The Amerindians in Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” Essay
Updated: Mar 26th, 2021
Are there any distinctions made between the various non-Europeans in Defoe’s discussion?
In the work that we read by Defoe, he makes many distinctions between various non-Europeans based on religious beliefs and some based on nationalities and some based on observations he makes throughout his travels. Defoe tends to refer to people as savages, barbarians, pagans, or Christians based on what he perceives their religious beliefs to be. In his travels, he meets many different nationalities but does a good job of telling us the differences between them. In Madagascar he meets with people he believes to be fair and good, everything is fine until one of his shipmates break the rules, and then an entire town is destroyed by his crew but even after this Defoe remarks “the inhabitants would not have touched us after we had made a truce if we had not done something to provoke them to it.” (Defoe, 2007).
Some of the other peoples that he meets he truly does not care for such as the Chinese and the Japanese. He says of the Japanese; “Japanese, who are a false, cruel, and treacherous people.” (Defoe, 2007). Defoe says this even though he has only met one man of Japanese descent that we are aware of and that man has done him a great favor by taking his bought and buying his goods. The Chinese he did not seem to appreciate at all. Here is what he thinks of them;
“As their strength and their grandeur, so their navigation, commerce, and husbandry are very imperfect, compared to the same things in Europe; also, in their knowledge, their learning, and in their skill in the sciences, they are either very awkward or defective, though they have globes or spheres, and a smattering of the mathematics, and think they know more than all the world besides.” (Defoe, 2007).
As we can see he thinks the Chinese are pompous and not as smart as they make themselves out to be, but the Chinese are not Christians which may have something to do with the way he feels.
Defoe meets other nationalities he likes such as the Scotsman he meets on the way to Muscovy and the inhabitants of Formosa both of these nationalities being Christian. He did not like the Arabs nor the Tartars who he thought at first would be Christian but turned out to be pagans. “For they are a mere horde of wild fellows, keeping no order and understanding no discipline or manner of it.” (Defoe, 2007).
How are the Amerindians portrayed in contrast with the Africans or Asians?
The Amerindians in Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” are portrayed as savages, except for Friday and his father whom Crusoe has saved and taught the basic principles of Christianity to. Crusoe had a good relationship with Friday even though it was one of Master and slave, Crusoe being the master and Friday being the slave, he did, in the end, learn to truly care for Friday. Savages were those races that “would devour him as they did all the rest of their prisoners.” (Defoe, 2007). Aside from the fact that they were for the most part cannibals they were not Christians and knew nothing of Jesus Christ or the tenets of the religion. Savages or Amerindians were a source of continual troubles for the inhabitants of Crusoe’s island and caused much property damage and was the main threat faced in living on the island.
Unlike the savages the Africans, at least those in Madagascar, were civil and pleasant, “They treated us very civilly”, (Defoe, 2007). Crusoe said. The Africans even had rules for creating a truce which showed that they were more refined than the savages who seemed to have no set rules that Crusoe found in the entire time he lived on his island. “When we saw the people, we cut three boughs out of a tree, and stuck them up at a distance from us; which, it seems, is a mark in that country not only of a truce and friendship.” (Defoe, 2007).
As to the Asians, Crusoe found some that he liked and others he did not, his feelings may have had something to do with religion. He did think the people he dealt with in Formosa were a civilized society as he states;
“The people there dealt very fairly and punctually with us in all their agreements and bargains. This is what we did not find among other people, and maybe owing to the remains of Christianity which were once planted here by a Dutch missionary of Protestants, and it is a testimony of what I have often observed, viz. that the Christian religion always civilizes the people, and reforms their manners, where it is received, whether it works saving effects upon them or no.” (Defoe, 2007).
It is clear from this account that Crusoe found religion to be the deciding factor as to whether or not people were civilized. One of the Asian peoples who he particularly did not like were the people he found in Tonquin. “The people we were among were the most barbarous of all the inhabitants of the coast.” (Defoe, 2007). During his voyage Crusoe encountered some people in Tonquin while repairing some holes in the ship the Asians started to come for them but they saved themselves when the crew’s carpenter threw a pitch at the Asians, burning them and making them disperse which to them may have seemed a harsh punishment for defending their lands. All of the other Asian peoples Crusoe met he did not like either he had a low opinion of the Japanese and the Chinese he did not like, none of these cultures were Christians, which may have been part of the problem.
