The sixteenth century was a time of social change, renaissance and warfare for Europe. The century began with the opening of the ‘New World’ and a growing European population. The economy was growing throughout Europe. The mechanisms of commerce, the introduction of the Columbian Exchange, international finance, ocean-going trading fleets and an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie were building a recognisably capitalist money-based economy. Technological innovations like gunpowder were transforming warfare and the printing press created a media revolution most notably bringing the bible to the masses. Printing technology spread new controversial ideas about role of status, images and painting in Christian worship fuelling debate between catholic and protestant reformers and printed pictures and accounts introduced European people to unknown lands and people of the Americas. Plagues continued to ravish Europe and most towns experienced a crisis with how to deal with the poor.
The second half of the century was consumed with wars of religion including the French Wars of Religion, the Eighty Years War in Spain and the Netherlands, the Anglo-Spanish Wars and resulting Spanish and English Armadas. The century witnessed Henry VIII declare himself head of the Church of England and disestablish the monasteries and the Protestant Reformation, Lutherism and Calvinism cause social changes throughout Europe. The century was a time for European explorations as a French cartographer created the Mercator New World map projection and Portuguese merchants set up trade routes in China creating turning point in Chinese history and a craze in Europe for Chinese porcelain. The century saw the first shipment of African slaves sent to Cuba and European explorations and colonisations bring diseases to South American populations.
In the sixteenth century the renaissance in Italy was peaking and spreading north. In England the Elizabethan era was considered heart of the English Renaissance and William Shakespeare was writing his plays.