Transformations in Europe, 1500–1750
I0. Culture and Ideas
A0. Religious Reformation
10. In 1500 the Catholic Church, benefiting from European prosperity, was building
new churches including a new Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Pope Leo X raised
money for the new basilica by authorizing the sale of indulgences.
20. The German monk Martin Luther challenged the Pope on the issue of
indulgences and other practices that he considered corrupt or not Christian.
Luther began the Protestant Reformation, arguing that salvation could be by faith
alone, that Christian belief could be based only on the Bible and on Christian
30. The Protestant leader John Calvin formulated a different theological position in
The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin argued that salvation was God’s
gift to those who were predestined and that Christian congregations should be
self-governing and stress simplicity in life and in worship.
40. The Protestant Reformation appealed not only to religious sentiments, but also to
Germans who disliked the Italian-dominated Catholic Church and to peasants
and urban workers who wanted to reject the religion of their masters.
50. The Catholic Church agreed on a number of internal reforms and a reaffirmation
of fundamental Catholic beliefs in the Council of Trent. These responses to the
Protestant Reformation, along with the activities of the newly established Society
of Jesus (the Jesuits) comprise the “Catholic Reformation.”
60. The Protestant Reformation led to a number of “wars of religion,” the last of
them being concluded in 1648.
B0. Traditional Thinking and Witch-Hunts
10. European concepts of the natural world were derived from both local folk
traditions and Judeo-Christian beliefs. Most people believed that natural events
could have supernatural causes.
20. Belief in the supernatural is vividly demonstrated in the witch-hunts of the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In the witch-hunts over 100,000
people (three-fourths of them women) were tried and about half of them
executed on charges of witchcraft.
30. Modern historians have sought to explain the witch-hunts as manifestations of
fear of unattached women or in terms of social stress. Some scholars believe that
poor and marginal people may have believed that they were capable of
witchcraft and welcomed the notoriety and attention gained from public
C0. The Scientific Revolution
10. European intellectuals derived their understanding of the natural world from the
writings of the Greeks and the Romans. These writings suggested that everything
on earth was reducible to four elements; that the sun, moon, planets and stars
were so light and pure that they floated in crystalline spheres and rotated around
the earth in perfectly circular orbits. 20. The observations of Copernicus and other scientists including Galileo
undermined this earth-centered model of the universe and led to the introduction
of the Copernican sun-centered model.
30. The Copernican model was initially criticized and suppressed by Protestant
leaders and by the Catholic Church. Despite opposition, printed books spread
these and other new scientific ideas among European intellectuals.
40. Isaac Newton’s discovery of the law of gravity showed why the planets move
around the sun in elliptical orbits. Newton’s discoveries led to the development
of Newtonian physics. However, Newton and other scientists did not believe that
their discoveries were in conflict with religious belief.
D0. The Early Enlightenment
10. The advances in scientific thought inspired European governments and groups of
individuals to question the reasonableness of accepted practices in fields ranging
from agriculture to laws, religions, and social hierarchies. This intellectual
movement, which assumed that social behavior and institutions were governed
by scientific laws, is called the Enlightenment.
20. The Enlightenment thinkers were also influenced by the Reformation and by
accounts of other cultures (including Jesuit accounts of China).
30. The new scientific methods provided the enlightened thinkers with a model for
changing European society. These thinkers were not a homogeneous group; they
drew inspiration from disparate sources and espoused a variety of agendas. Most
were optimistic that the application of reason would lead to human progress.
40. The ideas of the Enlightenment aroused opposition from many absolutist rulers
and from clergymen, but the printing press made possible the survival and
dissemination of new ideas.
II0. Social and Economic Life
A0. The Bourgeoisie
10. Europe's cities experienced spectacular growth between 1500 and 1700.
20. The wealthy urban bourgeoisie thrived on manufacturing, finance, and especially
on trade, including the profitable trade in grain.
30. Amsterdam's growth, built on trade and finance, exemplifies the power of
seventeenth-century bourgeoisie enterprise.
40. The bourgeoisie forged mutually beneficial relationships with the monarchs and
built extensive family and ethnic networks to facilitate trade between different
parts of the world.
50. Partnerships between merchants and governments led to the development of
joint-stock companies and stock exchanges. Governments also played a key role
in the improvement of Europe's transportation infrastructure.
60. The Anglo-Dutch wars of the seventeenth century provide evidence of the
growing importance of trade in international affairs.
70. The bourgeois gentry gradually increased their ownership of land; many entered
the ranks of the nobility by marrying into noble families or by purchasing titles
B0. Peasants and Laborers
10. While serfdom declined and disappeared in Western Europe, it gained new
prominence in Eastern Europe.
20. African slaves, working in the Americas, contributed greatly to Europe's
30. It is possible that the condition of the average person in Western Europe declined
between 1500 and 1700.
40. New World crops helped Western European peasants avoid starvation. 50. High consumption of wood f