Is there a difference between a savage and a barbarian in Defoe’s account?
There is a difference between a savage and a barbarian in Defoe’s account, although it is not very distinct. The main difference between a savage and a barbarian is that a savage is a cannibal who will eat people. Savages eat their prisoners as we can see from this quote; “would devour him as they did all the rest of their prisoners.” (Defoe, 2007). Barbarians did not eat people but were uncivilized nonetheless, as we can see from Crusoe’s thoughts on the people of Tonquin;
The people we were among were the most barbarous of all the inhabitants of the coast; and among other customs, they have this one: that if any vessel has the misfortune to be shipwrecked upon their coast, they make the men all prisoners or slaves. (Defoe, 2007).
It seems, though, that what makes a nationality a barbarian or a savage is not only its customs but its religion. We get a glimpse of this during a conversation that Crusoe has with the Catholic priest he rescued outside of Newfoundland;
“Surely you will allow it consists with me as a Roman to distinguish far between a Protestant and a pagan; between one that calls on Jesus Christ, though in a way which I do not think is according to the true faith, and a savage or a barbarian, that knows no God, no Christ, no Redeemer.” (Defoe, 2007).
We see by what the priest says that part of the definition of a savage and a barbarian lies in the fact that they do not know God or Jesus Christ. It certainly comes across that way in Defoe’s work as any nationality that he deals with that is not Christian to some extent is called barbarous.
Changes in Early Modern Europe Outline
- Introduction – A brief overview of the topics to be reviewed in this paper which will show how fiction and nonfiction combine to bring a richer understanding of historical events such as religious thought and war in early modern Europe.
- Discussion of two religious texts
- “On Marriage” by Gratian
- Summa Theologica by Saint Thomas Aquinas
- A look at three events that contributed to a major change in religious thought
- The Hundred Years War and some of the things it changed
- The Black Death and how it affected people
- The Great Schism and how it opened the way for new religious thought
- The Renaissance and one of its writers
- Pico Della Mirandola and “Oration on the Dignity of Man”
- Martin Luther and how “On the Freedom of a Christian” contributed to break with the Catholic Church
- Short description of wars fought over religion
- “Of Cannibals” by Michel de Montaigne
- Description of war over territory by David Piertzen Devries
- The Thirty Years War
- Discussion of Grimmelshausen’s The Adventures of a Simpleton
- Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children”
- The role of women in early modern Europe and The Princess of Cleves
- Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe
Changes in Early Modern Europe
The years 1340 through 1740 saw many significant changes in the world as a whole and Europe in particular. Some of these changes would have lasting effects on the world, such as the discovery of America, the Renaissance, changes in religious thought, the Black Death, and the numerous wars that are a continual part of history itself. There were many significant events and a thorough recitation of them all would encompass enough material for several books. This paper will focus on a few of the events that were important to Europe. A good way to learn about history is to study it using both works of nonfiction and works of fiction. Throughout this course we used both the text and outside readings to increase our knowledge of early modern Europe, using this knowledge it will be shown how the two combined to provide a better understanding of the overall importance of changes in history.
In this paper, we will look at works of nonfiction and works of fiction and show how the two combine to bring students of history a more thorough understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and events that surround important actions that combine to make the whole of early modern European history. We will examine only a few of the major themes, specifically, religious thought and wars. The main history textbook that was used in this course was The Making of the West – Third Edition by Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia, and Bonnie G. Smith (2009), this source is the main source of the nonfictional events in early modern Europe. As for fictional texts, we will look at such authors as Bertolt Brecht, Madame de Lafayette, and Daniel Defoe.
One area that saw tremendous changes in early modern Europe was religion. Religion has always been a force that has the power to change nations. Religious wars have been fought since the concept of organized religion began. The period from 1340 through 1740 was no different. There were some very big changes during this period that would have lasting effects and that would change the course of history. To see what changes were made and how they affected history let’s look at some of the leading thinkers and the religious texts they produced to see what they thought and what effects they had.
