Tuesday, 31 March 2009

What changed and what stayed the same?

Renaissance humanism, with its concern to recover ancient texts, can be seen as backward-looking. It took time for scholars to accept the idea that learning could be advanced rather than recovered.
Scientists had to learn to separate their subject from theology, Aristotelian philosophy, Ptolemaic astrology and Galenic medicine.

The humours and the body
(See also earlier post.)
The difficulties of accommodating new knowledge to ancient categories can be seen in the speculations of Niccolò Leoniceno, professor of medicine at the University of Padua. He decided that what we call the ‘Columbian exchange’, the arrival of syphilis in the Old World, had to be due to a rise in the level of the Italian rivers, notably the Tiber, which disturbed the humours. There is therefore a sense in which the rediscovery of ancient texts confirmed ancient prejudices. But at the same time, the idea of the inexorable laws of nature – rational, comprehensible and divinely ordained - took hold and in time weakened the Church’s assertion that theology was the queen of the sciences.

The new anatomy
Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) trained initially at Louvain where he complained that lecturer who taught Aristotle was
‘a theologian by profession and therefore…ready to mingle his pious views with those of the philosophers'. (Quoted Koenigsberger, Mosse and Bowler, Europe in the Sixteenth Century, Longman, 1989, 419).
From 1537 he was professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Padua. Unlike his predecessors he believed that surgery had to be grounded in anatomy. Unusually, he always performed dissections himself and produced anatomical charts of the blood and nervous systems as a reference aid for his students, which were widely copied.

In 1539, his supply of dissection material increased when a Paduan judge became interested in Vesalius' work, and made bodies of executed criminals available to him. He was now able make repeated and comparative dissections of humans. This was in marked contrast to Galen, the standard authority on anatomy who, for religious reasons, had been restricted to animals, mainly apes. Vesalius realised that Galen's and his own observations differed, and that humans do not share the same anatomy as apes.

In 1543, Vesalius published 'De Humani Corporis Fabrica'. The book was based largely on human dissection, and transformed anatomy into a subject that relied on observations taken directly from human dissections.

The rise of scepticism
In time the recovery of ancient knowledge bred more critical ways of thought. Ancient writers often contradicted each other so they could not all be right! And new discoveries undermined much ancient knowledge. For example, Aristotle’s belief that life could not exist in the southern hemisphere was disproved. The result of the new discoveries was a rise in scepticism, seen most notably in the writings of the French lawyer and essayist, Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) who argued that doubt and the suspension of all judgment are the finest human achievements. (KMB, 357). In 1576 he ordered a medal to be struck with the inscription Que sais-je?

Montaigne invented a new literary genre (the essai). The Essays began as a series of classical commonplaces, but became an exploration of his own thoughts and feelings.
Je suis moy-mesmes la matière de mon livre’: I am myself the subject of my book.
After his death the manuscript and published essays were incorporated into a definitive edition by his adopted daughter, Marie de Gournay, in 1595. They were translated into English in 1603. Montaigne’s essay ‘On Cannibals’ is the only certain source for The Tempest.

Montaigne’s scepticism led him to two controversial positions: cultural relativism and fideism. He asserted that we should not condemn cannibals because the practice of cannibalism makes sense in their culture; and because we cannot know religious truth, we should accept unconditionally the authority of the Catholic Church.

Some scholars have seen Montaigne as an atheist and his Essays were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books. The Church was uneasy about his apparent preference of Socrates to Christ. But did this mean that he lacked all religious belief? It has been argued that his scepticism was the product of a particular phase in human history when it was impossible to know matters that are now settled beyond dispute (such as the heliocentric solar system). Under these circumstances, scepticism was a logical position.
‘Lacking our scientific conception of nature, Montaigne was not in a position to say that miracles were impossible… Perhaps in the intellectual climate of a later age he would simply have been an unbeliever…But perhaps in that of his own he could be neither a believer nor an unbeliever wholeheartedly…Unable to conquer his moral objections to unbelief, he stayed within the fold but sometimes looked speculatively out of it.’ (Susan Khin Zaw, Open University)

The idea of progress
Relatively early in his career Francis Bacon (1561-1626) judged that, owing mainly to an undue reverence for the past, the intellectual life of Europe had reached animpasse. He criticized Plato, Aristotle and Galen, and also the modern alchemists for lack of empirical rigour.

See here and here for more about Bacon.

In his 1605 treatise The Proficience and Advancement of Learning, arguably the first important philosophical work to be published in English, he set out the revolutionary proposition that knowledge can advance and that through new technical inventions and mechanical discoveries, human life could be improved. He expanded this view with even greater confidence in his Novum Organum (1620). This was a new model of history – upward and progressive – rather than, as Aristotle had taught, merely cyclical, and it was not universally accepted. In 1611 John Donne wrote, in traditional fashion,
‘Our age is iron, and rusty too’.
In 1597 Bacon famously asserted:
‘Knowledge is power’.
He pioneered what is known as the scientific method of inductive reasoning, arguing from the specific to the general, as opposed to Aristotle's legacy of deductive (top down) logic. In his Cognita et Vista (1607) he defined this alternative procedure as one
‘which by slow and faithful toil gathers information from things and brings it into understanding’.
The beginnings of the scientific revolution

In 1543 Nicholas Copernicus published his De revolutionibus, with a dedication to Pope Paul III and a preface by the Lutheran theologian Osiander. The book produced little controversy at the time. Though it was attacked in 1546 by a Dominican theologican, it did not arouse much opposition because the heliocentric universe was posited as a hypothesis only.

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601): In 1572 a new star (probably a supernova) appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia. It grew in brilliance but disappeared after sixteen months. This was followed in 1577 by a comet. From observing and measuring these phenomena the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe – who was also a passionate alchemist - proved that the new star was situated far beyond the supposed lunar sphere of the traditional cosmos. He had therefore disproved the Ptolomaic universe.

Johannes Kepler: His findings were taken up by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) (below) who between 1601 and 1609 worked out the laws of planetary motion. Like Brahe, Kepler was an astrologer. His neoplatonic mysticism led him to see the sun as motive force of the planets though his calculations forced him to abandon the Aristotelian belief that planetary motion was circular. After a long struggle he came to the (correct) conclusion that planetary motion was elliptical.

Galileo Galilei: In 1609 Galileo, heard about the newly invented telescope, constructed his own crude instrument and began to examine the heavens. He quickly discovered that the moon was covered with mountains and pitted with craters rather then being the perfect sphere envisaged by Aristotle.

