Western European Culture--Significant Developments, 1450--1815
AGE OF DISCO VERY/EXPL ORATION , 1400s, 1500s
Up to the 1 400s, Eu ropean tra de with As ian cultures was cente red in the M editerranea n Sea and co ntrolled by Muslim
merchants who had geographic access to the Orient. The demand for the luxury goods from the Orient made
Europeans eager to develop an all water route to Asia that would eliminate their dependence on Muslim merchants.
Until about 1400, the Europeans lacked the technology to attempt ocean voyages. This changed with the introduction
of the astrolabe (to measure latitude), the magnetic compass, and shipbuilding improvements like the rudder which
enabled them to build ships able to withstand a long ocean voyage. Mapmaking had also improved. Astronomers also
speculated on the roun d shape o f the earth w hich led to th eories abou t how to rea ch the Eas t by sailing W est.
Real interest in these water routes was further enhanced by Prince Henry (the Navigator) of Portugal who invested
his personal fortune in a school for navigators.
In the 1400s there were only two choices open for ocean exploration--reaching the East by sailing around Africa, and
reaching the East by sailin g West. At this tim e, the Euro peans also believed that a country th at developed a trade route
owned exclusive rights to it.
The Portuguese started e xploring the African route. By 1488, Bartholomeu Dias rounded the south ern tip of Africa.
In 1498, Vasco da Gama finally reached India by sailing all the way around Africa.
Christopher C olumbus sold the sail-West idea to Isabella of Spain. The round-earth astronomers, however, had
miscalculated the size of the sphere. The world was much bigger than they thought. In 1492, when Columbus landed
in the Americas, he thought he had reached the "Indies"--Asia. It didn't take the Europeans long to realize that the
Americas were totally different from Asia, with rich civilizations of their own and land available for settlement. A free-
for-all European race for domination of the Americas had now begun.
Global trade became a reality in 1519 when Ferdinand M agellan's ship return ed to Spain a fter success fully
circumnavigating the world.
Motivations of the explorers can by summed up in the 3 G's: God (spread Christianity), Gold (build perso nal/state
wealth) and Glory (fame and adventure).
The Age of Exploration led to a Commer cial Re volution in Europe.
A new breed of businessmen developed. These entrepreneurs were not afraid to take risks in order to gain great
profits. Capital (money available for investment) was needed for investments which led to the development of
sophisticated banking techniques. The first insurance companies also soon developed.
Sending ships out on the ocean was a risky business (As Antonio in the Merchant of Venice found out).
Merchants began to form joint-stock companies. Group s of inves tors cou ld sprea d their in vestmen t risk by bu ying a
"piece" of a trading venture . If a ship was lo st, the individua l investor only lost a percen tage of the total.
The Age of D iscovery and Commerc ial Revolution also led to a ne w econo mic theory th at Europe an kings follow ed in
the 1500s and 1600s. This was mercantilism. Mercantilists believed that a nation's economic strength depended on
keeping and increasing its gold supplies (remember, Europeans did not use paper money at this time) by exporting
more goods than it imported. This is called maintaining a favorable balance of trade.
Colonies (territories completely dominated b y foreign powers) beca me an important aspec t of mercantilist theory. A
colony w as a sure sou rce of raw materials as w ell as a market for m anufactur ed goods. A c olony cou ld only trade with
its parent country. So, the mercantilists believed that the more colonies you had, the richer you would be. Countries
that developed their own manufactures and supported business interests were the winners in the colonial game. The
eventual losers were countries like Spain whose king and court looked down on business. Spain took a lot of gold from
the Americas but had to turn it over to other countries to buy what it needed because it never allowed its middle classes
THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION, 1517--1600s
The Protestants were reformers who protested against the Roman Catholic Church and caused the permanent split of
Internal problems of the Church External problems for the Church
1. Increased interference of Church officials in temporal 1. Rise of kings who openly challenged papal authority.
2. Church corruption at all levels. 2. Resen tment of Ch urch busin ess policies b y the middle
3. Failure of Church to heed advice of well-meaning 3. Spread of humanist ideas (printing press) and
reformers. education leads to more open criticism of the Church.
