readily with the Middle Ages or the
Reformation? Why do you think Renaissance art is
considered predominantly Italian?

2 What factors do you think best explain the Northern

Renaissance’s juxtaposition of the sacred and the secular?

134 Renaissance
Lecture 19
and Drama
T h e rebirth of the classical world and
its values in the Renaissance led to
a preoccupation with uncovering
and articulating a better, richer
understanding of the human
experience. This lecture focuses on
Renaissance authors and playwrights
who offered entertainments and
edification through the written and
performed word.

Lecture 19  Northern Renaissance Literature and Drama 135

Vernacular Language and Christine de Pizan
hh The rise and impact of vernacular language is an important factor
in Renaissance writing. Greek and Latin mattered in the north, as
did Hebrew and other ancient languages. However, it was vernacular
language that allowed northern authors to voice ideas about their world
in vibrant new ways, to rewrite the rules of language, and to add to
the lexicon.

hh In the final years of 14th-century France, a celebrated poet, biographer,

and social critic embarked on a literary career that would score offers
of support from aristocratic and royal patrons as close as Burgundy
and as distant as Milan and England. Her name was Christine de
Pizan (1364–1430), and while many French writers deserve credit for
helping popularize literary French, Pizan’s contributions may be the
most enduring.

hh Following the early death of her husband, 25-five-year-old Pizan needed

a means of supporting her young children and her aging mother. She
turned to writing and achieved early success as a poet before authoring
advice books and treatises on education.

Along with Christine de

Pizan, another notable
French writer was François
Rabelais. His tales of
the giants Gargantua
and Pantagruel feature
unflattering depictions
of lawyers and clerics,
and his giants discuss
serious business.

  François Rabelais (1494–1553) 

136 Renaissance
hh In what are perhaps her most well-known writings today, she repeatedly
and systematically challenged contemporary misogyny and defended
women’s virtues and valor. She helped initiate a debate that would
stretch the length of the Renaissance period and is known as the querelle
des femmes (the “woman question”). At its core were rival interpretations
about the nature and abilities of women.

hh Opponents pursued their positions in a call-and-response fashion. The

need to advance, defend, or refute positions required more and more
words, a structure that shaped the development of vernacular language.

Don Quixote
hh Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote also made use of the
vernacular—in this case, Castilian—to create memorable characters and
to comment on and question contemporary social conventions. The
young years of Cervantes (1547–1616) are cloaked in mystery, but he
ended up in Italy, joining the Spanish army in Naples.

hh This was a decision that put him in action in an epic clash between
Spain and an assembled coalition of Christian allies against the
Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. He received several
wounds during the Spanish victory and considered his service in the
conflict a source of pride. It also shaped ideas of military valor and the
rigors of war that permeated his later writings.

hh After a lengthy recuperation, Cervantes returned to service and saw

additional action before his ship was seized by pirates in 1575. Cervantes
was sold into slavery and ransomed by his family five years later. His
captivity was another harrowing experience that found its way into his
fictional output.

hh Cervantes later worked for the state as a tax collector and procurer of
supplies for the assembling of the fabled Spanish Armada. Irregularities
in his accounts led to his incarceration and dismissal from government
service. He and his household struggled to make ends meet, descending
into poverty.

Lecture 19  Northern Renaissance Literature and Drama 137

hh That poverty was unrelieved by the appearance of part one of Don
Quixote in 1605 and part two 10 years later. The book, though, was
wildly successful. It clearly struck a chord with contemporary audiences,
in part because of its compulsively readable style and in part because of
its bold mockery of old-fashioned chivalric tales.

hh Don Quixote is an empathetic survey of a Spain at once master of

the world and teetering on the brink of financial ruin and political
weakness. Cervantes infuses the delusional, idealistic character Don
Quixote and his simple squire Sancho Panza with an undeniable dignity
that still appeals to audiences. Along with many other Spanish writers,
Cervantes created enthusiasm in reading audiences for the vernacular.

hh Vernacular language was important in England, too. It had flourished
in the 14th century, particularly in the hands of William Langland
(1332–1386), author of the morality tale Piers the Plowman, and Geoffrey
Chaucer (1340–1400), author of The Canterbury Tales. A bewildering
fusion of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and French influences, vernacular
English continued to lag behind Latin as a literary language until the
second half of the 16th century, though.

hh The literary Renaissance was slow in coming to England, partly the

product of a xenophobia sparked by Henry VIII’s marital misadventures.
However, during the reign of Henry’s daughter Elizabeth, a generation
of literary luminaries created a truly English Renaissance. They wrote
in a delightfully unstable fashion.

William Shakespeare
hh English poet and playwright William Shakespeare is rather challenging
to track down in the historical record, especially at what were likely
really significant periods in his early life, as when he first lived and
worked in London. There are some intriguing holes in Shakespeare’s
life story, explored by Stephen Greenblatt in his Will in the World.

138 Renaissance
hh This course will leave the thorny questions of authorship—that is, if
Shakespeare was really Shakespeare—to the experts. Instead, this course
suggests that if William Shakespeare was indeed the son of a glover
and alderman in Stratford—locally, but not university, educated—those
circumstances might serve as evidence of how broadly the fashions and
passions of the Renaissance permeated English society.

hh Even this middling-status young man, whose father’s fortunes steadily

sank during Shakespeare’s teen years, came into contact with the
means and motives for getting to know the ancients. Shakespeare was
a shameless borrower of plots. Like many of his contemporaries, he was
fascinated and inspired by classical settings.

hh However, Shakespeare’s writings weren’t merely slavish replications of

past tales. They were modulated and reformulated for his audiences
and times. Shakespeare was himself an entrepreneur in the theatre
business; it was in the best interest of his bottom line that his plays
speak to his audiences.

hh Shakespeare’s plays cheekily examined timeless human faults and flaws,

but they also turned a critical eye to current circumstance. Verona and
Padua in his hands had curious similarities to London and its environs.
Contemporaries used Shakespeare’s work to communicate messages of
their own, as when the supporters of Robert Devereux, second earl of
Essex (1565–1601), commissioned a performance of Richard II on the
eve of the ill-fated rebellion that led to Essex’s execution as a traitor.

hh Shakespeare’s history play, which recounted Richard’s fall from

power and abdication partly as the result of bad advice, represented
for ringleaders of the Essex rebellion a lesson for reigning monarch
Elizabeth. The lesson was: Beware of taking bad advice or you might
end up like Richard.

hh The timeliness of Shakespeare’s language is also clear. For example, he

reveled in dirty jokes, puns, insults, and street slang. When the right
words couldn’t be found, Shakespeare simply made them up. English
was a growing, breathing entity on his pages.

Lecture 19  Northern Renaissance Literature and Drama 139

Suggested Reading

Altmann and McGrady, ed., Christine de Pizan.

Greenblatt, Will in the World.
Wyatt, The Italian Encounter with Tudor England.

Questions to Consider

1 Does the rise of the vernacular indicate a shift

in Renaissance sensibilities, away from the focus
on classicism?

2 What role do vernacular plays and stories have in shaping

identifiably national identities?

140 Renaissance
Lecture 20
Did Women Have
a Renaissance?
T h is lecture examines what is known as
the woman question, a consideration
of the virtues and vices of women
that played out during the centuries
covered by this course. It begins with an
overview of the historical context and
then discusses the broad contours of the
woman question as it developed during
the course of a public literary debate
about both liberal education and
contemporary perceptions of women’s
abilities and deficiencies. Along the
way, the lecture considers whether
women had a Renaissance.

Lecture 20  Did Women Have a Renaissance? 141

hh The educational changes that accompanied the Renaissance constituted
an academic revolution in many key ways. Consider Pico della
Mirandola’s confident assertion that man had been granted the power
to be whatever he wished, noting that if he cultivated his intellectual
ability, “he will be an angel and the son of God. Who could not help
but admire this great shape-shifter?”

hh This categorically and confidently masculine orientation of the

language employed by the humanists suggests that women were missing
from both the training in and the exercise of the new learning. That
circumstance led scholar Joan Kelly to ask famously in 1977: Did women
have a Renaissance? Kelly answered her own query with a resounding
no, but subsequent scholars have offered alternative interpretations
and pioneered research methods designed to uncover the educational
changes that women were experiencing.

hh They’ve initiated a lively debate on women and their experiences during

the Renaissance. Debating women is at the heart of the querelle des femmes,
the French phrase translated most frequently as “the woman question.”

hh The question of woman’s nature was not unique to the Renaissance;

the early modern debate was shaped in part by a series of medieval texts
that emphasized the evil, cunning, and secretive nature of women. New
to the Renaissance era, however, was the print revolution, which began
to publicize and popularize the arguments of the debate.

hh The chief points of contention in the early modern querelle involved
women’s nature, authority, and education. Participants in the debate,
both men and women, employed various argumentative and rhetorical
strategies in their writing either to make or to respond to defamatory
claims against women.

hh In Giovanni Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris (On Famous Women),

completed in the 1360s, the Italian writer established many of
the strategies employed by other authors. Boccaccio’s piece, often

142 Renaissance
considered the first of the querelle texts, consists of biographies of 106
women identified as exemplary by their performance of the roles of
wife, mother, ruler, and warrior.

hh It was a celebration of women, tempered by contemporary gender ideals.

Some of Boccaccio’s famous women were laudable in areas traditionally
associated with women—motherhood, for example. Others, although
still famously exemplary, were unnatural for the day, such as those
who ruled over men. On Famous Women created a pattern of discussing
women through the lens of decidedly atypical women of the past, often
identified in contemporary parlance as “worthies.”

Italian Women
hh Women in the courts of Italy were applauded for their education and
refinement. Other women in the Italian Renaissance who didn’t possess
access to such noble environments also took up subjects in which female
proficiency was dismissed by Florentine chancellor Leonardo Bruni as
a “vain display.” A handful of women were allowed a masculine style of
education, focusing on the typically masculine disciplines of classical
languages, oratory, history, and moral philosophy.

hh Taken collectively, the careers of such women in the Italian Renaissance

were relatively undistinguished. In key ways, the deck was stacked against
them. Most engaged in academic pursuits for only a brief time, as girls
and young women, and the reasons behind that brevity are important.

hh First, only unmarried women possessed the freedom to pursue a

humanist education. Societal norms during the Renaissance allowed no
place for studious wives, whose energies and efforts were to be directed
toward the care of husbands, children, and households.

hh Second, the primary goal of humanist education was to train individuals

to impact the world around them, particularly through service to the
state. Women, however, were conclusively barred from a life of public
action by a contemporary theory of femininity that prized chastity,
silence, and obedience.

Lecture 20  Did Women Have a Renaissance? 143

Isotta Nogarola
hh It’s not surprising that the learned women of the early Italian Renaissance
focused much of writings on the defense of women. Some sought to
rehabilitate their sex through a reconsideration of the most significant
extant text: the Bible. The figure garnering the greatest attention was
Eve, whose role in the creation story as a physical derivative of Adam
reflected her subordinate status.

hh A notable writer in this area was Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466) of Verona.

Nogarola took up the task of examining ideas about women in an
exchange with male scholar Ludovico Foscarini (1409–1480). The
specific subject was original sin.

hh While the conventional view held that Eve was more culpable than
her mate for the loss of paradise because she’d succumbed to the wiles
of the serpent, Nogarola countered that Eve was in fact less culpable.
Nogarola’s position was that, as a woman, Eve was naturally more
susceptible to temptation than Adam.

hh Conceding the inherent frailty of the archetypal woman may not seem
indicative of a vigorous defense of Eve and her descendants. However,
Nogarola’s work was nonetheless extraordinary. It represented an
eloquent and learned attack on traditional ideas about the origin of
female inferiority that drew on her training in history and on her
critical analysis and application of the writings of ancient authorities.

Other Learned Women

hh Other Italian women took up the cause by emphasizing women’s
capacity for advancement, too. Laura Cereta of Brescia highlighted the
strictures placed on learned women by men. She also pointed out the
detrimental role of other women, who struck out against those they saw
as violating traditional roles associated with their own sex.

hh In an oration in praise of the liberal arts, learned woman Cassandra

Fedele of Venice delivered a sensitive reflection on the intangible
benefits of learning. She wrote, “even if the study of literature offers

144 Renaissance
women no rewards or honors, I believe women must
nonetheless pursue and embrace such studies alone
for the pleasure and enjoyment they contain.”

hh Learned women of the later Italian

Renaissance submitted more pointed
critiques of the constraints that posed
obstructions to female success and
equality. Both The Worth of Women by
Moderata Fonte and The Nobility and
Excellence of Women and the Defects and
Vices of Men by Lucrezia Marinella struck
out at contemporary assumptions they felt
limited female achievement. In the process,
they mounted spirited defenses of women’s
many virtues.
  Laura Cereta (1469–1499) 
hh Examples of learned women can be found, too, from the Northern
Renaissance. Margaret More (1505–1544), the oldest daughter of famed
English statesman and writer Thomas More, was educated by a private
tutor in Latin, Greek, and the humanities.

hh Much of her writing has been lost, but letters written to her father
during his imprisonment prior to his execution by King Henry VIII
and her translation of Erasmus’s Precatio Dominica have survived. The
latter text earns her the distinction of having published her work in
her own lifetime. It was a practice her father cautioned her against, on
the grounds that it would expose her to censure.

The 16th Century

hh As the debate on women advanced further into the 16th century, it
took on a greater urgency, in part the product of a shift from theory to
practice with regard to women’s abilities. The century witnessed queens
regnant and regent in a number of European states. Included among
them were Catherine de’ Medici in French lands, Marie de Guise and
her daughter Mary Stuart in Scotland, and the Tudor sisters, Mary and
Elizabeth, in England.

Lecture 20  Did Women Have a Renaissance? 145

hh Under those circumstances, works posing theoretical questions about
female authority gave way to more alarmist prognostications of the
very real dangers implicit in female rule. One of the most famous is
the work of Calvinist preacher John Knox (1513–1572). His First Blast
of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women was published
in 1558 as a critique of female rulers in England and Scotland. In it,
Knox identified the rule of women as abhorrent and a perversion of
the natural order.

hh Published responses to Knox quickly followed, offering reassessments

of female rule that questioned his interpretation of “nature”
and his employment of scripture and history as evidence of his
conclusions. In his An Harborow for Faithful and True Subjects, published
in 1559, Englishman John Aylmer (1521–1594) wrote that Knox’s text
misunderstood “nature” as an absolute and hierarchical system.

hh Texts such as Knox and Aylmer’s joined many others disseminated

throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. They indicate the dialogic
structure of the early modern debate on women.

The Swetnam Controversy

hh Authors responded directly to one another in print, an indication
that writings on female virtues and vices had a significant readership.
A particular example from early 17th-century England known as the
Swetnam controversy illustrates this point.

hh In 1615 Joseph Swetnam published a text entitled The Arraignment of

Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women. Swetnam, writing under a
pseudonym, had the goal of revealing women’s many flaws and foibles.

hh Other authors rushed to refute his assessments. Author Daniel Tuvil

weighed in first, in 1616’s Asylum Veneris. Tuvil authored a vindication
of women coupled with instruction for proper female behavior. His
piece belongs in the courtesy-book tradition that employed print as a
medium for the moral instruction of women.

146 Renaissance
hh More texts followed in 1617. A notable one was Rachel Speght’s
A Muzzle for a Black Mouth. The piece drew on biblical examples
to expose errors in Swetnam’s attack. In 1620, a postscript to the
Swetnam controversy followed with the play Swetnam, the Woman-
Hater. The frontispiece of the published text shows Swetnam himself
being arraigned by women.

hh Scholars suggest that the popularity of these works provides access to

a sense of the vox populi, or voice of the people. They were published in
affordable formats, putting them solidly within reach of an increasingly
literate population in possession of a disposable income.

The Women’s Renaissance

hh During the Renaissance, assessments of female virtues and vices joined
printed commentaries on male virtues and vices. The querelle indicates
that women and their defenders, many of whom were men, were part
of a new, sustained consideration of the human condition that helped
to define the liberal arts during the renaissance.

hh The early modern debate on women and its popularity indicate a

growing acknowledgement that, like men, women were worthy of
scholarly consideration. Additionally, women themselves were capable
of participation in that investigation and, to a lesser degree, in the new
liberal education.

hh Even if their time engaged in the pursuit of learning was limited,

the learned women of the Renaissance challenged expectations and
contested the contemporary status quo. Education wasn’t a passive
process for them, but one that required constant effort, energy,
and persistence in the face of detractors. Modern scholars should
see them not as imprisoned oddities but as individuals of boldness
and courage.

Lecture 20  Did Women Have a Renaissance? 147

Suggested Reading

Nogarola, Complete Writings.

O’Malley, ed., Defences of Women.
Warner, The Ideas of Man and Woman in Renaissance France.

Questions to Consider

1 Why do you think so few women, aside from queens, are

considered to be part of the Renaissance legacy?

2 Are there modern equivalents of the woman question

engaging the public in the consideration of individuals’
abilities and access to education?

148 Renaissance
Lecture 21
Life: The Rural
T h is lecture and some of its successors
sketch out the conditions of life during
the early modern centuries, talking
about the structures—physical and
ideological—that shaped the lived
experiences of past peoples. The
explorations begin in the geographical
setting of the countryside, where
the vast majority of the European
population lived across the Renaissance
centuries. In particular, this lecture
considers the man-made and nature-
made conditions that shaped rural
living prior to the birth of the
Industrial Revolution.

Lecture 21  Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience 149

Rural Daily Life
hh In the countryside, the workday began well before daybreak itself and
extended until after dark. Even without the convenience of modern
lighting, labor could be completed, either in darkness or the dim light
afforded by candles or moonlight. There was much work to be done.
Survival depended on the combined efforts of all members of the
household: men, women, and the young alike.

hh Their tasks were differentiated, with women responsible for a range of

domestic tasks and men for labor in the fields or in the pasturelands,
watching over the flocks. Children of both sexes stayed close to their
mothers until the age of six or so, when they started to shadow their
same-sex parent for training in gendered work activities. During harvest
time, everyone pitched in to see the crops brought safely in.

hh There was seasonality to the length of these workdays, being longer

in summer than in winter to take as much advantage of natural
light as possible. Sunday was supposedly a day of rest and worship,
but evidence suggests it could also be a workday, whenever tasks and
necessity demanded.

hh Feast days occasionally broke up the daily grind. The Christian year
was replete with opportunities to celebrate or to reflect on holiness in a
faith tradition populated with saints aplenty. In 1450, perhaps 50 days
of the year were given over to these holy days.

hh Many of these Christian holy days came loaded with prohibitions.

Certain seasons of the year, like Lent, likewise sought to regulate the
behavior of the faithful. However, holy days often had an element of
festival about them, mixing the saintly with the profane. They afforded
time to visit with friends, to eat and drink, and to participate in
village merriments.

150 Renaissance
Two Renaissances
hh In earlier lectures, the Renaissance was synonymous with cultural and
political dynamism, often under the guise of recovery of a glorious past
in Italian lands or animated by the desire to bring about a Christian
rebirth in the north. However, this lecture and the succeeding lectures
on Renaissance life will refer to the Renaissance in a looser fashion—as
a designator of a historical period rather than movements of a rebirth.

hh The reason is that there were serious limits as to the Renaissance’s

reach under the more narrow cultural and political definition. For
example, aside from some exceptional examples, women didn’t have
much of a Renaissance. The vast majority of men didn’t have a much of
a Renaissance in the classic sense, either. The Renaissance was a largely
urban event for the educated and the powerful, yet most people—80
percent or more in much of Europe—called the countryside home.

hh In terms of people, as the Renaissance began, there was still a sense

of the division into three different types synonymous with the Middle
Ages: those who fight (monarchs and nobles), those who pray (the
clergy), and those who work (everyone else).

hh This so-called three orders theory, although articulated in medieval

sources themselves, was always more idealized than real. There was
tremendous diversity within each order. For example, a king wasn’t the
same as an unemployed knight seeking a patron, even though they both
fought. However, one useful contribution of the three orders theory is
that it communicates something of the perceived sense of immobility
in the quality and condition of people.

hh In the countryside, change was afoot. By the end of the period, certain
proto-industrial practices emerged—new ideas and realities about
land holding and land usage, for example. Despite these changes, the
persistence of hierarchy was strong, and so it was a time of tensions.

Lecture 21  Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience 151

hh The Renaissance was a period of tremendous vulnerability for those
living in the countryside. Poor weather and animal epidemics initiated
profound misery for those surviving through subsistence agriculture.
For example, the 16th century saw a protracted agrarian crisis, featuring
back-to-back failed harvests that brought with them not just want
but famine.

hh Differences in environmental conditions defined the tasks of people

living on the land. Scholars can identify a basic divide between lowland,
arable areas, which were suitable for cereal grains in the north and
grapes and olives in the south, and highland pasture zones, given over
to the animal husbandry.

hh In the arable zones, peasants tended to be congregated in nucleated

villages. In contrast, independent homesteads were more typical for
those involved in pastoral activities. Pastoral zones featured more
scattered, isolated settlements.

hh The people working any of these lands were not, as a general rule, the
ones who owned them. This leads to the complicated subject of land
tenure. For example, a nucleated village would have residents such as
a priest and a lord of the manor. The lord owned but did not work the
land. He also owned the implements and structures to store and process
grain into bread, which peasants could use in return for various forms
of compensation.

hh In this arrangement, peasants were actually tenants rather than

landowners. Some held land at the lord’s pleasure for whatever period
he specified and at the terms he specified, which often took the form
of labor service. This type of tenancy, more a feature in the eastern
parts of Europe, was a rather precarious one, with no guarantee of
continued occupation.

152 Renaissance
hh In the west, landholding traditions offered a bit more security. Leases
tended to be longer, even across generations. Customary dues or fees
upon the death of tenant and the transfer of his occupancy to his heirs
safeguarded the maintenance of holdings within families. Rents here
often involved labor services, but they could also be met through other
means, like cash payments.

hh Post-plague realities, particularly the increased demand for laborers,

allowed certain peasants to gain improved leasing terms or relaxed
terms of service. In some areas, there were peasant owner-occupiers. In
historian Barbara Hanawalt’s study of England after the Black Death,
she identified the concentration of holdings in the hands of ambitious
peasants who saw opportunities and seized them, even when their gains
came at the expense of their own neighbors.

hh By the 16 century, post-plague population stagnation had passed;

populations everywhere were on the rise, and that meant a labor surplus
rather than shortage. As a consequence, the competition for land began
to heat up, particularly in western areas of Europe. Landlords there
faced declining profits because of inflation.

hh Prices were spiraling upward, and in the face of landlords’ inability to

adjust terms negotiated and ratified by tradition, their bottom lines
began to suffer. The solution was to pioneer new terms of tenure—
such as shorter leases and the requirement for cash payments—and to
enclose lands for their own exclusive use that had before been enjoyed
by tenants to garden or pasture animals.

hh The process of enclosure was the subject of pointed criticism at the pens
of moralists, including humanist Thomas More. It made making ends
meet for many peasant families much more challenging.

hh Some workers found themselves out of the tenure game altogether and
forced instead to sell their labor, a circumstance that replaced at least
some previous measure of autonomy with dependence. Women were

Lecture 21  Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience 153

paid less, so it often made sense for them to work whatever limited land
the family might possess so that their husbands could seek paid labor
at the higher rate.

hh A hierarchy among the peasants themselves began to develop. The

hierarchy distinguished the prosperous yeoman farmer at the top
from the husbandman in the relatively comfortable middle, and it
distinguished those two groups from the landless laborers and cottagers
(who might have a dwelling structure but no land).

hh The most substantial landlords were increasingly drawn into urban

areas, but they weren’t truly hands-on administrators of their estates. It
was a group of appointed officials—a steward, a reeve, and a hayward, to
offer a small sampling of titles —who managed the day-to-day business
of manorial villages. These men were charged with collecting taxes
and fees from peasants, maintaining justice and order, adjudicating
disputes, dealing with crime, and enforcing customs concerning the
use of land and public space.

hh They often did so in the forum of manorial courts. Peasants themselves

served as jurors, resolving contested boundaries or charges of communal
customs being violated. They were selected not for their objectivity but
because they were well positioned to offer supposedly expert insight on
the matters under dispute.

hh These trends combined measures of opportunities in some areas with

repression in others. That led to a series of problems.

Peasant Reactions
hh The most spectacular responses to these alterations were peasant
rebellions. Europe played host to many of them, including one in
France in 1358, the English Rising of 1381, and multiple revolts in
the German-speaking lands. The causes of these revolts are varied
but can be ultimately traced back to peasant unhappiness with their
economic realities.

154 Renaissance
hh Peasants generally sought a return to fairer past practices to counter
the innovations of taxation or changes in policies concerning access
to or distribution of resources. When peasants took up arms to
protest their treatment, their efforts at change ended in failure and
considerable repression.

hh They could do some damage and create fear, but ultimately, all of
these peasant revolts were quashed. There were also more localized
disturbances over issues like rents, fences, and interpersonal disputes.

hh In part as a result of these changes in rural living conditions, a new
typology of poverty developed. The poor had always been a part of the
rural landscape. Those who practiced subsistence-level agriculture were
impoverished by nearly every connotation of the term.

hh Additionally, there had always been those individuals made vulnerable

by age and condition: widows, orphans, the elderly, and the mentally
or physically handicapped. They were universally recognized as worthy
of aid.

hh However, economic patterns emerging in this period gave rise to other

forms of poverty. One was seasonal: The so-called laboring poor sought
work and could find it at the times of the year that required an influx
of additional workers. They struggled at other times.

hh Another, more contentious form of poverty was voluntary, manifested

in the form of the so-called sturdy beggar. Sturdy beggars, also
dubbed the idle poor, were physically capable of work. However, they
refused, preferring, at least in the minds of critics, to live a life of
crime or dissolution. Many of them went to the cities to ply their trade,
engendering concern and initiating new policies.

Lecture 21  Renaissance Life: The Rural Experience 155

Suggested Reading

Fumerton, Unsettled.
Howell, Commerce before Capitalism in Europe.
Prak, ed., Early Modern Capitalism.

Questions to Consider

1 What kind of overlap do you think existed between elite

concerns during the Renaissance and those of non-elites
living in the Renaissance countryside?

2 Do you think we should see the peasants as subject to

the conditions of the world around them, or is it more
accurate to see them as agents of change as well?

3 Where do you see evidence of the narrow distance

between plenty and want in our world?

156 Renaissance
Lecture 22
Life: The Urban
T h is lecture explores some of the key
feature of urban Renaissance living.
It first tackles the question of how
to define urban living during the
Renaissance. Then, it takes a look at a
trio of early modern institutions: craft
guilds, confraternities, and public
drinking establishments. These will give
a window in urban experiences for rich
and poor alike.

Lecture 22  Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience 157

Defining Urban Living
hh The question of what constituted urban living during the Renaissance
is a point of debate that has animated historians for decades. While
there are no hard-and-fast rules that everyone accepts, this part of the
lecture will sketch out some general features.

hh First, size mattered. The numbers cited as the threshold for labeling
a settlement a city have changed over time, but for this course’s
purposes, a good general rule is 2,000 residents. There was an urban
hierarchy, from small market towns like Devizes, which didn’t make
it to the 2,000-resident mark, to a handful of big cities of 50,000 or
more residents. Many of those were on the Italian Peninsula, including
Florence, Rome, Venice, and Naples.

hh Beyond the peninsula, big cities were fewer and farther between. England
had only London and France had only Paris, for example. Cities with
populations of 5,000 and above dot the map of Renaissance Europe,
although the dots appear in different levels of concentration in different
areas. The Low Countries featured many of them; France, the Iberian
Peninsula, and the Holy Roman Empire had a sizable number, too.

hh Some urban areas built physical barriers around them. Access to water
and trade routes was a feature of many urban areas as well.

Urban Life
hh Renaissance cities featured many advantages for the people who called
them home, including economic opportunities and personal freedoms,
a range of goods and service for sale, various forms of sociability and
support, and a civic identity. Cities grew and sometimes contracted in
fits and starts, featuring the cramped, narrow streets still on display in
many areas of Europe today.

hh Even without careful design in physical layout, it’s clear that cities paid
close attention to their conditions. Rules and regulations established
by urban authorities were plentiful and took aim at a wide range of
problems thought to be disruptive to good order, legislating when and
how to dispose of waste, for example.

158 Renaissance
hh Urban areas had more than their fair share of violence, often in the
form of public riots and uprisings. Some were the result of political
factionalism. Others were protests of economic regulations or prompted
by supply scarcity.

hh Cities were also the sites of great disasters, in part because of their
concentrated populations and lack of effective sanitation measures.
Plagues, fires, and floods devoured urban residents and their property,
despite the efforts of local governments to establish safeguards to
prevent such loss.

Craft Guilds
hh The lecture now turns to some of the institutions that helped shape
the Renaissance urban experience, starting with craft guilds. Today,
a guild has a somewhat hybrid identity: On the one hand, it calls to
mind a quaint, old-fashioned approach to economic organization, with
a modest shop populated by a master, his apprentices, and perhaps some
wage laborers. That shop often doubled as the master’s household.

Lecture 22  Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience 159

hh There’s an at least superficially paternalistic element to this structure,
with masters helping prepare young workers for their own future
careers. There was self-interest, too; masters benefitted through what
today’s people might think of as unpaid or underpaid internships.

hh The masters themselves had attained the highest level of professional

competence in their field, as adjudged by their production of a
masterpiece (and the payment of the requisite association fees, of
course). As a result, they enjoyed various personal and professional
advantages through guild membership: They drew up and enforced
regulations for their trade, designed to codify their advantages; they
received support from other members in times of crisis; and they often
gained access to political roles.

hh Guildsmen performed a variety of civic, ceremonial, and charitable

functions. In addition to the enfranchisement that election to the guilds
entailed, guildsmen worked to promote their craft and to reinscribe
their elite status.

hh Despite their useful functions, guilds can look repressive. By definition,

guilds were exclusionary and protectionist: They created monopolies
by restricting membership, by controlling the educational mysteries
of their craft, and first setting and policing wages, prices, and quality.

hh However, reality often differed from the ideals expressed in guild-

governing statutes. While women may have been formally excluded
from membership in most guilds, for example, they could find work
associated with craft guilds through other mechanisms.

hh In Renaissance Europe, religion also offered numerous opportunities
for the formation of community and communal identities. Expressions
of piety took many forms, both institutionalized and informal. This
part of the lecture will focus on one such expression: confraternities,
or religious guilds.

160 Renaissance
hh These groups were religious brotherhoods. Their members sought
spiritual assurance of salvation through common association, but
without taking holy orders as clerics. Some confraternities were
exclusively male in membership, but not all. Some accepted only
women. These religious organizations could also combine women and
men, as well as individuals of a variety of ages and status groups.

hh In Renaissance Italy, in particular, confraternities proved extraordinarily

popular: Estimates have as many as one-third of adults as belonging to
one. More than 50 were founded in Florence alone during the second
half of the 15th century.

hh Like some of the other associations of the time, confraternities developed

mission statements, and records of their activities allow scholars access
to their intentions and regulations. For example, the small Florentine
company of Santo Spirito focused on liturgical activities.

hh Confraternities represented a powerful fusion of spiritual energies and

charitable impulses. They founded hospitals, cared for the sick, engaged
in poor relief, and helped at-risk women in danger of falling into a
life of prostitution—or assisted in the rehabilitation of those who’d
already fallen.

hh Confraternities also offered opportunities for sociability among

members. By bringing people into contact, some of whom might have
very little chance to interact with one another otherwise, they provided
the opportunity to build and expand social bonds and networks.

hh Alehouses are this lecture’s final case study. Intoxicating drink was
ubiquitous in Renaissance Europe, both north and south of the Alps.
Water was believed to be unwholesome, and it often was. Fermented
beverages, on the other hand, had a reduced risk of harmful bacteria.
Further, water was somewhat stigmatized as the drink of the poor
(although elites mixed their wine with water to make it last longer).

Lecture 22  Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience 161

162 Renaissance
hh On the whole, though, drink was consumed in large quantities.
Courtiers in Italy might drink three-quarters of a liter of wine per day.
There was a daily ration of a gallon of beer in England—although even
contemporary visitors expressed astonishment at the volume of drink
the English could put away.

hh Much of this drinking took place in the home, in the normal course of
the consumption of daily meals. Mealtimes were communal occasions
themselves for members of the household. The blurred line between
public and private during this activity also means that mealtimes found
friends and companions breaking bread and raising a cup together in
the domestic space of the household.

hh Some houses acquired an even more public identity, a circumstance that

came to be matched by the designation “public house” (later shortened
to “pub”). Here, proprietors produced drink for retail sale on site, and
clientele came to relax. Activities at these establishments included
gaming, gossiping, singing, dancing, and exchanging the news.

hh Drinking culture seems resolutely male at first glance, but women, too,
patronized these drinking establishments. There was greater propensity
for women’s presence to result in condemnation or censure, though, if
their activities were adjudged immodest or demonstrated a lack of self-
control. Men could be roundly criticized for squandering their resources
in the procurement of drink, but often without the excoriating attacks
reserved for women seen to be abusing propriety through indulgence.

hh Sources document the vital role of public houses in medieval and

Renaissance England in attending to the needs of pilgrims and other
travelers. For example, 17th-century commentator Robert Harris put the
link between hospitality and public houses succinctly: “Travellers must
needs have drinke, therefore there must be Alehouses.”

hh Drinking establishments also catered to the needs of locals. They

earned the wrath of medieval and Renaissance moralists, including
the 14th-century author of The Remorse of Conscience, a treatise on the
seven deadly sins: “God does His miracles in His church; the devil does
his, which are the opposite, in the tavern.”

Lecture 22  Renaissance Life: The Urban Experience 163

hh Taken together, these various drinking establishments were ubiquitous
in many areas of Renaissance Europe. A request from the Privy Council
in England in 1577 to ascertain the number of inns, taverns, and
alehouses was heeded by magistrates, who reported the presence of
more than 17,000 public drinking houses. Eighty-five percent were
labeled as alehouses, with much smaller percentages identified as
taverns and inns.

Suggested Reading

Epstein, ed., Town and Country in Europe.

Hailwood, Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early
Modern England.
Ogilvie, Institutions and European Trade.

Questions to Consider

1 How different are the opportunities and organizations for

sociability in our world from those in Renaissance Europe?
How similar are they?

2 What current urban institutions and practices have

replaced the ones discussed in this lecture?

3 Civic hierarchies were displayed and frequently challenged

during the Renaissance period. How do contemporary
urban leaders demonstrate their authority, and how was
it challenged?

164 Renaissance
Lecture 23
Renaissance Life:
Crime, Deviance,
and Honor
T h is lecture focuses on daily life during
the Renaissance by examining points of
personal crisis and their consequences.
In particular, the lecture looks at
the subjects of crime, deviance, and
concepts of honor and shame. A point of
focus is how early modern communities
and authorities sought to order their
world and to project their own morality
outward—even as they held up for
shame or correction those who were
perceived as violating established
expectations for good behavior.

Lecture 23  Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor 165

Sexual and Gender Norms
hh Sexual activity and the proper performance of gender norms could make
and break reputations during the Renaissance. Moralists identified
sexual honesty as a key component of Christian marriage, and so sexual
purity before marriage was paramount—at least for women—and sexual
fidelity within marriage was expected—again, at least for women.

hh Issues of male authority and government were inextricably linked

with female sexual honesty. The reputation of good fathers, husbands,
brothers, and sons was formed in part by their ability to project control
over their subordinates, a category that included daughters, wives, and
even mothers, when widowed.

