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The Sixteenth Century: Characteristics of Early Modern England


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Title: The Sixteenth Century: Characteristics of Early Modern England

The Sixteenth Century Characteristics of Early
Modern England
Early Modern V. Renaissance Which Term
Should you Use?
  • First, the term Renaissance is commonly
    applied to the historical period which follows
    the Middle Ages, but when the Middle Ages ended
    and when the Renaissance began has been a source
    of much debate. A long accepted view was that the
    Renaissance began in the latter half of the 14th
    c. and that it continued throughout the 15th and
    16th c. and perhaps even later (Dictionary of
    Literary Terms and Literary Theory 739).

  • There is little dispute that the ideas from the
    Italian Renaissance moved from the continent to
    the UK. A great example of the culture exchange
    and development is the history of the English
  • The flowering and changes in art, music, science,
    government, literature, drama, religion,
    geography, world view, architecture,
    communication, transportation, and population
    cannot be denied, regardless of what its called.
    In the end, both words are acceptable. Just the
    second term helps us see how ideas of the 15th,
    16th, and early 17th centuries inform
    contemporary issues.

Events that Shaped Early Modern England
  • 1476 William Caxton prints an edition of The
    Canterbury Tales on the first printing press in
  • 1485 Accession of Henry VII inaugurates Tudor
  • 1492 Columbus lands in the Caribbean on his
    first voyage
  • 1509 Accession of Henry VIII
  • 1515 Sir Thomas More begins writing Utopia
  • 1517 Martin Luthers Wittenberg Theses
    beginning of the Reformation
  • 1534 Henry VIII declares himself head of the
    English church
  • 1558 Accession of Elizabeth I
  • 1585-7 Colony of settlers disappears at Roanoke
  • 1603 Death of Elizabeth I and accession of James

Cultural Issues that Shaped Early Modern England
  • Renaissance Humanism
  • The Reformation
  • The New World and European Expansion
  • Beginning of the Scientific Revolution
  • Rise of Nations

Renaissance Humanism
  • what is a man/If his chief good and market of
    his time/Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no
    more./Sure he that made us with such large
    discourse,/Looking before and after, gave us
    not/That capability of godlike reason/To fust in
    us unusd (Hamlet IV.31-7).

Some Characteristics of Renaissance Humanism
  • Humanism stressed the revival of classic learning
    that often came at the expense of medieval
    worldview and scholarship. For example
    Renaissaince Humanists stressed the power
    individual choice over man that the medievel
    world view defined as a only a subject of God's
  • In this way Humanists, like Thomas More,
    understood identity as something that could and
    should be fashioned. In this sense they were
    very much like us, thinking that identity is not
    born by made-nurture over nature.
  • In their more extreme forms, humanistic attitudes
    regarded man as the crown of creation.
  • In England and elsewhere, Humanism was bound up
    with the struggles over the purposes of education
    and curriculum reform. During the Renaissance,
    emphasis shifted from training students
    exclusively to work in the Catholic Church to
    training students to be priests, lawyers, and
    public servants.

Humanism and Language
  • Leading scholars of the Renaissance period were
    called Humanists because they were students of
    humanist literature the literature of the Greek
    and Latin poets, dramatists, philosophers,
    historians and rhetoricians.
  • A newly revived interest in Latin and Greek
    texts, along with Hebrew, also gave rise to
    Humanists writing in their own vernacular, modern
  • Remember that the court langauge, the language of
    the nobility in England, was French well into the
    14th century. While works like Thomas Mores
    Utopia and Thomas Bacons Essays were written in
    Latin, the authors of the Elizabethean theater
    and court poets wrote in English. Such authors
    combatted the assumption that the English
    language had almost no pretige abroad, and there
    were those at home who doubted that it could
    serve as a suitable medium for serious, elevated
    or elgant discourse (Norton 485).

The Printing Press
  • Humanists, like Thomas More, could not have
    spread their ideas as widely or quite possibly
    may not have conceived of their ideas at all
    without the invention of the printing press.
  • The goldsmith Johann Gutenberg first assembled
    the systems involved in Germany in 1440. Printing
    methods based on Gutenberg's printing press
    spread rapidly throughout Europe replacing most
    block printing and making it the progenitor of
    modern movable type printing.
  • William Caxton brought the press to England in
    1476-the impact of the press on rhetoric and
    writing is so great that it is difficult to

The Reformation
  • My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not
    say a literal God, a God that wouldst be
    understood literally and according to the plain
    sense of all that thou sayest. But thou art also
    (Lord, I intend to thy glory, and let no profane
    misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou
    art a figurative, a metaphorical God too (John

Life Before the Reformation
  • Like the Renaissance itself, The Reformation of
    the Catholic Church into several Protestant sects
    in the 16th c. may seem like it happened in just
    one or two generations, but the stirring of
    discontent with in the Catholic dominated Middle
    Ages had long been felt.

