1. Explain the daily patterns of work, leisure, and family life in the sixteenth century.
2. How did peasants tend to view the world? nobles? townspeople?
3. Compare rural and town life in their rhythms, institutions, and material environment. How does the description of work patterns in the towns compare to today's?
4. How did demographic and economic changes in the sixteenth century affect traditional ways of life?
5. How were ideas like the Body Politic and the Great Chain of Being reflected in social structures and class relations? How did economic changes produce conflict and change within this hierarchy?
6. Discuss the tactics and demands of the peasant revolts.
7. How did family and community life reflect the social and economic trends and beliefs of the time?
8. Explain the relationship between belief in magic and religion.
9. How do you account for the prevalence of witch scares in the period?
agricultural system enclosure movement
peasant/serf obligations Price Revolution
Peasant Rebellion Great Chain of Being/Body Politic
nobility of the robe/sword carnival/festival
magic/witchcraft town life
gender roles and attitudes trade patterns
manufacturing and guilds demographic changes
class relations (e.g., peasant to noble) poverty/poor relief
popular religious practices community practices
AP European History 2014-15
Unit 3—Early Modern Society, 1500-1650
Soon Halloween will be here, and as always, children will wander neighborhoods dressed as ghosts, demons, and other figures of horror. Witch will be one of the most popular costumes. Chances are she will be ugly, old, and deformed. This is our stereotype of witches, the one we got from late-night movies. We now scorn belief in sorcery, magic, or supernatural explanations as either quaint or backward. Arthur Miller's Crucible, for example, is a retelling of the Salem witch trials, written during the Red Scare of the 1950s and preaching the dangers of ignorance and intolerance.
Relegated now to the dustbin of ridiculed superstition, witch hysteria acted for a century, 1550-1650, as a major preoccupation in Europe. Tens of thousands of people—mostly women, often the elderly, the widowed, those on the margins of society—were executed for witchcraft. It would be easy to dismiss the phenomenon as scapegoating in an unenlightened age, especially since this makes us feel all the more civilized by comparison. Yet there are no simple explanations for why husband turned against wife and neighbor against neighbor. Torture to extract confessions may account for the rapid spread of the accusations, but does not explain why people understood their environment in terms of evil intentions, sorcery, and compacts with the devil.
Various theories have been proposed by social scientists to interpret this "irrational" behavior. Psychologists say the accusers were suffering from mental illness, often brought on by abuse, repression, and anxiety. Anthropologists have claimed that an ancient pagan religion survived the spread of Christianity and really did engage in subterranean sorcery. Accidental or intentional ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs are blamed by others. Perhaps it was a widespread conspiracy by some to deprive others of their property, often confiscated upon accusation. Frankly, none of these really sounds very convincing. To understand the witch hysteria, one must delve into the context of early modern (1500-1650) society and the consciousness of its inhabitants.
Witch hunts were really a symptom of underlying tensions in Europe. A convincing explanation would encompass these realities, weave them together, and "reconstruct" the mentality of the period. First, most people really did believe in witches; after all, scientific explanation for natural phenomena would await the work of Newton, Galileo, and Descartes. Divine providence or, conversely, the forces of evil seemed to explain crop failures, untimely deaths, or sickness in livestock. Moreover, the century of witch scares corresponded with profound economic changes. Many lost ground to high prices, land enclosures, poor weather, and a rising population that strained resources while creating an increasing class of impoverished beggars, suspicious to those who feared their presence. Marginal persons, like widows and beggars, often had the finger pointed at them. Women were the biggest target: common knowledge held that women were credulous temptresses, who possessed mysterious powers over the body, and could easily be seduced by Satan. Finally, recall that the period was a time of great religious feeling because of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. Communities are divided, the forces of good contend against those of evil, heresy must be stamped out, wars are fought to keep kingdoms unified in the "pure faith." Protestants equaled Catholics in their zeal to wipe out the servants of Satan, especially with the focus on Bible-reading, where the devil is given prominence.