Insult and Innuendo

hh During the Renaissance, insults and innuendos were intended to expose
and sometimes to curb improper behavior. Both ecclesiastical and civil
courts in Europe regularly heard complaints involving defamatory and
scandalous speech during the course of their business.

hh Despite the popularity of litigation, to sue someone for verbal assault

was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allowed the accuser
to tell their side of the story, enlisting family and friends to help. On
the other hand, it allowed the opponent to tell their side of the story,
further publicizing all the damaging claims.

hh The courts sternly punished those who spread false and malicious rumors,
so it paid to govern one’s tongue. Words spoken carelessly and out of
anger could be costly—sometimes literally. They could also require the
humiliation of public penance in church in front of the whole community.

hh Spoken words weren’t the only way to signal displeasure with one’s
neighbor. Accusations of misbehavior could take many other forms.
Rhymes, libels, and songs could all broadcast reports of cheating spouses
or domineering wives whose bossiness unmanned their husbands.
The latter theme, of the henpecked husband, was a particularly
popular one for early modern pamphlet writers as well as a number of
Renaissance dramatists.

166 Renaissance
Public Shaming
hh When the popular perception of impropriety reached a critical nexus,
public shaming could even be carried out collectively. The most famous
form involved a public procession to the ill-governed house itself. To
attract attention, the march was designed to be as raucous and unruly
as possible: Participants in the shame parade often noisily banged on
pots and pans and drums.

hh Once the procession arrived at its targeted destination, ringleaders

pulled forward the offending figure or figures to subject him or her
to ridicule in front of the assembled members of the community.
They might, for example, make a cuckolded or henpecked husband
ride backward on a horse, to drive home visually the message of the
unnatural state in which his failed masculinity placed him.

hh These processionals were clearly designed to humiliate, but they were

also designed to correct. The point wasn’t simply to embarrass, but
instead to incite the supposedly underperforming or misbehaving
party to make changes so as to ensure future conformity. Further,
these shame parades also served as a reminder to all present that they
might one day find themselves in the same position if they violated
behavioral expectations.

Regulating Sexuality
hh Sexuality and its control were clearly integral to early modern concepts
of honor. Attempts were made throughout the Renaissance centuries
to regulate sexuality.

hh There was a pervasive sentiment, especially in the southern portions

of Europe, that commercial sex—prostitution—was a regrettable but
necessary evil. Men had urges, so the line of thinking went, and those
urges needed to be managed in such a way as to safeguard virtuous
women. The resulting solution was the proliferation of so-called red
light districts reserved for the sex trade.

Lecture 23  Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor 167

hh In the Mediterranean honor culture that defined Renaissance values in
Italy and Spanish lands, the chastity of respectable women demanded
constant vigilance to maintain both male and female honor. Because of
that, prostitutes were an important ingredient in the recipe for a culture
of otherwise carefully controlled female sexuality.

hh The supposed absence of sexual honesty in these women meant that

no loss of honor could occur. As a consequence, those who worked
as prostitutes and their managers—bawds or pimps—were taxed, often
regulated, and even subject to regular abuse by outraged moralists and
exasperated civic officials. However, they were also grudgingly tolerated,
and they did a brisk business.

Same-Sex Relationships
hh Same-sex relationships were alternately condoned and condemned
during the Renaissance, often based on the age and condition of the
parties involved. Two pieces of context are important for sorting out
the sources of this ambiguity.

hh First, the Renaissance valorized the ancient world. Same-sex relationships

featured prominently in various ancient societies. For example, the
Greeks practiced the custom of pederasty, the sexual mentoring of a
“beardless youth” by an older, more established but still unmarried
man. At the same time, same-sex activities in ancient societies could
be branded as deviant if the parties involved violated accepted norms,
exhibiting too great a devotion or failing to shift to a heterosexual
relationship at the appropriate developmental stage, for example.

hh The second piece of context involves popularly accepted medical

understandings of the human body during the Renaissance, most
particularly the idea known as the one-sex model. This theory uses the
male body as normative and therefore interprets the female body as
an imperfect rendering of it. These ideas made the male body the only
form of bodily human perfection.

168 Renaissance
hh Despite various influences that legitimated same-sex desire for men,
by the 13th century, regulations prohibiting same-sex physical relations
treated such activities as a grievous moral error. They were often
punishable by death under law, although not all authorities exacted
such finality in their judgments.

hh Incest was also a target of moral indignation and official correction
during the Renaissance. In Devizes, England in 1560, for example, when
John Maunfylld confessed to intercourse with his unnamed mother, the
court judged it both “heinous and ungodly” and imprisoned the pair.

hh Incest was sufficiently stigmatized that it served as one of the most

damaging charges leveled at Henry VIII of England’s second wife, Anne
Boleyn, during her fall from power. Among those Anne was rumored
to have bedded was her brother George.

hh During the Renaissance, fines often punished acts of misbehavior and
violence. In many states, more serious crimes, like theft of goods above
a certain value or murder, were punishable by death.

hh One of the key issues involves the resources for punishment available
to the authorities. Renaissance states did have prisons. These housed
individuals waiting for trial, or those whose crimes were particularly
egregious. However, long-term imprisonment was uncommon. Early
modern governments didn’t possess the means required to construct
residential prisons.

hh Equally important, they didn’t possess the philosophy of crime necessary

to create long-term incarceration. Correction for criminal activity was
secured through much more spectacular means, like public execution.
The forms of those punishments were intended to be instructive to
audiences. They were the ones who could learn the lessons posed by
the unfortunate criminals.

Lecture 23  Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor 169

170 Renaissance
hh Such spectacles were comparatively cheap, and therefore suited officials
unprepared to invest valuable resources to feed, clothe, and house
malefactors for long periods. Those long-term prisoners who did
languish in early modern cells had to pay their own way or rely on the
material aid of friends and kin.

Suggested Reading

Merrick and Ragan Jr., ed., Homosexuality in Early

Modern France.
Muir, Mad Blood Stirring.
Ruff, Violence in Early Modern Europe.

Questions to Consider

1 Are you surprised to learn that many lawsuits disappeared

from the courts before judgment? How does the
use of the law by early modern people differ from
modern applications?

2 Public shaming was a regular means of “correcting”

bad behavior during the Renaissance. How does public
shaming function in our society?

3 Based on what you have learned in other lectures of

this course, what other factors besides sexual honesty
contributed to an individual’s reputation during
the Renaissance?

Lecture 23  Renaissance Life: Crime, Deviance, and Honor 171

Lecture 24
Life: Marriage
M a rriage—the subject of this lecture—
was a complicated business during
the period of Europe’s Renaissance.
Marriage’s formation and its
parameters were shaped by religious
rules, but rules and regulations didn’t
always account for real life’s changing
fortunes and circumstances.

172 Renaissance
Defining Marriages
hh During the Renaissance period, rules of marriage were defined by the
Christian church, since marriage was designated a sacrament during the
Middle Ages. As a result, it was the church’s own legal system—governed
by canon law—that defined marriage.

hh The canons determined who could get married and when and how
marriage should take place. There were a number of prohibitions that
kept prospective spouses from forming a valid marital union. One was
the impediment of age. There was an emphasis on consent to marriage
as a prerequisite for its validity, so the threshold was clearly marked: The
canonical age of maturity for marriage was 12 for girls and 14 for boys.

hh Another prohibition was coercion. Marriages were to be entered into

freely by the parties involved. This was complicated, as many individuals
besides the prospective spouses themselves had vested interests in
matrimonial outcomes. These people could exert considerable pressure.

hh Prohibitions also existed for relationships among those connected by

blood, by marriage, or by spiritual kinship. Spiritual kinship involved
those linked by spiritual affiliation; for example, godparents couldn’t
marry their godchildren or the parents of their godchildren.

hh On the surface, the last of the major prohibitions–precontract—might be

the most obvious: People who were already married couldn’t get married
to anyone else. In reality, though, people could contract themselves in
marriage without formalizing or publicizing the union and then later
attempt to marry other parties, if affections or material circumstances
had altered.

hh A number of these barriers were surmountable, especially for those

of means. Dispensations could be—and were—acquired to allow
for marriage within prohibited degrees. They authorized creative
matchmaking for those who needed to avail themselves of clerical
authorization for marriage, and many of the results were successful.

Lecture 24  Renaissance Life: Marriage 173

hh The impediment of age is another example of a barrier that could be
negotiated by motivated parents and guardians. The espousal of young
children, with the expectation that consent would be demonstrated (or
not) once the stipulated age of maturity had been attained, was fairly
common at various times and in various places during the Renaissance
centuries. For example, Anna Maria Sforza of Milan was betrothed to
Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara when both were one year old. The wedding
would take place when they were 14.

Constructing Marriage
hh Assuming a couple was cleared for marriage, the question remains: How
exactly did they go about constructing marriage? There had been much
debate on this very issue during the Middle Ages. Two main camps
formed, one that advocated for the words of marriage as creating a
valid union, and another that argued consummation was necessary as
a ratification of marriage.

hh The former position carried the day: Under canon law, words made
spouses. That decision was shaped by the fact that the most famous
couple in Christian history—the Virgin Mary and Joseph—would not
have been married at the time of Jesus’s birth, should marital intercourse
have been a prerequisite.

hh The exchange of present-tense vows of marriage—“I take you to be my

wife/husband”—created a spiritually and legally binding union. The
words had to be present tense, and they were supposed to be exchanged
before at least two witnesses with a prior degree of matrimonial publicity
and a clerical officiant.

hh However, present-tense vows could create indissoluble marriage even

when uttered without witnesses, prior promotion of impending nuptials,
or a member of the clergy. This led to the possibility of considerable
misunderstanding and uncertainty: One partner might allege that the
words of marriage had indeed been spoken while the other expressed
surprise at such a charge and stated that the required vows had never
been exchanged.

174 Renaissance
hh The ecclesiastical courts served as the venue for matrimonial disputes.
Great emphasis was given to the exact wording used by both parties
involved, since that was the measure of marriage. Witnesses, though, also
offered detailed commentary on couples’ displays of affection, exchanges
of gifts, cohabitation, and a range of other behaviors that kin and
neighbors could read as indicators of the seriousness of their relationship.

hh While words were the legal marker of matrimony, sex was part of the
equation of making marriage, too. Sex was also a factor in ending
marriage. Impotency was grounds for an annulment, for example. The
granting of annulment allowed for dissolution and remarriage.

The Marriage of Louis de Blois and Marie de France

Lecture 24  Renaissance Life: Marriage 175

hh A barren marriage could, if
one possessed the means,
also be undone with official
sanction, so important
was procreation for a
successful marriage.

hh Though there were ways

out of it, the expectation
was that marriage was
indeed for life. Modern
Western notions of divorce
involving the end of a legal
marriage didn’t exist in the
Renaissance. An annulment
essentially undid marriage
by invalidating its legitimacy.

Unhappy Marriages
hh The Protestant Reformation did change marriage in significant ways for
the parts of Europe that adopted various reformed traditions, and among
those changes were new ideas about how to enter and exit marriage.
However, this part of the lecture will focus on some of the strategies
designed to address unhappy marriage before the Reformation.

hh Because both civil and religious authorities viewed marriage as essential

to good order, considerable efforts were made to bring troubled
couples back together. Friends, neighbors, and sometimes agents from
regulating bodies sought to bring about reconciliation. They might
remind a husband, for example, that while some degree of marital
discipline was permissible, beating his wife until she was in danger of
losing her life was not.

hh That kind of intervention sometimes worked, but not always. In those

circumstances when a reunion was deemed impossible, ecclesiastical
authorities could offer a remedy: separation without the benefit of

176 Renaissance
remarriage. This was as separation a mensa et thoro (“from bed and
table”). That freed the parties from the requirements to cohabitate and
to engage in intercourse.

hh People also developed their own strategies for extracting themselves

from relationships no longer palatable, exploiting various loopholes in
the processes of marriage formation. An example would be someone
suddenly (and conveniently) remembering they had already exchanged
matrimonial vows before marrying their current spouse, which was
likely a means of achieving the end of a bad marriage while winning
the possibility to try again with an alternate partner.

hh Keep in mind that marriages could be enduring and affectionate.

Considerable evidence suggests that many spouses entered marriage
with affection for one another, or that genuine attachment developed
over time.

Losing a Partner
hh Having multiple successive partners was something many Renaissance
people experienced. Early deaths left many husbands and wives behind
to grapple with not only whatever emotional loss separation from a
spouse entailed but also practical challenges.

hh For women much more than men, a spouse’s death spelled economic
uncertainty, although inheritance offered some widows the freedom
to live independently. Both widows and widowers, though, were often
motivated to seek new partners to assist with the difficult work of
rearing children.

Northwest Marriage Customs

hh Since the pioneering work of John Hajnal, scholars have confirmed the
existence of two major geographical zones of Europe, each of which
had rather distinct matrimonial strategies. These are the northwest
and Mediterranean marriage patterns. In the northern and western

Lecture 24  Renaissance Life: Marriage 177

portions of Europe—including the British Isles aside from Ireland,
Scandinavia, France, and the German-speaking lands—average age at
first marriage was the mid- to late 20s for both men and women.

hh Money mattered in these northwestern marriages. An important part

of the matrimonial process involved the negotiations among friends
and families as to responsibilities for provisioning the household and
preparing other financial agreements.

hh Prospective brides and grooms had means of their own by virtue of

employment during their later teens and early 20s. Those years were
spent learning a trade or working in another household.

hh The nuclear household model marks the northwest, with spouses, their
children, and non-kin servants. These household units seldom included
multiple extended family members.

hh These rather delayed first marriages of the northwest had a number

of consequences. First, the gap between the onset of sexual maturity
and matrimony meant that premarital sexual activity and accidental
pregnancy occurred with regularity. Premarital pregnancy in many
instances prompted the formalization of a union that was well on its
way to formation. That wasn’t always the case, though: Church courts
heard plenty of stories from jilted single mothers.

hh A second consequence of the delayed age at first marriage was that

changing circumstances had plenty of time and opportunity to undo
planned-for unions. That probably helped contribute to the fact that
many men and women remained unmarried—somewhere between 10
to 15 percent was common, but numbers may have been as high as 25
percent in some areas.

hh This reality posed several challenges. Since marriage was the marker
of adulthood in early modern Europe, unmarried people occupied an
awkward, ill-defined space in the social order.

178 Renaissance
hh A final consequence of the northwest marriage pattern involves the
reproductive realities. Because the average gap between pregnancies at
the time was about two years, women who married for the first time
in their mid-20s had fewer pregnancies before the cessation of their
reproductive cycle than women who married younger.

Mediterranean Marriage Customs

hh In the Mediterranean marriage pattern, people married younger. In
the Italian and Spanish lands as well as eastern and southern Europe,
there were two general matrimonial practices.

hh In the first, marriage was between two teenagers. The young couples
didn’t set up their own household. Instead, they lived with one set of
in-laws in a multigenerational, or complex, household (as opposed to
the nuclear family household in the northwest). In the second common
marriage formation strategy, a man in his late 20s or early 30s married
a much younger woman.

hh The lands in which these marriage practices were in evidence had

particularly developed honor culture. That culture emphasized female
sexual purity as integral to the formation of male and female reputation,
as well as the reputation of extended families. This circumstance
might have driven the dynamics of marriage. Early marriage could
blunt the opportunities of a young woman to engage in inappropriate
relationships that would jeopardize her honor and that of the men
responsible for her governance.

hh The Mediterranean pattern also emphasized a dowry culture that

became crippling in certain areas during the Renaissance. In Florence,
for example, inflationary dowries drove many families to place young
women in convents rather than deplete family fortunes because the
convent was a much more cost-effective alternative. City magistrates
even sought to address this endemic dowry crisis in their city-state by
creating a dowry fund for poor girls.

Lecture 24  Renaissance Life: Marriage 179

Suggested Reading

Anderson, Approaches to the History of the Western Family.

Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy.
Simons, The Sex of Men in Premodern Europe.

Questions to Consider

1 What artistic image or historical couple most memorably

represents Renaissance marriage to you?

2 Church law emphasized consent as key to matrimonial

legitimacy during the Renaissance. How did their concept
of consent differ from our modern understanding of
the term?

3 What ideas about marriage have changed most since

the Renaissance?

180 Renaissance
Lecture 25
Renaissance Life:
Home and Hearth
T h is lecture looks at food practices
across the social spectrum as well
as various other aspects of domestic
life in Renaissance Europe. It
begins with a survey of food culture
in Renaissance Europe and then
turns to fashion. Finally, the lecture
returns to the household to focus on
childbirth, childrearing, and servants
and retainers.

Lecture 25  Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth 181

hh Bread was the core of the European diet during the Renaissance, as
it had been in the preceding centuries and would continue to be for
centuries to come. It provided a considerable portion of caloric intake.

hh The quality of that bread differed based on location and status of the
consumer. The wealthy tended to eat more refined wheaten bread,
made with sifted flour and consumed while fresh. Those who were
poorer in town and country ate bread produced from a mix of grains,
prepared infrequently.

hh Bread’s importance is also demonstrated by its regulation. Ordinances

were established throughout the Renaissance to ensure bread’s
availability and wholesomeness and, frequently, to standardize its
production and cost.

182 Renaissance
hh Those of limited means supplemented their diet with mushy porridge
made from grains. In certain areas, wheat flour was also transformed
into pasta or cracker-like flatbreads. Peasants further augmented their
diet with beans, and they also consumed whatever vegetables and other
fresh produce were in season. Farm families slaughtered animals in the
fall but ate meat much less frequently during the rest of the year.

hh The poor often purchased their food, lacking the necessary facilities to
produce meals. The types of food retailers were plentiful and varied,
catering to different clientele. Cook shops and street vendors specialized
in takeaways like hand-pies. Alehouses might have a few simple items of
food, but taverns (one step up in the drinking-establishment hierarchy)
and inns (yet another step up) offered more options.

hh Food preparation processes themselves were fairly uniform throughout

Europe: boiling, roasting, and baking were the most common methods,
with variants like stewing and poaching also employed. Preservation-
oriented techniques, such as smoking, drying, and pickling, were
also popular.

Food Customs
hh The chronology of daily eating during the early modern period is one
still practiced in various parts of Europe and other areas of the world
today. The biggest meal of the day came at midday, with a lighter repast
coming five to six hours later. For elites, the timeline was a bit different;
the noble table was open late, and the final meal of the day might have
been at 9:00 pm or later.

hh Breaking one’s nightly fast is a practice a bit more difficult to track in

Renaissance sources and to assign any particular custom to. It does seem
that the three-meal idea popular today is likely a more modern invention.

hh During Renaissance times, food was believed to impart qualities to its

consumer. Moralists considered certain foods fit for certain kinds of
people. Delicate birds were suitable for nobility but not peasants, by
virtue of their elevation over other animals rooted to the earth.

Lecture 25  Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth 183

hh Religion powerfully informed food customs and dietary practices. For
example, the prohibition against eating meat on certain holy days and
during the season of Lent was practiced by all Christians prior to the
Reformation and maintained by Roman Catholics afterward.

hh The dietary practices of populations on the margins of European society

during the Renaissance were also significant. Because both Jews and
Muslims were forbidden from consuming pork, food could be used to
test those who claimed to have adopted Christianity. The refusal to eat
foods banned by a religious tradition, for example, served as evidence
of a false conversion.

hh Food customs could separate people, then, but they could also bind
people together. Enjoying the benefit of someone else’s table was a
privilege that linked host and guest or dependent. Food could also
demonstrate patronage, as servants were fed at their masters’ tables.

hh Food had the dual tasks of nourishing the body and communicating
powerful messages about social status and wealth. Clothing, too, had a
dual function. It both protected the body from the elements and helped
define one’s fit in the world of Renaissance Europe.

hh Noble and royal women dressed lavishly. Isabella d’Este commissioned

a wardrobe for her sister Beatrice’s wedding in 1491 that included a
richly decorated gold belt and crimson satin. Isabella’s style was
trendsetting, and she made it clear that money was no object to get the
look she wanted.

hh Powerful men also devoted considerable care and expense to their

clothes. An inventory of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492 includes a
detailed description of the colors and fabric textures of the Florentine
ruler’s wardrobe. It communicates a sense of the dizzying array of styles
of male gowns, jackets, robes, hats, caps, and hoods.

184 Renaissance
hh In contrast, the general populations of Renaissance lands had
functional clothing and fewer outfits. Many people had just two changes
of clothing made of robust wools or linens, modestly colored in brown,
gray, and russet shades.

hh Clothing was cared for and tended to by all. Underclothes—long smocks

for women, and shirts and under-breeches for men—were laboriously
laundered, as were detachable cuffs and collars. Outer garments
included a variety of dress styles women might adopt, depending on
their age and condition, and various trouser and jacket styles for men.

hh The lecture now turns to family life, starting with children. Childbirth
was perilous in the Renaissance and Reformation centuries. Deliveries
posed a significant danger to both mother and child. Many women
died in childbirth or shortly afterward from fevers that developed
from complications, like the failure to expel the placenta. A woman
who gave birth five times had a 1 in 20 chance of death, roughly 100
times the likelihood of a woman in the 21st-century United States dying
in childbirth.

hh The families that were able sent their children out to be wet-nursed.
The ripple effects here could be substantial: Entrusting the sustenance
and care of a child to another woman who’d recently given birth
could imperil the health of the newest edition to the household. The
well-being of the wet nurse’s own child would also be jeopardized by
receiving less than the full complement of its mother’s milk.

hh The reason for adopting that practice was that the interval between
pregnancies was reduced for mothers who didn’t breastfeed. For elite
families, the production of surviving heirs was paramount, and so the
quicker the onset of the next pregnancy, the better.

Lecture 25  Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth 185

hh Premature deaths for children were high. Some estimates say nearly
25 percent of children died before their first birthday, and another 25
percent died between the ages of 1 and 10. Those deaths came from
malnourishment, disease, and accidents, both inside and outside of
the home.

hh Children who did survive were under women’s supervision until the age
of 5 or 6. Then, they began to receive training for their lives to come,
with subjects and tasks differentiated by gender. Girls were instructed
in cooking, sewing, and spinning. Those in the rural environments also
took up various agriculture-related activities, and their counterparts in
towns and cities learned how to contribute to the family economy in
other ways.

hh Instructional trajectories for boys had a broader range, very much

reflective of status and future occupational opportunities. Boys might
be sent away to school, or entered into service or an apprenticeship.

Servants and Retainers

hh Royal and noble households featured many individuals not biologically
related to one another or to the head of household. Live-in servants
and retainers augmented the numbers of these households and served
as a sign of prestige.

hh Households up and down the social scale adopted this model of

introducing others into their domestic-work environments. Many of
the tasks they performed were time-intensive and physically onerous.
Because wives needed to devote their attention to other activities, it
made sense to take in young people, who could be paid limited wages,
to do this work.

hh Socialization of young people headed toward adulthood was another

element of service. Masters were often charged with ensuring the moral
and economic well-being of their servants, acting in the place of a parent.

186 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe.

Rublak, Dressing Up.
Stapleford, ed. and trans., Lorenzo de’ Medici at Home.

Questions to Consider

1 In what ways are food and clothing still markers of wealth

and status today?

2 Can you think of modern equivalents of the sumptuary

laws of the Renaissance? What anxieties over material
resources shape regulations and laws today?

3 What challenges does the study of childhood pose to

historians? Do you think children had a Renaissance?

Lecture 25  Renaissance Life: Home and Hearth 187

Lecture 26
Renaissance Faith:
Medieval Contexts
T h is lecture tackles a topic essential to
the Renaissance: What was the role
of faith in the experience of being
human? To help learners understand the
questions about faith that Renaissance
people asked and the answers they
put forward, this lecture begins with
a survey of the playing field as the
Renaissance began. It also looks at
some key figures and events.

188 Renaissance
A Dispute
hh A legendary medieval dispute between the pope and the king illustrates
some key points about faith and power that would have spectacular
consequences for the Renaissance world. The two contenders were the
pope and king. They squared off on both principle and practice.

hh The pope held that his authority, as the heir of Saint Peter, was superior
to that of any temporal power. As a consequence, he was justified in
dictating policy to the crowned heads of Europe and in using his
spiritual leadership ensure compliance. The king argued, in contrast,
that it was well within his purview as God’s anointed ruler to see his
subjects as under his authority.

hh Our late medieval installment of the conflict featured King Philip IV of

France (r. 1285–1314) and Pope Boniface VIII (r. 1294–1303). At issue
between the two was a clash between the power principle of old and
the financial imperatives of the moment.

hh By the late 13th century, monarchs, including Philip IV, were tired of the
large group of clerical subjects in their realms whose privileges included
exemption from royal taxation and whose ultimate overlord was the
Roman pontiff. The royal inability to tax the clergy became increasingly
problematic because kings needed money to prosecute their wars.

hh Thanks to the commercialization of feudalization, they needed to

become increasingly creative about unearthing sources of revenue. That
meant turning their attention to the clergy. Both Edward I of England
and Philip IV of France, then at war with each other, took bold step of
taxing their clerical subjects.

hh Pope Boniface VIII was very displeased. He issued the Clericis Laicos
in 1296 as a command to his wayward royal sheep and to the clergy
who’d bowed to temporal power and acquiesced to the kings’ demands.
Boniface threatened all temporal powers seeking to collect revenues
from the clergy and any clergy who paid with excommunication—that
is, the denial of the Christian sacraments. He also threatened divine
indignation would result.

Lecture 26  Renaissance Faith: Medieval Contexts 189

hh Philip persisted in his program of clerical taxation. He also forbade
the French clergy from sending revenues to Rome and began to cast
aspersions on the pope’s faith and personal character.

hh Boniface was emboldened in 1302 to issue another decree, even more

audacious than its predecessor: Unam Sanctam. It drew on scripture
in asserting the supreme power of the pope, even claiming that being
subject to the Roman pontiff was “absolutely necessary for salvation.”
Philip responded by authorizing French soldiers to bring the pope to
France to stand trial. French troops broke into the pope’s apartments
in Agnani and held him prisoner for three days.

hh This was an incredibly earthly moment for papal authority—a dangerous

circumstance for an institution that had spent nearly 1,000 years
advancing its claim on otherworldly authority. As a consequence, it
serves as a particularly useful backdrop for this lecture’s consideration
of Christianity at the dawn of the Renaissance. Protests against papal
authority won the day in various parts of Europe, while in other areas,
a resurgent Roman church provided succor and vibrant leadership.

The Christian Church

hh Beginning in the 11th century, the Christian church and its personnel
emerged as a powerhouse that fused moral discipline and rectitude with
increasing temporal influence. Its remarkable success was predicated
on the three legs of a tripod comprised of its Jewish legacy, its Greek-
language New Testament, and its interaction with the Roman Empire.

hh Under the leadership of Pope Gregory VII in the 11th century, the
church adopted a clarity of vision and expectations that made it a
juggernaut. It was capable, for example, of commanding the men and
materiel of European Christians to reclaim the Holy Land.

hh The fervor and piety that helped animate the crusading effort led also
to a new quest for better Christian living. Those who felt the traditional
holy orders had fallen away from their focus and mission embraced new,
more rigorous visions of religious life.

190 Renaissance
hh As one example, Saint Francis of Assisi pioneered an alternate religious
lifestyle that assisted the church in catering to the spiritual needs of
those who’d flocked to urban areas during the commercial expansion
of the central Middle Ages. He created an order devoted to mendicancy
and preaching—that is, monks without the cloister, at work in the world.

hh The quest for personal holiness also led to tension and opposition with
clerical authorities. The Frenchman Peter Waldo, for example, had a
spiritual trajectory much like that of Saint Francis. Both men came
from privileged backgrounds, and both subsequently became passionate
advocates of poverty and preaching.

hh Waldo and his followers, the Waldensians, didn’t ask the church for
permission for their activities, and so their urban ministries violated
prohibitions against popular preaching. The Waldensians earned the
ire of the clerical establishment whose authority they challenged and
whose materialism their practices rejected.

hh A bigger threat also had its headquarters in France. Adherents—the

Albigensians—were named for their point of origin around the town
of Albi, but the Albigensians were also called the Cathars, meaning
“pure ones.” The Cathars interpreted scripture in a dualist fashion,
identifying the God of the Old Testament as an evil deity and the New
Testament God as the deity of light.

hh The radicalism of their dualist doctrine was a big problem, as was the
support offered to Albigensians by powerful aristocrats. Raymond, count
of Toulouse, was the most famous example. Raymond wasn’t a Cathar
himself, but the heresy offered him an attractive opportunity to push
back at the expansionist and centralizing efforts of the French crown.

hh The Albigensians provoked a series of influential responses from

the church. Coming in with an entourage in full clerical splendor
was guaranteed to turn the Albigensians off, since they thought the
church in error in embracing such worldly trappings. In response to

Lecture 26  Renaissance Faith: Medieval Contexts 191

the criticisms of the Albigensians on the wealth and privilege of the
clergy, the Spanish cleric created a new order of friars named after Saint
Dominic de Guzman: the Dominicans.

hh Although the Dominicans became a powerful force within the church,

they didn’t carry the day with the Albigensians, so Pope Innocent III
decided to become violent. Innocent unleashed the weapon of crusade,
promising those who took up the cross to fight the heretics the same
spiritual and practical benefits enjoyed by those who went to Egypt,
Palestine, and points east to fight the Muslims.

hh For two decades, southern France was a war zone, pitting multiple
interpretations of Christianity and their proponents against one
another. Innocent also called a crusade to the Holy Land, embroiled
the papacy in Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s battle for the imperial
throne against Otto IV and many of the German nobles, threatened
King John and England with interdict, and supervised the calling of
the Fourth Lateran Council.

The Meaning of Faith

hh The lecture now turns to an important question: What did it mean to be
a Christian in the later Middle Ages? The Christian faith for common
people was alive with miracles, reflected the vibrancy of medieval saints’
cults, and inspired by the efficacy of relics. The presence of the divine
was wrought in the wonders and the terrors of the medieval world.

hh The officiants of the Christian church promulgated a faith of wonder

and awesome power, deeply mysterious and beyond the ability of the
untrained to understand. The clergy made themselves the arbiters
of salvation and the conduit through which the divine message
was revealed.

hh In their view, common people couldn’t be trusted to know their faith

without supervision, so the scriptures were to be kept well beyond
their reach, safely maintained in the language of the educated—Latin—
rather than the vulgar tongue of the people. The vast majority of them

192 Renaissance
wouldn’t have been able to read the vernacular anyway, even had texts
been made available to them. Instead, the veneration of saints was
promoted, as was the power of relics.

hh However, personal devotion proved a difficult thing to control—the

popularity of rival, heretical interpretations of faith drives that point
home. Also increasingly difficult to control were the great laymen,
whose promotion of power directly challenged the authority of the
church and its leader, the pope.

Back to Boniface
hh The incident at Agnani set off a reaction that cast the church into a
prolonged period of division and opened a grave wound at the heart
of Christendom. Following hard on the heels of his humiliation at
the hands of the French, Boniface died, and the papacy then left Italy
for Avignon.

hh The papacy became a French commodity, much to the dismay of

France’s traditional enemy, England. The loss of papal autonomy was
decried by many powerful figures who demanded a Roman restoration.
That restoration would be attempted with Gregory XI’s return to Rome
in the 1370s, but the breach was not successfully healed. Instead, two
papacies took shape: one in Rome and the other in Avignon.

hh For an institution that traced its origins to the Petrine Doctrine, the
notion of two men possessing the keys to the kingdom of Heaven was
preposterous: How could two men both be the heirs of Saint Peter?

hh The situation was untenable and doing inestimable damage to the

papacy, and so a church council resolved to fix the problem. A solution
was reached in the monumental Council of Constance (1414–1418).
It was a vigorous, action-packed council, determined to address the
church’s flagging popularity and the thorny trouble of a central
European heresy in addition to the great papal riddle.

Lecture 26  Renaissance Faith: Medieval Contexts 193

hh By that point, there was one papal claimant in Avignon and two in
Rome. They were all dismissed and replaced by Martin V. After more
than 100 years of exile and schism, one pope ruled in Rome once more.
However, the weaknesses the period exposed and their repercussions
would haunt the church.

Suggested Reading

Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars.

Hornbeckand Van Dussen, ed., Europe after Wyclif.
Ulmann, A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages.

Questions to Consider

1 Can you think of other historical examples where spiritual

dynamism instead damaged or challenged the faith it seeks
to support? How is spiritual dynamism a constructive and
destructive force in our own world?

2 How would you characterize the later medieval church?

Did its weaknesses override its strengths?

3 What does the struggle between popes and secular rulers

suggest about ideas of power and the exercise of authority
that are still unresolved today?

194 Renaissance
Lecture 27
Renaissance Faith:
The Papacy
T h e focus on matters of governance,
faith, resources, and values that
characterized the Renaissance mingled
with the aspirations of the papacy. That
had both spectacular and devastating
effects, as this lecture shows. The
lecture begins with Pope Julius II
(r. 1503–1513) and then moves on to
other case studies.

Lecture 27  Renaissance Faith: The Papacy 195

Julius II
hh Like many of his fellow Renaissance popes, Julius II was extraordinarily
ambitious. He cowed those who crossed him and got the better of
even the great Michelangelo, himself noted for his iron will. The two
had spectacular battles, as Julius was a notoriously demanding and
uncompromising patron. The most challenging task Julius put before
Michelangelo was the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Julius’s payroll included many other Renaissance greats.

 Pope Julius II (1443–1513) 

196 Renaissance
hh Julius wanted a nation-state of his very own, and to get it, he put into
place many of the same initiatives that propelled monarchs elsewhere in
Europe to new levels of centralization and authority. The Renaissance
papacy became more and more creative in meeting its financial needs.
This was part of the reason Julius exercised military might in expanding
papal claims to the lands of the central Italian Peninsula. The Papal
States, over which the pope could exercise direct authority as secular
lord, were needed to pay the bills.

hh Julius drove Venice out of papal lands, and then he turned his attention
to ridding the peninsula of the many foreign rivals who sought to
advance their own causes at Italian expense. Julius wouldn’t succeed
in keeping out the foreign rivals, but he did chalk up victories against
challengers in the Papal States. At the time of his death, papal lands
stretched from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

hh To understand how the papacy came to embrace their new goals, context
is helpful. The papacy that emerged from the settlement at Constance
had some serious work to do. The institution had been tarnished by its
perceived partisanship during the pontificate at Avignon (1309–1377)
and damaged by the lack of unity the schism (1378–1417) represented.
The notion of rival popes undermined the very nature of the papacy
as providing leadership in the figure of the one true successor of Peter.

hh When the members of the Council of Constance finally resolved the

Great Schism in 1417, the man they selected, Martin V (r. 1417–1431),
dissolved the council. There was still a nagging sense that the church
had significant work to do: to rehabilitate its public image, to refine
its doctrine and spiritual practices, and to answer questions about its
structure and function.

hh The zeal for reform would lose out to dual papal programs shaped
by quintessentially Renaissance imperatives. One imperative was to
transform Rome into a cultural center, and the other was the drive for
territorial conquest.

Lecture 27  Renaissance Faith: The Papacy 197

hh Martin embarked on a program meant to prepare Rome it for its star
turn as Christendom’s restored capital. There were many tasks to tend
to, since rival condottieri—who needed to be subdued or bargained
with—had dominated Rome. Martin was good at that kind of detail work.

hh He was also vigorous in his commitment to stamping out heresy.

In 1420, he called for a crusade against heretics at a time when the
cause was urgent, particularly due to the activities of the Hussite rebels
in the Holy Roman Empire.

The Roman Renaissance

hh The popes who followed Martin V were the chief architects of the
Roman Renaissance. Nicholas V (r. 1447–1455) had a hand in the
construction of some of Rome’s most famous monuments. He
commissioned the building of a new Vatican palace and initiated
the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. The famous Trevi Fountain was
reconstructed under his watchful eye as well.

hh The most notable of Nicholas’s

immediate successors was
Pope Pius II (r. 1458–1464).
He made crusading against
the Turks a key initiative
during his reign, but with little
success. His legacy instead rests
on the fusion of his passion for
classical scholarship with his
appointment as pope. Pius’s
enthusiasm for the humanist
endeavor is evident in his
own writing, and it helped
to legitimate the Renaissance
in Rome.   Pope Pius II (1405–1464) 

198 Renaissance
hh During the reign of Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471–1484), he, too, would
become an active patron of Renaissance artists and scholars. He devoted
considerable energies and resources to the Roman facelift begun by
his predecessors, commissioning bridges and fortifications, repairing
Rome’s aqueduct system, and restoring places of worship.

