Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century


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Established religious communities experienced both philosophical and bloody battles, leading among other things to the Reformation and the end of Catholic rule in England. This timeline lists some major works of culture alongside important political events that occurred during the traditional period of to However, the roots of the Renaissance go back a few centuries further yet.

Modern historians continue to look further and further into the past to understand its origins. In , the Black Death began ravaging Europe. Ironically, by killing a large percentage of the population, the plague improved the economy, allowing wealthy people to invest in art and display, and engage in secular scholarly study. Francesco Petrarch , the Italian humanist and poet called the father of the Renaissance, died in By the end of the century, Florence was becoming a center of the Renaissance.

In , teacher Manuel Chrysoloras was invited to teach Greek there, bringing a copy of Ptolemy 's "Geography" with him. The next year, Italian banker Giovanni de Medici founded the Medici Bank in Florence, establishing the wealth of his art-loving family for centuries to come.

The beginning of the 15th century probably saw Leonardo Bruni offer his Panegyric to the City of Florence, describing a city where freedom of speech, self-government, and equality reigned. In , Italian artist Lorenzo Ghiberti was awarded a commission to create bronze doors for the baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence; architect Filippo Brunelleschi and sculptor Donatello traveled to Rome to begin their year stay sketching, studying, and analyzing the ruins there; and the first painter of the early Renaissance, Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone and better known as Masaccio, was born.

During the s, the Papacy of the Catholic Church united and returned to Rome, to begin the vast art and architectural spending there. This custom saw major rebuilding when Pope Nicholas V was appointed in In , Francesco Foscari became Doge in Venice, where he would commission art for the city.

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Cosimo de Medici inherited the Medici bank in and began his rise to great power. In , Lorenzo Valla used textual criticism to expose the Donation of Constantine , a document which had given huge swaths of land to the Catholic church in Rome, as a forgery, one of the classic moments in European intellectual history. The Reformation was a split in the Latin Christian church during the 16th century.

It introduced Protestantism to the world and created a major division which lasts to this day. It all began in Germany in with the ideals of Martin Luther. His preaching appealed to a populace who were unhappy with the Catholic Church's overreach. It was not long before the Reformation swept through Europe. It helped shape modern government and religious institutions and how those two interact. The Enlightenment was an intellectual and cultural movement of the 17th and 18th centuries.

This movement was spearheaded over the years by a group of educated writers and thinkers. The philosophies of men like Hobbes, Locke, and Voltaire led to new ways of thinking about society, government, and education that would forever change the world. Likewise, the work of Newton reshaped "natural philosophy. Their influence, though, is undeniable. The French Revolution, which began in , affected every aspect of France and much of Europe.

Quite often, it is called the start of the modern era.

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The revolution began with a financial crisis and a monarchy that had overtaxed and overburdened its people. The initial revolt was just the beginning of the chaos that would sweep France and challenge every tradition and custom of the government. In the end, the French Revolution was not without its consequences.

He would throw all of Europe into war and, in the process, redefine the continent forever. As for the landlord, he could get his work done by hired labor, which might prove economically more profitable than the old manorial services. As a result, serfdom declined very widely in the West though not everywhere and this development was most pronounced in the same areas in which economic development had progressed the most.

In eastern Europe, including Russia, where society was overwhelmingly agrarian and dominated by noble landowners, a contrary trend was taking place; and the social and legal position of peasants was being depressed. Accompanying the changes in commerce, industry, and agriculture and to some extent making them possible was the continued growth of banking and finance.

The greatest financial power of the sixteenth century was the house of Fugger in Augsburg.


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The history of its rise is in itself a sort of synopsis of the development of the European economy. The founder of the family fortunes was Hans Fugger, a weaver who in about came to Augsburg from the countryside, where he had probably worked under the domestic system for an Augsburg merchant engaged in international trade.

In the city, he expanded his activities, importing cotton and selling cloth made by himself and by other weavers.


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  6. Soon he began to trade in other wares, and the business was continued by his descendants. They dealt in fruits, spices, and jewels as well as textiles, and they became involved in dealings with the Hapsburgs and with the papacy. Though the business was already prospering when he took it over, he greatly expanded it. From to , under his direction, the capital of the business rose tenfold from , gulden to 2,, The greatest of Jacob's interests was mining. The family had become involved in this field as early as , when in return for a loan to a member of the Hapsburg family, they received mining rights in the Tyrol.

    The mining activities of the Fuggers increased in the time of Jacob, who profited in this respect from the favor shown him by Emperor Maximilian I. He enjoyed important rights in the silver and copper mines of the Tyrol, the chief source of these metals before the opening up of the mines in the New World. The Fuggers also acquired complete control of the copper production of Hungary. In addition to the mines, they owned the plants that processed the ore, and employed hundreds of workers.

    Preliminary remarks

    Jacob Fugger attempted, though unsuccessfully, to achieve a world monopoly in copper and to use his monopoly to keep prices high. He was a Catholic as a young man he had planned for a while to be a priest and did much business with the papacy. He completely controlled the financial relationships of the pope with Germany; this included a monopoly on sending to Rome the proceeds from indulgences. In this way the activities of the Fuggers were at least indirectly connected with the early career of Martin Luther.