On 7 January 1610 he made an even more sensational discovery when he discovered the four satellites around Jupiter than are now named in his honour. He finally determined that what he was observing were not stars, but planetary bodies that were in orbit around Jupiter. In 1610 he published Siderius Nuncius (The Starry Messenger).
'I should disclose and publish to the world the occasion of discovering and observing four Planets, never seen from the beginning of the world up to our own times, their positions, and the observations made during the last two months about their movements and their changes of magnitude; and I summon all astronomers to apply themselves to examine and determine their periodic times, which it has not been permitted me to achieve up to this day . . . On the 7th day of January in the present year, 1610, in the first hour of the following night, when I was viewing the constellations of the heavons through a telescope, the planet Jupiter presented itself to my view, and as I had prepared for myself a very excellent instrument, I noticed a circumstance which I had never been able to notice before, namely that three little stars, small but very bright, were near the planet; and although I believed them to belong to a number of the fixed stars, yet they made me somewhat wonder, because they seemed to be arranged exactly in a straight line, parallel to the ecliptic, and to be brighter than the rest of the stars, equal to them in magnitude . . .When on January 8th, led by some fatality, I turned again to look at the same part of the heavens, I found a very different state of things, for there were three little stars all west of Jupiter, and nearer together than on the previous night.'
'I therefore concluded, and decided unhesitatingly, that there are three stars in the heavens moving about Jupiter, as Venus and Mercury around the Sun; which was at length established as clear as daylight by numerous other subsequent observations. These observations also established that there are not only three, but four, erratic sidereal bodies performing their revolutions around Jupiter.'
A time of confusion?
Who to believe: Catholics or Protestants? Aristotelians or anti-Aristotelians? John Donne - Catholic turned Anglican, man-about-town turned dean of St Paul's perfecty sums up the confusions of the new age:
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix…

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The four humours

‘Nature that framed us of four elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds.’
Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great

Humoral theory had been passed on from the late classical world in the works of Galen (c. AD 130-201). The four humours were four fluids that were thought to permeate the body and influence its health. Disease was thought to be caused by isonomia, the preponderance of one of the humours:
Yellow Bile
Black Bile
The four humours matched the four seasons

Autumn: black bile
Spring: blood
Winter: phlegm
Summer: yellow bile
Each of the humours was associated with one of the four equal and universal elements posited by the pre-Socratic philosopher, Empedocles.
'Aristotle … used the image of wine to expose the nature of black bile. Black bile, just like the juice of grapes, contains pneuma, which provokes hypochondriac diseases like melancholia. Black bile like wine is prone to ferment and produce an alternation of depression and anger...' From Democritus, The History of Melancholy.
Earth: black bile (cold and dry)
Air: blood (hot and moist)
Fire: yellow bile (hot and dry)
Water: phlegm (cold and moist)

An imbalance of the elements affected character:
Too much Earth: Melancholic (despondent, sleepless, irritable)
Too much Air: Sanguine (courageous, hopeful, amorous)
Too much Fire: Choleric (easily angered, bad-tempered)
Too much Water: Phlegmatic (calm, unemotional)
Which are you?

Alchemy and magic

The sixteenth century saw an intensification of the ancient practice of alchemy. In his Oration on the Dignity of Man (scroll down), the Platonist, Pico della Mirandola (right) was careful to distinguish between good and bad magic.

Such was the significance of the alchemist that Christopher Marlowe (Dr Faustus, 1604), Shakespeare (The Tempest, 1610) and Ben Jonson (The Alchemist, 1610) all wrote plays illustrating his art. These fictional characters had some basis in real alchemists such as John Dee (1527-1609), Edward Kelley (1555-97/8) and Simon Forman (1552-1611). But alchemy was not confined to England. It was Europe-wide and was practised by Christians, Jews and Muslims, all engaged on a common quest to discover the inner meaning of life and of the universe.

Alchemy was empirical as well as mystical. It was at the centre of the investigations into the natural world and the heavens, which had contributed to the navigation of the world. With the increase of mining, there was a far greater potential for the exploitation of the earth’s minerals and metals and the search for wealth, power and cures, both chemical and herbal.

The philosopher’s stone
Alchemy was also a quest for, among other things the philosopher’s stone that would transmit the base metals lead, tin, copper, iron, and mercury into the precious metals gold and silver. The stone was also sometimes known as the 'elixir vitae' or 'tincture', and was credited not only with the power of transmutation but also of uniting matter and spirit and transforming a sinful man into a perfect being.

In the 1550s the alchemist Thomas Charnock learned from the prior of Bath that it would be possible to find the secrets of the stone. He set up a form of altar on which the hoped-for transformation of base matter to spirit would echo the daily miracle of transubstantiation during the mass. In 1565 he wrote to Elizabeth offering her the wealth and health that only the stone could provide. See History Today (August 2005).

The magus
As understanding of the natural world, grew, especially in the field of medicine, alchemists increasingly claimed to be ‘magicians’ (magi). Two leading practitioners of the 16th century were the doctor Paracelsus (1493-1541) and the neoplatonic philosopher Cornelius Agrippa (left) (1486-1533). They both advocated the control of the unseen forces that control nature not by the improper manipulation of diabolical forces, but by manipulation of the world through talismans, Orphic singing, astrology and numerology. The Jewish mystical Kabbalah was thought to offer a key to the hidden purposes of God. From 1492 Jews expelled from Spain were dispersed throughout Europe bringing with them knowledge of the Cabbala, Islamic medicine and the secrets of alchemy.

Black magic, as practised by Marlowe’s Dr Faustus sought to obtain power through diabolical intervention and a compact with the devil and it was not easy for outsiders to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ magic. John Charnock was feared by his neighbours because he kept his fire burning continually and practised arts they did not understand.

John Dee
The career of John Dee shows that alchemists could be involved in government policy. It also shows how they could contribute to their bad reputations. Dee possessed a distorting mirror (in which Queen Elizabeth viewed herself in 1575) and a black obsidian mirror and a crystal ball (now in the British Museum). In June 1579 the courtier Sir Christopher Hatton sent two crystal-gazers to him. Hatton was one of a number of courtiers among the Protestant party (including Leicester and Walsingham) who were interested in divination through crystals, though this interest was pursued with discretion because it came dangerously close to usurping the powers of God.

Dee employed a series of mediums (skryers) to help him to view them. The first was Barnabus Saul but in March 1582 he was replaced by Edward Kelley, who may have been a confidence trickster, but may also have been sincerely deluded. Dee believed that through these sessions he would gain contact with a benevolent spirit world and learn how to transmit base metals into gold. The spirits were also questioned about the North West passage.

Dee’s activities aroused the interest of the Polish nobleman, Albrecht Laski, an unorthodox Catholic who had links to the world of alchemy and magic. In September 1583 Dee left Mortlake accompanied by his family, Laski and Kelley and arrived at Krakow, then the capital of Poland, in the following March. There they received angelic bidding to go to the court of the emperor Rudolph II at Prague though their eventual meeting with the emperor achieved little. In March 1587 Kelley received a spirit message that he, Dee and their wives should hold all things in common. In December 1589 Dee returned to England, but Kelley stayed behind and Dee made over to him his alchemical materials. Kelley was imprisoned in Bohemia and nothing is known of his eventual fate.

On reaching Mortlake, Dee found his home in ruins. Most of his scientific instruments had been taken as well as 500 volumes from his library. The culprits were not ignorant vandals but his pupils and associates, though their motives are unclear. By that time many of his patrons were dead and when James I came to the throne he lost all support from the monarch. He died in 1608/9.

Dee is probably satirized in Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Welsh would-be wizard Owen Glendower in Henry IV, part 1. Kelley is mentioned in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, Act IV

Mammon. O, I cry your pardon.
He's a divine instructor! can extract
The souls of all things by his art; call all
The virtues, and the miracles of the sun,
Into a temperate furnace; teach dull nature
What her own forces are. A man, the emperor
Has courted above Kelly; sent his medals
And chains, to invite him.