The first source we will examine is by Gratian who was a church reformer and it is entitled “On Marriage” (dictum post C.32.2.2) the numbers indicate what part of the code this dictum refers to. This is the earliest source we looked at and it is a set of laws and as such, it is a work of nonfiction. These laws are canonical and were used by the Catholic Church up until 1917, they were written themselves sometime in the early 1100s. The wording of “On Marriage” is very much that of a legal document, and it describes the different purposes of sexual intercourse and what is and is not a sin. He states;
“Yet marriage is not to be judged evil on that account, for what is done outside of the intention of generation is not an evil of marriage, but is forgivable on account of the good of marriage which is threefold: Fidelity, Offspring, and Sacrament.” (Halsall, 1999).
Religious thought was beginning to change and Gratian’s laws were part of that change that would have a large effect on the people in early modern Europe;
“In 1215, a comprehensive set of church laws for both clergy and laity was set forth. Designed to create an orderly Christian society, these laws sought to regulate lay life and suppress heresy. They led to the establishment of courts of inquisition designed to find and punish those who dissented from church teachings and authority.” (pg. 359 Hunt, et al., 2009).
On the heels of this change lived one of the foremost religious thinkers of his time, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas lived between 1225 and 1274. One of the main works he is famous for is called the Summa Theologica this was begun in 1273. This work is written in a question and answer form with objections that are then answered with Aquinas’s reasoning; this is very lengthy work and covers many topics. The one that we read was about angels and it is sometimes hard to understand unless you are familiar with a multitude of philosophers and their thinking. For example, “Hence Ambrose says (De Spir. Sanct. i, 7) that “although some things are not contained in a corporeal place, still they are none the less circumscribed by their substance.” (Knight, 2008).
Aquinas, like Gratian, was a Roman Catholic and at the time he wrote his Summa Theologica this was the main religion of Europe. The Summa Theologica is not a work of fiction. Aquinas based his work on Aristotle who was an ancient Greek philosopher, also cited in his works are Jewish, Muslim, and pagan scholars. He “believed that everything had a place in God’s scheme of things that the world was orderly and that human beings could make rational sense of it.” (pg. 367, Hunt, et al., 2009). His work was never completed but it helped bring about new ways of thinking. After Thomas Aquinas died three major events happened in Europe that also had a lot of influence on the thoughts of its people, these were the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, and the Great Schism.
The Hundred Years’ War occurred between England and France and lasted from 1337 through 1453. This war produced many new things such as the use of paid soldiers as opposed to the peasants and knights who had fought for their liege lords in previous battles. “Heavy artillery and foot soldiers, tightly massed together in formations of many thousands of men, were the face of the new military. Moreover, the army was becoming more professional and centralized.” (pg. 391, Hunt, et al., 2009). One of the results of this war was that England would not hold any territory in France for the first time.
The Black Death was the first outbreak of what we call now refer to as the bubonic plague, this epidemic began around 1346 and “conservative estimates put the death toll in Europe between one-third and one-half of the population.” (pg. 388, Hunt, et al., 2009). The Black Death caused many changes as people had to try to fight an enemy they could not see and one that killed swiftly. This epidemic brought about changes in the way that people went about their daily lives and how they thought about life and death in general. “Some believed the plague was God’s way of punishing a sinful world and sought to save them through repentance.” (pg. 388, Hunt, et al., 2009).
The Great Schism was an event caused by the papacy moving from its traditional home in Rome to Avignon a city influenced by France. The arguments within the church and its officials caused the first two popes to be elected at the same time and then there were even three popes, all supported by different countries. “The Great Schism, along with the miseries of the plague and wars, caused spiritual anxiety among ordinary Christians.” (pg. 397, Hunt, et al., 2009) If the Catholic hierarchy could not even resolve problems amongst themselves what type of example did this set for the ordinary citizen?
These three events; The Hundred’s Years War, The Black Death, and The Great Schism along with the writings of Thomas Aquinas brought about a change in the way the people of Europe lived their lives and made them more receptive to new ideas. They all combined to bring about what is called the Renaissance which is said to have occurred between 1350 through 1600.