Sixtus’s Dark Side

hh Sixtus had rather a dark streak as well, starting with nepotism. His
family members regularly found preferment; surrounding himself with
kin served as a means of enhancing his own power and safeguarding
him from challenges. Sixtus elevated a flock of nephews, for example,
to the position of cardinal. That included a future pope in Julius II.

hh Sixtus’s most notorious activity while occupying the papal seat was
personally endorsing the Pazzi Plot of 1478 to assassinate Lorenzo and
Giuliano de’ Medici. Sixtus harbored resentment against Lorenzo
for a series of slights. A series of complex financial settlements and
preferments that bound the Pazzi and the Salviati families, the pope’s
Florentine bankers, led to increasing tensions with the Medici and the
origins of the assassination scheme.

hh Although Sixtus issued a statement intended to express his personal

denunciation of killing by virtue of the holy office he held, it wasn’t
difficult to read between the lines: The elimination of the Medici
would be of great benefit to the papacy and to anyone who could effect
that circumstance.

hh The plot was a failure. Young Giuliano de’ Medici bled to death on
the floor of the cathedral, brutally stabbed nineteen times, but his
older brother Lorenzo escaped and went on to great power. In their
indignation, the people of Florence seized dozens of conspirators,
including the head of the Pazzi family, and executed them for their
role in the attempted coup.

Lecture 27  Renaissance Faith: The Papacy 199

hh Among the victims was Francesco de Salviati, who’d been appointed
archbishop of Pisa by Sixtus himself. Sixtus responded by placing
Florence under interdict, denying the Florentines the salvific necessity
of the Mass. Sixtus was punishing those whose actions challenged his
own security and strategies.

Later Popes
hh The pontificate of Innocent VIII (r. 1484–1492) followed, most notable
perhaps for its coinciding with a revival of interest in the dangers of
magic that came to be codified in Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer’s Malleus
Maleficarum in 1487. After Innocent’s death, the most decadent of all of
the Renaissance popes came to power, shortly after the fall of Granada
in 1492: the Spaniard Rodrigo de Borgia, or Pope Alexander VI (r.

hh Alexander represents the zenith of papal self-involvement and

corruption. The enhancement of the papacy wasn’t his primary drive.
The ultimate object of his concern was his own family.

hh Alexander had no interest in pretending to celibacy or any of the moral

niceties attached to the role of pope. His longtime mistress, Vanozza
Catanei, enjoyed the informal standing of a queen, and Alexander
lavished material attention on their four children. The boys would get
land at the expense of the church.

hh The most famous, Cesare, was made an archbishop at the age of 17. He
would come to serve as an object of fascination for Niccolò Machiavelli
in The Prince, thanks to Cesare’s ruthless pursuit of Italian empire.

hh Alexander made world history with his proposed settlement of Spain

and Portugal’s conflict over the New World. His granting to Spain of
the lion’s share of the Americas might have been his most important
legacy for the future of the Roman church, given Spanish conquest and
missionary efforts to convert the indigenous people.

200 Renaissance
hh Alexander’s archrival, Julius II, followed. Julius returned the papal focus
to making the Roman Renaissance and to making the Papal States
papal again—not the playground of the Borgias or other interlopers.

hh A Medici pope then came to power as Leo X (r. 1513–1521). His would be
a fateful pontificate, thanks to the challenge of a monk-turned-theology-
professor in the northern Holy Roman Empire. The Renaissance had
had its day for the papal church, as the Reformation was coming.

Suggested Reading

Dandelet, Spanish Rome.

King, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling.

Questions to Consider

1 What grade would you give the Renaissance papacy,

and why?

2 Did the Renaissance help or hurt the papal church,

on balance?

3 Do you think the Renaissance popes deviated from earlier

ideals about papal authority, or did they simply update
older ideas in their Renaissance environment?

Lecture 27  Renaissance Faith: The Papacy 201

Lecture 28
Faith: Religious
T h e Renaissance represented a rebirth of
classical ideals, but it also inherited a
medieval tradition of religious antagonism.
Christian authorities, both clerical and lay,
identified practitioners of alternate faiths
and heretical Christians as obstacles to
good governance. This lecture continues
the course’s exploration of the institutional
church during the Renaissance. It was
attacked and criticized, defensively
responding to negative publicity. It was also
dynamic, ambitious, and authoritarian,
going on the offensive in a partnership
with Renaissance nation-states that would
have profound influences on the battles of
interpretation and power that launched
the Reformation.

202 Renaissance
hh The late Middle Ages represented a medieval nadir for the Christian
clerical establishment. The conflict between Pope Boniface VIII and
King Philip IV saw the French monarch emerge triumphant and the
papacy relocated from Rome to Avignon.

hh That Avignon Exile of the church coincided with some of the most
catastrophic events of the period. A famine caused massive loss of life,
especially in northwest Europe, where agricultural disaster and hunger
were joined by animal and human disease. The initiation of the so-
called Hundred Years’ War in 1337 also occurred when the pope was
in exile.

hh Moreover, the Black Death ran roughshod over European populations

at midcentury. Clerics were stretched thin, and the church had to
compromise in the wake of the tidal wave of death. It authorized lay
people to hear last confessions. The careful project of reserving that
vital role for the clergy lay in ruins.

hh A problematic stereotype sunk in, that of the grasping, greedy cleric,

offering his services to the highest bidder in the moment of extremis.
Between the politicized exile of the papacy and the charges of greed in
the clerical ranks, the church wasn’t doing well in justifying its purity
and elevation above the matters of mere laymen.

hh People questioned the propriety of the church’s leadership and its
practices. The medieval conciliarists, of which Italian scholar Marsiglio
of Padua (1275–1342) was a leading representative, had argued for the
state ascendant over the church and promoted councils as the most
effective governing mechanism of the church.

hh English theologian Wyclif (d. 1384) offered an even more robust

challenge to traditional structures of authority. He invested scripture
with the sole power to determine Christian belief. The clergy were
mortal men who lacked the ability to develop and enforce their own
interpretations of Christian living.

Lecture 28  Renaissance Faith: Religious Uniformity 203

hh His patron was John of Gaunt (1340–1399), duke of Lancaster and uncle
of the young king Richard II. To Gaunt’s delight, Wyclif railed against
ecclesiastical wealth and corruption in a way that was well suited to
Gaunt’s own political agenda. Gaunt sought to secure taxation from
the clergy and used Wyclif’s diatribes against the church to endorse
increased royal control at the expense of clerical autonomy.

hh Wyclif’s writings incurred much wrath but didn’t result in a death

sentence for the Oxford theologian. It paid to have friends in high
places. Gaunt kept Wyclif free of the church’s recriminations, and
Wyclif died an old man in 1384.

hh His ideas had reached a receptive audience of intellectuals and devout

middling-status men and women. These followers were known as
Wycliffites or Lollards. Orthodox Christians saw them as a nuisance.

New Policies
hh The early reign of Henry IV (r. 1399–1413) saw the implementation of
new policies to root out and punish heresy. Convicted heretics would
burn for their errors, and the reading of English-language Bibles
was forbidden. Gone was the royal support that had safeguarded
Wyclif himself.

hh In 1414, the Lollards rebelled under the leadership of Sir John Oldcastle.
The rebellion was crushed, and many executions for heresy and treason
followed. Even Oldcastle himself was eventually arrested and burned
at the stake in 1417. Suspected Lollards were targeted following the
rebellion. Wyclif himself was retroactively declared a heretic, and his
remains were burned.

hh Another key figure caused the church considerable dismay with

accusations of corruption and error, in both its theology and its
leadership. His name was Jan Hus (1369–1415). Hus was a Czech
university student when he came into contact with Wycliffite teachings,
and he adopted and elaborated on many of the same themes Wyclif had.

204 Renaissance
hh Hus denied papal authority and turned a critical eye on the papal
practice of granting indulgences for the remission of sins, declaring
such powers beyond the reach of the papacy. Like Wyclif, Hus promoted
the reading of the scriptures, encouraging the translation of the Bible
into the Czech vernacular.

hh Hus’s attack struck a chord with the population of Bohemia. They

linked his criticisms to their own objections to clerical wealth and
privilege and to a nascent nationalism that
chafed under the rule of the papacy and
the Holy Roman Empire. Hus was
eventually summoned to the
Council of Constance, where
he was interrogated, found
guilty of heresy, and burned
at the stake.

hh His death led to a rebellion

in the center of the empire.
Hus’s supporters, the
Hussites, inflicted several
defeats on their imperial and
papal enemies. The Hussite
movement joined with later
Protestant sects, so the later
Reformation had some powerful,
15th-century antecedents.
  Jan Hus (c. 1370–1415) 

Persecution of Jews
hh Another important element to consider regarding the pre-Reformation
drive for uniformity involves the history of the persecution of the
European Jews. Christianity’s troubled relationship with the Jews
stretched back to its inception, and sweeping limitations on Jews were
codified in the laws of Emperor Constantine. Particularly circumscribed
were their activities during the Christian holy week, when animosities
ran high as the result of Christians’ interpretation that Jesus’s death
came at the hands of the Jews.

Lecture 28  Renaissance Faith: Religious Uniformity 205

hh During the Renaissance, the Jews comprised a tiny fraction of the
European population—perhaps one percent. They’d been targeted
during episodes of European expansion, as during the Crusades, when
Latin Christians traveling eastward to fight enemies of their faith found
it troubling that Europe Itself housed practitioners of a wrong faith.

hh Civil and ecclesiastical regulations required Jews to don special clothing

and badges. The Fourth Lateran Council, for example, decreed that Jews
wear distinguishing clothing to stave off the possibility of Christians
unwittingly entering into a sexual relationship with unrecognized Jews.

hh Such regulatory drives othered the Jews, reinforcing their separation—

visual, spatial, economic, and religious—from Christians. For example,
common legends of Jews breaking into churches to desecrate the
host indicated Christian beliefs that the Jews sought to mock the
Christian faith.

hh These fears took a particularly horrifying shape during the Black Death.
Jews in a number of areas of Europe were blamed for spreading the
disease, usually through accusations that they poisoned Christian
wells. Under duress, some confessed to a wide conspiracy, confirming
Christian suspicions and inflaming tensions further.

hh The scapegoating of the Jews also took the form of pogroms, particularly
in the Holy Roman Empire. Pope Clement VI sought to offer some
measure of protection for Jews in Rome, but his pleas failed to
extinguish the flames.

hh In addition to the trials imposed upon the Jews, the church had its
own judicial trials of faith internally in the form of the Inquisition.
Heresy was believed to be so detrimental to the health of the Christian
community that the task of investigating it was the responsibility of
Christian bishops. After the Albigensian challenge of the 13th century,
new, more rigorous mechanisms were called upon to bolster the
ecclesiastical processes.

206 Renaissance
hh Joining the investigative team were inquisitors, mostly drawn from
the newly formed Dominican and Franciscan friars. These men were
animated by piety and under the supervision of the papacy. They quickly
earned a reputation for their commitment to the hunt.

hh The Inquisition didn’t have to follow any legal niceties in their

acquisition of evidence or their treatment of the accused. Having been
granted vast authority, inquisitors left no stone unturned to discover
and uproot heresy. The use of torture and the acceptance of secret
testimony were excused on the grounds that the consequences of failure
were severe and could endanger God’s kingdom.

hh Not all inquisitors were rabidly devoted to excessive justice, but neither
were they always well regarded by their fellow clerics. Signs of their
unpopularity demonstrate clerical turf wars with bishops and disputes
with temporal lords over the matters of authority.

Lecture 28  Renaissance Faith: Religious Uniformity 207

hh The Inquisition took on a different cast when states were able to gain
papal permission for oversight, as with Spanish rulers Ferdinand and
Isabella’s own efforts to investigate secret Jews and Muslims.

hh Heresies could take a nearly infinite number of forms. Inquisitors such

as Heinrich Kramer, for instance, made accusations of witchcraft a
focus of their attention. Threats to Christianity came from everywhere
in Renaissance Europe—or so it seemed. The impulse to quash these
threats was increasingly fervent and brutal.

Suggested Reading

Rex, The Lollards.

Rose, The Murder of William of Norwich.
Roth, Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews
from Spain.

Questions to Consider

1 What similarities and differences exist between

Renaissance and modern states in their approach to
matters of private faith?

2 The medieval and Renaissance Jews were often made

religious refugees by the policies of governing bodies. How
does your sense of their situation match or deviate from
religious refugees in our times?

208 Renaissance
Lecture 29
Luther: Breaking
the Christian
T h is lecture considers the coming of the
Reformation and its connections with
the Renaissance. The Renaissance
papacy’s thirst for ostentation and
the costs of patronage pushed the
cash-strapped church into what critics
considered the salvation-for-sale
business. The situation was another
sign that all wasn’t well in the church
that reformer Martin Luther came
to challenge.

Lecture 29  Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus 209

Two Insiders
hh The political power plays of the papacy, the eroding of the clergy’s
standing by the Black Death, and the draconian push for conformity
in the Inquisition helped build the pyre for a conflagration of backlash
against the church. The fire itself was lit, unwittingly, by a pair of insiders.

hh One was a Dominican friar by the name of Johan Tetzel. He’d been
authorized to promote the attractions and efficacy of a plenary
indulgence offered by Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521). Tetzel, who had a
particular flair for salesmanship, went all out.

hh Tetzel’s was a seductive message: For a modest fee, the living could
offer priceless assistance to those who’d passed beyond mortal aid.
According to Tetzel, it was the pope’s power and beneficence in offering
indulgences that could ease the grave suffering of loved ones, plagued
by the torments of being stuck in purgatory.

hh An important Augustinian monk-turned-theologian wasn’t impressed.

When his parishioners came to him with news of their purchases and
reports of Tetzel’s teaching, the second insider, Martin Luther, was
deeply troubled by what he heard.

The Ninety-Five Theses

hh Martin Luther approached his apprehensions about Tetzel’s message as
a good academic: He conducted research, initiating a comprehensive
review of the church’s teachings on indulgences during the summer of
1517. He found his uneasiness growing.

hh By late October, he’d organized his thoughts into his Ninety-Five

Theses. Luther’s main objection to the current practice of indulgences
centered on his understanding of sin and penance as lifelong processes
of Christian living. Seen through that lens, forgiveness wasn’t
something that could be acquired as an event, nor was the remission
of the penalties of sin something that was completed on behalf those
already in purgatory.

210 Renaissance
  Martin Luther (1483–1546) 

hh Luther doesn’t actually refute indulgences in the theses, although

he questions their operation. Note that Luther didn’t understand
the complicated mechanisms behind this plenary indulgence: the
beautification of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome commanded vast sums,
so the indulgence was designed to help underwrite the continuing
Roman Renaissance.

Lecture 29  Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus 211

hh There was also the matter of the Hohenzollern debt: To secure Albrecht
von Hohenzollern’s appointment as archbishop of Mainz, the family
had taken out a huge loan of 10,000 ducats. They already owed back
payments on the debt undertaken for Albrecht’s previous appointment
as Bishop of Magdeburg.

hh The profits from the indulgence were supposed to pay off papal debt.
Writing in outrage over the abuses he saw with this indulgence-based
revenue scheme wasn’t Luther’s smartest move. However, he hoped
his theses—written in Latin to target an audience of learned men—
would initiate a scholarly debate on the current theology and practice
of indulgences.

hh It is not particularly significant that Luther’s theses ended up posted

on the doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg, which had a history of
serving as a public bulletin board. More interesting is this line from
Luther: “Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and
dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter.”

hh With those words, Luther suggests that his document will come to the
attention of others, presumably those at some distance from Wittenberg
and so unable to participate in the anticipated disputation in person.
That hints at the wider distribution of his writings and puts Luther and
this indulgence controversy at the center of an informational revolution
that would play a key role in what followed.

A Massive Shift
hh Weeks after the theses were produced, they were translated from the
academic language of Latin into the German vernacular and printed.
The conditions of Luther’s world, that of that Renaissance, were
absolutely vital to how he was able to take on the church, initiating a
protest movement that put an end to more than a thousand years of
Christian consensus.

hh The Ninety-Five Theses were just the start of Luther’s activities. Luther’s
study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans provided the release of a lifetime’s
tension and frustration concerning the earning of salvation. Luther’s

212 Renaissance
interpretation of scripture led him to reject the notion of salvation as a
thing earned, as the church taught. He concluded that those who had
faith would be saved by it.

hh Faith alone—as an unearned gift of God’s grace—was the recipe for

salvation. The purchase of indulgences or empty performances of acts
of charity were not. That kind of talk received the attention of the
church, as did Luther’s challenging of papal infallibility in the Leipzig
Disputation with Johan Eck in 1519.

hh The year 1520 saw the publication of treatises in which Luther opened
the floodgates of criticism against the form, function, theology, and
leadership of the church. In Address to the Christian Nobility of the German
Nation, Luther called on the German princes to reject the foreign
Roman overlord and take control of their own churches.

hh The Babylonian Captivity of the Church took on the sacramental structure

of the church, using the title to conjure up the Old Testament idea of
faith held hostage. In it, Luther dismisses five of the traditional seven
sacraments, leaving only baptism and the Eucharist as true sacraments
necessary for the believer.

hh By the spring of 1521, when he was summoned to an imperial diet

in Worms to answer for his teachings, Luther was no stranger to
controversy. Luther had mocked the previous papal denunciations
against him. He’d burned the edict that demanded his recantation
under the threat of excommunication in late 1520; predictably, he
refused to recant and so was excommunicated in January of 1521. In
May of 1521, the diet banned Luther’s work and called for his detention
as an outlaw.

Luther’s Impact
hh The treatises of 1520 were only part of Luther’s oeuvre. He wrote and
published theological exegeses. He also wrote and published a German
translation of the Bible, as well as sermons. Those able to read could
come into direct contact with the reformer’s teachings via print.

Lecture 29  Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus 213

hh Another factor in the popular educational element was the Lutheran
soundtrack. Luther had a passion for music and understood the power
of lyrics and tunes to communicate powerful messages. Hymn singing
became a key means of teaching. Luther himself authored numerous
hymns, helping produce the first Lutheran hymnal, published in 1524.

hh Luther also had powerful friends, including his patron and protector,
Elector Frederick of Saxony. After Luther’s branding as an outlaw,
Frederick had men disguised as bandits apprehend Luther as he was
traveling from Worms. They were friends, not foes, and they took
Luther into protective custody.

hh For nearly two years, Luther called Wartburg Castle home, writing,
refining his arguments, and producing his German-language Bible. He
was also evading the fiery end that likely would have awaited him, had
he fallen into the wrong hands.

hh Luther’s exhortations to lay leaders to take control over their churches

would earn him a number of princely supporters. He authorized
attitudes and ideas they had long cherished themselves.

hh Although Luther himself wasn’t a humanist, many humanists were

enthusiastic about Luther’s challenge to the papacy and to the
hypocrisies of the clergy—at least initially. In Luther, they thought they’d
found an ally, someone who saw the need to expose the corruption and
decay of the clerical establishment in order to bring about their much-
desired Christian Renaissance.

hh Luther was in communication with several of them, including the

notable Erasmus (1466–1536). For a time, a vibrant, productive exchange
helped promote and sustain Luther’s cause. However, Luther’s challenge
began to take on a decidedly more separatist cast. As it became clear
that he was calling not for the restoration of the one church but a new
church, many of the humanists fell away from him.

214 Renaissance
hh He even lost his pen pal Erasmus in a rupture over divergent
interpretations on the issue of free will. Still, the network of northern
humanists had served as an early and useful means of elevating an
imperial religious problem into a much broader setting. The beast of
reform was loose.

Suggested Reading

Eire, Reformations.
Pettegree, Brand Luther.
Scribner and Dixon, The German Reformation.

Questions to Consider

1 Was Luther’s success more the product of the weakness

of the institutional church or of the strength of his
own message?

2 What elements in Luther’s teachings would have appealed

to the different status groups of 16th-century Europe?

3 Luther’s Reformation thrived in part thanks to a media

revolution that took advantage of new technologies
available in Renaissance Europe. How have recent
developments in technology and social media changed the
exchange of information in our time?

Lecture 29  Luther: Breaking the Christian Consensus 215

Lecture 30
Radical Reform
in Renaissance
T h e previous lecture examined the
deep fissure that Luther’s new ideas,
propagated in very Renaissance ways,
opened in the foundations of the
European Catholic establishment. This
lecture considers the many fractures
that grew from and deepened that break
in ways that Luther couldn’t foresee
or control. Reform took on a new,
institutional emphasis of its own as the
challengers of the papal church sought
to codify and define their beliefs.

216 Renaissance
The Anabaptists
hh This lecture begins with the Anabaptists, who harbored what
contemporaries considered particularly dangerous ideas. They believed
that entrance into the faith community was something that required a
fully conscious commitment. An infant couldn’t undertake that. That’s
why they advocated the practice of adult baptism.

hh That was enough to earn the ire of other Christians, who rejected
vigorously the suggestion the sacrament of baptism could be validated
by human will. That dangerous idea, they believed, undermined the
power of God, the chief agent of the ceremony.

hh The Anabaptists’ most radical fringe was a group that seized control of
the imperial city of Münster in Westphalia early in 1534 to establish
their New Jerusalem. Among those who settled in Münster was Jan
of Leiden (1509–1536), an import from the Low Countries, a former
apprentice tailor, and the illegitimate son of a magistrate.

hh Jan and his cohort engineered a coup in the municipal elections in

February 1534, replacing the more conservative elites with a crowd of
the laboring classes. The displaced former bishop of Münster, Franz
von Waldeck (1491–1553), began gathering recruits from both Catholic
and Protestant factions to take back the city. The besieging army took
the Anabaptists down.

hh Leadership of the city fell to Jan of Leiden, who wasted no time in

identifying himself as the new prophet. His objectives included the
restoration of the Old Testament of polygamy. Under his leadership,
the city held out for months, until the arrival of Philip, Margrave of
Hesse (1504–1567).

hh The city was taken in June 1535. The remaining defenders were
slaughtered, and the leaders were made a gruesome example of. King
Jan was paraded throughout northern imperial lands, then tortured
and executed. His corpse was placed in an iron cage hanging from
the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church to rot and to remind others of the
penalty of fanaticism.

Lecture 30  Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe 217

hh The tale of the Anabaptists of Münster elucidates how complicated and
messy the process of Reformation became. As it grew in momentum,
the Reformation bumped up against a host of ideas and systems with
which it had to negotiate.

The Common Man

hh Luther’s exposure of what he identified as the hypocrisy of the
clergy was relentless. It was through his anticlericalism that Luther
inadvertently hit on the thing that would make his ideas most relevant
to the common man: In German-speaking lands, the common man
was typically a dependent.

hh Some owed their lords various dues and fees for the land they worked
but didn’t own. Others fell into the category of serf. They were also
required to pay dues and fees, but with the added requirement of labor
services as well. The strain of meeting various exactions to the lords
grew increasingly burdensome and resented across the 15th century.

hh Another strain came from the due and fees agriculturalists owed
to the church. The tithe—the gift of thanks for God’s bounty—was
traditionally established at 10 percent. That had grown burdensome as
well, comprised of a trio of tithes: one on the grain harvest and wine,
one on fruit and vegetables, and one on animals.

hh It didn’t matter if a farmer had a bad harvest or an animal blight carried

away livestock. The demands were relentless. All of these pressures
contributed to lower orders harboring mutinous sentiments toward
the clergy.

hh Peasant rebellions had dotted the timeline of the 14th and 15th centuries
in reaction to the aforementioned conditions. These risings were
crushed, but the impulses that drove the frustrated peasants to rebel
only grew.

218 Renaissance
hh The early decades of the 16th century in the Holy Roman Empire had
been host to widespread misery and hunger sparked by years of bad
harvests, and tensions festered. That was the environment into which
Luther’s calls for reform were unleashed. It sparked the greatest peasant
rebellion of them all: the German Peasants’ War.

hh The conflict played out across 1524 and 1525. The rebels were inspired
by Luther and brimming with a variety of economic, political, and
religious grievances. They wanted to be able to appoint their own
clerical leadership, not have it imposed upon them from above. They
also wanted relief from abuses in the imposition and collection of tithes.
Each of these speaks directly to their anticlericalism.

hh As the rebellion spread, urban have-nots joined agricultural rebels;

disturbances and grievances were not confined to the rural environment.
The conflict took on the characteristics of a class war.

hh The rebels were dangerous, but lacked coordination. Despite attempts

by some of the rebel commanders to network with other forces, they
failed to operationalize a plan for unifying the tens of thousands of
men who took up arms as rebels. That, combined with changing
circumstances in the Empire’s own military agenda and resources, was
ultimately the cause of their undoing.

Peasant Radicalism
hh Peasant radicalism set in under the leadership of figures such as Thomas
Muntzer (1490–1525) and Heinrich Pfeiffer. The rebels targeted their
enemies with acts of spectacular violence: burning, looting, and
pillaging. They destroyed castles, churches, and monasteries and
subjected their inhabitants to frontier-style justice. Luther viewed these
rebels as the enemies of God and man. He called them “highwaymen
and murders” and called for their deaths.

Lecture 30  Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe 219

hh A cleanup operation began. The forces of the League of Swabia had
already dealt with recalcitrant rebels in the Knights’ Revolt of 1523–
1524, led by humanist knight Ulrich von Hutton (1488–1523) and Franz
von Sickengen (1481–1523). They beat back the forces of that revolt one
target at a time.

hh It employed the same methodical strategy in dismembering the peasants’

cause as well. The league’s forces were bolstered by the return from
Italy of imperial troops, following the Habsburg victory at Pavia in
1525 against the French. The human cost of the Peasants’ War was
enormous. Estimates of the rebel dead vary widely, ranging from 75,000
to 150,000.

After Rebellion
hh After the destruction of the peasant rebellion, the fires of religious
passion were mediated through the practical problem of the
Reformation’s survival in the Empire. Hostile forces were seeking the
revocation of reform altogether.

hh The attempts were initially ineffectual. A trio of Imperial Diets at

Nuremberg in the early 1520s, presided over by Charles V’s brother
Archduke Ferdinand (1503–1564), failed to act conclusively to crush
Luther’s movement. The imperial agenda was crowded, with the struggle
with France in Italy in full swing and the resurgent Ottoman armies on
the move in the east and the Mediterranean.

hh In 1526, the imperial estates convened at Speyer, where concessions had

to be made to the evangelicals. Until a much-desired church council
could be called to address the matter of reform, Ferdinand was forced
to proclaim what amounted to a compromise with those lands and
leaders who’d embraced the cause of reform.

hh Matters of greater importance demanded unified action: Ottoman

sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566) was poised to drive
into the middle of Europe, and the Diet turned its focus to stopping
him. They failed.

220 Renaissance
hh In August 1526, the Ottomans achieved a smashing victory at Mohács
against the Hungarian king Louis in a battle that shook Christians
throughout Europe, but nowhere more so than in the obviously
vulnerable Holy Roman Empire. The Ottomans halted their advance,
but the threat they posed didn’t allow the Holy Roman Empire to check
the spread of Luther’s message.

hh The ongoing Italian agenda absorbed the emperor’s own energies.

The sack of Rome by disgruntled imperial troops in 1527 was both
an embarrassment and an opportunity. Charles pressured Pope
Clement VII (r. 1523–1534), extorting advantages on the peninsula
and abroad.

hh When the Diet met next in 1529, the tide had turned against the princes
who’d embraced Luther’s cause. They were outvoted in the revocation
of 1526’s conciliatory position toward evangelicalism, leading them to
a formal protest. That, incidentally, is the origin of the Protestant label,
with the April 1529 objection to the Diet’s ruling on evangelicalism.

Attempts at Reconciliation
hh Given the deteriorating relationship between the evangelicals and
their opponents, leading evangelical Margrave Philip of Hesse invited
German reformers to join reformers from the Swiss cantons at Marburg.
The hope was to achieve a unified theological front.

hh The conference’s attendees included Luther, his associate Philip

Melanchthon, and first-generation Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli.
While they found much common ground, they couldn’t see eye to eye on
the Eucharist. That most cherished of sacraments would prove a point
of controversy time and again among the emerging Protestant groups.

hh After a failed attempt to create a confession of faith that would win

over the emperor—the Augsburg Confession of 1530—and the formation
of a military alliance of Protestant princes and magistrates for mutual
defense—the Schmalkaldic League—civil war in the Empire over the
matter of faith seemed imminent.

Lecture 30  Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe 221

Luther’s Views
hh The dynamism of protest that Luther’s challenge unleashed against the
church didn’t actually translate much into other areas of his thinking
and writing. For instance, though he later decried the more violent
actors in the peasant rebellion, his earlier Admonition to Peace struck a
conciliatory tone. It was drowned out by the subsequent thundering
denunciation of the peasants who thought their actions were in keeping
with Luther’s own platform for change.

hh Luther’s relationship with the status quo was a complex one. He wasn’t
a slave to the approval of princes, but he did believe that authority
ought to be obeyed. That can be hard to square, given the events he
helped unleash, but this helps: He supported a clear distinction between
spiritual and secular authority. Luther deferred to secular authorities on
secular matters, but on spiritual matters, he owed his obedience to God.

hh As for another matter, a range of interpretations of Luther on the

subject of women exists. That’s because Luther’s writings at various
points and in various circumstances support a variety of positions, as
can the Christian scriptures themselves. Some of Luther’s comments
about women read as perplexingly backward today, but they were in
keeping with contemporary views on women’s limitations.

hh Many have found Luther’s comments on the Jews far more troubling
and troublesome. Perhaps most famously, they’ve been linked to the
sinister legacy of German anti-Semitism in the 20th century. The most
controversial is the text On the Jews and Their Lies, published in 1543.

hh Luther had commented on the Jews throughout his authorial career.

Early on, he called upon the Jews to convert. However, by 1543, he’d
become deeply embittered by their rejection, both of himself and of
Christianity. He unleashed his frustration in a diatribe that rehearses
centuries of urban legends propagated against the Jews.

222 Renaissance
hh He prescribed a seven-step plan to break the Jews. They would, in
Luther’s frightening vision, be subject to loss by fire of their schools
and synagogues and homes to demonstrate “that they are living in
exile and in captivity.” This text serves as a reminder to be wary of
embracing any easy characterizations of Luther. He’s a figure that resists
easy demonization or lionization.

Suggested Reading

Goertz, The Anabaptists.

Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks, ed., Luther on Women.
Stayer, The German Peasants’ War and the Anabaptist Community
of Goods.

Questions to Consider

1 Can you think of examples of protest being peacefully

managed or controlled, or does the act of protest
imply disorder?

2 Would Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had have the

power to put a conclusive end to the Reformation, had he
not been devoting his energies to initiatives against the
French and the Turks?

3 Was the Reformation in the Empire inevitable? Why or

why not?

Lecture 30  Radical Reform in Renaissance Europe 223

Lecture 31
Renaissance and
T h e Renaissance was a powerful impetus
for the Reformation, particularly
the types of reform that originated
in the Swiss lands. These movements
found early traction in urban areas,
which also happened to be centers of
commerce and learning. Their appeal,
though, spread their ideas far beyond
Swiss borders, where they often adopted
a form of militancy that resulted in
conflict and dissension.

224 Renaissance
Huldrych Zwingli
hh At nearly the same moment Martin Luther began to publicly question
the theological efficacy of indulgences and the power of the papacy
to grant salvation, another reformer launched his own assault on the
institutional church, even becoming embroiled in his own indulgence
controversy. His name was Huldrych Zwingli, and he was born in the
Swiss canton of Glarus.

hh Though he was not drawn from the elite class, Zwingli did receive
training in Latin and grammar under the tutelage of a clerical uncle and
then at a school in Bern before enrolling at the University of Vienna.
There, the Northern Renaissance was in bloom, with well-regarded
humanists such as Conrad Celtis (1459–1508) on the faculty.

  Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) 

Lecture 31  Renaissance and Reformation: Connections 225

hh It was in Vienna that Zwingli first embraced the study of the classics
and developed his rather prodigious talent for music. Zwingli spent
four years in Vienna before becoming a transfer student, continuing
his education at the University of Basel.

hh He was eventually ordained as a priest. He wanted to return to Glarus

to become his hometown’s parish priest, but an alternate candidate had
already been approved and appointed by the clerical hierarchy. Zwingli
bribed his rival to dissuade him from accepting the post.

hh Zwingli settled nicely into his post, becoming a dutiful clerical shepherd
minding his pastoral flock. However, the lure of Christian humanism
beckoned. Zwingli devoted himself to the study of the Bible, the church
fathers, and the classics. He turned a critical eye on the contemporary
church, whose laxity and corruption deviated from the ancient Christian
vision. He singled out as particular targets pilgrimage and indulgences.

hh An opportunity for career advancement opened in 1518, when the

position of cathedral priest at the Great Minster of Zurich fell vacant.
Zwingli set his cap on winning the job but found himself battling
rumors of moral laxity: He was charged with impregnating a parishioner
while rector of the monastic church in Einsiedeln, and his devotion to
his music earned him the label of “frivolous.”

hh Zwingli defended himself with great vigor. The selection committee

responded favorably to Zwingli’s appeal and named him to the job.
Zwingli quickly earned the admiration and devotion of the people
of Zurich, and their support would prove vital to Zwingli’s initiation
of reform.

Affair of the Sausages

hh Zwingli’s background leads to 1522’s Affair of the Sausages. A group
gathered at the home of printer Christoph Froschauer, where the host
served sausages. Several of the assembled party, which included Zwingli,
ate the sausages, a clear violation of the requirement to abstain from
the eating of meat during Lent.

226 Renaissance
hh Zwingli didn’t partake of the sausages himself, but he jumped to the
defense of those who did. His resulting sermon endorsed the position
that each individual Christian can fast or eat, according to his own
decision. He also called out the hypocrisy of behaving one way during
lent as license to behave however one wished the rest of the year.

hh While civic authorities who considered the matter upheld the practice
of the fast, they did open the door for more substantive debate on
matters of faith. That allowed Zwingli to present a list of objections to
contemporary theology and practice.

hh He railed against clerical celibacy, and he objected to idolatry. Zwingli

also commented on the Eucharist. He held it to be a commemorative
ceremony, denying the real presence of Jesus in body, blood, or spirit.

hh Zwingli’s actions in Zurich, shaped in various ways by the influence
of humanist thought, received the stamp of approval from the urban
elite who governed the city. However, not all applications of humanist
methods and ideas resulted in a successful partnership between spiritual
and secular leaders.

hh One of the problems stemmed from an issue at the heart of all calls
for reform that emphasized a return ad fontes (“to the sources”). In this
context, that meant going back classical Christian texts. When people
studied the Bible for themselves, they formed their own interpretations
about what they’d read.

hh The path of individual discovery of truth and knowledge was a revered

principle of Renaissance humanist learning. However, the medieval
church had made it a point to provide its approved interpretation for
all. The church would identify knowledge and disseminate it.

hh The emphasis on reading the Bible put forward by early reformers, many
of them influenced by humanist education, quickly exposed the dangers
of the democratization of interpretation. For example, in Zurich, a well-

Lecture 31  Renaissance and Reformation: Connections 227

born humanist named Conrad Grebel (1498–1526) found himself at
the center of controversy for promoting scriptural evidence of a point
that would become abhorrent to both Catholics and Protestants alike.

hh Grebel was part of a reading group that dedicated itself to the close
study of scripture. On the subject of baptism, the group believed it had
made a significant breakthrough in concluding that scriptural evidence
did not support the efficacy of infant baptism. They pointed to Christ’s
own baptism, as an adult, by John the Baptist as irrefutable proof of the
ceremony’s value for those capable of entering the faith community of
their own volition, not for babies.

hh Grebel and his group were outlawed from Zurich for performing and
participating in public adult baptisms, a practice that the city fathers
made punishable by death under the grounds of old Roman law. As
a consequence, re-baptizers were arrested and burned at the stake or
drowned. Similar ideas to Grebel’s spread nonetheless.

