ABSTRACT

Upon awakening on 1 January 1500, Flemish merchants, French ladies-in-waiting, Neapolitan fishermen, Muscovite peasants and Castilian nuns would have had little grounds to suspect the dawning of a new era. It was not necessarily the beginning of a new year either, given that 25 March served as the starting date in many regions. On that day, as from time immemorial, nobles prided themselves on their lineage and lordship, while commoners cherished bonds of kinship and neighbourhood. Women found themselves subordinate to men, poor people depended on acts of charity, and marginal groups struggled for acceptance. The Church occupied a towering position in everybody’s lives, even though reformers and heretics had started to shake its foundations. Few Europeans could read or write and only a select number had ever ventured beyond the boundaries of their principality or diocese.