Explores the sordidness and the splendor of the Middle Ages as well as the collapse of the medieval mind and its metamorphosis into The Renaissance.
Historian William Manchester's grand journey into one of the most fascinating periods in the history of the Western world. From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages. In handsomely crafted prose, and with his gift for narrative history, Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its richest rebirth. The explosion of energy known as the Renaissance produced spectacular villains. A mood of licentiousness spawned such figures as Cesare Borgia, model for Machiavelli's Prince, and his lewd sister, the lovely sensualist Lucrezia. Torquemada presided over the Spanish Inquisition and devised some of history's most intricate torture chambers. Yet the age also boasted courageous pioneers, among them perhaps the ultimate mariner, Ferdinand Magellan, who in his quest for the Spice Islands circumnavigated the globe. Magellan's epic voyage, explains Manchester, brought the world's place in the cosmos into stark new relief, and so ushered in the modern age. With the Renaissance came humanism and its implicit threat to unquestioning faith. But humanism's dangers were overshadowed by Martin Luther's thunderous demands for religious reform. His attack on the papacy, equaled in its savagery by the papal response, split Europe into warring camps, as kings and emperors--from Henry VIII to Charles V--used the resulting fanaticism for their own political and personal purposes. At the same time, art flourished across Europe as never before or since. The Sistine Chapel's frescoes and Raphael's Madonnas sprang up in Rome; Florence was transformed into a living museum. Da Vinci's forays into cartography, anatomy, and applied science, made as he put the finishing touches on the Mona Lisa, were felt all over Europe. In France, Rabelais spun out his audacious tales, and in Germany and Belgium, Dürer and Brueghel portrayed a whole new world. William Manchester's glorious exploration of the sordidness and the splendor of the Middle Ages, and his riveting observation of the collapse of the medieval mind and its spectacular metamorphosis into the Renaissance, is one of the triumphs of his career.--Adapted from dust jacket.