Chapter 17 The Transformation of the West, 1450–1750 Chapter Outline Summary

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The Transformation of the West, 1450–1750

Chapter Outline Summary

I. The First Big Changes: Culture and Commerce, 1450–1650

A New Spirit

Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374)
secular writing

A. The Italian Renaissance

Began in 14th, 15th centuries

in northern Italy



merchant class

political rivalry

Petrarch, Boccaccio

used Italian

secular topics


use of perspective

shadow, distance

focus on humans

Michelango Buonarotti

Leondardo da Vinci

Nicolo Machiavelli


looked back to classical past

study of texts, especially ancient

B. The Renaissance Moves Northward

by 1500, impetus moved north

Northern Renaissance

France, Low Countries, England, Germany

thence to Eastern Europe

More concerned with religious matters

William Shakespeare

Miguel de Cervantes

C. Changes in Technology and Family




later marriage age common

nuclear family common

D. The Protestant and Catholic Reformations

1517, Martin Luther’s challenge

attacked church institutions

Bible the only authority

vernacular translations

Protestant protest used for political gain

German opposition to the papacy

Rulers seize church lands

Henry VIII

established Anglican church

Jean Calvin



Catholic Reformation





E. The End of Christian Unity in the West

Religious Wars


Calvinists v. Catholics

1598, Edict of Nantes

promised Protestants toleration

Thirty Years War (1618–1648)

devastating to Germany

Netherlands independent

Literacy increased

II. The Commercial Revolution
Inflation, 16th century

Gold, silver from New World

demand outstrips supply

A. The Impact of the World Economy

Proletariat developed

B. Social Protest

Attitudes towards poor changed


Witchcraft hysteria

III. The Scientific Revolution: The Next Phase of Change
A. Did Copernicus Copy?
Nicolai Copernicus

Polish monk

knowledge of work of al-Urdi, al-Tusi?

earlier Arab scientists

B. Science: The New Authority
New instruments add to data-collection

Galileo Galilei

used Copernicus’ work

Kepler’s observations confirmed earlier work

William Harvey

circulatory system


Francis Bacon

empirical research

René Descartes


Isaac Newton

system of natural laws


God does not intervene with nature

John Locke

use of reason

IV. Political Change

A. Absolute Monarchies

17th century, medieval balance disrupted

France dominated

centralized monarchy


“absolute monarchy”