In 1517, the pope was running out of money to finance the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome. He authorized a fund
raiser. A special indulgence (conferring o f grace, a Ch urch blessin g) was prea ched throu ghout Euro pe, especia lly in
the German territories. The idea was that if people would repent their sins, the pope could erase any period of
cleansing due in purgatory after they died. This plenary indulgence would w ipe out all pa st sins and lea ve their souls
pure and ready for heaven. It was a fund-raiser because people would be asked to show their gratitude by donating
some money to the pope.
Johannes Tetzel was preaching the indulgence in northern Germany. He forgot the repentance part and was selling the
indulgence s outright.
Tetzel's sale of the indulgences particularly angered an Augustinian priest-theolo gian, Martin Luther. Luther had
already been questioning the Church's teachings on other issues. In 1517 Luther wrote out a statement of protest called
The Ninety-Five Theses. He nailed it to the church door in Wittenberg (town in Northern Germany). Wittenberg was
a university town. Luther's ideas appe aled to many scholars, an d soon his ideas began to c irculate throughout northern
Germany. The Reformation had begun--but no one really knew it at that moment in time.
What Happened Next W as..........
The pope exc ommunicated Luther in 1 519. The Ho ly Roman Emp eror, Charles V, condemned Luther as a heretic and
outlaw at the Diet (meeting of HRE prin ces and Church leaders) of Worms in 1520.
Luther's political clout, the Elector of Saxony, protected Luther from arrest. Luther went into hiding for the next few
years. During this time he translated the Bible into German and was blamed for siding with nobles against the common
peo ple in the s outh ern G erma ns' Peasants War which ended w ith the ruthless slaughter of thousand s of poor peasants.
Luther's ideas c ontinued to attract attentio n. Some princ es saw Luth er's outlawed church as a way to in crease their
riches. If a princ e declared he was Lu theran, the C atholic Ch urch wa s no longer lega l in his territory. If the Catholic
Church was illegal, no one would have to pay the tithes, and the rich Church lands could be confiscated. This was a
good deal--too good for some HRE princes to pass up.
In the 1530s, HRE Lutheran and Catholic princes waged a series of bloody wars over the issue of religion. Luther died
in 1546. Finally, in 1555, Charles V gave up and signed the Peace of Augsburg. The deal was, in the HRE, each
prince cou ld choose the religion for h is own territo ry--Lutheran or Catholic . Northern German territories tend ed to
become Lutheran. Southern German territories (where the Peasants' War had taken place in the 1520s) tended to stay
Catholic. From 155 5 on "Christian" no lon ger automatically meant "Catho lic."
Luther's success led others to challenge an d break away from the C hurch.
Most religious reformers shared the following ideas.
Reformers' Teachings Catholic Teachings.
1. The Bible is the only source of religious truth. 1. Becaus e the Holy Spir it works through
Church history, Church Tradition and the
Bible are both sourc es of religious truth.
2. Individuals can read and interpret Scripture 2. The C hurch (papa cy) res erves t he right to
by themselves. officially interpret Scripture (ex cathedra).
3. Only two sacraments--Ba ptism and Eucharist. 3. Seven sacraments.
4. Eucharist doctrine--consubstantiation--at the 4. Eucharist doctrine--transubstantiation--at the
moment of consecration, Christ is spiritually moment of consecration, the bread and wine
present along with the bread and wine. change totally (physically change) into the
Body and Blood of Christ.
The Bread and Wine represent Jesus. The Bread and Wine become Jesus.
5. Salvation is between God and the individual-- 5. Priests are needed for certain sacraments.
priests are not nee ded.
Major Protestant Movements/Ideas.
Martin Luther God is me rciful; human kind is sinful an d wretch ed; Salva tion depends on faith alone.