“The consensus among scholars today is that the Renaissance represents a distinct cultural period lasting from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, centered on the revival of classical learning. Historians disagree about its significance, but they generally understand it to represent some of the complex changes that characterized the passing from medieval society to modernity.” (pg. 403, Hunt, et al., 2009)
The Renaissance brought about changes in the way people thought and it allowed for changes in attitudes and the questioning of traditional values.
One writer of note during this period was Pico Della Mirandola who wrote a piece titled “Oration on the Dignity of Man.” Pico Della Mirandola was “a convinced eclectic, he thought that Jewish mystical writings supported Christian scriptures, and in 1486 he proposed that he publicly defend at Rome nine hundred theses drawn from diverse sources.” (pg. 401, Hunt, et al., 2008) Some of the sources he quoted in his “Oration on the Dignity of Man” included Moses, David, Asclepius, and Muhammad which are somewhat similar to the sources used by Aquinas. Some of the sources he quoted were from the Christian Bible and some from the Hebrews. Like other Renaissance writers, Della Mirandola was a humanist. “Humanism was a literary and linguistic movement—an attempt to revive classical Latin (and later Greek) as well as the values and sensibilities that came with the language.” (pg. 401, Hunt, et al., 2009).
One of the most influential religious texts is by Martin Luther; it is titled “On the Freedom of a Christian.” This is a letter written by Luther to Pope Leo X in 1520. In this letter “Luther argued that faith, not good works, saved sinners from damnation, and he sharply distinguished between true Gospel teachings and invented church doctrines.” (pg. 429, Hunt, et al., 2008). This work was particularly significant to early modern Europe because it was written during the Renaissance and it was also released at a time after the printing press had been invented.” The printing press was developed in the 1440s by Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, marked a revolutionary departure from the old practice of copying works by hand or stamping pages with individually carved woodblocks.” (pg. 426, Hunt, et al., 2009). The printing press would bring the written word to the mass and allow all people the chance at forming opinions and discussing topics that had been unknown to them in the past.
Luther’s work “On the Freedom of a Christian” was distributed on a massive scale as opposed to the works of Gratian or St. Thomas Aquinas whose works were reserved for the scholars of the day. Martin Luther became the father of a new religion called Protestantism that was not answerable to the traditional Catholic Church. “Luther’s message—that each Christian could appeal directly to God for salvation—spoke to townspeople’s spiritual needs and social vision.” (pg. 429, Hunt, et al., 2009). This change would start a new transformation of religious thinking for the citizens of Europe and would lead to the formation of new religions and, of course, war.
One of these wars was the French Wars of Religion fought in 1562 between the Calvinists and the Catholics. “Rival Huguenot and Catholic armies began fighting a series of wars that threatened to tear the French nation into shreds.” (pg. 452, Hunt, et al., 2009). Like all wars this war led to the deaths of many people including whole groups of Protestants, one particularly bloody incident is referred to as the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre. “On St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1571, a bloodbath began, fueled by years of growing animosity between Catholics and Protestants. In three days, Catholic mobs murdered three thousand Huguenots in Paris.” (pg. 452 Hunt, et al., 2009). The clashes between Catholics and Protestants would continue to provide fodder for rebellion for quite some time and even result in the execution of Mary Stuart, the former Queen of France and Queen of Scotland in 1587.
During the time of the French Wars of Religion Michel de Montaigne wrote an essay entitled “Of Cannibals”. The main theme of this essay is the differences between Native Americans in the newly discovered Americas versus the Europeans. One very interesting line that he wrote regarding cannibalism states; “I am not so concerned that we should remark on the barbaric horror of such a deed, but that, while we quite rightly judge their faults, we are blind to our own.” (pg. 478, Hunt, et al., 2009). Here Montaigne uses his influence as a writer to speak out against the brutality of war; he points out the fact that the Europeans are much more brutal themselves than even cannibals. He states in his work that the Europeans fight for territory and use tactics that are barbaric to attain this.