A New Generation
hh The lecture now turns to the influence of the new learning on the most
significant of the reformers in the second generation after Luther and
Zwingli. That would be the Frenchman Jean Cauvin (1509–1564), better
known as John Calvin. Enamored with humanist learning, Calvin
pursued Greek, Hebrew, and Latin learning in Paris, producing a tract
on the writings of Roman Stoic Seneca in 1532.

hh Calvin eventually converted to Protestantism. Protestant persecution

erupted in Paris, particularly after October 1534’s Affair of the Placards.
Protestant slogans had been posted throughout the city and even on the
door of the royal bedchamber, igniting a wave of suppression.

hh Calvin fled, finding shelter with the reformers Martin Bucer and
Wolfgang Capito, and settling in Basel. There, he published his
magisterial The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the book he would
continue to revise throughout the remainder of his life. At the time,
he was 26 years old.

228 Renaissance
hh In The Institutes, he advanced the doctrines that would be the hallmarks
of the movement that bears his name: the majesty of God and the gift
of God’s mercy, which extended to the selection of the saved and the
damned. That reality—double predestination—freed the believer from
needless worry over salvation.

hh Calvin eventually ended up in Geneva. With the support of the

magistrates there, Calvin would take up the cause that would dominate
the remainder of his life: the establishment of a purely reformed city,
ruled by discipline and the elect.

hh The instrument through which discipline was secured was the

Consistory. That old question of which authority—spiritual or civil—
would enforce morality was solved in the Consistory, whose members
were drawn from both: it was staffed by church elders and pastors, and
under the leadership of the city’s Small Council. The harshness of the
Consistory’s judgments—exile and execution for adultery, for example—
sometimes obscures the body’s attempts at social reform.

hh Calvin’s thought was careful and systematic, even when his actions
could appear dogmatic and intolerant. His commitment to organized
education is best symbolized by the establishment of the Genevan
Academy in 1559. There, students were educated, free of personal
expense, in the liberal arts and theology. The Genevan Academy, under
the supervision of the talented Theodore Beza, produced men who
helped spread Calvinism throughout Europe.

hh In Scotland, the Reformation possessed some of the same features as the
stories of Zwingli and Calvin: an inspired and inspiring spiritual leader,
working in tandem with powerful men, enacting religious change.
However, the Scottish Reformation would also involve a power play
that toppled a monarch from the throne.

Lecture 31  Renaissance and Reformation: Connections 229

hh On one side was the fiery preacher John Knox, who possessed a steely
determination to see God’s church purely reformed. He was, by turns,
a slave, a warrior, a diplomat, a best-selling misogynist author, and a
historian, to highlight just a few of his many activities and identities.

hh Knox had found himself on the wrong side of the law in the 1540s.
He was in Scotland, at the time managed by the French regent for the
young Mary, queen of Scots (1543–1587). The regent was her mother,
Marie de Guise (1515–1560).

hh Knox’s embracing of Protestant sympathies and his role as chaplain for

the group of assassins of Cardinal David Beaton (1494–1546) resulted
in his capture and two-year imprisonment as a galley slave. After his
release, Knox turned in exile first to England and then to the Continent,
where his travels included Calvin’s Geneva.

hh Knox took up many tasks in Geneva,

including the authoring of a 1558
pamphlet questioning female
authority, The First Blast
of the Trumpet Against the
Monstrous Regiment of
Women. It railed against
the right of women
to exercise political
authority, although
its awkwardly timed
publication coincided
with Elizabeth Tudor’s
ascension to the throne
of England.

  John Knox (1513–1572) 

230 Renaissance
hh Sensing the moment was ripe for his return to the land of his birth,
Knox traveled to Scotland in 1559. The failure of the French to secure
the regency of Marie de Guise and then her sudden death in 1560
offered Knox and the growing Protestant faction opportunity to strike.

Knox in Power
hh Reformation would be made by Scotland’s parliament, under the
leadership of its leading aristocrats. Many of them saw reform as a
way to drive a wedge between Scotland and France, finally freeing
the former from the designs of the latter. The Protestant Lords of the
Congregation guided a reform agenda through a parliament that in
three weeks abolished the power of the papacy in Scotland, forbade
the saying of the Mass, and annulled all acts protecting the old church,
although not dismantling its structure.

hh It authorized Knox and other clerical leaders to organize the form

and function of a new national Scottish church, the Kirk. The group,
influenced by Calvin’s Geneva and under Knox’s guidance, produced
the First Book of Discipline, outlining autonomous congregations. It would
be a church of simplicity and morality, enforced through discipline.

hh The young Scottish queen returned after having suffered the dual blows
of losing both her husband, Francois II, and her mother in short order.
She’d grown up at the French court and found herself a stranger in her
own land, challenged by Knox and a Protestant elite faction solidly in
the ascendancy.

hh Mary and Knox clashed over the issue of her personal religion; she
didn’t do much to revive the Catholic cause in Scotland on her return,
but she had maintained her own Catholic worship and demanded that
she and her servants remain unmolested for their faith practices. She
had a set of four personal interviews with Knox, all of them varying
degrees of disastrous.

Lecture 31  Renaissance and Reformation: Connections 231

hh Mary’s perceived moral lapses, including potential complicity in the
murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley (1545–1567), and her
marriage to the leading conspirator of the assassination plot, the earl
of Bothwell (1534–1578), cost Mary the support of her people and her
crown. Her flight to England in 1568 would initiate a 19-year captivity.
It also allowed the Protestant Lords to further reform their state and
their church, thanks to the long regency of Mary’s son, James VI
(r. 1568–1625), who was raised Protestant.

hh Here in Scotland was a reformed tradition imposed from above, at

least theoretically organized around religious imperatives but deeply
influenced by political circumstances. The partnership would have
profound consequences for the history of Europe.

Suggested Reading

Bashera, Gordon, and Moser, eds., Following Zwingli.

Gordon, Calvin.
Ryrie, The Origins of the Scottish Reformation.

Questions to Consider

1 Do you agree with the assessment of Zwingli as a

Renaissance man? How has that concept evolved since its
exploration earlier in the course?

2 Why do you think powerful connections existed between

education and activism in the 16th century?

3 How do the case studies of Zurich, Geneva, and the

Scottish Reformation indicate a renegotiation of the
relationship between political and religious authority?
232 Renaissance
Lecture 32
T h is lecture considers the causes,
processes, and consequences of the
Tudor reforms. The Tudors were a new
dynasty founded by Henry VII, who
is the first focus of the lecture. The
lecture then turns to his successors and
the ways they grappled with religion
in England.

Lecture 32  English Reformation 233

The Rule of Henry VII
hh Henry VII came to the throne at the end of the 15th century’s Wars of the
Roses and so needed to prioritize his legitimacy and to create stability
for his troubled realm. That meant a strategic marriage for the new
king himself; he took as his bride the daughter of the most successful
Yorkish king to rule England. It also meant strategic marriages, when
the time came, for the four of his children who survived to adolescence.

hh The condition of Henry VII’s England posed significant challenges

for its new monarch. There were rival claimants, who were exposed as
frauds or imprisoned and executed as legitimate threats. There were
also pesky aristocrats, whose independence was largely defused through
legal and political maneuvering.

hh However, Henry VII wasn’t faced with a kingdom of subjects clamoring

for religious change. The lack of religious dissent must have been a relief.

hh Henry VII was a successful king, but a personal and dynastic loss
threatened to undo his carefully constructed succession and alliance
program: His oldest son, Arthur, died in 1502, just months after his
marriage to Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon.

hh Ultimately, the king opted for a plan to the Spanish alliance: He

substituted one brother groom for another. Henry’s second son and
namesake found himself stepping into his brother’s spousal shoes.
The younger Henry, who’d rule as Henry VIII, was just a boy when
Arthur died.

The Rule of Henry VIII

hh Henry VIII’s court posed a marked contrast to that of his father. It was
full of youth, vigor, laughter, and splendor. Gone was the austerity of
the first Tudor king’s final years, replaced by young, companion spouses,
content with one another and hopeful for a bright future.

hh That brightness dimmed, though, as the years advanced and the

union failed to produce a surviving male heir. The need for a son
fused with Henry’s growing desire for Anne Boleyn. Anne was seriously

234 Renaissance
  Henry VIII (1491–1547) 

romantically entangled with another man: Henry Percy, son of the earl
of Northumberland. The relationship had even advanced to a promise
of marriage, but the young couple’s hopes were dashed.

hh Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530), whose meteoric rise to and

exercise of power earned the ire of many of England’s greatest subjects,
often treated the aristocrats as chess pieces to be positioned on his own
game board. He scuttled Anne’s love affair for political purposes.

hh That cleared the king’s path to her, but to Henry’s consternation, he

found his advances to Anne continually rebuffed. She made it clear she
would not be a royal mistress, to be used and discarded. She instead held
out for the ultimate prize: She wanted the royal diadem on her head.

Lecture 32  English Reformation 235

  Anne Boleyn (1507?–1536) 

hh Anne’s coyness only deepened Henry’s desire, so drastic action was

needed. The king needed to break from his wife. Divorce—a sundering
of valid marriage that freed both parties to undertake a second
match—was not an option. Henry instead needed annulment—that is,
a declaration that the marriage was invalid from its inception.

236 Renaissance
Seeking Annulment
hh Henry put Wolsey, his most trusted and effective servant, on the job,
and the cardinal was charged with convincing Rome to fulfill the king’s
wishes. The pope, Clement VII, faced two issues. One was that an
earlier papal dispensation that had been required to pave the way for
Henry and Catherine’s marriage. An annulment that invalidated that
earlier permission would undermine the papacy’s authority.

hh Even more problematic was the geopolitical condition the pope faced
in Rome. The city was occupied by the troops of Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V (r. 1519–1555), who happened to be Catherine of Aragon’s
nephew. Charles wasn’t keen on Catherine being depicted as a woman
who’d occupied the king’s bed for two decades without valid marriage,
nor was he about to allow his cousin Mary to be declared illegitimate.

hh In response, Clement stalled. He frustrated Wolsey to desperation.

The inability to secure the king’s annulment actually cost Wolsey his
credibility with the king, and he died in disgrace. Henry’s papal avenue
to freedom choked off by Clement’s prevarications, a more radical
course of action was decided upon.

Breaking with Rome

hh With his advisors, including Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540), Henry
undertook the divisive move of breaking with Rome. If Rome couldn’t
bend to his wishes, Henry would remove Rome from the equation.

hh The key was not to make Henry appear despotic, unmanned by his
passion for a woman. He needed some indication that in separating
from papal authority, he was actually acting on the wishes of his
subjects. Despite its aristocratic makeup, Parliament was the best avenue
Henry had available for that goal.

hh Between 1529 and 1536, Parliament rewrote the rules of religion and
authority in England. Statute law replaced the pope as leader of the
church with the king. Catherine’s union to Henry was invalidated,
freeing the king to marry Anne.

Lecture 32  English Reformation 237

hh Anne and Henry married in early 1533. The couple welcomed their
first child at the start of September. However, the child was a girl,
Elizabeth. Anne’s time in favor was already beginning to wane. A few
failed pregnancies and rumors cost her the king’s affections and her life.

Henry VIII’s Moves

hh While the king authorized a few Protestant-leaning theological
experiments, many of the changes sought instead to reinforce the king’s
authority over the personnel and wealth of his church. England’s 800-
plus monasteries became a target. The first blows fell against the smaller
houses, after royal commissioners targeted abuses and forged miracles
and relics.

hh Also exposed were the tremendous material resources possessed by the

monasteries. Thomas Cromwell pursued these riches. Cromwell had
hoped to keep monastic wealth and lands firmly under royal control.
With some bloodshed, the monasteries began to capitulate.

hh Henry needed money, in part to fund an ambitious strategy of subduing

Scotland and bringing Ireland more firmly under English control and
in part to navigate the difficult waters of continental alliances and war
in an age of religious conflict. Monastic lands were sold off.

hh Henry’s male heir finally arrived with his third wife, Jane Seymour.
Jane’s death shortly after the birth of the future Edward VI shook
Henry, and he mourned her deeply. However, he moved on to more
wives, first Anne of Cleves and then the teenaged Katherine Howard;
the latter was eventually executed. Rounding out the group was twice-
widowed Catherine Parr.

The King’s Reformation

hh Reformation came to England, but it was always on the king’s terms.
Those found guilty of daring to flout the king’s authority paid for it
with their lives, whether Catholic or Protestant. When the king died
in 1547, his church was largely parallel to the Roman church in terms
of its theology, but independent.

238 Renaissance
hh Edward VI succeeded his father, but his age (nine) and the brevity
of his tenure (just over six years) meant that he didn’t leave his own
definitive stamp on English religion. His tutors had been Protestant,
and he was a precocious student of theology, but it was Edward’s regents
who determined policy.

hh Henry intended Edward to be supervised by a regency council, but

instead it was first one of his Seymour uncles and then the duke of
Northumberland who moved into the clear ascendancy. Both furthered
the cause of reform for political ends. One example was the liquidation
of the lucrative chantries, accounts created to employ priests to say
masses for the dead.

hh The cause of Reformation became so entangled with the vision of royal

power that the duke of Northumberland, as the young king was dying,
sought to place a Protestant claimant on the throne instead of the old
king’s eldest, Catholic daughter, Mary. That candidate was Lady Jane
Grey (d. 1554).

hh The plot didn’t work. The people rallied around Mary, a reminder that
royal blood trumped the “correct” faith.

Mary and Elizabeth

hh Mary spent her reign rooting out heresy, burning Protestants, and
reversing the policies and faith practices that renounced the old ways.
However, one big stumbling block was all of that wealth produced by
the dissolution of the monasteries.

hh Many of the great subjects objected to giving back the land they’d paid
for to reestablish monasteries. They balked, and Catholic revival stalled.
A tumor cost Mary her life, without the production of a Catholic heir
who could secure the course of restoration.

hh Even though Mary’s relationship with sister Elizabeth had been marked
by animosity and rupture, she recognized Elizabeth’s right to the
throne. In November 1558, Anne Boleyn’s daughter became the last of
the Tudors to rule England.

Lecture 32  English Reformation 239

hh Like her father, Elizabeth called on Parliament to lead the way (under
her careful guidance). She had them craft a faith that was moderate in
its theology and modest in its requirements.

hh Some hardline groups challenged Elizabeth’s settlement, but the queen

would not be moved. She would weather the storm of rebellion and the
threat of invasion, and her will carried the day.

Suggested Reading

Duffy, Reformation Divided.

Haigh, The Plain Man’s Pathways to Heaven.
Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation.

Questions to Consider

1 Does the English Reformation enhance or undermine

Henry VIII’s designation as a Renaissance prince?

2 What does Mary’s failure to restore Catholicism in

England indicate about the faith of the English people in
the middle of the 16th century?

3 What might have motivated Elizabeth’s subjects to accept

her religious compromise?

240 Renaissance
Lecture 33
Reformations: The
Road to Trent
B y the mid-16th century, the church in
Rome was in crisis. The blows of the
Lutheran and Zwinglian movements and
Henry VIII’s passion-driven break from
the church in England left the papacy
in a far more weakened state, both
politically and theologically, than it had
enjoyed a century previous. However, it
was still one of the most powerful forces
in Renaissance Europe, and it was not
about to let that power slide away.

Lecture 33  Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent 241

On Labels
hh This course is full of broad labels that have become the lingo for
Europe on the cusp of modernity; examples include the Renaissance,
humanism, individualism, and secularism. Many of these terms mask
a far more complicated set of realities, and that’s certainly the case for
the subject of this lecture and the next.

hh The topic this lecture considers is often called the Counter-Reformation.

This is an oppositional heading, which is useful in the sense that
the church did take measures to confront Protestantism, doctrinally
and institutionally.

hh The next lecture, however, looks at a renewal of the Catholic faith that
can’t be fairly labeled as simply a response to Protestantism. Many of its
drives actually predated Luther’s break with the pope, and the Christian
humanists had been using their scholarship to call for internal reform.
It would be erroneous, then, to consider the church’s activities as simply
a response to the protestant threat.

hh As a consequence, this period of Catholic renewal is commonly

identified as Catholic Reformation. Keep in mind that the Counter-
Reformation and Catholic reform often had significant overlap.

Gian Pietro Carafa

hh In the person of Gian Pietro Carafa (1476–1559), it seemed there might
be the zeal and militancy to halt the Protestant juggernaut in its tracks.
He was born into a notable Neapolitan aristocratic family and taken as
a young man under the wing of an uncle in the cardinalate, whom he
succeeded as bishop of Chieti in 1505.

hh Carafa was tapped by Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521) to undertake various

diplomatic tasks. In 1524, though, Carafa was given leave under Pope
Clement VII (r. 1523–1534) to withdraw from his secular responsibilities
in favor of membership in a new religious order. That order was the
Congregation of Clerics Regular of the Divine Providence, better
known as the Theatines. Carafa himself wrote the order’s constitutions
and was chosen its first general, or leader.

242 Renaissance
hh The Theatines combined a regimen of asceticism, simplicity, and
apostolic poverty with a preaching and devotional mission. In many
ways, they served as a clear counter to Luther’s denunciations of the
moral laxity of the regular clergy.

hh Withdrawal for Carafa was brief before the papacy beckoned once
more. This time, it was Pope Paul III (r. 1534–1549), who called with a
task far too important to refuse. Carafa, joined by a group of Catholic
luminaries including England’s Reginald Pole and Cardinal Gasparo
Contarini, was tapped in 1536 to review the state of the Roman church
and author a report on its condition.

  Pope Paul III (1469–1549) 

Lecture 33  Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent 243

hh After three months’ deliberation, the committee delivered its explosive
findings. The Consilium de Emendanda Ecclesia opened by decrying the
church’s current circumstances, calling out “those abuses, indeed those
most serious diseases, which now for a long time afflict God’s Church
and especially this Roman Curia and which have now led, with these
diseases gradually becoming more troublesome and destructive, to this
great ruin which we see.”

hh The Consilium makes a rather bold statement, given Paul III’s own path
to power through preferment by the corrupt Borgia papacy. Some of
the first moves of Paul’s pontificate—taking the opportunity to make
two of his teenaged grandsons cardinals—didn’t augur well for change.

hh However, change was coming anyway. Carafa, Pole, and Jacopo

Sadoleto (1477–1547), bishop of Carpentras, were all elevated to the
cardinalate. That signaled new power and that Paul III would reward
those committed to the cause of Catholic reform.

hh It was Carafa’s endorsement that led Paul to establish the Inquisition in

Rome, known as the Holy Office. This Roman Inquisition would take
aim at heresy with stringency, and Carafa would be its boss: He served
as the Holy Office’s first inquisitor-general. Pope Paul III’s pontificate
would also witness the initiation of one of the greatest church councils
in history, the Council of Trent (1545–1563).

Carafa as Pope
hh At the age of 78, Carafa ascended to the throne of Saint Peter as Paul IV
(r. 1555–1559). He decided that church reform would be at its most
effective not under the leadership of a council but instead under the
firm hand of papal monarchy.

hh One of his key policies helped bring a halt to the free-wheeling exchange
of information that had helped define and shape the Renaissance. It’s
called the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, translated in English as Index
of Prohibited Books. With its creation in 1559, Paul IV declared war
on books.

244 Renaissance
hh Texts by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other reformers made the list
of texts not to be read by good Catholics. Also on the list were works
such as Machiavelli’s The Prince, Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel,
and the Qu’ran.

hh The Index was updated and republished with frequency, catching an

ever-expanding list of Renaissance luminaries in its net. Soon among
the victims were works of Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Valla, Aretino,
Guicciardini, Castiglione, and more.

hh Paul IV died in 1559, shortly after the inception of the Index. He had
put an end to one chapter of the Renaissance, but he couldn’t stop the
Protestant Reformation.

The Council of Trent

hh Paul III, when he settled into the work of reform, wanted to work within
the clerical establishment and with conciliar aid. Paul IV, conversely,
wanted to drive the engine of reform himself. An important action of
Paul III was calling the aforementioned Council of Trent.

hh Luther famously dismissed the council as too long delayed and of too
little significance to make a substantive impact. He was wrong. The
council would meet, with some pronounced interruptions—one of
which was the entire pontificate of Paul IV—over the course of the next
18 years. The Roman church came out in force to meet the challenges
of Protestantism head on.

hh One of its chief contributions was clarifying Catholic belief and practice.
For example, the council insisted Christ instituted seven sacraments.

hh The council’s decrees would also tackle troubles with authority. They
affirm apostolic succession and the Roman church’s power to interpret
scripture. That was a sensitive issue, given the emphasis placed on
the reading of scripture by the Protestant reformers and the myriad
interpretations that followed.

Lecture 33  Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent 245

hh Underscored, too, was the position that good works were required for
salvation, although they identified faith as essential as well. The Roman
church laid out its position plainly, and then made it equally clear that
to deviate from that position would not be permitted.

Reactions to Trent
hh Trent reminded everyone that the Protestants didn’t have a monopoly
on teaching about Jesus. Unsurprisingly, the work at Trent was watched
and commented on by the Protestant reformers, who offered their
refutations on the Council’s work as it unfolded.

hh John Calvin offered his Antidote to the Council of Trent in 1547.

Concerning the seven sacraments, he wrote, “The number Seven which
they place under the sanction of an anathema has not only no support
from Scripture, but none even from any approved author.”

hh Produced in conjunction with the end of the council’s 18-year tenure

was a catechism to be used by parish priests in instructing the Catholic
faithful, first published in 1567 during the reign of Pope Pius V. The
catechism was explicit in communicating the urgency for its creation,
in a way that indicates its intent to combat Protestant rivalry:

[W]hile the preaching of the divine Word should never

be interrupted in the church, surely in these, our days,
it becomes necessary to labor with more than ordinary
zeal and piety to nourish and strengthen the faithful with
sound and wholesome doctrine, as with the food for life.
For false prophets have gone forth in the world, to corrupt
the minds of the faithful with various and strange doctrine.

hh This catechism would be the instrument used to instruct Catholics

on who they were as a people of faith. It wouldn’t remain in Latin,
but would be translated in the vernacular to become the standard and
approved source of Catholic teaching.

hh On balance, Trent created a Roman Catholic identity. That identity was

clearly, definitively separate from that of the emerging Protestant sects.

246 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

O’Malley, Trent and All That.

Wickersham, Rituals of Prosecution.

Questions to Consider

1 What lessons might Catholic leaders’ response to the

Reformation offer about the ways authorities react in times
of crisis?

2 What factors make it difficult to distinguish winners and

losers in the age of Reformation?

3 Was the structure of the Catholic Church a help or a

hindrance to internal reform?

Lecture 33  Catholic Reformations: The Road to Trent 247

Lecture 34
Spiritual Revival
T h e previous lecture discussed the
Counter-Reformation as the Roman
church’s institutional response to the
external pressures of Protestantism.
However, there were plenty of internal
pressures for reform as well. This lecture
takes a look at those.

248 Renaissance
Monastic Communities
hh The pre-Reformation church of medieval Europe was hardly monolithic.
It was a vibrant, dynamic, and ever-evolving structure. Thriving and
diverse monastic communities fueled much of that dynamism. However,
Pope Innocent III’s zeal for papal monarchy prompted a narrowing of
opportunities for monastic reform and new formations.

hh By the 16th century, new foundations had become rare, and what had
been a vital source of revitalization had become static and stagnant.
That changed with the advent of Protestant Reformation. Monasticism
became one of the fulcrums on which the Catholic Church’s
Reformation lever pivoted.

hh Luther and the other reformers removed holy orders from their list
of sacraments, citing not only the lack of scriptural evidence for its
inclusion but also the hypocrisy of men and women living lives of
sin, ease, and error within the often-violated space of the cloister. The
Protestants denounced clerical celibacy and instead elevated Christian
marriage as the ideal state for men and women. Reformers advocated
clerical marriage and the closure of monasteries and convents in the
lands that embraced Protestantism.

hh The charges the Protestants laid at the doorsteps of the monasteries

were not new ones. Long before Luther excoriated those clergy who
lived by in holy orders, calls for the reform of monastic living and other
vital elements of the institutional church’s form and functions had been
taking on an increasing urgency.

hh The recognition of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1528,

then, occurred in the context of a Roman church seeking some
positive recognition in the wake of blistering Protestant criticism. It
also occurred in the context of recognition among many loyal to the
papal church of both the need and the desire for internal renewal. This
Capuchin offshoot of the Observant Franciscans became an important,
if somewhat troubled, cornerstone of the Roman church’s plan for
renewal and reinvigoration.

Lecture 34  Catholic Reformations: Spiritual Revival 249

Splits among the Franciscans
hh Groups of Franciscans friars had, in the later 14th century, sought a more
rigorous observance of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi (1184–1226), a
regimen famous for its austerity and uncompromising apostolic poverty.
The Council of Constance in 1415 granted relative autonomy to the
Observant Franciscans, as they would come to be known, in recognition
of their piety and adherence to the vision of the movement’s founder.

hh Even this group had lost some of its vigor by the 16th century. This was
a continuous problem for the especially rigid Franciscans: The lifestyle
was a demanding one to adhere to. The movement often split into
factions over how best to uphold or modify the demands.

hh In the 1520s, one of these Observant Franciscans, Matteo da Bascio,

came to believe that even his own branch of the Friars Minors failed to
live up to the intentions of its saintly founder. Seeking greater discipline
and piety, Bascio embraced a more eremitic than communal vision for
the friars, as well as a devotion to preaching, especially among the poor.
It was Bascio who introduced the beards and the painted brown hoods
that came to give the group their name, the Capuchins.

hh The Observant Franciscans decided that the bearded, hood-wearing

Bascio and his followers weren’t so observant anymore and rejected the
innovations. Bascio did win the approval of Pope Clement VII, however.
In 1528, Bascio and his three companions received papal permission
to continue their practices.

hh Bascio became the first vicar-general of the new Hermit Friars Minor.
In 1529, representatives of the member houses met to establish
their constitutions. The hermit ideal was replaced in favor of small
communities, numbering between 8 and 12 members.

hh The quest for a life shorn of ornamentation and material wealth

was codified in the constitutions, requiring mendicancy and a strict
adherence to Saint Francis’s prohibition against even making physical
contact with money. They’d be discalced, or bare-foot, as well, and fast
with regularity.

250 Renaissance
hh However, Bascio never settled easily into an administrative position
and subsequently returned to the Observant fold. His withdrawal
sparked a crisis of leadership. His immediate successor was unpopular
and removed from power. A later Capuchin vicar-general fled Italy as
a Protestant convert.

hh Pope Paul III stepped in to determine the future of the Capuchins. With
rumors of heresy surrounding the hooded and bearded friars, they were
put on lockdown and forbidden from preaching. A subsequent review
of their faith and methods declared the group to be doctrinally sound,
and they were allowed to get back to business.

hh By 1574, Capuchin numbers reached 3,500. By 1700, their numbers

approached 30,000. Their creation speaks to a centuries-long dynamic
of internal reform, created by men and women of vision and piety,
seeking a purer faith experience of their own. The point is that the
quest for better Christian living was not exclusive to the Protestants.

The Council of Trent

hh Along with answering the Protestant challenge, the Council of Trent
(1545–1563) tackled many internal problems of Catholicism. The
council took on pluralism—the holding of multiple clerical offices
simultaneously—and forced any who’d acquired multiple livings to give
them up. The selling or gifting of clerical office was likewise forbidden,
as was absenteeism—priests would be made to reside in their parishes.

hh One of the more important of Trent’s aims involved clerical education.

Education became a key mechanism through which the Roman church
improved the quality of its leadership and, by extension, the faith
knowledge of its laypeople. It justified the establishment of seminaries
for training the clergy.

Other Operations
hh Trent wasn’t the only force at work when it came to operationalizing
Catholic renewal. For example, the Capuchins emerged decades before
Trent. So, too, did the Theatines, cofounded by Gian Pietro Carafa,

Lecture 34  Catholic Reformations: Spiritual Revival 251

and the Barnabites, formed at the church of Saint Barnabas in Milan
in 1530. The Barnabites vowed never to seek high clerical office so that
they could remain devoted their ministries of preaching and teaching.

hh More than 30 orders were established in the 16th and 17th centuries in
total. One of the new orders—the Society of Jesus—stood out, though.
It possessed a charismatic leader; an exceptional number of early
adherents who embraced its three chief aims of discipline, education,
and missionary work; and a track record of success in returning lost
congregants to the Catholic fold as well as making new ones on
distant shores.

hh Its Spanish founder was Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556). Having

reached his own understanding of God’s will through meditation and
reflection, Ignatius sought to create an imminently orderly plan that
would help others reach the same spiritual heights. He created a text
called The Spiritual Exercises. This intensely practical instructional
manual for communion with the will of God was received with
wild enthusiasm.

hh The Society of Jesus, also known as Jesuits, would likewise be key

to Catholic reform. In that context, their educational legacy is most
impressive. Soon the Jesuits had 150 colleges, and from the students in
those colleges would come the next generation of Jesuits. They adopted
the features of Renaissance humanism’s emphasis on grammar, rhetoric,
ancient languages, mathematics, and science.

Women and Reform

hh Notable women, particularly in Italian and Spanish lands, became
exemplars of Catholic piety and served as an inspiration to other women.
They contributed to the educational and organizational dynamism of
Catholic Reformation.

hh The order founded in Italy by Saint Angela de Merici (1474–1540) serves

as an excellent case in point. Her Company of St. Ursula—known by its
shortened designation of Ursulines— became the first order for women

252 Renaissance
focused on educational ministry. They took their inspiration for female
mentoring from their namesake, an early Christian martyred with a
group of virginal companions.

hh In focusing on female education, the Ursulines provided a particularly

vital service to the Roman church. The Ursulines were responsible for
educating the daughters of the urban commercial elites, who could, in
turn, transmit their knowledge of Catholic doctrine to their children
when the time came.

hh Another example comes in the form of Saint Teresa of Avila, a Spaniard.

Inspired by Franciscan reform, Teresa established the Discalced
Carmelite movement, a reinvigoration of a 12th-century order. Teresa
established more than a dozen convents whose principles emphasized
poverty and mendicancy joined with interior piety and prayer.

Attempts to Govern Women

hh The perceived dangers of ill-governed female sexuality were a particular
issue of anxiety for Catholic reformers. Insufficiently rigorous standards
of confinement had led to embarrassingly obvious breaches of the
clerical vow of chastity and made for a particular target of Protestant
and Catholic reformers alike. Pregnant nuns were the living and literal
embodiment of the abuses of clerical immorality.

hh Reformers at the Council of Trent demanded that nuns remain in

their convents. They also demanded that no outsiders without express
ecclesiastical permission and in the face of extraordinary circumstances
was allowed to enter the cloister. Patriarchal authority was reinforced,
as bishops were granted oversight of female communal living.

hh These decisions did have the desired effect of increasing discipline.

However, they also significantly reduced female autonomy and
leadership within the space of the convent, a marked feature of medieval
monasticism that had granted a number of powerful women agency.
Female authority was largely viewed with suspicion.

Lecture 34  Catholic Reformations: Spiritual Revival 253

Suggested Reading

Brundin and Treherne, ed., Forms of Faith in Sixteenth-

Century Italy.
Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal.
O’Reilly, From Ignatius to John of the Cross.

Questions to Consider

1 In what ways did the Catholic Reformation address the

causes and concerns of the Christian Renaissance? What
overlap do you see in Christian humanism and the aims
and actions of the Catholic Reformation?

2 Is the process of Catholic reform better understood as the

work of the institutional church or of individuals?

254 Renaissance
Lecture 35
Culture: Continuity
and Change
T h e question of how to create the
appropriate communal religious
space was an incredibly contentious
and emotional business in early
modern Christian communities. This
lecture examines the fabric of these
communities to reveal what it felt like
to be a Protestant and a Catholic in
Reformation Europe, as individuals and
collectives experienced and expressed
faith in their spiritual surroundings.

Lecture 35  Reformation Culture: Continuity and Change 255

Religious Imagery
hh In early modern Europe, reformers asked to whose glory the ornate
images that adorned religious spaces were really offered. They charged
that wealthy patrons who commissioned pieces sought to celebrate
or commemorate their own elevated position and wealth or to earn
spiritual credit for their gifts to the church. They suggested God wasn’t
really part of those calculations.

hh Regardless, images were myriad in religious spaces. Some had three-

dimensional form, like sculptures or reliquaries. The complaints of the
reformers against the latter were legion: These types of implements, they
believed, impeded rather than deepened true spirituality.

hh In Wittenberg, Germany, and other early reform centers, violent

destruction and disorder accompanied the call that religious images
be removed from places of worship. One of the most outspoken of
these iconoclasts was Luther’s university colleague, Andreas Karlstadt

hh Karlstadt, an early proponent of Luther’s cause, was impatient with the

speed of religious change and frequently broke with Luther on social
and political issues connected to reform. Karlstadt had raged mightily
against the use and display of religious images in Wittenberg before
Luther published more sedated commentary in 1525.

hh In early 1522, Karlstadt wrote against the “carved and painted idols
set up on the altars” in a bid to expedite their removal from places of
worship in Wittenberg. He went so far as to claim that “images bring
death to those who worship or venerate them. … It would be a thousand
times better if [images] were set up in hell or the fiery furnace than in
the houses of God.”

hh In February, when Karlstadt and his supporters judged the civic

authorities insufficiently diligent in dealing with images, they took
matters into their own hands. A riot ensued as the icons were destroyed.

256 Renaissance
hh Leading second-generation Protestant reformer John Calvin was also
blunt in his attack on the display and veneration of religious images.
He preached against the creation and worship of images as prohibited
by God. In the lands that embraced Calvinist doctrine, houses of
worship displayed an austerity that communicated a clear rejection of
the distraction that images represented.

hh Perhaps the greatest cleansing of churches occurred in Antwerp in 1566

during the early stage of the revolt of the Low Countries. English trader
Sir Richard Clough (c. 1530–1570) provided an account, lamenting the
resulting bleakness of the Cathedral of Antwerp: “It looked like a hell,
with above 10,000 torches burning, and such a noise as if heaven and
earth had gone together.”

Sounds and Words

hh The sound of faith underwent a makeover as well. While Latin
maintained a place of significance in printed intellectual discourse
and remained the language of the Catholic Mass, vernacular language
transformed communal religious space, both physical and constructed.
In Protestant lands, divine services were conducted in the native tongue.
Parishioners heard scripture in their own language, and preachers
offered homilies and sermons in plain, direct language to instruct
their congregants.

hh The print business thrived on the publication of vernacular Bibles and

popular devotional texts. Even in Catholic lands, publishers catered to
the enormous popularity of vernacular mystical accounts and saints’
lives, as Europe’s reading public continued its early modern expansion.

hh Singing also had a part to play during the age of Reformation. For
example, Luther used music to promote faith and published spiritual
songs. However, the use of sacred music —including hymn singing—was
not without controversy in Protestant lands. There, some reformers
denounced vocal and instrumental. Regardless, the popularity of hymn
singing among parishioners and the value placed on singing fueled a
market for musicians.

Lecture 35  Reformation Culture: Continuity and Change 257

hh In Catholic lands, the age of Reformation sparked enthusiasm for a
distinctive artistic style: the Baroque. The work of Italian master Gian
Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), particularly his Ecstasy of St. Teresa, is
emblematic of the Baroque style. The scope, scale, and drama of his
sculptures and architectural designs embraced the power of art to
heighten emotions, as it overwhelmed with magnificence.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa

258 Renaissance
hh Baroque art communicated clear messages with emotionally charged,
grandiose imagery. Its most notable feature is its elaborateness of detail,
used to engender a sense of drama for the beholder. Departing in some
ways from earlier Renaissance styles, Baroque art appealed to the senses
rather than to reason.

