AP European History Notes

Chapter 13: European Society in the Age of the Renaissance

  •  The fourteenth century witnessed the beginning of remarkable changes in the Italian society and in the fifteenth century, this “Renaissance” spread to northern Europe
  • Economic growth laid the material basis from the Italian Renaissance, from 1050 to 1300, witnessed commercial and financial development, the growing political power of self-governing cities, and great population expansion (cultural achievements)
  • The period from the late sixteenth century was characterized by artistic energies
  • In the great commercial revival of the eleventh century, northern Italian cities led the way
  • Venice, supported by a huge merchant marine grew rich through overseas trade
  • Genoa and Milan enjoyed benefits of a large volume of trade with the Middle East and Europe (exchange between the East and West)
  • Genoa and Venice also made advancements in shipbuilding allowing ships to sail all year long and the increased the volume of goods that could be transported (accelerated speed) --the risks in such operations of trade were great, but the profits were enormous
  • The first artistic and literary manifestations of the Italian Renaissance appeared in Florence but toward the end of the thirteenth century, Florentine merchants and bankers acquired control of papal banking (acted as tax collectors for the papacy)
  • For Florence, profits from loans, investments, and money exchanges contributed to the city’s economy but the wool industry was the major factor in the city’s financial expansion and population increase as they purchased the best quality of wool
  • Florence developed remarkable techniques for its manufacture into cloth, and employed thousands of works in the manufacturing process
  • The economic foundations of Florence were so strong that even severe crises could not destroy the city such as huge debts of King Edward III or the Black Death
  • Northern Italian cities were communes, worn associations of free men seeking complete political and economic independence from local nobles and fought for and won independence
  • Marriage vows often sealed business contracts between the rural nobility and the mercantile aristocracy forming the new social class, an urban nobility
  • New class made citizenship in the communes dependent on a property qualification, years of residence within the city, and social connections
  • A new force, popolo, disenfranchised and heavily taxed, bitterly resenting their exclusion from power, wanted places in the communal government
  • Throughout thirteenth century, popolo used violence to take over the city governments
  • Because they practiced the same sort of political exclusivity as had the noble communes, the popolo never won the support of other groups
  • The popolo could not establish civil order within their cities and the movements for republican government failed and by 1300, signori (despots) or oligarchies (rule of merchant aristocracies) had triumphed everywhere
  • Nostalgia for the Roman form of government, combined with calculating shrewdness, prompted the leaders of Venice, Milan, and Florence to use the old forms
  • In the fifteenth century, political power and elite culture centered at the princely courts of despots and oligarchs who flaunted their patronage of learning and the arts by munificent gifts to writers, philosophers, and artists
  • Renaissance Italians had a passionate attachment to their individual city-states which hindered the development of one unified state of Italy
  • In the fifteenth century, five powers dominated the Italian peninsula: Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal States, and the kingdom of Naples
  • Venice, with its trade and vast colonial empire, ranked as an international power
  • Central Italy consisted mainly of the Papal States—Pope Alexander VI aided militarily and politically by his son Cesare Borgia united the peninsula by ruthlessly conquering
  • The large cities used diplomacy, spies, paid informers, and any other available means to get information that could be used to advance their ambitions while the states of northern Europe were moving toward centralization and consolidation
  • Whenever one Italian state appeared to gain a predominant position within the peninsula, other states combined to establish a balance of power against the major threat
  • Renaissance Italians invented the machinery of modern diplomacy: permanent embassies with resident ambassadors in capitals where political relations and commercial ties needed continual monitoring
  • Imperialistic ambitions resulted in an inability to form a common alliance against potential foreign enemies made Italy an inviting target for invasion
  • When Florence and Naples entered into an agreement to acquire Milanese territories, Milan called on France for support
