1. Consider the Black Death. What were its causes and why did it spread so quickly throughout Western Europe? Where was it most virulent? What were the results of the Black Death and how important do you think disease is in changing the course of history?
The Black Death is considered to be “the most devastating natural disaster in European history, ravaging Europe and causing economic, social, political, and cultural upheaval.” It would demonstrate the havoc that disease can cause within human society, proving that disease can play a pivotal role in how history occurs.
The most common form was the bubonic plague, which was spread by black rats that were carrying fleas that served as the hosts of the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Symptoms included high fever, aching joints, swelling of lymph nodes, and dark bruises from bleeding under the skin. Even though it was the least toxic form of the plague, it would kill 50-60% of its victims. The more toxic form was the pneumonic plague, which had similar symptoms but affected the lungs.
Originating in China, Mongol troops carried it to other areas of Asia. Trade caravans then carried it to Caffa, a port on the Black Sea coast. By 1347, the plague hit Europe when Genoese merchants brought it from Caffa to Sicily. From Sicily, it spread throughout southern Italy, southern France, and Spain by the end of 1347. By the end of 1348, it spread to France, the Low Countries, and England. By the end of 1349, it spread to northern Europe and Scandinavia. By 1351, Eastern Europe and Russia would also be affected.
In the end, the plague killed over 30 million people throughout Europe. This decimation of the population would lead to economic destruction, as well as the virtual disappearance of entire communities. Socially, the plague led to a change in attitude about life. Some would do all they could to enjoy it, while others would spend every moment seeking forgiveness for their sins. Yet, there were good effects. Stricter rules concerning sanitation and public health were made. Yet, it would take years for Europe to recover from the destruction the Black Plague caused.
2. What was Niccolo Machiavelli? What were his main ideas as noted in The Prince? To what extent is his philosophy about human nature representative of Renaissance thought.
Machiavelli was an Italian historian, statesman, and political philosopher whose influential writings on statecraft have made him the human representation of cunning and duplicity. He began his political career in 1498, when he entered the service of the Florentine republic four years after the Medici family was ousted from the city. Serving as secretary to the Florentine Council of Ten, he made numerous diplomatic missions, all of which allowed him to see the “workings of statecraft at first hand.”
In 1512, the Medici returned to power in Florence, and this led to Machiavelli being sent into exile. During this period of exile, Machiavelli “reflected on political power and wrote books, including The Prince (1513), one of the most famous treatises on political power in the Western world.” His main concerns in this book were “the acquisition and expansion of political power as the means to restore and maintain order in his time.” From his point of view, “a prince’s attitude toward power must be based on an understanding of human nature, which he perceived as basically self-centered.”
Other aspects of The Prince that earned Machiavelli his reputation as being amoral were his endorsement of using force to gain power, as well as his promotion of ruthlessness in a ruler. He admired the strength and total domination seen in the Roman Empire, and through this book, advised the ruler of Florence to follow the same path. Machiavelli’s work is a window into the realm of human nature, particularly with regard to men, who always believe that might makes right. While he is seen as amoral, many of the concepts within The Prince are anything but amoral.
3. What were the principal problems within the church which contributed to the Protestant Reformation? Why was the church unable to suppress dissent as it had earlier?
The Protestant Reformation was a religious revolution that led to Western Europe being split into Catholic and Protestant. Various issues played a role in this split. Socially and politically, the following influenced the religious split: the decentralization of Europe, which led to the rise of nation-states; the breakdown of medieval centralization under the pope; the breakdown of society due to the Black Death, Hundred Years’ War, and economic difficulties; and the emergence of the Renaissance.
More important, however, are the religious factors that led to the split. There were several weaknesses within the Catholic Church: competition between the popes; suspect religious rituals and practices; abuse of power; and corruption in the form of selling indulgences and other forms of forgiveness, as well as the selling of church offices. It would be the last two that would lead Martin Luther to nail his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door of Wittenberg church, thus opening the door to a religious revolution.
Because of all the difficulties the Church was having in terms of maintaining control among its popes and cardinals, there were not many resources that could be focused on stopping the spread of the Protestant Reformation. The masses were beginning to realize that the many rules and regulations of the Church were little more than ways of controlling them, while fleecing them dry of their money. Thus, Protestantism offered the people an alternative to the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.
