The Iron Century: Social Change in Europe, 1550-1660

The Iron Century: Social Change in Europe, 1550-1660

The Iron Century: Social Change in Europe, 1550-1660

The Iron Century: Social Change in Europe, 1550-1660

Excerpt

This is not a comprehensive survey of the period 1550-60. I have chosen to concentrate on social change and the fate of the lower classes, and to set these subjects against the background of economic and political history. Sections I, II and IV therefore share some unity of theme. Section III is more idiosyncratic, the emphasis being on the Counter Reformation (rather than on Protestantism) and on those aspects, such as toleration and Utopianism, which seldom make a showing in general surveys. Readers will find virtually nothing here on art, culture or science, and even the section on religion is clearly fragmentary. Before the critics accuse me of ignorance or distortion, I hasten to make two points. In the first place, this book is an essay in quantitative social history, in the material infrastructure of life rather than the cultural superstructure. The social history of culture has barely begun to be written, and this essay is not the place to make the attempt. Secondly, I believe that art, culture and science are so important that for this exciting period they deserve a special volume, rather than a few hasty references in what is already a fairly large book. The Iron Century in other words, makes no claim to represent the total reality of the century of the Counter Reformation.

It will be seen that my treatment of themes has been uneven, and topics such as refugees and witchcraft have been given an inordinate amount of attention. I have, in effect, deliberately expanded those sections where the availability of evidence and the interest (though not necessarily the importance) of the subject seemed to justify it. In this respect the lengthy Chapter 10, on popular rebellions, represents an effort to communicate to the reader all the available literature on the subject, and in a sense may be considered the key chapter in the book.

The unevenness and imbalance are part of the plan of the work, since I have aimed to set out arguments and to develop lines of enquiry rather than merely to provide a text-book exposition. Readers who prefer a more conventional approach have enough books to choose from: mine is not meant to add to their number. I have chosen to write of an Iron Century and an Iron Age because this is how contemporaries thought of it, and it is time that we looked again at the past through their eyes rather than through the eyes of those modern writers who see only the gilt glittering on the surface.

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