  • Catholic practice and history is too vast to
    summarize here, but before Henry VIII in England
    there existed, A vast system of confession,
    pardons, penance, absolution, indulgences, sacred
    relics, and ceremonies that gave the unmarried
    male clerical hierarchy great power over their
    largely illiterate flocks. The Bible, the
    liturgy, and most of the theological discussions
    were in Latin, which few lay people could
    understand however, religious doctrine and
    spirituality were mediated to them by the
    priests, by beautiful church art and music, and
    by the liturgical ceremonies of daily
    life-festivals, holy days, baptisms, marriages,
    exorcisms, and funerals (Norton 490).

Martin Luther and Some Key Dissenting Concerns
  • Though by no means the first person to express
    dissenting concerns, Martin Luthers challenges
    to the Catholic Church in 1517 turned into a
    revolt very quickly.
  • Luther stressed the importance of parishioners
    reading the Bible for themselves in their
    vernacular languages instead of having faith
    mediated to them by priests.
  • Luther charged that the pope and his hierarchy
    were the servants of Satan and that the Church
    had degenerated into a corrupt, worldly
    conspiracy designed to bilk the credulous and
    subvert secular authority (Norton 491).
  • He stressed that people could be saved through
    faith in God alone and not through good works or

The Reformation in England
  • In England the Reformation began less with
    popular dissent than with political desire. The
    popular narrative is Henry VIII wanted a
    legitimate son to succeed him and his wife
    Catherine of Aragon, aunt to Ferdinand I, failed
    to give him one. Pope Clement VII also failed to
    give Henry the divorce he wanted.
  • In 1533 Henry had his marriage to Catherine of
    Aragon declared invalid on the pretence that the
    marriage was never consummated and he married
    Anne Boleyn.
  • 1534 Henry issued The Act of Succession which
    required an oath of loyalty from all male
    subjects who wished to inherit property.
  • In 1534 Henry also seized all lands and property
    held by the Catholic church.

The New World and European Expansion
  • on that branch which is called Caora are a
    nation of people, whose heads appear not above
    their shoulders, which though it may be a mere
    fable, yet for mine own part I am resolved it is
    true, because every child in the provinces affirm
    the same they are called Ewaipanoma they are
    reported to have their eyes in their shoulders,
    and their mouths in the middle of their breasts,
    that a long train of hair growth backward
    between their shoulders (Sir Walter Raleigh) .

England in Ireland
  • The medieval English presence in Ireland was
    deeply shaken by Black Death, which arrived in
    Ireland in 1348.
  • From the late 15th century English rule was once
    again expanded in Ireland following the Black
    Death, first through the efforts of the Earls of
    Kildare and Ormond then through the activities of
    the Tudor State under Henry VIII, Mary, and

  • England saw the complete conquest of Ireland by
    1603 and the final collapse of the Gaelic social
    and political superstructure at the end of the
    17th century as a result of English and Scottish
    Protestant colonization in the Plantations of
    Ireland, the disastrous Wars of the Three
    Kingdoms, and the Williamite War in Ireland.

England in the Americas
  • England rejected Christopher Columbuss requests
    to fund his voyage to the New World, Preferring
    to concentrate on their settlement of Ireland.
  • In 1586 and again in 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh
    attempted to establish permanent settlements on
    Roanoke Island. 4 years later, in 1591, all
    colonists had disappeared. The only clue to their
    fate was the word "CROATOAN" and letters "CRO"
    carved into separate tree trunks, suggesting the
    possibility that they were either massacred,
    absorbed, or taken away by Croatoans or perhaps
    another native tribe.

  • England's first permanent overseas settlement was
    founded in 1607 in Jamestown, led by Captain John
    Smith and managed by the Virginia Company, an
    offshoot of which established a colony on
    Bermuda, which had been discovered in 1609.
  • Plymouth was founded in 1620.