4. Why did slavery exist during the Renaissance when emphasis was being placed on the worth of humans and their unique qualities? How could Humanism and slavery exist at the same time?
In Europe, slavery existed during the early Middle Ages in response to the agricultural lifestyle the majority of people maintained. However, by the ninth century, it had been replaced by serfdom. It would not reappear again until the 11th century. First, it appeared in Spain, where captured prisoners were used as slaves during the long Reconquista. It became more widespread following the Black Death, which decimated the population of Europe. Because of the shortage of workers, who wanted increased wages for their services, it became necessary to seek workers through slavery.
The use of slaves became more commonplace due to the lucrative nature of the slave trade. In other words, a slave trader could make a great deal of mean in a fairly short amount of time. This easy and lucrative way to earn income led to the increased involvement of Italian merchants. Yet by the end of the 15th century, slavery experienced a sharp decline within the Italian cities, where it had become most prevalent. First, slaves were being freed for humanitarian reasons. Second, the source of the slaves disappeared following the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire. Third, there was an increase in the price of slaves, due to a diminished demand for them. Finally, the slaves themselves were being seen as dangerous. It is hard to reconcile slavery and humanism, as they are based on contradicting ideas. The former stated that a person that was a slave was inferior, and therefore could be treated as property. The latter promoted the ideas of self-worth, individualism, and freedom. Therefore, for slavery to exist alongside humanism, the owners convinced themselves that only certain people were entitled to freedom.
5. Why was the Thirty Years War fought? To what extent did politics determine the outcome of the war? Discuss the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Could matters have been resolved without war?
Religion played an important role in the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, but as the war went on, it became clear that “secular, dynastic-nationalist considerations” were taking over in importance. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable the war has been viewed by some historians as being “part of a larger conflict for European leadership between the Bourbon dynasty of France and the Habsburg dynasties of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire…”
The war itself would have four phases, but would ultimately be a victory for the German princes. The Treaty of Westphalia clearly demonstrated the victory of the German princes. It stated that all the German states would be able to freely determine their own religion. With regard to land, France gained a great deal of territory within Germany and the various states of the Holy Roman Empire were all recognized as being virtually independent. Thus, the vast territorial and political power the Habsburgs had in the German states was greatly diminished.
In the end, this war could not have been avoided. From the emergence of the Protestant faith, it was clear that the only way many places would settle their differences would be to do so on the battlefield. Through warfare, a definitive result could be reached, which in turn would allow a particular area to have a definitive faith.
6. Why did Philip II launch the Spanish Armada against England in 1588? What were the results of his defeat for Spain and England?
There are various reasons for why Philip II launched the Armada against England. First, he was disappointed that Elizabeth I did not fully appreciate his alleged role in helping her gain the English throne. To some extent, he did play a role. While married to Mary I of England, Elizabeth’s older half-sister, he had dictated to Mary I that no harm be done to Elizabeth. Yet, it was not just his dictate, but Elizabeth’s strength and many other allies that helped her gain the throne. Second was the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, which shocked monarchs throughout Europe. It was unheard of for one to order the death of another. Furthermore, as Mary had been a Catholic, it just reinforced the notion that Elizabeth was a Protestant devil. Finally, there was the issue of English support to the Dutch during their revolt against Philip II, as well as the continual plundering of Spanish ships by the British sailors.
Due to a combination of bad weather and gross miscommunication, the Armada would be
defeated by the English. This English victory would demonstrate to the rest of Europe that, though a small nation, England was capable of beating a world power. It would also serve as another win for the Protestant faith. However, it would also usher in a long period of warfare within England, with a great deal of money and men being expended to win conflicts that could have been resolved through compromise. For Spain, the defeat put the Spanish realm on the defensive, and it was no longer viewed as the champion of the Catholic faith. It was also the beginning of Spain’s decline as a world power.
7. Choose three of the following and discuss each one’s contribution to the Scientific Revolution: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Newton and Brahe. Which of the three made the most important contribution and why?