Louis XIV the best example

nobles kept at court

Other absolute monarchs

Spain, Prussia, Austria-Hungary

territorial expansion

B. Parliamentary Monarchies



Civil War

ended with dominance of parliament

theory of people as source of power

C. The Nation-State

common language, culture

national literature, songs, foods

territorial aspect

common allegiance

V. The West by 1750

A. Political Patterns

Great change in central Europe

Frederick the Great of Prussia

religious freedom

state regulated economy

overseas commercial networks

Continual warfare

France v. Britain

rivalry over overseas territory

Prussia v. Austria

territorial conflicts

B. Enlightenment Thought and Popular Culture
Scientific Revolution led to Enlightenment

scientific methods applied to other fields

General principles

people are good

reason the answer

belief in progress

Political science

Adam Smith




women’s rights

protection of children

attacked inequities

C. Ongoing Change in Commerce and Manufacturing

Mass consumerism


nitrogen-fixing crops


swamp drainage

potatoes, etc. introduced

Domestic system

households produce finished goods

D. Innovation and Instability

Change became the norm

Chapter Summary

Childhood in the Early Modern Era. The French historian Philippe Ariès, brought out his Centuries in Childhood in 1960, contending that differences in attitudes and treatment of children differentiated the premodern from the modern world. Essentially, Ariès claimed that childhood was not viewed as a distinct phase before the modern era. His work, largely based on artworks, has been the subject of debate, often of sharp criticism. Critiques of his findings are predominantly based on his use of a medium that reflects only the mores of the upper classes. Nevertheless, most historians would agree that the modern and premodern worlds differed substantially in many areas of society, economy, and culture.
Chapter Summary. The core areas of Western civilization changed dramatically between 1450 and 1750. While remaining an agricultural society, the West became unusually active commercially and developed a strong manufacturing sector. Governments increased their powers. In intellectual life, science became the centerpiece for the first time in the history of any society. Ideas of the family and personality also altered. The changes were stimulated by overseas expansion and growing international commercial dominance. The internal changes, as the Renaissance and Enlightenment, were marked by considerable conflict, with focal points centered on the state, culture, and commerce, with support from technology.
The First Big Changes: Culture and Commerce. During the 15th century, Europe took on a new role in world trade. At the same time, the developments of the Renaissance continued, to be followed in the 16th century by the Protestant and Catholic reformations. A new commercial and social structure grew.

A New Spirit. Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) in many ways typified the new spirit of the Renaissance. He was conscious of the secular nature of his work, in comparison with the more devout Middle Ages.

The Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance began in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries as individuals challenged medieval intellectual values and styles. Italy’s urban, commercial economy and competitive state politics stimulated the new movement. Petrarch and Boccaccio challenged established literary canons, writing in Italian instead of Latin. They emphasized secular topics such as love and pride. New realism appeared in painting, and religion declined as a central focus. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Renaissance blossomed further. In a great age of artistic accomplishment, da Vinci and Michelangelo changed styles in art and sculpture. In political theory, Machiavelli advocated pragmatic politics. All used examples drawn from Greece and Rome. Humanism, a focus on humanity as the center of endeavor, was a central focus. Renaissance ideas influenced politics and commerce. Merchants and bankers embraced profit-seeking capitalist practices. Rulers of city-states focused on glorifying their cities, and on the welfare of citizens. New attention went to making war and diplomacy.

The Renaissance Moves Northward. By the 16th century, Italy declined as the center of the Renaissance. French and Spanish invasion cut political independence, while new Atlantic trade routes hurt the Mediterranean economy. The northern Renaissance emerged in France, the Low Countries, Germany, and England, and spread to eastern Europe. Northern Humanists tended to be more concerned with religious matters. Writers such as Shakespeare, Rabelais, and Cervantes mixed classical themes with elements of medieval popular culture and established a new set of classic works. Northern rulers became patrons of the arts, tried to control the church, and sponsored trading companies and colonial ventures. Classical Greece and Rome provided models in architecture, literature, and political forms. A spirit of individual excellence and defiance of tradition was widespread. Renaissance influence can be overstated. Feudal political forms remained strong. Ordinary people were little touched by the new values, and general economic life was not much altered.

Changes in Technology and Family. By 1500 fundamental changes were underway in Western society. Contacts with Asia led to improvements in technology. Printing helped to expand religious and technological thinking. A European-style family emerged. Ordinary people married at a later age, and a primary emphasis on the nuclear family developed. The changes influenced husband-wife relations and intensified links between families and individual property holdings. Later marriage was a form of birth control and helped to control population expansion.

The Protestant and Catholic Reformations. The Catholic church faced serious challenges. In 1517, Luther stressed that only faith could win salvation and challenged many Catholic beliefs, including papal authority, monasticism, the roles of priests, and priestly celibacy. He said that the Bible should be translated into vernacular languages, and read by individuals. Luther resisted papal pressure and gained support in Germany where papal authority and taxes were resented. Princes saw an opportunity to secure power at the expense of the Catholic Holy Roman emperor. They seized church lands and became Lutherans. Peasants interpreted Luther’s actions as a sanction for rebellion against landlords, although this had not been his intent. Urban people thought Luther’s views sanctioned money making and other secular pursuits. Other Protestant groups appeared. In England Henry VIII established the Anglican church. Frenchman Jean Calvin, based in Geneva, insisted on the principle that individuals were predestined to be saved, and were not capable of winning salvation. Calvinists sought the participation of all believers in church affairs and thus influenced attitudes to government. They also stressed education to enable believers to read the Bible. The Catholic church was unable to restore unity, but much of Europe remained under its authority. The Catholic Reformation worked against Protestant ideas, revived doctrine, and attacked popular beliefs. A new order, the Jesuits, spearheaded educational and missionary activity, including work in Asia and the Americas.
The End of Christian Unity in the West. The Protestant and Catholic quarrels caused a series of religious wars during the 16th and 17th centuries. In France, conflict between Calvinists and Catholics raged, until the edict of Nantes in 1598 promised toleration for Protestants. The Thirty Years War (1618–1648) added religious affiliation as a cause for hostility. German power and prosperity did not recover for a century. The peace settlement allowed rulers and cities to choose an official religion. It also gave the Protestant Netherlands independence from Spain. During the 17th century, religion was an important issue in English civil strife; most Protestants, but not Catholics, gained toleration. The religious wars led to limited religious pluralism. The wars also affected the European power balance and political structure. France gained power; the Netherlands and England developed international trade; and Spain lost dominance. Some rulers benefited from the decline of papal authority, but in some states Protestant theory encouraged parliamentary power. Popular mentalities changed, and God was seen to take less of a part in people’s lives. Religion and daily life were regarded as separate. Religious change also gave greater emphasis to family life; love between spouses was encouraged. Unmarried women, however, had fewer alternatives when Protestants abolished convents. Finally, literacy became more widespread.

