In the second chapter of the book “The Sixteenth Century”, the author stresses that in 16th century, political environment in Europe was a complex one. There was maritime empires like Venice and Genoa, city states shorn of hinterland like Geneva, Dubrovnik, Gdansk, the Dutch republic as a provincial republican formation, Holy Roman Empire, Swiss Confederation, Italian Papal states, Spain and France. Habsburg dynastic empire was the dominant power of sixteenth century. There were mainly hereditary monarchies. The author underlines that no one can mention of nation-states in this period. States were based on dynastic fortune rather than national identity. Dynastic marriages were very important in diplomacy; such that the author points at the union of English and Scottish thrones to create a conjoint British monarchy. Princely marriages were political acts; “an occasion for dynasties to renew their sense of destiny and moments of political reconciliation.” However, the author also remarks that over-complex intermarriages also created conflicts among the dynasties. The author says that dynasties resemble the clan formation, which were corporatist and hierarchical. In addition to marriages, births are also political events in the dynasties. As mentioned in class, the kings felt obliged to have male children to whom they would leave the throne. The death of the head of the dynasty also brought upon a transition period.
In terms of politics, the author notes that administrative issues were passed to professionals to carry out. In German Empire, Spain and France, administrative and juridical governmental branches were established in the councils. In sixteenth century, decision making processes were also handled collectively, in order to prevent political conflicts. According to the author, the most important change in this period is the rise of the secretary of state. The progress in the secretary system enabled the decisions to be recorded, printed and saved.
On the other hand, the author emphasizes that the court was hardly an institution, but it was a way of life. In sixteenth century, very small armies were maintained in the courts. The political importance of the court was that, informal influences upon decision making process could be effectively employed in the courts. Besides, faction was also an event experienced in the courts from time to time. The author also mentions of clientelism as another important factor in sixteenth century European oligarchies.
While mentioning of war, the author stresses that beginning with the fifteenth century, zones which consist of risks of conflict emerged. There was a political instability in Italian peninsula. There were tensions between Italian states and German state, as well as Christendom and the Ottomans. The author remarks that Turkish threat was a destabilizing factor in terms of European politics and military. In this period, there have been developments in military institutions. For example, architects built fixed defenses against gunfire. Spanish infantry began to organize themselves as smaller, more organized pikemen. In this period, larger armies were needed to be trained, fed and organized. Military changes also affected financial and political factors. Political decision making and its distant execution was hardly managed; therefore military organization was subcontracted wherever possible. Besides, the maintenance of military organizations needed funding. In terms of finance, the author underlines that at the end of sixteenth century, Europe’s most powerful governing entities were also the ones who were the most indebted.
The sixteenth century rulers knew how to use the methods of propaganda. They especially made use of printing press. The aimed at breaking down the tensions in the society and “represent the harmony of an established order.” Sixteenth century political powers are also known as the users of “realpolitik”. In this regard, Machiavelli was an important figure in terms of political science. Besides, another important change in terms of politics was about Reformation. By the Reformation act, the rulers were perceived as figures who demand unquestionable and unconditional obedience. In this period, the term “state” (which Elizabeth I hated to use) was used among Italian diplomats.
In terms of explorations, the author begins the sixth chapter by pointing out the importance of Prince Henry, younger son of John I of Portugal, who pioneered explorations by dispatching naval expeditions of Africa in the beginning of fifteenth century. In 1444, Prince Henry began to bring slaves from Africa. In the end of fifteenth century, Christopher Columbus began his voyages with the claim that he’ll convert the Khan of Cathay to Christianity and liberate Jerusalem from Islam rule. Columbus was the first sailor to explore the unknown lands of what we call America today and it was Amerigo Vespucci whose expedition defined the new lands. As mentioned in class, the name “America” was called after Amerigo Vespucci. The author also mentions of Ovando, who was named the governor of Hispaniola. Ovando constituted a system in which the natives worked for the land owners free of charge. Spaniards enslaved the native populations and they legitimized this act by claiming that the natives were cannibals. In the class, it was also stressed that many natives died not from Spanish oppression but diseases which arrived the new lands from Europe. The native population decreased and the Spanish needed workers so they brought slaves from Africa in order to work in the new lands.
In the meantime, Hernan Cortes succeeded in overthrowing the Aztec Empire. There are conversations between Cortes and Montezuma, who assumes that Cortes is the God that his civilization was waiting for centuries. The author remarks that conquests in the new lands were handled by a very small number of men; since the Europeans were superior to the natives in terms of military. The adventurers were mostly poor and underprivileged people of Spain, who had nothing to lose. Although during the first years of explorations, a catastrophe occurred in the new lands due to the oppression of the natives, in 1542 Charles V declared the “New Laws” which abolished the commanders in the new lands to enslave the natives. Spaniards had to pay wages for the natives who work on the lands. Hence, the enslavement of Africans began, since the Spanish needed free labor force for the improvement of their lands. As the time passed, the new lands were not only center of economic ambitions, but of administrative ones. For example, the author notes that in 1569-1571, Jesuits arrived in Mexico and Peru, and established colleges there in order to raise the elite classes who would rule the new lands.
The author also tells about Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who went to India by passing south shores of Africa. Spanish explorations and Portuguese explorations were different than each other. While the Portuguese went to India and dominated the trade in the sea routes they established, Spanish only concentrated on American continent. Portuguese also build military posts throughout African shores in order to ensure the safety of their trade posts. They even conquered cities in India, as we mentioned while talking about Mughal Empire. The author remarks that the Portuguese didn’t only explored new sea routes in Africa, but also they were effective in the new lands of America; as they claimed possession of Brazil in 1500. Later in sixteenth century, we see that Portuguese territory was united with the Spanish territory; hence the Spanish became the sole ruler in the maritime trade.
In addition to Spanish and Portuguese expeditions, French, English and Dutch explorers were also active in this century. There were even conflicts between these colonial forces; the Dutch attacked several Portuguese colonies and they even took control of trade of Indonesia.
In Africa during the 16th century, Portuguese were the dominant force. Conquest of Africa was not easy; as the author states, the states in Africa had strong armies, unlike Native Americans. Eventually, apart from gold-dust and some ivory, major export from Africa was slaves. African rulers agreed the sell their slaves in exchange of luxury textiles, horses and weapons. Most of these slaves were sent to America.
Besides, throughout the explorations of 16th century, Jesuits were also an important factor. They were active in all over the world, from Far East to America in order to spread Christianity.