Mark Greengrass



Europe 1517–1648


  List of Maps

  List of Illustrations

  List of Genealogies


  1. The Fall of Western Christendom

From The ‘Silver Age’ to the ‘Iron Century’

  2. Human Replenishment

  3. Urban and Rural Worlds

  4. Treasure and Transaction

  5. Noble Pursuits

Grasping the World

  6. Europe in the World

  7. Earth and Heavens Observed

  8. Being in Touch

Christendom Afflicted

  9. Politics and Empire in the Age of Charles V

10. Schism

11. Reaction, Repression, Reform

Christian Commonwealths in Contention

12. Conflicts in the Name of God

13. Living with Religious Divisions

14. Churches and the World

15. The Waning of Crusade

Christian States in Disarray

16. The Business of States

17. States in Confrontation

18. War at Large

19. Times of Troubles to the East and West

  Conclusion: Europe’s Paroxysm


  Further Reading


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General Editor: David Cannadine

The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine*

II: CHRIS WICKHAM The Inheritance of Rome:
A History of Europe from 400 to 1000*

III: WILLIAM JORDAN: Europe in the High Middle Ages*

IV: ANTHONY GRAFTON Renaissance Europe

V: MARK GREENGRASS Christendom Destroyed:
The History of Europe, 1517–1648*

VI: TIM BLANNING The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815*

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815–1914

VIII: IAN KERSHAW To Hell and Back: Europe in the
Twentieth Century

For Emily

List of Maps

  1. The Spread of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, c. 1570
  2. Habsburg Europe in the Later Sixteenth Century
  3. The Thirty Years War in German Lands
  4. Europe’s Frontiers in 1648