**Church taught that salvation depended on faith and good works.
John Ca lvin God is all-kn owing; Pre-de stination--God kno ws from all e ternity wh o is saved and who is
Probable signs of salvation are:
A. a conversion experience.
B. regular Ch urch attend ance;
C. participatio n in Baptism and Euc harist;
D. upright, mo ral life;
**Chu rch taught salva tion or damn ation was a matter of hum an free will.
Calvin established a theocracy (religious leaders run the government) in G eneva, Switzerland.
Groups based on Calvinist ideas were Huguenots in France, Presbyter ians in Scotland, and
Puritans in England.
Hen ry V III In the 1530s, Henry w anted Church a pproval of an annulmen t from his first wife, Cathe rine of
Arag on. (After nine pregnancies--only a da ughter, Mary, had su rvived; Henry had no ma le heir.)
Henry gets Parliament to enact the Act of Supremacy --the king is head of the Church in
England, not the pope. This is a political "reform" rather than religious.
Henry got political support in Parliament by the Dissolution (dissolving) of the Monasteries and
redistributing Church property to nobles who supported him.
This is the beginning of the Church of England or Anglican Church.
This also begins a struggle in English royal politics over religion: power plays, royal beheadings,
intrigues and plots, and civil wars--all in the name of religion.
Religion and the Kings/Queens of England 1500s
1. Henry V III-Anglica n--six wives, three children, persec uted Catholics, e.g., St. Thomas More, a respected court
official who tried to avoid the issue by retiring to his estates. Unable to tolerate More's condemning silence about
Henry's break with Rome, More was arrested, tried and beheaded for treason.
2. Edward VI--Anglican--son of Jane Seym our (3rd wife), a sickly child, England is ruled by adults during his brief
reign--he dies at the age of sixteen. Catholics continue to be persecuted.
3. Mary I (Tudor)--Roma n Catholic--daughter of Cathe rine of Ara gon (1st wife) pe rsecutes An glicans and gets
nicknamed "Bloody Mary."
4. Elizabeth I (the Great)--Anglican--daughter of Anne Boleyn (2nd wife) persecutes Catholics and has Catholic
rival Mary (Stuart) Queen of Scots beheaded; beats back threat/attack from Catholic king of Spain, Philip II,
when the Spanish Arma da (fleet of warships) is destroyed in 1588. Her reign becomes a Renaissance period for
England. Anglican Chu rch is firmly established.
Protestant Reformation Results:
1. Permanent split in Western Christianity.
2. Division of European countries--Protestants mostly in northern Europe, Catholics in southern Europe.
3. Rise of middle class values-- Protestant W ork Ethic--linked to teachings of Calvin.
Protestant W ork Ethic--Inspired by Calvin's ideas of pre-destination, the middle class began to think of prosp erity
and wo rldly succe ss as a sign of G od's favor and b lessing. In other w ords, if you were a su ccess you were pro bably
saved. This made the middle class work very hard to be successful and thereby show how "saved" they were. On the
other hand, poverty cam e to be seen as a proba ble sign of damnation. The p oor could get ahead if they rea lly wanted to.
One who was poor wa s probably lazy and unambitious--probab ly damned. The p oor, therefore, don't deserve help.
They should help themselves.
4. Rise in colonial settlements (especially English). Groups wishing to worship as they pleased and wanting to escape
the religious wars of Europe viewed the Americas as a Promised Land--a safe haven for their desired way of life
(especially true for the Puritans, for ex ample).
5. Rise in education. Protestants needed to know how to read the Bible. This promoted education.
6. Training for self-government--Protestant churches tended to be run by the local community. Lay people who ran
their own churches developed skills that later would be useful in running a country.
7. Eventua lly, the Refo rmation led to religious freed om and a co mmitment to p reserve and p rotect individu al
freedom of thought and self-expression.
THE CAT HOLIC OR COUNTE R REFOR MATION , 1500s
The Catholic Church response to the Protestants was too little, too late. The popes used excommunication against the
reformers as they always had before. Unfortunately, Europe had changed and the clergy had lost their credibility.