  • At Florence, the French invasion had been predicted by Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola who attacked paganism and moral vice of the city, the undemocratic government of Lorenzo de’ Medici and the corruption of Pope Alexander VI
  • Girolamo Savonarola was excommunicated by the pope and executed
  • The invasion of Italy by the French king Charles VIII inaugurated a new period in Italian and European power politics; Italy became the focus of international ambitions and foreign army
  • Florence, Rome, and Naples soon bowed and Charles VIII’s son Louis XII, formed the League of Cambrai with the pope and German emperor Maximilian for the purpose of stripping rich Venice of its mainland possessions
  • Pope Leo X called on the Spanish and Germans in a new alliance to expel the French
  • When France returned to Italy in 1522, a series of battles called the Habsburg-Valois Wars began and in the sixteenth century, the political and social life of Italy was upset by the relentless competition for dominance between France and the empire
  • Italian cities suffered from continual warfare and thus the failure of the city-states to form some federal system, consolidate, or at least establish a common foreign policy led to the continuation of the centuries-old subjection of the peninsula by outside invaders
  • Renaissance was characterized by self-conscious awareness and the realization that something was happening came to men of letters such as poet/humanist Francesco Petrarch
  • He considered the first two centuries of the Roman Empire to represent the peak in the development of the human civilization
  • The sculptors, painters, and writers of the Renaissance spoke contemptuously of their medieval predecessors and identified themselves with the thinkers/artists of Greco-Romans
  • A humanism characterized by a deep interest in the Latin classics and a deliberate attempt to revive antique lifestyles emerged
  • Christian humility discouraged self-absorption and provided strong support for the individual and to exercise great social influence (new sense of historical distance from earlier periods)
  • A large literature specially concerned with the nature of individuality emerged
  • Italians of unusual abilities were self consciously aware of their singularity and unafraid to be unlike their neighbors; they had enormous confidence in their ability to achieve great things
  • Individualism stressed personality, uniqueness, genius, and the fullest development of capabilities and talents; thirst for fame, a driving ambition, and a burning desire for success drove such people to the complete achievement of their potential
  • In cities of Italy, civic leaders and the wealthy populace showed phenomenal archeological zeal for the recovery of manuscripts, statues, and monuments
  • Pope Nicholas V planned the Vatican Library, which remains one of the richest repositories of ancient and medieval documents (built by Pope Sixtus IV)
  • There was a profound interest in the study of the Latin classics (“new learning” – humanism)
  • Humanists studied the Latin classics to learn what they reveal about human nature and emphasized human begins, their achievements, interests, and capabilities
  • Where medieval writers accepted pagan and classical authors uncritically, Renaissance humanists were skeptical of their authority
  • Renaissance humanists studied human nature, and while they fully grasped the moral thought of pagan antiquity, Renaissance humanists viewed humanity from a strongly Christian perspective: men and women were made in the image and likeness of God
  • Humanists rejected classical ideas that were opposed to Christianity or they sought reinterpretation of an underlying harmony between the pagan and secular and Christianity
  • Fourteenth and fifteenth-century humanists loved the language of the classics and considered it superior to the corrupt Latin of the medieval schoolmen
  • They became concerned more about form than about content, more about expression
  • Secularism involves a basic concern with the material world instead of with the eternal world of spirit and thinking finds the explanation of everything and the final end of human beings
  • The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed the growth of such secularism in Italy
  • Worries of life did not leave much time for thoughts about penance and purgatory as wealth allowed greater material pleasures and a more comfortable life
  • Humanist Lorenzo Valla in his study On the False Donation of Constantine demonstrated by careful textual examination that an anonymous eighth-century document supposedly giving the papacy jurisdiction over vast territories in western Europe was a forgery; thus, exemplifying the application of critical scholarship to old and almost sacred writings as well as the new secular spirit of the Renaissance