Suggested Reading

Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed.

Hall and Cooper, ed., The Sensuous in the Counter-
Reformation Church.
Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England.

Questions to Consider

1 As you think back on the lectures in this section of the

course, would you say that the Reformation continued the
Renaissance, changed it, or ended it?

2 What do you think the debates about images during the

Reformation reveal about how early modern Europeans
experienced their faith?

Lecture 35  Reformation Culture: Continuity and Change 259

Lecture 36
War and Peace:
T h is lecture focuses its attention on
diplomats as a means of opening
a broader consideration of the
interaction among the states of early
modern Europe. Specific points of
focus include the genesis of diplomats,
their home life, and gift giving related
to diplomacy.

260 Renaissance
On Diplomats
hh Until the 13th century, it’s difficult to find evidence for diplomats at work
who were endowed with special authority to negotiate on behalf of their
directors. More typically, medieval officials were instead assigned a very
particular mission and authorized to act only within limited parameters.
At the completion of that mission, the emissary returned home.

hh Renaissance politics, though, demanded something other than part-

timers pulled in to complete individual or discrete tasks. The fluidity
of the Italian political scene—with states aligning and breaking with
one another—required more than the occasional duty in service of the
state. Up-to-date information was vital.

hh The Italian states pioneered the practice of dispatching ambassadors

directed to stay in residence in the land of their appointments. Their
chief tasks were gathering information and networking. They sounded
out potential allies and watched foes carefully. They also wrote
copious records.

hh Resident ambassadors had much to say about the individual people

of note they came into contact with. They also offered descriptions
of economic activities, religious practices, and force of arms. During
the Renaissance, these officials were also endowed with new powers,
including the authority to negotiate on behalf of their masters.

hh Ambassadors were not always natives of their state of employ. Having

pioneered the practice, Italian diplomats were highly sought after. For
example, Henry VIII of England employed Bologna-born Gregorio
Casali to serve as his ambassador at the pope’s court during the tense
years in which his breach with Rome played out.

Lecture 36  Renaissance War and Peace: Diplomacy 261

Settling In
hh Foreigners often settled into the states of their appointments at the
most intimate level, that of the household. Resident ambassadors settled
with a train of retainers and servants and even family members in tow.

hh Resident embassies of the sort in today’s capital cities didn’t yet

exist. Instead, the houses of ambassadors had to double up as both
residential living spaces and official spaces for the conduct of the agents’
diplomatic business.

hh That meant that the ambassador’s household served as a reflection on

both its master and the sovereign or power he represented. For this
reason, ambassadors’ households had to be orderly and well governed.

Diplomatic Gift Giving

hh Diplomatic gift giving during the Renaissance demonstrated themes
of ostentation and obligation. A gift proffered by an ambassador could
ingratiate him with members of the court and help cement links
between his native state and the state of his appointment.

hh Diplomatic gift exchange was, however, also fraught with tension.

Leaders, their councilors, and their ambassadors fretted mightily over
these transactions. The culture of giving in Renaissance Europe was
extraordinarily complex.

hh The acceptance of a gift traditionally indebted the recipient to the giver,

and gifts had to be returned to restore equilibrium. For that return
offering to function as a means of balancing the scales, it had to match
the value of the original gift. Giving too lavishly could expose the giver
to censure or lead to the gift’s rejection. Giving too meagerly likewise
posed problems.

hh If equilibrium wasn’t restored through reciprocity, the appearance (or

reality) of subordination was the result. For example, the Turkish sultan,
to the exasperation of the states of Christian Europe, treated any gifts
as tribute and had them recorded as such in his court registry.

262 Renaissance
hh The need to proffer gifts of value fueled an intense market for suitably
elaborate items and sparked competition among rival givers. An
example comes from James I of England (r. 1603–1625). Like his Tudor
predecessors, he valued his menagerie of royal beasts.

hh When England and Spain were in the middle of marriage negotiations

for James’s son Charles and Maria, the daughter of Philip IV
(r. 1621–1640), the Spanish sent an elephant and camels off to London
to woo the king. Charles, developing a taste of art that would deepen
during his own reign, was himself given Titian’s Portrait of Charles V
with a Dog, among other paintings.

hh The manner and occasion of presenting gifts mattered, too. A high price
tag wasn’t always enough to secure favor, but elaborate presentation
could help. For example, in the early 17th century, Louis XIII sent James I
of England hawks, horses, and dogs, accompanied by an entourage of
people who made a magnificent entrance.

hh At the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1521, England’s Henry VIII and
France’s Francis I were able to give each other presents in person, but
such meetings of monarchs were quite rare. When rulers sought to
woo one another, they had to do so at distance, with others doing the
heavy lifting.

Suggested Reading

Fletcher, Diplomacy in Renaissance Rome.

Heal, The Power of Gifts.
Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy.

Lecture 36  Renaissance War and Peace: Diplomacy 263

Questions to Consider

1 Where do you see evidence of Renaissance values we have

studied elsewhere in our course in the theory and practice
of Renaissance diplomacy? Was the Renaissance diplomat
a Renaissance man?

2 In what ways does the study of Renaissance diplomacy

offer evidence on other aspects of the Renaissance?

3 Can you think of modern equivalents of diplomatic giving

that allow countries to demonstrate their generosity and/
or superiority?

264 Renaissance
Lecture 37
The French Wars
of Religion
T h is lecture turns to the French Wars of
Religion to examine the ways in which
the fusion of religious and political
imperatives erupted into bloodshed
and a new way of thinking about the
relationship of subject and authority.
In France, a kingdom divided over the
cause of religion, an extensive debate
occurred over what happens to the
subject-authority relationship when
religious persecution is injected into it.

Lecture 37  The French Wars of Religion 265

Would-Be Reformers
hh The kingdom of France was a bastion of support for the Roman church
since Martin Luther launched his assault on indulgences in 1517. A
group of would-be reformers, including Renaissance humanist Jacques
Lefèvre d’Étaples, gathered in the early 1520s at Meaux, east of Paris.
D’Étaples and the Meaux group sought to bring people into direct
contact with the word of God through the production of a French-
language New Testament.

hh However, the Meaux group was shut down in the wake of a withering
condemnation by the theology faculty of the University of Paris in 1523.
Moreover, heretics were being executed in France during the 1520s, and
others swayed to the cause of reform decided it was safer to relocate
to more inviting environments. The French-speaking Swiss cantons
proved a particularly attractive destination.

hh Despite the evidence provided by deaths and defections, the enhanced

centralization of the French state led to greater control of the early
Reformation challenge to religious uniformity than in the Holy Roman
Empire. A line was crossed, though, on the evening of October 17, 1534.

hh Under the cover of darkness, a group of conspirators went to work,

armed with copies of a poster titled “Trustworthy Articles on the
Horrible, Great, & Unbearable Abuses of the Papal Mass.” They
plastered these posters or placards across a number of provincial cities
in France and in its capital city. They even dared to affix a copy to the
door of King Francois I’s royal bedchamber at his residence at Amboise.

hh The poster’s text was the work of a reformed pastor in the Swiss city of
Neuchatel by the name of Antoine Marcourt (1485–1561). It was a heavy
condemnation of Mass. The condemnation of the Mass was considered
a monstrous crime, but posting a placard at the entrance to the king’s
bedchamber also represented an affront to royal dignity and constituted
a very real threat against the king’s person.

hh The crackdown on the provocateurs was swift and severe. A hefty

reward was offered for the identification of the perpetrators, who were
condemned to death by burning.

266 Renaissance
hh Marcourt’s supporters in France went to work again in January, though,
this time distributing printed copies of A Very Useful and Salutary Short
Treatise on the Holy Eucharist of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The response was
a royal parade that culminated in the celebration of Mass, followed by
six heretics being burned at the stake.

hh The so-called Affair of the Placards ushered in a marked change

in attitude in France. The relatively conciliatory policies that had
characterized the French response to reform were replaced instead with
intolerance and repression. Many of those sympathetic to the cause
of reform, including a young university student named John Calvin
(1509–1564), recognized the shifting of the winds and fled, leaving
their homeland behind for the cause of their beliefs.

hh Although the theological challenges of Martin Luther and Ulrich
Zwingli did win proponents in France, it was the theology of Calvin
that would spark a full-scale civil war in the state he’d fled for fear of
persecution. While systematizing his theology and remaking Geneva
into a reformed city par excellence, Calvin also sought to bring the
Reformation to France.

hh Calvin took up his pen in hopes of bringing about a top-down

Reformation, directed by the French nobles. He accepted and trained
ministers in Geneva for deployment in France to spread the new
doctrine among the people.

hh Calvin’s faith did spread. During the 1550s, faithful converts began
to form clandestine congregations, although the risk in doing so
was significant. The possession of heretical books was one thing;
participating in Protestant ceremonies and services that modified or
rejected outright the Catholic sacramental theologies was another.

hh Calvinism was uncompromising. Internal beliefs had to find parallel

outward expression, and so there was no wiggle room for playing it safe.
With prohibitions firmly in place against the reformers, the emerging
French Calvinist, or Huguenot, population was in a vice.

Lecture 37  The French Wars of Religion 267

hh The Huguenots numbered only 10 to 15 percent of the population.
However, they counted among their number many powerful aristocrats
and significant segments of the urban literate professional groups who
found Calvin’s doctrines on salvation and discipline appealing.

Henry II
hh The son of the king who’d found a placard on his bedroom door
in 1534, Henry II (r. 1547–1559), wanted to crush the heretics before
they had a chance to ensnare more men of note. When he came to the
throne, Henry even established a special department of the Parlement
of Paris dedicated to the task. It was known as the Burning Chamber.

hh Henry attacked the Huguenots with vigor, but he had other matters
to attend to, notably the final last stages of the Habsburg-Valois Wars
that had such a profound impact on Italian life and politics during the
Renaissance. Henry opted to negotiate a peace with Philip II of Spain
(r. 1556–1598) at the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559.

hh To cement peace between the Habsburg and Valois and the joining of
the two dynasties in marriage—Philip II and Henry’s daughter Elizabeth
would be married—a great jousting tournament was held in June 1559.
Henry took part, but died after an opponent’s jousting pole penetrated
his visor.

After Henry II
hh When Henry II died in 1559, his successor was François II (r. 1559–
1560), the young bridegroom of Mary, Queen of Scots. In just a year and
a half’s time, though, François would be dead, and his brother would
ascend the throne as Charles IX (r. 1560–1574).

hh Instability characterized these years of young kings. Among the power-

players was Henry II’s queen, Catherine de’ Medici. The Guise uncles of
Mary—the cardinal of Lorraine and his brother, François—also wielded
significant authority.

268 Renaissance
hh Catherine initially sought to reconcile the religious factions in France,
but the Guises sought to sharpen lines of distinction, particularly
after they uncovered and foiled a Huguenot plot to seize François II
in 1560. Among the backers of the plot was one of the Bourbons, a
junior branch of the royal family that ruled Navarre and embraced the
Huguenot cause. Hundreds of Protestant noblemen were executed, and
tensions swelled.

hh When François died a few months later, Catherine was able to secure
sufficient support from the royal council to assume the regency for
Charles, who was 10 years old when François died. She attempted to
defuse tensions between Catholics and Huguenots.

hh She sought to bring the two sides together to see if common ground
could be reached. Catherine’s gathering of Catholic and Protestant
theologians in October 1561 failed, though, as the participants broke
up the discussion without her permission.

More Conflicts
hh Protestants began engaging in acts of iconoclasm, smashing images of
saints and destroying other relics. Outraged Catholics responded by
striking out at Protestants and torching their places of worship.

hh In the hopes of averting an outright breach, Catherine endorsed the

bold Edict of Saint-Germain in early 1562. It gave formal recognition
to the Huguenots and allowed them to worship, if they did so in private
and outside the boundaries of towns. They also had to return lands and
places of worship seized from Catholics and cease their denunciation
of Catholic tenets.

hh The attempted rapprochement the edict represented wouldn’t live long,

though. The duke of Guise saw to that. His troops’ assault on a large
company of Protestants worshipping in a barn at Vassy in March proved
a tipping point.

Lecture 37  The French Wars of Religion 269

hh Louis de Bourbon became convinced that the time for war had come.
The Huguenots were in for the fight of their lives. On and off over the
next decade, the two sides clashed, with numerous atrocities authored
by both sides, resulting in the destruction of property and loss of life.

hh Eventually, the fighting calmed. Following the Peace of Saint-Germain-

en-Laye in August 1570, which halted the third war of the decade,
Catherine brokered a marriage settlement: Her daughter, Marguerite,
would marry Henry of Navarre, the son of the Huguenot leader Antoine
de Bourbon, who’d died at the outbreak of war in 1562.

A Failed Match
hh The dynastic match was hoped to heal the breach. It failed. The
marriage took place on August 18, and a round of balls, tournaments,
and other celebrations kicked off in Paris to support the new bonds
that joined Catholic and Huguenot together.

hh On August 22, a would-be assassin fired at Huguenot leader Gaspard

de Coligny and wounded his hand. The Huguenot leaders accused the
Guises and their supporters of engineering the plot to kill Coligny.
Others blamed the royal family.

hh The mood in Paris turned from

joyful to riotous as rumors spread
that the angry Huguenots
were preparing to get their
revenge. Observer Claude
Haton wrote, “And so [the
Catholic leaders] resolved to
do to the Huguenots what
the Huguenots wanted to
do to the king and princes.”
Among the victims of
the preemptive strike on
August 24, St. Bartholomew’s
Day, was Coligny.

270 Renaissance   Gaspard de Coligny (1517–1572) 

hh The attack on other Protestant leaders was joined by a wave of popular
violence, and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre had begun. The
slaughter of Paris was repeated in other provincial cities and throughout
the countryside over the weeks that followed, with a death toll
somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000.

A Changing Script
hh Calvin’s relationship with authority was particularly complex, but his
supporters in France had used the traditional fiction that they weren’t
really resisting authority in taking up arms against the crown. They
were instead liberating the king from bad councilors, like the Guises,
who were Catholic zealots.

hh Charles IX took personal ownership of the massacre, so it made little

sense for the Protestants to continue suggesting that tyrannical governors
were misleading the king. He was clearly the tyrant himself. With the
old rationale for their rebellion in tatters, Huguenot spokesmen had
to come up with an alternative, and they did: the resistance theory.

hh Some humanist scholars, like Calvinist Theodore Beza (1519–1565),

offered their theory of the right to resist. Beza published his Right of
Magistrates in 1574, elaborating on themes he’d advanced in earlier
writings. He located in the “mutual oath between king and people”
just grounds for resistance.

hh Charles IX died in 1574, and Henry III (r. 1574–1589) assumed the
throne. He brokered peace with the Protestants in 1576 to the outrage
of the Guises. They teamed up with the Spanish to ignite a new round
of religious violence.

hh Change was once more on the horizon. When the king’s brother,
François, duke of Anjou, died in 1584 fighting in the Netherlands, the
Valois line was finally spent. The junior branch of the family tree—the
Bourbons—was poised to come to throne. The Bourbon in line was
Henry of Navarre, the Huguenot leader.

Lecture 37  The French Wars of Religion 271

hh France plunged into a three-way contest for power in the War of the
Three Henrys, named for Henry III, Henry of Navarre, and Henry,
duke of Guise. After Henry de Guise took the capital in 1588, Henry
III ordered the deaths of the duke and his brother, the cardinal of
Lorraine, throwing his support behind his Huguenot heir. Henry III
was in turn assassinated himself, in August 1589.

hh At last, after two decades of war, it seemed the Huguenots and all
of France would have a Huguenot for a king. However, Henry of
Navarre, now Henry IV, offered what would be his fifth conversion to
Catholicism. His goal was to appease the 90 percent of his subjects who
professed that faith. He knew his rule would never be secure without
his adherence, and it was a compromise he was willing to make.

Suggested Reading

Elwood, The Body Broken.

Frisch, Forgetting Differences.
Holt, The French Wars of Religion.

Questions to Consider

1 Why do you think the Reformation played out so

differently in France from the Holy Roman Empire?

2 As you think about the French Reformation as well as

reform movements elsewhere, what role do you assign
print technology in the course of reformation?

3 In what ways does resistance theory fit with Renaissance

values and imperatives, and in what ways does it diverge?

272 Renaissance
Lecture 38
The Dutch Revolt
I n the 16th century, Charles V (r. 1519–1556), the holy
Roman emperor and Spanish king, assigned his son,
Philip II (r. 1556–1598), the responsibility of ruling
half of his massive empire. For counsel, Philip II
turned to military commander Fernando Álvarez
de Toledo y Pimentel, the third duke of Alva. Alva
was a man of extraordinary ambition, which would
play a heavy role in the appointment that would
come to define Alva’s legacy: his turn from 1567 to
1573 as governor-general of the Spanish-dominated
Low Countries, or Netherlands.

The Low Countries, located in the northwest

corner of Europe, had a thriving commercial and
agrarian economy that made it a shining jewel
in the Spanish crown during the 16th century.
However, it was also a hotbed of political and
religious rebellion, thanks to the emergence of a
group of Calvinist nobles who sought to safeguard
their political and religious privileges against
Spanish control.
Lecture 38  The Dutch Revolt 273
Alva in Command
hh Before his direct involvement in the Netherlands, Alva had already
advised Philip of dangers lurking there. He coached the king on the
need to crush the potential of rebellion swiftly or, if that couldn’t be
effected immediately, to compromise in the short term only so long as
to guarantee a successful exercise of Spanish power.

hh The king came around to Alva’s position on the need for action in
the summer of 1566. Philip’s religious policies in the Low Countries,
intended to restore Spanish authority and reinvigorate Catholicism,
were met with resistance by a group of nobles. Their objections to
Philip’s ecclesiastical reforms ranged from petitions to iconoclasm.

hh Alva went to war. The duke marched an army of 10,000 soldiers 700
miles from Italy, where he’d been stationed, into the Netherlands. This
was a show of force designed to impress upon the king’s rebellious
subjects the might and reach of Spanish power. Additionally, the duke’s
judicial and financial strategies helped initiate what would become
an eight-decade war for independence that tore the Spanish Low
Countries apart.

274 Renaissance
hh Alva established the Council of Troubles to target suspected heretic-
rebels. In March 1568, 1,500 people condemned as rebels were
executed. Philip’s regent in the Low Countries, Margaret of Parma,
protested against Alva’s brutality, often identified even in scholarship
as a “reign of terror.”

hh Margaret’s protests had no effect, and her subsequent resignation gave

Alva an even freer hand. However, many of his chief targets, including
Prince William of Orange (1533–1584), had fled in advance of the
arrests and began to organize opposition.

Fighting Begins
hh Spanish attempts to suppress the Dutch Protestant rebels intensified.
Insurgents waged guerilla campaigns from within, capturing Holland
and Zeeland in 1572. Other rebels took to the sea to harass the Spanish
fleet and interrupt communications. From beyond the borders, Prince
William and his brother Louis of Nassau launched invasions in 1572,
staging their attacks from German and French lands.

hh Alva was able to check these invasions and was even able to restore
part of Holland to Spanish control, although he grumbled about the
provisioning and the quality of his forces. Alva’s measured successes of
1572 weren’t enough to satisfy his king, however. Alva’s star had been
fading at court in his absence, and he was dismissed in 1573.

hh Philip II’s state began to crumble under the demands of its own defense.
Spain was rapidly become a serious loan risk, repeatedly declaring
bankruptcy as the crown sought to hold together its many kingdoms
and territories.

hh Additionally, the Spanish treatment of the rebels in the Low Countries,

particularly the ruthless pacification practices of Alva’s Council of
Blood, had become a powerful component of the so-called Black Legend
of Spain. This was a legacy of the Spanish empire marked by charges of
cruelty and religious zealotry.

Lecture 38  The Dutch Revolt 275

Importance of the Low Countries
hh The Low Countries were extremely important to 16th-century Europe’s
mightiest king. With a coastline facing the North Sea, the Netherlands’
port cities were able to participate in the Hanseatic League’s trade
network and grew wealthy from serving as a destination for raw wool
imports from England and other materials.

hh It was in also the Netherlands where early practices that would coalesce
into an agricultural revolution began to appear. Agriculturalists
designed schemes for crop rotation that would allow high yield without
the need for extended fallow periods, for example.

hh The Flemish city of Antwerp became a leading European commercial,

cultural, and printing center, entering its golden age of wealth and
influence in the 15th century. The economy of the Netherlands was
humming along, then, when Charles V was born in 1500, in the
city of Ghent in Flanders. Through his father, Philip, the duke of
Burgundy (1478–1506), Charles assumed control of the Burgundian
Low Countries.

hh While the Burgundian rivalry with the French crown resulted in

territorial contraction in the south, the dukes maintained their hold
on these lucrative lands. Although Charles’s impressive inheritance
would bring him territories across Europe, the Low Countries were
his first home.

hh A number of factors, though, caused economic crisis in the 16th century,

and the Netherlands was hit hard by the shifting economic realities.
Two major ingredients caused massive inflation in western Europe:
a rapidly growing population and a flood of gold and silver from
overseas territories.

hh The result of this so-called price revolution, in many areas, was

recession. The threat and reality of war resulted in a sharp decline in
trade. Wages didn’t keep pace with prices, and so demand fell in the
face of contracting consumerism. Poor harvests and failed business
ventures left their mark as well.

276 Renaissance
hh There were ways to thrive, however. The emergence of capitalist enterprise,
involving the pursuit of profit through investment and new ideologies
and practices of land usage, was beginning to transform the European
economy. Urban centers sponsored consumer-oriented markets, while the
enclosure of land altered traditional communal agriculture.

hh Rulers such as Charles’s son Philip II understood the value of these

changes, since revenue from capitalist practices, when captured by the
state, could support their own political and military agendas. Philip,
however, didn’t identify with his subjects in the Low Countries with
the ease his father had.

hh Philip spent little time there. Both his distance and his clear
prioritization of his Spanish holdings drove a wedge between Philip
and the elites whose local authority provided the day-to-day leadership
of the 17 provinces that comprised the Low Countries. Additionally, he
was a staunch Catholic determined to rule Catholic subjects.

After Alva
hh After Alva’s removal from power in 1573, Don Luis de Requesens
(1528–1576) was charged with restoring order and religious uniformity
in the Low Countries. Philip gave him no license to concede on the
point of religion, though, and the northern Calvinist provinces refused
to bend to Spanish forces.

hh The new governor’s death in 1576 allowed for a meeting of the estates,
who established an army drawn from both north and south. This force
formally replaced the guerillas on land and sea who had carried the
cause of defense up to that point, but it was a somewhat awkward
amalgamation of Calvinist rebels from the northern provinces and
Catholic elites from the south.

hh This disparate group would find common ground through the

devastation of Antwerp. The Spanish Fury of 1576—the work of
mutinous unpaid Spanish soldiers—resulted in an 11-day bloodbath.
More than 7,000 residents were slaughtered, and a third of the city’s
buildings, including the city hall, were destroyed.

Lecture 38  The Dutch Revolt 277

hh The alliance of northern and southern provinces was bolstered further
by the tone-deaf policies of the next short-lived governor-general, Don
John of Austria (1547–1578), Philip II’s half-brother. Don John alienated
the southern Catholic nobles who should have been supportive of
Spanish authority and pushed them further into the orbit of the
northern rebels.

hh The disaffection of the southern aristocrats would decline, though, with

the appointment of Don John’s much more able successor, Alessandro
Farnese, the duke of Parma. Parma was far more conciliatory to
these Catholic magnates, and his ability to secure their allegiance
was cemented in 1579 in the Treaty of Arras. Spanish troops were
withdrawn from the lands that subscribed to the treaty—the Walloon
provinces and principalities.

hh The desire of the nobles for power, and the fear that support for their
authority wasn’t forthcoming from Spain, was a key ingredient in the
recipe for rebellion. So, too, though, was the demand of the Calvinists
for religious freedom.

hh Additionally, individuals’ priorities changed over time. For example,

William was the de facto leader of the rebel cause in 1568, but he wasn’t
actually a Calvinist. He would later adopt Calvinism, but it wasn’t faith
that animated his initial challenges to Spanish authority.

Shifting Priorities
hh The shifting of priorities helped undo the fragile unity in the
Netherlands. In January 1579, the Union of Utrecht created articles
of confederation that would, unplanned, become the basis of a new
independent state in the north.

hh In 1581, what was a pledge for union became a declaration of autonomy

from Spanish authority. Events in the Netherlands took an international
turn with the invitation of the French duke of Anjou (1555–1584) to
act as on behalf of the Netherlands’ liberty at William’s instigation.

278 Renaissance
The Catholic Anjou was more a polarizing than unifying force, and
his introduction of a new set of French imperatives introduced more
confusion than clarity.

hh Anjou’s death in early 1584 dealt a far less severe blow to the Calvinists,
though, than William’s own assassination by a Catholic just a few weeks
later. William became a national hero for the seven United Provinces
in the north who would come to make his successors their hereditary
house. They would continue to push for autonomy from Spain, although
Parma’s Army of Flanders began to chip away at their holdings.

hh William’s death and the defeats inflicted by Parma in 1584 also had
the consequence of drawing the English further into the cause of the
United Provinces. Elizabeth I’s government had offered supports to the
rebels at various points since the initiation of the struggle. Pressured
by her councilors, though, Elizabeth’s England would take a far more
public stand with the rebels in 1585, signing a treaty that pledged an
army under the leadership of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester.

hh Leicester’s policies would prove divisive and ultimately unsuccessful.

Leadership of the independence movement would pass to Johan van
Oldenbarnevelt and William of Orange’s son, Maurice of Nassau.
Philip’s outrage at English interference in the Netherlands sparked war
between England and Spain whose most memorable clash would come
in the English Channel in the summer of 1588.

Philip II’s Agenda

hh Philip II’s agenda was so overburdened that he simply couldn’t manage
it. He wanted to secure the return of the United Provinces to the
Spanish fold, but he wasn’t able to pull it off. Neither could his son,
Philip III (r. 1598–1621), or Philip III’s regents, Albert of Austria (1559–
1621) and Isabella (1566–1633).

hh What had already been secured in practice—the treatment of the north

as an independent state—was codified in a 12-year truce in 1609. The
truce reopened trade between the United Provinces and Spain and the
West Indies, a boon to Amsterdam.

Lecture 38  The Dutch Revolt 279

hh When the terms of the truce expired in 1621, war was renewed.
However, this chapter of the conflict was no longer primarily about
the traditional struggle of United Provinces and Spain. It was instead
connected to the epic European-wide religious and political conflict
known as the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648).

hh It wouldn’t be until the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War that the
independence of the United Provinces was finally confirmed. By that
point, those northern United Provinces—or Dutch Republic—was
already a major player on the international scene.

Suggested Reading

Dunthorne, Britain and the Dutch Revolt.

Nierop, Treason in the Northern Quarter.
‘t Hart, The Dutch Wars of Independence.

Questions to Consider

1 Do you see evidence of the Black Legend of Spain in

popular culture and prejudices today?

2 Were Alva’s policies in keeping with the customs and ideas

of authority of the Renaissance?

3 The early modern Spanish empire was undone by calls for

independence and the challenge to maintain unity. Where
in our world are demands for autonomy threatening long-
established political unions?

280 Renaissance
Lecture 39
The Spanish
T h e story behind the Spanish Armada is
much more complex than the familiar
tale of a ragtag group of English
mariners miraculously vanquishing
a seemingly invincible force. It was
instead the product of a complex
set of personal and international
conflicts that formed only part of a
larger Renaissance struggle over faith
and state.

Lecture 39  The Spanish Armada 281

Two Monarchs
hh To understand the Spanish Armada, it’s necessary to understand the
relationship of the two royal archrivals whose states were at war: Philip
of Spain and Elizabeth of England. Philip was the son of Charles V and
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII. Three decades before the
Spanish Armada sailed, Philip and Elizabeth became in-laws, thanks
to Philip’s marriage to Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary Tudor.

  Philip II (1527–1598) 

282 Renaissance
hh Philip and Mary’s policies sought to undo religious reform in England.
They revoked the Protestant Reformation and restored Catholicism—at
least officially. Elizabeth, at the time a princess, publicly conformed to
this abrupt reversal.

hh It’s difficult to tell what the two future sovereigns Elizabeth and
Philip thought of each other at that point. Philip certainly didn’t
think much of England, decamping as soon as was polite. Mary was
brokenhearted. Ironically, Philip did make a fateful contribution to
the development of his wife’s state, encouraging the building up of
England’s neglected fleet.

hh Mary’s death in 1558 made Elizabeth queen and allowed her to repeal
her sister’s Catholic policies. Elizabeth reestablished a Protestant English
church with Parliament’s assistance in 1559. New widower Philip asked
for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, but she demurred.

hh The former in-laws then settled into their new relationship as fellow
European monarchs. However, the business of religion couldn’t be
tamped down permanently during the early modern age of reform.
After two relatively peaceful decades, religious tensions contributed to
a deterioration of Anglo-Spanish relations.

hh The falling out between the two states also had economic causes.
Most important was the continued harassment of Spanish shipping by
English privateers such as Francis Drake.

hh The assassination of Dutch rebel leader William I in 1584 moved

Elizabeth’s councilors to urge a more proactive foreign policy and the
promise of harsh punishments for those who sought to unseat the
queen. Elizabeth was persuaded to deepen her support for the Dutch
cause, even though she knew it meant war with Spain.

Lecture 39  The Spanish Armada 283

The Spanish Armada
hh Plans for what would become the Spanish Armada began soon after
Elizabeth’s treaty with the Dutch in 1585. Philip invited two highly
qualified parties to offer strategies for an invasion of England. One
was his commander in the Netherlands, his nephew, the prince of
Parma. The other was the marquis of Santa Cruz, who commanded
Spain’s fleet.

hh Santa Cruz favored embarkation from Portugal with 55,000 men,

protected by a defensive fleet and a large contingent of support vessels.
They would establish a beachhead in Ireland, and from there conquer
enough of England to force Elizabeth’s capitulation.

hh Parma, in contrast, proposed that a portion of the most battle-hardened

fighting force in all of Europe—his famed Army of Flanders—be ferried
across the English Channel from the Netherlands to execute the
invasion. Parma made little mention of naval support from Spain.

hh In a major alteration of the proposals, Philip decided to launch a fleet

from Iberia that would protect the English Channel for the movement
of Parma’s troops to England. The success of this revised strategy relied
on the two Spanish forces acting in concert. Philip, however, failed
to provide a clear and detailed explanation of how Spain’s fleet and
Parma’s Army of Flanders would link up when the time came.

hh The death of Mary, Queen of Scots, offered Philip the chance to claim
his Spanish Armada sailed under the banner of righteous vengeance.
Mary, who’d lost her own kingdom in part as the result of her inability
to undo Protestantism in her homeland, had spent 19 long and uneasy
years in England.

hh Mary had ensnared herself in plot after plot against her royal cousin,
Elizabeth. Throughout her time in England, Mary served as a source of
hope to English Catholics, who sought to see her replace Elizabeth and
restore England to the old faith. However, in 1586, Elizabeth’s principal
secretary Lord Burghley was able to secure irrefutable proof that Mary
endorsed a plan to assassinate Elizabeth, a crime punishable by death.

284 Renaissance
hh As a result, Elizabeth reluctantly consented to the Scottish queen’s
execution. Mary was beheaded in February 1587. Ordering the death
of an anointed sovereign exposed Elizabeth to international censure.
Spanish agents eagerly made much of the illegality of the Scottish
queen’s death in the courts of Europe.

Conflict Begins
hh In response to reports of Spanish plans, in April 1587, Drake launched
an audacious and destructive raid on the port of Cadiz. Drake’s
aggressions prompted Admiral Santa Cruz to sail out to protect the
incoming Spanish treasure ships.

hh This both weakened the Spanish fleet and positioned its commander
to bear the brunt of Philip’s displeasure with the delays that pushed
the planned invasion back another year. By that point, the wily and
undefeated Santa Cruz was dead, and another royal servant, the duke
of Medina Sidonia, had been assigned to lead the Armada.

hh The Spanish Armada didn’t sail in 1587, but vast preparations had been
made for it to do so. As a result, food and wine spoiled or was consumed
and needed to be continually replaced; ships needed to be redirected
for other tasks and were damaged in the process.

hh Medina-Sidonia did much work in the spring of 1588 to organize the

tangle of paperwork, orders, and provisions for the armada. As a result
of his herculean efforts, the fleet was ready at last. On May 28, 1588,
the Spanish Armada headed for open water.

Two Fleets
hh Among the ranks of the Spanish Armada were ships decades old and
designed for other waters. The English fleet, in contrast, had newer,
faster, more mobile vessels, and they outnumbered the Spanish. The
Spanish Armada entered the English Channel with around 130 ships,
while the English had 197.

Lecture 39  The Spanish Armada 285

hh The Spanish were critically outgunned in terms of heavy artillery,
perhaps to the ratio of 2 to 1. In addition, Spanish gunners dealt with
much more difficult equipment. Unlike the English four-wheeled gun
carriages that could be easily maneuvered, Spanish carriages had two
wheels and lacked easy reloading capabilities.

hh Nevertheless, the Spanish Armada was certainly a formidable, well-

disciplined war machine, especially when arrayed in its impressive
crescent formation. After just two weeks at sea, however, a storm
scattered the Spanish fleet and shook the confidence of its captains.

hh A week later, on July 29, the English first sighted the armada and put
their fleet to sea. According to legend, Francis Drake was bowling when
he received word of the Armada’s arrival, famously quipping he had
plenty of time to finish his game and defeat the Spanish.

hh The first skirmish came on July 31, with veteran commander Lord
Admiral Charles Howard leading the English fleet. The day’s action
resulted in minimal damage, although two Spanish ships were lost. Drake
targeted one of them, the Rosario, believed to be laden with treasure.

hh Both fleets took time to reorganize and recover, and Medina Sidonia
began to focus on making contact with Parma. He’d sent news of his
advance to the commander of the Army of Flanders but hadn’t yet
received reply.

hh Parma had been busy. Like his naval counterpart, Parma had been
gathering his resources, carefully dividing his own fleet in several
harbors and hiding barges intended to ferry troops to England in
various inland waterways to confuse the Dutch.

hh The small Dutch navy established a blockade, but they had limited
knowledge of Parma’s intentions or the exact location of his forces. It is
arguable that Parma’s attempt to outsmart the Dutch proved decisive in
keeping his troops from sailing out to the Armada’s protective embrace.
To assemble his scattered invasion force would take, in Parma’s estimate,
six days—time, as it turns out, that the Spanish Armada wouldn’t have
to spare.

286 Renaissance
hh Meanwhile, the Spanish Armada and English fleet resumed hostilities.
A perceived ammunition crisis caused the English to break off an
engagement on August 2 and another skirmish followed on the 4,
but the Armada escaped significant damage and sailed on to Calais,
dropping anchor there on August 6. That day marked the long-awaited
arrival of word from Parma.

hh The news—that Parma needed six more days—was devastating. Medina-

Sidonia realized his stalled fleet would be vulnerable to the English. He’d
believed Parma would be ready and waiting to launch, a misperception
that revealed the greatest flaw in Philip’s Armada scheme: no plan for
the two forces to meet.

hh The English had plans of their own to put the Spanish on the move.
Eight ships, loaded with incendiaries, were set ablaze and dispatched
into the harbor of Calais on the night of August 7 to disperse the
Spanish fleet. Ironically, the fireships did little substantive damage,
although many Spanish captains cut anchor in their rush to escape the
burning English vessels.

hh Renewed discipline and reorganization triumphed over panic, and both

fleets readied themselves for what would turn out to be their final clash,
the nine-hour Battle of Gravelines. The Spanish fleet sought to keep
close to the ports from which Parma’s forces were to embark, but they
lost the wind and faced deteriorating weather.

hh The English moved into close range and began inflicting significant
damage to the Spanish ships’ hulls. By late afternoon, the Spanish
Armada was in disarray; it had lost the Channel, the chance to connect
with Parma, and the opportunity for victory.

hh Waiting for the Spanish were the treacherous North Sea and the
Atlantic, whose storms and hostile inhabitants would see the true
ruin of the Spanish Armada. The cut anchor cables at Calais left a
wounded Spanish fleet without much-needed assistance for mastering
those dangerous waters.