Dee is mentioned in Act II
Subtle. He shall have a bel, that's Abel;
And by it standing one whose name is Dee,
In a rug gown, there's D, and Rug, that's drug:
And right anenst him a dog snarling er;
There's Drugger, Abel Drugger. That's his sign.
And here's now mystery and hieroglyphic!

We see magic as being retrograde and reactionary, but the light which led on the alchemists and the magicians was the same which led to the development of empirical science.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Resistance and obedience: the crisis of political theory

In the second half of the sixteenth century both Protestant and Catholic writers began to construct theories of resistance to authority.

British theories of resistance
The first to do this were English Protestants in the reign of Mary I (1553-8) when Protestant exiles conducted a vigorous campaign in print against her religious policies, her Spanish marriage and the fact that she was a woman.

In his A Short Treatise of Politic Power (1556) John Ponet (c. 1514-56), bishop of Winchester, exiled in Strassburg, maintained that the power of the monarch rested on a contract with his people. This meant that their obedience was conditional: they would obey him as long as he ruled justly. Should he break this contract by depriving his subjects of their goods or murdering them, the people had the right to rebel and replace him with a leader more to their taste. In extreme circumstances they had a right to assassinate an evil ruler. Ponet’s justification of tyrannicide was not taken up in later centuries but his contract theory was to influence John Locke and provide the basis for the American Declaration of Independence.

In Geneva the Marian exiles were especially uncompromising. One of these exiles, Christopher Goodman published How Superior Powers ought to be Obeyed in 1558. Goodman believed that England was bound by the covenant God made with the Israelites. As prescribed in Deuteronomy, the ruler had to be a native-born male of the true religion. This meant that Mary ruled illegitimately; she was a murderous queen who had handed the country over to foreign idolaters and it was the duty of the magistrates (or, failing them, the people) to depose her.

The most famous attack on female rulers was John Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [Rule] of Women. Unfortunately for Knox and Goodman the year that saw the publication of their books also saw the accession of Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth refused to allow them entry into England so they went to Scotland instead. The accession of Elizabeth forced some Protestants into rethinking their views about women rulers. From the beginning of her reign Elizabeth was portrayed as the new Constantine (the restorer of true religion) and Deborah (the ‘mother in Israel’).

Huguenot resistance theory
The St Bartholomew massacre radicalized French Huguenots in the same way that Mary Tudor’s religious persecution radicalized the English Protestants. In both cases a woman was to blame!

In 1573 the lawyer François Hotman published Francogallia. He grounded his arguments in secular political theory rather than religious polemic, arguing that the original constitution of France dated from the Gauls and gave only limited powers to the monarch. Originally, French kings were nothing but magistrates elected by assemblies of the people, and it was these assemblies rather than the monarch that had the power to make laws, decide on war and peace and confer honours. If the king was a tyrant, the assembly had the power to depose him and to appoint a successor. Like Knox, Hotman argued that a woman ruler was an aberration of nature and that history showed that queens were more savage and tyrannical than kings. Subjects therefore had a duty to depose (if necessary, to assassinate) female rulers.

Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Calvin’s successor at Geneva did not go as far as Hotman in arguing that the people had the right to overthrow the ruler – this should be the duty of the magistrates. However in his The Right of Magistrates over their Subjects he suggested that an individual assassin might act against a ruler who had turned oppressor.

The most celebrated Huguenot tract was the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (1579) which developed the Old Testament doctrine of the covenant: the tract argued that there were two covenants, one between king and people jointly on the one hand, and God on the other; the second contract one between the people and the king. According to contract theory, the people had given their power to the king conditionally, and if the king broke his side of the bargain, the people – represented by the magistrates - were freed from the duty of obedience.

Contract theory stripped monarchy of its mystique. The king was no longer the ‘Lord’s Anointed’ but a man like any other who held his power by consent.

Catholic resistance theory
Similar political theories were also being developed by the enemies of the Huguenots – the propagandists of the Catholic League. Using arguments similar to those of Knox and Goodman, they argued that no heretic could rule. When Henry III ordered the assassination of the Duke of Guise, the League turned against him and began to argue for a right of resistance even to a Catholic ruler. In their writings, the Leaguers bypassed the magistrates and argued for popular sovereignty and treated Jacques Clément, the assassin of Henry III as a hero. The Just Authority of a Christian Commonwealth, possibly written by an English exile, William Reynolds, called for an end to hereditary kingship and the popular election of rulers after the Church had declared them fit for office. If the ruler proved unjust, then the people could declare him subject to tyrannicide.

The most active Catholic resistance theorists were the Jesuits. In 1595 the English Jesuit Robert Persons waded into the succession controversy at the end of Elizabeth’s reign by arguing that the people had the right to depose an ungodly monarch. The Spaniard
Juan de Mariana (1536-1624) (left) defended the assassination of Henry III. This was too extreme for most Jesuits and the mainline position was set out by Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) who argued that only the pope could depose rulers and that only for endangering the souls of the people.

Sovereignty and the divine right of kings
In the light of the political instability in the second half of the sixteenth century, and in particular, the chaos on France, resistance theories ran into strong opposition, most notably in Jean Bodin’s Six Books of the Republic (1576). In place of the medieval theory of a mixed monarchy, Bodin put forward a new doctrine (though one with its origins in Roman law) – that of sovereignty. By sovereignty he meant supreme authority in the state, with the power to make, enforce and judge law. In times of peace the sovereign had certain restraints on his power – he could not break contracts or seize property – but in time of emergency his authority was absolute.

Bodin’s theory was fundamentally secular but it went hand in hand with the religious doctrine of the divine right of kings. Listen here to Melvyn Bragg's In our Time programme on the subject. Kings were established on their thrones by God, they were anointed with holy oil which gave their kingship a sacral quality, and their right to rule was hereditary. This theory was set out in James VI’s True Law of Free Monarchies (1598). It formed the foundation of the French absolutist state in the 17th century.

Shakespeare’s plays express the flux of late 16th century political theory. Julius Caesar condemns tyrannicide but presents Brutus sympathetically (in contrast to Dante who placed him in the lowest circle of hell). King Lear shows the folly of a ruler who divests himself of his power. Macbeth and Hamlet are about the murders of monarchs. The most ambivalent play of all is Richard II, which was written in 1595 and staged again in 1599 to coincide with the earl of Essex’s rebellion. Its most controversial scene – the deposition of the king- was never performed. At the end it is left unclear whether the deposition of Richard was justified but in the plays that followed Shakespeare showed the dreadful consequences of the deposition and murder of an anointed king.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Spain, France, the Netherlands and England

This post is especially indebted to H. G. Koenigsberger, George L. Mosse and G. Q. Bowler, Europe in the Sixteenth Century (Longman, 1989) and to Richard Mackenney, Sixteenth-Century Europe: Expansion and Conflict (Macmillan, 1993).

