Life in the Renaissance

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Although the Renaissance was a time of significant change in comparison to the Middle Ages, there were times of both peace and prosperity, and war, disease and famine. For the average man in the street (or village) daily life had changed little since the Middle Ages. Diet was similar, life was short (an average life expectancy of 30 - 35 years in most parts of Europe, with perhaps a 50% child mortality rate within the first year of life), and war and disease were commonplace.

In comparison to the 14th century, however, the 15th century and the 16th century were both times of population growth, economic growth, and relative prosperity, especially for the town people and those of privilege.

Those who lived in areas where economic growth was strongest, including Italy and the Netherlands could certainly expect to be better dressed and perhaps better educated in this period than, say, 100 years earlier, even if they were not significantly better fed.

There was great religious unrest during this period, in most cases caused by the questioning of Church dogma. This became widespread, not only amongst intellectuals but amongst those furthest from the influence of Rome as well. This unrest lead to the Reformation and the resulting Wars of religion.

Political unrest was rife as well. After a significant flowering of the arts in Italy during the mid to late 15th century, it all changed when Charles VIII of France kicked the door down and began the Italian wars. The resulting conflicts, with all of the stresses of wars, lasted until 1525 or so.

The contrasts of the Renaissance are thus illustrated -- while life in Florence, Italy during the mid to late 15th century could be luxurious, comfortable, and full of learning; life in northern Italy during the Italian wars could be nasty, brutish, and short.

One of the significant effects of the Renaissance was to spread learning and education, largely by the effects of Humanism which extracted learning from being the province of the Church (see Scholasticism) and spreading it more widely. This lead to both educational and political reform in many areas.