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Europe before the Reformation.


Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). The Discovery of America to the Peace of Westphalia (1492-1648).
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Before dealing with the religious revolution of the 16th century, the mighty event which is the greatest in the history of civilisation since Christianity superseded Paganism, the event which is the real beginning of modern history, we must take a brief glance at the state of Europe on the eve of the great revolt against Rome. The invasion of Italy by the French, under Charles VIII., in the autumn of 1494, was the beginning of great changes south of the Alps, making the peninsula an object of attack by foreign powers, then a battle-field for foreign sovereigns engaged in settling their own quarrels, and finally rendering her people subject to foreign conquest and domination until the latter half of the 19th century. The ultimate failure of Charles was followed by the French conquest of Milan in 1500, and by the Spanish conquest of Naples in 1504, after the complete defeat of Louis XII.'s troops by Ferdinand of Spain's famous general, Gonsalvo di Cordova, called by the Spanish El Gran Capitan (The Great Captain), one of the greatest warriors of the age, who had served with much distinction in the war with the Moors of Granada, and now for some years ruled the Neapolitan territories as viceroy with a justice and mildness which strengthened the Spanish hold on southern Italy. At this time Genoa became subject to France, with the management of her own affairs, and Pisa, after a contest of 15 years' duration, was overcome by Florence.

The Papacy was held from 1492 to 1503 by the infamous Roderigo Borgia, born at Valencia, in Spain, in 1431, and known in history as Pope Alexander VI. His domestic and foreign policy was full of treachery. He levied oppressive dues in all Christian states, sold "indulgences" or remissions from the temporal punishment due for sin, and set aside in his own favour the wills made by cardinals. It was the wickedness of this Pope that specially stirred the eloquence of the Dominican friar Girolamo (Jerome) Savonarola of Florence, who called for his deposition, and became a martyr in the cause of truth and purity in 1498. Alexander's son Cesare Borgia, who had cast off his ecclesiastical orders after becoming an archbishop and a cardinal, was a man of great energy and unscrupulous ambition. He conquered the Romagna from its many petty lords, putting to death the heirs of ruling families in the cities which he gained, and thus creating a principality for himself. Julius II., Pope from 1503 to 1513, was a man of warlike character who aimed at strengthening the Papal sovereignty, and ending foreign influence in Italy. In order to regain cities which had been seized by Venice, he formed the League of Cambray in 1508 against the great republic, by combining in his interest the emperor Maximilian of Germany, Louis XII. of France, and Ferdinand of Spain. The territory of Venice, which in 1503 had made a truce with the Turks, after 50 years of warfare, now extended from Aquileia to the Adda, and southwards to Rimini and Ravenna, and included the coast of Dalmatia, some islands of the Archipelago, Cyprus, Crete, some points in the Morea (Peloponnesus), and some towns in the kingdom of Naples. The dismemberment of the Venetian possessions was planned and war was declared in 1509. Louis crossed the Adda, severely defeated the republican troops, and recovered some former territory of the duchy of Milan. The Pope regained the lost cities of the Romagna. Venice seemed on the point of ruin, and was making great preparations for the defence of the city itself, in case of need, having abandoned her territory on the Italian mainland, when a turn of fortune came in the surprise of Padua, and the successful resistance made when it was besieged by Maximilian. The republic was delivered by the Pope's withdrawal from the alliance early in 1510, and his formation of the Holy League, with the republic, Maximilian, and Ferdinand of Spain, for the purpose of driving the "Barbarians," meaning the French, out of Italy. There was fierce fighting in Lombardy, where the famous Gaston de Foix, a nephew of Louis, after defeating the Swiss at Como and Milan in 1511, took Brescia by storm from the Venetian troops, a feat of arms in which he was aided by the illustrious Chevalier de Bayard. In April, 1512, in a great battle before the walls of Ravenna, the French defeated the combined Spanish and Papal forces, losing the gallant Gaston in the moment of victory, at the age of only 23. The Swiss in the pay of the allies then drove the French out of the Milanese territory and Lombardy, and the power of France in Italy ended for the time in the further loss of Genoa. The Medici family were, at the same time, restored to their former power in Florence. Pope Julius II. continued the sale of "indulgences" in order to obtain money for the building of St. Peter's at Rome, and this proceeding became, as will be seen one of the causes of the Reformation. On his death in 1513, Giovanni de' Medici, born at Florence in 1475, became Pope as Leo X He was a great supporter of the Renaissance, caring far more for artistic and literary culture than for theology or ecclesiastical affairs. Eager for the completion of St. Peter's, Leo continued, on a larger scale, the sale of indulgences to the faithful in Christian lands.