In 1559 Europe seemed to be entering a period of peace as Henri II of France and Philip II of Spain signed the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. The peace was sealed by the dynastic marriage of Philip to Elisabeth of Valois. France kept Calais, which she had conquered from England in 1558, and her conquests of Metz, Toul and Verdun. Philip was therefore forced to acknowledge the diminution of the empire of Charles V, but he retained Sicily, Naples, Milan, Franche-Comté and the Netherlands.

Philip believed that, as the great defender of Catholicism, it was his duty to retain these territories. In 1566 he wrote to his ambassador in Rome:
‘You may assure His Holiness that rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God I would lose all my states and a hundred lives, if I had them; for I do not propose nor desire to be the ruler of heretics.’ (quoted KMB, 301.)
But his belief was challenged by the rise of international Calvinism, a potentially revolutionary creed.

The coming of peace did not lessen the danger of religious war as a generation of men who had known nothing but soldiering was demobilized. Many of these were ready to go on fighting under the banners of Catholicism or Calvinism.

On 10 July 1559 Henri II died following his injury at a tournament to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. He was succeeded by his 15-year old son François II, whose wife was the 16-year old Mary Queen of Scots. From November 1558 she had quartered the lions of England on her coat of arms, thus asserting her claim to the English throne.

Almost immediately France became ungovernable. Calvinism was spreading rapidly and received considerable encouragement when the French regent in Scotland, Mary of Guise (ruling on behalf of her absent daughter), was deposed by Calvinist revolutionaries. By 1562 the Calvinists claimed to have 2,000 churches over France. The nobility, notably Louis de Bourbon, prince of Condé (1530-1569) and Gaspard de Chatillion, count of Coligny (1519-72) enlisted in large numbers with their retainers and clients and posed a huge threat to the authority of the crown and the religious stability of the country. Both these Huguenot nobles were politically conservative, but they found themselves at the head of a revolutionary movement.

Although the regent was the king’s mother Catherine de’ Medici (left) real power lay with the brothers of Mary of Guise, Duke Francis, the conqueror of Calais and his brother Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine. As royal favourites and provincial governors they had built up a network of clients among the nobility of eastern and northern France which set them at odds of the Huguenot clientage of Condé and Coligny.

François II died in December 1560 and Catherine de’ Medici (right) seized control of the government for her ten-year-old son Charles IX. Her supreme aim was to preserve the French monarchy for her sons and in order to achieve this she tried to settle the religious differences by a policy of toleration. This was the strategy of the moderate ‘Politiques’, but it was unacceptable to the extremists on both sides and to Philip II. As she lacked the power to enforce toleration, Catherine was reduced to playing off one side against the other.

The result was the series of complicated civil wars known as the French Wars of Religion. The Catholic party was helped by Spain, the Huguenot by England, but the main Huguenot strength lay in Coligny’s leadership. Within the south the Huguenots were running what was in effect a separate kingdom. It is a sign of the government’s weakness that after the third religious war (1568-70), the Edict of Pacification granted them the right to garrison four southern towns.

Catherine then tried to solve the problems by a dynastic marriage – that of her daughter Marguerite to the young Huguenot leader, Henry, King of Navarre. In June 1572 Coligny came to court and joined the king’s council. But this was an especially delicate moment as Spain was facing a revolt in the Netherlands and the Huguenots planned to aid the Dutch rebels. In July a small contingent of Huguenots marched into the Netherlands and were crushed by the duke of Alva’s army. This led to a fear that Alva would then march into France. The council was divided, with Coligny arguing strongly for war with Spain on behalf of the Dutch.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew
Fearing that Coligny was going to drag France into a war she could not win, Catherine plotted to have him murdered, but the plot misfired and he was only wounded. After this, the king is reputed to have said: ‘Then kill them all’, though this does not seem to have been Catherine’s intention.

On the night of 24 August, when the Huguenots were gathered in Paris for the wedding, Catherine’s son the duke of Anjou (later Henry III), the Guises, the municipal authorities of Paris and the Paris mob massacred the Protestants in one of the century’s worst atrocities. After this the civil wars started again.

Charles IX died of tuberculosis in 1574 and was succeeded by his brother, Henri duke of Anjou who became Henri III.

The Netherlands
See here for the revolt of the Netherlands.

Philip had inherited the Netherlands through his descent from Mary of Burgundy and through the Augsburg Interim of 1547 by which Charles V had detached the Netherlands from his imperial inheritance in order to pass them onto his son. This comprised 17 wealthy provinces, represented in the States-General, and fiercely independent towns such as Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp. The Interim had allowed them to revert to their former semi-independent status but at the same time had provided for the appointment of a Spanish governor. In retrospect, this was a recipe for instability.

In 1559 Philip appointed his half-sister Margaret duchess of Parma as governor-general of the Netherlands, and appointed the leading nobles to her Council of State: William of Nassau, Prince of Orange (also known as William the Silent) (left) , the greatest landowner in the Netherlands, the successful general Count Egmont, and his friend, Count Hoorne. But on Philip’s instructions real power was to lie with Antoine de Perrenot, Cardinal Granvelle, a Franche-Comtois career civil servant. The unintended result was a fatally divided Council, a paralyzed government, and a great deal of provincial discontent.

What was a classic centre-periphery problem broadened into a religious divide when Philip created fourteen new bishoprics, made Granvelle archbishop of Malines (Mechelen) and new primate of the Netherlands, and removed much ecclesiastical patronage from the nobility. This coincided with an increase in Inquisition activity – some 600 prosecutions in 1562. Disastrously, Philip was unaware of the growing discontent, as he had abandoned his father’s policy of constant travels. He remained in Spain, preoccupied with the Turkish offensive in the Mediterranean and the inadequacies of his son and heir Don Carlos, and this made him seem a foreigner to his Netherlandish subjects. He tried to placate the opposition by dismissing Granvelle in 1564, but the problems were more deep-rooted than dislike of a single man.

The harsh winter of 1565-66 and high food prices increased popular discontent. In 1566 a confederation was formed, consisting of a number of Calvinists, openly opposing Philip’s religious policies. When they presented their protest to Margaret, she dismissed them as beggars (‘les gueux’), a name that stuck. In the summer Calvinist field preachers to preach against the government. In Antwerp and Ghent mobs sacked the churches and broke the images. In response most of the nobility, including Egmont, a devout Catholic, rallied round Margaret (though Orange fled to Germany), Philip sent money for troops and the rebels were dispersed.

Alva in the Netherlands
In 1567 Philip sent his best general, the duke of Alva (right) , to the Netherlands at the head of a force of 10,000 Spanish and Italian troops. He set up a new court, the Council of Blood, which tried 12,000 persons and executed 1,000 for having taken part in the rebellion. These included Egmont and Hoorn who were beheaded in Brussels in June 1568. This successfully (for a while) terrorized the population, but Alva did not have the resources to impose his will and when he levied a 10% tax on property in order to pay for the occupation, he faced a revolt from the States General.

Requesens in the Netherlands
In April 1572, the Sea Beggars, privateers licensed by the prince of Orange, captured Brill, exposing Spanish weakness at sea. By the summer they had captured most towns of Zeeland and Holland. In the captured towns the councils were purged of royalists and the churches were handed over to Calvinist preachers. In July the estates of Holland met at Dordrecht and invited the prince of Orange to return as governor.