    Because of his importance to the papacy, Jacob was able to influence the appointment of bishops. With his far-flung interests, it was necessary for him to be informed of events throughout Europe. He had agents in all the main business centers who supplied him with a constant flow of information, which has been compared to a press service. Contemporaries, aware of his wealth and power, were frequently opposed to him.

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    There was a great deal of public sentiment that would have supported legal restraints against the power of the great merchants, but Jacob Fugger was protected by the favor of Charles V, to whom he was very valuable, even indispensable. It was his relationship with Charles that involved Fugger in the most famous event of his career. When Charles became a candidate for the throne of the Holy Roman Empire upon the death of Maximilian I in , he borrowed a great deal of money from the Fugger bank in order to influence the electors in his favor.

    It was generally believed that these loans were responsible for his success in being chosen emperor. This is shown in an extraordinary letter of from Fugger to the emperor, in an attempt to collect the money Charles owed him. In the letter Fugger plainly states that without his help, Charles might not have been elected. As security for the loan, and for later loans to the emperor, Fugger received some of the revenues of the Spanish crown.

    Three great Spanish religious orders were under the control of the king, and for over a century the house of Fugger controlled the income from their property, which included large agricultural holdings and mercury mines. Under Jacob's nephew Anton the firm reached its height, with a capital of about five million gulden by However, the connection with the Hapsburgs proved fatal in the end to the prosperity of the house. Later in the century and in the succeeding one, the Hapsburgs were unable to meet their obligations, and most of the firm's money was lost. Yet the career of the family, and especially of Jacob Fugger, clearly indicates that the power of capital was making itself felt.

    In some ways, Jacob was the most powerful man of his time. The career of Jacob Fugger also set in relief the importance of political factors, especially the state, in the economic life in the sixteenth century. As the national state was asserting its involvement in, and control of, numerous fields of human endeavor, its activities more and more affected economic activities as the governments sought, wisely or otherwise, to direct economic life for the increase of national strength.

    The emerging nations suffered under handicaps in managing economic policy. One of these lay in the fact that their financial needs had outgrown their ability to meet them; that is, a system of raising money that had been devised to meet the needs of a more or less decentralized feudal society was inadequate for the expanded requirements of the larger and more concentrated units of political power that were now becoming dominant.

    This problem was aggravated by the general ignorance of economics and public finance. These factors combined to bring about such expedients as debasing the coinage, which proved to be harmful to the economies of the countries concerned. During the Hundred Years' War, the French crown had resorted on numerous occasions to this practice. In sixteenth-century England, Henry VIII did the same thing, and it was not until the reign of Elizabeth I in the second half of the century that the coinage value was restored.

    Such a policy militated against a country's prosperity; in the case of England it helps to explain why, in spite of encouraging developments in trade, industry, and agriculture, the country suffered from more or less depressed economic conditions for much of the century. Perhaps the most obvious way in which political events affected the economy was through war.

    The wars of the sixteenth century, as will be seen in subsequent chapters, were frequent; international conflict and civil struggle fill the history of the period and had a tremendously destructive effect.

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    A few examples will illustrate the point. The Sack of Rome in and the Sack of Antwerp "the Spanish Fury" of were terrible blows to the cities affected. Antwerp had been one of the greatest centers of trade and finance; indeed, it had stood as the key city in the European economy. After the Sack of although there were additional factors it never regained its former position. Similarly, the wars of Charles V and Philip II of Spain, although they were not fought on Spanish territory, were financed largely by Spanish, and in particular by Castilian, resources. They had the effect, again combined with other factors, of directing the resources of Spain to unproductive uses, of stifling the development of the economy, and of preventing prosperity.

    The decline of Spain from its status as one of the great European powers, a decline from which it has never recovered, was the result of this as much as of any one factor. Those countries that enjoyed an abundance of resources and basic economic strength recovered from the damage done by war. The revolt of the Netherlands was costly to Spain and to that part of the Low Countries that remained under Spanish control, but the new nation of the United Netherlands or Dutch republic went on to become one of the most prosperous of the European states in the next century.

    The French Wars of Religion were among the most terrible of the century because they were primarily civil wars, and they caused great devastation; but France was, nevertheless, to become the dominant power in Europe in the seventeenth century. In a general sense, the growth of the nation-state, with increasingly unified control over a territory larger than that of earlier political units, responded well to the needs of the expanding economy and formed mutual alliances between monarchs and merchants.

    Rulers and businessmen had a common interest in peace and security, in breaking down local and regional restraints on the movement of goods, and in subduing the nobility. It may be said that kings identified themselves socially with the nobles, since they were of the same class; and that the wealth of the great nobility depended largely on the favor of their rulers, who often endowed them with rich estates to enable them to maintain their social prominence.

    At the same time, when it came to political power, monarchs quite often took care to keep their greatest nobles out of positions of power and to choose as their closest advisers men of undistinguished origin whose position depended entirely on royal favor. For example, two of the most important advisers of Henry VIII of England were Thomas Wolsey, son of a butcher and innkeeper, and Thomas Cromwell, whose father was a brewer, blacksmith, and fuller. Philip II of Spain followed the policy of using great nobles for positions that took them out of the country, preferring to appoint professional men and priests to positions of importance nearer home.

    Philip's father, Charles V, had relied for many years on a man of humble origin, Francisco de los Cobos, as the chief figure in the Spanish administration.

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    Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century
    Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century
    Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century
    Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century Events That Changed the World Through the Sixteenth Century

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