Lecture 39  The Spanish Armada 287

288 Renaissance
hh It was along the coastlines of the British Isles that the Spanish Armada
was truly defeated, with 20 to 35 wrecks off the Scottish and Irish coasts
and the near-total loss of the crews. Ultimately, fewer than half of the
Armada’s 130 ships would return to Spanish shores.

hh The English credited their escape to no lesser power than God, marking
November 24 as a day of thanks. The press churned out celebratory
pamphlets trumpeting English righteousness.

hh However, the contributions of the English sailors were surprisingly

ignored. Almost none of the staggering expense laid out by the English
government during the Armada crisis went to injured combatants. It
fell to Howard, Drake, and other commanders to organize private relief
schemes for those wounded and suffering for queen and country.

hh An even bleaker picture emerged in Spain, where the full scope of the
armada’s failure wasn’t known for many weeks. When the news came,
it broke the will of the Spanish king.

hh The events of 1588 didn’t end the war between England and Spain. The
defeat of the Spanish Armada is the marquee event in a conflict that
dragged on another 15 years, outliving both Philip, who died in 1598,
and Elizabeth, who died in 1603. It was their royal successors who made
peace in 1604.

hh Philip may have yearned for death in November 1588, but he rallied,
determined to fight on. Even the armadas continued; an English
armada in 1589 ended in failure, as did a number of Spanish plans for
follow-up armadas into the 1590s.

hh As the war went on, it exhausted royal treasuries and dampened English
enthusiasm. In part because of the financial exactions required by
foreign war, Elizabeth’s popularity sagged during the final years of
her reign.

Lecture 39  The Spanish Armada 289

Suggested Reading

Fernandez-Armesto, The Spanish Armada.

Martin and Parker, The Spanish Armada.
Mattingly, The Armada.

Questions to Consider

1 Were you surprised to learn of the weaknesses of the

armada? Why do you think the myth of its overwhelming
strength has persisted?

2 Were other factors more important for the combatants

than religion?

3 How would you evaluate Elizabeth of England and Philip

of Spain as Renaissance monarchs? To what extent do they
exemplify the values and actions of Renaissance monarchs?

290 Renaissance
Lecture 40
The Thirty
Years’ War
P r evious lectures have considered the
intersection of faith, politics, and war
during the European Reformation. This
lecture turns to perhaps the greatest of
these clashes, an epic struggle called the
Thirty Years’ War.

Lecture 40  The Thirty Years’ War 291

hh The territories of the Holy Roman Empire were the birthplace of the
Protestant Reformation and the site of some of the most intense armed
conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was a land with an identity
crisis, a jigsaw of competing states and confessions, long ruled by the
Habsburgs—at least in theory.

hh In the 16th century, the empire comprised more than 300 principalities—
both ecclesiastical and secular—and magistracies. The biggest seven
powers had the privilege of voting for the imperial candidate, a medieval
practice that created a weak monarchy in the German lands.

hh Emperor Charles V (r. 1519–1555) was determined that these lands

be purged of Luther’s reform. Charles wanted to clamp down on
the Reformation, and the failure of the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 to
reconcile the leading supporters of reform and the emperor led them
to fear for their safety.

hh These Protestants made common cause with one another in December

at Schmalkald, the town lending its name to the defense league formed
there: the Schmalkaldic League. Eight princes, including Landgrave
Philip of Hesse (1504–1567) and John the Constant of Saxony (r. 1525–
1532), banded together with a number of cities in an alliance, pledging
to defend each other.

hh The Augsburg Confession, a Lutheran statement of faith presented

to the emperor at the Diet in hopes of reconciliation, became a creed
for the League itself, with new members required to adhere to it. The
League’s signatories implicitly supported Philip of Hesse’s conclusion
that resistance was necessary if a leader abused his authority.

The Ottomans and France

hh Another war was brewing, and it was one that put all Christian hands
in the empire on deck. The Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent
(r. 1520–1566), having dismembered Hungary at the Battle of Mohács
in 1526, turned his attention to Vienna.

292 Renaissance
hh Charles needed his Protestants’ help—even more in that moment than
he needed their religious correction—so he struck a deal. In return
for Protestant assistance against the Turks, the emperor made certain
concessions. After an imperial victory outside Vienna, the threat
passed, and a deal was struck to bring peace between the Turks and
the Habsburgs in Austria in 1533.

hh Just as that war cooled, another international conflict heated up, this
one seeing the French enter an alliance with Suleiman. Suleiman kept
Charles busy until the 1540s, further delaying his ability to stem the
tide of Lutheranism in the empire.

Charles Takes Action

hh By 1546, Luther was dead, and the time had come to take action.
Charles concluded an alliance with Pope Paul III (r. 1534–1549).
Subsequently, Charles saw a series of victories. Internal family politics
in Saxony forced John Frederick I to fight off usurpation at home,
and Charles was able to surprise him at the Battle of Mühlberg in
April 1547, taking the elector captive.

hh John Frederick lost his electoral title and much of his land to his
cousin, Moritz, who’d turned on the Protestants and defected to the
emperor for the promise of gain. Philip of Hesse was forced to surrender
shortly afterwards.

hh In theory, the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League should have meant

that its members were returned to the Catholic fold. The Augsburg
Interim, presented by Charles at the Imperial Diet of Augsburg of
1547–1548, suggested as much. Its idea was to wait on the work of the
Council of Trent to conclusively resolve doctrinal matters.

hh However, the intentions to create conformity were clear: The policies

advanced were resoundingly Catholic, seven sacraments and all. They
did offer some concessions to the Protestants, but the more resistant
Protestants thought that too much was required of them. They balked
at the Interim and its implementation.

Lecture 40  The Thirty Years’ War 293

hh A more Protestant-leaning substitution, the Leipzig Interim, was
proposed. It proved as insufficient at satisfying the opponents as its
predecessor had been, despite the role of Luther’s close colleague
Philip Melanchthon in its formulation. The Lutheran movement was
beginning to splinter over the issue of compromise, with hardliners
rejecting the more accepting position of the so-called Philippists—that
is, those who supported Melanchthon.

hh Charles wouldn’t be able to capitalize on this dissension. Duke Moritz,

the Protestant who’d defected from the Schmalkaldic League, switched
teams again. Moritz set Melanchthon to work on ensuring conformity
to Lutheran doctrine at the University of Wittenberg. He created an
alliance to challenge the emperor comprising both Protestant princes
in the Empire and French king Henry II (r. 1547–1559).

hh Moritz’s Protestant army was able to force the emperor’s flight from
Innsbruck in 1552 and required Charles to sue for peace. The resulting
Peace of Augsburg was finalized in 1555. A summary of its effects is
this: People who lived in states with a Lutheran prince adhered to
the reformers’ doctrine; people who lived in states with a Catholic
ruler adhered to the old rites. It did not acknowledge other legitimate
Christian movements, leaving out Calvinism, which was sweeping
through Europe.

hh Worn down by decades of conflict, Charles began the process of

stepping away from his duties. His son Philip would end up with the
Netherlands and the Spanish kingdoms, while his brother Ferdinand
stepped in to take the reins of the Holy Roman Empire. This is the
origin point of the two branches of the Habsburgs: Spanish in the west
and Austrian in the east.

After the Peace

hh The Peace of Augsburg held widespread conflict at bay for more than 50
years. However, the failure to recognize Calvinism as a valid choice in
the empire was becoming increasingly problematic, as several territories
adopted this strand of Protestantism. Catholics and Lutherans
continued to squabble over both doctrine and resources.

294 Renaissance
hh Battle lines began firming up in the early 17th century, with the
formation of both a Protestant coalition and the Catholic League, led
by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, in anticipation of armed conflict to
come. The spark was provided by a problem in Bohemia, an essentially
local dispute over the state’s elective kingship.

hh The choice of the Bohemian estates, Ferdinand of Styria, was the

nephew of Holy Roman Emperor Mattias (r. 1612–1619)—a Habsburg
and a determined Catholic. Ferdinand wanted Bohemia united in the
old faith, something the Protestant nobility vigorously resisted. They
met in Prague to reject Ferdinand’s policies and infringements on their
own authority.

hh In May, these protesters threw some of Ferdinand’s representatives in

the city out the window of the town hall in the famous Defenestration
of Prague. Ferdinand’s position in Bohemia was damaged.

hh The disturbances in Bohemia took on greater significance in the wake

of the imperial election that followed Mattias’s death. The imperial
electors selected Ferdinand as Mattias’s successor, but his Bohemian
subjects rebelled, deposing him in favor of the Calvinist elector of the
Palatinate, Frederick V (1596–1632).

hh The Catholic forces crushed the Bohemian revolt at the Battle of White
Mountain in November 1620, and rebellious nobles not killed in the
rout were executed. Frederick was forced to flee not just Bohemia but
the empire altogether.

The War Continues

hh By 1622, the first phase of what would become the sprawling Thirty
Years’ War was over. The drubbing of the Protestants raised flags in
the international community. As usual, zeal for the true faith mingled
with ambition for the man who stepped up to be Protestant champion,
Christian IV of Denmark (r. 1588–1648). Even as he sought to protect
his coreligionists, Christian also hoped for the territorial advantages that
might come with victory against Catholics in northern imperial lands.

Lecture 40  The Thirty Years’ War 295

hh Standing in Christian’s way was one of the greatest military leaders
of the age, mercenary general Albrecht von Wallenstein. His army,
combined with the forces of the Catholics, delivered victories to the
emperor and forced Christian’s withdrawal.

hh Flush with success, Ferdinand pushed further: In 1629, he issued the

Edict of Restitution. Its principles called for a prohibition against
Calvinism and the restoration of Catholic lands that had fallen out of
church control since 1552. It was an ambitious plan that would have
tightened his grip on the empire considerably.

hh Ferdinand also made Wallenstein the new duke of Mecklenburg,

having decided that the former duke’s support of Christian IV was
grounds for seizing the land and title and bestowing them where he
saw fit. Ferdinand’s actions inspired mutiny. Even the Catholic princes
thought the emperor had gone too far, and so they joined forces with
the Protestants to force the emperor to dismiss Wallenstein.

Later Phases of the War

hh Lutheran king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden stepped up to lead an
international coalition against the emperor and his Catholic forces. The
Swedish king conclusively defeated the forces of the Catholic League
and even ran roughshod over Catholic stronghold Bavaria.

hh Wallenstein was hastily recalled, but even he couldn’t stem the tide.
Although Gustavus Adolphus was killed in 1632, the Swedes fought
on with such success that Wallenstein opened secret negotiations with
them. His treachery would result not in a kingdom of his own but in
his murder, in 1634.

hh With the two towering commanders dead, the imperial forces managed
to neutralize Protestant momentum. The Protestants turned to the
French. Catholic France may seem like an odd choice of ally, but France
had actually been in the background of the conflict for a while, sending
money to the anti-Habsburg forces out of a survival instinct: Conclusive
victory for the Habsburgs threatened France, as it would leave France
surrounded by its longtime rivals.

296 Renaissance
hh Open French intervention from 1635 on helped tilt the playing field in
the Protestants’ favor and helped transform France into the preeminent
European power. Under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu (1585–
1642) and Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661), France’s war machine became
dominant. The Habsburgs convulsed under their burdens and emerged
from the conflict greatly reduced in their authority.

Suggested Reading

Friedeburg, Luther’s Legacy.

Parker, ed., The Thirty Years’ War.
Tracy, Emperor Charles V.

Questions to Consider

1 Is it most accurate to consider the Thirty Years’ War as

a religious war, a political conflict, or a combination of
the two?

2 The chronology of this course concludes in 1648, with the

end of the Thirty Years’ War. How did the conflict resolve
or leave unresolved many of the predominant questions of
the Renaissance?

Lecture 40  The Thirty Years’ War 297

Lecture 41
Renaissance at
Arms: The Military
T h is lecture looks at the dramatic
changes in the preparations and
prosecution of war that coincided with
the Renaissance and played out through
the wars of religion. Specific areas
of focus include new forms of walls,
new types of fighters, and changes in
training, weapons, and tactics.

298 Renaissance
The Trace Italienne
hh The trace italienne was a new type of defensive fortification born during
the Renaissance. In earlier medieval times, high-walled forts on higher
ground than the surrounding territory made it difficult for would-be
invaders to attack. Advancements in artillery signaled the need for a
new design scheme. The high walls so prized by medieval tacticians and
architects offered exposed targets for skilled bombardment. That led
to the development of the trace italienne.

hh Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) was among the first to devise an

alternative design in his architectural treatise De re aedificatoria in the
1440s. Alberti suggested that defensive walls should be built in jagged
lines “like the teeth of a saw” to lessen the damage caused by artillery
fire, and he theorized that a star-shaped fortification would be most
effective in offering protection.

hh Others took up the cause of bringing these designs to fruition. For

example, Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439–1501) serves as a good
example. He came into the employment of Federico da Montefeltro,
duke of Urbino (1422–1482). Among his charges was the building of
numerous fortifications, some of which featured early examples of the
star-shaped fortifications that would come to epitomize the trace italienne.

hh The first new-style fortresses weren’t without their flaws. Their low walls
made them more vulnerable than old-style medieval fortifications to
surprise attacks because the defenders couldn’t see attackers directly
below them. However, strategists figured out that flanking fire from
gun towers protruding at angles from the walls combatted that problem.
Artillery in these towers could successfully oppose the enemy’s siege
weapons while protecting the blind spots of the nearby bastions.

hh Defeating one of these strongholds in direct attack proved to be nearly

impossible unless the offensive army was lucky enough to find a defender
willing to turn traitor. Most often, newly fortified towns and lands
could only be taken after lengthy sieges lasting months or even years.
Their utility continued into the 19th century, when explosive shells and
unprecedented firepower undermined the star-shaped fortresses at last.

Lecture 41  Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution 299

hh Renaissance imperatives rewrote the rules of war. For example, in
the Hundred Years’ War between France and England (1337–1453),
mounted knights rode into battle on horseback. Knights required
training, skill, and expensive equipment, including swords, shields,
and armor. Elite boys and young men trained for this type of combat
from an early age.

hh At the start of the Renaissance, much of Europe north of the Alps

operated under a feudal system that supplied knights for a king’s
military actions. This organization included lords of noble birth (who
owned land), tenants (who rented the land), and serfs (who worked the
land). Typically, a king would require a lord to provide a number of
men to fight on a campaign, and the lord would in turn draw knights
from among his tenants.

hh The significant strain of protracted campaigns in the later medieval

period was pressuring this system, though. A new form of feudalism—
bastard feudalism—was beginning to change things up. It allowed
lords to opt out of the customary military service requirements they
owed their kings in return for payments kings could use to hire
mercenaries instead.

hh War was a fair-weather endeavor, since winter brought with it scarcity

and illness. Armies regularly headed home during these months,
allowing warriors to tend to other business. Since peasants were needed
to work the land during the traditional campaign season, most were
unable to participate in military service.

New Types of Warriors

hh During the Hundred Years’ War, mounted warriors weren’t alone on the
field of battle. Bowmen also had a role, impacting the battle from afar
by launching arrows into the affray. Bowmen were significantly cheaper
to equip than knights, but their task, too, required a substantial amount
of training. The longbow used with great success by the English in the
Hundred Years’ War even became a national point of pride.

300 Renaissance
hh Heavily armored pikemen also filled the kings’ ranks, tightly packed
into formation. Their role was largely defensive and required almost no
training. They would place the butt of their weapons into the ground,
sticking out from the earth at a 45-degree angle, and prop them on
the backs of the men in front of them. Their ranks were virtually
impenetrable by enemy cavalry and infantry.

hh By the early 16th century Swiss, Spanish, German, and Italian armies
had shortened the pikes and developed complex maneuvers to utilize
pikemen offensively. These operations required more extensive drilling
to ensure that the troops moved within their formations.

hh South of the Alps, feudalism didn’t feature prominently, although

lordship did. During the Italian Renaissance, courtiers were expected
to perform military service devoted to their princes. Mercenaries were
far more in evidence in the south, and mercenary captains—condottieri—
gained fame, wealth, and even political authority for their abilities.

The 17th-Century Warrior

hh The soldier of the mid-17th century was far different specimen than the
aforementioned warriors. This later solider was in many ways a tool
for the early modern state. He wasn’t born to military pursuits but
instead found himself either joining voluntarily, in hopes of bettering
his personal condition, or being forced to enter service because his
meager station in life or a criminal past limited his opportunities.

hh This soldier’s training was condensed; he didn’t need substantial skills

to use his weapons, and most of his exercises involved drilling to ensure
precise movement in formation with fellow soldiers. His success was
instead dependent upon his unit as whole.

hh Muskets and arquebuses had replaced bows and arrows, but even with a
tripod to steady the gun, these early firearms were inaccurate. A smooth
bore and a round shot meant that even perfectly aimed projectiles took
often wildly unpredictable paths.

Lecture 41  Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution 301

hh Men were reluctant to abandon armor, but the decline in the ethos of
the individual warrior and the prioritization of the unit propelled the
implementation of indistinguishable clothing. This led to the coming
of the military uniform.

hh Mercenaries preferred to don some kind of object rather than an entire

uniform. A kerchief on the arm could be easily be removed when the
troops found fighting for an alternate side was more profitable.

302 Renaissance
Life of a Soldier
hh Life in military service was difficult for 17th-century soldiers. Pay was
deposited to captains, who then distributed it to the men once every
six months or so. The captains could also give men cheaper or worn-out
clothes and charge outrageous prices for victuals, all to their own profit.

hh Supplying food was a logistical challenge for monarchs and government

officials. After suppliers and officers took their cuts, the remaining
funds for victuals were rarely sufficient, and soldiers were required to
live off the land, to the frustration and impoverishment of the local
populations. Medicine didn’t keep up with the advances in technology,
so limbs mangled by new weapons had to be sacrificed or remain useless.

hh The loyalties of a 17th-century soldier were far more fluid than those of
a feudal knight bound to his lord. The Protestant Reformation brought
about religious turmoil that drove men to join armies in support of
their individual confessions, even if they didn’t match that of their
prince or magistrates.

hh Men who hadn’t spent their lives training for military service often
found the conditions of life in the military and the horrors of battle
unbearable. Desertion was common.

hh Many monarchs found it a better alternative to hire mercenaries than

raise troops from amongst their subjects. Although this was expensive, it
alleviated governments from the administrative nightmare of recruiting,
training, and deploying soldiers. These men played the system to their
advantage, changing sides should they decide an alternate alliance was
more profitable.

Military Might
hh Early modern tacticians and the monarchs and officials they worked
for understood that gunners and archers were more effective in larger
numbers. Some states’ militaries increased tenfold between 1500 and
1700. Phillip II of Spain dominated Europe in the 16th century with
an army of probably no more than 40,000 men. Only 100 years later,
Louis XIV of France maintained an army of 400,000.

Lecture 41  Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution 303

hh More gunners and archers required more bows and more guns, which
in turn needed more arrows and more bullets. Someone was going to
have to foot the bill. The states whose debt and tax structure could be
retooled to support such expenditures, particularly Britain and France,
would surge to the fore as European superpowers. Spain fell behind.

hh The development of large gunpowder weaponry in the 15th century
touched many elements and aspects of the military enterprise.
Gunpowder was made of a combination of charcoal, sulfur, and
saltpeter (potassium nitrate).

hh Gunpowder exposed the weaknesses of older fortifications, whose high

walls failed to offer significant protection against canon fire. A boom
in big guns commenced. For example, Mons Meg, a gun cast on behalf
of Philip the Good of Burgundy in 1449, weighed 8.5 tons and fired a
500-millimeter, 400-pound shot.

304 Renaissance
hh Towns and castles accessible by water were the first targets of large,
unwieldy gunpowder weapons. Because these guns were too massive to
transport easily over land, they were quickly replaced by smaller, more
maneuverable artillery. By the middle of the 15th century, vast numbers
of them were being used to bombard fortifications throughout Europe.

Suggested Reading

Black, Beyond the Military Revolution.

Jacob and Visoni-Alonzo, The Military Revolution in Early
Modern Europe.
Parker, The Military Revolution.

Questions to Consider

1 Which played the bigger role in shaping Renaissance

warfare: technological innovation or institutional and
political changes?

2 How did armed conflict support and challenge the

Renaissance quest for a good life?

Lecture 41  Renaissance at Arms: The Military Revolution 305

Lecture 42
and the Birth of
Modern Science
T h is lecture examines the intersection
of Renaissance values and patronage
with the new ways of thinking
about the natural environment and
the universe that influenced the
Scientific Revolution. Partnerships
and animosities developed between
educational pursuits and institutions,
religious and secular authorities, print
culture, and more.

306 Renaissance
Nicolaus Copernicus
hh The year 1543 was the year of first publication for a text with
groundbreaking ramifications, titled De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium
(On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). In it, Polish astronomer
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) put forward a theory that streamlined
the previously used Ptolemaic system of planetary motion by swapping
the Earth for the Sun as the center of the cosmos.

hh He posited that the Earth rotated each day on its axis and revolved
around the Sun each year. It was that daily rotation that explained why
the Sun seemed to rise and set and why the stars seemed to move on an
Earth that itself seemed unmoving. Copernicus also theorized that the
Earth’s own motion through space resulted in the longheld perception
of planets moving backward.

hh There were limits to his theories, but the Copernican challenge to

medieval cosmology represented a paradigm shift. Copernican
innovation generated a radical alteration in perception that enabled
others to understand their world in new and different ways.

Medieval Views
hh The medieval view of the cosmos was as magisterial as it was complex.
Its very orderliness and intricacies suited Christian sensibilities and
sensitivities in key ways. The heavens, as rendered by intellectual
authorities, were wondrous to behold. They provided a sure sign of the
omnipotence of God and the great care God put into creation.

hh The medieval understanding of the universe also placed Earth at the

center of the cosmos, which supported the centrality of man. The
chief authorities for this understanding were Aristotle (384–322 BCE)
and Ptolemy.

hh Medieval thinkers engaged and refined Aristotelian and Ptolemaic

ideas. The process of integrating this ancient pagan view of the cosmos
into a Christian framework animated a number of great medieval
thinkers, including Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).

Lecture 42  Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Science 307

hh Renaissance thinkers, however, explored the existence of ancient
alternatives to Aristotelian ideas. Perhaps the most important
alternative was Aristotle’s teacher, Plato (429–347 BCE). Renaissance
created an updated version of Platonic thought of their own, identified
as neo-Platonism.

hh Unlike Aristotle, who prized observation of reality, Plato had

encouraged a figuration of reality—one that looked beyond appearances
to discover true knowledge. This is the business of Platonic forms—
that is, the notion that physical reality represents a pale reflection
of ideals that existed outside the mortal realm, occupying a plane of
heavenly perfection.

hh Renaissance Platonists turned enthusiastically to the study of

philosophy, mathematics, music, and classical languages in their quest
to uncover truth and to understand the mechanics of nature. The quest
led to a new urge to quantify nature and to subject it to the rigors of
experimentation. Received tradition was rejected in favor of a more
hands-on approach to learning.

New Science
hh Science in the hands of thinkers and experimenters was designed to
be purposeful and practical. England’s Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was
an important proponent of the new empirical science. His government
post, as lord chancellor under James I (r. 1603–1625), meant that he
had the ear of the monarch. Bacon’s celebration of science as doing
God’s work was designed to encourage the king to make science a
state initiative.

hh In his Novum Organum, published in 1620, Bacon proposed a new

method to replace Aristotle’s Organon. Bacon’s New Method prioritized
inductive reasoning, the process of generalizing the accumulation of
quality factual information through observation. This process of
employing specific evidence to draw general conclusions is seminal to
the development of the scientific method and to the creation of a new
intellectual consensus.

308 Renaissance
hh An alternate method of pursuing knowledge and an alternate
conception of its value were receiving powerful articulation in the work
of Bacon’s contemporary, Frenchman René Descartes (1596–1650).
Descartes believed that scientific thought should operate with clear,
irrefutable knowledge derived not from mindless adherence to tradition
but instead from reason.

hh Wealthy men and women subsidized scientific discovery. They did so for
many of the same motivations that drove the patronage of artists and
architects: It was a form of elite conspicuous consumption.

hh Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), hailing from an

aristocratic background, was lucky enough to be financially able to
subsidize his own work. The most notable fruits of his study was his
correction of key Copernican errors about planetary motion, although
Tycho, too, had his limits.

hh Tycho also benefitted from extensive patronage: In 1576, Frederick II

(r. 1559–1588) of Denmark granted Tycho an island to serve as a base for
his astronomical work. The king also provided him an annual allowance.
Twenty years later, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II appointed Tycho as
imperial mathematician, a post that earned him prestige and a number
of perks.

hh Tycho himself, by virtue of his extensive landholding and personal

fortune, served as a patron to other scholars. Among the most notable
of those who benefitted from Tycho’s support was German Johannes
Kepler (1571–1630).

hh It was Kepler who did the most to validate the Copernican heliocentric
theory, through the formulation of the three basic laws of planetary
motion: He argued that planetary orbits are elliptical, that the
velocity of planetary motion is not fixed but variable, and that the
square of the orbital period of a planet is proportional to the cube of
the mean distance from the Sun. This created a cosmos dictated by
mathematical principles.

Lecture 42  Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Science 309

hh Science eventually came to tangle with religion. Scripture held that
the Earth was unmoved and the planets were in motion. The Old
Testament prophet Joshua famously commanded the Sun to stop, for
example. Church authorities cited this and other biblical passages as
validation of the geocentric theory.

hh However, this was a time when people began to challenge the authority
of the traditional church. As Copernicus was refining his heliocentric
theory in the early decades of the 16th century, Martin Luther was on
the cusp of opening the floodgates of controversy in contesting the
papal church’s monopoly on knowledge.

hh Many modern scholars have noted the significance of the timing of

the Scientific Revolution with regard to the Reformation. Protestant
lands have been seen as producing the greatest innovations in
scientific endeavor, in part because Protestants were able to critique
the intellectual status quo in ways their Catholic counterparts were
not, but the formula isn’t that simple.

hh The Roman Church’s condemnation of Galileo (1564–1642) in the

17th century, though, demonstrated the slippery slope considered to
exist between science and blasphemy in Catholic territories. Despite
counting Pope Urban VIII among his many patrons, Galileo’s pointed
support for heliocentrism in 1632’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief
World Systems couldn’t be taken lightly by the church, and Galileo paid
a steep price for his critique.

Science in the World

hh The work of those investigating nature and the heavens above had
very practical real-world applications during the Scientific Revolution,
just as Bacon had wanted. Those experimenting with instruments
of navigation and calculating distances, for example, helped lay the
framework for the European Age of Discovery.

310 Renaissance
hh Women also played many roles in the Scientific Revolution. Their
activities in the craft traditions led to scientific innovation, while
wealthy women participated in salon society. Women wrote and even
published works of natural philosophy; Englishwoman Margaret
Cavendish (1623–1673) stands as one example.

hh The story of women is largely absent in the master narrative of the

Scientific Revolution. However, more recent scholarship is casting a
wider net to uncover the other participants who joined the revolution
in their own ways.

Suggested Reading

Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences.

Kuhn and Hacking, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Mayer, The Roman Inquisition.

Questions to Consider

1 What do you consider science, and how does that

definition differ from its early modern theory and practice?

2 Which Renaissance scientific ideas or practices do you

think have had the biggest impact on history?

3 Do you think broad historical labels like Scientific

Revolution are useful? How are they problematic?

Lecture 42  Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Science 311

Lecture 43
Renaissance and
Magic: Witchcraft
T he book Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of
Witches) is often heralded as the book
that started one of the most infamous
episodes in European history: the great
early modern witch hunt. Between
1450 and 1700, the criminalization of
witchcraft sparked trials that stretched
across Europe. Although estimates
vary widely, a consensus has settled at
somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000
standing accused, with between 40,000
to 60,000 executed.

312 Renaissance
Background on Malleus Maleficarum
hh Malleus Maleficarum was the work of a German Dominican inquisitor
named Heinrich Kramer (1430–1505). One of Kramer’s fellow
Dominicans, Jacob Sprenger (1436–1495), was later identified as a
coauthor, probably in a bid to add sufficient gravitas to the book and
to enhance its appeal. Malleus Maleficarum had its publication debut in
1487 and would go on to appear in a minimum of 36 editions between
that date and 1669, published in a variety of languages and locations.

hh Belief in the existence of practitioners of magic—individuals who were

thought to be able to wield supernatural power—stretched back to
ancient times. Even after the coming of Christianity, the use of magic
had been tolerated during the Middle Ages.

hh Those earlier attitudes eroded in the face of theories that firmly aligned
practitioners of magic—witches—and witchcraft with the Devil. Growing
fears about the dangers of magical power and its exercise began to
coalesce in new ways.

hh The key to witches’ power, in this new formulation, was the Satanic
pact, a ritual binding of the witch to the Devil. This contract, cast as a
perversion of the Christian covenant, put the individual witch firmly
in league with the Devil, whose ultimate goal was believed to be the
undermining of the Christian faith.

hh Learned men who studied such matters were increasingly considering

witches soldiers of Satan. Those developments led to the work of
Kramer and Sprenger. Their book was a response to frustrations at the
inability to bring suspected witches to justice.

hh In the years leading up to Malleus Maleficarum, the two had been unable
to secure the support of local clerics in northern German-speaking
lands to investigate witchcraft. When they petitioned Innocent IV
(r. 1484–1492) for aid, the pope’s response took the form of the 1484
bull Summis desiderantes affectibus.

Lecture 43  Renaissance and Magic: Witchcraft 313

hh The decree affirms Kramer and Sprenger’s authority “as inquisitors of
heretical pravity.” The bull sounds the papal alarm against the perils of
leaving witchcraft unchecked and reads as a ringing endorsement from
the pope of the activities of inquisitors seeking witchcraft’s eradication.

Contents and Effects of the Manual

hh Innocent’s words would end up having a privileged place in Malleus
Maleficarum itself, since the bull was published as the opening for the
manual. The manual itself is encyclopedic in its scope and a difficult
read, but its overall message is this: Witches are real; they are dangerous
and powerful, thanks to their allegiance with the Devil; and they need
to be stopped at any cost.

hh Kramer also offers practical advice for identifying, trying, and convicting
witches. Failure wasn’t an option: The spiritual health of Christendom
depended on success. Legal niceties, such as they existed in the 15th
century, would have to be abandoned when circumstances required.

hh Kramer’s fellow inquisitors were rather cool in their initial reception to

his book, and as a result, it didn’t actually become a standard manual
used in inquisitorial courts. However, its influence can be identified in
other early modern texts categorized as demonologies—books by learned
men that expounded on the powers of witches, the peril in which they
placed good Christians, and the relationship between the Devil and
his witch adherents.

hh In the 15 century, inquisitors turned to the business of identifying

and punishing witches, launching trials in the Swiss cantons and

the German-speaking lands. The coming of the Reformation in the
early 16th century slowed the tide of prosecutions, in no small part
because the cracking of the Christian consensus presented its own
pressing concerns. Witchcraft trials would rise again in frequency after
midcentury and continue for over 100 years in many European lands
before subsiding as a cause of official concern in the later 17th century.

314 Renaissance
hh The shattering of Christian unity and authority represented by the
Reformation had a powerful impact on the European witch hunt.
Charges of witchcraft offered a way for Catholics and Protestants to
attack each other. Witches, who’d been previously conceived as members
of an anti-Christian sect, could be re-conceptualized as believers in the
wrong sort of Christianity.

Secular Authority
hh Secular authorities became involved in the witch-hunting business.
For example, in Elizabethan England, as elsewhere, gradations of
witchcraft existed, and so different offenses warranted different
methods of correction.

hh Anyone responsible for causing the death of another was guilty of a

felony, a crime that came with a death sentence. Anyone who caused
harm but not death was subject to imprisonment for one year, turns in
the pillory (a public shaming device), and the requirement to confess
his or her errors. If a second act of harm occurred, it was a felony,
meaning execution.

hh Government officials worried over plots that targeted rulers, as when

Elizabeth’s chief astrologer, John Dee, was suspected of witchcraft. Dee’s
case is a useful reminder of the uneasy overlap between science and
superstition in early modern Europe. The modern chasm that exists
between the rational and irrational didn’t yet exist.

Accusations on the Ground

hh Along with religious and political concerns, the witchcraft hysteria
also reflected social and economic concerns. At the non-elite level,
witchcraft was about interpersonal and community tensions. It was
about individuals who distrusted and disliked one another.

Lecture 43  Renaissance and Magic: Witchcraft 315

hh An examination of the extant trial materials alongside the popular
print images and text that sensationalized witchcraft reveals that the
overwhelming majority of actual witchcraft cases didn’t result from elite
accusations. They may have authorized the labeling of witchcraft as a
crime, but it was non-elites who were accusing one another of witchcraft.

hh Somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of those of accused of witchcraft

were women. Some scholars have tagged misogyny as a key cause of
witch hunts, suggesting a systematic fear and hatred of women as being
at the root of accusations. It was, after all, male authorities who created
the laws, prosecuted the accused, and condemned the convicted.

hh However, in many areas, women accused other women. Charges of

witchcraft tended to stem from life processes assigned by nature or
custom to women, such as childbirth, childcare, and food preparation.
When something went wrong, guilt over potential charges of neglect
could be displaced on other caregivers.

hh The typical witch, if one can be said to exist, was an old, irascible woman.
Often impoverished, without a male authority figure to rule over her,
she quarreled with her neighbors, and they remembered her curses or
ill wishes in those all-too-frequent moments when misfortune struck.

hh Over time, those authorities responsible for the prosecutorial

mechanisms grew increasingly hesitant about accepting evidence
of witchcraft. The use of torture was recognized as producing false
confessions, and stories alleging encounters with the Devil were treated
with doubt. While accusations continued, convictions slowed. During
the 18th century, most of the laws criminalizing witchcraft were repealed.

hh The witchcraft centuries were marked by profound political, economic,

and religious crisis. When those crises intersected with prevailing
ideas about gender and the authorization of the law to target suspected
malefactors, the unthinkable became reality. When fear and prejudice
ruled in Renaissance Europe, extremism wasn’t usually far behind.

316 Renaissance
Suggested Reading

Cameron, Enchanted Europe.

Roper, Witch Craze.
Seitz, Witchcraft and Inquisition in Early Modern Venice.

Questions to Consider

1 How did various Renaissance circumstances and values

promote the European witch hunts?

2 How does the link between women and witchcraft

contribute to our understanding of gender in early
modern society?

3 Witches and magic permeate popular culture today. Why

is the image of the witch so enduring?

Lecture 43  Renaissance and Magic: Witchcraft 317

Lecture 44
with Islam
T h is lecture examines the relationship
between Christians and Muslims
during the early modern period. Faith
imperatives played a profound role in
the interactions of the Christian and
Islamic states. However, faith wasn’t
the only factor that mattered: Complex
motivations were also at work when
it came to how rulers, merchants, and
clerics understood their rivals and
their world.

