Home / Reformation and Exploration 1415 – 1634

Reformation and Exploration 1415 – 1634

1378 John Wyclif publishes a work calling for church reforms and begins to translate the Bible into English.

1415 The Portuguese defeat a Turkish fleet at Ceuta, opening the way to Africa; Jan Hus, influenced by Wyclif, is condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

1418 Prince Henry of Portugal founds a school for mariners.

1432 Portuguese explorers discover the Azores.

1434 Portuguese sailors explore the west coast of Africa.

1487 Diaz discovers the Cape of Good Hope for Portugal.

1492 Christopher Columbus sails west and discovers America.

1497 Vasco da Gama sails to India by way of the coast of Africa.

1498 John Cabot explores the coast of North America for England.

1505 Martin Luther, a young student, becomes a monk.

1506 Death of Columbus.

1513 Ponce de Leon discovers Florida; Balboa reaches the Pacific.

1516 Martin Luther preaches a sermon attacking indulgences.

1511 Luther posts his 95 theses questioning the power of the pope to grant indulgences, on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

1519 Luther defends his theses in a debate with Johann Eck; Magellan sets out from Portugal to sail around the world; Cortez invades Mexico and conquers the Aztec kingdom for Spain.

1520 The pope excommunicates Luther, who writes a pamphlet in reply.

1521 The Diet of Worms, under pressure from the pope, declares Luther a heretic and banishes him.

1524 Peasants in Germany revolt expecting help from Luther, but he condemns them.

1521 Henry VIII of England petitions the pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Spain; the pope, under pressure from the emperor, puts off any answer.

1529 Luther meets with Zwingli, the Swiss Protestant, but they are unable to agree on doctrine.

1532 Pizarro conquers Peru for Spain; England stops paying tribute to the pope.
1534 Parliament passes the Act of Supremacy making the king head of the church and breaking with Rome; Ignatius Loyola founds the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.

1535 Mercator’s map of the world names the new territories America after Amerigo Vespucci; Pizarro founds the city of Lima, Peru.

1536 John Calvin comes to Geneva and begins to govern the city by the principles of his religion.

1539 De Soto explores the Gulf coast and discovers the Mississippi.

1540 The pope recognizes the Jesuits; Coronado explores western North America.

1542 The pope founds the Roman Inquisition to examine heretics.

1545-1563 The Council of Trent meets to consider reforms of the Catholic Church.

1546 Death of Martin Luther.

1547 Death of Henry VIII.

1553 Mary becomes queen of England, restores ties with the pope and wages a campaign of terror against Protestants.

1558 Elizabeth becomes queen and re-establishes Protestantism; death of Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit.

1564 Death of John Calvin.

1568 Dutch Protestants begin a revolt against rule by Catholic Spain.

1572 Protestant Huguenots in Paris are slaughtered by Catholics in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

1585 The Roanoke colony, first English settlement in North America, is founded by Walter Raleigh.

1588 Spain attempts to invade England, overthrow Elizabeth, and restore Catholicism with the Armada, but is defeated by Drake and the English navy.

1607 The Jamestown colony in Virginia is settled.

1608 Champlain builds a French trading post at Quebec and discovers Lakes Champlain‚ Huron, and Ontario.

1609 Henry Hudson discovers the Hudson River and Hudson‘s Bay.

1620 Puritans on the way to Virginia on the Mayflower land by mistake in Massachusetts and build a settlement there.

1624 Dutch settlers found the town of New Amsterdam, which later becomes New York.

Adventures in the New World 1519 – 1620

“I DID NOT come to till the soil like a peasant,” said Hernando Cortez. “I came to find gold.” His words echoed the thoughts of almost every Spaniard in the New World. The discovery of the sea route to the West had set off a great treasure hunt. Colonizing and slaughtering, building and plundering, the gold-hungry Spaniards won a Spanish Empire of the West. Conquistadores‚ they were called — the conquerors. None of the treasure-hunters was more cunning or ambitious than Hernando Cortez‚ who came to the island of Hispaniola in 1504. It was not until 1519 that the governor of Hispaniola sent him on an expedition to explore the coast of Central America. Cortez sailed with five ships, 500 soldiers, eleven cannon and fifteen horses. The fleet anchored near the coast of the territory called Mexico and the men went ashore to build a settlement. Cortez ordered the ships dismantled so that none of his men could go back to Hispaniola, then set off on a march inland. Mexico was a vast country whose Indians had built a highly organized civilization and Cortez had a force of less than 500 men. He was a skillful leader; besides, he had firearms and horses –and good luck. Not long after he began his march, a horde of Indians swept out of the hills to attack the Spaniards. As soon as the Spanish cavalry appeared, the Indians fled to safety. As one soldier later wrote, the Indians, “who had never before seen a horse, thought that steed and rider were one creature.” One tribe after another surrendered. They had been conquered by the people called the Aztecs and many of them offered to join Cortez in the fight to destroy the Aztec empire. As the Spaniards and their Indian allies pushed on …

Read More »