One other place that Europeans were trying to attain land was in America’s. We read a fictional account by David Pieterzen Devries from his book titled Voyages from Holland to America which was written about a voyage he made between 1632 and 1644. “He describes a violent conflict in 1643 between Dutch settlers and Native Americans in the area around modern New York City. The conflict was sparked by the Native Americans’ refusal to relinquish their land.” (pg. 490, Hunt, et al., 2009). Devries makes an interesting point when he tries to explain to the Governor of his territory that by pursuing the Indians and killing them he is opening the door for the destruction of the colonist’s property and food. Again in this book, we are shown just how brutal war can be
“infants were torn from their mother’s breasts and hacked to pieces in the presence of the parents, and the pieces were thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings were bound to small boards, and then cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone.” (pg. 490, Hunt, et al., 2009).
Perhaps one of the most brutal and significant wars fought over religion in early modern Europe was the Thirty Years War which lasted from 1618 through 1648. This war was fought mainly in Germany but at times involved almost every country in Europe. This war brought with it famine, disease, and bankrupted the purses of several countries.
“The Thirty Years War began in 1618 with conflicts between Catholics and Protestants within the Holy Roman Empire and eventually involved most European states. By its end in 1648, many central European lands lay in ruins and the balance of power had shifted away from the Habsburg powers — Spain and Austria — toward France, England, and the Dutch Republic.” (pg. 460, Hunt, et al., 2009).
In the course early modern Europe, the events surrounding the history of the Thirty Years War were described not only in the textbook but also through the reading of fictional accounts whose major theme was the Thirty Years War. We read two fictional accounts that gave us stories that are more human than the textbook account. While reading these stories you could identify with the characters and feel what they had to endure and see the choices they had to make, by reading works of fiction the stories become more personal and the events somehow seem more real.
One fictional excerpt we read was written by Hans Grimmelshausen in 1669 it is from his novel The Adventures of a Simpleton. Grimmelshausen himself had lived through the war and wrote this book from the viewpoint of a peasant who was very naïve and had not left his farm before the war which was true for many of the people in Europe. Here is just one excerpt from the book “They stretched the hired man out flat on the ground, stuck a wooden wedge in his mouth to keep it open, and emptied a milk bucket full of stinking manure drippings down his throat; they called it a Swedish cocktail.” (pg. 463, Hunt, et al., 2009). This scene speaks to the brutality of the soldiers and the anger they must have accumulated throughout this war. Reading just this small excerpt brings up emotions that plain facts about the Thirty Years War do not.
Another fictional account of the Thirty Years War that we read was a play written in 1939 by Bertolt Brecht titled “Mother Courage and Her Children”. This is a play that was not written at the time of the war but a long time afterward. This work does an excellent job of detailing the choices that Mother Courage has to make to stay alive and support herself and her three children. As we can see from this quote;
“They call me Mother Courage ’cause I was afraid I’d be ruined, so I drove through the bombardment of Riga like a madwoman, with fifty loaves of bread in my cart They were going moldy, what else could I do?” (Brecht, pg. 25)
In the play, she loses all three of her children and has to act like she doesn’t know one of them to stay alive. Throughout the play, the character of Mother Courage must continually make heart-rending choices to stay alive. While reading this novel we learned a lot about the choices that all of the characters were faced with. While reading this play it feels more like actually being in Germany at the time of war and sometimes it is easier to remember historical events if we can tie them to characters who we can identify with rather than trying to remember dates and facts we read in textbooks.
Although war and religion were major themes studied in this course many others were examined in this course was how women contributed to society. “Although excluded from the universities and the professions, women played important roles not only in the home but also in more formal spheres of social interaction, such as the courts of rulers.” (pg. 512, Hunt, et al., 2009). One novel, in particular, does an excellent job of examining the role of women at the courts it was written in 1678 by Madame de Lafayette and titled The Princess of Cleves.
The Princess of Cleves was one of the first novels to be written by a woman. Madame de Lafayette was a member of the French aristocracy who had an intimate knowledge of the court of King Louis XIV. Her novel is about a love triangle that occurs during the time of King Henri II in France who ruled from 1519-1559. The way that people acted at court was not true of how society as a whole acted and there were very rigid rules for what was and was not done. Madame de Lafayette gives a thorough picture of court life and the intrigues required to survive there, as she says in on passage; “If you judge by appearances in this place… you will often be mistaken; what seems to be is rarely the truth.” (De Lafayette, pg. 4, 1678). As with the other works of fiction that we read in this course you become attached to certain characters and begin to see events through their eyes. We learned a lot about the history of France during the time of this novel.
