Most people know of the great changes in art, culture, and the people of Europe which occurred in the Renaissance. Thanks to the popularity of English Renaissance Faires, the splendor and glory of Elizabeth I's reign has become immortalized in celebrations across the world. In truth the Renaissance does have a great deal to be said for it - bringing the world into a new age after being doused in the Darkness for too long. However, the Renaissance also served as a preparation for an even more exciting (and controversial) time in history: The Age of Reason.
The late 17th century would rock the very foundations of civilization - challenging beliefs that may very well have existed since the dawn of humanity. Men such as Galileo would figure prominently in this time of discovery, known as "The Age of Reason"
Ironically, even as science gained greater influence, the 17th century also gave birth to some of the most terrible persecutions ever known. The worst bouts of Spanish Inquisition had recently ended, but witches and 'heretics' were still being tortured, burned, and otherwise executed in the name of religion.
The Age of Reason
Much attention is paid to the period of the Renaissance - yet very little is mentioned of the time following - The Age of Reason. Although the Renaissance introduced a world that shed the heavy darkness of the centuries before, the roots of our modern technological age had their true roots in the years of scientific and philosophical revelation of the Age of Reason.
Some Major Events in the Age of ReasonGalileo was the first "martyr" of the Age of Reason in 1633 when he was imprisoned for saying that the earth revolved around the Sun.
Isaac Newton- Explained everyday things (yes folks, including the famous apple from the tree) in mathematical equations
Rene Descartes- One of the first to declare the premise of the Age of Reason. He stated that only things that could be proved by evidence were true.
It was not until the 17th century that the church began to allow the study of cadavers in the name of medical science.
Women were allowed on stage for the first time in theatrical history (thanks anyway, Shakespeare).
Also, leading women in society, like Nino de Lenclos, discussed philosophy and science in leading salons.
John Locke began to formulate theories on the scope of human reason.
Imagine having surgery done with no anesthetics other than maybe a drink or two. Imagine, as a woman, going into childbirth with a 1 in 10 chance of dying. Imagine that instead of medicines as we traditionally think of them - most remedies involved enemas, purging (vomiting), and being "bled." On top of all this, try to imagine that your surgeons may not be trained as a doctor, and do not have to be to practice.
These are the kinds of things a Londoner might have had to face during the Restoration - and when you taking into consideration the Plague, the prospect becomes even more frightening. Despite the encouragement that scholarly pursuits received during the Restoration (at least amongst the nobility - Charles II wasn't fond of educating the poorer classes - it gave them "ideas"), people still had very much to learn about the human body and it's processes.
Some assorted facts on medicine in Restoration England:
Physicians believed the human body was driven by four main elements: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.
Surgeons were mostly not physicians. Surgeons did not study at a school: they were generally just very good with sharp instruments.
The reason the Plague killed people is because the bacteria which was in the blood of the victim multiplied so rapidly and prolifically that the blood vessels would burst. This resulted in the "bruised" appearance of the victims and why the plague was known as the "black plague" in earlier times.
As historians are fond to point out, quite fairly I might add, Charles II enjoyed the theatre. Of course, given that he took a fancy to the ladies of the stage, he perhaps had some extra motivations above and beyond mere entertainment - but he also the Cromwellian Regime denied the people well deserved merriment.
Perhaps the most highly regarded English composer of the Restoration was Henry Purcell. Not surprisingly, though they were, in their content, quite contrary to the bright hedonism of Restoration court, were the emergence of the works of Milton and Bunyan - both sombre men of Puritan influence. Most of the works of theatre and smaller works of poetry and prose that did accurately reflect the spirit of the times were the works of an assortment of the King's most creative courtiers.
On the Subject of Witchcraft
For most North Americans, the mention of witchcraft, and the persecution of those accused of using it, probably brings forth images of the Salem witch trials. However, what you may not know is that it was visualized as a prominent enough danger that King James the First of England (who took reign after Elizabeth I) actually wrote a book on magic and sorcery called Demonologie.
While Charles II and Restoration England did not have the religious fervor, and virtual paranoia, that swept other nations, witchcraft was still considered a serious crime. As a matter of fact, King Charles II declared it to be the one crime that could not be pardoned.
It's really no wonder either - even many of the most respected scientists tended to handily file anything they couldn't quite explain into witchery. Lawyers, physicians, scientists - groups that today are probably the least likely to be considered candidates for belief in the supernatural - all gave some sway to the possibility of witchery.
Astrology, ironically, was not labeled under witchery - and while nowadays those who read the "messages" of the stars are probably taken as seriously as "witchcraft" - in these times it was an essential part of science, medicine, and even politics. Elizabeth I was known to consult an astrologer on political questions, and the trend would continue for some time.
Luckily for England, the most heinous persecutions seemed to occur abroad in Catholic ruled countries, such as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in France while Elizabeth I ruled, and of course, the Italian and Spanish Inquisitions. Books such as the Malleus Maleficarum, an exceptionally nasty handbook on witch hunting (and even made some elements of the Inquisition cringe), did not take hold.
Even More Curiosities
In Restoration England, it wasn't the blondes who had more fun; brunette was the idea color hair for a woman. If the skin wasn't naturally pale, something called ceruse - a lead-based concoction that would later be diluted. As you might guess - this did not have positive effects on a woman's health.
If a single woman was ill or depressed - it was often attributed to the fact that the woman did not have a physical relationship with a man.