In 1573 Alva fell victim to court intrigue and was replaced by Don Lius de Requesens. Before leaving, Alva advised him to continue his ruthless policy:
‘These troubles must be ended by force or arms without any use of pardon, mildness, negotiations or talks until everything has been flattened. That will be the right time for compromise.’ (quoted Mackenney, 300).
But Requesens faced the problem of near-mutiny among his troops because they had not been paid. Because the government had been unable to collect the 10% tax it lacked the resources to put down the rebellion and meanwhile the Spanish crown went bankrupt again, making it impossible to pay the troops from central government funds.

Requesens died in 1576. In the Spanish Fury of 4-6 November, his unpaid troops mutinied in Antwerp. The city was destroyed and over 6,000 people were massacred in an atrocity that destroyed Spain’s credibility in northern Europe.

At this point Philip lost control of the Netherlands.

The Pacification of Ghent
The day before the Spanish Fury, a new governor arrived in the Netherlands, Don John of Austria (1547-78), the victor of Lepanto. From the start he was unable to assert his authority. The States General moved rapidly to make peace with the rebels and Orange, and on 8 November the northern and southern provinces made a formal union in the Pacification of Ghent. The signatories
‘oblige all the inhabitants of the provinces to maintain, from now on a lasting and unbreakable friendship and peace and to assist each other at all times and in all events by words and deeds, with their lives and property, and to drive and keep out of the provinces the Spanish soldiers.’
The Pacification was to become the central organ of government of a united Netherlands. In February 1577 Don John signed the Perpetual Edict of Peace with the States-General: in exchange for rebel recognition of Don John, the restoration of the Catholic religion, and the withdrawal of Spanish troops. But the provinces of Holland and Zeeland refused to accept it, and Don John broke its terms when he seized Namur in July 1577. The religious divisions were too deep to allow a political compromise. In September Orange returned to Brussels to a hero’s welcome.

Don John died in October 1578 and a few days later Philip appointed as Governor-General his nephew, Alessandro Farnese, Prince of Parma, the greatest soldier of his age.

The Unions of Arras and Utrecht
Parma faced a formidable task as the Netherlands was rapidly dividing along religious lines. In Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent, popular war councils were set up, usually dominated by extreme Calvinists. This provoked a Catholic reaction and the Walloon provinces joined in the Union of Arras (6 January 1579), which made peace with the king. On 23 January the northern provinces formed their own Union of Utrecht, a Calvinist alliance in which power was shared between the Estates and the House of Nassau. The Union committed itself to ensuring that
‘each individual enjoys freedom of religion and no one is persecuted or questioned about his religion’.
Within a few years, the Union became known as the United Provinces.

Parma in the Netherlands
All was not lost for Spain. Parma brought with him nearly 60,000 men and with them he was able to begin the re-conquest of the Netherlands. On 29 June 1579 he captured Maastricht, after which town after town surrendered. Orange cast around desperately for help and persuaded the States General to swear allegiance to a Catholic Frenchman, Henry III’s brother, the duke of Anjou (formerly Alençon) the suitor of Queen Elizabeth.

In February 1582 Anjou made a triumphal entry into Antwerp, and was proclaimed duke of Brabant and count of Flanders; but his authority co-existed unevenly with that of Orange. He left the Netherlands in June 1583 and died of consumption the following June.

Henry III and the Catholic League
Anjou’s death provoked a crisis in France: the next heir to the throne was the Protestant Henry of Navarre. The prospect of a Protestant king upset the fragile equilibrium, triggering the ‘War of the Three Henries’ that was to last until 1598. The Guise faction began plotting with Spain to exclude him. The duke of Guise placed himself at the head of the Catholic League, which under his leadership became a potential revolutionary party challenging the authority of the Crown. In town after town the League replaced royalist commanders and officials with their own men. On 31 December Guise concluded the treaty of Joinville with Philip II.
‘Philip had thus achieved what his father had always vainly striven for: a Franco-Spanish alliance in the Catholic interest, and with Spain as a senior partner.’ (KMB, 320).
This alliance was potentially as well a threat to England.

The Assassination of William the Silent
In June 1580 the Prince of Orange had been declared a traitor by the Parma government and a price put on his head; the ban declared him to be ‘an enemy of the human race’- an explicit invitation to assassination. On 10 July 1584 he was shot down on the stairway of his house in Delft by a Catholic Frenchman Balthasar Gérard (b. 1557). He was the first head of state to be assassinated by a firearm. After his execution, his family received a bounty from Philip II.

English intervention in the Netherlands
The assassination panicked English politicians, who feared that Elizabeth would be the next target. That summer the demoralized towns of Flanders and Brabant capitulated one by one to Parma. Ghent fell in the autumn. By the end of 1584 only Brussels, Mechelen and Antwerp still resisted. The arguments of the interventionists now seemed unassailable: the only safety for England lay in war.

On 24 June commissioners from the Netherlands arrived in England offering Elizabeth sovereignty of the Netherlands. In August 1585 in the Treaty of Nonsuch, a reluctant Elizabeth agreed to send an army to the Netherlands. This made war with Spain inevitable.

But the treaty came too late to save Antwerp, which finally surrendered to Parma three days before it was signed (news reached the court on 15 August). Many never forgave Elizabeth for leaving it too late to save the city.

In December 1585 the earl of Leicester arrived in the Netherlands as her Lieutenant General, with 5,000 foot and a thousand horse, and was hailed as the ‘Messiah’ (as his nephew, Philip Sidney told him). Unknown to the queen and against her wishes, he accepted the governor-generalship of the United Provinces; she was furious when she found out, as she feared an alternative court in the Low Countries.
'We could never have imagined … that a man raised up by ourself, and extraordinarily favoured by us above any other subject of this land, would have in so contemptible sort broken our commandment, in a cause that greatly toucheth us in honour.’
1586 saw a series of dismal and expensive military failures. The most celebrated English casualty was Leicester’s nephew (and Walsingham’s son-in-law) Philip Sidney. He had seen the conflict in the Netherlands as part of a cosmic struggle: ‘the great work in hand against the abusers of the world’. He was mortally wounded outside Zutphen on 22 September.

The incompetent English campaign convinced the Dutch that they could not rely on foreign help and would need to claim sovereignty for their own estates.

The Armada
For three years from 1585 Philip planned the ‘enterprise of England’. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots was the final motivating factor as she had bequeathed to him her claim to the English throne. He knew that France would not oppose him because of his alliance with the League. At the same time Parma was in readiness with an army of 30,000 to invade England.

The failure of the Armada was a huge disaster for Philip and, coupled with the troubles in the Netherlands, it contributed to a severe crisis of confidence in Spain.

The assassination of Henri III
In May 1588 the League organized a rising in Paris against the king – the ‘Day of the Barricades’, which forced him to flee. On 23 December 1588 in a futile attempt to assert his authority Henri III had the duke of Guise assassinated at the chateau of Blois, followed by his brother the following day. These two murders achieved the opposite of what he intended. Faced with a wave of revulsion in France, the king took refuge with Henry of Navarre the heir to the throne. But he himself was killed on 1 August 1589 by a young fanatical Dominican friar, Jacques Clément. As he lay dying, he named Henry of Navarre as his successor provided he changed his religion.

