Archive for the ‘1500s’ Category

Haiti was a land of the Tainos (Arawaks). But then one day in 1492 a white man named Columbus arrived from over the seas. He noticed they wore gold jewellery. He told them he would cut off the hands of any Taino over 13 who did not give him a certain amount of gold or cotton every three months. The Taino fled inland, but the Spanish followed, running them down with dogs and killing them, looking for the gold mines. They made girls into sex slaves. It got so bad that mothers were killing their own babies.

In two years half the Tainos were dead.  By 1555 they were all gone.

In 1505 Columbus’s son brought the first African slaves to the Americas, bringing them to Haiti. By 1519 there were already slave uprisings.

In 1697 France got Haiti from Spain and called it Saint-Domingue.

By 1789 Haiti produced three-fourths of all the sugar in the world, its black slaves producing more wealth than all of English-speaking North America. A third of slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa.

In the 1790s Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising that in time overthrew the French, making Haiti independent in 1804. The slaves were freed and the land divided among them. The 3,300 remaining French were killed and white was taken out of the flag, leaving red and blue.

For its loss France demanded payment of a crushing debt. France, Britain and America cut it off from overseas trade until it agreed to pay the debt. It took till 1947 to pay it off.

Like the Roman Empire, Haiti had no peaceful means for power to change hands. Often the government would be overthrown every few years.

From 1849 to 1913 America sent warships into Haitian waters 24
times to “protect American lives and property.”

Haiti was under American military rule from 1915 to 1934. Major General Smedley D. Butler said he hunted the Haitians “like pigs” and made Haiti “a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in.” American troops practised “indiscriminate killing of natives” while the American press called Haitians “a horde of naked niggers” in need of “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

America rewrote Haiti’s laws so that Americans could buy up land. They sent 40% of Haiti’s income to American and French banks to pay back debts.

From 1957 t0 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers: Papa Doc and Baby Doc. They ruled by terror through the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. America backed them and opened factories there.

Since the fall of Baby Doc, Haiti has gone back and forth between military rule and democracy, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a country priest, as the star democrat. America sent in troops in 1994 to restore Aristide to power, but it seems likely they were behind his overthrow in 1991 and 2004.

Democracy was last restored in 2006. The government is backed by a UN force but it is still weak. On top of that Haiti was hit by hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 that killed over a thousand and by an earthquake in 2010 that has killed 110,000 at last count.

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shakespeareHere is the Lord’s Prayer in Early Modern English (from the Geneva Bible of 1587):

Our father which art in heauen,
halowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdome come.
Thy will be done
euen in earth, as it is in heauen.
Giue vs this day our dayly bread.
And forgiue vs our dettes,
as we also forgiue our detters.
And leade vs not into tentation,
but deliuer vs from euill:

Early Modern English (1474-1660) is English from about the time of Caxton in the late 1400s, when he printed the first book in English, to Milton in the middle 1600s. It is the English of Shakespeare and the Authorized King James Bible, of Hobbes, Bunyan,  Marlowe, Spenser, Bacon and Donne. It was considerably different from the English of Chaucer in the late 1300s, yet it was easily understood up until the late 1800s.

It was when English had become a respectable language, like French. It was taking in huge numbers of Latin words. Shakespeare showed its beauty and power. Even so, it was not the giant world language it is now – only about 5 million people in a corner of Europe spoke it. English was just beginning to spread its wings.

It was the English that was brought to America. The American use of –ize instead of -ise and mad in the sense of angry, for example, go back to this time.

It was during this period that English spelling became more or less fixed. This started with Caxton in the late 1400s, who pretty much wrote words the way they sounded. Most of what makes English hard to spell comes from the Great Vowel Shift that came soon after in the 1500s: that was when the silent e became silent, as did the k in knife, the w in wrong, the t in listen, the l in half and so on. It is when words like food and good or sweat and meat stopped rhyming in spite of how they were spelled.

The most noticeable difference between our English and theirs are all those thous and -eths. But even in the early 1600s they were already falling out of use. They are more common, for instance, in the King James Bible, which preserves an older English from the middle 1500s, than they are in Shakespeare. By the 1600s -eth was probably said as -es regardless of how it was spelled.

Some notes:

  • My became mine before a vowel: “mine apple”.
  • Is could still sometimes take the place of has in the perfect tense: “He is come”.
  • Its was just coming into use in the 1600s: before then his and whereof were used instead: “the weight whereof was an 130 shekels.”
  • Ye was used instead you when it was the subject of a sentence: “But be ye doers of the word.”
  • Thou was the familiar form of “ye”, but it was falling out of use.
  • Instead of using do to make a question you could just put the main verb first: “Have ye three apples?”