After The Princess of Cleves was published more women began to write novels as well; “in the 1650s, French women began to turn out best sellers of a new type of literary form, the novel.” (pg. 512, Hunt, et al., 2009). Before this novel, women had been well known for writing letters but most of these were not published. The importance of the Princess of Cleves was that it was written as a novel but provided insights into the real lives of historical characters, such as King Henri II, the Duke De Guise, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duke de Nemours, to name a few. Fiction as a way to express social dilemmas was beginning to be a popular way to express views that could not be publicly expressed without the fear of retribution.
Another author who was a master at using fiction to depict social issues of his time was Daniel Defoe. Defoe was born in England in 1660. He wrote numerous works, not all fiction, but his most famous is Robinson Crusoe published in 1719. This novel tells of the life of Robinson Crusoe who has many adventures including living for over 20 years on an island after being shipwrecked. The better part of the twenty years is spent alone but eventually, the island becomes inhabited with other people whom Crusoe becomes the master of, the first of which is a black man named Friday. “His discovery of Friday shows how the fate of blacks and whites had become intertwined in the new colonial environment.” (pg. 535, Hunt, et al., 2009). This novel is significant in that it talks about people of different cultures and gives insights into the differences in the ways that people live. For instance, Crusoe becomes a slave, a plantation owner, and then of course he is left on an island by himself, but the novel does show how different classes live differently. Defoe proves that it is possible to comment on social issues through fiction, a genre that could be widely read by all classes.
In this course, we read a continuation of Defoe’s novel titled The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe in which he revisits the island he had been shipwrecked on but also ventures to Africa, Asia, and through Russia where he spends an entire winter in Siberia. Through these travels, we meet the different peoples that live there and Crusoe gives us his impressions of them as people. Defoe, through his character Crusoe, characterizes nationalities as savages, barbarians, or Christians. He respects those people who are Christians even those with little understanding of the tenets of the Christian faith but not those who have not converted to Christianity such as the Japanese “who are a false, cruel, and treacherous people.” (Defoe, 2007).
One of the nationalities that we meet in The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is the Tartars who are not well-liked by Crusoe who says; “they are a mere horde of wild fellows, keeping no order and understanding no discipline or manner of it.” (Defoe, 2007). This is a good example of how fiction and nonfiction differ because The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was written well after the Mongol Invasions of the 1250s where “The Mongols were the first people to tie the eastern world to the west. Their conquest of China, which took place at about the same time as their invasions of Russia and Iran, created a Eurasian economy.” (Hunt, et. al., 2009). The Mongol Invasion happened before Defoe writing his novels and was an event he was aware of. The Mongols could not have accomplished so much as a people if they were not organized in some manner.
Crusoe ventures to another country which the Europeans did not know much about at the time that Defoe lived and that country was Russia, Crusoe is under the impression that after leaving the Tartars the Muscovites will be a welcome relief as he states here;
“I could not but feel great satisfaction that I arrived in a country governed by Christians; for though the Muscovites do, in my opinion, but
just deserve the name of Christians, yet such they pretend to be and are very devout in their way.” (Defoe, 2007).
We see Crusoe judging people by whether or not they are Christians, however,
It turns out that he finds some of the people in Russia to be the worst type of pagan he has ever seen; “the inhabitants were mere pagans, sacrificing to idols, and worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, or all the host of heaven.” (Defoe, 2007). In all fairness, however, the Russia that Crusoe visited was to change even more after his visit because of Peter the Great who came to power in 1682 and ruled through 1725. “Peter transformed public life in Russia and established an absolutist state on the Western model.” (Hunt, et. al., 2009).
