Sixteenth-Century Cultural Changes (and their Medieval roots)
Political Power Centralized in a London-Based Court (vs. the rival "magnates" in the provinces) and England Begins its Empire
1399 Richard II deposed and assassinated by agents of Henry Bolingbroke (IV)--duke of Lancaster's economic and political power is added to the taxation and war-making powers of the kingship (Want to see a list of kings and queens of England to put this into perspective?)
1422-1485 Political Struggles Between Competing Magnates: Henry VI (Lancaster), Richard of York, the earl of Warwick, Edward IV (Lancaster), Richard III (York)--ends with overthrow of Richard by Henry Tudor (VII, a distant Lancastrian relative who marries a Yorkist princess)
1485-1588 Political Struggles Between Competing Emerging Imperial States: France (Catholic), Spain (Catholic), the Netherlands (Protestant, occupied by Spain), and England (Protestant)--Henry VIII declares himself head of a Protestant English Church (1534); daughter Mary, a Catholic, marries Phillip II of Spain and declares England Catholic; second daughter Elizabeth, a Protestant, declares England Protestant (1558); Spanish Armada defeated in battle and destroyed by storms (1588)--the last Early Modern threat to English sovereignty until Napoleon (1803-12).
1497-8 Giovanni Caboto, a Genoese sailing an English ship as "John Cabot" discovers the Georges Banks (Newfoundland) fishery; 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert lays claim to St. Johns, Newfoundland, as an English possession to secure the fishing grounds against French claims.
1500-1650, The Little Ice Age
A drop in world average temperatures, estimated at about -.6 degrees Celsius, plunges England and Europe into an agricultural emergency. Global cooling produces dramatic decreases in crop yields, increasing grain prices and starvation among the poor.
Moveable-Type Printing Spreads from Germany to All of Europe and England (ca. 1452-1500)
Johannes Guttenberg prints the Bible on vellum and paper in 1454; William Caxton, a successful member of the Merchant's Guild, learns to print in Cologne and produces the first printed book in English, Recuyell of the Histories of Troie, in that city in 1475 under the patronage of Margaret of Burgundy, and moves his press to Westminster in 1476 where he printed The Dictes or Sayingis of the Philosophres (a translation by Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, brother-in-law of Edward IV). Other important presses include that of Aldus Manutius (Venice, 1494-1588) who printed Greek and Latin classics in affordable and accurate editions, including the works of Cicero.
English Grammar, Usage and Spelling Stabilized by Printers / Destabilized by Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French "Loan Words"
The Great Vowel Shift (Middle English to Early Modern English) leaves us with no sounded final "-e" and our vowels in their present phonological position (EH, EE, EYE, OWE, YOU) instead of the Middle English "romance" vowel sounds from Norman French (AH, EH, EEE, OO, OOOH)
Continental Humanists Educate Nobles' Sons (and some daughters) in Latin and English Rhetoric and Literature
Erasmus tutors Henry, Prince of Wales and later Henry VIII--writes The Education of the Christian Prince (1516), which becomes the blueprint of a plan to convert Anglo-European leaders to Christian and classical ethics by teaching the future rulers.
Sir Thomas More writes Utopia (also published in 1516) to stimulate readers' thinking about the possibility of socio-political change to end religious intolerance, socio-economic exploitation of the poor by the rich, inherited noble status, and a thousand other inequities that the English inherited along with feudal thinking from their ancestors. Originally published in Latin for an intellectual elite, the text was first translated to English by Ralph Robynson in 1551 during the last years of the reign of Henry VIII's son, Edward VI (†1553).
Rise of Guild Schools Educates Guildsmen's Sons (and some daughters) in Latin and English Rhetoric and Literature
Richard Mulcaster (1530-1611) founds the Merchant Tailors School, and other guilds soon follow the Merchant Tailors' example to enable their children to compete in a society that now values literacy in trade as well as at court. That school, and others, train Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and a host of other guildsmen's sons to be poets and playwrights who changed English literature for ever.
Printed "Conduct Books" Enable Any Reader of English to Acquire the Manners and External Appearance of Nobles
Baldasari Castiglioni's Il Cortegiano (1528), translated and published in English as The Courtier by Sir Thomas Hoby in 1561, taught readers to acquire subtle skills that indicated one belonged in court society, as well as the higher motivating goals of Neo-Platonist Christian Humanism supposed to be the true motivation for doing so. Nicolo Machiavelli's Il Principe (1513, published in 1532 after his death in 1527), was not published as an English translation by the anonymous "E.D." until 1640, after Parliament began to exert its power against royal censorship of the press (originally titled Nicholas Machiavel's Prince. Also, the life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca ... Translated out of Italian into English by E.D. London : Printed by R. Bishop, for Wil: Hils, and are to sold by Daniel Pakeman, 1640). Manuscript translations in English circulated freely enough so that Machiavelli's reputation as a cruel practioner of real politik made his name a by-word for treacherous, scheming stage characters like King Lear's Edmund. Obviously, Machiavelli's instructions were believed to be more practically powerful than Castiglioni's, and they were far more dangerous for a king's subject to be translating.
Prose Style, Influenced by Latin, Borrows Poetic Ornaments
John Lyly's Euphues (1579) popularizes multiple repetitions of illustrative similes ("Euphuism"); sentences become longer and more complexly subordinated ("hypotaxis" vs. medieval "parataxis" [and then...and then...and then]); prose is used more commonly for entertainment as well as instruction, including the first experiments with "fiction" in "Coney Catching Pamphlets," thieves' "autobiographies," etc..
Theater, Influenced by Humanist Translations of Greek and Roman Plays Becomes Public, Secular, and Popular
Mysteries (the York Crucifixion, etc.), and Moralities (Everyman) with their allegorical and biblical content are replaced by comedies about human follies and tragedies, usually concerning government of the state, and outdoor performances on pageant wagons are replaced by semi-outdoor permanent theaters like the Swan and Globe (opening in 1599).
Lyrics Influenced by Court Nobles' Translations of French and Italian Forms Become Private, Secular, and Popular
Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, translate Petrarch's sonnets from the Rima