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I have written quite a bit about white people lately. Here is the overview:

White people (1502- ) are those light-skinned people who come from Europe, the Middle East and parts nearby. Over the past 500 years they have settled in Australia, South Africa, North and South America.

Some say that Muslim and Latin American whites are not white, but if you are going to divide the world into five or so races, there is no physical reason to set them apart – only ones of history and religion.

Even so, in English when people say “white” they mainly mean the whites in North America and Britain. I do too.

Who counts as “white” in America has changed: the Irish and the Jews were not considered to be “white” at first. The same is true now for Latinos. About 40% of Americans who are part African pass for white.

On the world stage, whites are on top, but only since about 1800.

Northern Europe had been a backward corner of the world through most of history. As late as the 1400s Timbuktu, a black city in Africa, and Tenochtitlan, a brown city in Mexico, each had far more people than London, a white city in Europe.

Egypt and China, not Europe, have been the most advanced parts of the world through most of history. China still was as late as 1700 and likely will be again by 2030. Just look at who is studying engineering now.

Many whites think they are on top because they are just better than everyone else. Either because of their race, their way of life or their laws and customs.

Not quite.

Whites got on top because they had guns and ocean-going ships and industry first. Japan has shown these things are not “white”, so whites got them first only through an accident of history.

Whites, except for their power, are the same as everyone else. God did not make them special. God is not smiling on them. Hardly.

Starting in the 1600s in America they came with their guns and pushed the red man off his land and then with their wonderful ships (they were a wonder), they brought black men over the seas in chains to work that land. It is not what Jesus would have done, but it is what they did.

Deep down they knew it was wrong. So to live with themselves they had to believe a lie: whites are better than everyone else. A lie most of them still believe to this day.

Racism is not just some bad habit they fell into. It is built into their sense of who they are.

White American racism was open and naked down to the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. They have since changed. But it seems their words have changed far more than their hearts. They still think they are better than blacks, but their excuses are now a bit more subtle and carefully worded – not so much to hide their racism from the world but from themselves.

– Abagond, 2008. 

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Our Lady of Guadalupe (1531) is the name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary when she appeared in Mexico in December 1531 to Saint Juan Diego, ten years after the Spanish took over the country.

If you live in Mexico or America you have seen the picture: a woman dressed in a mantle of blue with stars of gold. Rays of light are coming out from her. The Catholic Church says it is the one true picture of Mary.

On the morning of December 9th Juan Diego, a simple Aztec farmer, was on his way to morning mass. When he crossed over a hill called Tepeyac he heard the beautiful singing of birds. Then he saw a beautiful woman dressed in blue. Light as bright as the sun was shining out from her. She called him by name and spoke to him in his mother tongue.

She told him she was the Mother of God. She wanted him to go to the city (what we now call Mexico City) and ask the bishop to build a church on that hill.

He asked her to send someone else: he was just a simple farmer in the country; the bishop was an important man who lived in a palace in the city. But Mary said no, she had chosen him.

So he went.

He sat waiting for hours to see the bishop. When he told him the story the bishop did not believe a word of it and sent him on his way.

The next day Juan Diego saw Mary again at the hill. Again she asked him to see the bishop and ask for a church to be built there. Again he waited for hours. This time the bishop asked for proof that it truly was Mary.

Two days later on December 12th Juan Diego saw her again and said the bishop wanted proof. She said go to the top of the hill, there you will find your proof. At the top were roses growing in the cold of the coming winter. He took off his cloak and Mary put the roses in it.

When he got to the bishop he opened his cloak to show him the roses. The bishop could not believe his eyes: not the roses but what he saw on his cloak: a picture of Mary. That same picture of her that you keep seeing in Mexico to this day.

The story spread like wildfire, among the Spanish, the Aztecs and the other people of Mexico. The church was built on the hill and people came from near and far. Juan Diego lived in a small house nearby and took care of the church. He told everyone about the Blessed Virgin and what she told him. In six years six million Mexicans became Christians.

If you go there now you will see a huge ugly church (now part of the city), but inside is the picture. It gets more pilgrims than any where else in North or South America.

