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The Revival of Town Life and the Growth of Learning

middle ages

Pierre watched the merchant caravan clatter down the narrow dirt road that led through the manor. Pack mules threaded their way to avoid the deep puddles, while the horses strained as they pulled the creaking two wheeled carts. Pierre envied the merchants as well as the sturdy bowmen who guarded the caravan. During his seventeen years Pierre had never been more than a few miles from the manor where he had been born a serf. He was not free to move around as were these merchants who were city folk. Was it true, as Pierre had heard, that a serf who escaped to a town or city and lived there for a year and a day was forever free? He wondered. The merchant caravan disappeared around the bend in the road. Should Pierre follow it? To stay on the manor meant a serf’s life — a life of back-breaking toil. That night after dark, his mind made up, Pierre slipped unseen across the fields and onto a narrow  path that led over the surrounding hills. For two nights he walked as rapidly as he could, sleeping fitfully in deep thickets during the daylight hours. Soon after sunrise on the second morning the forest trail led to a wider road, an hour’s journey out of the city of Lacourt. Pierre helped to free an oxcart bogged down in the mire of the roadside ditch and then trudged toward Lacourt in the company of the grateful driver. The young serf’s eyes grew wide with wonder at the unfamiliar sights as he approached the outskirts of the city. Completely encircling it was a wall of stone four times the height of a man. At one point the wall was pierced by a gateway, its great oaken doors swung back. Through the opening Pierre could …

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The Revolution of 1848; 1830-1848

austria

LOUIS PHILIPPE always spoke of himself humbly as the “citizen king.” Although he was dignified, friendly and tried to do things that would make him popular, his government could not satisfy the needs of the people. The reason was that only one out of every thirty Frenchmen had the right to vote. The Chamber of Deputies represented only the nobles and the rich upper crust of the middle class and often it did not even debate questions that were of importance to the great majority of the people. Many Frenchmen did not like the new king. The republicans were opposed to having any king at all. The “liberals” — people of the middle class who favoured a constitutional monarchy thought his government was too conservative and did not allow enough freedom. As the years passed, more and more Frenchmen, including the workers in the cities, turned against him because he refused to support their demand for the right to vote. The liberals were forbidden to hold meetings at which they could present their demands. To get around this, they decided to follow the British system of holding political banquets. At the first of these, held in Paris in the summer of 1847, they demanded that the election laws be changed to include most of the middle classes. They also wanted freedom of trade and of the press. The banquet was so successful that similar gatherings were held in almost every town in the nation. Then the liberals announced that a great banquet, with a parade and demonstrations in the streets, would be held in Paris on the night of February 22, 1848. When the government refused to allow it, the angry people of Paris gathered in the streets. They milled about, not knowing what to do, for no plans had …

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The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte 1796-1802

napoleon

In March of 1796, a new commander named Napoleon Bonaparte was placed in charge of the French army on the Italian front. The soldiers and officers were amazed when they first saw him. He was short, thin, pale, only twenty-seven years old and spoke French with an Italian accent. Napoleon was not an unknown. He had first come to public attention as the young artillery officer who drove the British fleet from the harbour at Toulon. Later, as a brigadier general, he had successfully defended the Convention from an uprising in Paris. What most people did not know was that he had been a rebel most of his life. He had been born on the island of Corsica, a rebel stronghold, where fighting for independence from French rule was considered the duty of patriots. His father had been a rebel leader and the boy Napoleon had dreamed of the day when he, too, would lead a Corsican rebellion against the French. He had kept that dream alive during his years in French military school and even after he had become an officer in the French army. During one of his visits to the island, while on leave, he had actually tried to stir up a rebellion in Corsica. The attempt failed and that put an end to his boyhood dream, but he still remained a rebel at heart. Napoleon’s new army was a small one of only 30,000 troops and most of them were suffering for want of food and clothing. This was the army with which he was expected to fight the Austrian troops in Northern Italy. According to French war plans against Austria, the Italian campaign was supposed to keep enemy troops busy on the southern front while the main attacks were launched by two large French armies …

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The Italian Kings of France 1494 – 1590

In all Europe there was no greater admirer of Italy than Francis I, king of France. Francis practiced Italian manners in his court, built Italian palaces in his parks and kept Italian books in his library. He collected Italian paintings and the artists who painted them. Indeed, the king admired Italy so much that he wanted to conquer it all. Francis was not the first ruler to feel these strong Italian longings. In England, Spain and Germany, kings and princes were busily remodeling their courts, their castles and themselves in the Italian manner. Though the little states of Italy were growing poor and weak, it seemed that every richer, stronger nation in Europe was struggling to catch up with them. Actually, it was the Renaissance that Francis and the others were striving to match — the displays of splendour, the well-bred elegance of the courts, the wisdom, and of course, the riches. Western Europe was waking up to the new age, after long years of poverty, confusion and fear brought on by the wars and plagues that destroyed the old world of chivalry. Through the Alps from Italy came an army of peaceful invaders, merchants first, then artists and men of learning. Along with their bolts of wool and Silk, their books and paintings, they brought the Renaissance. The Europeans, gradually stirring with the excitement of the new age, turned to Italy where its wonders had first appeared. Some sent their scholars and artists to Italy to study. Some, like the French, sent their troops. In 1494, little Charles VIII of France clapped a gilded helmet over his shaggy red hair, marched down the peninsula and conquered Naples. For three months he paraded about his new city, while four embarrassed Neapolitan noblemen trotted beside him, holding a golden canopy over …