  • Nor did church leaders do much to combat the new secular spirit; the papal court and the households of the cardinals were just as worldly as those of great urban patricians
  • Renaissance popes beautified the city of Rome, patronized artists and mean of letters, and expended enormous enthusiasm and huge sums of money
  • Papal interests, far removed from spiritual concerns, fostered the new worldly attitude
  • Renaissance evokes admiration for its artistic master pieces of painting, architecture and sculpture in which the city of Florence led the way
  • In the period art historians describe as the “High Renaissance,” Rome took the lead and the main characteristics of High Renaissance art—classical balance, harmony, and restraint—are revealed in the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo
  • Powerful urban groups such as guilds or religious confraternities commissioned works of art
  • The works of Florentine cloth merchants represented the merchants’ dominant influence
  • Religious themes appeared in all media—wood, carvings, painted frescoes, stone sculptures, paintings; art served as educational purpose—a religious picture or statue was intended to spread a particular doctrine, act as a profession of faith
  • A great style of living, enriched by works of art, served to prove the greatness of the ruler
  • The study of classical texts brought deeper understanding of ancient ideas; classical themes and motifs, such as the lives and loves of pagan gods and goddesses, figured into art pieces
  • The individual portrait became distinct artistic genre (Renaissance portraits mirrored reality)
  • Florentine Masaccio, sometimes called the father of modern painting, inspired a new style characterized by great realism, narrative power, and remarkably effective use of light/dark
  • Rich color decorative detail, curvilinear rhythms, and saying forms (international style)
  • Narrative artists depicted the body in a more scientific and natural manner
  • Perspective in painting, the linear representation of distance and space on a flat surface
  • In the Renaissance the social status of the artist improved as the Renaissance artist was considered a free intellectual worker and usually worked on commission from a powerful prince; thus the artist’s reputation depended on the support of the powerful patrons
  • Renaissance society respected and rewarded the distinguished artist
  • Renaissance artists were not only aware of their creative power, they also boasted about it; some medieval painters and sculptors had signed their works but now, Renaissance artists almost universally did so, and many of them incorporated self-portraits
  • The medieval conception recognized no particular value in artistic originality
  • Renaissance artists and humanists thought that a work of art was the deliberate creation of a unique personality, of an individual who transcended traditions, rules, and theories
  • The culture of the Renaissance was that of a small mercantile elite, a business participant with aristocratic pretensions; the Renaissance maintained a gulf between the learned minority and the uneducated multitude that had survived for so many centuries
  • One of the central preoccupations of the humanists was education and moral behavior such as the treatises on the structure and goals of education and the training of rulers
  • Part of Vergerio’s treatise specifies subjects for the instruction of young men in public life: history teaches virtues by examples from the past, ethics focuses on virtue itself, and rhetoric or public speaking trains for eloquence
  • Baldassare Castiglione’s The Courtier sought to train, discipline, and fashion the young man into the courtly ideal, the gentleman; the educated man of the upper class should have a broad background in many academic subjects, and his spiritual and physical as well as intellectual capabilities should be trained (familiar with dance, music, the arts)
  • The subject of The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is political power: how the ruler should gain, maintain, and increase it – also addressed citizen’s relationship to the state
  • Machiavelli concluded that human beings are selfish and out to advance their own interest and this pessimistic view of humanity held him to maintain that the prince may have to manipulate the people in any way he finds necessary (fox and lion)
  • Medieval political theory had derived ultimately from Saint Augustine’s view that the state arose as a consequence of Adam’s fall and people’s propensity to sin
  • The test of good government was whether it provided justice, law, and order
  • They set high moral and Christian standards for the ruler’s conduct (increase of power?)
