• The part of history which falls between 5th to 15th century AD is generally considered as middle ages or medieval history. This period began with fall of Roman Empire and continued till age of discovery, renaissance with emergence of lots of thinkers, writers and artists. Along with these developments this age also witnessed profound religious beliefs where all aspects of their life revolved around religion.
  • Nearly all thinkers emphasized on merging philosophy with religion which were more of authoritarian, rather being informative and rational. This made the society highly vulnerable to exploitation to various sectors of the society. Feudalism was central feature of this age which prevailed in the Europe.


  • Feudalism is derived from the word ‘feud’, which means ‘conditional ownership of land’. It is defined as the system of political organization prevailing in Europe from the 9th to about the 15 th century AD having as its basis the relation of lord to vassal with all land held in fee and as chief characteristics homage, the service of tenants under arms and in court, warship and forfeiture. In other words Feudalism is a system of land ownership and duties. With feudalism, all the land in a kingdom was of the king ’s. However, the king would give some of the land to the lords or nobles who fought for him.
  • The Feudal Hierarchy consisted of the King at the top. Noblemen below the King were also arranged in a hierarchy of overlords and subordinate lords. Every nobleman was a vassal, of and only of his overlord.
  • This hierarchical system was un-breachable i.e. a lower Lord would only follow commands of his immediate overlord and not of Lords further higher in the hierarchy.
  • Further, any Lord himself was not the direct owner of the land under him. He held land in the name of his overlord. Thus legally, all territory belonged to the King. Each Lord had his own soldiers and was the sole authority in his estate. Thus there was no central authority in functional terms and King was a central authority only in legal terms resulting in very little political unity.
  • The main reason for development of feudalism was lack of a single central political authority in Western Europe as it had disintegrated into many small and big kingdoms. In such a system the local lords started controlling the affairs of the society and in turn became more powerful than the King himself. This period spanned till the beginning of 16th century.
  • The kings found it difficult to administer vast areas of land. As a result, they parceled out their land among their vassals who assured the military assistance during the hour of need in return of the land ownership and enjoyment of rights which were transferred to them along with the land ownership.
  • It served its purpose for all those centuries quite well as the feudal lords became the guarantee of security of life and property of the people who inhibited their Fiefdom. However, with the passage of time, it outlived its utility when new changes took place in political, social and economic fields.

Causes of Decline of Feudalism

  • There are multiple problems which resulted in the decline of Feudalism. Since feudalism was based on the idea of land tenure paid for by governmental work, every process that tended to alter this adjustment tended also to displace feudalism. And also, feudalism had overreached its utility and outlived its necessity. Hence, decline followed when new changes took place.
  • Some of the main reasons for the decline of feudalism are:

Hundred Years’ War

  • Considerable manpower was a major requirement for the success of feudalism. Vassals and serfs worked the manor year in and year out, bound by law to a lifetime of labor.
  • But when war broke out between England and France in 1337, both nations undertook an unprecedented military buildup. This marked the start of the Hundred Years’ War, a series of intermittent conflicts that lasted until 1543.
  • In both countries, the army swelled its ranks with feudal labourers. This led to increase in the value of commoners who was thought with much needed military skills which further resulted in undermining the manorial system.

Black Death (1348-49)

  • The bubonic plague broke out in Europe in 1340’ s. This plague spread northwards from Italy and the bacterial infection known as the Black Death claimed at least a third of Western Europe’s total population.
  • With the young men of France and England off at war, agricultural output was already declining. Now there was a new challenge facing feudalism. Manor after manor suffered devastating losses.
  • Conditions were so severe that despite the law that running away was punishable by law, a huge number of laborers ran away to larger cities.

Political Changes

  • Feudalism was a coercive system that granted few individual liberties. Ancient laws kept peasants tied to the land, making their labor compulsory. Yet over time, concepts of individual rights gradually gained footing, especially in England. The 12th century reforms of Henry II, for instance, expanded the legal rights of a person facing trial. In 1215, King John was forced to approve the Magna Carta, a document obligating the crown to uphold common law.
  • Eighty years later, Edward I finally extended parliamentary membership to commoners. These developments gradually made the concept of agricultural servitude appear inexcusable.