The Commercial Revolution. Western economic structure underwent fundamental redefinition. Greater commercialization was spurred by substantial price inflation during the 16th century. New World gold and silver forced prices up, demand surpassed availability. Great trading companies formed to take advantage of colonial markets; the increasing commerce stimulated manufacturing. Specialized agricultural regions emerged. The prosperity benefited peasants as well as merchants.

Social Protest. Nevertheless, some suffered from the changes. Commercialization created a proletariat. Population growth and increased food prices hit the poor. A lasting unfavorable attitude towards the poor developed. The many changes stimulated important popular protest among urban and rural people from the close of the 16th century. Protestors called for a political voice or suppression of landlords and taxes. Witchcraft hysteria reflected economic and religious uncertainties; women were the most common targets.

Science and Politics: The Next Phase of Change. A revolution in science, peaking in the 17th century, sealed the cultural reorientation of the West. At the same time more decisive forms of government arose, centering upon the many varieties of the nation-state.

Did Copernicus Copy? A key development was the rise of science in intellectual life. The Polish monk Copernicus, through astronomical observation and mathematics, disproved the belief that the earth was the center of the universe and set other advances in motion. Did Copernicus know of similar findings that had been made earlier by Arab scientists, al-Urdi and al-Tusi? Other societies had already realized the central position of the sun.

Science: The New Authority. In the 16th century scientific research built on late medieval patterns. The appearance of new instruments allowed advances in biology and astronomy. Galileo publicized Copernicus’s findings and Kepler provided more accurate reaffirmation of his work. Galileo’s condemnation by the Catholic church demonstrated the difficulty traditional religion had in dealing with the new scientific attitude. William Harvey explained the circulatory system of animals. The advances were accompanied by improved scientific methodology. Bacon urged the value of empirical research, and Descartes established the importance of a skeptical review of all received wisdom. The capstone to the 17th-century Scientific Revolution came with Newton’s argument for a framework of natural laws. He established the principles of motion, defined the forces of gravity, and refined the principles of scientific methodology. The revolution in science spread quickly among the educated. Witchcraft hysteria declined and a belief grew that people could control their environment. New attitudes toward religion resulted. Deism argued that God did not regulate natural laws. Locke stated that people could learn all that was necessary through their senses and reason. Wider assumptions about the possibility of human progress emerged. In all, science had become central to Western intellectual life, distinguishing the West from other civilizations.

Absolute and Parliamentary Monarchies. The medieval balance between monarchs and nobles came undone in the 17th century. Monarchs gained new powers in warfare, administration, and tax collection. France became the West’s most important nation. Its rulers centralized authority and formed a professional bureaucracy and military. The system was called absolute monarchy; Louis XIV was its outstanding example. His nobles, kept busy with social functions at court, could not interfere in state affairs. Following the economic theory of mercantilism, Louis XIV supported measures improving internal and international trade, manufacturing, and colonial development. Similar policies occurred in Spain, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary. Absolute monarchs pushed territorial expansion; Louis XIV did so from the 1680s, and Prussia during the 18th century. Britain and the Netherlands formed parliamentary regimes. A final English political settlement occurred in 1688 and 1689, by which parliament won basic sovereignty over the king. A developing political theory built on this process; it was argued that power came from the people, not from a royal divine right, and that they had the right to revolt against unjust rule.