List of Illustrations

  1. Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Close of the Silver Age, c. 1530. National Gallery, London (photograph: Scala, Florence)
  2. Johannes Bucius Aenicola, ‘Europe as a Queen’, illustration from Sebastian Münster, Cosmographia, 1570
  3. Thomas Cockson, The Revells of Christendome, c. 1609 (photograph: private collection/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  4. Annibale Carracci, The Bean Eater, c. 1580/90. Galleria Colonna, Rome (photograph: De Agostini/Bridgeman Art Library)
  5. Isaac Claesz Swan, Spinning and Weaving Wool, c. 1600. Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden (photograph: akg-images/Erich Lessing)
  6. Georg Hoefnagel, map showing Sankt Pölten, Lower Austria, illustration from Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, 1618
  7. Hans von Hemssen, The Audience Chamber of the Rathaus at Lübeck, 1625. St Annen-Museum, Lübeck (copyright © St Annen-Museum/Fotoarchiv der Hansestadt Lübeck)
  8. Théodore de Bry after Jacque Le Moyne, illustration showing llamas carrying silver from the mines of Potosí, from Americae, 1602 (photograph: Getty Images)
  9. Théodore de Bry after Jacque Le Moyne, illustration showing a scene of cannibalism, from Americae, 1592. Service Historique de la Marine, Vincennes (photograph: Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  10. Japanese School, detail showing the unloading of merchandise, from a Namban Byobu screen depicting the arrival of the Portuguese in Japan, 1594–1618. Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, Porto (photograph: Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  11. Bernardino de Sahagún, illustration of a domestic pagan ritual with the devil, from Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, sixteenth century. Facsimile in the Biblioteca Manuel Gamio Inah Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City (photograph: De Agostini Picture Library/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  12. Bonaventura Peeters the Elder, The Port of Archangel, 1644 (copyright © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)
  13. Plates 113 and 136 from Matthäus Schwarz, The Book of Clothes (Die Schwarzschen Trachtenbücher), sixteenth century. Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum Braunschweig, Kunstmuseum des Landes Niedersachsen (photographs: Museumsfotograf)
  14. Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder, Anatomy, or, a Faithful Reproduction of the Body of a Female, 1544. Boston Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (ff QM33.A16)
  15. Frontispiece from Jan van der Straet (Stradanus), Nova Reperta, c. 1599–1603 (photograph: Namur Archive, London/Scala, Florence)
  16. Johannes Hevelius, ‘Observations of Sunspots, May 1644’, illustration from Selenographia, 1647 (photograph: Universal History Archive/UIG/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  17. Lavinia Fontana, Antonietta Gonzales, c. 1583. Musee du Château, Blois (photograph: Bonhams, London/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  18. Adriaen van Stalbemt, The Sciences and the Arts, early seventeenth century. Museu Nacional del Prado, Madrid (photograph: Scala, Florence/BPK, Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin)
  19. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther and his wife Catherine von Bora, 1529. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi (photograph: Scala, Florence, courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali)
  20. Anon, The Pope and the Devil, c. 1600. Museum Caharijneconvent, Utrecht (photograph: akg-images)
  21. Klaus Hottinger and helpers take down the Crucifix at Stadelhofen, illustration from Heinrich Bullinger, Reformationsgeschichte, 1605–6. Zentralbibliothek, Zürich (MS B 316 fol 99r)
  22. The Massacre of Sens, 12th April 1562, print published by Jean Perissin and Jacques Tortorel, 1570. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (photograph: Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  23. Anti-Turkish pamphlet published by a follower of Martin Luther in Wittenberg, 1664. Staats- und Stadtbibliothek, Augsburg (4 Gs 2359 -237)
  24. Pierre Dan conversing with a Turk or Berber, illustration from Pierre Dan, Histoire de Barbarie et de ses Corsaires, 1637. Private collection (photograph: The Bridgeman Art Library)
  25. Anon., The Battle of Lepanto, 1571, late sixteenth century (copyright © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)
  26. Marco Vecellio, The Peace of Bologna, sixteenth century. Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci, Doge’s Palace, Venice (photograph: Cameraphoto/Scala, Florence)
  27. Italian school, Discussion of the Reform of the Calendar under Pope Gregory XIII, late sixteenth century. Archivio di Stato, Siena (photograph: Roger-Viollet, Paris/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  28. Pompeo Leoni, Philip II of Spain, c. 1580 (silver head mounted on a terracotta bust by Balthasar Ferdinand Moll, 1753). Kunstkammer, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv.-Nr. KK_3412)
  29. Touissant Dubreuil (attr.), Henry IV of France as Hercules Crushing the Hydra, c. 1600 (copyright © RMN, Paris – Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre)/Stéphane Maréchalle)
  30. French school, detail from The Procession of the Holy League on the Ile de la Cité, sixteenth century. Musée de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet, Paris (photograph: Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  31. Broadsheet depicting Gustav Adolf of Sweden, 1630. Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig (PRollos AB 3.4)
  32. Anon., Lennart Torstenson, 1648 (copyright © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Inventory No. NMGrh 1949)
  33. Sebastian Vrancx, Pillage of a Village, 1640. Musée du Louvre, Paris (photograph: akg-images/ Erich Lessing)
  34. Leonhard Kern, scene from the Thirty Years War, c. 1656–9. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv. KK 4363)
  35. Jean Tassel, Portrait of a Nun (Cathérine de Montholon, founder of the Ursuline order in Dijon), c. 1648. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (photograph: akg-images/Maurice Babey)
  36. Sir Anthony van Dyck, Marie de Médici, 1631. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille (photograph: Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  37. Domenico Gargiulo, The Killing of Father Giuseppe Carafa during the Revolt of Masaniello, July 10, 1647. Certosa di San Martino, Naples (photograph: De Agostini Picture Library/The Bridgeman Art Library)
  38. Illustration by Wenceslas Hollar from Henry Peacham, The World is Ruled & Govern’d by Opinion, 1641 (copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum; all rights reserved)

List of Genealogies

  1. The Jagiellon Dynasty in the Sixteenth Century
  2. The Habsburg Dynastic Sphere of Influence in the Era of Charles V
  3. The Succession to the French Crown in the Sixteenth Century
  4. Pretenders to the Portuguese Crown in 1580
  5. The Austrian Habsburg Dynastic Inheritance, 1550–1648