1. Founding of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) by St. Ignatius Loyola. This religious o rder of pries ts was ded icated to
defending the pope. T hey specialized in teach ing and were respons ible for stopping the spread of P rotestant ideas.
They also brought som e Protestan ts back to the C hurch. Th e Jesuits w ere also know n for being grea t missionaries to
peoples of other continents.
2. Council of Trent (1545-1563)
Meeting of Church officials to deal with the spread of Protestantism
a. Reaffirmed traditional Church doctrine.
b. Reformed the corrupt practices of the Church and its leaders.
c. Revived the Inquisition (which o nly could be used in C atholic countries like Spain).
d. Published an Index of Forbidden Books--to keep Catholics away from dangerous ideas.
Throughout the 1600s religion continued to be a political football used by kings to further their goals.
Religious wars continued. The bitter rivalries between religious sects continued. The freedom of religion guarantees
in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights ratified in 1792 are not historical accidents. The Framers were well aware of
the problems that could result if any one religion became "official" in the United States.
SOME BASICS OF 17TH/18th CENTURY EUROPEAN POLITICS
Wh en E lizab eth I d ied in 160 3 she was succ eede d by Jame s VI (Stuart) of Scotland. He became James I of England.
The Anglican Chu rch was split into factions. Some w anted to keep the Churc h "Catholic" in its practices, wo rship, etc.
Others (Puritans) wanted to purge Catholic influence and simplify the Church.
Puritans ("low c hurch ") basic ally had a Calvin ist outlo ok. They were a lso in favo r of stren gthenin g Parliament 's role
in the government. Philosophica lly, the Stuarts and their supporters w ere "high church." favoring Catho lic ways.
Puritans were susp icious of the Stuarts and suspec ted them of being "closet Catho lics."
In addition, The Stuart kings tried to ignore Parliament as much as possible. They adopted a ruling philosophy and
practice (popular throughout this century among all European rulers) called Divine Rig ht Absolute M onarchy.
Kings claimed they were born into royalty, God must want them to be kings. They therefore believed that their power
was abso lute. After all, all po wer com es from Go d; God ma de them kings; the refore, the o nly one kings h ad to
account to was God. They could do anything, anytime to anyone and not give a reason for it. Naturally, in England,
Parliament didn't agree.
England erupted into civil war from 1642-1649. The two sides were the Puritans (called the Roundheads) and
Parliamen t against Charles I and the Royalists (called Cavaliers). Charles was captured and beheaded.
From 1649 to 1658 England the monarchy was suspended. England was called a Commonwealth and was ruled by
Parliament under the guidance of the "Lord Protector," Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was Puritan to the core. During
this time, all the th eaters we re closed, a nd there w ere laws again st all fun forms of public en tertainment. P eople had to
dress soberly too. Many Englishmen were glad when Cromwell died.
In 1660 Parliament restored the monarchy and Charles II (son of Charles I) became the king. This began a period
called the Restor ation--good times and fun returned .
The last real Stuart ruler was James II. He was openly Catholic but was tolerated because he was old. His eldest
daughter, Mary , w as Protestant and had married William, the Du tch Protestant Prince of O range.
Surprise, surprise. James' second wife had a baby boy in 1688--a boy who would live a long time and was going to be
raised Catholic. Parliament's reaction was, "Enough of this!"
168 8 mar ked E nglan d's Glorious Revolution. James was forced to abdicate. Parliament invited William and Mary
to come to England as joint rulers. In accepting the throne, they had to sign a Bill of Rights. From th is point o n, kings
and queens of England steadily lost power. Parliament was in charge.
French royal pow er began to increase significantly und er the guidance of Cardinal Richilieu who w as the advisor to
King Louis XIII. Richilieu had two aims--to make France the strongest country in Europe and to make royal power
truly absolute. He was Machiavellian from head to toe.
France's next king, Louis XIV really made France the trend setter and continental leader . Louis was the most skillful
and powerful European ruler of the 17th century. He likened himself to the sun god, Apollo, and delighted in the
nickname, Sun King. He was a mod el divine right absolute monarch. He was known for sa ying, "L'etat, c'est m oi (I
am the State)."