The three most important men of the Scientific Revolution were Copernicus, Galileo and Newton. The scientific discoveries they made completely changed the way humans viewed the world, and they continue to be taught and discussed in present times. First is Copernicus, who developed the heliocentric conception. This states that the sun, rather than the earth, is the center of the universe. This directly contradicted the theory put forth by Ptolemy, which was the geocentric conception. It also led to uncertainty about the role of humans and God within the universe.
Second was Galileo, the first European to make systematic observations concerning the heavens through the use of the telescope. He also made two important contributions to the issue of motion. First, through a great deal of experimentation, he discovered that if uniform force were applied to an object, it would move at an accelerated speed rather than at a constant speed. Second, he discovered the principle of inertia, arguing the point that “a body in motion continues in motion forever unless deflected by an external force.”
Finally, there is Newton, who developed the three laws of motion. The first law states that every object continues in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless deflected by a force. The second law states that the rate of change of motion of an object is proportional to the force acting on it. The third law states that, for every action, there is also an equal or opposite reaction. He applied these three laws to prove that they govern the “planetary bodies as well as terrestrial laws.” He proved to be the most important of the three because he was able to show that one mathematically proved universal law could be used to explain all the motion within the universe.
8. Differentiate between England’s parliamentary monarchy and France’s political absolutism. What factor led to the two political models? Discuss events of the late seventeenth century that influenced the new models.
The reign of Louis XIV of France was the best example of absolute monarchy in the 17th century. Absolute monarchy is defined as being a situation in which ultimate authority rests in the hands of a monarch who rules by divine right. What set the stage for absolutism in France were the following: fifty years of political chaos prior to Louis XIV coming of age to take the throne, and the issue of the throne being ruled by political ministers rather than the actual kings. Two ministers in particular played a crucial role in maintaining the power of the monarchy – Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin. The former initiated policies that would ultimately strengthen the power of the monarch. The latter was a protégé of Richelieu, and he attempted to continue the policies instituted by Richelieu. When Louis XIV took control, he made sure to gain complete control over his ministers and secretaries, allowing him to more authority over the traditional areas of monarchical power.
England in the seventeenth century was one of the most prominent examples of resistance to absolutism. During the latter part of the century, king and Parliament struggled to determine the role each should and would play in governing England. This struggle began in the reign of James I, who held the belief that he ruled by divine right. This meant that his power came directly from God, and as such, he was answerable only to God. This alienated Parliament, who retaliated by using their control of the purse to control James I. The struggle continued into the reign of Charles I, who maintained the same belief as his father. When Parliament attempted to control him, he simply disbanded it, but was forced to recall them eleven years later. Once back in power, they vastly limited the powers of Charles I. The situation led to civil war and the execution of the king. In both situations, it was political chaos and strife that led to the development of each country’s form of government. However, France as an absolutist state would be short-lived; England as a Parliamentarian state would remain the same until the present day.
9. Analyze the early modern thought and culture that contributed to the witch hunts that erupted in almost every Western land, during which, between 1400 and 1700, courts sentenced an estimated 70,000 to 100,00 people to death for harmful magic. What percentage of the condemned were women? Why? What factors helped end the witch hunts?
The witchcraft craze of the 15th to 18th centuries was based on nothing more than fear and ignorance. The height of the witchcraft craze was the 16th and 17th, when possibly over 100,000 people were prosecuted throughout Europe. The majority of those accused and prosecuted were women, as it was believed that women had an innate ability to be manipulated into doing evil.
There were several contributing factors to the witchcraft hysteria. First was the issue of religion. Many of the trials that were held occurred in the newly Protestant areas or in places where there was still struggle between the Protestants and the Catholics. Second were the societal changes of the time. There was a new economic ethic emphasizing the view that one should look out for oneself, which led to the belief that the poor were “agents of the devil.”
Finally, there was the attitude concerning women that were old and widowed. Because this was a time in which women were overwhelmingly dependent on men, anytime there was a woman that was able to care for herself through the selling of healing herbs and potions, it was believed that she was a witch. By the mid-17th century, the witchcraft hysteria began to wane. This was due to people becoming more religiously tolerant, to an increased stability of the governments of Europe, and finally to a change in attitude concerning belief in evil spirits.