A History of World Societies,
Europe in the Renaissance and Reformation
In 1500, Joanna—daughter of Ferdinand
and Isabella of Spain and wife of Philip, duke of Burgundy, the son of Holy
Roman emperor Maximilian—gave birth to a son, Charles, in Ghent. By 1516,
Charles inherited all the Spanish possessions in the world as King Charles
I. In 1519, he inherited all the territory controlled by the Hapsburg family
in central Europe. That year he was also selected Holy Roman emperor Charles
V. At age twenty, he ruled over an empire larger than any Christian monarch
in history controlled. His possessions included Spain, Austria, parts of Germany,
the Netherlands, most of Italy, and Spain's empire in the Americas. He had
the potential to create a huge, pan–European Christian state that rivaled
the other great empires of his age, such as the Ottoman Empire in the Middle
East and the Ming Dynasty in China. He seemed closer than any ruler before
him to completing Charlemagne's dream of a united Christian Europe. Instead,
Charles V abdicated his thrones in 1556 and retired a broken and defeated
man to a monastery in Spain, where he died in 1558. His legacy was a Europe
increasingly divided along religious and nationalistic lines. These Internet
activities explore the life and times of Charles V. His story represents the
transition of Europe from the Middle Ages to the modern era.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore
different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and
questions detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images
by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine
fine details in photographs.
- To understand the importance of the Holy Roman Empire
in the early sixteenth century, go to The
Holy Roman Empire and read "The Final Phase." In theory, what
did the Holy Roman Empire represent during the Middle Ages? When did the
concept of a Holy Roman Empire begin? In reality, what had the Holy Roman
Empire become by 1500? How far did it extend? (See Map
1.) Why did it not include all the Christian lands in Europe? How much
real power did Charles V inherit as Holy Roman emperor in 1519? What implicit,
or theoretical, power did the title give him?
- To understand the scope of Charles V's empire, study
Map 15.1 on page 460 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Fifth
Edition). List the various territories that he ruled directly. Now make
a list of areas over which he had a strong but indirect influence.
- Go to Map 2.
(This map may take a while to load.) What contemporary nations exist in
what was Charles V's empire? What modern nationalities emerged out of his
realm? The shift from the medieval notion of a united Christian realm in
Europe to the rise of nation–states did not occur overnight. By the end
of Charles V's reign, however, the process had begun. The rest of these
activities explore this development.
- Charles V was a product of the Renaissance in western
Europe. McKay, A History of World Societies (Fifth Edition) describes
the Renaissance as "the cultural achievements of the fourteenth through
sixteenth centuries" and adds that "those achievements rested
on the economic and political developments of earlier centuries" (page
443). To explore this definition, take a virtual tour of the Renaissance
What inspired this age of balance and order? Be sure to look at some
of the suggested links. How does this site define the Renaissance? What
economic trends made the Renaissance possible? What role did the printing
press play in the development of Renaissance ideas? Why does this site focus
on the city of Florence? How did humanism differ from previous intellectual
thought in western Europe? How did the Renaissance affect the Catholic church
as an institution? How did it affect people's attitudes toward religion
and the church?
- The forces unleashed by the Protestant Reformation challenged
Charles V's efforts to create a strong, united Christian kingdom. There
had been many challenges to the Roman Catholic church's hegemony in western
Europe, but none had succeeded before Martin Luther's. To understand the
context of Luther's successful challenge, return to Renaissance:
What inspired this age of balance and order? Read "Printing and
Thinking" and "Focus on Florence." How did Renaissance ideas
inspire criticism of the church?
- Go to The
Reformation. Be sure to read this entire essay. What are indulgences?
(For more information, go to Historical
Development of Indulgences.) Why did Luther's protest against this church
practice spawn a full–fledged revolt against the church? What role did the
invention of the printing press play in the Reformation? What aspects of
the Renaissance encouraged this rebellion against the church?
- Luther's defiance of the church, particularly the authority
of the pope, inspired others to do the same. Thus, the Protestant Reformation
was not a monolithic movement. To understand the different strains of this
protest, go to The
Reformation Guide. Make a list of the various Protestant offshoots of
Luther's initial challenge. Next to each group, write a brief description
of it. Now go to Map
3. Identify where these ideas took hold in the sixteenth century. Which
of these areas were under Charles V's rule?
- To understand the impact of the Protestant Reformation
on Charles V, read Phillip Schaff's essay The
History of the Christian Church: Charles V. What were Charles's goals
as Holy Roman emperor? How did the Protestant Reformation impede his progress
toward these goals? Continue reading this essay by going to The
Ecclesiastical Policy of Charles V. How did Charles attempt to confront
the forces of the Reformation in his realm?
- Go to Charles V. According
to this site, what forces besides the Reformation challenged Charles V's
attempts to reform the Holy Roman Empire? In particular, what foreign powers
conspired against him? Why did they oppose his efforts? How did they affect
his dealings with Protestants within his realm?
- When Charles V abdicated his thrones, the dream of a
unified Europe died. Instead, the trend was toward a system of nation–states
governed by strong monarchs. Go to Map
4. List the major nation–states emerging in Europe by 1648. What happened
to the idea of a Holy Roman Empire?
- Review "The Thirty Years' War (1618–1648)"
on pages 477–479 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Fifth Edition).
Was this war about religion, or did it have to do with different loyalties?
How does Map
4reflect these loyalties?
- At the end of the sixteenth century, one hundred
years after the birth of Charles V, two of the more powerful monarchs in
Europe were Henry IV of France and Elizabeth I of England. Go to Henry
IV and Elizabeth
I. How were the lands over which Henry and Elizabeth reigned different
from those of Charles V? What were their goals as monarchs? Did they achieve
these goals? How? How did they deal with the religious divisions in their
realms? What were their personal religious beliefs? How important were these
beliefs in their duties as monarchs? Why were they more successful in achieving
their goals than Charles V? How do they symbolize a new age in Europe?