  • Machiavelli even showed his strong commitment to republican government
  • In the thirteenth century, paper money and playing cards from China reached the West; they were block-printed (characters were carved into a wooden clock, inked, and the words or illustrations transferred to paper) -- method expensive and time consuming
  • In 1455, Johann Gutenberg, Johann Fust, and Peter Schoffer started movable type; the mirror image of each letter was carved in relief on a small block
  • Since letters could be arranged into any format, an infinite variety of texts could be printed by reusing and rearranging pieces of type
  • The knowledge of paper manufacture had originated in China, and the Arabs introduced it to the West in the twelfth century; durable paper was far less expensive than parchment
  • Printing transformed both the private and the public lives of Europeans making propaganda possible, emphasizing differences between opposing groups, such church and state
  • These differences laid the basis for the formation of distinct political parties
  • Printing also stimulated the literacy of lay people and eventually came to have a deep effect on their private lives; printers printed moralizing, medical, practical, and travel manuals
  • Since books and other printed materials were read aloud to illiterate listeners, print bridged the gap between written and oral cultures
  • During the Renaissance the status of upper-class women declined – in terms of the kind of work they performed, their access to property and political power, and their role in shaping the outlook of their society, women had generally less power than women in the feudal age
  • In cities of Renaissance Italy, young ladies learned their letters and studied the classics and many read Greek as well as Latin, knew poetry, and could speak Spanish or French
  • Laura Cereta illustrates the successes and failures of educated Renaissance women
  • Educated by her father. She learned languages, philosophy, theology, and mathematics and she gained self-confidence and a healthy respect for her own potential
  • The question of marriage forced the issue; she could choose a husband, family, and full participation in social life or else study and withdrawal from the world
  • Women’s inferiority was derived not from the divine order of things but from themselves
  • Men frequently believed that in becoming learned, a woman ceased to be a woman
  • Women were supposed to know how to attract artists and literati to her husband’s court and how to grace her husband’s household, whereas an educated man was supposed to know how to rule and participate in public affairs
  • In Castiglione’s The Courtier, the woman was to make herself pleasing to the man; with respect to love and sex, the Renaissance witnessed a downward shift in the women’s status
  • Educational opportunities being severely limited, few girls received an education (social divide) but apart from that, the works of the Renaissance had no effect on ordinary women
  • Rape was not considered a particularly serious crime against either the victim or society. Noble youths committed a higher percentage or rapes than their small numbers
  • The rape of a young girl of marriageable age or a child under twelve was considered a graver crime than the rape of a married woman
  • By contrast, the sexual assault of a noblewoman by a man of working-class origin, which was extraordinarily rare, resulted in a sever penalization because the crime had social and political overtones
  • Early medieval penitential and church councils had legislated against abortion and infanticide
  • Infanticide -- some were simply abandoned outdoors; some were said to have been crushed to death while sleeping in the same bed with their parents; some died from “crib death” or suffocation and occurred to frequently to have all been accidental
  • Far more girls than boys died, thus reflection societal discrimination against girl children as inferior and less useful than boys (also sometimes the cause was poverty)
  • But beginning in the fifteenth century, sizable numbers of black slaves entered Europe
  • Black servants, because of their rarity, were highly prized and much sought after
  • Many served as maids, valets, and domestic servants
  • They supplemented the labor force in virtually all occupations---as agricultural laborers, craftsmen, herdsmen, frappe pickers, workers in the manufacture of olive oil, and seamen on ships going to Lisbon and Africa
  • Most Europeans’ knowledge of the black as a racial type were based entirely on theological speculation; theologians taught that God was light and so blackness, therefore represented the hostile forces of the underworld: evil, sin, and the devil
  • Blackness symbolized the emptiness of worldly goods, the humility of the monastic way of life; black clothes permitted a conservative and discreet display of wealth (Christ had said that those who mourn are those who are blessed)
  • In Renaissance society, blacks, like women, were signs of wealth; both used for display
  • In the last quarter of the fifteenth century, Italian Renaissance thought and ideals penetrated northern Europe; students from the Low Countries, France, Germany, and England flocked to Italy, imbibed the “new learning” and carried it back to their countries
  • Northern humanists interpreted classical antiquity, individualism, and humanism in terms of their own traditions, even though in Italy, secular and pagan themes and Greco-Roman motifs received more humanistic attention
  • Christian humanists believe that the best elements of classical and Christian cultures should be combined for example, classical ideals of calmness, stoical patience, and broad-mindedness with Christian virtues of love, faith, and hope