In France, Louis XII., who reigned from 1498 to 1515, has been already seen, in foreign policy, in connection with Italian affairs. He was a kindly ruler, showing the strictest economy and honesty in finance, maintaining order, and promoting commerce, tillage, and other industry, in which beneficent work he was greatly aided by his able and energetic minister Cardinal d'Amboise, a lover of the people, and a man who had a large share in reforming the administration of justice, extending the postal service, and compiling the laws into a single book of statutes. Francis I., nephew and son-in-law of Louis, succeeding him in January, 1515, was a brave, dissolute, superficially brilliant, and really frivolous man, whose chief merit was his liberal patronage of literature and art. He betrayed the interests of the French national Church by making a concordat, in 1516, with Leo X., which conceded to the Pope an absolute supremacy in France, and independence of all Church councils. He was paid for this surrender by the transference to himself, from the ecclesiastical corporations, of the right of nomination to bishoprics and abbeys, the bargain being concluded against the protests of the clergy and the University and Parliament of Paris. His religious "orthodoxy" was proved by the yearly burning of "heretics" by dozens, the dispatch of hundreds to the horrible slavery of the galleys, and the banishment of thousands, and, near the close of his reign, by the massacre of several thousand heretical Vaudois, men, women, and children, on the borders of Provence, The results of his jealous rivalry with Charles V. will appear in the history of that powerful monarch. The boasted " honour " of this sham-chivalrous sovereign did not prevent him from instantly violating, when he was free, with the Pope's absolution, a treaty sworn to in captivity, and his reign was productive of severe loss in men and treasure to France. In September, 1515, renewing the war in Italy, Francis reconquered the Milanese territory by the severe defeat of Swiss mercenaries at Marignano, but the Papal troops, some years later, drove the French out of Italy, and the "Constable," or commander-in-chief, of France, Charles Bourbon, a man of great ability, courage, and wealth, the foremost subject of the king, deserted his cause in 1523, and fought against Francis in the great battle of Pavia two years later.

In Germany, Maximilian I., son of Frederick III., was elected emperor on his father's death in 1493, and held the office until his own decease in 1519. A noble specimen of the knight of chivalry, he was eager, restless, adventurous, and ambitious, forming schemes in which he usually failed. In home-affairs he rendered good service through his law passed by the famous Diet at Worms in 1495, making an end of the pernicious private warfare between petty princes and nobles, in compelling them to bring their quarrels before a new supreme court called the Imperial Chamber, consisting of a chief judge and 16 assessors, all nobles or lawyers. In 1500 the emperor, jealous of these new powers, caused the Diet of Augsburg to establish the Aulic Council at Vienna, as a rival to the other tribunal. He also established a regular postal system, and divided the empire into ten circles or districts for the better maintenance of the public peace. He failed in Italian warfare against French invaders, and in his reign began the long-standing rivalry and hostility between Germany and France. In 1499 Switzerland was practically lost to the empire and became an independent state. Some matrimonial alliances in this period were of great importance to the reigning Austrian family and to Spain. Maximilian's son Philip, who had inherited the Netherlands from his mother, Mary of Burgundy, married Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. On his death in 1506 he left two sons, Charles and Ferdinand. The elder son, Charles, became ancestor of the elder or Spanish line of the Hapsburg house, and in him came the union of the Netherlands with the crown of Spain. The younger son, Ferdinand, ancestor of the younger or German line, married Anna, sister of Louis II., last king of Bohemia and Hungary, and this union brought the crowns of those Countries to the house of Austria.

When we turn to the British Isles, we find a new era, the Tudor age which begins our modern history, opening with Henry VII. (1485-1509). The state-system of Europe was now established in the form which endured, in its main features, for about three centuries, until the first French Revolution. Foreign policy and the intrigues of diplomacy connected with the "balance of power" assume a new importance. The first Tudor sovereign, a strong-willed, able, and crafty man, rendered England the service of maintaining order and peace for nearly a quarter of a century. The great landed class was kept in check under his semi-despotic rule, and the wealthy were freely plundered in his interest by Morton, archbishop of Canterbury, the chief minister, and by Empson and Dudley, two barons of the Exchequer Court, wielding the powers of the revived Court of Star Chamber. An immense treasure was thus accumulated by the king, only to be squandered in his son's joyous youth. A middle class of traders, manufacturers, and farmers was meanwhile growing up, to become in later days the backbone of revived Parliamentary power against the Crown. The impostors and rebels Lambert Simnel, who claimed to be earl of Warwick, son of the duke of Clarence, and so heir to the throne, and Perkin Warbeck, who asserted that he was Richard, duke of York, the younger of the two princes generally held to have perished in the Tower under Richard III., were easily dealt with. Two important marriages in the royal house occurred. Henry's daughter Margaret married James IV. of Scotland, a union which afterwards brought a Scottish king to the English throne in the person of James VI. and I. In 1501 the king's elder son Arthur, at the age of 14, was married to the lady, then aged 15, commonly called Katharine of Aragon, a younger daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. On the Prince of Wales' death a few months later, a dispensation was obtained from Pope Julius II. authorising the marriage of Katharine with her deceased husband's brother Henry. This union was closely connected with the next king's quarrel with the Pope, the first step towards the separation of the Church in England from the Roman See.