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Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), a Danish nobleman, was one of the greatest astronomers of all time. Before Tycho’s time only Hipparchus was better. Tycho tried to prove Copernicus wrong but his work, continued by Kepler after his death, only proved Copernicus right once and for all.

Copernicus said that the planets went round the sun. Ptolemy said they went round the earth. Tycho said something in between: yes, the planets went round the sun, but the sun went round the earth!

Tycho turned to astronomy when he saw an eclipse while at university. He once got in a fight there in the middle of the night over a point of mathematics. He lost his nose and later got a metal nose made to put in its place.

Although he was a nobleman who was often full of himself, he did fall in love with a simple country girl and married her.

In the universities they taught Aristotle: the earth was the centre of the world, a place of endless change, but the heavens above the moon were perfect and unchanging. What about comets? Aristotle said they were below the moon, part of the earth’s weather.

Tycho proved the heavens were anything but unchanging. He became famous when he found a new star that was not there before. It was called Tycho’s star (we call it a nova). It soon became brightest star in the sky.

Tycho also proved that comets were not part of the weather but farther than the moon. By gathering observations from different parts of Europe he could tell that its position in the sky against the stars changed less than the moon’s, meaning it was farther away.

The king built an observatory for Tycho on the island of Ven in between Denmark and Sweden. There Tycho studied the stars with the best instruments in the world. He carefully recorded the motion of the sun and the planets. His measurements were five times better than anything ever made. He even took into account the effects of the air and the limits of his own instruments. He wanted to prove Copernicus wrong.

Tycho wrote a letter to Galileo and told him that if Copernicus were right, then we should be able to measure how far away the stars were. Galileo had no answer for that. What neither of them knew was how unimaginably far away the stars were.

When the king died Tycho had to leave the island. He travelled to Prague. There he met Kepler. Kepler knew what a gold mine Tycho’s tables of numbers were. He promised Tycho to continue his work after he died and prove Copernicus wrong once and for all.

Kepler did continue his work, but in the end he had to admit that Copernicus, with a few changes, was right after all.

Later in the 1600s Tycho’s old observatory was burned down by war. Riccioli, who named the craters of the moon, named the brightest one Tycho in his honour.

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The Portuguese empire (1415-1999) was the first and the last of the empires of western Europe. It sold black pepper from the Spice Islands and black men from Africa. It helped to spread the Catholic faith, especially to Africa and Asia, and made Portuguese a language spoken by more people than French. The empire gave birth to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and other countries.

At one time or other Portugal ruled parts or all of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Indonesia, East Timor, Bahrain, Barbados, Nagasaki in Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Morocco, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Goa in India and Macao in China, among others.

From 1000 to 1300 the Portuguese Christians took over what is now Portugal from the Moors. But in a sense they never stopped: in the 1400s they kept on going, down the coast of Africa. By 1498 they had reached India, by 1571, Japan. They had ports and outposts all along the coasts of Africa and Asia, from Lisbon to Nagasaki. The empire was at its height – not in land, but in power, trade and wealth.

Treaty of Tordesillas: The groundwork for this was laid in 1494, two years after Columbus discovered the Americas. The pope divided the world outside Europe in half between Portugal and Spain. In effect Portugal got Brazil and all of Africa and Asia except the Philippines.

The agreement held long enough among European powers to shape both empires. Portuguese power in its half of the world was not challenged till the 1600s by the Dutch. In 1500 the Portuguese had the best ships in the world, but by 1600 it was the Dutch.

The Dutch fought the Portuguese everywhere, even in Brazil. Portugal managed to hold onto Brazil, but lost Ceylon and the Spice Islands (Sri Lanka and Indonesia). Worse than mere land, they lost control of trade from the East. The glory days of the empire were over.

In the 1700s Brazil became the jewel of the empire. Brazil had sugar, gold, diamonds, cacao and tobacco. Black slaves worked the land. With the growth of Brazil inland, the empire reached its height in terms of land.

Extensão máxima do Império Português no século XVII.

The early 1800s brought the wars of Napoleon. The king fled to Brazil. Rio, not Lisbon, was the seat of the empire for a while. But after the wars Portugal was no longer strong enough to hold onto Brazil. It became independent in 1825.

This was a huge shock. To make up for its loss, Portugal turned its attention to its possessions in Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique.

In the late 1900s the empire came to an end.

In 1974 Salazar fell from power in Portugal and nearly all of the remaining countries of the empire were freed: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe and East Timor. Some of these sank into wars of succession, particularly Angola and Mozambique. Indonesia took over East Timor, killing a third of its people.

