War in Europe during the Renaissance caused many changes in the status of nobles, the volume of economic activity and taxes, and in the amount of power the monarchs had. During the previous era, the Middle Ages, the monarchy and noblemen’s status laid mainly in their ability to protect the common people they ruled. (Rabb and Marshall, 1993, p. 74). This protectionary function allowed the nobles and monarchy to collect taxes, control trade, and make the rules, however, when gunpowder was invented, or brought to Europe, the base of power the nobles and monarchs stood on, was shot out form under them.
Gunpowder and the weaponry that used it destroyed the Middle Age protective dikes of society: reliance on Knights’ bravery and valor in battle, castles, and stone walls. (Rabb and Marshall, 1993, p. 74). Where once the Knight’s bravery and skills gave him the advantage on the battlefield, gunpowder and cannons now dominated. These new weapons made every soldier “equally vulnerable” and took away the status granted to Knights through Middle Ages hierarchy. This innovation also reduced the effectiveness of castles. Cannon fire could easily crumble their stone walls and reduce the symbol of strength and protection to a pile of rubble. (p. 74). In response to the reduction in their status, nobles had to find a new way to separate themselves from commoners. This resulted in the creation of a new set of behavior rules that stresses the importance of good manner, courtesy, intelligence, and proficiencies in the martial arts.
The role of nobles changed from a fortress of protection to a supplier of expensive weaponry, training, and men for battle. These things were expensive and required a quantity of money that only aristocrats, nobility, and monarchs could acquire. (Rabb and Marshall, 1993, p. 74). Because of this, nobles were able to maintain their control of local governments, however the structure and functioning of these governments underwent a transformation.
As gunpowder and modern weaponry increased the death count in battles, more men were needed for each battle. Soon armies were reaching monumental sizes numbering in the 1000,000s. This accumulation of manpower increased the demand for food, supplies, and advancements in weaponry development. This spurred a revolution in the weaponry industry, and major advancements and developments in mining, metallurgy, and craftsmanship. (Rabb and Marshall, 1993, p. 75). The building industry also was improved as demands for massive fortifications of major cities increased due to the constant threat of attack from outside forces.
The capital accumulation needed to support the defense industry created a need for banks and financial markets. (Rabb and Marshall, 1993, p. 75). This never ending demand for food, supplies, etc. increased the need for merchants. This need escalated the merchant’s status in society and warfare became the major industry in the Renaissance world. To pay for all the supplies, wages, etc. the tax rate increased dramatically creating further conflict and local civil dissent. In addition to the constant threat of attack form outside forces, the presence of military forced stripped the land of food, supplies, and money. In addition to this drain on resources, these soldiers also spread disease and increased crime rates.
Durant, Will. (1953). The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 A.D. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Rabb, Theodore K. & Marshall, Sherrin. (1993). Origins of the Modern West: Essays and Sources in Renaissance & Early Modern European History. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.