Birth Of A New Era Despite the problems of the fourteenth century, it marked the beginnings of extraordinary changes in numerous facets of fifteenth century society. This astonishing revolution was coined the Renaissance, which meant “rebirth.” The Renaissance led to such literary pioneers as Niccol Machiavelli. His work, The Prince, gave detailed instructions as to what qualities a perfect leader must possess and how to use these qualities. Machiavelli presented a thorough account of a perfect prince and how he achieved and maintained power. Machiavelli’s The Prince is a classic literary example of Renaissance writing in the ideas it conveys and how it conveys them.
The Renaissance, a time of cultural achievements and economic and political evolution, developed out of the plague, famine, and death of the fourteenth century. As opposed to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance introduced such ideas that embodied three characteristics: individualism, humanism, and secularism. With the arrival of the Renaissance came the cultural evolution and the introduction of many remarkable individuals, such as Michelangelo. Due to the emphasis in the Middle Ages to religion, individualism during the period was nonexistent because of the Christian determent of self-absorption. Literature emerged in the Renaissance accentuating the individual, which helped to give birth to talented artists and writers.
Individualism put emphasis on personality and uniqueness and using one’s abilities to their full potential. The Renaissance was all about a quest for glory. Oddly enough, Middle Age artists typically painted and sculpted anonymously but the Renaissance saw the emergence of artwork with the artist’s signature. Pages 232-234 of Discovering the Western Past illustrate examples of Renaissance artwork and the cultural achievements of the period. Each page contains a portrait of an individual, something unheard of during the medieval period because of the medieval period’s tendency to stress the group.
Painters began painting realistically in the attempt to mirror reality and the wealthy hired painters to paint their portrait to immortalize a part of themselves in a depiction of their glory and accomplishments. The Middle Ages introduced the importance of education of becoming a civilized person, and learning was still an important aspect that continued into the Renaissance. The difference between the two periods was how scholars went about their studies of past literary culture. The Renaissance style of learning became known as humanism, or “new learning.” Humanists studied the Latin classics to learn about human nature and emphasized human beings’ achievements, interests, and capabilities. On the other hand, medieval scholars studied ancient works to understand God and interpreted them purely in a Christian sense. Although Renaissance humanists possessed strong Christian values, they studied the classics far differently than those in the Middle Ages. While medieval writers used the classics to reveal God and Christian ideas, humanists tended to look at the way these ideas were expressed rather than the ideas themselves.
An interesting repercussion of the crisis of the fourteenth century was the economic prosperity that followed. Apparently the famine, plague, and numerous deaths of the fourteenth century served as an effective population control and managed to increase the demand for labor. The increase in the demand for labor allowed for increased wages and people were back to pre-plague levels of income. With this increase in material wealth came more importance placed upon the material world instead of the eternal world of spirit. Even though medieval people were ruthless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar, they still dominantly focused their attention on life after death.
Renaissance people were quite the opposite in their interests by holding strong religious values yet centering their concentration on the present material world and the acquisition of material things. The rising economic prosperity caused people to realize thoughts about penance and purgatory did not allow them to enjoy the material pleasures they could now afford. The people had not endured the crisis of the fourteenth century only to spend their time focusing their attentions to the faith. They wanted to take advantage of their new prosperity and enjoy their leisure time and discover the joys of living a comfortable life. Unfortunately, the church was no exception to the sin of avarice.
The pope and high church officials were notorious for throwing their money around and the importance the church placed upon money. The amount of money flowing around was the major cause of the Reformation because of Martin Luther’s criticism of the idea of indulgences, paying the church for wrong-doing. He maintained that only faith and a one on one relationship with God could buy salvation into the eternal kingdom of Heaven. Political theory plays an important theme during any historical period and the Renaissance was no exception. In comparison to the Renaissance, medieval political theory stressed the way government ought to be and high Christian standards were set for a ruler’s conduct. Good medieval governments were supposed to provide justice, law, and order.
The Renaissance work The Prince by Niccol Machiavelli maintained that people should not only be concerned about how the government was supposed to be run, but how it actually was run as well. Machiavelli’s theories embraced the idea that leaders’ actions cannot be restricted by ethics, but the most effective approach should be implemented regardless of its morality. The Renaissance marked the beginning of an age where rulers utilized aggressive methods to sustain and expand their governments. To illustrate the lengths leaders should go to to preserve their kingdom was when Machiavelli stated “he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it” (Machiavelli 17). Machiavellian thought is now known as the end justifies the means.
