1500-1600 Bridging the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabethan Protestantism injected new force into English social, political, and economic development.  Anti-Catholic sentiment in England  was, by definition, anti-Spanish.  A Spanish monarch was the emperor in Europe, and the Spanish monarchy controlled the papacy and spread the hated papist religion to the distant corners of the globe.  Papal control of commerce with the infidels of the New World was a serious rub with the English queen and her subjects.   As soon as she took the throne, Elizabeth I set out to make sure that England got her share of the spoils in the 'new world.'

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Sir Walter Raleigh

         By the time Raleigh led his fellow Englishmen into the perilous business of colonizing distant lands, the medieval discourses on the rights of infidels vis a visthe enlightened European monarchs and papal emissaries had grown into a thorny thicket.  Rome's power to impose hegemony on the princes of the continent under a uniform Christian vision of the divine path for all mankind did not survive the intellectual crucible of the final years of the Middle Ages.  First Francico de Vitoria, then the great Jesuit thinker Francisco Suarez, redrew the lines of natural law, divine law, and lay the foundation for a comprehensive law of nations to govern relations between nation states.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14319a.htm  Nevertheless, their thinking still embodied many of the fundamental precepts that were first introduced by Innocent IV, three centuries earlier.

         In the closing decades of the 16th century, England would refuse to recognize the pope's preeminent jurisdiction over the conquest of foreign lands and peoples.  The legal architecture that had launched the Crusades was so embedded in the natural law precepts controlling the discourse on conquest in center of learning, such as Valladolid, Oxford, and Salamanca, that the ghosts of crusading popes were the 'hands inside the puppets" of the leading thinkers animating the debate over natural law as the Age of Discovery unfolded.


         Elizabeth and England were a century late to the game of 'conquest and colonize,' but they were determined to reconcile the secularized Innocentian commentaries of Vitoria with the Reformation's endorsement of proto-capitalist enterprises in the new world.  This later model introduced the radical idea that man's purpose in life was to improve his material lot and to acquire wealth. 

         The death of Elizabeth and the coronation of James I added new complexities to the anti-Catholic/anti-Spanish passions of protestant England.  http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/james/  James brokered a treaty of peace with Spain in 1604, and hauled in a lot of people like Sir Walter Raleigh to the Tower of London and chopped their heads off.  This gruesome business put a temporary end to the Reformation in England, but James' actions had unintended consequences that would long outlive his original intentions.  Neutralizing protestant rhetoric had the effect of focusing all discourse on New World conquest on a commercial, not theological, footing.  This set back would only be temporary, however, and in the end,  Elizabeth's protestant God would prevail.