Culture and society
The Renaissance, a cultural movement that started in Italy in the fifteenth century, spread through Europe in the following century. It was characterized by the renovation of artistic language and the dissemination of the Classics. The main philosophical theory was the so-called Humanism, a cultural movement that aimed to revive the Classics and considered mankind to be the centre of everything and main character of History, exalting the idea of individuality. Humanist anthropocentrism was opposed to mediaeval theocentricism. A critical approach spread and a great number of scientific and technical advances were achieved, based on observation and experimentation. Great progress was made in the understanding of the world, with important geographical discoveries, such as America or the first voyage around the world. The discovery and propagation of the printing press was very important, as it was essential for the rapid dissemination of ideas and technical innovations.
Industrial activities increased during the sixteenth century and cities and trade rapidly developed, setting the grounds for capitalism. The growth of industry was one of the reasons behind the search for new territories, aiming to obtain raw materials and open new markets for the industrial products. With Mediterranean trade being controlled by the Turks and the advances in navigation, overseas explorations were encouraged.
The new ideals of Humanism led to changes in political ideas, which aimed to reinforce the power of monarchs over the Church and the nobility. Political philosophers separated politics from theology and believed that princes were sovereign within their lands and did not owe obedience to anyone, not even the Pope. The most influential philosophers were Machiavelli, Thomas More and Bodin. For Machiavelli the ends justify the means, meaning that monarchs could carry out immoral actions as long as they were aimed at the benefit of the kingdom. More advocated religious freedom, communal property, divorce and the right to a dignified death, while Bodin maintained the need to create a strong power, answerable only to God.
It was in the sixteenth century when absolute monarchies appeared, setting the grounds for the modern state, when the monarch held all the power to rule, as opposed to medieval monarchies, when power was restricted by the nobility, the guilds and the cities.
Territories were unified with the execution of politics based on marriages and wars, the development of diplomacy and the army mostly mercenaries, the establishment of the court in a specific city (the palace becomes the centre of political life) and with taxes that did not have to be approved by the court and an increasingly professional bureaucracy.
Three monarchies were established in Western Europe: the Spanish, the French and the English. In addition, the first one became a hegemonic power. In Spain, the monarchy had consolidated its administration, treasury and army, although the different territories kept their traditional institutions: the Cortes. Together with Portugal, Spain explored and colonised many American lands and its Empire reached from California to the south of Chile. It also held wars in different European regions and in the north of Africa.
France achieved the unification of its territories with a carefully developed administration and a permanent army. Great economic and cultural development was also achieved.
Monaco was a Spanish protectorate between 1525 and 1612; the Emperor visited this Principality in 1529.
In England, King Henry VIII became an absolute monarch, and based his reign on a very efficient administration and streamlined treasury, independent from the Parliament.
The Ottoman Empire became a great power, disputing the supremacy of the western powers, especially Spain. It reached its greatest territorial expansion with the conquest of part of North Africa and south-east Europe, where they even besieged Vienna (1529). Their decline started with their defeat at the Battle of Lepanto (1571).
The situation in other European regions was different. In the north we could find the Kalmar Union, formed by Denmark, Norway and Sweden. This lasted until 1523, when Sweden became independent with the Vasa monarchy. Sweden adopted the Protestant Reform and all church properties were seized by the Crown. It held wars against its old allies although it did not achieve the control over the Baltic Sea until the next century.
Most of Eastern Europe, Hungary and Bohemia included, was part of the Poland-Lithuania kingdom, of the Jagiellonian dynasty. In 1569 it became known as the Republic of the Two Nations, although it maintained the administrative structures inherited from the Middle Ages.
Russia surfaced then as a power in the north-east of Europe. King Ivan IV (the Terrible) introduced important political and administrative reforms, in addition to his territorial expansion policies, conquering the khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556).
By the end of the sixteenth century, the Christian Church was definitively divided between Catholics and Protestants. This division was caused by several reasons. On the one hand, the Church controlled extensive territories where they collected taxes, so the states tried to disassociate themselves from these tax obligations and annex the lands. On the other hand, the Church was undergoing a severe moral crisis, with abuse of authority, sale of indulgences, breach of the holy vows, etc.
Another of the causes was the dissemination of the Bible thanks to the printing press, making the Gospel available to the majority of the faithful. The Gospel, source of the Christian doctrine, stated the need to give up all worldly possessions and live in humility and poverty, instead of a Church that displayed its wealth, with very rich hierarchies that enjoyed many privileges. This encouraged the need for a reformation of the Church, which had to return to its primitive simplicity. It had to abide by the Gospel and each individual could interpret God's words according to their own judgment.
