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Legacies of the Renaissance and Reformation Essay

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Updated: Jul 16th, 2021

Introduction

The Renaissance and Reformation were some of the most significant events of human history that shaped the future of the world. Many contemporary and modern researchers contributed to reviewing and analyzing the impacts of the changes that happened in the period from 1527 to 1625 in England. The exceptional volume of the innovations introduced to the life of people and the developmental power it had on the country appears to trace the connections of those changes in the 21st century. In this essay, the evolution of the English reformation movement and Renaissance will be discussed in relation to the consequences these events had on the 21st century with evidence drawn from contemporary and modern sources.

Evolution of Reformation Movement in England

Reformation in England concerns the period from 1527 to 1625 when the principles of the Catholic faith were challenged across many European states. As claimed by many historians, one of the first events that triggered the change was the request of Henry VIII to annul his marriage which is considered a politicized matter rather than a theological one. Later, however, it evolved into religious disputes and reassessment of Catholic religious doctrine in many aspects. The main underpinnings of the Reformation still happened in the political arena.

The Catholic doctrine at the time mostly presupposed the union of the church and monarch into a single political power, with the key sources of the political power being the pope and the king. The latter, on the other hand, desired broader freedom of decision-making and resorted to a doctrine that supported such nationalistic and absolutist aspirations.1 The Supremacy Act of 1534 de-facto declared the submission of the church to the rule of the King of England not in all aspects but in a substantial portion of questions.2

The harsh response from the pope triggered civil unrest in Ireland, Armada, and other lands under the British crown. Approximately at the same time, the church of England was established, yet its political and doctrinal status was disputed throughout the seventeenth century, which eventually was one of the precursors to the English Civil Wars.3 As a result, the monarchy and the positions of the church were mostly restored. However, the reformation brought democratic liberties to the public, including the parliament that gained more power.

These events unfolded within the framework of the period in human history that was called the “renaissance” only in the 19th century by Jacob Burckhardt. According to Bireley, the Renaissance constituted five major areas of life that ensured the transition of Europe and England from a medieval state to early-modernity.4 Among them were the political changes in the governance of the state, demographic, social, and economic alterations. The fifth change was predominantly concerning the reformation of faith institutions and the review of their position in the life of different layers of society. Printing aided the dissemination of information and increased the speed at which ideas traversed the world. Continuous conflicts between European monarchs and the Papacy eventually consolidated the authority of Kings over their countries on the grounds of their new source of religious power.

The demographic and economic growth within urban areas predicted the emergence of the new social class, the bourgeoisie, from traders and artisans. The Renaissance was also imbued with literature, where drama and poetry witnessed a rise in the richness of themes and depth. Some of the finest works in the sphere of visual arts, music, and architecture, were produced in this period which marked the spiritual and educational growth of society. Given the number of above-mentioned innovations and events in the life of late-medieval England, the Reformation and Renaissance appear to have produced a significant impact on the country and the world.

In the 21st century, people enjoy many rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitutions, including the freedom of religion, expression, dignity, and so on.5 The roots of those rights were, arguably, born in the Reformation and Renaissance periods. Thus, the religious clashes between the Catholic and Protestant churches led to the acceptance of both within the borders of one state. The Protestant faith, due to the status it received after emerging victorious as the dominant doctrine in a number of European states, was exported to other nations and now represents one of the pillars of the Christian world.6

The expression and dissemination of revolutionary ideas aided by print evolved eventually into the freedom of speech, and the continual practice was forged into the law. Thus, the echo of reformation and renaissance helped shape many pillars of 21st-century society.

Historiography of the Renaissance and Reformation

The views of contemporaries on the events of the reformation were different from the ones expressed by modern intellectuals and academics in several aspects. Modern historians are privileged with the benefits of retrospection and the ability to create a more or less full picture of the political, economic, and social situation on a large scale. The contemporary thinkers were often immersed in a much smaller information field.