Louis wasted France's resources by building a magnificent palace called Versailles, and by invo lving France in costly
mini-wars with neighb oring countr ies. Louis' succe ssors maintain ed his extra vagant lifestyle bu t lacked his per sonality
and skills. The abuses of the monarchy became a major cause of the French Revolution.
Holy Roman Empire
In the early 1600s, Calvinists in the eastern part (especially Bohem ia) of the HRE be gan to press for religious rights.
Both the Lutherans and the Catholics resisted this idea. In 1618, the Thirty Years War erupted. It wa sn't just a civil
war--neighboring countries got involved off and on as well. Ironically, by the end of it, Catholic France was supporting
the Protestants against the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor. The war ended in 1648 with the Peace of We stphalia
which established Calvinists' legal and religious rights.
This war devastated the German territories and destroyed any chance for unification. (Germany would not be united
The war also demonstrated that religion was no longer the real issue in European politics. This was the beginning of
balance of power politics. According to this idea, power was like a pie. Each country deserved to have a “slice”--but
the slices were not equ al.
The “slice” a country got was determined by how big the country was, how "together" it was, etc. If every country had
the slice it deserved, power w as balanced.
If a country up set the balan ce (perhap s by trying to ste al part of ano ther countr y's slice), other c ountries felt th ey should
go to war against the aggressor to restore the balan ce.
In the Thirty Years War, the Holy Roman Emperor had begun to solidify his power over the German territories. France
did not want a strong, united empire next door and so joined the war to restore the balance--a weak Hapsburg emperor
and fragmented individual German states.
Elsewhere....In the late 17th an d early 1 8th cen turies ot her Eu ropean monarc hies w ere eme rging.
Russia---Russia was always behind the rest of Europe. Its modernization began with Peter the Great and
later, Catherine the Great.
Prussia--A northern German state, Prussia began increasing its power during the 18th century under the rule of
Frederick William and his son Frederick the Great. Prussia would eventually be the German state that organized
the unification of Germany.
Italy--remained politically fragmented during this time.
Southeastern E urope--by this time was ruled by the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
Scandinavia --Norway, Sweden, Denmark were powerhouse countries during the 17th century but began to
decline in the 18th century.
Netherlands --Calvinist in outlook, the Netherlands had a colonial empire and its merchants/traders were commercial
leaders during the 17th cen tury. Their power d eclined in the 18th century .
THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION
From the mid-1500s on, European scientists began to make significant discoveries that dramatically changed European
awareness of the universe and how it worked. In fact, he most significant advances of this period were in astronomy
Three de velopments w ere importan t.
1. The increased use of the Arabic number system led to more sophisticated mathematics.
2. The use of the scientific method created greater accuracy; work could be checked, and science
3. The printing p ress and better co mmunic ation all owed scientis ts to be a ware o f each o ther's wo rk
One discovery now quickly led to another--it was a revolution!
Nicolaus C opernicus: 1500s Polish astronomer who determined that the earth rotated on its axis and revolved around
the sun (heliocentric theory .) His ideas were elabo rated by Tycho B rahe and Johann es Kepler.
Galileo Galilei–1500s Italian astronomer who invented the telescope and confirmed the heliocentric theory of
Copern icus. His w ork was co ndemned by the Ca tholic Chu rch, he w as forced to recant his ide as as heretic al.
Sir Isa ac Ne wton--English mathematician w ho invented calculus and developed four mathem atical laws of physics--
especially kn own for th e law of gravity. Newton saw the un iverse as a we ll-regulated ma chine ope rating accord ing to
definite laws of nature. His work had profound impact on 18th century philosophy.
Medicine advan ced slowly. It was not until the ea rly 1600s that an Englishma n, William Harvey, discovered that
blood circulated throughout the body. Many doctors still didn't think it was all that necessary to wash their hands
before performing surgery.
All of this leads us to the Age of Rea son or Enlightenment ......................................................