Social Unrest

  • By the 1350s, war and disease had reduced Europe’s population to the point that peasant labour had become quite valuable. Yet conditions for the serfs themselves remained largely unchanged. They were still heavily taxed on wages which were kept artificially low. Unable to survive in these circumstances, Europe’s peasants revolted.
  • Between the 1350s and the 1390s, uprisings took place in England, Flanders (Dutch speaking northern portion of present Belgium), France, Italy, Germany and Spain. After an English revolt in 1381, Richard II promised to abolish serfdom. Though he later failed to keep his word, serfdom nonetheless died out in the next century.

Liberation of the Serfs

  • The liberation of the serfs due to enormous growth in trade and commence also greatly contributed to the decline of feudalism. With the growth of trade and commerce a number of new cities and towns grew which provided new opportunities for work. The serfs got an opportunity to free themselves of the feudal lords by taking up work in the new towns.

Holy Wars

  • In 1095, the Pope joined the Byzantine emperor in calling for a war in the name of God to liberate the Holy Land. Between 1095 and 1291, western European Christians planned and fought wars against Muslim cities on the coastal plains of the eastern Mediterranean (Levant). These wars were later designated as Crusades.
  • The Crusades greatly contributed to the decline of the feudal system. As a result of these wars the Europeans learnt the use of gun-powder from the Muslims. The discovery of gunpowder greatly undermined the importance of the feudal castles. As a result it was no more possible for the feudal lords to take shelter in these castles and defy the authority of the king.

Other Causes

  • Many other causes also led to decline of feudalism like:
    • The Crusades and travel during the Middle Ages opened new trade options to England
    • England started to move from land based economy to a money based economy
    • The Peasants Revolt – Peasants realized their worth and demanded changes . Charters were granted but ignored by nobles
    • More trade saw the growth of more towns
    • Peasants moved away from the country into towns they were eventually allowed to buy their freedom
    • Land was rented and the rights of lords over labour decreased
    • The Feudal Levy was unpopular and as time went by Nobles preferred to pay the King rather than to fight and raise troops
    • Armed men were paid a wage and Medieval warfare was financed by taxes and loans
    • Nobles became weaker – the Kings took back their lands and power.

Role of Church

  • In the late medieval period, there was an urge for the direct experience with God, whether through private, interior ecstasy or mystical illumination. Christ and the apostles presented an image of radical simplicity, and using the life of Christ as a model to be imitated, individuals began to organize themselves into apostolic communities. There was a growing sense of religion and a need to be with Christ and his followers.
  • During the middle Ages, the Church was a major part of everyday life. The Church served to give people spiritual guidance and it served as their government as well. The Church was the single most dominant institution in medieval life, its influence pervading almost every aspect of people’s lives.
  • Its religious observances gave shape to the calendar; its sacramental rituals marked important moments in an individual’s life ( including baptism, confirmation, marriage, penance, holy orders and the last rites); and its teachings underpinned mainstream beliefs about ethics, the meaning of life and the afterlife. Now, in the 20th century, the church’s role has diminished.


  • The headquarters of the Western Church was Rome. For most of the medieval period, this was the chief residence of the Pope.
  • The Western Church maintained the status and powers in all spheres of human life.

Church System

  • The Catholic Church had its own laws, owned lands given to it by rulers, and could levy taxes. It was thus a very powerful institution which did not depend on the king. At the head of the western Church was the Pope. Fie lived in Rome. The Christians in Europe were guided by bishops and clerics – who constituted the first ‘order’. Most villages had their own church, where people assembled every Sunday to listen to the sermon by the priest and to pray together.
  • The first major division arose in the year 1054, known as the Great Eastern Schism (schism means division). Out of this schism, Christianity has been divided into two, Eastern Church and Western Church. The Eastern Church named itself as Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Western Church retained its name as Roman Catholic Church. The former refused to accept the central authority of the Pope over Universal Christianity.
  • The success of the Church as a dominant force can be attributed in no small measure to its highly developed organization, which over the course of the middle ages developed a sophisticated system of governance, law and economy. The institutional Church can be divided into two unequal parts: the larger of the two was the secular church, and the other was the regular church, so called because its members followed a monastic rule. The secular church, attended by the general population, was carved into regions governed by archbishops, and their territory was in turn divided into areas known as diocese, which were administered by bishops.