But even then Portugal still had Macao near Hong Kong. That was given back to China in 1999, the last bit of the empire to go.

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Kilwa (900s to 1700s), also called Quiloa or Kilwa Kisiwani, was the richest city in eastern Africa from 1000 to 1500. Today no one lives there. It is just some broken down buildings in a nearly forgotten corner of Africa.

Kilwa stood on an island on the coast of what is now south-eastern Tanzania. Then it was in the land of the Zanj. Only the old buildings remain. Even the book that once told its story, the Kilwa Chronicle, is lost (though parts of it appear elsewhere). But the society of Kilwa has lived on, becoming the pattern for Swahili-speaking Africa.

Kilwa was the first city in eastern Africa to have a domed building, the city’s great mosque. It also had its largest stone building, the palace of Husuni Kubwa with a hundred rooms.

Kilwa grew rich by trading the gold, iron and men of Africa for the riches of the east: the cloth and jewels of India, the porcelain of China and the spices of the Indies.

It was a beautiful city built of stone and coral. Ibn Battuta, the Marco Polo of the Arab world, arrived there in 1331. He was amazed by its beauty.

The people were black Muslims who spoke Swahili. But by the time the Portuguese arrived in 1500 half the people were Christians from India and Abyssinia.

The city was founded by Ali bin al Hasan. He came in the 900s on a ship from Shiraz (south-western Persia).

Kilwa was as far south as Arab traders would go. Like Timbuktu, Kilwa got rich by controlling the trade between the Arabs and its part of Africa.

Its glory days came to an end in 1500 when the Portuguese arrived. It was Cabral who first came, on the same voyage in which he discovered Brazil. Two years later Vasco da Gama arrived and asked for tribute. In 1505 Francisco de Almeida came and destroyed the city, taking it outright. He built Gereza, a fort that later became a prison.

Some years later the Portuguese lost Kilwa to the Arabs. Later it was ruled by Zanzibar. But the city never recovered: the Portuguese had taken control of trade with the east.

In the 1700s Kilwa did see something of its old wealth return by selling slaves to Brazil. But then in the early 1800s the British brought an end to even that. Kilwa died. There was no reason to go there any more.

You can still see the remains of the mosque, the Kubwa palace, the old Portuguese fort and some other buildings. They are falling apart with the wind and the rain and the years.

It is not a tourist attraction, though the curious do show up from time to time.

In 1981 UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site, one of the several hundred places in the world worth preserving – not that UNESCO has any money to save what is left of Kilwa.

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St John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) is a Spanish saint who lived in the time of El Greco. His book “The Dark Night of the Soul” and others has helped to inform Catholic thinking about the experience of God in this world. He also helped St Teresa of Avila to make the religious order of the Carmelites think more about God and less about their shoes.

He was born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez. His father was a noble who had fallen in love with a poor girl and married her. His family was against the marriage and cut him off. But once his father died, it got much worse. John, the son of a noble, grew up a hungry boy in the richest city in Spain.

When he was 14 he went to work in a hospital. There he took care of the sick and the mad. He learned to look for beauty and joy not in this world but in God.

While he worked in the hospital, John learned Greek and Latin at a Jesuit school. He became a brother of the Carmelite order and continued his studies at the University of Salamanca. There he learned Thomist philosophy, which affected him deeply.

The Carmelites had a bad name in those days. They lived well and did little work. They hardly seemed to be living for God. He was thinking of leaving, but St Teresa of Avila asked him to stay and help her to change things. He did. Their Carmelites lived such a strict and poor life that they did not even wear shoes!

Not all the Carmelites were happy about these changes. They locked John in a small, dark cell. It just had one small window, too high for him to look out. They whipped him three times a week. There he remained for nine months.

Most people would be bitter and angry – or lose all hope. Not John. He knew it was part of what God had in mind for him.

He had nothing, but he still had God. His faith and love burned more strongly. God filled his heart with joy. There he wrote some of the most beautiful Spanish ever written.

At last he escaped. He hid from his enemies in a convent. There he read his beautiful words about God to the nuns.

From that time on he wrote about his experience of the love of God and led his order of Carmelites, which in time became independent of the bad old order of Carmelites.

John wrote not just about his experience of God but also gave everyday advice about how to grow in faith and prayer. His two most famous books are “The Dark Night of the Soul”, a book that Pope John Paul II loved, and “Ascent of Mount Carmel”. The book he wrote in the cell is “The Spiritual Canticle”.