Thinking Historically: Elites and Masses. During the 17th century, the era of witchcraft hysteria ended. One explanation is that elites, no longer believing in demonic disruptions, made new efforts to discipline mass impulses. Ordinary people also altered belief patterns, becoming more open to the scientific thinking. The process, for both elites and the mass of people, raises a host of questions for social historians. The elite certainly were important agents pushing change, but ordinary individuals did not blindly follow their lead. The European-style family, with its many implications for relations between family members, was an innovation by ordinary people.

The Nation-State. As nation-states, both absolute monarchies and parliamentary monarchies shared important characteristics. They ruled peoples mostly sharing a common language and culture. Ordinary people did not have a role in government, but they did feel that it should act for their interests. The many competing nation-states kept the West politically divided and at war.

The West by 1750. The great currents of change—commercialization, cultural reorientation, the rise of the nation-state—continued after 1750, producing new waves of change, further transforming of the West.

Political Patterns. Political changes were the least significant, especially in England and France, where earlier patterns persisted. Developments were livelier in central European states under the rule of enlightened despots. Frederick the Great of Prussia introduced greater religious freedom, expanded state economic functions, encouraged agricultural methods, promoted greater commercial coordination and greater equity, and cut back harsh traditional punishments. The major Western states continually fought each other. France and Britain fought for colonial empire; Prussia and Austria fought over territory.

Enlightenment Thought and Popular Culture. The aftermath of the Scientific Revolution was a new movement, the Enlightenment, centered in France. Thinkers continued scientific research and applied scientific methods to the study of human society. They believed that rational laws could describe both physical and social behavior. New schools of thought emerged in criminology and political science. In economics, Adam Smith maintained that governments should stand back and let individual effort and market forces operate for economic advance. More generally, the Enlightenment produced a basic set of principles concerning human affairs: humans are naturally good, reason was the key to truth, intolerant or blind religion was wrong. If people were free, progress was likely. A few Enlightenment thinkers argued for more specific goals, for economic equality and the abolition of private property, and for women’s rights. New ideas in all fields spread through reading clubs and coffeehouses. New attitudes toward children favored less harsh discipline, a sign of a general new affection between family members.

Ongoing Change in Commerce and Manufacturing. The general economic changes brought the beginnings of mass consumerism to Western society. Paid, professional entertainment as part of popular leisure reflected the change. In agriculture, medieval methods were supplanted by new methods of swamp drainage, use of nitrogen-fixing crops, improved stockbreeding, and many new cultivation techniques. New World crops, like the potato, increased the food supply. The agricultural advances, along with the growth of internal and international commerce, spurred manufacturing. Capitalism spread from trading ventures to production of commodities and altered relationships between workers and employers. The domestic system of household production gave farmers additional work. Important technological innovations, like the flying shuttle in weaving, improved efficiency. After 1730, the changes in economic activity caused a rapidly growing population. Many landless individuals found jobs in manufacturing. More people lived longer, resulting in earlier marriages.

Innovation and Instability. Western society had become increasingly accustomed to change in commercial, cultural, and political affairs. New currents affected family structure and roused political challenges. A new version of an agricultural civilization had appeared and was ready for more change.

GLOBAL CONNECTIONS: Europe and the World. By the mid-15th century, European Christians thought that their religion made them superior to others, but they recognized the strengths and prosperity of differing civilizations. The attitude that certain societies were backward when compared to the West had a strong, widespread impact on the future.


Italian Renaissance: 14th- and 15th-century movement influencing political forms, literature, and the arts; consisted largely of a revival of classical culture.