Religious Orders

  • Numerous other religious orders, some stricter and others more lenient, proliferated in the Middle Ages. These can be categorized as monastic orders, mendicant orders, and military orders.


  • In middle Ages, bodily remains of saints and objects associated with them were the star attractions for pilgrims. Pilgrimages to holy places enabled the faithful to atone from their sins, seek miraculous cures and extend their experience of the world.


  • Initially, the Monasteries were institutes of high learning and monks worked to uplift people’s moral life and for welfare of the poor. But soon, corruption crept into the monasteries. In the Middle Ages (600 AD to 1500 AD) the Church’s evils took the form of:
    • Money for Church posts + Money for every ritual + Church owned and amassed huge property.
    • Money for removing sins. For example, the Church started selling “Letters of Indulgence” which upon their purchase removed the need for doing pilgrimages for removal of sins.
    • The Church was the only institution for education in the medieval time but becoming a Monk was the only future prospect this education offered. They taught in Latin which was not understood by the common man.
    • Church made “once in a year ” confession of sins to the Father compulsory and the breach of this rule mandated punishment .
    • Pope, nuns, bishops etc., became corrupt and lived like princes.
  • Logic, Reason and Science were discouraged. There was wide belief in witches, superstition and magic. Church became violent. It ordered burning of people who opposed its ideas about God, religion and even the physical phenomena. This was done on charges of “Heresy”. Many scientific thinkers became the victims of Church’ s punishments when they proposed scientific theories which invalidated the principles (like the Earth is Flat, or, the whole universe revolves around the Earth), which the Church propagated to glorify God. Many of them were burnt alive after being classified as witches and as possessed by evil spirits.


  • The Church aggressively struggled against dissenters within and outside. Christians who disagreed with the Church’s teachings were considered heretics, and could be physically punished or even killed. Those of other faiths were also treated harshly.
  • Jews who lived within Christian territories were, at best, tolerated, though episodes of extreme anti-Semitism are numerous; even after Jews were expelled from England. The series of Crusades against non-Christians and heretics began in 1095, with an armed mission to the Middle East. The middle ages was also often characterized as the ‘Age of Faith’.


  • In middle ages, Pope decreed that the Church would build cathedral schools, institutions designed to educate future members of the clergy. Their success led to the development of European universities in the 12th century, whose educational scope quickly broadened beyond religious training into medicine and law.
  • The growth of universities meant that more men required for preparatory education in Latin, which was mandatory in university educations at the time. To meet this need, the church also created primary education facilities that prepared men for university study. Through the creation of universities and institutions of primary education, the Catholic Church spread literacy and promoted the growth of intellectual curiosity.


  • In 1095, Pope Urban II urged Europeans to declare war on the Middle East and recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, beginning a series of Crusades that lasted until the 13th century. The Crusades were generally unsuccessful, but resulted in enormous economic changes in Europe. Change occurred because crusading was extremely expensive and required wealthy Europeans to spend vast amounts of money.
  • To fund a crusade, churches and noblemen sold property and took loans. They also paid the lower classes for services. These actions resulted in a major redistribution of European wealth. At the same time, new trade routes through the Middle East, the formation of guilds and the creation of modern lending institutions led to the birth of modern economies and the formation of the middle class.


  • As the Crusades began at the end of the 11th century, commerce began to develop in Europe. In response, European society experienced the emergence of two new classes of people: the middle class and the extremely poor.
  • The Catholic Church moved to aggressively protect the poor, insisting they were entitled to basic rights. The Church attempted to protect these by exempting the poor from court fees in ecclesiastic courts and by providing free legal counsel, food, shelter and alms.


