Chris Harman

A people’s history of the world

Part four
The great transformation

Chapter 1. The conquest of the New Spain

Chapter 2. Renaissance to Reformation

Chapter 3. The birth pangs of a new order

Chapter 4. The last flowering of Asia’s empires


15th century
Ottomans conquer Constantinople 1453.
High point of Italian Renaissance – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Macchiavelli 1450-1520.
Strengthening of monarchies in France, Spain, Britain 1490s.
Spanish monarchs conquer Granada. Columbus lands in Caribbean 1492.

16th century
Portuguese seize Goa 1510. Ottomans conquer Cairo 1517, Algiers 1529, besiege Vienna 1529.
Influence of Renaissance spreads through western Europe. Erasmus in Holland, Dürer in Germany, Rabelais in France.
Lutheran Reformation sweeps southern Germany 1518-25.
Cortes conquers Aztecs 1519-21.
German Peasant War 1525.
Mogul conquest of northern India 1529.
Pizarro conquers Inca Empire 1532.
Reformation from above and closing of monasteries in England 1534-39. First agricultural enclosures in England.
Copernicus publishes a theory of the universe after 30 year delay 1540.
Ivan the Terrible centralises power in Russia, begins conquest of Siberia (1544-84).
French wars of religion 1550s, 1560s. Council of Trent inaugurates counter-Reformation 1560s. Wave of witch-burning 1560-1630.
Pieter Breughel’s paintings of life in Flanders 1540s to 1560s. The first revolts of Low Countries against Spanish rule 1560s, 1570s. Shakespeare writes first plays 1590s.

17th century
Giordano Bruno burnt at stake by Inquisition 1600.

Kepler in Prague calculates orbits of planets accurately 1609. Galileo uses telescope to observe moon 1609.
Thirty Years War begins in Bohemia 1618.
First English colonies established in North America 1620s and 1630s. Spread of American crops (potatoes, maize, sweet potatoes, tobacco) across Eurasia and Africa.
Harvey describes circulation of blood 1628. Galileo refutes Aristotelian physics 1632, condemned by Inquisition 1637. Descartes’ Discourse on Method begins ‘rationalist’ school of philosophy 1637.
Holland takes over much of former Portuguese Empire 1630s. Rembrandt paints in Amsterdam 1630s to 1660s. English Civil War begins 1641-42.
Reign of Shah Jahan in India, building of Taj Mahal begins 1643.
Collapse of Ming Dynasty in China, Manchu conquest 1644.
Indian cotton goods exported in ever greater quantities to Europe.
End of Thirty Years War 1648. English king beheaded 1649. ‘Second serfdom’ dominant in eastern Europe.
Hobbes’ Leviathan – materialist defence of conservative politics 1651.
Beginning of plantation slavery in Americas, 20,000 black slaves in Barbados 1653.
Growing market for Chinese silks and porcelain in Europe and Latin America. England wins wars against Holland, takes Jamaica 1655.
Aurungzeb seizes Mogul throne in India 1658, war with Marathas 1662.
Boyle discovers law of gases, defends theory of atoms 1662. Newton completes revolution in physics 1687.
’Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 confirms domination of England by market-oriented gentry. Locke inaugurates ‘empiricist’ school of philosophy 1690.
Whites and blacks unite in Bacon’s rebellion in Virginia in 1687, legislature bans black-white marriages 1691.


Last updated on 26 January 2010