A New World and a New Sea 1492-1522


ALONG THE DUSTY SPANISH road leading north from Granada plodded a mule. On its back, bouncing and cursing his luck, sat a glum Italian sea captain. Four years before, Captain Cristobal Colon — the English would call him Christopher Columbus — had come to Spain on horseback, like a gentleman. He had been received at court, granted audiences with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and invited to describe his daring plan to sail west across the Ocean Sea to India. Royal advisers had asked to study his maps and the charts on which he had plotted a course and he had waited, full of hope. The king was busy chasing Moslems out of Granada and the pious queen was more interested in church matters than exploration. Although everyone was polite and encouraging, no one offered the gold Columbus needed for his expedition. At last, gathering up his maps, he set out for the court of France. This time, like a peasant, he rode on the back of a mule, the only mount he could afford. Some miles out of Granada, Columbus heard behind him the sound of galloping hoofs. Then a horseman in royal livery reined in beside him and called for him to stop. He must turn back, the horseman said. The queen wished to hear again his plan to sail to the Indies. One royal adviser had not forgotten Columbus’ maps. When he heard that the captain was leaving Spain, he had rushed to Queen Isabella and urged her to hire Columbus to sail under the Spanish flag. Portugal, he reminded her, was profiting richly from such expeditions. He added, if Columbus found a route to the East, there would be a splendid opportunity to convert the heathen Indians and Chinese to Christianity. The queen agreed and asked …

Read More »

Prince Henry’s School 1415 – 1499

Vasco da Gama

IN 1415, WHEN ALL OF CHRISTENDOM belonged to one church and Christians battled pagan Turks instead of one another, a force of Portuguese marines set sail for the coast of Africa. They planned to attack a town called Ceuta. A stronghold that guarded the narrow passage connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic, Ceuta was the end link in the chain of fortresses and well-armed ports that the Turks had tightened around the southern and eastern boundaries of Europe. Held in by this chain, European merchants could not trade in the luxury-filled markets of the east, pilgrims could not journey to Jerusalem and missionaries could not carry the word of God to the countless “lost souls” of Africa and the Indies. While the Turks held Ceuta, it was dangerous for the merchants of northern and southern Europe merely to trade with one another. So the king of Portugal sent out an expedition of his toughest marines. At their head he placed his own son, Prince Henry, who was young but skilled in the tactics of war. With a favourable wind driving his ships at top speed, Prince Henry caught the Turks by surprise. He sank their fleet, destroyed their docks‚ burned their town and triumphantly sailed home to announce that the sea routes were free once more. The king rewarded his son by naming him master of the Naval Arsenal at Sagres, the port of Lagos and all of the Cape of St. Vincent, the rocky headland that jutted like a pointing finger from southern Portugal into the Atlantic. Prince Henry was delighted. Ships and the sea were his love and his life and he had many ideas for the fleet that now was his to command. These ideas were the beginning of a great age of exploration. They would …

Read More »

Defender of the Faith 1521 – 1603

Henry VIII

OF ALL THE RULERS OF EUROPE, none was more eager to please the pope, more anxious to prove himself a loyal son of the Church, than Henry VIII, the handsome young monarch of England. Henry was one of the first to offer his soldiers when the pope formed a Holy League to fight the Turks (and to frighten off the French kings, who had developed the unfortunate habit of invading Italy every few years). Henry never actually sent the troops. To show that he meant well, he wrote a strongly worded book about the duties that men owed the pope and the treachery of Lutherans who dated to question the leader of the Church. “What serpent so villainous,” he wrote, “as he who calls the pope’s authority tyrannous?” It was a most impressive and learned book and no wonder. Much of it was the work of Henry’s scholarly friend Thomas More. When it was published in 1521, the pope rewarded the king by giving him the title “Defender of the Faith.” Henry was delighted with his new title, though not surprised. After all, he was used to being the best at everything he did. He wrote music which the palace musicians insisted was exactly the thing to play at court. He amazed his poets with the excellence of his verses, danced more skillfully than the most light-footed of his courtiers, killed more deer and wild beats than the best of his huntsmen and thought deeper thoughts than the philosophers in his universities — or so his courtiers said. It did not occur to him that people praised him merely because he was the king. Indeed, his one problem was to make use of his many talents when it took so much time to rule his kingdom. He did the best …

Read More »