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Gentlemen, Scholars and Princes 1400 – 1507

One day in the fifteenth century, the Turkish potentate of Babylonia decided to send gifts to the greatest ruler in Italy. He consulted his counselors and men who had traveled widely in Europe, asking them who best deserved this honour. They agreed that one Italian court outshone the rest and that his court must surely be the home of Italy’s mightiest sovereign. They did not name Milan, the home of the proud Sforza, nor Florence, the city of the clever Medici. The most magnificent court in Italy, they said, was at Ferrara, the capital of the dukes whose family name was d’Este and to Ferrara the Turkish potentate’s ambassadors carried the presents. Ferrara was small, a mere toy state in comparison to Milan or Florence. Actually, it was not an independent state at all. Like several of its neighbours in central Italy, Ferrara had for centuries belonged to the Church. Its duke paid an annual tribute to the pope for the privilege of governing his family dukedom himself. Even so, the Turkish potentate’s advisers had made no mistake. No court in Italy could match the splendor of the court commanded by the dukes of little Ferrara. During the Renaissance, there were many such small cities that won fame. It all depended on their rulers — the ambitious dukes or counts or sometimes, commoners who had gained riches and power. With their money, they, too, hired fine artists, sculptors and architects; they, too, collected manuscripts and things of beauty. So the small cities were as much part of the new age as Florence or Milan. In that new age, Ferrara was a place of old fashioned grandeur. Its dukes, the d’Estes, had come to power in the last days of chivalry. In 200 years, the d’Estes had turned Ferrara into a …

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Milan, City of Splendour and War 1277-1515

Milan’s most important business street had no displays of velvet cloaks, bright bolts of silk, or cloth-of-gold. It was a dusty, smoky street, made hot by the fires of forges and filled with the din of hammers shaping steel — the Street of the Armourers. Milan made the finest armour in the world. In the Middle Ages, the crusaders came there for chain mail and it was said that entire armies were outfitted in a few days. Later, the fashions of war changed. Knights wore heavy suits of jointed steel plates that covered them from head to toe and elegant helmets, gilded, engraved and topped with plumes. The Milanese armourers became artists at molding and carving metal, their sales men were welcomed in every court in Europe and the Street of the Armourers became busier than ever. Armour was the right specialty for Milan, for the city and its rulers seemed to specialize in everything warlike and violent. The dukes of Milan were iron-fisted tyrants, who loved displays of splendour and sometimes cruelty. They did not hide their power like the cautious Medici in Florence. Indeed, they made a show of their strength and wealth. It discouraged invaders, rivals and over-ambitious relatives. The dukes’ domain was rich and as large as any state in Italy. The fertile plain of Lombardy, which lay between the Apennine Mountains and the Alps, attracted as many would-be conquerors as farmers. The prosperous little Lombard towns that the dukes overpowered were quarrelsome and the noblemen of Lombardy never stopped stirring up revolts. To hold on to their dukedom, the rulers of Milan employed the toughest warriors in Italy. They frightened their subjects with harsh laws, rewarded them with pageants and impressed them with magnificent palaces. Splendour, fear and power — these were the specialties of …

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Florence in the Golden Age 1469 -1498

Savonarola

Lorenzo de’ Medici was far from handsome. His skin was sallow, his eyes had a short-sighted squint and his nose was flat and wide. His voice was high and thin. Like every man in his family, he had the gout. Yet there was grandeur in everything Lorenzo did. He loved art and books, music and poetry and women. He delighted in sports, hunting and galloping across the brown Tuscan hills. He dealt with ambassadors like a prince, his palace was the gathering-place for the great men of Italy and his city won renown for both its scholars and its carnivals. No wonder, then, that people called him Lorenzo the Magnificent. Visitors to Lorenzo’s city found the streets jammed with people, and marveled at the splendid buildings. There were hundreds of shops and houses, dozens of churches and palaces. Even the bridges over the River Arno were lined with little stores and homes. The busiest spot in all the bustling city was the Mercato Vecchio, or the Old Market. This was the gathering-place of shopkeepers, the men who were the smocks and fur caps that marked them as members of the lesser guilds. Here were the grocers with their little booths, the butchers, the fishmongers, the apothecaries and the barbers, who shaved their customers in the midst of the crowd. The most important businessmen met in another square, the Mercato Nuovo, or the New Market. It was not as noisy here and most of the men were dressed in the long dark gowns and bright hoods of the merchants. In the shops and under awnings, the guildsmen displayed the goods they sold to all of Europe — richly dyed wool and Silk, velvet, taffeta, damask, satin and cloth-of-gold. Just off the New Market was the street of the grain-dealers and not …