318 Renaissance
The Fall of Constantinople
hh The city of Constantinople stood for centuries as the wonder of the
world. It featured thriving trade and treasures that impressed 12th- and
13th-century visitors. Located on the southern tip of Anatolia, the city
was surrounded by water on three sides, offering protection.

hh In addition, a wall protected its landward side. On Constantinople’s

seaward sides, its defenders built sea walls. The defenders could use
Greek fire, an incendiary petroleum-based substance that would
burn, even on water itself. This had helped make Constantinople a
powerhouse for hundreds of years.

hh By the 15th century, however, Constantinople was a shadow of its

former self. The Black Death had ravaged its population during the
14th century. Centuries of warfare had also eroded the city. Attackers
included the Latin Christians, who’d sacked and then ruled the city
during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and the Persian, Arab, and Turk
empires from the east.

hh On May 29, 1453, after a two-month siege, the city fell to the Ottoman
Turks. The Ottoman Empire, a dynamic Islamic state founded at the
turn of the 14th century, achieved its victory under the leadership of
Sultan Mehmed II (1432–1481), also known as Mehmed the Conqueror.

hh The republics of Genoa and Venice, who enjoyed substantial trading

privileges there, had aided the desperate defenders in Constantinople.
However, their forces were no match for the cannons of the Ottomans.

hh People who prized classical learning keenly felt the loss of the city—it
was the last remaining lifeline to the civilizations of the ancient world.
Equally alarming was the elimination of Constantinople as a Christian
bastion in the east, even though that position of Constantinople as a
vital buffer between Christian and Islamic empire had long been more
fictional than real.

hh Popes Nicholas V (r. 1447–1455) and Pius II (r. 1458–1462), both

Renaissance patrons and sympathetic to displaced Byzantine
intellectuals, made noises about a crusade to retake the Greek Christian

Lecture 44  Renaissance Encounters with Islam 319

capital city, but those calls didn’t develop into military action. There
was, however, grave concern among European states about the danger
Islam posed, and that concern would help to shape key developments
of the Renaissance and Reformation centuries.

The Iberian Peninsula

hh For 700 years, the Christian reconquest (or Reconquista) put Iberia
on the frontlines of a conflict between faiths and political rivals.
Fledgling Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms wrested lands away from
the caliphate of Córdoba. Royal power couple Ferdinand of Aragon
and Isabella of Castile completed the Christian conquests in 1492,
with the fall of Granada.

hh Even after completion, the Reconquista project continued to cast an

important shadow over life in the Iberian states. For centuries, the
peninsula was the site of armed conflict: Christians fought Christians,
Muslims fought Muslims, and Christians and Muslims fought each
other. A warrior culture pervaded Iberian consciousness.

hh The aftereffects of that Christian conquest were substantial. Victory

transformed the landscape when Christian kings enlisted the crusading
military orders, including the Templars, to take up the work of defense
against a resurgence of Muslim power. Their great castles safeguarded
Christian settlements.

hh In their newly acquired lands, Christian princes and kings enacted a

massive program of resettlement, seeding the ground with Christians.
Another factor was that Muslims had occupied these lands before
Christian incursions, and now a new reality was going to have to take
the place of armed conflict.

hh When Christian princes captured lands formerly administered and still

inhabited by Muslims, those in residence were required by Islamic policy
to leave and settle elsewhere. Christian decrees were equally explicit;
Muslims were to be expelled from Christian lands. In practice, though,
hundreds of thousands of Muslims stayed put, even outnumbering
Christians in some areas.

320 Renaissance
hh Strict laws emerged to define the interactions of the practitioners of
the two faith traditions, but the people did find ways to coexist out
of practical necessity. However, as the early modern rulers sought
to enhance their authority through the enforcement of religious
uniformity, the level of toleration for all forms of religious deviance
dipped. The Iberian Muslims who sought integration found their efforts
met with the Inquisition as the lines between faiths hardened.

Suleiman I
hh Constantinople made a nice
prize for the Turks, but its
conquest wasn’t the final
stage of a long struggle. The
Ottoman Turkish Empire
had already secured Thrace,
Bulgaria, and Macedonia by
the time Mehmed II’s forces
took Constantinople. They
defeated the Serbs next, and
then it was on to the Greek
peninsula, Herzegovina,
and Albania.

hh In the 16th century, under

the command of Suleiman I
(r. 1520–1566), the Ottoman
army pushed into Hungary.
In August 1526 at the Battle
of Mohács, Suleiman crushed
the Hungarian forces. King
Louis II was also killed in
the battle, and since he had
no heirs, a power vacuum
loomed. A Christian race
was on to try to salvage some
position in Hungary against
the Turkish advance.

Lecture 44  Renaissance Encounters with Islam 321

hh A three-way partition emerged, with Archduke Ferdinand of Austria
carrying the day in Bohemia and a western zone of Hungary. Suleiman
and the Turks took the center. To the east in Transylvania, Count John
Zápolya (1490–1540), elected by the Hungarian nobility as their king,
was in control. In his bid for authority, Zápolya brokered a deal with
Suleiman that made Hungary a subject state to the Ottomans.

Ottoman Rule
hh The Ottomans failed at their bid to take Vienna 1529, but the threat
they posed helped scuttle Charles V’s plans to deal with the Protestants
in his empire. More advances came in the 1530s and 1540s. Eventually,
millions of European Christians would be subject to Ottoman rule.
Christian boys were pressed into military service on behalf of the
empire, and these Janissaries would play a key role in the Ottoman
subjugation of other Muslims.

hh However, the Ottomans didn’t force conversion, in part for reasons

of money. Christians who were allowed to practice their faith paid
higher taxes, and so it didn’t make good economic policy to lose out
on that revenue.

Philip II
hh The reality of the Turks had to be borne by the European powers, and
most rulers grudgingly made peace with that. However, Spain’s Philip
II (r. 1556–1598) did not. He also possessed the throne of Portugal
after 1580, and in both Spain and Portugal, Muslims were believed to
have plans to undermine Christendom from the inside.

hh Attempts to suppress the Muslims in Granada led to rebellion in

1568. The rebellion was crushed by Spanish forces under Philip’s half-
brother, Don Juan of Austria (1547–1578). The reprisals against the
rebels were designed to prohibit a repeat bid for autonomy, with tens
of thousands of Moors expelled from Granada and thinly redistributed
throughout the peninsula so as not to allow for coordinated efforts at
renewed resistance.

322 Renaissance
hh Philip’s efforts in the Mediterranean show a similar desire for victory
against enemies of his Catholic faith and for security of his territories,
although the road to success was far rockier than in Granada. A Spanish
fleet was humiliated by a surprise Turkish attack in 1560 in North
Africa that saw the capture of thousands of Spaniards.

hh Later, in 1570, when Selim II seized Cyprus, then under the control
of the Venetian republic, the time had come to take decisive action.
Throwing in with Venice and the pope, Spain participated in a joint
naval expedition to recover the island. The victor in Granada was Don
Juan once again.

hh In October, the fleet of the Christian forces engaged the Ottomans

at Lepanto, off the east coast of Greece, and delivered a conclusive
victory. The Turkish navy was smashed, with just a handful of Christian
ships lost.

hh The Turks reorganized and rebuilt, and the Christian coalition broke
down. Venice pursued a separate peace with the Turks, and the Turks
went back on the attack, capturing Tunis with its reconstructed fleet
in 1574.

hh Regardless, the Spanish victory at Lepanto turned out to have lasting

significance, as it neutralized the Ottoman threat to the western
Mediterranean in a way that allowed Philip to direct his attention
elsewhere. A cautious peace with the Turks was secured in 1578.

Suggested Reading

O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain.

Philippides, ed. and trans., Mehmed II the Conqueror and the Fall
of the Franco-Byzantine Levant to the Ottoman Turks.
Woodhead and Kunt, ed., Suleyman the Magnificent and His Age.
Lecture 44  Renaissance Encounters with Islam 323
Lecture 45
and Exploration:
T h is lecture looks at how the values,
motivations, and conflicts that shaped
aspects of Europe’s age of rebirth also
fostered preconditions for European
exploration. Factors included curiosity
about the natural world, a desire for
power, technological advances, and an
underlying quest for glory and riches.

324 Renaissance
Different Drives
hh Renaissance intellectuals prioritized experiential learning. Spurred
by the works of the ancients, they exhibited significant curiosity
about the natural world. They wanted to unlock the mysteries of the
physical universe.

hh The quest for classical texts that marked the period of rebirth resulted
in the rediscovery and promotion of a treasure trove of Greek, Roman,
and Egyptian learning. The geographies of Strabo and Ptolemy and
other theoreticians came into wider circulation, for example, and piqued
the curiosity of navigators and those who would support their voyages.

hh Religion was a pivotal motivation for European exploration as well.

For example, by the 15th century, Spain and Portugal had long been
engaged in a holy war on the Iberian Peninsula. They saw their maritime
activities as an extension of the struggle against Islam.

hh Another drive was money and fame: For some men, new lands beyond
Christendom’s borders offered the potential of prosperity and the
chance to win renown. That was an attractive prospect for those who
faced declining opportunities at home in Europe due to changing
economic and political realities.

hh Additionally, the fall of Byzantium in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks had

a profound religious impact on Christian Europe. As the last Christian
bastion and symbolic buffer eroded, the Turks felt uncomfortably close
and threatening to European states.

hh With the Turks in command of the overland routes that connected

Christendom with the empires in the east, the trade that brought silks,
pepper, cinnamon, and other luxury commodities to European markets
was jeopardized. It was in part the exorbitant fees needed to secure
such goods for a growing consumer base that motivated merchants and
traders to seek alternate methods for access.

Lecture 45  Renaissance and Exploration: Motives 325

New Information and Technology
hh The recent reintroduction to European audiences of Ptolemy’s
Geography, having been translated into Latin at the start of the 15th
century, convinced some that more advantageous means of profiting
from the luxury trade existed. Ptolemy’s omission of the Americas in
his view of the world suggested that the eastern origin of highly prized
items was close enough that it made sense to go there directly and avoid
the Ottoman-controlled Middle East entirely.

hh That impulse would drive both

Spanish and Portuguese explorers,
although they would sail off in
opposite directions in hopes of
reaching their destination. Their
efforts were boosted by numerous
technological developments and
navigational aids. Ships, for
example, could hold more cargo,
though space for the crews was
more cramped.

hh The new ships were much

better equipped for the more
challenging waters beyond the
Mediterranean. The vessels
relied on sails rather than rowers.
With the adoption of the lateen
sail, ships could be maneuvered
successfully against the wind.
They could also be outfitted
with cannons.

hh A number of navigational instruments—the magnetic compass, the

astrolabe, and the sternpost rudder among them—increased mariners’
knowledge of their location and their control over their vessels. This, in
turn, allowed for the increased accuracy of maps, as skilled cartographers
were able to use the knowledge they gathered from navigators to correct
errors and omissions.

326 Renaissance
hh While efforts were ramping up in Europe, another civilization stood
on the cusp of operationalizing the first seaborne empire of the early
modern world. A series of voyages of the Ming dynasty’s Treasure Fleet
propelled China to the center of the world stage. These expeditions
were helmed by the Muslim eunuch admiral Zheng He (1371–1433) and
sponsored by Zhu Di, the Yongle emperor (r. 1402–1424).

hh Seven massive fleets set out between 1405 and 1433. Roughly 65 huge
Chinese junks were accompanied by more than 250 smaller vessels and
staffed with more than 28,000 men.

hh The Chinese voyages were bound up with matters of state. The Yongle
emperor was actually a usurper. Zhu Di was a younger son of the Ming
dynasty’s founder, the Hongwu emperor. By virtue of his place in the
succession, he didn’t inherit the imperial throne.

hh Zhu Di was not content to be a prince. He seized the throne from his
young nephew, the Jianwen emperor (r. 1398–1402), who was killed in
the palace coup. However, rumors of his nephew’s survival plagued the
new ruler. Part of Admiral Zheng He’s orders was to investigate reported
sightings of the Jianwen emperor in nearby lands, where he was believed
by supporters to be preparing to stage a comeback.

hh The admiral and his men didn’t find the Jianwen emperor, but they did
possess imperial favor. They spread Chinese influence throughout the
South Pacific and Indian Ocean basin, reaching the Arabian Peninsula
and the east coast of Africa.

hh However, the Treasure Fleet and the trading and tributary networks it
built were incredibly short-lived. The death of the Yongle emperor and
the eclipse of the eunuch faction at court by the Confucian scholar-
officials doomed the great maritime project of the early Ming dynasty.
The voyages of the Treasure Fleet were suspended, and many of the
ships and records of the expeditions destroyed.

Lecture 45  Renaissance and Exploration: Motives 327

hh Note that China was the power player in Asia both before and after the
voyages. While the fleet’s maritime activities brought China into contact
with distant lands and goods and peoples, there was no geopolitical
impetus for capitalizing on those connections.

hh In the eyes of Confucian officials, China didn’t need overseas territory

to get a leg up on the competition because there wasn’t any competition.
When the Yongle emperor died, these traditional intellectual elites were
poised to catapult back into prominence. Denouncing the activities of
their eunuch rivals at court was a way to dismiss their importance and
to reduce their contributions to the Ming state.

Suggested Reading

Brotton, The Renaissance Bazaar.

Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas.
Russell, Prince Henry the Navigator.

Questions to Consider

1 What reasons did people from different walks of life have

for taking to the seas?

2 Why didn’t China feel as compelled to establish overseas

links as its European counterparts?

328 Renaissance
Lecture 46
and Exploration:
New Horizons
T h is lecture examines the consequences
of contact for the first two European
states to embark on the building of
overseas empire. The embarkations
of Spain and Portugal involved an
intersection of Renaissance influences
and imperial ambitions.

Lecture 46  Renaissance and Exploration: New Horizons 329

Portuguese Exploration
hh The Portuguese took the first steps in what would open a new age
in world history. Royal patronage propelled this exploration. The
domination of overland trade routes by the Ottoman Turks in the
Middle East incentivized the search for alternate means of getting
desired luxury items to European lands from the east.

hh After the victory of the Portuguese over their North African rivals at
Ceuta in 1415, steady progress was made in exploring the west coast of
Africa and nearby Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape Verde islands.
In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the tip of Africa.

hh A decade later, four ships under the command of Vasco da Gama and
the sponsorship of Manuel I would outdo Dias by sailing into the Indian
Ocean and make landfall at Calicut in India. One more decade later,
the Portuguese reached China.

hh The chief architect of Portugal’s emerging presence in the east was

Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque. His capture of coastal centers in
India and at Hormuz, on the horn of the Arabian Peninsula, between
1510 and 1515 would be vital to establishing a network of Portuguese
outposts from which to conduct trade.

hh However, Portugal couldn’t helm a major colonial effort, conquering

rival empires and settling its people elsewhere. Portugal would instead
rely on trading posts and deals with indigenous populations—or, absent
the ability to secure favorable terms, the application of targeted military
force. Even these limited actions were enough to touch off hostilities
with Muslim merchants who had dominated the trade before the arrival
of Portuguese ships.

hh To protect their shipping interests, the Portuguese established four

major centers in the east. The first was at Goa, on the Malabar Coast of
India. On the west coast of what is now Sri Lanka and was then Ceylon,
Colombo became an important post. Malacca, on the Malaysian
Peninsula, served as another key settlement, although it and Colombo
would be lost to the Dutch in the 17th century.

330 Renaissance
hh Macau, off the coast of China, would outlast even Goa, which returned
to India in 1976. Macau was Portuguese until the final days of the
20th century, and was returned to China in 1999. These centers were
augmented by smaller hubs of Portuguese influence along a huge expanse
of coastline along the edges of Africa, Arabia, India, and beyond.

hh One of the people in the bustling capital of Portugal as these first
expeditions were returning from India was the son of a Genoese
weaver named Christopher Columbus (1451–1506). Like many others,
Columbus was drawn in by the lure of riches in the east.

hh Columbus was heavily influenced by classical texts. He owned printed

copies of Pliny’s Natural History, Ptolemy’s Geography, the Travels of
Marco Polo, and an early 15th-century study of the populations of the
world entitled Imago Mundi by French cleric Pierre D’Ailly.

hh The descriptions of Africa and Asia and their people offered by these
books mingled with Columbus’s experience of the heady atmosphere
in Portugal. The combination drove him to embark on his own quest
for riches, with the idea of sailing west to reach the east being inspired
by his reading.

Lecture 46  Renaissance and Exploration: New Horizons 331

hh Columbus eventually won the patronage of Ferdinand and Isabella,
as the Spanish sovereigns were flush with the success of finalizing the
Reconquista in Granada in 1492. Columbus’s activities—the discovery of
what was quickly realized to be a New World— touched off an urgency
to settle the matter of who would get what.

Dividing the New World

hh Pope Alexander VI acted as chief negotiator to broker a deal between
Portuguese king João II and Ferdinand and Isabella. Alexander’s
settlement was preferential to Spain, dividing the globe into eastern
and western halves at a line just beyond the Azores. The Portuguese
objected and successfully pushed the line about 1,000 miles westward
into the Atlantic, claiming to need more sailing space to catch the winds
required for their journeys southward to the cape of Africa.

hh The result was the Treaty of Tordesillas, dated June 7, 1494 and ratified
by the monarchs shortly afterward. Portugal’s wise adjustment would
come to net them Brazil, discovered in 1500 courtesy of an expedition
led by Dias and Pedro Alvares Cabral that drifted significantly off
course from its African trajectory.

hh The line established by Tordesillas didn’t hold fast in the east. Incursions
in 1518 by Ferdinand Magellan gave Spain its own important foothold
in the east, in the Philippines. Magellan was a Portuguese captain
sailing under the support of the newly crowned king of Spain, Charles
I (also Holy Roman Emperor Charles V).

Spain in the New World

hh Spain directed considerable energy in the New World, forcibly
dominating the Caribbean and bringing down massive indigenous
empires in Central and South America—the Aztec and the Inca. Hernán
Cortés led the conquering of the Aztec Empire, and Francisco Pizarro
helmed the conquest of the Inca Empire.

332 Renaissance
hh Spanish expeditions in the late 15th and early 16th centuries set off in
the shadow of the Reconquista. With exploration, many of the same
impulses that drove the long process of expelling the Muslims from
Iberia were turned outward, to the lands and peoples beyond the sea.
The heirs of those who made their business that of Reconquista in
generations past became new conquerors, the conquistadors.

hh The geography of aggression may have changed, but the core impulses
remained. The imperative of acquiring land and seeding conquered
ground with adherents of the true faith was the common element in
both processes.

Administering Empire
hh The conquistadors could win the land, but they struggled to administer
it effectively. The post-conquest career of conquistador Cortés makes
a good case to the point. Rivals sought to undermine his authority as
the newly appointed governor general of Mexico and charged him with
malfeasance. After a series of political and military setbacks, Cortés
returned to Spain for his remaining years, leaving behind the lands
he’d won for the crown.

hh The solution to the monumental task of colonial management for

the Spaniards was the encomienda system. It involved forced labor to
carry out the many tasks that brought enrichment to the crown and its
subjects at home and abroad. It was tantamount to the enslavement of
the indigenous populations.

hh The encomienda system created order in this new Spanish world, but
they also provoked a significant and protracted crisis of conscience
at home. The desire for good management, Spanish authority, and
financial gain clashed with the other chief work of Spanish empire:
the making of Christians.

Lecture 46  Renaissance and Exploration: New Horizons 333

hh The task of conversion would end up becoming the work of the religious
orders of the Jesuits, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Dominicans.
Alleviating the ill treatment embedded in the encomienda system was
the project that Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas devoted his life
to trying to tackle.

hh In 1537, Pope Paul III (r. 1534–1549) issued Sublimis Deus, in part at
the instigation of Las Casas. The bull ratified the position that the
indigenous people were “truly men” and that they “desire exceedingly”
to receive the teachings of Catholicism.

hh In 1542, Charles V issued the New Laws, a sweeping set of injunctions

intent on curbing abuses in the encomienda system. Slavery was
prohibited, and royal inquiries were to be made into instances of ill
treatment. However, those subject to the laws were mutinous, claiming
that productive activities would grind to a halt without the compulsions
of the encomienda system. The laws ended up proving impossible to
enforce, but the questions continued.

Suggested Reading

Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire.

Crosby, The Columbian Exchange.
Disney, A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire.
Parry, The Spanish Seaborne Empire.

Questions to Consider

1 What were the differences between Portuguese and

Spanish drives for exploration?

2 What were the differences in the results of each

country’s explorations?
334 Renaissance
Lecture 47
Early Modern
Power: The New
Global Rivalries
T h e previous lecture discussed the
Iberian states surging ahead in
the new race for global empire.
However, European states would join
the competition, making the quest
for new horizons a wider European
phenomenon. This lecture considers
the developments of three states—the
Dutch Republic, Britain, and France—
in an age of change.

Lecture 47  Early Modern Power: The New Global Rivalries 335

The Dutch Republic
hh The Dutch Republic combined constitutionalism and commercialism
to become a 17th-century powerhouse. Long before its independence
from Spain was formally recognized in 1648, the Dutch had established
the foundations of a state system that balanced power among its
provinces in the Estates General under the executive authority of the
House of Orange.

hh The stability of that state, along with the Low Countries’ traditional
industriousness and new commercial banking and investment practices,
fostered explosive economic growth. Amsterdam became Europe’s
financial capital. It attracted foreigners and foreign investment,
and offered cheap credit. Dutch shipping, too, began dominating
world trade.

hh The Dutch Republic ate into Spanish and Portuguese holdings and
emerged at the center of a web of trade that stretched from one side
of the globe to the other. Sugar and tobacco came from the Americas,
wool from the British Isles and Iberia, timber and furs from northern
Europe, and grain from eastern Europe.

hh From the east came spices, silks, porcelains, and tea. Dutch traders
sought to cater to an ever-expanding demand for spices that put them
into direct competition with the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean,
especially after Jacob van Neck’s 1599 voyage to Indonesia netted a
haul of 425 tons of pepper, mace, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

hh The Dutch government sponsored the establishment of the Dutch

East India Company in 1602, uniting six preexisting companies in
Amsterdam and other cities. The charter granted the company a 21-year
monopoly on the spice trade and stipulated that company capital should
be invested for 10-year periods rather than for individual voyages.

hh The charter, granted by the Estates General, also gave the Dutch East
India Company the ability to make war and peace in the name of its
home government. It enjoyed fantastic success, with a massive merchant
fleet employing 48,000 soldiers and an aggressive commitment to
edging out its Iberian rivals.

336 Renaissance
hh The Dutch established trading posts in Malacca, Ceylon, and the
Cape of Good Hope, negotiating with indigenous peoples to oust
their European predecessors or wresting trading concessions in return
for the many European goods that passed through Dutch ports. The
Dutch East India Company also sought a northwest passage through
the Americas, but absent its existence, settled for claims along the east
coast and in Canada.

hh The desire for greater intrusion into the Atlantic trade prompted the
establishment of the West India Company, in 1621. That company was
granted a monopoly on the slave trade and sought to establish a more
substantial Dutch presence through settlement in North America, in
the Caribbean, and in South America.

hh England was a bit slow off the blocks in the Age of Discovery. It wasn’t
until Elizabeth’s reign that the English began to get more serious about
overseas territory, and that attitude developed against the backdrop
of an intensifying rivalry with Spain. The desire to counter Spanish
control and Spanish riches led to privateering, including the activities
of Sir Francis Drake.

hh An early attempt at colonization in the New World founded by Sir

Walter Raleigh at Roanoke failed, in part the victim of that Spanish
rivalry. The Spanish Armada crisis prevented the English from sending
supplies to the small group of colonists in 1587–1588. When they did
get through in 1590, there was no sign of the colonists. Jamestown,
established in 1607, was more successful.

hh The English began to deepen efforts at development, both east and west.
Government-licensed monopolies and chartered trading companies
supported these initiatives, driven by political, economic, and religious
motives. Increasingly repressive religious policies, for example, led to the
flight of nonconformist Puritans from England in the early 17th with a
group of pilgrims sailing to Plymouth in 1620.

Lecture 47  Early Modern Power: The New Global Rivalries 337

hh The most famous of the trading companies would target a location
halfway across the world from Northern America: the East India
Company. It was chartered by Elizabeth at the turn of the century.
After a bumpy start—eviction from Sumatra and Java by the Dutch—
they turned to India and found success. The rewards of such overseas
ventures were substantial: In 1607, the East India Company earned 500
percent on its investment.

hh In France, political and economic developments set the stage for a brand
of royal authority known as absolutism. By the end of this course’s time
range, King Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715) would ascend to the throne to
become the epitome of absolutist monarchs.

hh Sixteenth- and 17th-century political theorists and practitioners who

revised the playbook of royal power had established the roots of
absolutism. When the first Bourbon king, Henry IV (r. 1589–1610),
took the throne at the end of the French Wars of Religion, his country
was devastated. A collapse in trade and crushingly high taxes resulted
in severe economic contraction.

hh Henry and his ministers addressed the problem with three crucial
adjustments: Taxes on the peasants were lowered; the payment of an
annual fee allowed royal officials to secure hereditary rights to their
office; and the collection of taxes on salt sales and transport was
contracted out to increase efficiency.

hh New financial mechanisms that enhanced royal finances continued to

be introduced after Henry’s assassination in 1610. The rise of Armand
Jean du Plessis, or Cardinal Richelieu, as chief minister would further
set the stage for a new level of royal authority.

hh Religion was a tool in Richelieu’s arsenal. He assisted Louis XIII’s

program to tighten restrictions on Protestants within France,
culminating with the fall of La Rochelle, a major port city with
Huguenot privileges, in 1628.

338 Renaissance
hh However, Richelieu embraced a streak of religious pragmatism in terms
of foreign policy. He assisted the cause of international Protestantism
during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) in a bid to safeguard France
against its Catholic Habsburg neighbors, both east and west.

hh Key to enhancing royal authority and underwriting these domestic and

foreign policies was financial stability. Richelieu worked to eliminate
the threat the hereditary nobles posed to royal power by relying on royal
commissioners to perform vital financial, political, and judicial service
on behalf of the crown.

Civil Unrest
hh Resistance to the centralizing efforts of Richelieu and his successor
Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661) erupted in a rebellion known as the
Fronde during the minority of Louis XIV. The Fronde (1648–1653) was
initiated by magistrates’ objections to plans to do away with judicial
salaries and then fueled by discontented nobles, angered by the erosion
of their traditional privileges.

hh Louis XIV’s assumption of power in his own right in 1651 quelled

the disturbances, but its legacies were significant. The objections to
royal power that the Fronde represented were essentially defused by a
compromise settlement. Having had to flee the capital at the height of
the disturbance, the king was determined never to allow rebellion to
insult his royal dignity again.

hh In the quest for enhanced power, the king’s finance minister, Jean-
Baptiste Colbert, argued for the development of governmental policies
that would regulate the French economy for the good of the state—
that is, mercantilism. Colbert coached the king to embrace a plan of
commercial and maritime expansion, to the benefit of the state and
its people.

hh Colbert called for an expansion of French control in North America

and an enhanced presence in the east, founding the French East India
Company in 1664. A new race was on.

Lecture 47  Early Modern Power: The New Global Rivalries 339

Suggested Reading

Bowen, Lincoln, and Rigby, eds., The Worlds of the East

India Company.
Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire.

Questions to Consider

1 What factors led to the Dutch getting a head start on

France and Britain in terms of exploration?

2 What differing factors led to the Dutch Republic,

France, and Britain launching their exploratory and
expansionist efforts?

340 Renaissance
Lecture 48
Legacy: Burckhardt
and Beyond
T h is lecture begins with a look at the
writer Jacob Burckhardt, who penned
perhaps the most enduring vision of the
Renaissance. Then, the lecture takes
a look back at the themes, ideas, and
events discussed throughout the course.

Lecture 48  Renaissance Legacy: Burckhardt and Beyond 341

Jacob Burckhardt
hh Jacob Burckhardt was
born in 1818, the son of a
Protestant minister from
the Swiss city of Basel. As
a young man, Burckhardt
was himself earmarked
for a religious vocation.
However, he experienced a
crisis of faith, and turned
away from his intended
career path to take up the
study of history.

hh He traveled to Berlin, then

an intellectual hotbed for
the subject. Burckhardt
studied with acclaimed
German historian Leopold
von Ranke, who’s often
regarded as the father   Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897) 
of history as a modern
academic discipline.

hh After several trips to Italy, Burckhardt produced The Civilization of the

Renaissance in Italy in 1860 (first translated into English in 1878). It was
a sweeping and elegant treatment of various dynamics of the Italian
Renaissance, enriched by Burckhardt’s study of art.

hh Burckhardt advanced a number of themes in The Civilization of the

Renaissance in Italy. He underscored the idea of the Renaissance as
a distinct period in history markedly different from its medieval
predecessor and characterized in the Italian states by the emergence
of the individual and the first glimpses of modernity. Because it was
the unique conditions in Italy that allowed the “veil to melt,” the
Italian was, according to Burckhardt “the firstborn among the sons
of modern Europe.”

342 Renaissance
hh Some scholars have criticized Burckhardt for, among other things, taking
the Renaissance too much at its own word. If the Italian Renaissance
writers were selling, it seems they had an eager buyer in Burckhardt.
However, despite the challenges and criticism from “competent judges”
he feels sure to come, Burckhardt embraces the value of persistence,
saying, “Such indeed is the importance of the subject that it still calls
for fresh investigation, and may be studied with advantage from the
most varied points of view.”

A Look Back
hh At the start of the Renaissance, scholasticism was rejected in favor of
humanism, the application of logic to theology supplanted by a new
emphasis on learning devoted to an understanding of the human
experience. That understanding, the humanists thought, was best
achieved by knowing the ancient world, in and on its own terms.

hh Humanism was just one of a number of paths to knowledge during

the transformation of the West. Schools of navigation, medicine, and
business were also needed to propel Europe into its new age. Education
was expansive and practical. It was a personal and societal commodity
that helped underwrite and sustain European growth during its period
of transformation from medieval to early modern.

hh During the Renaissance centuries, God-centered education still

mattered. The quest for a more perfect understanding of faith and
the components of Christian living continued to inform educational
initiatives, particularly in the wake of the Reformation’s challenge to
the old faith.

hh New print technology dramatically increased the stability of texts, and

the burgeoning print industry provided an ever-expanding audience
with greater access to learning. Print also played a role in the promotion
of vernacular language.

Lecture 48  Renaissance Legacy: Burckhardt and Beyond 343

The People of the Renaissance
hh Wealth, gender, occupation, and marital status all mattered in shaping
Renaissance peoples’ experiences and opportunities. Even in the city-
states of Renaissance Italy, with their cherished notions of citizenship,
and even in the emerging constitutional governments in northwest
Europe, no real sense of equality among peoples existed.

hh Renaissance people were different from one another, rather than a

homogenous glitterati drifting through the breathtaking works of art
synonymous with the term Renaissance. People were separated by their
condition, from princes to paupers, in a great human chain of being
that sought to order and organize human society.

hh That concept of how to function as a collective within the Renaissance

state was also subject to considerable scrutiny as people grappled with
the question of what made good government. Italian civic humanists
championed republicanism, but republican experiments failed. The
challenges of foreign invasion and ambitious men undermined most
of the republics.

Laws and Violence

hh The Renaissance was an age of magistrates and monarchs, for whom
both style and substance mattered. Laws and regulations proliferated to
ensure good order. Rulers demanded religious uniformity, which they
believed was required for civil stability, and they published disobedience.

hh The cracking of the Christian consensus represented by the European

Reformation led to the spilling of Christian blood. While the search for
new paths to God and to salvation resulted in new formulations of what
it meant to be a good Christian, the notion that multiple understandings
of faith could peacefully coexist wasn’t a product of the age.

hh Even as religious imperatives drove authorities to sanction violence in

the attempt crush dissension, they would also, during the Reformation,
lead to the articulation of innovative theories of resistance. Unjust
rulers, who in these new formulations included those who persecuted
the faithful, were not protected by divine sanction.

344 Renaissance
The Reach of the Renaissance
hh Many scholars and texts identify the Renaissance as a period of rebirth
that was stymied by early 16th-century developments, the Reformation
and its consequences most notable among them. However, this course
has taken the Renaissance up to the dawn of the Enlightenment and
the age of absolutism.

hh Broadly speaking, Enlightenment thinkers were knowledge seekers,

much like the Renaissance people. However, Enlightenment paths
to knowledge were markedly different from those pursued by
Renaissance intellectuals.

hh Renaissance involved seeking, augmenting, and then surpassing the

guidance of the classical authorities. Enlightenment philosophes were
suspicious of the received vision of knowledge, rejecting the values of
the past they saw as leading to excess and fanaticism. They ushered in
a new emphasis on reason.

hh The Renaissance question of good government, too, was turned on its

head as our course comes to a close. The noble scholar and warrior ideal
of a prince was replaced with another model of authority. The embracing
of absolute monarchy as well as its contestation in places like Britain,
where a new relationship between authority and people followed regicide
and restoration, required the articulation of new ideas about power.

hh Some justified the exercise of absolute control, while others defined

government as a compact between ruler and ruled. The consequences
of these new ideas and practices would propel the West into a new stage
of its development, coming ever closer in its sensibilities and structures
to identifiably modern patterns.

The Legacy of the Renaissance

hh The Renaissance left as its most powerful and enduring legacy the idea
that being human was a most worthy condition, and that humans are
capable of tremendous achievement, stretching toward perfection. Such
notions were initially the preserve of a handful of humanists hailing from
the Italian states and then, slightly later, from the states beyond the Alps.

Lecture 48  Renaissance Legacy: Burckhardt and Beyond 345

hh The quest for the good life was taken up by others, people whose
worldviews expanded through a reconsideration of the nature of God,
the path to salvation, and the best way to live a Christian life. New
identities were forged by changing economic, cultural, social, and
political realities, and by contact with new cultures.

hh Questions about the human experience kept coming, supplemented

by technological advancements—print and navigational innovations
among them—that transported ideas and people across the spaces of
pages and oceans. The Renaissance legacy was exported and codified.
It survives as an enduring vision for the modern world because it is
so compelling.

Suggested Reading

Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.

Woolfson, ed., Renaissance Historiography.

346 Renaissance
Albala, Ken. Food in Early Modern Europe. Westport, CN: Greenwood, 2003. A
nimble survey of the history of food from 1500 to 1800 that connects food and
its consumption to its economic and cultural contexts.

Altmann, Barbara K., and Deborah L. McGrady, ed. Christine de Pizan: A Casebook.
New York: Routledge, 2003. A collection of essays outlining new directions in the
work of the 14th-century author with emphasis on her late medieval contexts, her
commentary on women, and her writings.

Anderson, Michael. Approaches to the History of the Western Family, 1500–1914.

New Studies in Economic and Social History. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995. A brief but broad treatment of the subject, emphasizing
themes and methods (“the demographic approach,” “the sentiments approach,”
and the “household economics approach”) used in the study of the family.

Atlas, Allan W. Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400–1600. Norton

Introduction to Music History. New York: Norton, 1998. Designed as an
undergraduate introduction to its subject; provides a useful treatment of
Renaissance music and its integration into other aspects of the stipulated period.

Azzolini, Monica, and Isabella Lazzarini, ed. Italian Renaissance Diplomacy: A

Sourcebook. Durham Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Translations 6. Toronto:
PIMS, 2017. A collection of diplomatic primary sources, many of which were
previously unavailable in English, which sheds new light on the study of diplomacy
as well as demonstrates the utility of the texts in examining other aspects of
Renaissance life.

Bartlett, Kenneth R., ed. The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance: A Sourcebook.
2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2011. Primary sources from some of the
leading voices of the Italian Renaissance on the topics of politics, art, learning,
and faith as well as documents on poverty, work, and the family.

Bartlett, Kenneth R., and Margaret McGlynn, ed. The Renaissance and Reformation
in Northern Europe. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2014. Documentary collection
covering, among its many subjects, humanism in northern Europe, the Protestant
and Catholic Reformations, and the European discoveries at home and abroad.

Bibliography 347
Bashera, Luca, Bruce Gordon, and Christian Moser, eds. Following Zwingli: Applying
the Past in Reformation Zurich. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. London:
Routledge, 2014. A series of case studies exploring the legacy of Zwingli’s reform
movement in the decades after his death, particularly considering the tensions
involved in the interplay of past ideals and present realities.

