INTRODUCTION

THE TUDOR PERIOD, 1485-1603

[An era of Revolutions]

The historian of the future will, perhaps, affirm that the nineteenth century, with the last years of the eighteenth, has been a period more fraught with momentous events in the development of the nations than any equal period since the Christian era commenced. Yet striking as are the developments witnessed by the last four generations, the years when England was ruled by Princes of the House of Tudor have a history hardly if at all less momentous. For though what we call the Tudor period, from 1485 to 1603, is determined by a merely dynastic title affecting England alone, the reign of that dynasty happens to coincide in point of time with the greatest territorial revolution on record, a religious revolution unparalleled since the rise of Mohammed, and an intellectual activity to match which we must go back to the great days of Hellas, or forward to the nineteenth century: revolutions all of them not specifically English, but affecting immediately every nation in Europe; while one of them extended itself to every continent on the globe. Moreover, the accompanying social revolution, though comparatively superficial, was only a little less marked than the others. Nor was there any country in Europe more influenced by the general Revolution in any one of its aspects than England.

Nihil per saltum is no doubt as true of historical movements as of physical evolution. Before Columbus sighted Hispaniola, Portuguese sailors had told tales of some vast island seen by them far in the west. Botticelli had passed out of Filippo Lippi's school, and Leonardo was thirty, before Raphael was born; the printing press had reached England, and Greek had been re-discovered, in the last years of the previous "period"; the Byzantine Empire had fallen; the power of the old Baronage in England and France had been broken before Richard fell on Bosworth field. There were Lollards at home and Hussites abroad before Luther came into the world. The changes did not begin in 1485, or in any particular year. In Italy the intellectual movement had already long been active, and had indeed produced its best work; outside of Italy, its appearances had been quite sporadic. At that date, the Ocean movement was in its initial stages. There had been foreshadowings of the Reformation; and, to speak metaphorically, the castles which had maintained the power of the nobility, overshadowing the gentry and the burghers, were already in ruins. But the fame of every one of the great English names which are landmarks in every one of these great movements belongs essentially to the years after 1485. And every one of those movements had definitely and decisively set its mark on the world before Elizabeth was laid in her grave.

[The Intellectual Movement]

The intellectual movement to which we apply the name Renaissance in its narrower sense [Footnote: In the more inclusive sense the Renaissance of course began in the time of Cimabue and Dante, but it was not till the latter half of the fifteenth century that it became a pervading force outside of Italy.] has many aspects. Whatever views we may happen to hold as to schools of painting and architecture, it is indisputable that a revolution was wrought by the work of Raphael and Leonardo, Michael Angelo and Titian, and the crowd of lesser great men who learned from them. The limitations imposed on Art by ecclesiastical conventions were deprived of their old rigour, and it was no longer sought to confine the painter to producing altar pieces and glorified or magnified missal-margins. The immediate tangible and visible results were however hardly to be found outside of Italy and the Low Countries; and if English domestic architecture took on a new face, it was the outcome rather of the social than the artistic change: since men wanted comfortable houses instead of fortresses to dwell in. The Renaissance in its creative artistic phase touched England directly hardly at all.

On its literary side, the movement was not creative but scholarly and critical, though a great creative movement was its outcome. In the earlier period the name of Ariosto is an exception; but otherwise the greatest of the men of Letters are perhaps, in their several ways, Erasmus and Macchiavelli abroad and Thomas More in England. Scholars and students were doing an admirable work of which the world was much in need; displacing the schoolmen, overturning mediaeval authorities and conventions, reviving the knowledge of the mighty Greek Literature which for centuries had been buried in oblivion, introducing fresh standards of culture, spreading education, creating an entirely new intellectual atmosphere. An enormous impulse was given to the new influences by the very active encouragement which the princes of Europe, lay and ecclesiastical, extended to them, the nobility following in the wake of the princes. The best literary brains of the day however were largely absorbed by the religious movement. The great imaginative writers, unless we except Rabelais, appear in the latter half of the sixteenth century - Tasso and Camoens and Cervantes, [Footnote: Don Quixote did not appear till 1605; but Cervantes was then nearly sixty.] Spenser and Marlowe and Shakespeare, as well as Montaigne. But even in the first half of the century, Copernicus enunciated the new theory that the Sun, not the Earth, is the centre of the astronomical system; and before the end of our period, the new methods had established themselves in the field of science, to be first formulated early in the new century by one who had already mastered and applied them, Francis Bacon. Essentially, the modern Scientific Method was the product of the Tudor Age.

[The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation]