Define the Relationship Between Political Power and Personal Wealth in the Renaissance

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Christina Powell
History 444

Question 1: How would you describe the relationship between political power and personal wealth in the Renaissance? Your response should consider both Italy and other areas in Europe.

The relationship between political power and personal wealth in the Renaissance is intimately connected with a strong positive correlation. With all of the new trends, trade, standards, and attitudes, society came to no longer acknowledge status without the wealth that was expected to accompany it. It is through one’s wealth, not family blood, that a certain level of political power may be achieved and acknowledged. “Money = Power” During the Middle Ages, a family retained their status even if they lost all of their wealth and, if a person was born poor, they remained so and could do nothing to change their social status or income. With the birth of the Renaissance, a new social order began to form as increased amount of trade and the fluidity of wealth resulted in a new age of economic prosperity. The resulting transformation from the feudal system and the medieval manor led to a new dynamic in individual economic freedom resulting in the exponential growth and development of trade and urban industries. The trade and communication continued to improve, not only from the contact with alien cultural patterns which influenced Europeans, but also with the wealth brought back from Asia and the Americas which catapulted a new class of merchants into prominence, displacing the old aristocracy. This new economic atmosphere undermined the previous power structure and transferred power to the new merchant class who, as they began to rise in power, worked to effectively utilize their new found wealth to leverage greater economic freedom and political independence2. To go farther, this new breed of merchants had their own ideas about the sort of world they wanted to inhabit, and became major agents of change – in the arts, in the government, and in the economy3. The exponential growth of commerce spurred the rise of money as a new center of wealth and the economy shifted from a title, heritage, and land based system to a money-based social system. With this economic foundation being laid, a strong concept of individualism emerged where one’s power, status and privileges would be accorded to those with wealth rather than restricting it to a hereditary aristocracy. The increasing number of prosperous merchants began to join together and form guilds in many regions to combine their wealth, and therefore power, in order to further the position of members. Forming the guilds created a financial and economical support system for themselves, and promoted the sharing of common economic and political goals. The use of the Merchant Guilds and the re-stratification of social classes are evidence that, during the Renaissance, personal wealth (usually resulting from economic success) and political power came as a close-knit pair. The initial cause of this growth was the commercial activity carried on by the coastal cities of Northern Italy which then spread gradually into other parts of Europe (Jensen, 85). The merchant class played a predominant role in the city-states while serving to encourage and stimulate further commercial interests. Renaissance Italy is regarded as the critical time and place for the development of modern capitalism as Italian merchants were not just businessmen; they were also bankers, politicians, and patrons with extensive control over European international trade between the 12th and 16th century. The Venetians and the Genoese controlled the shipping industry for the most part; the Florentines dominated international finance, and all of Italy in general was a central player in numerous industries due to a strategic geographic location between Europe and Asia 1. In politics during this same time, merchant bankers, acting in their roles as politicians, helped to construct an...
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