Henry IV and the end of the Wars of Religion
Henry had a hard struggle to gain the throne. Parma twice invaded France (1590 and 1592) in order to prevent his accession. But the Catholic League began to break up under the divisions between aristocrats and the urban bourgeoisie. Philip’s attempts to place his daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia on the throne backfired. In 1593 Henry announced his return to the Catholic Church.
Paris vaut bien une messe’ ("Paris is well worth a Mass")
The League collapsed and Henry entered Paris on 22 March 1594. In 1595 he declared war on Spain and was able to capitalize on French resentment at Spanish interference in their affairs.

In April 1598 Henry promulgated the Edict of Nantes in which Catholicism was confirmed as the state religion the Huguenots were allowed freedom of worship in protected enclaves (places de sureté). In effect, this created a state within a state, a situation that had no parallel anywhere else in Europe. Two days after the treaty Spain and France made peace at the Treaty of Vervins.

In September Philip II died. It was the end of an era.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The English and the New World

The New World voyages were both cause and consequence of the worsening relations between England and Spain.

England’s claim to territory in the New World was old before it was exploited. In 1497 Henry VII had sponsored John Cabot’s voyage and discovery of Newfoundland. The Grand Banks had been known to fishermen earlier, but Cabot’s enthusiastic reports opened the way for international rivalries over the region; early in the 16th century English, French, Basque, and Portuguese fishermen were contesting for catches. [It was probably Basque fishermen who named Cape Breton Island.] In 1536 Richard Hore sailed from Gravesend to Labrador, but was driven off by natives.

However, Spain and Portugal had got to America first, and in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) Alexander VI had divided the New World along an imaginary north-south line which ran 370 leagues west of the Azores (about 46°30 west of the Greenwich meridian). This gave Portugal control over the established routes to the West Indies and enabled it to claim Brazil when it was discovered in 1500. Spain was able to claim possession of any discoveries made in North and South America west of modern Brazil. A rigid trade monopoly was enforced, and foreign merchants were forbidden to visit or engage in commerce with Spanish or Portuguese dominions. In 1580-3 Philip II conquered Portugal and annexed the Portuguese empire, making himself master of the western hemisphere.

In 1577 this hegemony was challenged when Elizabeth’s astrologer and mathematician, John Dee (right), claimed that by virtue of her descent from King Arthur and Prince Madoc, Elizabeth had a claim to the New World, and coined the term ‘British Empire’.

Dee’s claim was made against a background of licensed piracy. The Spanish and Portuguese monopoly seriously inconvenienced the colonists who went out from Spain and Portugal, for their own countrymen proved incapable of supplying them with all the goods they needed, and the temptation for foreign merchants to supply them was therefore considerable.

In the 1560s and 70s English privateers plied the slave trade between West Africa and the Spanish Indies, most notably the Plymouth seaman Sir John Hawkins (1532-95). His way of operating was to approach a port and claim the need to land for ship repairs. He would offer to sell his cargo and, met with a refusal from the Spanish, he would let his sailors loose on the town and after a day or two of this havoc, trade would commence, sometimes surreptitiously as the colonials attempted to avoid retribution from the royal governor. The Spanish colonials were vulnerable because they were being pulled in several directions: their need for slaves, the royal prohibition against trade with the English, and the desire to protect their property from Hawkins’ marauding crew.

In 1562 sailed to West Africa, bought about three hundred slaves and sailed to Hispaniola, receiving by way of exchange hides, gingers, sugars and pearls which he loaded into his own three ships. He then freighted two others with hides and other commodities and sent them to Spain He arrived back in England in September 1563.

In 1564 Hawkins set out on a second voyage, financed by (among others) the Earl of Pembroke and the queen's favourite, Lord Robert Dudley. The leading ship was the Jesus, partly kitted out by a loan from the queen on the understanding that she would be entitled to any share in the proceeds. The ships reached Sierra Leone, picked up slaves, but when they tried to trade them off the coast of South America they found the ports initially barred. Managing to sell the slaves at one port they sailed north to Florida looking for a place to water. However the homeward voyage was marred by contrary winds. They reached Padstow in September, bringing home quantities of jewellery, though the queen probably did not recoup her investment in the Jesus.

The relative success of these two voyages made Hawkins’ reputation. The Spaniards protested to the queen, who was compelled to put in an appearance of refusing to sanction further voyages. However, she may have assumed that Philip’s protest was merely token and that he was privately prepared to sanction some trade between England and his colonies. If so, she was mistaken, as Philip had no intention of allowing any infringement of his monopoly.

In 1567 Hawkins set out from Plymouth on his third voyage (the queen again lending the Jesus) in command of a small squadron of seven ships; one of the ships, the Judith, was commanded by his kinsman, Francis Drake (1540?-1596). As before he sailed to Sierra Leone, took part in native wars, and sailed for the West Indies with 500 Africans, managing to sell most of the slaves in the ports of South America.

In September 1568 (according to his account) his fleet was caught in a storm which eventually drove them into the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulúa. The next day a Spanish fleet appeared, bearing the new Viceroy of Mexico and a fierce encounter began a few days later. Several English ships were damaged, including the Jesus. Hawkins and some of his men managed to escape but others were taken prisoner and handed over to the Inquisition. The Spaniards took possession of bullion to the value of £100,000. The news was brought to England by Drake, who sailed home to Plymouth in the Judith. Hawkins eventually reached England with a mere fifteen sailors at the beginning of 1569, a temporarily discredited man (the queen had lost her ship!). (However he later became MP for Plymouth. In 1578 he was appointed treasurer of the navy; he undertook privateering voyages against Spain using his own and Elizabeth’s ships.)

Francis Drake
After his inglorious return to Plymouth, Drake set about recovering his reputation. San Juan de Ulúa left him with an abiding sense of grievance because he believed the Spaniards had behaved treacherously. The son of a chaplain, he was a zealous Protestant with a firm belief that Providence was on his side. He had now abandoned all thoughts of trading with the Spaniards, preferring to prey on them instead. To the Spaniards he was a corsario (pirate) but he was inspired by religious zeal as well as greed. For him every attack on Spanish possessions was an assault on Rome.

In 1572, having obtained a privateering commission from the queen, he sailed to Panama and led a daring raid on the treasure house at Nombre de Dios, which was aborted only after his men lost heart when he was wounded in the leg. In the following year he successfully ambushed the mule train carrying silver from the mines of Peru across the Isthmus of Panama and his share of the profits amounted to £20,000 worth of bullion.

From Panama he had caught a glimpse of the Pacific from the top of a tall tree and prayed that God would give him leave
‘to sail once in an English ship on that sea’.
But how would he get there?

Much of the New World was still unknown. Cosmographers speculated on the existence of a vast southern continent, Terra Australis Incognita and of the North-West Passage between Asia and America - the way to China and the wealth of the East. In 1576 Humphrey Gilbert said:
‘Any man of our country, that will give the attempt, may with small danger pass to Cathay’.
He believed he would reach it by sailing past 'the island of America'.

