(EUROPE, 1201 to 1500 CE – continued)
Since the end of the eleventh century, emperors at Constantinople had been losing territory to the Turks, and with this loss they lost revenues from taxing agricultural production. In the twelfth century they lost eastern markets to Venetian and Genoese seaborne traders and revenues from customs duties. Constantinople had come to see the upkeep of their merchant fleet as a drain on their meager money supply, and the city's neglected fleet rotted away while foreign ships came and went from its port.
The government also lost revenues with the growth of big estates and the diminished number of independent farmers. The great estates were worked by a growing army of people forced to remain there. These estates were less efficient in production than lands worked by free peasants, and less in taxes was collected from them. And estates owned by the Church and worked by monks were often tax exempt.
The royal government continued spending money for extravagant displays necessary to keep up the appearance of grandeur, and Constantinople became impoverished. Some of the poor of Constantinople took to the hills. Some people emigrated. The once proud Christian people, enthusiastic for their racing team at the sports arena, was no more. By the 1400s Constantinople had a diminished population and seemed to be in mourning. And Constantinople was diminished militarily.
When the Turks overran Constantinople in May 1453, Constantinople's thousand year reign as the center of the Roman Empire had come to an end. The flow of refugees from Constantinople to Italy included intellectuals with their manuscripts. In Italy, these refugees stimulated a new interest in the ancient past, an interest that was humanistic rather than concerned with sin and salvation. Wealthy businessmen in Italy began to support education and the arts. It was the beginning of what would be called the Renaissance.
The Hundred Years' War had stimulated greater national identity among the English and the French, with people looking more toward their king as a father figure and away from the Holy Father in Rome. France's king had gained also with the losses and death of nobles during the war. In France the war left fewer local lords between a king and his people and fewer layers of authority – barons, earls, counts and knights. The expansion of the money economy had contributed to the breakdown of the old agricultural feudalism. Fiefdoms had been disappearing. Warring nobles were of the past. A new kind of state was developing. The king of France won the right to tax, judge and legislate for all inhabitants in the realm. Power was becoming more centralized.
After the Hundred Years' War many English believed that they had lost against the French, causing some unrest. Between 1455 and 1471 there was civil war between royal families, the Lancasters and the Yorks – the "War of the Roses." These two families fought for influence over King Henry VI, who was enfeebled by insanity. Henry was captured by one family and then the other, the family having him in their possession claiming rule in his name. Henry was deposed in 1461 by Edward of York, who became King Edward IV of England. Edward IV was followed by his brother, Richard III, who was defeated in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field by a Lancastrian.
Henry Tudor, the only surviving male representing the House of Lancaster, became King Henry Henry VII Tudor became King Henry VII of England, the first of the Tudor kings. He married Elizabeth of York, the leading Yorkist claimant to the throne, realigning the Yorks and the Lancasters, merging the red rose symbol of the Lancasters with the white rose symbol of the Yorks into a new red and white rose emblem of the Tudors. He strengthened his position by executing some who might be rivals claiming the throne (a policy that would be continued by his son, Henry VIII). Henry VII further strengthened his position by weakening the nobles through taxation. The English people wanted order and an end to the disruptions and costs of warfare, and they supported strong central authority. Feudalism in England had come to an end.
In France, Charles VII strengthened the rule of his family, the Valois – a branch of the Capetian family. Charles was not a strong monarch, but he managed to reform the military, pursue sound fiscal policies and encourage trade. He was succeeded by his son, Louis XI, who had been in revolt against his father since 1446. In 1477, Louis extended Valois authority to Burgundy, and in 1480 he gained the territories of Anjou, Bar Mine and Provence. His successor, Charles ViiI married Ann of Brittany, adding Brittany to territory belonging to the French king. As historian Max Boot writes, "Charles VIII presided over the most powerful nation in Europe at a time when the very concept of a 'state' was just taking shape.
In Italy, meanwhile, much wealth had been accumulated from commerce and trade, and city-states were controlled by wealthy merchants and bankers, while patriotism had remained local. Five powers dominated Italy: Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal states (in central Italy, including Rome) and Naples (which ruled the southern half of the peninsula). Competition for territory was intense. All the states were worried that one state might become so powerful as to rule the rest, and to prevent this, alliances had been formed. Warring in Italy was continuous, including a war in 1450 between Venice and Milan, with an alliance between Florence, Naples and Milan on one side and Venice and the papacy on the other.
In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII, then odds with Ferdinand I of Naples, offered Naples to Charles, who had a vague claim to the Kingdom of Naples through his paternal grandmother, Marie of Anjou.
Charles entered Italy with 25,000 men (including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries) in 1494 and marched across the peninsula, reaching Naples on 22 February 1495. France had around thirty-six of the latest in cannon. Borrowing techniques used in casting church bells, French cannons of molded bronze were lighter and could be moved around and transported more easily. And the French had better gunpowder and ammunition, cannon balls that went farther and hit harder than the stone shot of former times. Max Boot writes that, "By the 1490s, smoothbore, muzzle-loading artillery had essentially reached the shape it would assume for the next 350 years." (War Made New, p.4 )
The French army subdued Florence in passing and took Naples without a pitched battle or siege. Charles was crowned King of Naples. His cannon had frightened and made a big impression on the Italians. In the city-state of Florence, the Dominican friar Savonarola, known for his book burning and destruction of what he considered immoral art, believed that Charles VIII and his cannon were sent God to purify the Florentines. He looked forward to Charles ousting ousting sinners and making the city a center of morality appropriate for a restructured Catholic Church.
Instead, an anti-French coalition of powers, the League of Venice, arranged by Pope Alexander VI, drove Charles back to France. Charles wanted to rebuild his army and return to Italy, but he was now heavily in debt and couldn't afford it.
In Italy, Charles left behind concern about the nature of warfare in the mind of many including a Florentine named Machiavelli – his view more secular in its interpretation of events that Savonarola's. Savonarola, by the way, was exommunicated by the pope, who had him charged with heresy and executed.
Word had spread that walls and castles were no longer much of a defense. Castles were on their way to becoming relics. Rulers saw that security would have to be provided by large standing armies.
Security could also be provided by a balance of power, which required diplomacy. Addressing the art of diplomacy at the end of the1400s was Niccolò Machiavelli. He anticipated the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century – which contained views of events as of human origin rather than God-directed. Machiavelli believed that a ruler should be concerned not with how things ought to be but with how things are and that politics should be scientific, in other words, about empirical realities rather than religious faith. He advised his princely ruler that there were bad people in the world and that his realm might have to contend with them other than with prayer and Christian love.
Machiavelli claimed that a good ruler maintained permanent embassies in other lands and based his diplomacy on good information. His better known work, The Prince, was written in 1505 and published in 1515. Machiavelli was trying to win back his standing as a diplomat. It is believed that he wanted a new appointment from the Medici family, which ruled Florence. He urged a development similar to what had been taking place in France. A princely state, claimed Machiavelli, needed a professional military rather than seasonal mobilizations by knights. He saw rulers as needing the support of their subjects gaining in strength by political and other improvements. He wrote that a prince should act in the interest not just of himself but in the interest of his subjects, that a prince should create institutions that serve and evoke loyalty. Societies, he held, should be governed by laws rather than whim.
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