What Was the English Renaissance?

The English Renaissance, according to most historians, began around 1500 and lasted until the first few decades of the next century. This period in English history was characterized a rise in the country’s wealth. Civil unrest linked to the Wars of the Roses may have influenced popular opinion and cultural standards during this period. From about 1588 to about 1603, the reign of English Queen Elizabeth I is credited with bringing the peace and prosperity that allowed literature and theater to flourish during the English Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation, as well as King Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England, are credited with bolstering new secular ideas in Renaissance England, resulting in advancements in education and the development of a strong body of English literature.

During this time, literature and theater flourished. During the English Renaissance, William Shakespeare wrote many of his plays. At this time, English poetry flourished, with poets like Thomas Campion, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe solidifying and adapting many English poetic forms already in use Italian poets.

During these decades, people living in England were exposed to a new, more secular worldview. In the early 1500s, England’s break with the Catholic Church weakened the Catholic Church’s hold on the nation’s popular ideology, allowing more humanistic ideas to flourish. Philosophies and knowledge of classical Roman and Greek culture gained in popularity. Many people started emphasizing the value of human logic and individual worth. Because of technological advancements, printed materials became more widely available, and higher education institutions, as well as primary and secondary schools of all kinds, began to thrive.

The English Renaissance is frequently regarded as a continuation of the continental European cultural and artistic Renaissance, which began in the 1300s on the Italian peninsula. As a more secular view of human nature and life itself began to take hold in European culture, Renaissance philosophers and artists are said to have revisited antiquity’s ideas, learning, and artistic conventions. Because England was engulfed in the Hundred Years’ War, followed the War of the Roses, during these centuries, most historians believe the English Renaissance began later than the Italian and Northern European Renaissances.