His feast day is December 14th, the day he went to heaven.

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The florin of Florence, 3.5g of gold. Used all over Europe by 1300.

The florin of Florence, 3.5g of gold, used all over Europe by 1300, what Grimm fairy tales call a piece of gold.

Leonardo da Vinci mentions money and prices in his notebooks, almost in passing. He tells how much he paid gravediggers, for instance, and how much it costs to have your fortune told.

Leonardo counted money in lire, soldi and dinari:

  • 1 lire = 20 soldi
  • 1 soldo = 12 dinari

It is one soldo, two soldi.

Like the English pound, shilling and pence, these come from the Roman system of of libra, solidus and denarius. But the money in Italy lost its value far more quickly than in England so that by Leonardo’s time the soldi had pretty much the same value as Shakespeare’s penny.

The coins that Leonardo mentions (with their rough value in metric pennies, which have 0.5 grams of silver):

  • ducat (120)
  • florin (120)
  • Rhenish florin (120)
  • scudo (110)
  • grossoni (40)
  • lire (20)
  • carlino (4-8?)
  • soldo (1)
  • dinari (0.083)

Ducats and florins were two crowns each ($26 in current money) , while a lire was a third of a crown.

The ducat was the gold coin of Venice, just as the florin was the gold coin of Florence. Both had 3.5 grams of gold and were accepted all over Europe. They are called “pieces of gold” in the Grimm stories.

The soldo and lire are silver coins. I put six lire to a florin, but in practice it was not that fixed. You might get anywhere between four to seven lire for a florin, depending on the going rate between silver and gold.

Leonardo generally got paid in ducats and florins. His income went up and down a lot, but in the long run he made about 50 to 100 ducats a year. That is equal to about a painting a year.

At the end of his life Leonardo worked for the king of France, who paid him 400 ducats a year. Compare that to Michelangelo, who got between 200 to 450 ducats for his sculptures.

One ducat was spending money for Leonardo, but for one of his students it was ten days’ pay.

In 1499, just before the fall of Milan, Leonardo had 600 ducats in the bank. In his will he gave his brother 400 ducats.

Some prices from his notebooks (in soldi):

    225 a metre of velvet
    140 bed
    140 ring
    120 to bury someone - bier, gravediggers, priests, the works
    100 lined doublet
     45 crockery
     40 cloak
     40 jerkin (up to 120)
     40 pair of hose (up to 120)
     30 for canvas
     23 a metre of cloth (for a shirt)
     22 gardener
     21 sword and knife
     20 anise comfits
     20 cap
     20 glasses
     20 lock
     18 for paper
     16 for gravediggers to bury someone
     13 shirt
     13 jasper ring
     11 sparkling stone
     11 what a student of his could make in a day
     11 to the barber
      6 have your fortune told
      5 pair of shoes (up to 14)
      4 a dozen laces
      3 rent a room for a day
      3 melon
      1 salad

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John Calvin (1509-1564) founded Calvinism, a severe form of the Protestant faith that took root in Switzerland, Scotland, America and the Netherlands. Even today those places still have a watered down sort of Calvinism. Presbyterian, Puritan and the Reformed churches grew out of Calvin’s teachings.

Calvin came a generation after Luther and Zwingli: he was only eight when Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door. But he took their thought and made it into a well-argued, rational system. You can read about it in his book, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”.

Calvin was born in France. He went to Paris to study to be a priest. He loved theology, Greek and Hebrew. But he found that the leaders of the Catholic Church were corrupt, its priests had little education and its believers just went through the motions.

In 1533 he turned against the Church and a year later he had to flee France. He first went to Basel, Switzerland. There he wrote his “Institutes”. In 1541 he came to Geneva, where he became the religious leader.

Like Luther he believed in sola scriptura and sola fide: that we are saved by faith, not works, and that all truth comes from Scripture, not from the mouths of popes or bishops.

And like Luther he believed that God had chosen whom he would save and send to heaven when he made the world. This is called predestination. But Calvin went further: he said that God has also chosen those who will go to hell; that we have no free will – how could we if God is all-powerful?

We are on our way to heaven or hell – God has already made his decision! God even wanted Adam to fall!

This was too much for most Protestants to take, even though no one had a good answer for Calvin’s well-reasoned arguments. It seems like a cruel doctrine, but since God is just everything is fine.