Niccolo Machiavelli: author of The Prince; emphasized realistic discussions of how to seize and maintain power.
Humanism: philosophy, or ideology, with a focus on humanity as the center of intellectual and artistic endeavor.
Northern Renaissance: cultural and intellectual movement of northern Europe; influenced by earlier Italian Renaissance; centered in France, Low Countries, England, and Germany; featured greater emphasis on religion than the Italian Renaissance.
Francis I: king of France (r. 1494–1547); one of many monarchs of the Renaissance period that were influential through their patronage of the arts.

Johannes Gutenberg: introduced movable type to western Europe in the 15th century; greatly expanded the availability of printed materials.
European-style family: emerged in the 15th century; involved a later marriage age and a primary emphasis on the nuclear family.
Martin Luther: German Catholic monk who initiated the Protestant Reformation; emphasized the primacy of faith for gaining salvation in place of Catholic sacraments; rejected papal authority.
Protestantism: general wave of religious dissent against the Catholic church; formally began with Martin Luther in 1517.
Anglican church: form of Protestantism in England established by Henry VIII.
Jean Calvin: French Protestant who stressed doctrine of predestination; established center of his group in Geneva; in the long run encouraged wider public education and access to government.
Catholic Reformation: Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation; reformed and revived Catholic doctrine.
Jesuits: Catholic religious order founded during Catholic Reformation; active in politics, education, and missionary work outside of Europe.
Edict of Nantes: 1598 grant of tolerance in France to French Protestants after lengthy civil wars between Catholics and Protestants.
Thirty Years War: war from 1618 to 1648 between German Protestants and their allies and the Holy Roman emperor and Spain; caused great destruction.
Treaty of Westphalia: ended Thirty Years War in 1648; granted right of individual rulers and cities to choose their own religion for their people; Netherlands gained independence.
English Civil War: conflict from 1640 to 1660; included religious and constitutional issues concerning the powers of the monarchy; ended with restoration of a limited monarchy.
Proletariat: class of people without access to producing property; usually manufacturing workers, paid laborers in agriculture, or urban poor; product of the economic changes of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Witchcraft persecution: outburst reflecting uncertainties about religious truth and resentments against the poor, especially women.
Scientific Revolution: process culminating in Europe during the 17th century; period of empirical advances associated with the development of wider theoretical generalizations; became a central focus of Western culture.
Copernicus: Polish monk and astronomer; disproved Hellenistic belief that the sun was at the center of the universe.
Johannes Kepler: resolved basic issues of planetary motion and accomplished important work in optics.
Galileo: publicized Copernicus’s findings; added own discoveries concerning the laws of gravity and planetary motion; condemned by the Catholic church for his work.
William Harvey: English physician who demonstrated the circular movement of blood in animals and the function of the heart as pump.
René Descartes: philosopher who established the importance of the skeptical review of all received wisdom; argued that human wisdom could develop laws that would explain the fundamental workings of nature.
Isaac Newton: English scientist; author of Principia; drew the various astronomical and physical observations and wider theories together in a neat framework of natural laws; established principles of motion and defined forces of gravity.
Deism: concept of God during the Scientific Revolution; the role of divinity was limited to setting natural laws in motion.
John Locke: English philosopher who argued that people could learn everything through their senses and reason; argued that the power of government came from the people, not from the divine right of kings; they had the right to overthrow tyrants.
Absolute monarchy: concept of government developed during the rise of the nation-state in western Europe during the 17th century; monarchs held the absolute right to direct their state.
Louis XIV: French king who personified absolute monarchy.
Glorious Revolution: English political settlement of 1688 and 1689 which affirmed that parliament had basic sovereignty over the king.
Frederick the Great: Prussian king who introduced Enlightenment reforms; included freedom of religion and increased state control of the economy.
Enlightenment: intellectual movement centered in France during the 18th century; argued for scientific advance, the application of scientific methods to study human society; believed that rational laws could describe social behavior.
Adam Smith: established new school of economic thought; argued that governments should avoid regulation of economies in favor of the free play of market forces.
Mary Wollstonecraft: Enlightenment English feminist thinker; argued that political rights should be extended to women.

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