Introduction to the Early Modern Period (1475-1660)
Key terms: humanism, self-fashioning, age of print,
authorization, sprezzatura, poetry or poesy;
government, common weal, body
politic, divine right of kings, natural law, common law, tyranny, courtesy books
1. Why do we call this the Early Modern Period and not the Renaissance?
Difference between seeing just the old reborn and the new developed (see p.
2. Change in world view (use the
important to track major changes in perspective. The painting "The Ambassadors"
on the cover of this volume of the Longman is a model of what we are going to
discuss for the next month: see
some links on its multiple perspectives.
3. Age of self-fashioning: beginning of conception of individualism,
of social mobility, of asking what makes a man? (a woman? A king?)
The concept of being stuck in your estate is fading and the possibility of
making something totally different of yourself is arising. The rise of the
City of London as a power in opposition
to Westminster, the court.
4. Emphasis not as much on what other people or institutions
(esp. the Church) tell you to
believe as on the power of the intellect—Renaissance humanism (p.
393-94) in concert with Protestant Reformation
- It's key to understand the
and its implications--the need for a male heir, the split of the Church of
England from Catholicism in 1533-34, the fear of alliances with Catholic
France or Catholic Spain and the loss of English national identity those might
- A court culture: the courtier is the model to emulate. Key virtue is
sprezzatura (doing it all and making it look easy; the
supposedly artless use of artifice (p. 664)) (see "The Ambassadors," p.
color plates 12 & 14)
- Increasing levels of popular literacy. Education for secular and civil
careers, not just the church. Schools run not only by cathedrals and
monasteries but by guilds (Merchant Tailors’ School) and institutions (Inns of
- Stronger public demand for literature—Short Title
Catalog estimates 20,000 titles printed between 1475 and 1620. Also the use of
popular broadsheets (sort of a cross between the news and the
National Enquirer) posted in public places--the first "popular" press.
- Impact of the printing press: for the first time there
is the ability to print large numbers of identical, consistent copies cheaply.
Makes printing a tool for the politicians as well as for writers. Also makes
it possible, in a way, for writers to make a living without holding other jobs
(like Chaucer had to). Move of print shops from
Caxton's Westminster to Cheapside and
Fleet Street in the City.
- Religion now becomes overtly politicized. Only those who are members of Church
of England can have advancement. Enmity to "Papists," Quakers,
Puritans, etc. Act of Supremacy 1534. Henry VIII breaks
with Roman Catholic church and creates Anglican Catholic church, a/k/a The
Church of England. If you slept through this part in high school, here's a
website with a good, accessible, quick overview of all this:
- Each person responsible for his own salvation.
Cuts down the authority of priests and clergy in favor of individual
- "Authorized" versions of the Bible (culminating in the
King James or Authorized Version, 1611);
Book of Common
Prayer (1548); the
Articles of Faith one had to sign
to go to Oxford or Cambridge. (Articles of faith:
A brief statement of the points of belief required by the Church was the
highest priority for Henry VIII, who engineered the break with Rome.
The term can describe Henry's Ten Articles (1536), subsequently
revised as the 42 Articles under his son Edward VI (1552),
39 Articles under Henry's daughter Elizabeth (1563).)
- Catholics = terrorists.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells tales of
Protestants tortured by Catholics for their faith.
England and "Otherness"
- Increasing political and cultural isolation from the Continent (us vs.
- Curiosity about other lands, other worlds—exploration and exploitation
- Writing history as a way to reinforce sense of nationhood (Holinshed,
Camden, Drayton) and also as a way of encouraging economic
exploitation of foreign lands.
was a professional virgin--always courting foreign marriages but never going
through with one--her heir is a foreigner (a Scot
descended from the widow of the King of France). This was a source of
considerable anxiety to the entire country.
Government and Self-Government
One of key issues of Early
Modern period. Pulling away from medieval concepts of estates and ‘auctoritee’
and questioning the expectation for blind authority to institutions. (Natural
accompaniment to a system of humanist education that begins to emphasize
questioning, dialogue, and understanding over rote memorization—see Ascham, p.
773, and Mulcaster, p. 775.)
The chief subject is the
nature and source of governing—who rules the individual? The self? The
king? The law? God? Key question becomes “Do laws come from kings or kings from
- Tyndale (1528): The “powers that be” are ordained of God—divine right
of kings to rule.
- Ponet (1556): the
monarch’s powers come from doing his duties well. When the monarch fails to
uphold his responsibilities, he can be removed (638). See the bottom of p.
763: country over prince, common weal over individual loyalty.
- Foxe (1563): tyranny of
Catholic rulers over loyal Protestants—abuse of monarchy
- Hooker (1593-1614): the
great philosopher of English law (and foundation for Blackstone). Makes a key
distinction between natural law (which all can recognize and call good, p.
768) and common or positive law which we need to control our human
weaknesses. Calls for a limited power for kings (p. 769): “Happier that people
whose law is their king…than that whose king is himself their law.”
- James VI (1598): answer
to Hooker and Ponet, spirited defense of divine right of kings, using Biblical
precedents. Makes argument that king is father of his people (770) and has
duty to care for and correct them [not the steward/servant, as in Ponet].
States that the kings are makers of law and not vice versa (770; famous
statement that “kings are above the law” (771).
Same idea on a micro
scale—how are humans governed? Concept of teaching courtesy—governance
for princes, and by extension the rest of us. (Stems from the
"Mirror for Magistrates" tradition we saw in Malory.)