The Reformation was initiated by the German monk Martin Luther (1483-1546). He had travelled to Rome in 1511, where he witnessed the decline of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1514 he rebelled against Pope Leo X for the sale of indulgences aimed at finishing St. Peter's Basilica. He criticised the ecclesiastical structure and attacked its dogmas, defending that salvation was achieved by faith in Jesus and that the Gospel had to be the only law. His excommunication in 1520 led to a definite separation with Rome.
In 1521, Emperor Charles V called the Diet of Worms aiming for reconciliation, but Luther kept his views and was condemned. Prince Frederic of Saxony kept him safe for a year, when Luther translated the Bible to German. Luther wrote to the German princes stating how the Church had to return to its primitive purity and therefore the need to seize its riches and lands. With this he obtained the support of many German princes who then kept said lands.
Hoping to reconcile both beliefs, the Emperor convened the Diet of Speyer in 1529. This Diet conceded that the new doctrine would be tolerated in those places where it had already been established, but it could not extend to new areas. Several cities and princes protested against this decision and from then onwards were called protestants. In 1530, the Emperor convened the Diet of Augsburg and tried to attract protestant princes to Catholicism by conciliation, although he failed and Luther was again condemned.
After that, Protestants found they had to define their doctrines and Luther asked Melanchthon, in favour of reconciliation with Catholics, to draft the instructions for the profession of the Protestant faith. Some sacraments were discarded leaving only two, Latin was removed as language of the church, the adoration of the saints was rejected and the papal authority over the church was refuted.
In 1531 the Lutheran princes created a political party called the Schmalkaldic League to defend their interests, which had its own army and joint finances. When Luther died in 1546, the Emperor attacked them and the Lutherans were defeated at the Battle of Mühlberg (1547), although they soon regrouped and formed an alliance with Henry II of France, defeating the Emperor at Innsbruck. The war ended in 1555 with the Diet of Augsburg, by which the Emperor gave religious freedom to the Lutheran princes, recognizing the ownership of the lands they had seized from the Church, although new secularizations were prohibited. Another important figure of the Reformation was the French theologian John Calvin (1509-1564). Influenced by Luther, he wrote a new theory of Reformation, based on predestination, by which God had chosen some men for salvation. He supressed mass, the altar, etc. In Geneva he led a theocracy, establishing a very repressive government. Many missionaries left from Geneva to different parts of Europe: France, Flanders and Scotland.
In England the Reformation was led by King Henry VIII. This reform was caused by the refusal of the Pope to grant him the divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. In 1534, with the Act of Supremacy, Henry VIII proclaimed that the king was the supreme and only head of the church in England. Although Catholicism was restored by his daughter Mary I, the English Protestant Church was definitively established by his other daughter Elizabeth I, although she introduced some Calvinist ideas.
Since the Lutheran dissent began, both Catholics and Lutherans had requested a Council that would perform a comprehensive internal revision of the Church. The Council was convened in Trent in 1545, when the positions were irreconcilable, and lasted until 1563.
The Counter-Reformation was initiated by this Council, by which the doctrine of the Church was redefined and the Lutheran proposals were rejected. This doctrine ratified the validity of the sacraments and the pope's authority, as successor of St Peter and Vicar of Christ. In addition, it established that the only authentic Bible was the Vulgate translated by Saint Jerome in the fourth century, the validity of ecclesiastic celibacy and the real presence of Christ during mass. The Church kept its traditional structure, the use of Latin and the accumulation of ecclesiastical positions was prohibited. The creation of theological seminaries for the priests was also recommended. The reformation of the Church was completed with other measures such as the creation of a committee in charge of creating an index of books contrary to it which were prohibited and the Tribunal of the Holy Office to fight heresy.
New religious orders were created to fight Protestant doctrines: Capuchins, Theatines, Jesuits, Ursulines, etc. These consolidated the parishes, achieved popular piety through example and served to contain the corruption at the heart of the Church. Among all these orders, one of the most important was the Society of Jesus founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. This order was organized as an army, with absolute subjugation to the Pope. This order worked for education, confession and preaching. They fought in name of the Universal Church, retaking the south of Germany from the Protestants, mainly Austria and Bavaria, in addition to Belgium.