The Beginning of the Scientific Revolution
  • Like every other aspect of the Renaissance or
    early modern period, the beginning of the
    Scientific Revolution is a challenge to pin down.
    Though many historians date the Scientific
    Revolution to the publication of On the
    Revolution of Heavenly Spheres by Nicolas
    Copernicus in 1543, they also suggest science was
    in a state of constant development till the 19th

Some Significant Inventions and Discoveries that
Shaped the Renaissance
  • On The Revolution of Heavenly Spheres (1543)
    challenged Church approved earth centered model
    of the universe (geocentric), with the
    sun-centered model of the universe
  • In Novum Organum (1620), Francis Bacon introduced
    his Scientific Method that combined empirical
    investigation with carefully limited and tested
    generalizations that could be repeated with the
    same results over and over. In a direct challenge
    to Aristotle, he believed this to be the best
    method to investigate nature.

  • In 1628 William Harvey published An Anatomical
    Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in
    Animals, where, based on scientific methodology,
    he argued for the idea that blood was pumped
    around the body by the heart before retuning to
    the heart and being re-circulated.
  • Based only on uncertain descriptions of the
    telescope, invented in the Netherlands in 1608,
    Galileo, in that same year, made a telescope with
    about 3x magnification, and later made others
    with up to about 32x magnification. He published
    his initial telescopic astronomical observations
    in March 1610 in a short treatise entitled
    Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger).

Rise of Nations out of Feudal City-States
  • For in whatever parts of the land the sheep
    yield the softest and most expensive wool, there
    the nobility and gentry, yes, and even some
    abbots though other wise holy men, are not
    content with the old rents that the land yielded
    to their predecessors. Living in idleness and
    luxury, without doing any good to society, no
    longer satisfies them they have to do positive
    evil, For they leave no land free for the plow.
    They enclose every acre for pasture they destroy
    houses and abolish towns, keeping only the
    churches for sheep barns (More 12).

Characteristics of the English Nation-State
  • Markets in early modern England expanded
    significantly, international trade flourished,
    and cities throughout the realm experienced a
    rapid surge in size and importance. Londons
    population in particular soared, from 60,000 in
    1520, to 120,000 in 1550, to 375,000 a century
    later, making it the largest and fastest-growing
    city in Europe.
  • Elizabeth also engaged in other enterprises that
    combined aggressive nationalism with the pursuit
    of profit in other words imperialism and empire
  • Like most nations, when England was struggling
    into nationhood and to define itself, citizens
    often defined Englishness as what is was not.
    Englishness was not
  • Catholics, although they all had been until
  • Elizabethan England had a lot of foreign artisans
    from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and above all France
    and the Netherlands living mostly in London.
    During the 16th c. there were several riots and
    bloody demonstrations protesting foreign artisans
    who were accused of taking English jobs away from
    English people.
  • England, and again esp. London had a small
    population of Jews. During the Middle Ages the
    Jewish community was continually persecuted,
    massacred, and excommunicated in European

Sir Thomas More and Utopia
  • He likes to be dressed simple, and does not wear
    silk, or purple or gold chains, except when it is
    not allowable to dispense with them. He cares
    marvelously little for those formalitiesas he
    does not exact these ceremonies form others, so
    he is not scrupulous in observing them himself,
    though he understand how to use them if he thinks
    proper to do so but he holds it to be effeminate
    and unworthy of a man to waste much of his time
    on such trifles(Erasmus 127).

Characteristics/Background Sir Thomas More
  • Sir/Saint Thomas More was an English lawyer,
    author, and statesman. During his lifetime he
    earned a reputation as a leading humanist scholar
    and occupied many public offices, including that
    of Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He very
    much embodies and champoined ideas like
    Renaissance Humanism and rational investigation
    of the natural world.

  • More coined the word "utopia", a name he gave to
    an ideal, imaginary island nation whose political
    system he described in a book published in 1516.
  • He is chiefly remembered for his principled
    refusal to accept King Henry VIII's claim to be
    the supreme head of the Church of England, a
    decision which ended his political career and led
    to his execution as a traitor.
  • In 1935 Pope Pius XI canonized St Thomas More in
    the Roman Catholic Church More was declared
    Patron Saint of politicians and statesmen by Pope
    John Paul II in 1980.

  • Characteristics of Early Modern English period
  • Early Modern Vs. Renaissance
  • Humanism and Language
  • English Reformations
  • Key figures in the History
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