Benedict, Philip. Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism. New
Haven: Yale UP, 2004. A broad, comprehensive study of the origins of Calvinism,
its spread, and its impact.

Bethencourt, Francisco. The Inquisition: A Global History, 1478–1834. Translated

by Jean Birrell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Coverage of the
institutions and personnel of the Inquisition designed as a reconsideration of
the subject through its comparative, rather than regional or national, emphasis.

Biow, Douglas. Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries: Humanism and Professions in

Renaissance Italy. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002. A consideration of
case studies of a trio of professions that demonstrates the interaction of humanism
and professionalism and suggests humanism provided shared understandings
and approaches.

Black, Jeremy. Beyond the Military Revolution: War in the Seventeenth-Century World.
Houndmills, UK: Palgrave, 2011. Contextualizes the military revolution (typically
regarded as a European phenomenon) in its global setting while looking beyond
the traditional boundaries of military history to situate developments within 17th-
century cultures, politics, and societies.

Black, Robert. Education and Society in Florentine Tuscany: Teachers, Pupils and Schools,
c. 1250–1500. Leiden: Brill, 2007. An extensive regional study of pre-university
education based on archival material with special consideration of Florence;
includes numerous and valuable documentary appendices.

Borchert, Till-Holger. Van Eyck to Dürer: The Influence of Early Netherlandish Painting
on European Art, 1430–1530. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. Produced as an
accompaniment to an exhibition in Bruges, this richly illustrated volume traces
the artistic interactions between noted Netherlandish masters and artists working
throughout central Europe.

348 Renaissance
Bowen, H. V., Margarette Lincoln, and Nigel Rigby, eds. The Worlds of the East
India Company. Rochester: Boydell, 2002. Fourteen essays first presented at a
conference at the National Maritime Museum in London to commemorate the
400th anniversary of the founding of the English East India Company.

Boxer, C. R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire: 1600–1800. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1990.
Still an engaging read describing the rise and fall of the Dutch seaborne empire.

——— . The Portuguese Seaborne Empire. New York: Knopf, 1969. A survey of Europe’s
first maritime empire.

Brotton, Jerry. The Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2006. An overview of the major ideas and processes associated with the
Renaissance, 1400–1600.

——— . The Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2004. A consideration of the cross-cultural contacts
that helped define the Renaissance in Europe and helped make the Renaissance
a global phenomenon.

Brown, Alison. The Medici in Florence: The Exercise and Language of Power. Florence:
L.S. Olschki, 1992. A collection of 12 essays on 15th-century Florence and the
Medici that trace the impact of alterations in the forms and functions of Florentine
political life.

Brown, Patricia Fortini. Private Lives in Renaissance Venice: Art, Architecture, and the
Family. Yale University Press, 2004. Comprehensively illustrated study by an art
historian of the domestic spaces of Venetian patricians and the interplay between
public and private in Venetian households.

Brucker, Gene. Renaissance Florence. Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California,

1983. Classic study of Florence covering the period between 1380 and 1450,
emphasizing the city’s physical description, economy, politics, and culture.

Bruening, Michael W., ed. Reformation Sourcebook: Documents from an Age of Debate.
Toronto: University of Toronto, 2017. Excerpts from documents covering the late
medieval church, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, religious wars, and
the cultural impact of religious upheaval and new theologies.

Bibliography 349
Brundin, Abigail, and Matthew Treherne, ed. Forms of Faith in Sixteenth-Century
Italy: Culture and Religion. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2009. A collection of essays
designed to explore the expression of religious sentiment and devotion in art,
music, and literature in the early modern world.

Buchard, Johann. At the Court of the Borgia: Being an Account of the Reign of Pope
Alexander VI Written by His Master of Ceremonies. Edited and translated by Geoffrey
Parker. London: Folio Society, 1963. A scintillating account of the papal court of
Rodrigo Borgia by an eyewitness.

Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. 1860. Reissue

ed. Introduction by Peter Burke. London: Penguin Classics, 1990. Masterful
traditional account of the Italian Renaissance, identifying themes of Renaissance
that shaped scholarly discourse for decades as subsequent scholars have contested
and revised Burckhardt’s vision of Renaissance.

Cameron, Euan. Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion 1250–1750.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. A useful overview of the intersection
of superstition, faith, and institutional religion from the Middle Ages to the
Enlightenment that includes a section on Renaissance and Reformation and
considers the interactions between elite and popular culture.

Cavallo, Sandra, and Silvia Evangelisti, ed. A Cultural History of Childhood and Family
in the Early Modern Age. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. A volume in the Cultural
Histories Series, this installment on domestic life during the early modern period
contains 10 chapters on diverse topics, from family relationships and geography
to education, faith, and health.

Chambers, David, and Brian Pullan, eds. Venice: A Documentary History 1450–1630.
Renaissance Society of America Reprint Texts 12. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 2001. Excellent and diverse collection of primary source documents written
by Venetians as well as visitors and rivals.

Cockram, Sarah D. P. Isabella d’Este and Francesco Gonzaga: Power Sharing at the
Italian Renaissance Court. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013. Brisk and fascinating
treatment of a Renaissance power couple using a wealth of archival material and
making particularly robust use of the pair’s correspondence, with extracts of letters
included in the appendix.

350 Renaissance
Collins, Amanda. Greater Than Emperor: Cola di Rienzo (ca. 1313–54) and the World
of Fourteenth-Century Rome. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. A
nuanced presentation of Cola di Rienzo’s seizure of power in 1347, with special
emphasis on the social and municipal dynamics that served as context for the
drive for civic autonomy in Rome.

Colonna, Vittoria. Sonnets for Michelangelo: A Bilingual Edition. Translated by

Abigail Brundin. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Chicago: University
of Chicago, 2005. Published at part of Chicago’s valuable series exploring women’s
lives and writings, this volume includes poems Colonna collected for Michelangelo
as a gift, annotated and presented in both Italian and English.

Cressy, David, and Lori Anne Ferrell, eds. Religion and Society in Early Modern
England: A Sourcebook. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2005. Collection of documents
and extracts from the Tudor and Stuart periods touching many aspects of religion
during the English Reformation and the 17th-century upheavals as well as their
political and social contexts and impacts.

Crosby, Alfred W., Jr. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences
of 1492. New ed. London: Praeger, 2003. Thirtieth-anniversary edition of Crosby’s
influential introduction of the Columbian Exchange between Europe and
the New World; includes an essay by J. R. McNeill that analyzes the way the
original publication changed scholarly approaches to ecological and social events
and processes.

Crum, Roger J., and John T. Paoletti, eds. Renaissance Florence: A Social History.
Cambridge: CUP, 2006. A collection of nearly two dozen essays by leading
specialists on an array of topics concerning everyday life, including uses of religious
and civic space, workplaces, and gender.

Dandelet, Thomas James. Spanish Rome, 1500–1700. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2001. A treatment of the politics, people, and piety of Rome from the
perspective of the Spanish imperial domination.

Datini’s Archive, Fondazione Istituto Internationale Di Storia Economica “F.

Datini,” http://www.istitutodatini.it/schede/archivio/home_e.htm. Online
resource presenting a collection of the correspondence and accounts of the famous
merchant of Prato, Francesco Datini (1335–1410). Available in English.

Bibliography 351
Dear, Peter. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500–
1700. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. A lucid and useful
introduction to the origins of modern science through a consideration of familiar
figures of the Scientific Revolution.

Disney, A. R. A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire. 2 vols. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2009. Comprehensive and impressive, this two-
volume set traces the development of Portugal and its empire to the start of the
19th century.

Duffy, Eamon. Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of

England. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

——— . The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580. 2nd ed.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. A sweeping study of religious culture in
England before and after the initiation of the Reformation that challenges older
interpretations of Reformation as popular and desired by the English people.

Dunlop, Anne. Painted Palaces: The Rise of Secular Art in Early Renaissance Italy.
University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 2009. Sumptuously illustrated
with hundreds of images, this book studies the decoration of Italian palaces and
homes during the early Renaissance.

Dunthorne, Hugh. Britain and the Dutch Revolt, 1560–1700. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2013. An interesting account of British attitudes about the
rebellion of their neighbors based on contemporary pamphlet literature that also
draws connections to Britain’s own civil upheaval in the seventeenth century.

Eire, Carlos M. N. Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450–1650. New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2016. A comprehensive and informative consideration
of the European Reformations from a leading scholar that considers a variety
Renaissance and Reformation processes and contexts.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. 2nd ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. An updated edition of the now-
classic study of the impact of print on early modern culture.

Elwood, Christopher. The Body Broken: The Calvinist Doctrine of the Eucharist
and the Symbolization of Power in Sixteenth-Century France. Oxford Studies in
Historical Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. An exploration of

352 Renaissance
the connection between French Calvinist understandings of the Eucharist and
the development of new ideas about power as well as the relationship between the
sacred and political authority.

Epstein, Stephan R., ed. Town and Country in Europe, 1300–1800. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001. A collection of a dozen essays by specialists of
various geographic territories that surveys relations between town and country
across Europe from the later Middle Ages to the Enlightenment.

Ertman, Thomas. Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and
Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Thoughtful
consideration of early modern state-building that identifies geo-military
competition and the exercise of local government as key factors in explaining the
diversity in development across the European states.

Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. The Spanish Armada: The Experience of War in 1588.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. One of a number of accounts published
for the 400th anniversary of the Spanish Armada, this text problematizes the
notion of Spanish failure during the summer of 1588 and reconsiders the goals
and activities of the armada.

Fletcher, Catherine. Diplomacy in Renaissance Rome: The Rise of the Resident

Ambassador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. A concise history
of the rise of resident diplomacy in Rome combined with an exploration of
personnel, information, communication, and gift giving by a leading voice in the
new diplomatic history.

Fortune, Jane, with Linda Falcone. Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence.
3rd ed. Florence: Florentine Press, 2014. The book that inspired the PBS
documentary series Invisible Women, this text examines the works of women artists
in Renaissance Florence.

Friedeburg, Robert von. Luther’s Legacy: The Thirty Years War and the Modern Notion
of “State” in the Empire, 1530s to 1790s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2017. An assessment of the German concept of the state as it developed from the
protests of the princes in the 1530 through the Thirty Years’ War and beyond.

Bibliography 353
Frisch, Andrea. Forgetting Differences: Tragedy, Historiography, and the French Wars of
Religion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015. A study of representations
of French religious violence in history and tragedy from 1550 to 1630 examining
the evolving relationship between emotion and politics against the backdrop of
the emergence of absolutism.

Fumerton, Patricia. Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in
Early Modern England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Insightful
consideration of early modern poverty, vagrancy, and dispossessed peoples on
land and sea drawing on contemporary pamphlets and literary representations.

Goertz, Hans-Jürgen. The Anabaptists. Translated by Trevor Johnson. Christianity

and Society in the Modern World. London: Routledge, 1996. A treatment of
Anabaptists’ beliefs as well as social and political contexts in German lands
and beyond.

Goldthwaite, Richard A. Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy, 1300–1600.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1993. Seminal text articulating what has become
known as the Goldthwaite Thesis, emphasizing the importance of material culture
and identifying the roots of modern consumer society in Renaissance Italy.

Gordon, Bruce. Calvin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. An essential
biography of the French reformer by an accomplished scholar.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare. New
York: Norton, 2004. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, this book by a leading scholar offers
an absorbing treatment of the world of young William Shakespeare.

Haigh, Christopher. The Plain Man’s Pathways to Heaven: Kinds of Christianity in Post-
Reformation England, 1570–1640. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. A carefully
researched text by a major contributor to the study of the English Reformation
exploring varieties of belief in later 16th- and early 17th-century England.

Hailwood, Mark. Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England.

Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2014. A lively and informative account of the English
alehouse between 1550 and 1700 that allows for consideration of how early modern
men and women responded to the major events and processes of a dynamic period
of English history.

354 Renaissance
Hall, Marcia B., and Tracy Elizabeth Cooper, ed. The Sensuous in the Counter-
Reformation Church. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. A well-
illustrated collection of 13 essays, many by leading art historians of the period,
exploring the Catholic Church’s promotion of the use of the senses in the
experience of faith.

Hanke, Lewis. All Mankind is One: A Study of the Disputation Between Bartolomé
de Las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda on the Religious and Intellectual Capacity
of the American Indians. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974. A
documentary-driven account of the great mid-16th-century debate over Spanish
colonial policies and activities in the Americas.

Haribson, Craig. The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in Its History
Context. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Classic account of Northern
Renaissance art, beautifully illustrated and interpreted.

Heal, Felicity. The Power of Gifts: Gift Exchange in Early Modern England. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2014. A scrupulously researched treatment of continuities
and changes in gift-giving customs during the Tudor and Stuart centuries, with
coverage of diplomatic giving, New Year’s giving, and the emergence of a new
discourse about gifts and corruption late in the Stuart period.

Herlihy, David, and Christane Klapisch-Zuber. Tuscans and Their Families: A Study
of the Florentine Catasto of 1427. New Haven: Yale, 1985. Fascinating presentation
of the wealth of information on Tuscan families produced by the documentary
records of the tax survey of 1427, which also has a digital resource hosted by
Brown University.

Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562–1629. 2nd ed. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005. Concise, essential study of religious conflict
in France, presented chronologically and supplemented with genealogical charts
and brief biographies.

Hornbeck, II, J. Patrick, and Michael Van Dussen, ed. Europe after Wyclif. New
York: Fordham University Press, 2017. A collection of 12 essays on the legacy of
Wyclif throughout Europe, with topics that include the emergence of the Hussite
heresy and vernacular scripture.

Bibliography 355
Houston, R. A. Literacy in Early Modern Europe: Its Growth, Uses, and Impact, 1500–
1800. 2nd ed. London: Longman, 2002. An expanded second edition, this book
extends its geographic and topical coverage in its examination of the processes
through which mass literacy emerged.

Howard, Peter. Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence. Centre for Reformation

and Renaissance Studies Essays & Studies 29 (2010). A revisionist treatment of the
Florentine public discourse on magnificence that situates its emergence within
a religious rather than secular context and in the 1420s rather than the mid-
15th century.

Howell, Martha C. Commerce before Capitalism in Europe, 1300–1600. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2010. Careful and important reassessment of the
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of capitalism that examines the interplay between sociocultural practices and
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Hsia, R. Po-chia. The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540–1770. 2nd ed. Cambridge:
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18th century.

IDEA Isabella d’Este Archive. http://isabelladeste.ucsc.edu. A digital resource

for exploring the history and culture of early modern Italy, presenting the letters,
music, and art collections of Isabella d’Este (1474–1539), marchesa of Mantua,
as well as other materials. Requires registration for access to portions of the site.

Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. Lively,
lucid, and accessible account of Leonardo’s life and work. The bestselling text
is lavishly prepared, illustrated with images from Leonardo’s many notebooks.

Jacob, Frank, and Gilmar Visoni-Alonzo. The Military Revolution in Early Modern
Europe: A Revision. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Analysis of early modern
warfare that challenges the notion of a European military “revolution.”

Jardine, Lisa. Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. New York: W. W.
Norton, 1998. Notable and compelling study examining the influence of wealth
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Johnson, Geraldine A. Renaissance Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford

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356 Renaissance
Kaborycha, Lisa, ed. A Corresponding Renaissance: Letters Written by Italian Women,
1375–1650. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. An excellent collection of 55
annotated primary source letters written by women, introduced with a thoughtful
and accessible essay.

Kagan, Richard L., and Abigail Dyer, ed. Inquisitorial Inquiries: Brief Lives of Secret
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Kaplan, Benjamin J. Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration
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Sourcebook. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A valuable collection
of the reformer’s comments on women assembled by two leading authorities.

Kelly, Joan. “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” In Women, History & Theory:
The Essays of Joan Kelly. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984. A seminal essay
considering gendered aspects of the Renaissance to conclude that women did not
have a Renaissance.

Key, Newton, and Robert Bucholz, eds. Sources and Debates in English History, 1485–
1714. 2nd ed. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. An extensive collection of
primary source materials from the Tudor and Stuart centuries organized around
key early modern themes and designed to accompany a narrative textbook by the
two scholars.

King, Margaret L. A Short History of the Renaissance in Europe. 3rd ed. Toronto:
University of Toronto, 2017. Revised and updated, an engagingly introduction to
the European Renaissance, emphasizing the Italian Peninsula but with coverage
of the Northern Renaissance, Reformation, and other Renaissance-related topics.

——— . Women of the Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991. Excellent

and informative consideration of the lived experiences of women from a variety
of backgrounds and material conditions during the European Renaissance.

King, Margaret L., and Albert Rabil, Jr. Her Immaculate Hand: Selected Works By
and About the Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy. Binghamton, NY: Medieval
and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1983.

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King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.
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of the famed dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

——— . Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. Reissue ed. London: Penguin, 2003.
Popular and lively account of Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling
under the patronage of Pope Julius II.

Kirkpatrick, Robin. The European Renaissance, 1400–1600. Arts, Culture, and

Society in the Western World. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001. A generously
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on the arts.

Kishlanksy, Mark. Charles I: An Abbreviated Life. Penguin Monarchs. London: Allen

Lane, 2014. A brisk and accessible account of the personality and decisions of the
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Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy.

Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. A
compelling account of women’s lives in Renaissance Italy, with particular focus
on Tuscany and coverage of topics including wet nursing, childbirth, matrimonial
culture, and widowhood.

Kohl, Benjamin G. Padua under the Carrara, 1318–1405. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins,
1998. Comprehensive and well-documented treatment of the Carrara lords of
Padua that allows for a consideration of many aspects and areas of Italian history
during the later medieval period.

Kuhn, Thomas S., and Ian Hacking. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th
Anniversary Edition. 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012. Watershed
treatment of scientific change that popularized the notion of a “paradigm shift,”
presented with updated and expanded coverage and a new introductory essay that
considers the impact of Kuhn’s major assertions.

Lane, Frederic C. Venice: A Maritime Republic. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1973.

Classic account of Venetian history from its 6th-century origins through its
emergence as an empire and its decline.

Laughton, John Knox, ed. State Papers Relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada. 2
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358 Renaissance
Law, John E., and Bernadette Paton, ed. Communes and Despots in Medieval and
Renaissance Italy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. A wide-ranging collection of
essays written to explore further the connections identified by scholar Philip Jones
between the communes and the despotisms of late medieval and early Renaissance
Italy. Among the many topics of consideration is the blurry line between the
theories and practices of liberty and despotism.

Levathes, Louise. When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne,
1405–1433. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. A briskly written
treatment of the causes and consequences of the early Ming voyages of exploration
under the sponsorship of the Yongle emperor and the leadership of Muslim eunuch
admiral Zheng He.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490–1700. New York:

Viking, 2004. Masterful and comprehensive work by an acclaimed scholar.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince with Related Documents. Edited by William J.

Connell. Bedford Series of History and Culture. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2016. A useful introductory essay traces the place of The Prince in history.
Machiavelli’s famous text is accompanied by a series of contemporary documents
as well as excerpts from authors as diverse as Christopher Marlowe, Frederick the
Great of Prussia, and Benito Mussolini to demonstrate the work’s impact.

Major, J. Russell. From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy: French Kings,

Nobles & Estates. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1994. A consideration of the
French monarchy from Francis I to Louis XIV that offers a critical reassessment
of the timeline of absolutism and the role of the nobility in its articulation
and operation.

Malleus Maleficarum. Translated by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart. Manchester: Manchester

University Press, 2007. An updated translation of the famous 15th-century witch-
finding manual accompanied by a critical introductory essay.

Marsh, Christopher. Music and Society in Early Modern England. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2010. An excellent, thoroughly researched overview
of early modern English secular and sacred music with an accompanying
compact disc.

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Marshall, Peter. The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005. A survey of the European Reformations by a noted scholar
that considers the origins as well as the complex consequences of Europe’s reform
movements of the 16th century.

Martin, Colin, and Geoffrey Parker. The Spanish Armada. New York: Norton,
1988. A revisionist account published that examines and critiques a number of
enduring myths of the armada, drawing on new scholarship and new findings
from underwater archaeological work.

Martines, Lauro. Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for Renaissance Florence.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. A highly readable and nuanced treatment
of the life, death, and legacy of fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola.

——— . Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy. Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins University, 1998. A treatment of the economic, political, cultural, and
social conditions for the development of the Italian city-states in two broad stages,
from the 11th century to 1300 and from 1300 to the late 16th century.

Mattingly, Garrett. The Armada. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959. Pulitzer Prize–
winning account of the Spanish Armada.

——— . Renaissance Diplomacy. London: Cape, 1955. The classic account of the
development of Italian Renaissance diplomacy.

Mayer, Thomas F. The Roman Inquisition: A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the
Age of Galileo. Philadelphia: University of Penn Press, 2013.

Mayer, Thomas F., and D. R. Woolf, eds. The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early
Modern Europe: Forms of Biography from Cassandra Fedele to Louis XIV. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan, 1995. Collection of essays from scholars in the fields
of history, art history, and literature that considers considers constructed life
histories in a variety of genres.

Merrick, Jeffrey, and Bryant T. Ragan Jr., ed. Homosexuality in Early Modern France:
A Documentary Collection. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. A valuable source
collection dominated by documents from the 17th and 18th centuries organized
under a range of headings within broad categories, including “Traditions,”
“Repression,” and “Representation.”

360 Renaissance
More, Thomas. Utopia. Edited by David Harris Sacks. Bedford Series in History
and Culture. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. A lively edition of More’s classic account
with a fine introductory essay by the editor.

Morton, Peter A., ed. The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial
in Brunswick, Germany, 1663. Translated by Barbara Dāhms. 2nd ed. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2017. A fascinating documentary account of a
witchcraft trial that reveals long-simmering personal resentments and religious
and economic anxieties.

Muir, Edward. Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta and Faction in Friuli during the Renaissance.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1993. A compulsively readable account of the Udine
Carnival massacre of 1511.

Mulgan, Catherine. The Renaissance Monarchies: 1469–1558. Cambridge Perspectives

in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. A consideration of the
Renaissance monarchies of Spain and France during the reigns of Ferdinand and
Isabella, Charles V, and Francis I.

Najemy, John M. A History of Florence: 1200–1575. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. An

accomplished and detailed exploration of Florence’s history and identity during
key centuries of its development.

Nauert, Charles G., Jr. Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe. 2nd ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Textbook treatment of humanism’s
impact on Europe with a consideration of major themes and figures.

Nierop, Henk F. K. van. Treason in the Northern Quarter: War, Terror, and the Rule
of Law in the Dutch Revolt. Translated by J. C. Grayson. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2009. An account of the trial of a young Catholic lawyer accused
of conspiring with Spanish invaders, used by the author as a lens through which
to consider the impact of the Dutch Revolt on ordinary victims of the revolts’
violence and loss.

Nogarola, Isotta. Complete Writings: Letterbook, Dialogue on Adam and Eve, Orations.
Edited by Margaret L. King and Diana Rabin. The Other Voice in Early Modern
Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Published at part of Chicago’s
valuable series exploring women’s lives and writings, this critical edition edition
of the works of Isotta Nogarola contains some key texts in the Renaissance debate
on the capabilities of women.

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Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.
Standard account of the history of the Venetian republic.

O’Callaghan, Joseph F. Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania, 2002. A valuable text that situates the processes
of crusade in Iberia within broader Mediterranean initiatives and explores the
dynamism of the papacy in sanctioning Iberian holy war.

Ogilvie, Sheilagh. Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000–1800.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Important study of the long and
complex history of European merchant guilds.

O’Malley, John W. Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. A thoughtful treatment of the many
faces of early modern Catholicism and the meaning of its varied identities both
among contemporaries and among modern scholars.

O’Malley, Michelle. Painting under Pressure: Fame, Reputation, and Demand in

Renaissance Florence. New Haven: Yale, 2014. Fascinating, well-researched
consideration of art as business in Renaissance Florence.

O’Malley, Susan Gushee, ed. Defences of Women: Jane Anger, Rachel Speght, Ester
Sowernam, and Constantia Munda. Vol. 4 of Early Modern Englishwoman: Printed
Writings, 1500–1640. Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1996. Critical edition of four
texts attributed to women during England’s “Swetnam the Woman-Hater” print
debate of the early 16th-century.

O’Meara, Dominic. Monarchy and Consent: The Coronation Book of Charles V

of France. Studies in Medieval and Early Renaissance Art History. Turnhout,
Belgium: Brepols, 2001. A treatment of the religious and political significance of
the French coronation ritual.

O’Reilly, Terence. From Ignatius to John of the Cross: Spirituality and Literature in
Sixteenth-Century Spain. London: Routledge, 1995. A collection of essays dealing
with the writings of religious movements including Illuminism, the Jesuits, and
the reformed Carmelites.

362 Renaissance
Parker, Geoffrey. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West,
1500–1800. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A discussion of
the “military revolution” as first introduced by Michael Roberts and augmented
with diagrams and photographs to illustrate technological, architectural, and
tactical developments.

Parker, Geoffrey, ed. The Thirty Years’ War. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1997. An
accessible chronological account of the Thirty Years’ War with contributions from
several leading scholars.

Parry, J. H. The Spanish Seaborne Empire. New York: Knopf, 1966. Compulsively
readable classic by a noted scholar that traces the impact of Spain on the Americas.

Petrarch, Francesco. The Secret with Related Documents. Edited by Carol E. Quillen.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. An accessible copy of Petrarch’s complex text
with an introductory essay that explores the work’s significance and contexts.

Pettegree, Andrew. The Book in the Renaissance. Reprint ed. New Haven: Yale, 2010.
An engaging cultural history of the complexities of print during the first century
and a half after Gutenberg.

——— . Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation. New York:
Penguin, 2015. A critical assessment of the role of print in disseminating Luther’s
ideas and in building Luther’s brand as a reformer and thinker. It underscores the
active role Luther played in the look and style of his printed works.

——— . Europe in the Sixteenth Century. Blackwell History of Europe. Oxford:

Blackwell, 2002. Textbook coverage of the major events, figures, and themes of
16th-century Europe by a noted scholar.

Philippides, Marios, ed. and trans. Mehmed II the Conqueror and the Fall of the Franco-
Byzantine Levant to the Ottoman Turks: Some Western Views and Testimonies. Tempe:
Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2007.

Prak, Maarten, ed. Early Modern Capitalism: Economic and Social Change in Europe,
1400–1800. London: Routledge, 2001. An overview of the diversity of practices of
labor and capital in the period leading to the Industrial Revolution with chapters
from noted experts.

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Rabil, Albert, Jr., ed. Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms and Legacy. Volume
1: Humanism in Italy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1988. A dated
but still valuable volume of essays that offers broad treatment of humanism and
its impact.

Raleigh, Sir Walter. The Discovery of Guiana with Related Documents. Edited by
Benjamin Schmidt. Bedford Series in History and Culture. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2008. An authoritative edition of Ralegh’s text.

Randolph, Adrian W. B. Engaging Symbols: Gender, Politics, and Public Art in

Fifteenth-Century Florence. New Haven: Yale, 2002. A study of the symbolism of
Florentine art, particularly the sculpture of Donatello, that examines the gendered
categorization of political and social relationships and the use of patronage to
alleviate political tensions.

Ray, Meredith K. Writing Gender in Women’s Letter Collections of the Italian

Renaissance. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2009. A presentation of collections
of letters authored women writers from diverse backgrounds to demonstrate the
participation of women in literary self-fashioning.

Rex, Richard. The Lollards. Social History in Perspective. Houndmills, UK:

Palgrave, 2002. A concise overview of England’s homegrown heresy, which claims,
in opposition to other treatments of the subject, that Lollardy played no role in
the success of the 16th-century English Reformation.

Rogers, Clifford J., ed. The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military
Transformation of Early Modern Europe. History & Warfare. Boulder: Westview,
1995. Collection of essays that demonstrates the diversity of interpretations of the
military revolution in European and beyond from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

Roper, Lyndal. Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. New Haven: Yale,
2004. A fascinating exploration of the history and subjectivity of witch hunting
and confessions of witchcraft in southern Germany, based on archival accounts.

Rose, E. M. The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in
Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. An exploration of how the
death of a young 12th-century English boy reportedly at the hands of Jews helped
fuel rumors of ritual murder by the Jews throughout medieval Europe.

364 Renaissance
Rosenthal, Margaret F. The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco, Citizen and Writer
in Sixteenth-Century Venice. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992. The inspiration
for the film Dangerous Beauty (1998), this interdisciplinary consideration of the
life, contexts, and writings of one of the most famous women figures of the
Italian Renaissance.

Roth, Norman. Conversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2002. An account of the history of the Jews
in Spain, with detailed attention to the late medieval period and to the role of
Conversos in various facets of Spanish life.

Rublak, Ulinka. Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe. Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 2010. As the title suggests, an absorbing and illustrated
treatment of personal adornment during the Renaissance and the intersection of
dress and identity.

Ruff, Julius R. Violence in Early Modern Europe 1500–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 2001. Synthesis of considerable scholarship on violence from the
Reformation to the French Revolution, including chapters on states and armies,
protest, ritual violence, interpersonal violence, and crime.

Russell, Peter. Prince Henry the Navigator. Nota Bene edition. New Haven: Yale,
2001. A readable account of the life and times of a key figure associated with
the emergence of Europe’s Age of Discovery, supplemented with a list of terms,
genealogies, and other reader aids.

Ryrie, Alec, ed. The European Reformations. Palgrave Advances. Houndmills, UK:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. A historiographical consideration of the European
Reformations, Protestant and Catholic, with essays by 13 leading British,
American, and Australian scholars.

Ryrie, Alec. The Origins of the Scottish Reformation. Politics, Culture, and Society
in Early Modern Britain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006. A brisk
and lively consideration of the period between 1525 and 1560 contesting the
inevitability of Scottish Reformation and examining the potent interweaving of
political and religious concerns that shaped reform in action.

Scribner, R. W., and C. Scott Dixon. The German Reformation. 2nd ed. Studies in
European History. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave, 2003. A revisiting of Scribner’s
classic study of the German Reformation, with a new introduction by Dixon, who
also augmented the original book’s bibliography and historiographical overview.

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Seitz, Jonathan. Witchcraft and Inquisition in Early Modern Venice. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2011. An absorbing consideration of the intersection
between nature and the supernatural in the worldview of early modern Venetians,
based on records of trials of witchcraft before the Inquisition.

Shagan, Ethan H. Popular Politics and the English Reformation. Cambridge Studies
in Early Modern British History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Award-winning account of the early English Reformation during the reign of
Henry VIII that examines the personal and the political factors driving change.

Simons, Patricia. The Sex of Men in Premodern Europe: A Cultural History. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2011. A sweeping examination of attitudes toward
sex and gender leading up to the 17th century.

Skinner, Quentin. The Foundations of Modern Political Thought. Volume 1:

The Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Influential
introduction by a leading scholar to the emergence of modern political thought
and the concept of the state through the use of familiar texts and authors as
well as less well-known works. First of a two-volume set (the other is The Age of

Stapleford, Richard, ed. and trans. Lorenzo de’ Medici at Home: The Inventory of the
Palazzo Medici in 1492. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013.
A thoughtful presentation of the inventory of the Palazzo Medici after the death
of Lorenzo the Magnificent, prepared after his death, that allows modern readers
to open the doors into the domestic space of one of the most familiar political
figures of the Italian Renaissance.

Stayer, James M. The German Peasants’ War and the Anabaptist Community of Goods.
Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991. A reconsideration of traditional
interpretations of the Anabaptists, suggesting greater cohesion of their greater
religious and social beliefs as oriented around the scripturally based practice of
sharing goods communally.

Stinger, Charles L. The Renaissance in Rome. Bloomington: Indiana University,

1998. A history of Rome and its Renaissance, emphasizing the dynamics of the
city’s image, its position as Christian capital, and its place in imperial history and
concluding the impact of the Sack of Rome in 1527 and its aftermath.

366 Renaissance
‘t Hart, Marjolein. The Dutch Wars of Independence: Warfare and Commerce in the
Netherlands, 1570–1680. London: Routledge, 2014. Excellent coverage of the Dutch
revolt from a noted scholar that weaves together a strong narrative with a critical
assessment of the intersections of war, economy, and society during the eight
decades of conflict and their aftermath.

Trachtenberg, Marvin. Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern
Florence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. An examination of the
expansion of civic space and urban development in 14th-century Florence that
reconsiders the timing of Renaissance urban planning and artistic achievements.

Tracy, James D. Emperor Charles V, Impresario of War: Campaign Strategy, International

Finances, and Domestic Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
An assessment of Charles V’s successes and limitations in a European context
and through a consideration of the relationship between material resources and
military imperatives.

Ulmann, Walter. A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages. 2nd ed. London:
Routledge, 2002. A classic overview of the institution of the papacy from late
antiquity through the Avignon Exile and Council of Constance.

Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Translated by Juila Conway Bondanella and
Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. A modern translation
of the famous collection of artist biographies prepared by Renaissance artist and
promoter Giorgio Vasari.

Warner, Lyndan. The Ideas of Man and Woman in Renaissance France: Print, Rhetoric,
and Law. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011. An engaging and illuminating comparison
of the print debates on women’s nature with those on the dignity and misery of
man in early modern France.

Wickersham, Jane K. Rituals of Prosecution: The Roman Inquisition and the Prosecution
of Philo-Protestants in Sixteenth-Century Italy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
2012. A well-researched study drawing on inquisition manuals.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Early Modern Europe, 1450–1789. 2nd ed. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2013. A thematic treatment of early modern Europe,
broken into two periods, 1450 to 1600 and 1600 to 1789.

——— . The Renaissance and Reformation: A History in Documents. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 2012. A mix of visual sources and documentary extracts.

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Witt, Ronald G. In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of Humanism from Lovato
to Bruni. Leiden: Brill, 2000. An accomplished, authoritative, and award-winning
study of the history and development of humanism.

Woodhead, Christine, and Metin Kunt, ed. Suleyman the Magnificent and His
Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World. London: Longman, 1995. A
collection of essays by leading scholars that provides a treatment of the reign of
Suleyman (Suleiman) within its Ottoman and European contexts.

Woolfson, Jonathan, ed. Renaissance Historiography. Palgrave Advances. Houndmills,

UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. A useful starting point for a treatment of the
subjects and debates informing the field of Renaissance studies by a number of
leading scholars.

Wyatt, Michael. The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of
Translation. Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005. A study of the immigrant Italian community
in Tudor England.

Zmora, Hillary. Monarchy, Aristocracy and the State in Europe, 1300–1800. London:
Routledge, 2001. This brief overview of state building across five centuries includes
coverage of England, France, and Spanish and imperial lands.

Zophy, Jonathan. A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances

over Fire and Water. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.
A concise and readable introduction to the period’s major people, events, and

368 Renaissance
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97 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©NickolayV/iStock/Thinkstock
102 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Internet Archive
107 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New York Public Library
115 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Teaching Company Collection
125 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Metropolitan Museum of Art
136 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rijskmuseum, Amsterdam
145 . . . . . . . . . . . . St. Genevieve Library Images/Internet Archive/Public domain
159 . . . . . . University of Toronto - Robarts Library/Internet Archive/Public Domain
162 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The British Library
170 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Wellcome Library, London
175. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Getty's Open Content Program
176. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Metropolitan Museum of Art
182 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Austrian National Library
196 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . California Digital Library/Internet Archive/Public domain
198 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New York Public Library

Image Credits 369

205 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
207 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . New York Public Library
211. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Metropolitan Museum of Art
225 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The British Library/flickr/Public domain
230 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Austrian National Library
235 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Corel Stock Photo Library
236 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©Photos.com/Thinkstock
258 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©filipe_lopes/iStock/Thinkstock
274 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Philadelphia Museum of Art
282 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
288 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©Photos.com/Thinkstock
302 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
304 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The British Library/flickr/public domain
321 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Lokman/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
326 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©Dorling Kindersley/Thinkstock
331 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Teaching Company Collection
342 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Internet Archive
frames . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©ZaharovEvgeniy/iStock/Thinkstock
parchment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ©forplayday/iStock/Thinkstock

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