Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Melvyn Bragg on Calvinism

You can listen here to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time discussion on Calvinism.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Catholic Reformation

‘Though in the 1530s and 1540s it appeared as if Europe might become Protestant, a century later the picture was reversed – Catholicism had ended its decline and was showing a vigour and dynamic that compared favourably with a now rigid Protestantism.’ H. G. Koenigsberger, George L. Mosse,. and G. Q. Bowler, Europe in the Sixteenth Century (Longman, 1989), 207.
There is a useful summary of the Catholic Reformation here. This post is also indebted to Diarmaid MacCulloch's quite excellent Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (Allen Lane, 2003).

List of Counter-Reformation popes

Paul III (1534-49) Alessandro Farnese
Julius III (1550-55) Giammaria Ciocchi del Monte
Paul IV (1555-59) Gian Pietro Carafa
Pius IV (1559-65) Giovanni Angelo Medici
Pius V (1566-72) Michele Ghisleri
Gregory XIII (1572-85) Ugo Buoncompagni

Reformations and changing cultures

[Above: Bernini's 'Saint Teresa in Ecstasy' at the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.]

This post is heavily indebted to Diarmid MacCulloch's Reformations: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (Allen Lane, 2003).

Some historians now speak of a ‘Long Reformation’ that took place over a period of about two hundred years in both Catholic and Protestant Europe and profoundly changed the culture.

One symbol of a divided western Europe was that from 1582 Catholics and Protestants lived in different times. In that year Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar: ten days were suppressed, and the new year was to begin on 1 January rather than 25 March. France, Spain and Italy changed immediately. The Orthodox churches refused, as did Protestant Europe. (It was only in the eighteenth century that Western Europe had a single calendar; Russia did not come into line until 1918.)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The English evangelicals

Note: The term 'Protestant' is not appropriate for the early stage of the Reformation in England and historians prefer to use the contemporary term 'evangelicals', usually written with a lower-case 'e' to distinguish the from the Evangelicals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

John Calvin (1509-64)

This post owes a great deal to Diarmid MacCulloch's Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (Allen Lane 2003) a work as witty (in parts) as it is magisterial (always).

Calvin was born in Noyen in Picardy, the son of a lawyer. He taught theology at the Sorbonne and Roman law at Orléans and Bourges. Through his studies he came into contact with French humanism and had contacts with two influential Erasmian groups: that around the king’s sister Marguerite d’Angoulême (1492-1549) and the similar group at the court of Guillaume Briçonnet, bishop of Meaux and the theologian Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The German Reformation

The Reformation has typically been seen in two great contexts, the corruption and chronic institutional weakness of the late medieval church and the challenges presented by humanism. The dominating early figure has been Martin Luther, who, it has been claimed, sparked off the Reformation when he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

The Reformation has also been placed in the context of earlier reforming movements, those of the Englishman John Wyclif (d. 1384) and the Czech Jan Hus (c.1369-1415). Wyclif had formulated a theology of predestination, rejected transubstantiation and advocate clerical marriage. His followers, known as Lollards, went underground but survived into the early sixteenth century. Hus advocated ‘utraquism’, the laity receiving the sacrament in both kinds, which was a fundamental attack on the privileges of the clergy. He was burned at the Council of Constance in 1415 but the Hussite church remained secure in its national setting of Bohemia and Moravia.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Erasmus of Rotterdam: some useful links

Wikipedia isn't always reliable, but its article on Erasmus is well worth a read. There is more material here and here.
See here for a list of Erasmus's Adages that have become popular sayings.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The print culture

[Above is the library of the Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp.]

Though knowledge of reading and writing was considered desirable in medieval Europe it was a means to an end. The invention of printing revolutionized literacy. Francis Bacon described it as one of the three great inventions (the others were gunpowder and the compass) that had changed the appearance and state of the whole world.

