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5: Politics in the Renaissance Era

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    12467
  • The Renaissance was originally an Italian phenomenon, due to the concentration of wealth and the relative power of the city-states of northern Italy. Renaissance thought spread, however, thanks to interactions between the kings and nobility of the rest of Europe and the elites of the Italian city-states, especially after a series of wars at the end of the fifteenth and start of the sixteenth centuries saw the larger monarchies of Europe exert direct political control in Italy.

    • 5.1: The End of the Italian Renaissance
      By the mid-fifteenth century, northern manufacturing began to compete with Italian production as well. Particularly in England and the Netherlands, northern European crafts were produced that rivaled Italian products and undermined the demand for the latter. Thus, the relative degree of prosperity in Italy vs. the rest of Europe declined going into the sixteenth century.
    • 5.2: Politics - The Emergence of Strong States
      During the late medieval and Renaissance periods, however, monarchs began to wield more power and influence. The long-term pattern from about 1350 – 1500 was for the largest monarchies to expand their territory and wealth, which allowed them to fund better armies, which led to more expansion. In the process, smaller states were often absorbed or at least forced to do the bidding of larger ones; this is true of the Italian city-states and formerly independent kingdoms in eastern France.
    • 5.3: War and the Gunpowder Revolution
      Monarchs had always tied their identity to war. The European monarchies were originally the product of the Germanic conquests at the end of the Roman period, and it was a point of great pride among noble families to be able to trace their family lines back to the warlords of old. Political loyalty was to the king one served, not the territory in which one lived. Likewise, territories were won through war or marriage.
    • 5.4: The Resulting Financial Revolution
      The larger kingdoms like France were constantly in need of additional sources of wealth, leading to new taxes to keep revenue flowing in. Royal governments turned to officials drawn from the towns and cities, men whose education came to resemble that of the humanist schools and tutors of Italy. Humanism thus arrived from Italy via the staffing of royal offices, ultimately in service of war. Most of these new royal officials were not of noble birth; they were often from mercantile families.
    • 5.5: Spain
      In many ways, the sixteenth century was “the Spanish century,” when Spain was the most prosperous and powerful kingdom in Europe, especially after the flow of silver from the Americas began. Spain went from a disunited, war-torn region to a powerful and relatively centralized state in just a few decades.
    • 5.6: England
      The sixteenth century saw Henry’s line, the Tudors, establish an increasingly powerful English state, largely based on a pragmatic alliance between the royal government and the gentry, the landowning class who exercised the lion’s share of political power at the local level.
    • 5.7: France
      France emerged at the same time as the only serious rival to Spain. The French king Charles VII (r. 1422 – 1461), the same king who finally won the 100 Years War for France and expelled the English, created the first French professional army that was directly loyal to the crown.
    • 5.8: The Holy Roman Empire
      The very concept of “Germany” was an abstraction during the Renaissance era. Germany was simply a region, a large part of central Europe in which most, but not all, people spoke various dialects of the German language. It was politically divided between hundreds of independent kingdoms, city-states, church lands, and territories. Its only overarching political identity took the form of that most peculiar of early-modern European states: the Holy Roman Empire.
    • 5.9: The Ottoman Empire
      The single most powerful state of the early modern period in the region of Western Civilization was not based in Europe, but the Middle East: the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was the very model of a successful early-modern state, politically centralized, economically prosperous, and engaged in not just warfare but an enormous amount of commerce with other states, very much including the states of Europe.
    • 5.10: Conclusion
      It was not as if there were small medieval kingdoms one year and major, centralized states the next. What is evident in hindsight is that centralized states with legal control and the right to raise taxes over their entire territories began in earnest during this period, introducing new legal and political patterns that would only expand in the centuries that followed.

    Thumbnail: Banner of the Holy Roman Empire, double headed eagle with halos. (CC BY-SA; David Liuzzo via Wikipedia).

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