Neely Young: Great Men And Women

The great historian Thomas Carlyle once commented, “The history of the world is but a biography of great men.” Carlyle believed that by studying history’s heroes, one could not help but uncover something about one’s true nature and add to one’s leadership abilities.

One of the most outstanding periods for great men and women occurred between the years 1492 and 1558. I have always been amazed by how many famous names in history come from this period.

Two names that should be mentioned were legendary monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In 1492 they worked hand-in-hand to help unleash a torrent of historical events. They drove the Moors out of southern Spain and soon after created the Spanish Inquisition by giving the monk Torquemada unparalleled power to burn at the stake Jews, Moors and anyone else suspected of violating the religious views of the Catholic Church.

This group of banished citizens was highly educated and included many skilled artisans expelled from Spain. Some historians say this helped pave the way for the Renaissance; when these people left, they populated many other areas of Europe including northern Italy and Turkey.

Ferdinand and Isabella also commissioned a young adventurer named Christopher Columbus to “sail the ocean blue” to find a passage to India across the Atlantic. This brought on the Age of Discovery, when explorers including Columbus, Balboa, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Pizarro, Cortés, Orellana, Ponce de Leon, De Soto, and Amerigo Vespucci discovered and conquered the new world.

In Italy, a small-town Florentine banker named Cosimo de’ Medici created a major financial empire and encouraged his family, including his grandson Lorenzo the Magnifi-cent, to support the arts. From this legacy many Roman popes, including Clement VII, commissioned great artists such as Michelangelo, Leo-nardo da Vinci, Filippino Lippi, Vasari, Vero-nese, Barbarelli, Correggio, Cellini, Tintoretto, Raphael and Titian.

During this period great writers were empowered, among them Pietro Aretino, Erasmus, Machiavelli and Sir Thomas More. Earlier, a man named Gutenberg invented the printing press, printed the bible and changed the world.

Other leaders, some famous and some infamous, were born during this period, including the most notorious pope in history, Alexander VI, or Rodrigo Borgia, and his beautiful daughter Lucretia, whom he used as a pawn to advance his political career.

Early in Borgia’s stint as pope, a young German monk named Martin Luther visited Rome and saw firsthand that the pope and his leaders were living lavish and unprincipled lives. Luther later started the Protestant Reformation.

Queen Isabella sent her daughter, Catherine, off to England to marry the future King Henry the VIII. Catherine of Aragon and Henry were happily married for 20 years until Henry sustained a head injury in a jousting tournament. After this injury his personality changed, and he became one of the most vicious kings in history.

Henry fell madly in love with a young woman named Anne Boleyn, who had spent time in France at the court of King Frances.

Henry’s official reason for wanting to marry Anne was to produce a son to succeed him on the throne. He spent almost five years trying to get Pope Clement to grant him an annulment or divorce from Catherine.

Some of the famous historical figures who helped the Pope and Catherine fight off the divorce were Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Catherine’s daughter, Mary, her cousin Charles V, Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More. Henry, tired of the effort, decided he didn’t need a Catholic pope and made himself the head of a new protestant religion; the Church of England, known as the Episcopal Church in America, was born.

His new bishop, Thomas Cranmer, granted Henry his much desired divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn. A few months later she delivered their only child, named Elizabeth.

Queen Catherine died of natural causes on January 7, 1536. Just months after Catherine’s death, Henry tired of Anne and had her beheaded.

Eleven days later he married Jane Seymour, who delivered Henry his son, the future King Edward VI.

Jane died in childbirth and her successors, Henry’s subsequent wives, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard (who died by the ax) and Catherine Parr – would each spend less than four years by his side.

Along the way Henry sent many people to their death, including Thomas Cromwell and his foe, Sir Thomas More.

After Henry’s death in 1547, his son Edward reigned for five years. Upon his death, Henry and Catherine’s daughter, Mary Tudor, became Queen.

She was also known as “Bloody Mary” because she killed so many people in her attempt to bring the Catholic religion back to England. In this, she was doomed to failure.

At Mary’s demise in 1558, Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, became queen and restored the Protestant faith.

She became the greatest queen in British history because of her attitude of openness in government and her belief in religious freedom.

Queen Isabella’s brutal treatment of the Moors, who were followers of Mohammed, caused the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Suleiman the Magnificent to attempt to conquer Europe.

In 1529, Suleiman was turned back near the gates of Vienna by Isabella’s grandson Charles V.

Many of the Muslim faith remember Spain’s 1492 expulsion of the Moors and some seek revenge on Christians to this day.

Isabella’s repressive policies caused Spain’s influence to decline, and the country lost most of their new world holdings. Spain became an economic and political backwater until very recent times.

We should note studying the great ones of history gives us an opportunity to learn.

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