The Invention of Printing
The printing press evolved as a practical solution to a practical problem. Before 1450 all books were hand produced - copied out by scribes in monastic scriptoria. Monks wrote standing at their desks. The illustrations were often lavish and the books were therefore very expensive. They were written on parchment or vellum made from animal skins in a cursive minuscule script dating from the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century. But even before the invention of printing there was increasing demand caused by the revived interest in the ancient Greeks (studied mainly in Latin translations), and secular scriptoria supplied the university stationers.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Humanism and the Renaissance

What is humanism?
‘Humanism’ is a nineteenth-century term coined from words which had been in use in the late fifteenth century, when it became common to talk about the liberal/non-theological arts subjects in a university curriculum as humanae litterae (literature which was human rather than divine in focus) and a scholar who had a particular enthusiasm for these subjects was called a humanista. In the Renaissance period it did not have its modern meaning of someone who rejects the claims of revealed religion. The vast majority of humanists were sincere Christians who wished to apply their enthusiasm to the exploration proclamation of their faith.

The Renaissance
The term usually associated with humanism is `Renaissance' (rinascita), a term coined by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) in his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550). This term came to define the broad cultural changes of a whole era not merely its art. It is a useful term because it shows that while something new was happening in Europe between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, it was seen as a rediscovery of something very old. The Italian humanist poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-74) [left] so admired the poetic achievements of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) that he proclaimed that they represented a rebirth of poetry as good as anything which had been written in ancient Rome.

The Renaissance began in the Italian cities, which had the advantage of a physical legacy of art and architecture that had survived from the Roman Empire. But by the sixteenth century it had spread to northern Europe where the universities began to adopt the humanist curricula.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Wimmin's History

An enjoyably reactionary piece in today's Telegraph from Norman Tebbit, who can't see the point of teaching women's history in schools. I can understand that in an already overcrowded school curriculum, it might be just one more burdensome addition, but in listing the elite women (the Elizabeth I's, the Florence Nightingales) who are already part of the curriculum, the sage of Chingford has missed the point. Let me put it in a syllogism.
1. History is the story of humans in time (all humans, not just elites)
2. Women are half the human race
3. Therefore history should include women (and not just the elite ones)
The problem, of course, is that our sources are skewed to the experiences of elite males, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do our best to uncover as many human lives as we can.

Rant over!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Machiavelli and the state

Machiavelli and the state
See here for a really comprehensive site.

Machiavelli was so shocking to contemporaries because he was not interested in questions of political legitimacy or even morality. He made no distinction between authority and power and asserted that whoever has the power has the right to command. The Prince arose out of his direct experience of Florentine government and was intended as a manual for the ruler who wished to maintain his power and the safety of the state.

Charles V and universal monarchy

The sixteenth century is usually seen as the age of the break-up of the unity of medieval Christendom and the rise of the ‘new monarchies’. Yet this development is extremely complex. The great obstacles were universalism and localism. The Church and the Holy Roman Empires were forces for universalism, while the majority of people lived their lives in local communities and had little concept of an abstraction such as the state.

The modern concept of the nation state should not be confused with contemporary notions of the natio or patria. In 1520 Luther appealed to the ‘German nation’. This did not mean that he had a 19th century concept of German nationalism, but it does imply an assumption of a common German identity.

The concept of universal sovereignty was the legacy of the Roman Empire, appropriated by the papacy in the Middle Ages. From the late 14th century the papacy was gravely weakened by the Great Schism (1378-1417). However, the concept of universal sovereignty was taken up by propagandists on behalf of the Emperor Charles V. When his tutor Adrian of Utrecht became Pope Hadrian VI in 1522 it looked as if the medieval vision of universal sovereignty was being revived. (For more on this theme see Frances Yates' classic, Astraea: the Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (Routledge, 1975).

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The ritual year

Above is Pieter Bruegel's 'Battle between Carnival and Lent'. Click to enlarge.

This post is especially indebted to Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England (Oxford University Press, 1996), Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1991), and Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1400-c.1500 (Yale, 1992).

