General History VII: 1409–1525
The long fifteenth century is a period of spectacular cultural change, political dynamism, technological development and religious ferment, whose study is sustained by a rich and easily accessible body of source material.
The concept of ‘The Renaissance’ provides an opportunity to analyze the interplay of innovation and tradition in a number of different contexts, written and visual. At the same time, the religious life of lay people in the period was in many ways transformed: unprecedented evidence of popular piety is contemporaneous with massive movements of dissent among Hus’s Czechs or Luther’s Germans.
Political historians once tagged the period the age of ‘new monarchy’. Some more-or-less monarchical systems did acquire greater cohesiveness, for reasons that you may wish to explore. But the scope for political enquiry and comparison goes a lot further than that: the period saw challenging assertions of consultative principles (not least within the Catholic church); a rich proliferation of city-states and city-leagues; and some ambitious plans for dynastic aggrandisement, from the Trastámara of Iberia to the house of Jagiellon in East-Central Europe.
‘Christian Europe’ is itself a notion that invites critical reflection. In the Spanish lands, centuries of Christian-Islamic-Jewish coexistence were coming to a close; but to the East, Islam was acquiring new force in Ottoman form. And there was a world beyond, opening, for better or worse, to European encounters. By the end of the period, Cortés was in Mexico; and Sebastian del Cano safely home – the first mariner in history to circumnavigate the globe.