Sunday, February 8, 2015

Early 16th-Century Europe

It's often been described as a time and place crowded with great personalities, and the people meant by that include Henry VIII, Francis 1, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent, Luther, the "bad" Popes, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli and Rabelais.

I don't think Henry VIII was so great. His appetite for food was great, appallingly so. Even more appalling were his treatment of his wives and his being more ready to accept religious war than a female heir. Elizabeth I turned out alright. I wonder how much that may have been due to her being neglected by Henry, since she was neither male not Henry's oldest daughter and therefore may have seemed unlikely to him to become Queen.

Many would not argue with me at all when I say that Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who was also Charles I of Spain as well as the ruler of vast regions in the western hemisphere, was not a great statesman. He did nothing to conquer any of those regions, he merely inherited them, and one might well say that the steep decline of his huge empire began as soon as he took charge of it. He was not able to stop Luther from cracking the Western Church in half and kicking off a series of truly horrendous religious wars which lasted until 1648; he was not even in sure enough control of his own soldiers to keep them from looting Rome in 1527, in the early stages of those religious wars, when his troops were actually supposed to have been defending Rome from the Protestants. He did nothing to improve the lot of the vast numbers of natives in the Western Hemisphere who were enslaved in mines and other Spanish industries, and died from European diseases from which they had no immunity. He knew about the suffering of those natives; there were a few Spaniards brave enough to loudly complain about what was being done to them. Charles himself did not have a high opinion of his abilities as a leader. He abdicated in the 1550's, handing off the Holy Roman Empire to his brother, who became the Emperor Ferdinand I, and Spain and its huge American territories to his son, who was thus made Philip II of Spain. Ferdinand actually did a half-decent job of managing the bag of crap Charles handed him, temporarily bringing a degree of respite from the bloodshed of Catholic against Protestant within the Empire. Philip, on the other hand -- one thing you can say about Charles is that compared to Philip, he seems like a genius, a truly wonderful person, a beacon of humanity, reason and kindness. (But only compared to Philip.)

I have less bad things to say about Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent, but that may only be because I know less about them. Suleiman expanded the Ottoman Empire as far to the north-west as it would ever grow when he besieged Vienna in 1529, an expansion they would math in 1683 when they besieged Vienna again. But I don't know how much of that expansion is due to Suleiman truly being magnificent as a general, and how much of it is due to the eastern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire having been in the hands of that klutz Charles V.

Leonardo and Michelangelo and Raphael and Machiavelli and Rabelais were impressive personalities, I admire them all, but they were only artists and engineers and writers, dependent upon the politicians, the rulers like Charles and Henry and Suleiman and Francis for their careers and for their very existences. The time and place itself, early 16th-century Europe, does have much which is exciting to the scholar, but because of things like Columbus having discovered America by accident while trying to sail west to India; and the spread of printing, which had been invented quite a while earlier. Things for which no ruler can take credit.

Luther hated the "bad" Popes for the thing for which they should be loved: for patronizing Leonardo and Michelangelo and Raphael and Machiavelli and many other creative geniuses, for participating fully in that joint which we today refer to as the Italian Renaissance, and above all, Luther hated the "bad" Popes and kicked off all that Catholic vs Protestant gore because those Popes simply weren't able to take all the religious stuff very seriously. No, I don't admire Luther, not at all. The best I can say of him is that compared to Calvin, he seems like a genius, a truly wonderful person, a beacon of humanity, reason and kindness. (But only compared to Calvin.)

And screw Erasmus too, that pious Bible-thumping twit! Take my advice: if anyone tells you they like Augustine, or Aquinas, or Erasmus: RUN!!! Drop what you're doing, turn your back and run until your legs feel like lead and your lungs are on fire, or risk being bored to death.

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