Really when you think about it, Calvin said, we should all go to hell. We have all sinned. Admit it. Christ died for our sins, but only for those who believe in him. And that belief, that faith, is only given to those whom God chooses. It is an act of God’s mercy. It has nothing to do with justice. None of us deserve it.

How to tell if you are going to heaven:

  • Confession of the faith
  • A Christian life
  • Love of the sacraments

Calvin recognized only two sacraments: baptism and communion. The other five sacraments, he said, are not in Scripture, therefore they were not instituted by Christ.

Calvin said that Christ is not present physically in the bread and wine of communion, as Catholics and Lutherans believed. Instead Christ sends the Holy Spirit into the believer when he takes communion.

Calvin allowed plain crosses in church, but none with Christ pictured on them. He allowed singing, but only psalms.

Calvin was influenced by Augustine, but he took his ideas on predestination much further.

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Money in Shakespeare’s time

Money in Shakespeare’s time was counted in pounds, shillings and pence – or pennies:

  • 12 pennies make a shilling
  • 20 shillings (or 240 pennies) make a pound

English money remained that way till 1971, when it was decimalized. Shillings then disappeared and now 100 pence make a pound.

The pound came from the old Roman libra, the shilling from the solidus and the penny from the denarius. That is why “s” is short for shilling, “d” is short for penny and the sign for pound looks like a fancy L.

There was no paper money back then, just silver and gold coins. No copper coins either. The penny was a silver coin down to the time of Napoleon. It was about 12 mm across and had half a gram of silver.

I will express all prices in pennies to make them easier to compare. Divide by 60 to get crowns. And, based on the price of silver, divide by 5 to get current American dollars and by 10 to get current British pounds. As you will see, the cost of living was much lower.

The English coins that Shakespeare mentions (the value of each is given in pennies):

  • angel (120)
  • crown (60)
  • shilling (12)
  • sixpence (6)
  • groat (4)
  • twopence (2)
  • penny (1)
  • halfpenny (0.5)
  • farthing (0.25)

He mentions pounds but only as an amount of money, not as a coin. The one-pound coin was called a sovereign, but I do not see where he mentions them.

Crowns, the most commonly used coins, were made of either silver or gold. Any coin more than a crown was made of gold, while the lesser coins were all made of silver.

Foreign coins that Shakespeare mentions (with the value in pennies):

  • ducat (120)
  • guilder (120)
  • dollar (50)
  • crusado (27-48)

He calls the French ecu a crown.

What people got paid (in pennies a day):

 80,000     the top merchants
 80,000     Duke of Bedford
 54,000     queen (what she spent a day)
   3200     minister
   2000     nobleman
   1200     knights
    600     esquire
     80     merchant
     80     country gentleman
     53     army captain
     29     lieutenant
     17     ensign
     15     army corporal
     16     common parson
     14     army drummer
     13     pikeman
     12     craftsman
     12     actors
     11     landowner (12 hectares)
     10     journeyman
     10     soldier
      9     labourer
      7     watchman
      7     ploughman
      7     maid
      6     shepherd

For those who get food as part of their pay, like maids and soldiers, I added 5 pennies.

For some of these I assumed a 6-day work week or a 300-day work year.

What things cost, given in pennies (“L” means the price is for a litre, “kg” for a kilo):

   1152     tobacco, kg
   1080     portrait
    480     sugar, kg
    480     Bible
    360     horse
    331     officer's cassock
    300     silk hose
    264     cloves
    240     spices, kg
    240     a book of Shakespeare's plays
    171     officer's canvas doublet
    120     hire a coach for a day
     96     pepper, kg
     80     boots
     48     bed
     24     tooth pulled
     15     small book
     12     hire a horse for a day
     12     wine, L
     12     shoes
      6     cherries
      6     butter, kg
      6     beef, kg
      6     scissors
      6     eyeglasses
      6     blue cloth jerkin (vest)
      5     meal at an inn
      4     food for a day
      4     a dozen eggs
      4     a knife
      3     cheese
      3     a dozen buttons
      2     see a play from the gallery
      1.3   bread, kg
      1     see a play from the ground
      1     bed in a tavern
      0.8   candle
      0.5   ale or beer, L

Note that many of these are a middle price of a broader range.

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Martin Luther (1483-1546) founded the Protestant faith in 1517. It started when he nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” on the door of a church in Germany, protesting the corruption of the Catholic Church. This led to a hundred years of off-and-on religious wars that divided first Germany and then Europe in half. Protestants are now the second largest branch of Christianity.

