New College of the Humanities

Why Renaissance? Why Florence?

Jon Cook identifies the mix of factors that helps explain the Florentine Renaissance.

When Edmund Blackadder memorably lamented, ‘Baldrick, to you the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people’, it was probably the citizens of Florence to whom he was referring. For nowhere else were the ingredients that enabled the Renaissance to flourish – a politically-active citizenry, a vigorous humanist movement and abundant wealth – better blended. It is these ingredients, in Italy in general and in Florence in particular, that are the subject of this essay.


Politically, Italy was different from the rest of Europe. Whereas elsewhere monarchs ruled their kingdoms as God’s representatives on earth, most of the Italian peninsula (Naples and the Papal States were exceptions) consisted of city-states in which power was shared between a greater or lesser number of the inhabitants. Political life was therefore a good deal more complicated in Florence, Milan, Venice, Siena, and their like than it was in the feudal world of oath-making and obligation.

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