  • Northern humanists were impatient with Scholastic philosophy and believed it was capable of improvement through education, which would lead to peaty and an ethical way of life
  • Works of French priest Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples attempted to apply humanistic learning to religious problems and wrote a solid education in the Scriptures would increase piety and raise the level of behavior in the Christian society
  • Englishman Thomas More towered above other figures in sixteenth-century English social and intellectual history (Utopia written in 1516)
  • Utopia describes an ideal socialistic community on an island somewhere where children receive a good education, primarily in the Greco-Roman classics, and learning does not cease with maturity, for the goal of all education is to develop rational faculties; adults divide their days equally between manual labor or business pursuits and activities
  • Because the profits from business and property are held strictly in common, there is absolute social equality and the citizens lead an ideal existence living by reason
  • Society’s flawed institutions were responsible for corruption and war
  • More, the key to improvement and reform of the individual was reform of the social institutions that molded the individual
  • Better known by contemporaries was Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam
  • Two fundamental themes run through all of Erasmus’s scholarly work
  • Education is the means to reform, the key to moral and intellectual improvement; the core of education ought to be study of the Bible and the classics
  • “The philosophy of Christ” -- Christianity is an inner attitude of the heart of spirit; Christianity is not formalism, special ceremonies, or law. Christianity is Christ—is life and what he said and did, not what theologians have written (the Sermon on the Mount, for Erasmus, expresses the heart of the Christian message)
  • French humanist Francois Rabelais was convinced that “laughter is the essence of manhood”
  • Rabelais combined the Renaissance zest for life and enjoyment of pleasure with a classical insistence on the cultivation of the body and the mind
  • Jan van Eyck, one of the earliest artists to use oil-based paints successfully, shows the Flemish love for detail in paintings such as Ghent Altarpiece or Giovanni Arnofini and his Bride, the effect is great realism and remarkable attention to human personality
  • A quasi-spiritual aura likewise infuses architectural monuments in the north from shrines by the northern architecture was little influenced by the classical revival
  • Sheriffs, inquests, juries, circuit judges, professional bureaucracies, and representative assemblies all trace their origins to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
  • The resurgent power of feudal nobilities weakened the centralizing work begun earlier
  • Rulers began the work of reducing violence, curbing unruly nobles and troublesome elements, and establishing domestic order
  • Dictators and oligarchs of the Italian city-states preferred to be secure, rather than loved
  • These monarchs were new in that they invested kingship with a strong sense of royal authority and national purpose; they stressed that monarchy was the one institution that linked all classes and peoples within definite territorial boundaries
  • These monarchs ruthlessly suppressed opposition and rebellion, especially from the noble
  • They seized the maxim of the Justinian Code, “what pleases the prince has the force of the law” and rulers tended to rely on middle-class civil servants
  • With tax revenues, medieval rulers had built armies to crush feudal anarchy
  • The Hundred Years’ War left France badly divided, drastically depopulated, commercially ruined, and agriculturally weak under the control of Charles VII
  • Charles reconciled the Burgundians and Armagnacs, who had been waging civil war for thirty years and by 1453, the French armies had almost completely driven out the English
  • Charles reorganized the royal council, giving more influence to the middle-class men and strengthened royal finances with taxes such as those on salt and land
  • Charles created the first permanent royal army by establishing regular cavalry/archers
  • Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, asserting the superiority of a general council over the papacy, giving the French crown major control over the appointment of bishops and depriving the pope of French ecclesiastical revenues (Gallican liberties)
  • Charles’s son Louis XI (“Spider King”) promoted new industries, such as silk weaving and welcomed tradesmen and foreign craftsmen, he entered into commercial treaties
  • With the army Louis stopped aristocratic brigandage and slowly cut into urban independence (goal of expanding royal authority and unifying the kingdom)
  • On the timely death of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, France gained the territory and the extinction of the house of Anjou France gained Anjou, Bar, Maine, and Provence
  • Louis was thought to be typical of the new monarchs in his reliance on finances supplied by the middle classes to fight feudal nobility
  • Francis I and Pope Leo X formed a new treaty, the Concordat of Bolonga, in 1516
  • The treaty canceled the Pragmatic Sanction’s superiority of the general council over the papacy and approved the pope’s right to receive the income of new bishops and abbots; in return, Leo X recognized the French ruler’s right to select French bishops and abbots
  • Population decimated by the Black Death, continued to decline in England
