SCENE 1: Introduction
During the Renaissance period kings,
dukes, earls and other nobles dominated the Political arena but
as the old medieval feudal system began to collapse these titles
began to hold less meaning. The long wars in Italy created a very
unique political situation where you had two different empires,
the French and the Spanish, fighting over a territory governed by
over 5 main different kingdoms, and many other smaller ones. It
was in this situation that the arts and the Renaissance in general
thrived as the landowners and businessmen often had more power than
the ruler. This created an ever-changing unstable environment which
promoted development in all areas. The Renaissance period was dominated
by wars not for the sake of gaining territory but for the sake of
war, to quench the aristocratic thirst for war.
SCENE 2: The Republican Idea
The result of all these
changes created the arena into which the first republic was established
in Florence. In this region, social pressure built up between the
high-class families and the lower class that was often resolved
by a revolt of the people and the creation of a Republic. These
occurrences sometimes happened, as is the case with Florence, when
an external monarch who was trying to reinstate the medieval feudal
The Florentine State while
technically run by the people and a republic they were often controlled
by very wealthy businessmen such as the Medici family. It was these
men who controlled the seven guilds which were organizations created
to make standards and expectations in certain industries. They were
the Renaissance equivalent of our unions, a group of artisans working
together to further their aims. The aristocracies were nearly always
firmly excluded from any type of governmental decision.
It was this break from the
age-old feudal system of Kings, Duke and Lords that made the state
of Florence one of the major centers of the Renaissance revolution.
It was in Florence that the Renaissance began and was sustained
by its form of government. In other areas it came and went with
the whims of kings, but it was the political situation in Florence
that sustained it.
SCENE 3: Niccolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli is one of the
most famous Political Renaissance writers of all times as a consequence
of the book he wrote about the manifestations of power, labelled
“The Prince” He was in fact a Diplomat and Lawyer who was in charge
of Florence’s foreign affairs between 1498 and 1512 until the Medici
family returned and took over government. He was then imprisoned
for a short time and retired from public life where he began writing
from his experiences of his diplomatic life. He wrote the book “The
Prince” not as one out of interest, but dedicated and written for
the leaders of the time in hope that Italy could be united under
one rule and all other outside influences dispersed. It is about
the savage nature of men and his insight into the methods that might
be successful in the corrupt Italian society. An interesting fact
is that everything that Machiavelli recommended he scorned and rejected
from his own life.
SCENE 4: The French Valois kings
The French Empire began
in the reign of Louis XI who inherited many territories surrounding
the area around Paris. Louis reigned from 1461 to 1483 and during
that period he managed to double the area held by the France state.
This created a strong enough empire to challenge those of the Swiss
and the Spanish. This being so it wasn’t Louis that started the
Italian wars but his successor, Charles VIII. When Louis XI died
Charles VIII was only 13 year old, which created a public opinion
that the Empire Louis XI created would crumble but this did not
happen as Charles VIII held together the new kingdom and managed
to lead the first attack on Italy. The Valois dynasty, after the
reign of Charles VIII, Louis XI, Francis I fell into civil war following
the final treaty with Phillip II of Spain. The wars between the
Protestants and Catholics were periodic but basically stopped most
French hostile activity the rest of Europe for quite an extended
SCENE 5: The Tudor Dynasty
The Tudor dynasty in England,
was established at the end of the War of the Roses which is described
in its own section on this site (LINK TO THE SECTION
ON THE WAR OF THE ROSES). This war, in short, was between two rival
house in Britain, the house of Lancaster and the house of York.
During that period many kings reigned for short periods but at the
Battle of Bosworth fields (1485) the war was ended placing a new
dynasty on the throne, the house of Tudor. The first king Henry
VII and his son, the well known Henry VIII succeeded him in 1509.
