The World around 1600

European States

Conquest of Central and South America completed but Spain wasted the chance. Charles V was the last ruler of a major part of Europe. His son Phillip was king of Spain only (Netherlands was still under Spain) and bankrupted the country. But art and letters continued to flourish: El Greco (1541 –1614), Velázquez (1599 -1660), and Cervantes (1547-1616). In Netherlands: Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1576), Bruegel the elder (1525-1569).

In 1588: the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English and that was part of the rise of England. English sailors were fighting willingly while Spanish sailors were conscripts and scared to climb the rope ladders to trim the sails. England was more egalitarian than Spain and had less social injustice than Spain. Armies whose officers are willing to risk their lives will always defeat armies whose officer’s stay out of harms way.

There was stability in protestant England under Elizabeth I (1559-1603) - Shakespeare (1564 -1616). She was succeeded by James I (IV as king of Scotland) 1603-1625. First successful English settlement in America: 1607 Jamestown. However, Cromwell (1597-1658).

Protestant Reformation and religious wars were in full swing: Martin Luther (1517), John Calvin (1536), Ulrich Zwingli (1525). Then the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). It started as a religious war between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire and eventually became dominated by the Bourbon–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence. It devastated large regions of Europe (Germany and others). It was a continuous war in contrast to the 100 year war (1337 to 1453) between England and France in a dispute over the French throne

Note on French kings: Louis XII (1498 –1515) House of Valois - Francis I (1515 –1547) - Henry II (1547 – 1559) brief reign of Francis II - ….. -Henry III (1574 –1589) He was elected the monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1573 to 1575 and ruled as King of France from 1574 until his death. He was the last French monarch of the Valois dynasty.

France was torn by religious wars. Charles IX (1560 –1574) allowed the massacre of all Huguenot leaders who gathered in Paris for the royal wedding at the instigation of his mother Catherine de' Medici. This event is known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572).

Henry IV (1589 –1610) was the first French monarch of the House of Bourbon. Protestant but became Catholic upon ascent to the throne. Popular king. He displayed an unusual religious tolerance for the time. Notably, he enacted the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which guaranteed religious liberties to Protestants. But that was rolled back by Louis XIII (1610 –1643) (Of “Three Musketeers” fame).

Science in early 17th century

While Europe was torn by nearly continuous warfare science was doing well. By 1650 Kepler and Gallileo had solidified the evidence for the heliocentric system and the latter laid the foundations of mechanics. Harvey (1628) had discovered the pulmonary circulation of blood and Vesalius had written a new anatomical book going beyond Galen’s and Avicenna’s.

Some historians made the a posteriori argument that competition between the warring states encouraged development of science.

Competition was certainly good for the development of weapons, in particular the perfection of firearms. But for science one could make the opposite argument as well. A better argument: The European states that emerged from the barbarian states did not try thought control! (That was a Persian invention adopted by the Romans and then the Ottomans.)

Or we can make a negative argument. Since the European states were so much at war with each other, they had no time to worry about the consequences of scientific discovery. Keep in mind, military funding of basic science is a post WW II phenomenon.

Far East

Japan was centralized in 1582 under the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He adopted western firearms (from the Portuguese) and took Korea away from China. After the first shogun Japan enters a period of isolation.

In China, the Ming dynasty ruled. Its founder had decreed (circa 1370) that people need not travel more 8 miles from home. Travelling more than 35 miles without permission resulted in whipping ([MORR], p. 405). He and his successors discouraged commerce as “corrupting stable relationships.” But commerce flourished anyway. Still there was bureaucratic inertia (p. 441). Around 1570 there were some reforms around 1570 (Great Wall was reinforced then). Curfew was common in China – keeping everybody safe in their homes.

Ming dynasty fell in 1644 (fall of Beijing to rebel forces). Eventually leaders of the Jurchen tribe (Manchu) took over, Qing dynasty (1644-1912). They integrated with the Han Chinese. The imperial examinations continued and Han civil servants administered the empire alongside Manchu ones.

Middle East

From around 1500 to 1900 a single empire kept the Middle East in the Dark Ages. Ottoman rulers gave a lot of power to religious authorities (Muslim AND Christian) as part of a divide and conquer policy. And the religious authorities kept tight control of any intellectual activity. As a result the Middle East missed both the Renaissance and the Industrial revolution.

The Key Factor for Europe's Success

Gibbon - Chapter 9 (p. 208) starts with "The government and religion of Persia have deserved some notice from their connection with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire." Then (ten lines down) he states "The most civilized nations of modern Europe issued from the woods of Germany, and in the rude institutions of these barbarians we may still distinguish the original principles of our laws and manners." He points out that the climate of northern Europe was very cold, both Rhine and Danube would solidly freeze.

Gibbon - Chapter 26 as quoted by Zimmerman "The corn, or even the rice, which constitutes the ordinary and wholesome food of a civilized people, can be obtained only by the patient toil of the husbandman. Some of the happy savages who dwell between the tropics are plentifully nourished by the liberality of nature; but in the climates of the North a nation of shepherds is reduced to their flocks and herds. The skilful practitioners of the medical art will determine (if they are able to determine) how far the temper of the human mind may be affected by the use of animal or of vegetable food; and whether the common association of carnivorous and cruel deserves to be considered in any other light than that of an innocent, perhaps a salutary, prejudice of humanity. Yet, if it be true that the sentiment of compassion is imperceptibly weakened by the sight and practice of domestic cruelty, we may observe that the horrid objects which are disguised by the arts of European refinement are exhibited, in their naked and most disgusting simplicity, in the tent of a Tartarian shepherd. The ox and the sheep are slaughtered by the same hand from which they were accustomed to receive their daily food; and the bleeding limbs are served, with very little preparation, on the table of their unfeeling murderer."

In Is History a Science? we discussed Gibbon’s argument about the connection between oppression and state size. We may add here that the uncivilized barbarians that overran the Western Roman Empire came from small nomadic states that had developed no means of systematic oppression of their citizens. That may be one reason why the states of Western Europe were able not only to defeat the Roman armies, but also to advance much farther ahead than the Eastern Roman Empire. A tradition of (relative) freedom and ruler accountability survived while the barbarians became “civilized.”

[MORR] calls this the “advantage of backwardness” but not any backwardness will do!

We look at old societies as all having social inequality but the degree and nature of inequality varies. The Byzantines were astounded by the freedom of western European women even though with modern standards they were not free.

Gibbon’s argument boils down to the relative freedom of western Europeans compared to other populations. [MORR] (pp. 466- ) details that argument. Spain suppressed its merchants the most. But the Dutch and British merchants had more independence. (See Figure 9.3 in [MORR])

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