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In world history early modernity is a contested category. However, it is commonly accepted that the period from about 1500 to 1800 is a distinct period, bookended by two significant periods of violence. The pattern of long-distance travel that was a feature of the fifteenth century ushered in a period of imperial conquest. The lives of millions of people across the globe were fundamentally transformed between 1500 and 1800 by mass violence, a consequence of European colonisation and enslavement. At the end of this time the Atlantic Revolutions violently overthrow the old order. But early modernity is not simply a period of time. In the period from 1500 to 1800 the problem of violence necessitated asking fundamental questions and formulating answers about the most basic forms of human organisation and interactions, such as the problem of civility in society, the nature of political sovereignty and the power of the state, the legitimacy of conquest and subjugation, the possibilities of popular resistance, and the manifestations of ethnic and racial unrest. Violence also provided the raw material for profound meditations on humanity and for examining our relationship to the divine and natural worlds.
The control and sublimation of violence is a story that is essential to the idea of modernity and the rise of the West. The ability to control one’s emotions is fundamental to the notion of aristocracy and its right to rule over others. Sixteenth-century Europe saw an intense effort to control social intercourse through civility. It is axiomatic to notions of the civilising process that the new civility progressively tamed and controlled violence during the early modern period. But this is not what happened. There was a significant increase in homicide rates from the mid sixteenth century which peaked in the mid seventeenth century. There was a notable increase in elite violence in particular, as gentlemen transgressed codes of etiquette in order to provoke rivals and demonstrate their social superiority. The invention of civil society at the end of the seventeenth century was a response to the problem of violence. The knowledge that European society had undergone a pacification process over the previous half a century was crucial to the invention of ‘civilisation’, a word first coined in the 1750s. This word and its cognates were crucial to legitimising the European colonial project. The language of civilisation was employed as a euphemism for violence, justifying ethnic cleansing and enslavement, and enabling the perpetrators of violence to distance themselves from their victims.
In the period from 1500 to 1800 the problem of violence necessitated asking fundamental questions and formulating answers about the most basic forms of human organisation and interactions. Violence spoke to critical issues such as the problem of civility in society, the nature of political sovereignty and the power of the state, the legitimacy of conquest and subjugation, the possibilities of popular resistance, and the manifestations of ethnic and racial unrest. It also provided the raw material for profound meditations on humanity and for examining our relationship to the divine and natural worlds. The third volume of The Cambridge World History of Violence examines a world in which global empires were consolidated and expanded, and in which civilisations for the first time linked to each other by trans-oceanic contacts and a sophisticated world trade system.
The discovery of a document, until now hidden in an obscure Protestant pamphlet, presented by Charles cardinal de Lorraine (1525–74) to the privy council in August 1562, underpins recent work which shows the cardinal to have been an evangelical Catholic interested in reform and in reconciliation with Lutherans, both before and after the Colloquy of Poissy. This paper argues that Protestants feared Lorraine precisely because his interest in dialogue had the potential to split the reform movement. Publication of his five articles in 1565 was an attempt to embarrass him after Trent and to compromise his political rapprochement with the prince of Condé.