David de Vries was proud of having seen the world. The travel account which he published in his native Dutch in 1655 recounted the six voyages which had taken him to the Mediterranean, the Far East, Newfoundland, the Caribbean, and South and North America. Born in La Rochelle to Dutch parents in 1593, he became a trained artillery master, fluent in several European languages, a skilled navigator, a shrewd man of business, an autodidact with an observant eye. It was not his fault that his colonial enterprises – on the ‘South’ (Delaware) river (1633), Oyapock river in Guyana (1634) and Staten Island (1638–43) – all failed. Sponsors let him down, the local populations were difficult to manage, and competing ventures were hostile. De Vries knew where his loyalties lay. His homeland was in the Low Countries, the town of Hoorn his patria. If he had succeeded in establishing a colonial ‘patroonship’, he would have modelled it on the estates of the landed gentry of Holland as a part of the ‘New Netherland’ to which he often referred. He was a Calvinist Protestant who had a hand in building the first Christian church on Staten Island. De Vries understood Europe in a wider world. Landing at St John’s, Newfoundland in 1620, after marvelling at the monumental icebergs he saw en route, he recounted the Dutch, Basque, Portuguese and English vessels that he had met, fishing and trading in those waters. With an eye already acclimatized by his reading of other travelogues, he accommodated himself to local Indian customs. Visiting the governor of the new English colonies along the James river in 1640, he was welcomed with a glass of Venetian wine and sat down with another English colonist who had also been in the East Indies in the late 1620s. ‘I looked at him well, and he at me,’ says de Vries. And he heard the colonist say ‘that mountains could not meet one another, but men who go and see the world can’.

By their clothes, their food and their demeanour, these were Europeans, aware that they were on another continent, having (as de Vries said) ‘steered the earth’s four corners’. De Vries’s career reflected the wider geographical horizons of his generation, the possibilities and challenges which they opened up, an extraordinary pluralism of contact and communication that challenged old loyalties and senses of belonging. This new sense of Europe as a geographical entity, fashioned in a reflection of the wider world, would not have existed a century before. This eclipse of the older notion of ‘Christendom’ by ‘Europe’ in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and the extraordinary changes that went with it, is the subject of this book.

Christendom conjures up – like Camelot – an imagined past. In the Middle Ages, the Latin terms for Christendom (Christianitas or Corpus Christianorum) delineated something else: an imagined present and future for a world united by its beliefs and aspirations. That belief-community emerged along with the fall of the Roman empire in the west. The Christianity that took root amid what remained of that empire was initially only the western fringe of a much wider Christian world whose heartland lay further east, towards the Middle East and in the still-active eastern (Byzantine) Roman empire. Gradually, however, and by a process of mutual estrangement, eastern and western Christianity drew apart until, in 1054, the pope in Rome and the patriarch in Constantinople mutually excommunicated one other. Following that big divide, Latin Christians were henceforth separated from Orthodox Christians in the Greek archipelago, the Balkans and Russia to form western Christendom.

In the first millennium of western Christianity, Christendom developed without any elaborate notion of where its centre lay, and therefore where its peripheries were to be found. It existed (to borrow the phrases of a distinguished medievalist) as a series of ‘micro-Christendoms’ held together like a ‘geodesic dome’, composed of self-contained segments. The traffic of ‘symbolic goods’ (holy relics, but also holy people, such as missionaries and saints) carried the charisma of holy power from one place to another and, with it, the values and aspirations of the belief-community from one segment to another. Then, in the Central Middle Ages, and following the rupture with the East, western Christendom developed a more elaborate sense of centre and periphery with the full emergence of two geographical and ideological units: the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Their claims to authority were forged competitively by theologians, lawyers, political theorists and intellectuals in an atmosphere of confident universalism. That ideal was supported by the economic transformations of the period, the impressive growth of markets and inter-regional and international trade, and by the marriages and diplomatic alliances of the aristocracy. ‘Christendom’ was how learned contemporaries in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries understood the world of Latin Christians in western Europe.