  • Religion was far more important in almost every area of medieval life. The vast majority of people in Europe followed the Christian religion under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
  • The church in that era had great wealth, political power and influence over community life, art, architecture and education.


  • The term Renaissance stands for all those intellectual upheavals which were discernible towards the end of the middle ages. In French, the term renaissance means ‘rebirth’ which perfectly described the intellectual and economic changes.
  • It was a period in European history, from the 14th to the 17th century, regarded as the cultural bridge between the middle ages and modern history. It started as a cultural movement in Italy in the late medieval period and later spread to the rest of Europe, marking the beginning of the Early Modern Age.
  • The changes signify the decline of feudalism, the study of ancient literature, the rise of nation states, the beginning of modern science, the inventions of moving letters, gunpowder and compass , the discovery of new trade routes, the introduction of primary capitalism etc.
  • The intellectual basis of the Renaissance was its own invented version of humanism, derived from the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy, such as that of Protagoras, who said that “Man is the measure of all things.” This new thinking became manifest in art, architecture, politics , science and literature .
  • Early examples were the development of perspective technique in oil painting and the recycled knowledge of how to make concrete. Although the invention of metal movable type sped the dissemination of ideas from the late 15th century, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe.

Causes of Renaissance


  • The military expeditions undertaken in Europe from the end of 11th to end of 13 th century to recover the holy land, Jerusalem, from the Muslim were called crusades; the Christians came in contact with the enlightened people of the east. It is an obvious fact that in the eastern countries, the Arabs had enriched their civilization by establishing contacts with the Greek and Indian civilization.
  • The crusades encouraged voyages and study of Geography. The Europeans sailed on long voyages. The crusaders met strange people and got new ideas from them. When they came back, the intellectual horizon of the crusaders had broadened very much. They helped in ending European segregation.

Commercial Prosperity

  • The crusaders established business links with eastern countries. Many European businessmen settled on the coast of Asia Minor and Jerusalem .
  • As a result, there was a tremendous increase in business which fostered the spirit of Renaissance.

Paper and the Printing Press

  • The Europeans learnt paper-making from the Arabs in the middle ages. In the mid 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg of Germany invented a type machine which many call a prototype of the modern printing press. The invention of printing press paved the way for intellectual growth.
  • The monopoly of distinctive persons over knowledge came to an end. With the dissemination of knowledge through books, superstitions and orthodox practices weakened and self confidence increased in people and with it the desire for literacy as well as the drive for cultural awareness intensified. They became aware of their rights.
  • The greatness of man revealed to the European society the path of reason parting with superstitions.

Capture of Constantinople by the Turks

  • In 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople, the capital of East Roman Empire. With it, the Eastern Roman Empire fell forever and in consequence of it, the great learning that spread in the Western Europe heralded the arrival of new epoch.

Rise of the Mongolian Empire

  • The vast Mongolian Empire contributed to the birth of Renaissance. After the death of Changez Khan, Kubla Khan established a vast and powerful empire. The Mongolian state council was graced and glorified by the cardinals of pope, the Buddhist monks of India, the craftsmen of Paris, Italy and China, and the mathematicians and astrologers of India.
  • In that period, Perking ( Cambul) and Samarkand became international centers. Therefore East and West came in close contact and the Europeans were greatly influenced by the exchange of views and learning as well with close contact with people of various countries.

Encouragement for New Art and Literature

  • Many kings, nobles and merchants encouraged new literature and art. Francis I, the ruler of France, Henry VIII, the king of England, Charles V of Spain, Sigismund I, the king of Poland invited many persons having new ideas to their courts and patronised them.
  • Loronjode-Medicci, the ruler of Florence invited many artists to his court and decorated his palace with new paintings. The progressive idea of these rulers galvanised Renaissance.