Luther founded the first Protestant church, the Lutherans. His ideas were later developed by Zwingli and Calvin in Switzerland. It is their sort of Christianity that became common in the English-speaking world.

Luther was an Augustinian monk who felt he was not going to heaven. No matter how often he confessed his sins and did all the things a good Catholic should, he was not at peace. A friend of his told him to study Scripture. So he did and found his answer in Romans 1:17:

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

We are not saved by our good works, but by faith, a faith which God gives us by his grace – his free and unmerited gift.

Yet at this very time the Church was selling indulgences to lessen the punishments of purgatory in the afterlife. Not only had the practice become corrupt, it was completely against Luther’s new understanding of the faith.

So to protest against indulgences he nailed to a church door his list of 95 reasons why they and the Church were wrong.

In the following years Luther went further. He taught two things that became the root of all Protestant thinking:

  1. Sola fide: “faith alone” is all that you need to be saved. You do not get to heaven by good works, you get there by faith in Christ.
  2. Sola scriptura: “scripture alone” is all you need to reach the truth. You do not need popes or bishops to tell you what to think.

Luther was declared a heretic and brought to Worms before the emperor, his princes and a representative of the pope. They tried to get him to back off. He refused. So they condemned him.

Luther’s friends got him into hiding at the castle of Wartburg. There he translated the Bible into German.

Luther translated all the books of the Bible, but he said that some books were not sacred: they were good to read, but should not be used to argue doctrine. These became the books of the Apocrypha:

  • Old Testament: Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom, Tobit, Judith, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
  • New Testament: James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation

As it happens, Maccabees and James supported Catholic ideas of purgatory and good works.

Melanchthon, who came after Luther, restored the New Testament but kept Luther’s Apocrypha for the Old Testament.

Luther’s ideas divided Germany. It led to years of war with neither side able to win outright. Nine years after Luther’s death it was agreed that each German prince could choose the religion of his own subjects.

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Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote “The Prince” (1513), a guidebook to power and how to use it. He said a prince’s first duty is not justice or doing what is right, but the freedom and prosperity of his country. The ends justify the means.

He wrote the book for Lorenzo de Medici, but Lorenzo was more interested in his dogs.

Machiavelli loved Florence and Italy and wanted a prince who could unite the country and free it from the barbarians – the French and Spanish.

In 1494 the Medicis, who had ruled Florence, were overthrown and a republic of Florence was established. In 1498 Machiavelli became its secretary.

This took him all over Europe: all through Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. He talked to popes, princes, generals and cardinals. He saw how political power worked in the real world.

But then in 1512 the republic fell. The Medicis were back and threw him in prison. Later they let him go. No longer foreign secretary, Machiavelli returned to his estate in the country.

There he read the books of ancient history in his library and wondered what went wrong.

Cicero and others throughout history had told rulers to be just, prudent and seek the love of their subjects. Machiavelli saw first hand that this does not work. The republic of Florence had been ruled by just such a man and yet it fell. What to do?

Machiavelli noticed that the acts of princes and men were driven by the same passions all throughout history. Therefore through a knowledge of the acts of great men learned from long experience in the present and endless reading of the ancient, Machiavelli figured out what worked and saved a country and what did not.

In 1513 he wrote down his findings as a handbook for rulers called “The Prince”. It was shocking: Machiavelli told princes to be immoral if that is what it took, as it sometimes did. He even told them to seem good but be evil; that it was better to be feared than loved.

Of all the ancients, Machiavelli loved Livy most. Livy’s history of the Roman republic became his touchstone for everything. So he wrote a book about it: the “Discourses” (1519). In it he lays out his own philosophy of history and how a strong, enduring republic can be founded. Something he wished for Florence and all of Italy.

He wrote books on the art of war and the history of Florence, a play, “Mandragola”, and some verse.

His verse was nothing great, but his prose was excellent. He wrote in the Italian of Florence, not in Latin. His Latin was excellent – he was foreign secretary and had read Livy in Latin – but what he wrote was for Italy not for the West as a whole.

Machiavelli loved to read, especially Lucretius, Dante, Virgil and, above all, his Livy. He also read Thucydides, Tacitus, Plutarch, Ovid, Tibulus, Terence, Diogenes Laertius, Petrarch and Boccaccio. He loved to read about his two great passions: history and love.