The Counter Reformation 1521-1648


THE BLAST OF MUSKETS and the clang of swords against armour echoed across the plains of Italy, Spain and the Lowlands. Warriors of the king of France were clashing with the Spanish infantry and German knights of the Holy Roman Emperor. Control of the nations of Europe was the prize both nations sought. They schemed and plotted; their generals planned campaigns; their soldiers marched out to victory or defeat. Victories counted for little, for much of Europe’s future was decided by another, different kind of war – a war for the minds and souls of men. Village squares and royal council chambers, churches, university lecture halls and schoolrooms were the battlefields of this new war. Its troops were armies of preachers whose battle-songs were hymns and whose weapons were Bibles and textbooks. Reformers were on the march, Lutherans and Calvinists. Their thundering voices shook the domes of ancient cathedrals and wakened bishops dozing in their palaces. The Reformers won no easy victories‚ however. The forces of the pope were also on the march and the strongholds of the Church were well defended. Frightened by rebellions in Germany and Switzerland, the Catholic leaders in Rome took further measures to strengthen the Church. “There is but one way to silence the Protestants’ complaints‚” a learned churchman told the pope “and that is not to deserve them.” Lowly monks and the powerful cardinals alike began to talk of reform, of hard work, of honesty and godliness. Gradually there were deeds to match the talk — a great Church house-cleaning that one day would be called the Counter-Reformation. Meanwhile, in Europe’s towns and colleges‚ new soldiers of the Church appeared. Their uniforms were the simple black robes of monks, but their minds were as keen as dueling swords — much too sharp and smooth, …

Read More »

Preachers of Reform 1518-1564


IN 1518, AN INDULGENCE PEDDLER, a priest from France, made his way through one of the twisting Alpine passes that led into Switzerland. He carried with him a supply of bright banners, an impressive-looking copy of Pope Leo’s Declaration of Indulgences and of course, a collecting box. The French priest’s hopes were high, for the little Swiss merchant towns were rich. He did indeed do well at first and his collecting box began to grow heavy with pieces of gold. Then he came to the town of Zurich. As he began to set up his banners, a town official stopped him. “No indulgences here,” the official said. “I come in the name of Pope Leo and the Holy Church,” the Frenchman replied. “And I,” said the official, “speak for the town council of Zurich and the People’s Priest of our Cathedral who has told us that these indulgences you peddle are no good.” When the Frenchman began to protest, the official said he would have him driven out of town if he didn’t leave peacefully. The Frenchman rolled up his bright banners and went on his way. The Swiss, he knew‚ had always been too independent and now, with this People’s Priest, whoever he was, they seemed to have found another Martin Luther. Actually, nothing so annoyed the People’s Priest of Zurich as being called the “other Luther.” Ulrich Zwingli said that his ideas were his own and that he had come upon them long before Luther began to make a stir in Wittenberg. As a young parish priest‚ fresh from the university, Zwingli had studied Greek and Hebrew in order to read the Bible and other early church writings in their original languages. Three times he had gone to Italy, as chaplain to the rugged Swiss soldiers who were …

Read More »

The Monk from Wittenberg 1505-1546

ON A SULTRY JULY DAY IN 1505, a young law student, Martin Luther, was walking along a country road in Germany when a summer storm blew up. The air grew heavy and black clouds filled the sky. Before Luther could take shelter, thunder began to crash. A bolt of lightning struck the road almost at his feet. Thrown to the ground, he lay shaking, not certain whether he was alive or dead. “Help me, Saint Anne,” he cried, “help me and I will become a monk.” After a moment, Luther’s trembling stopped. He stood up, found that he was not hurt and continued his walk toward Erfurt, the town in which he attended the university. He did not forget his promise to Saint Anne. He spent a week or so thinking and making plans. Then he told his professors that he could come no more to their classes. He sold his books, bade farewell to his friends and went to the monastery of the Augustinian friars and said that it was his wish to become a monk. When Martin’s father, old Hans Luther, heard what his son had done, he was puzzled and angry. Hans had worked hard all of his life. Though his ancestors had been peasant farmers, he had managed to set himself up in a little business. But he was far from rich; he had scrimped and saved to send his son to school and to the university. He had long looked forward to the time when Martin would be a lawyer, a man of standing who would make his parents proud and earn the money to care for them in their old age. Now those plans were ruined. As a monk, Martin would never win fame or riches. Hans was furious and he wrote to Martin …

Read More »

The Walls Come Tumbling Down 1300-1415


IN THE MIDDLE AGES, when knights fought wars in Europe’s fields, robbers roamed the roads and the dark forests seemed filled with unknown dangers, men put their trust in walls. Around each little town rose ramparts of massive stonework, a strong defense against the evils outside. Within the safety of the wall was a crowded little world, complete in itself — a castle‚ a church, a monastery or two, a marketplace and a tangle of cobbled streets lined with the thatch-roofed houses of townsmen. In such a town a man knew his place. He was a nobleman or a knight, a churchman, a craftsman, or a farmer and there were ancient invisible walls that marked off the little world in which each kind of person belonged. For a lord there was the realm of chivalry. He lived according to the code of knights and in time of war, put on his armour and defended the town against its enemies. In peacetime, he amused himself with hunting, banquets, poetry, music, dancing and wooing ladies in the complicated fashion called courtly love. Religion and scholarship were the territory of monks, priests and bishops. They were men who had learned to read the Bible and other books and who understood the Latin of church services. For commoners, there was work on land owned by the nobles and in shops that served the castle. It was an orderly system and it seemed as if it would never change. No peasant dreamed of becoming a knight or questioned the wisdom of the churchmen. The invisible walls, like the walls of stone around the town, were strong and old and within them a man felt safe. THE WORLD OF CHRISTENDOM The world of Europe also had its walls in the Middle Ages. To the east and …

Read More »
Translate »