Expressions of Renaissance


  • In many ways humanism was not a philosophy but a method of learning. In contrast to the medieval scholastic mode, which focused on resolving contradictions between authors, humanists would study ancient texts in the original and appraise them through a combination of reasoning and empirical evidence. Humanist education was based on the study of five humanities: poetry, grammar , history, moral philosophy and rhetoric .
  • Humanist scholars shaped the intellectual landscape throughout the early modern period. Political philosophers such as Niccolas Machiavelli and Thomas More revived the ideas of Greek and Roman thinkers and applied them in critiques of contemporary government. The purpose of humanism was to create a universal man whose personality combined intellectual and physical excellence and who was capable of functioning honorably in virtually any situation.


  • The development of perspective was part of a wider trend towards realism in the arts. Painters developed other techniques , studying light, shadow , optics and geometry , famously in the case of Leonardo Da Vinci he studied human anatomy to find the mechanism underlying gestures and expressions .
  • Underlying these changes in artistic method was a renewed desire to depict the beauty of nature and to unravel the axioms of aesthetics, with the works of Leonardo , Michelangelo and Raphael representing artistic pinnacles that were much imitated by other artists . Other notable artists include Sandro Botticelli, working for the Medici in Florence , Donatello, another Florentine, and Titian in Venice, among others.


  • Science and art were intermingled in the early Renaissance. A suitable environment had developed to question scientific doctrine. The discovery in 1492 of the new world by Christopher Columbus challenged the classical world view . The works of Ptolemy (in geography ) and Galen ( in medicine) were found to not always match everyday observations.
  • Another important development was in the process for discovery , the scientific method, focusing on empirical evidence and the importance of mathematics, while discarding Aristotelian science. Early and influential proponents of these ideas included Copernicus , Galileo , and Francis Bacon.
  • Francis Bacon advised that truth was to be discerned by experiment and is known as the father of modern science. In his book ‘ On the Revolution of the Celestial Bodies’, Copernicus opined that Sun is static. The Earth and other planets revolve around the sun in a circle. His view was contrary to the medieval belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe.
  • The view of Copernicus was supported by the famous German Scientist John Kepler. He slightly changed the view of Kepler and opined that the Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun in ‘elliptical’ rather than ‘circular Path. This created a storm in the field of thinking.
  • Another great scientist of this age was Galileo of Italy . He invented Telescope. Through that instrument he proved before his enthusiastic audience that the theory of Copernicus was absolutely true. He further opined and proved that the ‘Milky Way’ consists of stars.
  • A great Scientist of repute of that age was Sir Isaac Newton of England. In his famous book ‘Principia’, he stated about the ‘Law of Gravitation’. His Theory of Motion ’ also made him famous as a great scientist . The ‘causes of tides ’ were also discovered by him.
  • In case of human anatomy , the Science of the Renaissance period brought revolutionary change. Vesalius , a medical scientist described about various parts of human body like skeleton , cartilage, muscles. Veins, arteries, digestive and reproductive systems, lungs and brain.
  • William Harvey of England had discovered the ‘ process of blood circulation’. He pointed out that blood circulates from heart to the arteries and then to veins and back to heart. His contribution was undoubtedly a boon to the modern medical science.
  • The new scientific method led to great contributions in the fields of astronomy , physics, biology, and anatomy. Applied innovation also extended to commerce.


  • The new ideals of humanism , although more secular in some aspects , developed against a Christian backdrop . Much, if not most, of the new art was commissioned by or in dedication to the Church. However , the Renaissance had a profound effect on contemporary theology particularly in the way people perceived the relationship between man and God .
  • Many of the period’s foremost theologians were followers of the humanist method, including Martin Luther and John Calvin. Churchmen such as Erasmus and Luther proposed reform to the Church, often based on humanist textual criticism of the New Testament . In October 1517 Luther published the 95 Theses, challenging Papal authority and criticizing its perceived corruption, particularly with regard to instances of sold indulgences.
  • The 95 Theses led to the Reformation, a break with the Roman Catholic Church that previously claimed hegemony in Western Europe. Humanism and the Renaissance therefore played a direct role in sparking the Reformation, as well as in many other contemporaneous religious debates and conflicts.


