Chapter 4: King, Lords and Commons
During the second quarter of the sixteenth century, a breakdown in the internal cohesion of European society began to put Western civilization as a whole at risk. Internal divisions in Christianity between Catholics and Protestants gave the Turks the opportunity to expand westward. In 1520, Süleyman the Magniﬁcent inherited the Ottoman throne and immediately began to apply pressure on Christian Europe. His victory at the battle of Mohacs in 1526 gave him control of Hungary. By the time of his death in 1566, the Turks also controlled North Africa and most of the Greek isles. Cyprus, whose defense had been used to justify the ﬁrst order for printed documents, fell in 1571. The question was whether some alternative form of organization would emerge in the West in time to prevent its total collapse. In the year 1604, the British Isles seemed an unlikely place for Gutenberg’s remarkable invention to begin generating a new type of society. Together, the citizens of England, Scotland and Ireland – the three kingdoms over which King James I ruled – amounted to only a third the population of France or Germany. The British were not poor relative to the rest of Europe, but their per-capita income was nevertheless a third lower than that of the wealthy United Provinces across the North Sea.1 Britain had missed out on the colonization of the New World and had failed to share in the prosperous trade with India and the Far East. To the extent that innovation requires the...
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