SCENE 6: The Papacy
The Pope during the Renaissance
period was a very important Political figure as he was meant to
represent the spirituality of all people in Europe. He is often
known as the successor of the first bishop St Peter, establishing
him as man’s contact with God on earth. The Greeks forming the Orthodox
Church in Constantinople did not follow this creed. Following the
collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Pope progressively established
his Earthly rule in the Papal States. As centuries passed, the Pope
began to be more and more concerned with dynastic fortune than with
their worldly rule. This in turn lead to major corruption within
the church, Europe’s most powerful institution. It was this that
was the catalyst to the Protestant revolt in France and Germany,
and the creation of an Anglican church in England. The pope held
the power of ‘cutting someone off from god”, or excommunication
and the power to allow or disallow a divorce. No ruler wanted the
difficulty of dealing with a people whose contact with god had been
SCENE 7: The Rise of the Spanish
The Iberian Peninsula or
the Spanish Peninsula was split up into two four sides at the start
of the Renaissance. The Kingdom of Aragon to the East, Portugal
to the West, The Moors in Granada to the South and The Kingdom of
Castile in the centre. In 1469 the king of Aragon, John of Aragon,
married his heir of his second wife, Ferdinand, to marry the sister
of the king of Castile. Henry VI of Castile actually had an illegitimate
daughter who he acknowledged as his heir before he died in 1474
yet on his death Ferdinand marched into Castile to support his claim
to the throne. After successfully defeating a Portuguese army he
achieved this under condition that Aragon was made subsidiary to
Castile from which Ferdinand would never leave.
In the south the kingdom
of Grenada was the only remaining Muslim state in Spain and had
been attacked frequently by Henry VI but never completely conquered.
Ferdinand and Isabella took the war more seriously and after a 10
year campaign which began in 1482 completed the conquest of Granada
in 1492 they . It was during this campaign that Ferdinand began
to develop the might of the Spanish army and his power as a diplomat.
This was the foundation of the Empire ruled by the three catholic
kings, Ferdinand II, Charles V and Phillip II.
SCENE 7a: The age of discovery
After the fall of the Mongol
empire and the rise of the new Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire,
trade with the east from Europe was cut off by aggressive armies.
The times of Marco Polo and other such men was over although Europe
never forgot the East during the time before the Renaissance, and
it was this drive to re-discover the east that lead to the discovery
of new lands.
In the small realm of Portugal
in the Iberian Peninsular Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ encouraged
the search for India and the kingdom of Cathay(China). Her explorers
managed first to map the African coast, then to round the cape and
to enter the Indian Ocean. Explorers such as Vasca da Gama and Bartolomeu
Dias are some of these men.
Even though in the days
of the explorers everyone knew that the world was round no one really
expected that a continent would lay between Europe and Cathay around
the world. This is why when Christopher Columbus reached the Caribbean
sea and its islands in 1493 he thought, and could never be convinced
otherwise, that he had at last found a way to India.
These discoveries and later
settlement and bounty brought in the huge sums of money which would
be used to finance the massive institutions of the Spanish armies.
SCENE 8: The Holy Roman Emperors
and the Spanish Monarchs
The succession of Holy
Roman Emperors was not theoretically hereditary but from the Renaissance
period, it basically remained with the Hapsburg family. With the
accession time of Charles V of Spain as Holy Roman Emperor, the
Hapsburg family had the largest territorial holdings in history.
Emperor Maximilian I married his son, Phillip I into the Spanish
Philip’s son, Charles V
also acquired the throne of Spain and then, by election, acceded
to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire thus combining the two empires
into essentially one European State. The father and son combination
of Phillip II and Charles V ruled territories spanning the globe
including Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and an extensive colonial
empire. These emperors played a major role in the affairs during
the Renaissance because they were, until the failure of the Spanish
Armada to destroy Britain at the end of the Renaissance, the most
powerful State in Europe.
SCENE 9: Reasons for the failure
of the Spanish Empire
There were many reasons for the decline
of Spanish power. Most important was that its strength was partly
a myth. The empire, that seemed so powerful and seemed to collect
such huge sums of money each year from its vast territories was
slowly accumulating debt. Each year the empire spent more money
than it could collect and each year it went further into debt. This
being so it was undeniable that any army in the western world would
have been soundly beaten by the well organized Spanish forces.
The lack of funds sometimes
led to armies not being properly paid and often rebelling. The famous
sacking of Rome in 1527 is an example. This great instability of
forces was also made worse by the fact that the forces were made
up of a multi-national group of people. This all came to a head
when the failure of the Spanish Armada was made known to all destroying
the myth surrounding the supposed invincibility of the Spanish armies.
From this point on the empire fell into a slow decline which signaled
the end of the Renaissance period.