While this paper has explored many of the topics that were examined in this course it has by no means explored them all. One of the subjects that have not been touched on is the changes in the rulers of the various countries in early modern Europe. Each country had some very distinct changes in the rulers of their country and each of these changes brought about new policies and adjustments that the citizens had to make. Another area that was not dealt with in this paper but was talked about in this course was the advent of a new scientific method had a profound change during this period; “Newton’s ability to explain the motion of the planets, as well as everyday objects on earth, gave science enormous new prestige.” (pg. 546, Hunt, et al., 2009). Other areas that made a difference to early modern Europe included economic policy, education, geographical borders, and alliances with other countries.
In this paper, we have examined many different works some nonfiction, and some fiction in an order to explore the change in views of religion and to examine just a few of the wars that occurred in Early Modern Europe. We also saw how works of fiction became a way for women to express their views in the same way that men had in the past, beginning with Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Cleves. None of this would have been possible, however, without the invention of the printing press in 1445. Before that time texts that were written were studied only by those who had an education and this was a very small part of the population.
We examined some religious texts that began to foment change in the way people looked at religion, such as Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica and Pico Della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man”. One religious text which started a break with the Catholic Church itself was Martin Luther’s “On the Freedom of a Christian”; breaking with the Catholic Church caused several wars especially the Thirty Years War. The way that these wars affected the populations of early modern Europe were depicted in works of fiction such as “Mother Courage and her Children” and The Adventures of a Simpleton.
Perhaps the most important work, however, was Daniel Defoe’s The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe which told not only of Europeans but also of slaves and people of nationalities that most Europeans had not known much about before the release of this novel. Defoe lived towards the end of what is known as early modern Europe and this may be one of the reasons his novel is so comprehensive. He was a man who himself lived through many different experiences and in more than one class. His novel also encompasses the theme of religion as we can see from this passage; “I pray daily for you being all restored to Christ’s Church, by whatsoever method He, who is all-wise, is pleased to direct.” (Defoe, 2007).
There were many themes to The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe just as there are to any of the fictional pieces that we read this is one reason why they are an important source of history. The history of early modern Europe could be taught by using nonfiction alone but to truly understand the subject and make it one that will be remembered fiction is important, we will remember the character Friday and his adventures with Robinson Crusoe a lot longer than we will the date of the Thirty Years War. Using fiction we see how the people felt, how they lived and the real-world decisions and choices they made, and these we can relate to, these we all have in common because these do not change no matter what the period.
One of the most influential religious texts is by Martin Luther; it is titled “On the Freedom of a Christian.” This is a letter written by Luther to Pope Leo X in 1520. In this letter “Luther argued that faith, not good works, saved sinners from damnation, and he sharply distinguished between true Gospel teachings and invented church doctrines.” (Hunt, et al., 2008). This work was particularly significant to early modern Europe because it was written during the Renaissance and it was also released at a time after the printing press had been invented.” The printing press was developed in the 1440s by Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, marked a revolutionary departure from the old practice of copying works by hand or stamping pages with individually carved woodblocks.” (Hunt, et al., 2008). The printing press would bring the written word to the mass and allow all people the chance at forming opinions and discussing topics that had been unknown to them in the past.
Luther’s work “On the Freedom of a Christian” was distributed on a massive scale as opposed to the works of either Gratian or Aquinas whose works were reserved for the scholars of the day. Martin Luther became the father of a new religion that was not answerable to the traditional Catholic Church. “Luther’s message—that each Christian could appeal directly to God for salvation—spoke to townspeople’s spiritual needs and social vision.” (Hunt, et al., 2008). This change would start a new transformation of religious thinking for the citizens of Europe and would lead to many changes; it opened the door for other reformers and this lead to wars of religion such as the Thirty Years War which lasted from 1618 to 1648.
“The Thirty Years War began in 1618 with conflicts between Catholics and Protestants within the Holy Roman Empire and eventually involved most European states. By its end in 1648, many central European lands lay in ruins and the balance of power had shifted away from the Habsburg powers — Spain and Austria — toward France, England, and the Dutch Republic.” (Hunt, et al., 2008).
This war was fought mainly in Germany but at times involved almost every country in Europe. This war brought with it famine, disease, and bankrupted the purses of several countries. Some excellent sources recounted the horrors of the Thirty Years War, two of which we will discuss here.
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