Henry VIII. (1509-1547) was troubled by no competitors for the throne, uniting as he did the claims of both lines, Lancaster and York. His character needs little discussion, though it may be remarked that he has suffered with posterity from the simple fact of his being so "very much married," like the Bluebeard of folk-lore, and from being, through no fault of his own, so unfortunate with his wives as to earn the contemporary title of "the great widower." Educated for the Church, he was a man of learning. His handsome face, athletic form, and bluff, hearty manners, made and kept him popular, and, with all his faults, he was, mentally, physically, and morally, a thorough Englishman. In all the sports of his time and country he excelled; his tyrannous self-will was only the exaggeration of English arrogance and resolution; his intellectual ability and attainments won for him the high esteem of such men as Erasmus, Colet, and Thomas More. In home and foreign affairs he was, at any rate, a strong and able ruler, and to this energetic patriot England owes her first modern Royal Navy, with the establishment of the "Navy Office" (Board of Admiralty); of the Trinity House, still dealing with our pilots, beacons, lighthouses, and buoys; and of dockyards at Woolwich, Deptford, and Portsmouth, the two former of which, now dismantled, were of great service until the days of steam and of ironclads. His foreign policy made him a member of the " Holy League " against France, and there was some warfare, of little moment, at various times, with that country. Parliamentary power was, to a large extent, in abeyance during the reign, except to pass bills at the royal pleasure, but in 1523 the House of Commons, with Sir Thomas More as Speaker, resisted an insolent demand of Wolsey for an excessive sum, and the attempt to enforce payment of an illegal tax caused a rebellion which made even Henry to quail, with the immediate withdrawal of the demand. Leaving the subject here until we deal with the Reformation, we turn to Scottish and Irish affairs.

James IV. of Scotland (1488-1513) adhered to the French alliance. He showed some wisdom and energy in checking the wild Highland clansmen, and was active in encouraging seamanship and ship-building. Scotland now first became a naval power, sometimes successfully engaging, under Sir Andrew Barton and Sir Andrew Wood, in conflict with English vessels. The king was accomplished as a linguist and in the athletic contests of the tourney-ground, and maintained a splendid court, at which was seen an ambassador from Spain, then approaching the height of power and glory. It was a rash and fatal proceeding when James, as an ally of France, invaded the territory of his brother-in-law, Henry VIII. In September, 1513, the great defeat at Flodden brought the death of the king himself and of a host of his nobles and knights, with mourning for almost every family of note in the realm, and a total loss of over 8,000 men.

In the reign of Henry VII. a real attempt was made to reduce to order the territory called "the Pale," extending northwards from Dublin to Dundalk, and westwards to Trim and Kells. The "lords of the Pale," in 1487, as supporters of the Yorkist faction, welcomed the impostor Lambert Simnel in Dublin with enthusiasm, and had him crowned in presence of the earl of Kildare, the deputy-governor; but the rebellious plot collapsed with the defeat and capture of Simnel in England at the battle of Stoke. The first Tudor king was a merciful man, and Kildare, on due submission and an oath of allegiance, was pardoned and retained in office. He was, however, soon removed from his post, and in 1494 Sir Edward Poynings was sent over from England as lord-deputy, accompanied by a force of 1,000 men-at-arms, and some English men of law who filled the posts of chancellor, treasurer, and other high officials made vacant by the ejection of suspected occupants. The everlasting quarrels between the two powerful houses, the Geraldines (earls of Kildare) and the Butlers (earls of Ormond), kept not only the Pale but most of Ireland in trouble. Kildare was attainted as a traitor, and removed as a prisoner to London. A parliament held at Drogheda in 1495 passed the two famous Poynings' Laws or Acts, or Statutes of Drogheda, which were for nearly three centuries the basis of English rule in Ireland. The chief provisions were that all existing English legislation was henceforth to bind subjects in Ireland; that no parliament should be there summoned without the king's special permission; and that all statutes to be passed in Irish parliaments should be submitted first to the king and Privy Council in England, and, on return, be adopted without change. The Irish parliament was to be, in fact, a legislative body wholly bound by outside authority, knowing little of and, too often, caring little for the special needs of the country chiefly concerned. The Statute of Kilkenny, aimed at Irish usages and intermarriage, was also, in many parts, re-enacted, and the authority of the lord-deputy in Dublin was restricted to the Pale.

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Pictures for Europe before the Reformation.

Map. Europe at the Time of Reformation.
Map. Europe at the Time of Reformation. >>>>

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