  • The Architecture of Italy was largely influenced by the spirit of Renaissance. The builders of this time constructed many churches , palaces and massive buildings following the style and pattern of ancient Greece and Rome. The pointed arches of the Churches and Palaces were substituted by round arches, domes or by the plain lines of the Greek temples.
  • ‘Florence’, a city of Italy became the nerve centre of artworld. The ‘ St Peter’s Church of Rome’ the ‘Cathedral of Milan’ and the ‘Palaces of Venice and Florence ’ were some of the remarkable specimens of Renaissance architecture. In due course of time , Renaissance architecture spread to France and Spain.


  • Renaissance painters used more realistic depictions than aesthetic aspects. The human figure was drawn as realistically as possible , often with backgrounds of nature . There was less emphasis on religious art. Science helped artists understand the concept of perspective , where objects that were drawn smaller actually looked as if they were farther away. Use of light made figures look real. Famous artists of the time include these men:
    • Botticelli was a member of the famous Medici family in Florence, Italy. He painted three frescos in the Vatican ’ s Sistine Chapel. Fresco is the art or technique of painting on a moist plaster surface with colors ground up in water or a lime water mixture.
    • Leonardo da Vinci is considered to have one of the greatest minds of all times. He was an architect , musician, engineer , scientist , mathematician, botanist and inventor. He painted the famous ‘Mona Lisa’ and The Last Supper ’.
    • Michelangelo is considered by some to be the greatest artist and sculptor who ever lived. He was a great leader of the Italian Renaissance. His most famous work and his greatest glory were painting the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. The ceiling shows the history of the Old Testament and includes more than 300 figures . He set the standards for sculpting, painting, poetry and architecture .
  • Michelangelo’s talent as a sculptor rivaled even the ancient Greeks. He was also a great painter and architect.
  • Raphael who was a contemporary of above two was famous for his paintings of Madonna, the mother of Jesus Christ.


  • Science also played a part in the creation of music . Musicians learned how the pitch changes by lengthening or shortening the size of the string on stringed instruments.
  • Once again , symmetry became a part of the music they created . Musicians studied the Greek drama and tried to create music that would go with the words of their stories. This was the beginning of opera , where music and theatre are combined.


  • Renaissance literature started with a renewed interest in the classical Greek and Roman learning. The invention of the printing press and the weakening of the Catholic Church’s influence on the daily lives of the people , among other things , enabled Renaissance writers to express their beliefs in new ways . There was an explosion of writing , some of which is deemed the greatest of all time, by these authors and more:
    • The first notable creation in this direction was Dante’s ‘ Divine Comedy ’ . This book was written in Italian language and it was meant for the common people. In the book he describes about the heaven, hell and the other world . It introduced new themes like love of one’s country , love of nature as well as the role of individual .
    • Martin Luther ’s book ‘Ninety-Five Theses ’ had a great effect on people. He changed Christianity forever by telling about the abuses of the church by the clergy. He is sometimes known as the “father of Protestantism. ”
    • Nicolaus Copernicus wrote a book that proved that the sun did not move around the earth every 24 hours . His book revealed that the earth was not the center of the universe.
    • Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that there is no place for religion or morality in politics in his book The Prince’. It is believed that’power politics ’ had its roots in this book .
    • William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest writers who ever lived. He wrote at least 37 plays and 154 sonnets .


  • Reformation started as a protest movement against the Catholic Church and to reform the same. This religious revolution took place in the Western church in 16 th century. It was a popular movement that desired a change in the entire church system.
  • The reformers targeted certain major areas of change. They sought to improve moral lives of the Clergy. Its greatest leaders undoubtedly were Martin Luther and John Calvin. Having far-reaching political, economic , and social effects , the Reformation became the basis for the founding of Protestantism. The reformation occurred in two parts: Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter Reformation.

Evils of Catholic Church

  • Battle Monarchy/Supremacy of the Pope,
  • Corrupt practices of the Church like, Offices were sold to highest bidder , Sale of letter of indulgence ( passport for heaven) ,
  • Use of Latin language only (No common languages used),
  • Persecution of heresy and heretics,
  • Crusades,
  • Anti-Semitism in medieval Europe ,
  • Relations with the Orthodox Church,
  • Sexual abuse controversy etc.

