فصل 29

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فصل 29

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I n one of the battles between the emperor Charles V and the French king Francis I, a young Spanish knight was gravely wounded. His name was Ignatius of Loyola. During his long and painful convalescence he thought hard about his past life as a young nobleman, and immersed himself in readings from the Bible and the lives of the saints. And as he did so, the idea came to him that he would change his life. He would continue to be a warrior as he always had been, but he would serve a very different cause: that of the Catholic Church, now so imperilled by Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Henry VIII.

But when he was finally restored to health, he didn’t simply go off and fight in one of the many wars that had broken out between Lutherans and Catholics. He took himself to university. There he studied and reflected, and reflected and studied, to prepare himself for the battle he had chosen to undertake. For it seemed clear to him that if you want to conquer others you must first conquer yourself. So with unbelievable severity he worked at mastering himself. Somewhat like the Buddha, but with a different aim in mind. Like the Buddha, Ignatius wished to rid himself of all desires. But rather than seeking release from human suffering here on earth, he wanted to devote himself, body and soul, to the service of the Church. After many years of practice he reached a point at which he could successfully prevent himself from having certain thoughts, or, if he wished, picture something so clearly in his mind that it was as if he saw it there in front of him. His preparation was complete. He demanded no less of his friends. And when they had all achieved the same iron control over their thoughts, they founded an order together called the Society of Jesus. Its members were known as Jesuits.

This little company of select and highly educated men offered itself to the Pope to campaign for the Church, and in 1540 their offer was accepted. Their battle began immediately, with all the strategy and force of a military campaign. The first thing they did was to tackle the abuses that had brought about the conflict with Luther. In a great gathering of the Church held in Trent in the Southern Tirol, which lasted from 1545 to 1563, changes and reforms were agreed that enhanced the power and dignity of the Church. Priests would return to being priests, and not just princes living in splendour. The Church would take better care of the poor. Above all, it would take steps to educate the people. And here the Jesuits, as learned, disciplined and loyal servants of the Church, came into their own. For as teachers they could make their ideas known, not only to the common people, but to the nobility as well through their teaching at universities. Nor was it only through their work as teachers and preachers of the faith in distant lands that their influence spread. In the courts of kings they were frequently employed as confessors. And because they were men of great intelligence and understanding, trained to see into the souls of men, they were well placed to guide and influence the mighty in their decisions.

This movement to re-awaken the piety of old, not through a separation from the Catholic Church, but through the renewal of that Church, and thus to actively challenge the Reformation, is known as the Counter-Reformation. People became very austere and strict during this period of religious warfare. Almost as austere and strict as Ignatius of Loyola himself. The delight Florentines took in their leaders’ magnificence and splendour was over. And once again, what was looked for in a man was piety and readiness to serve the Church. Noblemen stopped wearing bright and ample robes and now looked more like monks in severe, black, close-cut gowns and white ruffs, over which their sombre, unsmiling faces tapered away into little pointed beards. Every nobleman wore a sword on his belt and challenged anyone who insulted his honour to a duel.

These men, with their careful, measured gestures and their rigid formality, were mostly seasoned warriors, and never more implacable than when fighting for their beliefs. Germany was not the only land riven by strife between Protestant and Catholic princes. The most ferocious wars were fought in France, where Protestants were known as Huguenots. In 1572 the French queen invited all the Huguenot nobility to a wedding at court, and on the eve of St Bartholomew, she had them assassinated. That’s what wars were like in those days.

No one was more stern, more inflexible or more ruthless than the leader of all the Catholics. King Philip II of Spain was the son of the emperor Charles V. His court was formal and austere. Every act was regulated: who had to kneel at the sight of the king and who might wear a hat in his presence. In what order those who dined were to be served at the high table, and in what order the nobles were to enter the church for Mass.