Between 1567 and 1578 Martin Frobisher led three expeditions to find the North-West Passage and claimed Baffin Island (which he named Meta Incognita: the unknown boundary) for the queen. He returned to England with reports of possible gold mines, and obtained royal backing for two further expeditions to the same area. On the latter of these expeditions, he sailed up what was later called Hudson Strait, but then turned back to anchor at Frobisher Bay, where his attempts to establish a colony were unsuccessful.

Drake’s Circumnavigation
On 13 December 1577 Drake set sail from Plymouth, carrying with him John Foxe’s Protestant martyrology, the Acts and Monuments (the woodcuts coloured in). The object of the venture was to conclude trading treaties with the people who lived south of the Spanish sphere of influence, and if possible to explore Terra Australis. The queen was a silent partner, though she claimed that Drake knew she would deny all knowledge if she had to! No royal ships or money were involved, but a clutch of courtiers and other grandees were among its backers: Walsingham, Hatton, Leicester, Lord Admiral Lincoln, but not the cautious and legalistic Burghley. In return for her assent, the queen was assured of a share in whatever profits the voyage yielded.

Drake’s squadron consisted of his own ship, the Pelican and four others, and 200 men. On 20 August 1578 they entered the Straits of Magellan, where Drake changed the name of his ship to the Golden Hind, in reference to the crest (left) of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton. They were now in difficult and unknown territory, never before encountered by Englishmen. In the Straits, one ship, the Marigold, went down with all hands, and it took them sixteen days to reach the Pacific – Drake’s second sighting of the ocean. On cruising northward up South America’s Pacific coast, they robbed townships and seized vessels. On 1 March off Cape Francisco they fell in with a Spanish treasure ship, the Cacafuego, captured her and plundered her cargo (26 tons of silver and 80 pounds of gold as well as gold and precious stones), after which the Golden Hind was below her watermark. He sailed as far north as 48° N on a parallel with Vancouver to seek the North-West passage, but he was defeated by the bitterly cold water, and sailed south again. But he had become the first European to sight the western coast of Canada. Off the coast of what may have been California (possibly San Francisco), Drake accepted the sovereignty of a territory he called New Albion and was himself crowned by the Indians.

In July 1579 he sailed west across the Pacific, watering at the Philippines and then sailing to the Moluccas, where he appears to have concluded a trade treaty with the Sultan. In June 1580 he reached the Cape of Good Hope, in July Sierra Leone, and he arrived in England on 26 September, with gold and precious stones, cloves and spices, yielding a dividend of 4700 per cent for all the shareholders and something over for the queen. Of the five ships, only one completed the voyage, and of the 100 men on the Golden Hind only 56 of the original crew had survived.

When Elizabeth knighted Drake on 4 April 1581 (against Burghley’s wishes), it was a very public recognition that she had directly commissioned his plunder of Spanish property on his voyage. At the ceremony she declared that Philip had demanded Drake’s head; she had brought a gilded sword with which to strike it off. By now, relations with Spain, amicable enough when Drake sailed from Plymouth, had soured to a point where Elizabeth had no hesitation about a public challenge to Philip. Newsmongers, pamphleteers, and even politicians and diplomats were coming to speak of the naval war between Spain and England as if it were a personal duel between Philip and Drake.

Exploration and colonization cannot be separated as topics as much exploration was undertaken with a view to eventual colonization. However colonial advance was patchy and intermittent. In Africa nothing more than toeholds were obtained. More progress was made by the Portuguese in India. In 1497 Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In May 1488 he reached Calicut in western India. In 1510 the Portuguese explorer Alfonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) conquered the ancient Hindu city of Goa, which became the capital of the Portuguese empire in the east. (It was granted the same privileges as Lisbon, reaching its capacity between 1575 and 1600.) Its possession, which gave it control over much of the spice trade, enabled the Portuguese colonists to become rich with comparatively little effort – unlike toiling through the backlands of Brazil. It was also the centre of Christian missionary activity after the Jesuits arrived in 1542.

With the exception of the Dutch, northern European governments were slow to come round to the idea of colonization; support never advanced beyond a primitive urge to oppose Spain wherever she claimed to rule’, and for the land hungry classes in England Ireland offered better prospects. In these circumstances enthusiasm for colonization was generally confined to small groups of private individuals.

In England these were a close-knit group, nearly all West Country men, bound together by ties of neighbourhood, blood and marriage as well as by common Protestantism: Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-83), his half brother Sir Walter Raleigh (?1552-1618), his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville (?1541-91), and Sir Martin Frobisher (c. 1535-1594). Many of them also had experience in Ireland. Gilbert had ruthlessly suppressed an uprising in Ireland, 1567-70, for which he was knighted, and he began to elaborate plans for the Protestant colonization of Munster. Their principal supporter in the government was Walsingham.

The first to plan and then lead a serious attempt at settlement was Gilbert. In 1578 Elizabeth granted him for six years the right to discover and plant
‘such remote, heathen and barbarous lands’
as were still in no other Christian prince’s possession. In effect, this meant Newfoundland where the abundance of fish promised to provide a dependable source of food and an acceptable commodity for export to Europe. Straining his resources to the uttermost, he outfitted a seven-ship expedition and set sail on 19 November, but his ill-equipped, badly disciplined force broke up and by the spring of 1579 some of the ships had drifted to England, while others had turned to piracy.

Gilbert then set about organizing a more ambitious colonizing expedition - creating an empire in the West, with himself as overlord. His mentor was John Dee. In England Gilbert sold a vast paper empire of twenty million acres which he had never seen. One of the partners was Sir Philip Sidney, who purchased three million acres of land.

In June 1583 Gilbert sailed for the future New England (‘Norumbega’). Whatever the arguments about the North West Passage it was a proven fact that Newfoundland had an abundance of fish. On 3 August he arrived at St John’s Newfoundland, where he raised the royal arms and proclaimed himself governor, and issued a rough code of laws. This formal act of possession made little difference to the fishermen who were already spending half the year there, but no-one seriously disputed the English claim, and Newfoundland became the first English possession in the New World. Shortly after leaving Newfoundland, Gilbert was lost at sea upon his ship the Squirrel.

The Americas offered not only the chance of wealth but of a return to the lost Golden Age. In the spring of 1584 a patent from the queen transferred Gilbert’s rights in the New World to his half-brother, Raleigh, and the expedition left England at the end of April. It is well chronicled, as it was described in detail by Arthur Barlowe, the captain of the second ship.

They landed at what is now North Carolina, and took possession in the queen’s name of the land they believed was Wingandacoa. It seemed the perfect place for a colony – the land was fertile, the natives friendly. They remained anchored off Roanoke Island for about five weeks, searching for a place in which to plant a colony. They arrived back in England in September, bringing with them two Indians, tobacco and potatoes, and promptly began selling the new colony. Prospective investors were told that this was a land of magical wealth and boundless fertility offering all the commodities of the south and east, as well as the ‘health-giving’ herb tobacco. The Indians were represented as virtuous pagans already moving towards ‘civility and the embracing of true religion’.