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Florence, First City of the Renaissance 1200-1480

florence

March 25, 1436, was the Feast of the Annunciation and the city of Florence was decked out for a celebration. Banners flew everywhere, ribbons and garlands of flowers decorated the houses and draperies of cloth-of-gold were looped across the shop-fronts. The city bustled with excitement, for on this Annunciation Day the pope was to dedicate the Duomo, the wonderful new Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, then the largest church in the world. At dawn, the people began to fill the streets. They crowded around the high wooden walk that led to the cathedral from the monastery where the pope was staying. At mid-morning, when a blare of trumpets signaled the start of the ceremonies, a great procession filed along the walk. The pope, robed in white and crowned with a tiara, was attended by seven cardinals, clothed in scarlet and 37 bishops and archbishops, all in purple. There were the priors, the governors of Florence and the representatives of the people of sixteen districts of the city. Each representative carried a standard marked with the emblem of his district, such as the lion, the unicorn, or the viper. Marching in a solemn line came the leaders of the seven great guilds — the wool merchants, the Silk weavers, the bankers, the notaries, the druggists (who also dealt in spices and jewels), the furriers and the calimala, the ancient and honoured guild of cloth merchants. Behind them came the officers of fourteen “Guilds of Lesser Arts” shoemakers, bakers, innkeepers, grocers, carpenters and the like. As the procession entered the cathedral, all the church bells in Florence rang out. Their deep voices called across the city, resounded in the fields beyond and echoed in the hills of Tuscany. Triumphantly they proclaimed the greatness of the new Duomo that the Florentines said …

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The Sound of Bells and Trumpets in Europe 1300 – 1600

europe

Bells and trumpets sounded across Europe in the time that men would call the Middle Ages. Knights in glistening armour rode forth to serve God and their kings; life was like a stately procession winding through a landscape marked by castles and cathedrals. Each man knew his place. He was a prince, a knight, a squire, a priest, a craftsman, or a serf. He wore the clothes that belonged to his rank — the armour and family emblems of a nobleman, the robes of a churchman, or the rough wool jerkin of a serf. He lived according to an age-old set of rules — the knightly code of chivalry, the vows of a monk, or the duties of a serf to the lord who owned the land he farmed. Such, it was said, was the will of God. It seemed impossible to imagine that life could ever be any different and indeed, almost no one remembered that it had been different in the past. In Athens, once the most beautiful and exciting city in the world, the palaces and temples of the Greeks were vacant ruins, overgrown with weeds. In Rome, the vast arenas and the Senate House were silent. The Forum, the ancient gathering place of Roman throngs and center of the greatest empire man had known was now a cow pasture. Hidden away in the castles and cathedral libraries, manuscripts that held the science, poetry and wisdom of two thousand years of life and discovery lay dusty and unread. All this, too, it was said, was the will of God. To the men of the Middle Ages, ruins taught a lesson: life was short, the works of mankind soon fell to dust and a man’s time on earth should be spent only in preparing for death and what came …

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The New Capital: Constantinople A. D. 306-532

CONSTANTINOPLE

EMPEROR Constantine’s decision to build a new capital for the Roman Empire in the East did not come as a surprise to the people of the empire. Rome had lost much of its influence as the seat of government and emperors avoided the city. They preferred to build castles for themselves in distant provincial cities. Emperor Maximian, for example, had ruled from Milan. Emperor Diocletian had moved to Nicomedia, far to the east in Asia Minor and ruled from there. Constantine had many good reasons for turning eastward in searching for a site for his new capital. Most of the important activities and interests of the empire lay far to the east of Rome. The great trade centers at Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria were all in the East. For centuries, the kingdoms beyond the eastern frontiers had been weak and peaceful. Now the Sassanids, a new royal family of Persia, had risen to power and become a serious threat. The East German tribes, particularly the Goths, had also become a threat, building up their strength on the Danube. As a man of the sword, Constantine knew well that the empire was in danger of being invaded. A capital city in the East, within striking distance of the Danube and the eastern front, would help the empire standoff attacks from either direction. There was also an advantage in having the capital city close to the Balkans, for there the empire recruited its finest soldiers. Constantine himself had come from there. His personal pride may have been still another reason. Many Roman emperors were great builders. They were proud men and they liked to build roads and great buildings which would stand for centuries as memorials to their greatness. A new capital city would bring him fame and glorify his memory for …

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