  • Henry V was dependent on the feudal magnates who controlled the royal council/Parliament
  • Henry V’s death gave the barons a perfect opportunity to entrench their power and between 1455 and 1471, the ducal houses of York and Lancaster waged civil war, commonly called the Wars of the Roses (York -- white and Lancastrians – red)
  • The war hurt trade, agriculture, and domestic industry
  • Edward IV began establishing domestic tranquility and defeated the Lancastrian forces and began to reconstruct the monarchy and consolidate royal power after 1471
  • Edward, a brother Richard III, and Henry VII of the Welsh house of Tudor worked to restore royal prestige, to crush the power of the nobility, and to establish order and law at local level
  • All three rulers used methods that Machiavelli would have praised -- ruthlessness, efficiency, and secrecy
  • The Parliament had been the arena where nobles exerted their power and because the monarchy was dependent on the Lords and the Commons for revenue, the king had to call Parliament and he lived on his own financial resources
  • Edward conducted foreign policy on the basis of diplomacy avoiding expensive wars
  • Henry VII used these assemblies primarily to confirm laws and Parliament remained the highest court in the land and a statute approved there by the lords, bishops, and Commons gave the appearance of broad national support plus thorough judicial authority
  • The center of royal authority was the royal council which handled any business the king put before it -- executive, legislative or judicial
  • The council also prepared laws for parliamentary ratification
  • Henry VII set up the court of Star Chamber to prevent aristocratic interference in the administration of justice and to combat fur-collar criminal activity
  • Unlike Spain/France, England had no standing army or professional civil service bureaucracy
  • The Tudors won the support of the influential upper middle class because the Crown linked government policy with the interests of that class
  • Henry VII rebuilt the monarchy and encouraged the cloth industry and merchant marine
  • Henry VII crushed an invasion from Ireland and secured peace with Scotland
  • He left a country at peace both domestically and internationally, a substantially augmented treasury, and the dignity and role of the royal majesty much enhanced
  • The central theme in the history of medieval Spain was disunity and plurality
  • The centuries-long reconquista -- the attempts of northern Christian kingdoms to control the entire peninsula -- had both military and religious objectives: expulsion or conversion of the Arabs and Jews and political control of the south
  • The wedding in 1469 of Isabella, heiress of Castile and Ferdinand, heir of Aragon was the final major step in the unification and Christianization of Spain
  • Although Ferdinand and Isabella pursued a common foreign policy, Spain under their rule remained a loose confederation of separate states
  • Each kingdom continued to maintain its parliament, laws, systems of coinage & taxation
  • To curb rebellious and warring aristocracy, they revived an old medieval institution: the hermandades, or “brotherhood,” which were popular groups in the towns given the authority to act both as local police forces and judicial tribunals
  • They also restructured the royal council in which aristocrats and great territorial magnates were rigorously excluded; thus the influence of the nobility on state policy was reduced
  • Thus, executive, judicial, and legislative power was under the monarchy
  • The council, people of middle-class background, supervised the local authorities
  • Through a diplomatic alliance with the Spanish pope Alexander VI, the Spanish monarchs secured the right to appoint bishops and because of this the monarch could influence ecclesiastical policy, wealth, and military resources
  • Revenues from church estates could raise an army to continue the reconquista
  • Granada in the south was incorporated into the Spanish kingdom and in 1512, Ferdinand conquered Navarre in the north
  • Although the Arabs had been defeated, there still remained a sizable amount of Jews
  • Jews had played a decisive role in the economic and intellectual life of several of the Spanish kingdoms
  • Anti-Semitic riots and pogroms in the late fourteenth century led many Jews to convert; they were called conversos
  • At first, Isabella and Ferdinand continued the policy of royal toleration but many conversos reverted back to their faith of their ancestors and Ferdinand and Isabella secure Rome’s permission to revive the Inquisition, a medieval judicial procedure for heretic punishment
  • The Spanish Inquisition commonly applied torture to extract confessions
  • Shortly after the reduction of the Moorish stronghold at Granada in 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand issued an edict expelling all practicing Jews from Spain (150,000 out of 200,000)
  • Absolute religious orthodoxy and purity of blood (untainted by Jews or Muslims) served as the theoretical foundation of the Spanish national state
  • When Charles’s son Philip II united Portugal to the Spanish crown in 1580, the Iberian Peninsula was at last politically united

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How to cite this note (MLA)

Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Chapter 13: European Society in the Age of the Renaissance" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 29 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 Jan. 2019. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/european-history/outlines/chapter-13-european-society-in-the-age/>.
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