The rationale for colonization was provided in the same year when the geographer Richard Hakluyt (c.1552-1616) dedicated a tract, The Discourse of Western Planting, to Philip Sidney urging the colonization of
‘those blessed countries from the point of Florida northward’
‘unplanted by Christians’.
The tract was dedicated to the queen and presented to her, but she was unwilling to commit herself to the expense or to risk the wrath of Spain. Her one contribution was to insist that Wingandacoa be renamed Virginia.

In 1585 a colony of 112 men was planted by Sir Richard Grenville, on his cousin Raleigh’s behalf, on Roanoke Island. But the enterprise was under-funded. Food supplies dwindled and the Indians began attacking. In 1586 the whole group returned to England with Drake. Two weeks later Grenville arrived at Roanoke with supplies, to find the colony deserted, and he left 15 men there to maintain England’s claim.

In 1587 Raleigh dispatched a second colony consisting of 150 settlers under the command of his friend, John White. They landed at Roanoke but found the 15 men vanished and the fort razed. The settlers built houses and on 18 August White’s grandchild, Virginia Dare, was born, the first English child to be born in America. For White's remarkable illustrations of the Indians, see here. White soon returned to England to obtain more supplies, but the threatened Armada invasion prevented him from obtaining a ship with which to relieve the colony. When he did return to Roanoke in 1590 the colony, including the child Virginia Dare, had disappeared almost without a trace, leaving no clue to their fate except the word ‘Croatoan’ carved on a tree. There are many hypotheses about the fate of the lost colony.

From the point of view of the Elizabethan explorers and would-be colonists, this was all very disappointing. No-one could have predicted in 1600 that the English were going to be the founders of a great empire.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The debate on the Indians

See here and here for more information.

From the time Columbus landed in Hispaniola in 1492 the Spaniards had been divided about how they should regard the Indians and how should they treat them. Were they rational beings capable of coercion to Christianity? Were they the lawful owners of their property? Or were they inferior creatures, savages who could legitimately be subjugated? in regards to the rationality and Christianization of the Indians.

The Spanish Crown had long been concerned with the morality of conquest, and employed theologians and jurists to advise on behaviour. One result of this was the Requirement (Requerimiento), a document that had to be read out to the Indians prior to an attack. This was often read in Spanish to Indians who did not understand the language, or was even proclaimed out of earshot to them.

The Spaniards governed through an institution set up by Ferdinand and Isabella known as the encomienda. By this policy, land belonged to the Spanish Crown and the Indians were compelled to work it on behalf of their Spanish master or encomendero. In return, they were to be afforded the protection of the Crown, instruction in the Christian faith and a small wage. In practice this meant enslavement and work in very harsh conditions.

In 1511 Antonio de Montesinos, one of the first Dominicans to arrive on Hispaniola preached a sermon attacking the conduct of the colonists, the break-up of families and social structures, the forced labour, and the deaths from diseases:
‘I am the voice crying in the wilderness...the voice of Christ in the desert of this island...[saying that] you are all in mortal sin...on account of the cruelty and tyranny with which you use these innocent people. Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Must not you love them as you love yourselves?’
A year later the Spanish crown issued a series of laws intended to regulate Indian-Spaniard relations.

Montesinos’ criticisms provoked a fierce reaction among the colonists, who chose a Franciscan friar Alonzo de Espinal to present their case to King Ferdinand. However Ferdinand professed outrage at what he heard and commissioned a group of theologians and academics to come up with a solution. In December 1512 the 35 Laws of Burgos were promulgated, the first codified set of laws governing the behaviour of the Spanish colonists. The laws forbade the ill-treatment of natives (the forced removal from their land and their placing into encomiendas) and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism. But the laws were never truly endorsed and had little impact in the New World.

In 1515 the landowner and lay catechist, Bartolomé de las Casas (1474-1566) (depicted above) left Santo Domingo and returned to Spain to plead for better treatment of the Indians. In 1523 he joined the Dominican order and four years later while serving as the prior of the convent of Puerto de Plata he began to write his Historia apologética, which was to serve as an introduction to his Historia de las Indias. In 1531, 1534 and 1535 he sent three letters to the Council of the Indies in Madrid in which he accused persons and institutions of the sin of oppressing the Indians, particularly through the encomienda system.

In his 1537 bull, Sublimis Deus, Pope Paul III confirmed the Indians’ capability to understand and receive the Christian faith. This was another way of legitimizing Spain’s presence and religious duty in the New World.

Neither the Laws of Burgos nor the Sublimis Deus, however, had much impact. In 1539 Las Casas set out again for Spain, arriving there in 1540. He horrified the court with his Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, a highly descriptive, but also somewhat exaggerated account of Spanish cruelty in the Caribbean in which he accused them of what today we would call genocide. His work seemed to be crowned with success when the New Laws were promulgated in 1542. These laws were designed to abolish the encomienda system within a generation by outlawing its perpetuation through inheritance. To ensure the enforcement of these laws, Las Casas was named bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala, and in July 1544 he sailed again for America with 44 Dominicans. But his determination to enforce the regulations led to vehement opposition and in 1547 he returned to Spain.

Back in Spain he came into conflict with the theologican Ginés de Sepúlveda composed his Latin dialogue, 'Democrates secundus' (‘Concerning the Just Cause of the War against the Indians’), in which he sought to justify the wars of conquest in the New World according to the Aristotelian doctrine of ‘natural’ superiors and inferiors.

Las Casas finally confronted him in 1550 at the Junta (Council) of Valladolid. Sepúlveda argued that if they refused to accept Spanish rule, they could be enslaved. Furthermore, if the Indians resisted enslavement, the Spaniards had the legitimate right to wage war on them. The Junta did not reach any clear-cut decision regarding the rationality and Christianization of the Indians. The jurists and theologians of Valladolid could not have conceivably recommended to Charles V to stop all wars of conquest in the New World and to merely seek the peaceful Christianization of the Indians, as Las Casas had proposed. On the other hand, if Sepúlveda’s harsh attack on Indian culture was intended to influence the Spanish crown to revoke the 1542 New Laws, he failed, for Las Casas effectively frustrated any immediate attempts by the encomenderos to have the laws revoked. But this did not mean that the conditions of the Indians improved in practice.

Outside Spanish America, the debate also had some impact. When the Philippines were conquered in 1571, there was a further debate, as the Dominicans once again challenged Spanish dominion.

In 1552, las Casas published his Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Very Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), a highly-coloured account of the abuses that accompanied the colonization of New Spain, and especially Hispaniola. He compared the indigenous Arawaks to tame ewes and wrote that when he arrived in 1508,
'there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it'.
This was an accusation of genocide nearly four hundred years before the term was coined.

The work of Las Casas was translated into English, French and Dutch and provided powerful anti-Spanish propaganda and thus created what is known as the Black Legend. It was first cited in English with the 1583 publication The Spanish Colonie, or Brief Chronicle of the Actes and Gestes [Deeds] of the Spaniards in the West Indies, at a time when England and Spain were preparing for war in the Netherlands. Las Casas's population figures are almost certainly exaggerated, but there can be little doubt that widespread slaughter took place.

So: the Spaniards certainly committed atrocities in the New World, but they it was also the first European power to consider seriously the moral issues raised by colonization.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Columbus has a lot to answer for.

Did Columbus bring syphillis from the New World? Have a look at this piece from the New York Times.