In a largely unlettered world dependent on natural forces people took out insurance against what they could not foresee or control. Religion was a major protective and where official religion seemed inadequate, other rites were used. The Christian church obliged the realities of the agricultural year by turning at least one third of the days into obligatory festivals. A division may be made between rituals of joy, which welcomed in the seasons of the year, and rituals of protection. All coincided with the liturgical cycle of the Christian churches.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

La querelle des femmes

[The picture depicts the medieval writer, Christine de Pisan.]

If you would like to explore the feminist/anti-feminist discourses of the period, you might like to delve into what has been known since the fourteenth century as la querelle des femmes (the women's quarrel) discussed here. As the name suggests, it began in France and was especially lively in the sixteenth century when the Renaissance opened up the question of women's intellectual capabilities and the unusually large number of female rulers sparked off a controversy about their fitness to rule (of which more later).

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Women and gender

The beliefs and practices of the sixteenth-century were very hostile to women. Woman was blamed for the fall of man (see Lucius Cranach's Eve above), and medicine and political science asserted her unreliability, and her unfitness to exert authority. At the same time, however, female saints figured largely in popular culture and in the real world women did not always live according to the prescriptions in the text books and conduct books.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Family and home

Above: Martin de Vos, Joanna Hoeftmans and Antonio Anselmo with their children, Joanna and Aegidio, 1577 (Koninklijke Musea, Brussels). The inscription records the concord between wife and husband, their birth dates and those of their children. Joanna is standing by her father, and Aegidio is sitting on his mother's lap.

The post below owes a considerable debt to Raffaella Sarti, Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture (Yale, 2002) and Merry E. Wiesener-Hanks, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (Cambridge, 2006)

In the early modern period the family was the basic unit of society. It was the place of residence and of the pooling and distribution of resources for consumption. For many a small farmer and craftsman it was also the basic unit of production. For most people the place of work was also the place of residence.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The urban community

[Above: guildhouses in the Grote Markt, Antwerp]

How is a city defined?

Legally and juridically a city was a corporate community embodied in its citizens, the adult male heads of households. Economically, by the standards of the 16th and 17th centuries a major city was one with a population of around 100,000 people.

In 1500 there were only four cities of this size: Paris, Venice, Naples and Istanbul. (Antwerp reached this figure briefly in the middle of the 16th century.) By 1600 there were twelve European cities of 100,000 or more: the new arrivals included Lisbon, Seville, London, Rome, and Moscow.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

List of recommended books

Briggs, Robin, The West: Encounters and Transformations (Longman, 2007)
Cameron (ed), Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History (OUP, 2001)
___________The Sixteenth Century (OUP, 2006)
Clark, Stuart, Thinking with Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (OUP, 1997)
Cowley, Roger, Empires of the Sea: the Final Battle for the Mediterranean (Faber, 2008)
Davis Natalie Zemon, The Return of Martin Guerre (Harvard University Press, 1983)

The shape of the century

(You can click on the map to enlarge it.)

Great events
The ‘early modern’ period is usually dated from the 1450s, the decade that saw the invention of printing with moveable type and the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. The ‘long sixteenth century’, from c.1450 to c.1600 witnessed major changes: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the rise of capitalism, the voyages of discovery, and the growth of the nation state. All these changes are problematic and their meanings are disputed.

The rural community

Longue durée
The famous French historian Ferdinand Braudel used disciplines such as economics and anthropology to discern deep unchanging patterns in history. This is somewhat different to the Anglo-Saxon school of historical writing that has concentrated on the big picture of change over time. The influence of Braudel can be seen in the studies of rural life and beliefs by historians such as Natalie Zemon Davis and Carlo Ginzburg. These authors do not deny the existence of change but they are also interested in microhistories and the analysis of popular mentalités.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Netherlandish Proverbs

Early modern Europe was a predominantly rural society. In western and central Europe c. 1600 fewer than 5% of the people lived in some hundred ‘cities’ of over 20,000 inhabitants each. A further fifth lived in small country towns. The rest (75%) lived in rural communities.