To go along with this Renaissance political theory was the ideas presented by Polydore Vergil in Anglia Historia. Vergil wrote about Henry and announced what he believed Henry did correctly during his reign. After describing Henry’s appearance and countenance, he addressed an aspect of his rule that coincided with Machiavellian ideas. Henry had two facets of his rule: one being a kind and just leader and the other being a force to be reckoned with. He treated those “who did not pay him due honor or who were generous only with promises ..
with harsh severity” (WRW 243). Henry also “vigorously punished violence, manslaughter and every other kind of wickedness whatsoever” (WRW 244). Machiavelli proclaimed that the purpose of the prince was to retain their power and keep their kingdoms unified. The prince was not meant to be a model of virtue or code of behavior for his people, but simply to rule effectively. He recognized the imperfect state of humanity and chose to make the most of it by relating his ideas about the imperfect world.
Machiavelli believed that for the good of the state, sometimes an effective prince had to abandon his morals at the door and do evil instead of good to get the job done. Machiavelli decreed that a ruler should ideally be both feared and loved, but it was difficult to attain both. He comes to the conclusion that the best kind of prince was mostly liberal, but mean in some instances. A prince who does not exhibit some meanness will eventually come to ruin because he does not hold the respect of the people. The other main theme of Machiavelli’s Prince was in regards to the inefficiencies revolving around social orders involving religion.
The role of the Church played an important role because it was the definitive authority of Europe, with the pope as the head of the Church and therefore the ruler of Europe. Machiavelli was vehemently opposed to the control the Church possessed of state affairs. In fact, he believed the Church to be one of the prince’s prime opponents. Machivelli declares the Church to be a strong entity but the short lives of the pope tend to slow down any attempts at gaining power for the state. Not only that but the foundation of a papacy allows officials to be “secure and happy” because “they are ruled by a higher power” (Machiavelli 36), which basically means that since they are ordained by God they can feel free to neglect their subjects because they know they cannot lose their princely status. The state does not benefit from the Church’s relationship to the State because of the uncertainty of this relationship.
Tension was always present between the two sects and has historically caused problems over and over again. One such instance was the controversy over the lay investiture in the eleventh century and the conflict between Pope Gregory and Henry IV of Germany. In short, lay investiture undermined imperial power and sought to make papal authority supreme, a common conflict between the Church and the State. Machiavelli urged a good prince to maintain some control over the Church and the pope at all costs. In contrast to Machiavelli’s ideas about the Church’s role in everyday life was Christine de Pisan’s work The Treasure of the City of Ladies.
De Pisan gave numerous instances of how a woman should live her life for God and follow in His footsteps. One of these examples included the repeated idea that the main goal in a woman’s life was to accept the Savior so that she would be rewarded with salvation. De Pisan firmly believed that a woman’s most important societal role was being a servant of God. She told women to live “with the hope of serving only God, as women of the greatest perfection have done” (de Pisan 45). While de Pisan never mentions the Church and the pope directly, she does not view them as threatening to a proper lady.
Her ideas follow suit with others during the Middle Ages because of the importance placed upon the Church during the period and the idea that the Church should dominate all aspects of life. Religion in its purest form dominated a good princess’ life, while the establishment of the Church remained a good prince’s enemy. Up until the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, Christians emphasized God and fate. Machiavelli attempted to adapt modern thought when he attacked the idea that chance, or fortune, controled the fate of a prince. He acknowledged that luck does in fact play a part in the affairs of men, but he maintained that human free will also had strong implications. He asserted, “I think it may be true that fortune determines one half of our actions, but that, even so, she leaves us to control the other half” (Machiavelli 74). Machiavelli’s logic clearly signified a modern notion of humankind, although giving luck half of the control over our lives may seem a little liberal.
Free will was hardly recognized in God’s plan. God and fate were considered to be the only sources of human action. Even though Machiavelli clearly supported Renaissance ideas in this instance, he still admits that a successful prince can easily be ruined if not prepared for whatever luck may have in store for him. Machiavelli’s The Prince successfully expressed many ideas of the Renaissance. He detailed how the government should work and what past leaders had done to lead to their downfall.
He emphasized the problems of an ecclesiastical government and how the prince should do everything in his power to suppress the Church and the pope for the good of the State. Machiavellian ideas also coincided with that of other Renaissance authors in that it was necessary for the prince to be both feared and loved. History.