Protestant Reformation

  • The practices of the Catholic religion were questioned during the Reformation and the beliefs of men such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) prompted a new religion called Protestantism.
  • The term ‘Protestant’ was adopted when supporters of Martin Luther formally protested against efforts to limit the spread of Luther’s new ideas. It had many Reformational protests that wanted to do away with the hegemony and corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

Martin Luther

  • The Protestant Reformation started in earnest in 1516. In 1517 Martin Luther wrote a scholastic objection protesting against the Catholic Church practice of indulgences which came to be known as the 95 Theses.
  • In the ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ Luther denied that the Pope had the right to forgive sins. He nailed a copy of the book to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg which were subsequently translated from German into Latin and were printed and distributed across Europe leading to the Protestant Reformation.

Catholic Counter Reformation

  • Counter-Reformation, also called Catholic Reformation, or Catholic Revival, in the history of Christianity, the Roman Catholic efforts directed in the 16th and early 17th centuries both against the Protestant Reformation and toward internal renewal; the Counter-Reformation took place during roughly the same period as the Protestant Reformation.
  • Early calls for reform grew out of criticism of the worldly attitudes and policies of the Renaissance popes and many of the clergy. New religious orders and other groups were founded to affect a religious renewal. Pope Paul III ( reigned 1534-49) is considered to be the first Pope of the Counter-Reformation. It was he who in 1545 convened the Council of Trent. The council, which met intermittently until 1563, responded emphatically to the issues at hand. Its doctrinal teaching was a reaction against the Lutheran emphasis on the role of faith and God’s grace and against Protestant teaching on the number and nature of the sacraments.
  • Disciplinary reforms attacked the corruption of the clergy. There was an attempt to regulate the training of candidates for the priesthood; measures were taken against luxurious living on the part of the clergy, the appointment of relatives to church office, and the absence of bishops from their dioceses. The Catholic reformation was a strong reaffirmation of the doctrine and structure of the medieval church, presiding over reforms that would preserve its effectiveness.

Exploration and Discovery of New Lands

first two successful journeys around the the world.


  • During the 15th and 16th centuries, leaders of several European nations sponsored expeditions abroad in the hope that explorers would find great wealth and vast undiscovered lands. The Portuguese were the earliest participants in this “Age of Discovery.” Other European nations, particularly Spain, were eager to share in the seemingly limitless riches of the “Far East”. By the end of the 15th century, Spain’s “ Reconquista”- the expulsion of Jews and Muslims out of the kingdom after centuries of war-was complete , and the nation turned its attention to exploration and conquest in other areas of the world.
  • At the end of the 15th century , it was nearly impossible to reach Asia from Europe by land. The route was long and arduous, and encounters with hostile armies were difficult to avoid. Portuguese explorers solved this problem by taking to the sea: They sailed south along the West African coast and around the Cape of Good Hope. Columbus and his crew reached the island of Hispaniola after three months in the Atlantic Ocean. Although Columbus believed he had reached Asia, he had actually discovered the entire continent of North America.
  • Thus ‘A new world’ was discovered by Columbus although accidentally. In 1500, Amerigo Vespucci was successful in preparing the maps of Atlantic Ocean and Asia which proved very useful both for the trade and navigation purposes.


  • The plan for working on the searoute to India was charted by Portuguese as a cost saving measure in the trade with Asia and also an attempt to monopolize the spice trade. Prince Henry, the navigator of Portugal, encouraged sailors by making maps based on trips to the African coast. One man Bartholomew Diaz, had reached the point which the Portuguese named the Cape of good hope.
  • The Portuguese nobleman Vasco Da Gama (1460-1524) sailed from Lisbon in 1497 on a mission to reach India and open a sea route from Europe to the East. After sailing down the western coast of Africa and rounding the Cape of Good Hope, his expedition made numerous stops in Africa before reaching the trading post of Calicut, India, in May 1498. Vasco Da Gama received a hero’s welcome back in Portugal, and was sent on a second expedition to India in 1502, during which he brutally clashed with Muslim traders in the region. Two decades later, Vasco Da Gama again returned to India, this time as Portuguese viceroy.
Route taken by Vasco Da Gama