People often respond to dislocating changes by blaming others: Jews, blacks, Communists, homosexuals, witches. Considering the views and experiences of Europeans in 1550, the witch scare seems less bizarre and barbaric. Later, a reluctant religious tolerance, the rational and mathematical explanations of science, economic stability, and secular concerns undercut the movement. Few witches would be executed after 1680, though there continued to be isolated trials: the last witch was executed in England in 1684, in Scotland 1727, in France 1745, and in Germany 1775. As for our average sixteenth-century Jacques or Hans, he had a very fixed view of the world: each person had his place, God was at the center of world, resources were limited, women inferior to men in character...and all things happened for a reason.
Economic and demographic changes shaped life for Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: their livelihoods, families, communities, and the relations among classes.
Fri., Sept. 26: Read pp. 450-60 in text and review reading guide questions.
Mon., Sept. 29: Introduce witchcraft paper. Begin document study. Read pp. 460-68 and review reading guide questions. Tues., Sept 30: Complete document study and begin “Return of Martin Guerre.” Read pp. 468-79 and review reading guide. Wed., Oct. 1: Library visit for research on witchcraft assignment.
Thur., Oct. 2: Film: “Return of Martin Guerre.” Work on witchcraft assignment. Fri., Oct. 3: Film: “Return of Martin Guerre.” Work on witchcraft assignment. Mon., Oct. 6: Discuss film; in-class work on witchcraft assignment. Work on witchcraft assignment. Tues., Oct. 7: Overview of DBQs (WORST DAY OF THE YEAR TO BE ABSENT). Work on witchcraft assignment. Take-home DBQ. Wed., Oct. 8: Quiz on Unit 3; review of DBQ. Work on witchcraft assignment.
Thur., Oct. 9: In-class essay on witchcraft (with use of research). Finish witchcraft assignment.
Unit 3—Early Modern Social History, 1500-1650
Key Concepts Key Concept 1.1
The worldview of European intellectuals shifted from one based on ecclesiastical and classical authority to one based primarily on inquiry and observation of the natural world. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans developed new approaches to and methods for looking at the natural world in what historians have called the Scientific Revolution. Aristotle’s classical cosmology and Ptolemy’s astronomical system came under increasing scrutiny from natural philosophers (later called scientists) such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. The philosophers Bacon and Descartes articulated comprehensive theories of inductive and deductive reasoning to give the emerging scientific method a sound foundation. Bacon urged the collection and analysis of data about the world and spurred the development of an international community of natural philosophers dedicated to the vast enterprise of what came to be called natural science. In medicine, the new approach to knowledge led physicians such as Harvey to undertake observations that produced new explanations of anatomy and physiology, and to challenge the traditional theory of health and disease (the four humors) espoused by Galen in the second century. The articulation of natural laws, often expressed mathematically, became the goal of science.
The unexpected encounter with the western hemisphere at the end of the 15th century further undermined knowledge derived from classical and biblical authorities. The explorations produced new knowledge of geography and the world’s peoples through direct observation, and this seemed to give credence to new approaches to knowledge more generally. Yet while they developed inquiry-based epistemologies, Europeans also continued to use traditional explanations of the natural world based on witchcraft, magic, alchemy, and astrology.
Key Concept 1.2
The struggle for sovereignty within and among states resulted in varying degrees of political centralization. In general, monarchs gained power vis-à-vis the corporate groups and institutions that had thrived during the medieval period, notably the landed nobility and the clergy. Commercial and professional groups, such as merchants, lawyers, and other educated and talented persons, acquired increasing power in the state — often in alliance with the monarchs — alongside or in place of these traditional corporate groups. New legal and political theories, embodied in the codification of law, strengthened state institutions, which increasingly took control of the social and economic order from traditional religious and local bodies. However, these developments were not universal. In eastern and southern Europe, the traditional elites maintained their positions in many polities.
