What are the important causes for the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe?



The Renaissance was rendered possible by a combination of number of factors which were as follows:

1. Decline of Feudalism.

In the first place the decline of feudalism, which was the basis of life during the medieval period, greatly contributed to the rise of Renaissance. The feudalism which began to decline by the close of the thirteenth century in France and Italy virtually disappeared from Western European countries by the 1500 A.D.

The one major factor which played a dominant role in the decline of feudalism was the rise of the middle class comprising of traders and businessmen. These middle classes provided the kings necessary money for the maintenance of armies and thereby enabled them to reduce their dependence on the feudal lords.

Further, due to development of trade and commerce during this period, there was great increase in prices which greatly benefited the craftsmen, merchants and cultivators. As the feudal lords could not in­crease their rents they were forced to borrow to maintain themselves. As the feudal lords were not able to repay the debts they were often obliged to sell off their lands. This gave a serious set back to feudalism and manorial life. All this paved the way for the Renaissance.

2. Impact of the Crusades.

The Crusades or the wars between the Christians and Muslims which were fought between 11th and 14th century and which ultimately resulted in the victory of the Muslims also provided an impetus to Renaissance.

As a result of the Crusades the Western scholars came in contact with the East which was more civilized and polished than the Christians. A number of Western scholars went to the universities of Cairo, Kufa and Cardona etc and learnt many new ideas, which they subsequently spread in Europe.

3. Decline in the influence of Church:

The Church which dominated the medieval society suffered a set back in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The temporal power of the Church was challenged by a number of strong monarchs. In 1296 A.D. King Philip IV of France got the Pope arrested and made him a prisoner.

This gave a serious blow to the power and prestige of the Pope. Even the common people lost faith in Church due to rise of numerous rituals. They preferred to pay greater attention to the present life rather than the life after death. No wonder they did not find the medieval ideals of other worldliness and asceticism satisfactory.

4. Wealth and Prosperity:

The Crusades provided an impetus to trade and commerce in the 12th and 13th centuries and the trade between eastern and western countries greatly increased. This greatly contributed to the wealth and prosperity of the people in Italy and a wealthy class of traders, bankers and manufacturers emerged. This class tried to display its wealth and bolster its social importance by patronizing artists and scholars.

They provided security and protection to the artists and encour­aged them to produce outstanding works. With a view to attain refine­ment in every aspect of their culture, these wealthy classes tried to learn the rules of correct social behavior by reading etiquette books. The open­ing of the new lands for travel to the Europeans also greatly contributed to the broadening of the outlook and liberalization of ideas.

5. Invention of Printing Press and Paper:

The discovery of the printing press in 1454 by Gutenberg of Mainz also greatly assisted in the revival of the learning. Soon thereafter a number of printers appeared in Italy. The printing press was introduced in England by Caxton in 1477.

The inven­tion of the printing press and availability of the paper in abundance at reasonable price greatly contributed to the popularity of the books and gave a fillip to renaissance. Prof. Edith Sichel highlights the role of the printing in Renaissance thus, "Printing remained the source of irrigation which fertilized the world of intelligence."

Without printing press knowledge could not have spread for and wide. Earlier, the books were produced by monastic copyist or printed by presses set up in cloisters and only those books reached the general public which were approved by the Church. Under changed conditions the print­ing of books passed beyond ecclesiastical control and it became possible disseminate knowledge and opinions which were not acceptable to the , Church.

6. Fall of Constantinople:

The Fall of Constantinople, in the hands of the Turks in 1453 A.D. provided an indirect impetus to Renaissance. A large number of Greek and Roman scholars who were working in the libraries at Constantinople, fled to different parts of Europe with valuable literature. They began teaching Greek and Latin in various European countries.

As passionate admirers of classical writers they searched for lost manuscripts of Greek and Latin literature and discovered many works which had been hitherto ignored and neglected. They collected the writ­ings of classical writers studied and edited them and later on printed their original editions.

One prominent scholar who studied works of ancient writers and edited them was Erasmus. He asserted that the priests and theologians had distorted the simple teachings of Jesus. He published a fresh edition of New Testament in Greek to clarify the basic teachings of Christianity. Erasmus was against intolerance and persecution and advo­cated principles of intelligence, open-mindedness and goodwill towards all men.

7. Role of Progressive Rulers and Nobles:

Finally, a host of progressive rulers, Popes and nobles also played an important role in the ushering of the renaissance. Rulers like Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, Charles V of Spain, Christian II of Denmark etc. extended patronage to scholars and men of learning and greatly contributed to the revival of Greeco-Roman classics.

Likewise Popes like Nicholas V, and Leo X greatly contributed to renaissance by encouraging study of ancient Greek and Roman classical and patronizing classical art, sculpture, music etc. Apart from the Kings and Popes certain nobles also patronized literary men, artists and scientists and contributed towards renaissance.

For ex­ample, Medici family of Florence set up an academy in Florence which was devoted to the study and research of Platonic philosophy. This family patronized painters, artists and sculptors like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Bertoldo.

8. Geographical Voyages:

The discovery of mariner's compass lead to large number of people taking long voyages because it was possible for them to know the exact direction in which they were sailing. The people were also able to explore the distant seas. As a result the notions about the shape and size of the world in vogue were challenged.

A little later with the discovery of telescope people were able to scan the sky and made a new beginning in the study of astronomy. They came to know about the real position of the earth in the solar system. All this knowledge went against the teachings of Church and no wonder contributed to the weaken­ing of the authority of the ecclesiastical system.