The Roman Catholic Church was the central pillar of the belief-community in Latin Christianity. The intellectual élites of the latter were formed around an international language (Latin, as opposed to Greek) as well as a common curriculum (centred in matters of philosophy and logic on the works of Aristotle) and ways of study (scholasticism). Papal envoys shared with princely advisers common theocratic and bureaucratic conceptions of how power was derived, exercised and legitimated. The Crusades became western Christendom’s most ambitious project. Above all, Latin Christianity was expressed in inherited and practised beliefs, mapped onto that pre-existent multi-dimensional sacred landscape of shrines, pilgrimage sites, saint cults and festivals. Baptism was a universal rite of initiation. Those who were not baptized Christians (Jews, Muslims) were a significant presence in western Christendom’s margins in the Central Middle Ages, tolerated precisely because they were not part of the belief-community. But, as Christian kingdoms pushed the frontiers of Latin Christianity southwards in Spain and southern Italy, their significance as exemplifying alien forces from those who did not belong to Christendom seemed to increase.

Christendom was a reflexive construction that felt easily threatened. In reality, its most dangerous enemy was not non-Christians. Its power-brokers were most vulnerable from a different and disparate constituency – from those with particular, local loyalties to whom the overarching aspirations of Christendom meant little or nothing. Across the landmass of western Europe, over and against the mechanisms of the universal order of the Holy Roman Empire (the dominion located in central Europe whose title indicated its claims to continuity with the Roman empire and a temporal form of universal dominion) and Church lay thousands of villages and parishes, their inhabitants often carrying burdens of obligation to their manorial lords which made them serfs. These communities were joined by towns, benefiting from the economic transformations of the Central Middle Ages. Suspicions were fostered towards the cosmopolitan ambitions and bureaucracy of the international order. The more the sense of centre and periphery within Christendom was enhanced, the more people locally begrudged the time spent in getting permissions from above. Many resented the levies to sustain the universal Church and mistrusted the overblown supranational project of the Crusades. These sentiments spilled over into contentiousness, or heresy – the latter being a serious epidemic problem – and still more threatening in the minds of those to whom the ideals projected by Christendom mattered most – from the twelfth century onwards.

The confidence in these ideals waned as the European economy contracted in the wake of the Black Death. Serfdom and manorial obligations became matters of contention as local people asserted what they claimed were their customary rights. Although the beliefs and practices which Christendom had represented continued, and its sacred landscape flourished as never before, its local credibility diminished as it became the object of competing claims to represent a traditional social order. The Great Schism (1378–1417), too, undermined the claims to universal obedience. The existence of two lines of popes divided Christians between those loyal to Rome, and those supporting the Avignonese papacy, stigmatized by its enemies as a puppet in the hands of a disruptive French monarchy. The dispute ended in a compromise, but its legacy was lasting damage to the moral authority of the papacy. It also pointed up the dangers of an alliance between discontented localism and the new forces of secular, but non-imperial, authority. For the compromise was achieved through the authority of an ecumenical council. A council sustained the assertion (troubling for theocrats and bureaucrats), already debated two centuries previously but now presented with greater force, that a council was superior to the pope. That proposition was a radical way of putting it, and most ‘Conciliarists’ were moderates. They saw a council as a neat way out of a mess, not an engine to destroy universal papal monarchy, and still less a way of deriving doctrinal authority via unorthodox ways. Yet that was what the implicit successor to the Conciliar Movement, the Protestant Reformation, achieved.

So the central issue in the history of Europe in the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth centuries was: what was to happen to Christendom – the institutions which defined its centres of gravity and, still more, the belief-community which underlay it? If Christendom was destroyed, what, if anything, was to take its place? The process was one of a progressive eclipse of Christendom by Europe (defined as a geographical notion in a relationship of distance with other parts of the world). The two entities differed fundamentally. Christendom claimed the loyalties of those who were baptized into the belief-community and who related to the outside world accordingly. Europe, on the other hand, claimed no unity beyond the geographical landmass that it represented and an emerging sense of the moral and civilizing superiority of the different states and peoples which occupied it. Western Christendom was a great project about European unity, over a millennium in the making. Its destruction, by contrast, was rapid and total. In little over a century, there was nothing left but the dream of it. Huge forces accomplished its destruction and transformed Europe. Their interaction with one another is the focus of the first chapter.