Emergence of Trade and Trading Towns

  • Although scholars have long debated the extent of trade and urban life during the early Middle Ages, there is general agreement that increased trade activity was evident before the crusades.
  • The center of this northern trade system was the county of Flanders. By 1050 Flemish artisans were producing a surplus of woolen cloth of such fine quality that it was in great demand. Baltic furs, honey and forest products, and British tin and raw wool were exchanged for Flemish cloth. From the south by way of Italy came oriental luxury goods silks, sugar, and spices.
  • A catalyst of the medieval commercial revolution was the opening of the Mediterranean trading area. In the eleventh century, Normans and Italians broke the Muslim hold on the eastern Mediterranean, and the First Crusade revived trade with the Near East. Arab vessels brought luxury goods from the East to ports on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea .
  • From there they were shipped by caravan to Alexandria, Acre, and Joppa, and from those ports the merchants of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa transported the goods to Italy on their way to the markets of Europe.
  • Other trade routes from Asia came overland, passing through Baghdad and Damascus and on to ports, such as Tyre and Sidon, in the crusader states. The easiest route north from the Mediterranean was by Marseilles and up the Rhone valley.
  • Early in the fourteenth century two more major trade lanes developed within Europe. An all – sea route connected the Mediterranean with northern Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar. The old overland route from northern Italy through the Alpine passes to central Europe was also developed.
  • From Venice and other northern Italian cities, trade flowed through such passes as the Brenner, sharply reducing the business of the Rhone valley route and the famous fairs of Champagne.

Factors for the Rise of Towns

  • The resurgence of trade in Europe was a prime cause of the revival of towns ; the towns arose because of trade, but they also stimulated trade by providing greater markets and by producing goods for the merchants to sell. In this revival, geography played a significant role. Rivers, important to the evolution of ancient civilizations, were also important in the development of medieval towns. They were natural highways on which articles of commerce could be easily transported. Another factor contributing to the rise of towns was population growth. In Britain, for example, the population more than tripled between 1066 and 1350. The reasons for this rapid increase in population are varied.
  • The ending of bloody foreign invasions and in some areas the stabilization of feudal society were contributing factors. More important was an increase in the food production brought about by the cultivation of wastelands, clearing of forests, and draining of marshes. Another factor in which merchant and crafts guilds helped was to establish trade and towns. Emergence of a new class evolved in Europe a powerful, independent, and self -assured group, whose interest in trade was to revolutionize social, economic, and political history. They helped to establish new trades and trading towns.

Rise of Nation States

  • 13th century Europe had fewer nations than that of modern Europe. Europe was then ruled by thousands of feudal lords and political units or the states that we are familiar with now did not exist.
  • In 12th century there came into being the Holy Roman Empire. It was claimed to be a universal empire, though it included mainly Germany and Italy and the emperor’s control even in these areas was limited.
  • The process of political developments in the final form of which we see in the present-day world – independent and sovereign nation states – started during the Renaissance and the Reformation.

English Revolution

  • English Revolution has been used to describe two different events in English history. The first to be so called by Whig historians was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, whereby James II was replaced by William III and Mary II as monarch and a constitutional monarchy was established.
  • In the twentieth century, however, Marxist historians introduced the term “English Revolution” to describe the period of the English Civil Wars and Commonwealth period (1640-1660), in which Parliament challenged King Charles I’s authority, engaged in civil conflict against his forces, and executed him in 1649. This was followed by a ten-year period of bourgeois republican government, the “Commonwealth”, before monarchy was restored in the shape of Charles’ son, Charles II, in 1660.
  • This interpretation suggests that the ‘English Revolution’ was the final act in the long process of reform and consolidation by Parliament to achieve a balanced constitutional monarchy in Britain, and laws were made that pointed towards freedom.
World Map 17th Century

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