Key Concept 1.5
European society and the experiences of everyday life were increasingly shaped by commercial and agricultural capitalism, notwithstanding the persistence of medieval social and economic structures. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans experienced profound economic and social changes. The influx of precious metals from the Americas and the gradual recovery of Europe’s population from the Black Death caused a significant rise in the cost of goods and services by the 16th century known as the “price revolution.” The new pattern of economic enterprise and investment that arose from these changes would come to be called capitalism. Family-based banking houses were supplanted by broadly integrated capital markets in Genoa, then in Amsterdam, and later in London. These and other urban centers became increasingly active consumer markets for a variety of luxury goods and commodities. Rulers soon recognized that capitalist enterprise offered them a revenue source to support state functions, and the competition among states was extended into the economic arena. The drive for economic profit and the increasing scale of commerce stimulated the creation of joint-stock companies to conduct overseas trade and colonization.
Many Europeans found their daily lives altered by these demographic and economic changes. As population increased in the 16th century, the price of grain rose and diets deteriorated, all as monarchs were increasing taxes to support their larger state militaries. All but the wealthy were vulnerable to food shortages, and even the wealthy had no immunity to recurrent lethal epidemics. Although hierarchy and privilege continued to define the social structure, the nobility and gentry expanded with the infusion of new blood from the commercial and professional classes. By the mid-17th century, war, economic contraction, and slackening population growth contributed to the disintegration of older communal values. Growing numbers of the poor became beggars or vagabonds, straining the traditional systems of charity and social control. In eastern Europe commercial development lagged, and traditional social patterns persisted; the nobility actually increased its power over the peasantry.
Traditional town governments, dominated by craft guilds and traditional religious institutions, staggered under the burden of rural migrants and growing poverty. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation stimulated a drive to regulate public morals, leisure activities, and the distribution of poor relief. In both town and country, the family remained the dominant unit of production, and marriage remained an instrument of families’ social and economic strategy. The children of peasants and craft workers often labored alongside their parents. In the lower orders of society, men and women did not occupy separate spheres, although they performed different tasks. Economics often dictated later marriages (“European marriage pattern”). However, there were exceptions to this pattern: in the cities of Renaissance Italy, men in their early thirties often married teenaged women, and in eastern Europe early marriage for both men and women persisted. Despite the growth of the market economy in which individuals increasingly made their own way, leisure activities tended to be communal, rather than individualistic and consumerist, as they are today. Local communities enforced their customs and norms through crowd action and rituals of public shaming.
EARLY MODERN SOCIETY, 1500-1650
Scarcity (of goods, opportunity, life)
increase in 16th c. from 80 to 105 M (causes and results)
then decrease back down to 80 M by 1650
wars, rebellions, plague, famine
still 80-90% rural, though growth of some cities
the nature of the early modern economy--inefficient
scarcity of resources, not self-sustaining growth
long periods of rapid growth with stagnation and decline
Price Revolution and results
impact on wages and agriculture
local prosperity and depression
state of technology, money, and trade--commercial revolution
hierarchy determined by status (Great Chain and Body Politic)
sumptuary laws and sale of status
an organic view of society--church, guild, village, family
pyramid of society--their interaction
nobles of sword and robe--their function and exemptions
Western v. Eastern Europe
rise of gentry class and seigneurs
diversity of bourgeoisie
peasants/serfs and unskilled labor
Rural Life--the remnants of feudalism
determined by seasons
village and subsistence agriculture (crop rotation and plowing)
limited switch to cash crops
rise of gentry (esp. in England) with enclosure
duties owed to lord--corvee/robot, fees (banalites), rights
the peasant standard of living
changes and conflict--Peasant Revolts (everywhere in early 17th c.)
the peasants' conservative attitude
role of guilds and money economy--specialization of labor
role of women in household economy (guilds)
pressures on town life after 1550--migrants, beggars, poor
reforms of prostitution, hospitals, charity
Family Life--nuclear or extended?
patriarchy (but differences based on location)
role of women, marriage (ages), and property
divorce, widowhood, and remarriage
views of children and child-rearing
sexual practices and attitudes
the material environment--housing, possessions, luxuries
food and drink
rhythms of work and leisure--carnival and Lent
still contact between popular and elite cultures
"The World Turned Upside Down"
bloodsports and taverns
magic and superstition
belief in witches--witch scare kills ca. 100,000 by 1650