12 things I learned about the Renaissance

I’m working through a fourth year of university, taking one 3-credit class at a time. The Renaissance is the second class of the 10 I need to take to qualify for a Master’s Degree course in Canadian Studies. (This is a blog post about an essay I wrote for the first one.)

Here’s a list of random things I learned:

  1. The Catholic Church was undergoing a remarkable crisis. When Constantine granted its official status, it grew, however its growth caused some disruption as it struggled to find its place in government. People would argue about whether temporal or spiritual power came first and what it meant when it came to justice and territory. Eloquent texts are written with references to Bible passages and Church Father writings. These arguments got heated as monarchs in countries like France and England began to insist on their jurisdiction and nationhood. For example, the king of France (Philip the Fair) was so annoyed with Pope Boniface VIII’s claim that the papacy was above the monarchy (as he had written in Unam sanctam) that he attacked and imprisoned Boniface who then died shortly after.
  2. The conflict that had started between the king of France and the papacy lead to the next pope’s decision to leave Rome and establish papacy in Avignon where it stayed almost 70 years. Mystics like Catherine of Sienna were persistent in urging the pope to return to Rome.
  3. The Renaissance saw a slew of unusual popes. Some had numerous children, one was a warrior, but most had lavish taste and were responsible for the beautiful art and architecture that is Rome’s renown.
  4. The Plague of 1348, known as the Black Death, was terrible. Historians estimate a third of Europe’s population died, and in some areas, as high as half the population. Its effects scarred the minds of the people who lived through it.
  5. The Renaissance is regarded as a low period for science, the study of which had been cast aside in favor of subjects like history. This is something which made Galileo’s work stand out as a brilliant achievement.
  6. Italy in the Renaissance was a country of city-states. The most notable ones were those who prospered with the growth of trade, like Florence and Venice. Signs of their wealth were found in the investments made in art and architecture.
  7. My favorite city-state is Urbino because it was a tiny city-state with little in the way of natural ressources. Instead it had a brilliant and just leader named Federigo da Montefeltro who managed to make it prosper.
  8. Diplomacy was a new development and favored a new appreciation for rhetoric and fostered a renewed interest in ancient Roman and Greek writing. This movement was recognized and given the misleading name of Humanism.
  9. The Renaissance had the great artists most people know about, but was remarkable for being a period when, for the first time, artists were recognized on their own merit, having their own styles, and not just as anonymous “instruments” and manual laborers.
  10. The Hundred Years’ War lasted longer than 100 years (1347-1453). It started because the French kings wanted the English kings to cross the channel and pay homage to them for the land that they owned in France, like the duchy of Burgundy. This became onerous and humiliating for the English kings. They attacked France and won lots of battles at the beginning. France had a civil war in the midst of this.
  11. England and France both had to modify their government during this Hundred Years War period. England refined their Parliament and France centralized its power, weakening the authority of various dukes in order to strengthen the monarch’s.
  12. When the Hundred Years’ War ended, England had fallen into its own civil war. Each country however had a greater sense of nationalism that hadn’t existed in the Middle Ages.

I love history. The more I study it, the more I love it. I think I have a fascination for figuring out how things fit into context, how everything is more complicated on closer examination. The world is a product of a vast inheritance from centuries of suffering. Still, I’m an optimist.