Thus, Mandelbrote argues about the practice of religious toleration being the weapon turned against the Catholics by many theologians and social activists.7 He draws evidence from a variety of sources and quotes many contemporaries such as John Strype and a vast body of 20th-and 21st-century research. Richard Baxter, a Puritan poet and a theologian, in his writings, draw conclusions about the causes of English Civil Wars mostly on observations and anecdotal evidence.8

Baxter explains the reasons or “fundamental” of the Civil War. He claims that it was lawful because of the rebellion instigated by Charles I and Irish Catholics. Also, given the pro-Catholic teachings of Laud and others, a retaliation of Puritans that followed was justified. Puritans, as he highlights, were not the originators of this war and were mostly “unrevolutionary” in their beliefs.9

Here the business of his views can be attributed to his adherence to the Puritan teachings. Modern historians are not exempt from bias, yet in questions of religion, they tend to consider more than one side of the issue and base their assumptions on a variety of sources. In addition, the tensions between Catholic and protestant churches, if not entirely gone, have subsided sufficiently through the ages. Orr, a modern historian, tends to offer a more analytical approach and strives to be impartial. He claims the reasons for war to be purely religious, yet he also argues that it was a struggle for power.10

Among other things, he establishes that the views of personal rule and the role of the parliament were what drew the line between Charles I and puritans.11 Von Ranke, who contributed substantially to the development of modern history, also tended to use multiple sources.12 Thus there is a significant difference between the historiography of modern and contemporary academics.

Conclusion

The roots of the privileges and freedoms granted to people today can be found in the reformation and renaissance period. The fundamental changes that took place at that time significantly influenced the political and social ordinance of the word. Yet, there is a difference in the way contemporaries viewed the historical events. While modern intellectuals use the power of a wide variety of sources and try to stay objective, contemporary academics express their own views and employ anecdotal evidence.

Bibliography

Bireley, Robert. “Early-Modern Catholicism as a Response to the Changing World of the Long Sixteenth Century.” The Catholic Historical Review 95, no. 2 (2009): 219-239.

Bold, Andreas. “National University of Ireland, n.d.. Web.

Karant-Nunn, Susan, and Lotz-Heumann, Ute. “Confessional Conflict. After 500 Years: Print and Propaganda in the Protestant Reformation.” University of Arizona Libraries, 2017. Web.

Lamont, William. “Richard Baxter, ‘Popery’ and the Origins of the English Civil War.” History 87, no. 287 (2002): 336-352.

Mandelbrote, Scott. “Religious Belief and the Politics of Toleration in the Late Seventeenth Century.” Dutch Review of Church History 81, no. 2 (2001): 93-114.

Orr, Alan. “Sovereignty, Supremacy and the Origins of the English Civil War.” History 87, no. 288 (2002): 474-490.

Weber, Wolfgang. ““What a Good Ruler Should Not Do”: Theoretical Limits of Royal Power in European Theories of Absolutism, 1500-1700.” Sixteenth Century Journal 26, no. 4 (1995): 897-915.

Footnotes

  1. Wolfgang Weber, ““What a Good Ruler Should Not Do”: Theoretical Limits of Royal Power in European Theories of Absolutism, 1500-1700,” Sixteenth Century Journal 26, no. 4 (1995): 897.
  2. Alan Orr, “Sovereignty, Supremacy and the Origins of the English Civil War,” History 87, no. 288 (2002): 477.
  3. Weber, “What a Good Ruler Should Not Do,” p. 899.
  4. Robert Bireley, “Early-Modern Catholicism as a Response to the Changing World of the Long Sixteenth Century,” The Catholic Historical Review 95, no. 2 (2009): 221.
  5. Susan Karant-Nunn and Ute Lotz-Heumann, “Confessional Conflict. After 500 Years: Print and Propaganda in the Protestant Reformation,” University of Arizona Libraries, 2017. Web.
  6. Karen-Nunn and Lotz-Heumann, Confessional Conflict.
  7. Scott Mandelbrote, “Religious Belief and the Politics of Toleration in the Late Seventeenth Century,” Dutch Review of Church History 81, no. 2 (2001): 93.
  8. William Lamont, “Richard Baxter, ‘Popery’ and the Origins of the English Civil War,” History 87, no. 287 (2002): 336.
  9. Lamont, “Richard Baxter, ‘Popery’ and the Origins of the English Civil War,” 339.
  10. Orr, “Sovereignty, Supremacy and the Origins,” 490.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Andreas Bold, “Perception, Depiction and Description of European History: Leopold von Ranke and his Development and Understanding of Modern Historical Writing,” National University of Ireland, n.d. Web.
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