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European History


The Reformations 1500–1600

Calls for church reform to end abuses and give lay authorities more power set the stage for Reformations

  • Sale of indulgences (in which anxious individuals pay church money in hopes of spending less time in purgatory after death) comes under attack

  • Corrupt, immoral popes, bishops, priests tarnish church image

Great Schism (1378–1417): Period of several rival popes; undermines papal authority

  • Calls for reform by John Wycliffe (English, c. 1328–1384) and Jan Hus (Czech, c. 1369–1415)

  • German cities, desiring more wealth and power, try to end church’s financial privileges and abuses

Protestant Reformation: German priest Martin Luther challenges church doctrine, rejects pope as head of Christian Church

  • Argues against monastic life; believes that faith alone leads to salvation (not good works, not indulgences)

  • Acknowledges two holy sacraments rather than seven

  • Promotes personal religion, individual Bible study, Bible and Mass in vernacular (not Latin)

  • 1517: Luther posts his ninety-five theses (complaints about church’s sale of indulgences) on door of church at Wittenberg

  • 1521: Pope excommunicates Luther; H.R.E. Charles V signs Edict of Worms condemning Luther’s ideas; church reform becomes political issue that divides German princes

  • 1530:Augsburg Confession makes Luther’s break with church permanent, founds Lutheran Church

Protestant movement spreads piecemeal through Holy Roman Empire’s individual states and cities

  • Urban reformers, pamphlets, preachers spread Luther’s ideas

  • Crowds attack churches; wars distract Charles V from resisting Reformation actively

  • Radical reformers in the Holy Roman Empire splinter into Anabaptists, Mennonites, Anti-Trinitarians

1522:Ulrich Zwingli leads Reformation in Switzerland based on literal reading of scripture

John Calvin (French, 1509–1564) believes salvation comes only through predestination but also that living a strictly godly life is a sign of being chosen to be saved

  • 1540s: Calvin leads moral reform in Geneva, Switzerland, haven for persecuted Protestants

  • Calvinism spreads to Netherlands, France

1555:Peace of Augsburg lets German princes decide on religion of their states; Holy Roman Empire thus divides between Lutherans, Catholics; Calvinists, Anabaptists not recognized

1530s: England’s Henry VIII (r. 1509–1547) founds Anglican Church in order to divorce his wife, breaks from Catholicism; daughter Mary returns to Catholicism

  • Other daughter, Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), enforces Protestantism through Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy (1559) but tolerates Catholicism; seeks pragmatic solution to end violence

  • Puritans press for further reform of Anglican Church; advocate simplified, fervent Protestantism

Catholic Reformation (Counter-Reformation): Defends against Protestantism, makes reforms within Catholicism

  • 1540:Ignatius of Loyola founds Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who preach and teach worldwide to promote Catholicism

  • 1545–1563:Council of Trent reforms bishop and priest conduct; reaffirms Catholic doctrine: papal authority, seven sacraments, Christ’s presence in Eucharist (communion), power of indulgences (but not sale), power of good works, celibacy of clergy

  • 1555: Pope Paul IV orders Jews to live in ghettos

  • 1559: Pope Paul IV establishes Index (list of forbidden books)

1600:Pattern of Christianity in Europe set, but minorities exist

  • Catholic majority: Ireland, Spain, France, Italian states, Austria, Poland, southern German states

  • Protestant majority: England, Switzerland, Netherlands, Scandinavia, northern German states

  • Orthodox majority: Russia, Balkans, parts of Poland-Lithuania


Families & Children 1450–1600

European population in 1400s still recovering from Black Death (bubonic plague) of 1300s

  • Life expectancy short; 40 considered old age

  • Couples marry late

  • High infant mortality; poor have few surviving children

  • Wives legally subservient to husbands but contribute to household economy

Changes in marriage and families in the 1500s:

  • Marriages occur at later ages; women considered partners in marriage; divorce still difficult but more acceptable under Protestantism

  • Some use of birth control; high infant mortality continues; many children placed in foundling homes; spreading practice of wet-nursing

Until late 17th century, plague sweeps through Europe every 10–15 years, spread by armies


Economies 1450–1600

1300s–1400s: Europe more united economically than ever before

  • Italian cities Genoa and Venice trade European wool and metal for silk, cotton, and spices from China, India, and Persia

  • Textile production and surplus agriculture provide goods for urban centers, fueling the Italian Renaissance

  • Banking, borrowing, raising capital through mining monopolies fuels expanding economies

  • Italian city Florence’s gold florin becomes the standard currency for many European traders

1500s: Population and wealth of Europe increase, benefiting wealthy landowners but leading to inflation, less food, fewer jobs, higher taxes, wider gap between rich and poor

Age of Exploration leads to new maritime spice, silk, slave trade; sea powers Spain and Portugal grow rich importing silver and gold from the New World; Italian states decline from competition

  • New wealth allows western Europe to buy grain from Eastern Europe; land values in Poland rise, rents increase, leading small holders to reenter serfdom (losing freedom, gaining security)

  • 1524–1525:Peasants’ War in Holy Roman Empire calls for end to serfdom, unfair taxation; based partly on Luther’s Reformation teachings but condemned by Luther; revolt is suppressed

Townspeople in Western Europe gain freedoms from lords; generally could not be serfs

  • Largest European cities in 1500: Constantinople, Naples, Milan, Paris, Venice

  • Only about 15% of population lives in towns

  • Small number of merchants, nobles, manufacturers dominates urban society; next are artisans; most in cities are laborers

  • Guilds regulate artisan training, production, goods distribution