Machiavelli knew Leonardo da Vinci. The two met when they both worked for Cesare Borgia.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was an astronomer who said the planets circle the Sun — not the Earth as Ptolemy had said. He laid out his theory in a book called “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres”. He came up with the theory in the early 1500s, but the book did not come out till 1543 when he was on his deathbed.

Copernicus was not the first to say this: back in ancient Greece Aristarchus had said the same. But it could not be proved true till the telescope was invented in the early 1600s.

The theories of Copernicus and Ptolemy both fit the facts known in 1500 equally well. Copernicus’s theory was a bit simpler on paper, but it had one great drawback: the known physics of the time did not support it. Ptolemy’s theory made physical sense, Copernicus’ did not.

The known physics of the time was that of Aristotle. He said the universe was made up of five elements.From heaviest to lightest they were: earth, water, air, fire and quintessence. Things move here and there but in the long run the elements tend to their natural places. The heavier an element the more it tended to move towards the middle of the universe. That is why Earth is made up of earth, with water on it and air above it. It is why fire goes upwards. It is why there is no quintessence on Earth – it is all up in the heavens.

Heavenly bodies — the Sun, stars and planets — were made of quintessence. That is why they are way above the earth. It is also why they always go in circles round the Earth: since quintessence is so perfect, its motion is perfect. Aristotle said that the perfect motion was in circles.

So in the late 1500s Copernicus’s theory was merely “interesting”, at best a useful fiction that made it easier to work out the positions of the planets. The Church did not even outlaw his book then – that did not happen till 1616.

The turning point came in the early 1600s with Galileo.

First Galileo put Aristotle’s physics to the test and found out it was not as true as everyone had thought. There were things in it that were flat out wrong.

Second, he made a telescope and looked at the night sky. He found that the heavenly bodies were not so perfect after all – another strike against Aristotle. He saw that Venus waxes and wanes just like the Moon and changed size as it did so. Copernicus could explain that, Ptolemy could not. He also saw four moons circling Jupiter – how does that fit into Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s system?

With Aristotle’s physics in deep trouble and the facts now on Copernicus’ side, his theory began to win the day.

Final victory came with the work of Galileo, Kepler and Newton. Galileo and Newton worked out the new physics and Kepler perfected the theory by having planets move in less-than-perfect circles – in ellipses. By 1700 Ptolemy was history.

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Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was a Swiss priest who became one of the three founding influences of the Protestant faith, along with Luther and Calvin.

His ideas went further than Luther’s and after his death were made more sensible and intellectual by Calvin. Zwingli brought Zurich, Berne and Basel into the Protestant fold, but through Calvin his influence is far greater still: in much of the English-speaking world today his ideas have become simple common sense.

Zwingli held the Bible and his interpretation of it above everything. If he could not find it in the Bible, then it had to go. The Bible holds the Christian faith in all its purity. Everything else added to it in the centuries since are corruptions.

So Zwingli did away with things like pilgrimages, fasting, the mass, divine sacraments, altars, images and even music from his church.

Zwingli, the son of a well-to-do family, received a good, humanist education and became a priest. He taught himself Greek and read the New Testament in the original as well as the Church Fathers and the great works of Greece and Rome. Erasmus was his hero. He learned Hebrew as well. He read the Bible in the humanist manner he was taught at school: in the original tongues and depending chiefly on his own reason and judgement.

Humanists, above all, think for themselves. “Man is the measure of all things,” they say. Things have to make sense. Seeing is believing. Burying something in a lot of long words or saying “It has always been done this way” does not wash with them. Reason and individual judgement matter above all.

So in this spirit Zwingli read the Bible for himself. Where his interpretation did not agree with that of the Church, he was right, the Church was wrong. He persuaded not just himself but all of Zurich.

Together they went forth to purify the faith of altars and images, of holy sacraments and all the other corruptions that had built up over the centuries. Monasteries were closed, the state took the Church’s land. The gold cups that once held the blood of Christ were made into money. Priests began to marry – even Zwingli himself. His new wife gave birth less than a month later (chastity, like humility, was not one of his strong points).

But in a matter of years it all sank into war. Not just Catholic against Protestant, but in time even Protestant against Protestant. Zwingli himself fell in battle at the age of 47.

Zwingli left the Protestant world divided: Luther said that the bread and wine at church becomes – physically – the body and blood of Christ. Christians had believed this since the time of Christ. But Zwingli said no, it was still just ordinary bread and wine – it only represented the body and blood of Christ, it did not become the real thing.

That this might seem a senseless dispute today, even to Christians, shows better than anything the effect Zwingli has had.

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