King Philip himself was an unusually conscientious sovereign, who insisted on handling every decision and every letter himself. He worked from dawn to dusk with his advisers, many of whom were monks. His purpose in life as he saw it was to root out all forms of unbelief. In his own country he had thousands of people burned at the stake for heresy ­ not just Protestants, but Jews and Muslims who had lived there since the time when Spain was under Arab rule. And because he saw himself as Protector and Defender of the Faith, just as the German emperor had before him, he joined forces with a Venetian fleet and attacked the Turks, whose sea power hadn’t stopped growing since their conquest of Constantinople. The allied Christians were victorious, and the Turkish fleet was completely destroyed at Lepanto, in 1571.

His war against the Protestants went less well. He may have succeeded in exterminating them at home in Spain, but this was not the case elsewhere. As in his father’s time, the Low Countries (meaning Belgium and Holland) were also part of his empire. And many of the burghers who lived there were Protestants, especially in the rich northern towns. He did all he could to make them renounce their faith, but they wouldn’t give in. So he sent a Spanish nobleman to be their governor, and he was even more fanatical and inflexible than Philip himself. The Duke of Alba, with his thin, pale face, his narrow pointed beard and icy gaze, was just the sort of warrior that Philip favoured. In cold blood the Duke of Alba sentenced a great number of burghers and noblemen to be hanged. Finally, people could stand it no longer. There was a fierce and bloody battle which ended in 1579 with the liberation of the Protestant towns of the Low Countries and the expulsion of the Spanish troops. Now, as free, rich, independent and enterprising trading cities, they too could try their luck across the seas, in India and America.

But King Philip II of Spain’s most cruel defeat was yet to come.In England, Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of King Henry VIII, was on the throne. Elizabeth was very clever, strong-willed and determined, but she was also vain and cruel. She was determined to defend England against the many Catholics still present in the country whom she persecuted relentlessly. Her cousin, Mary Stuart, the Catholic queen of Scotland, was a woman of great beauty and charm, and she, too, believed she had a right to the English throne. Elizabeth had her imprisoned and executed. Elizabeth also helped the Protestant burghers of the Low Countries in their war against Philip of Spain. Philip was furious. He resolved to conquer England for Catholicism or destroy it.

At immense cost he raised a huge fleet of 130 great sailing ships with around two thousand cannon, and more than twenty thousand men. It takes no time to read, but just try to imagine 130 sailing ships at sea. This was the Invincible Armada. When it set sail from Spain in 1588, loaded with heavy cannon and weaponry and food and supplies for six months, it seemed inconceivable that England’s small island might ever succeed in resisting such a mighty force. However, the heavily laden warships were cumbersome and hard to manoeuvre. The English avoided confrontation and darted in and out in their nimbler vessels, attacking the Spanish ships. One night they launched fireships into the midst of the Spanish fleet, creating panic and confusion and sending them in all directions. Many ships drifted along the English coast and went down in severe gales. Barely half the Armada reached home and not one ship succeeded in landing on an English shore. Philip betrayed no sign of his disappointment. It is said that he greeted the commander of the fleet warmly and thanked him, saying: ‘After all, I sent you to fight men, not the wind and waves.’

But the English didn’t only chase the Spaniards from their own waters. They attacked Spanish merchant ships off America and India and, together with the Dutch, had soon supplanted the Spanish in many of their rich trading ports. Starting in North America, to the north of the Spanish colonies, they established trading posts much as the Phoenicians had once done. And many Englishmen and women who had been persecuted or banished during the conflicts of religion went there to find freedom.

The Indian ports and trading posts were not actually under English and Dutch rule, but were governed by merchants from those two countries who grouped together to do business and bring treasures from the Indies to Europe. These societies of merchants were known as East India Companies. They hired soldiers whom they sent inland, where they punished unfriendly natives and any who refused to part with their goods at a sufficiently low price. This treatment of India’s Indians was little better than that shown by the Spanish conquistadores towards the Indians of America. In India, too, the conquest of coastal regions by English and Dutch merchants was made easier by the lack of unity among India’s princes. Soon the peoples of North America and India were using the language of a small island off the north-west coast of France. That island was England. A new world empire was taking shape. At the time of the Roman empire, Latin was the language of the world. Now the world would have to learn English.

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