chapter  4
The search for a new order
Pages 20

The mid-seventeenth century was an unsettled time in Western Europe; nothing seemed stable: the chaos we have remarked in natural philosophy: the conflicting metaphysical beliefs about the nature of the cosmos, about Man's place and status and about the purpose of the Creation were part of a wider disturbance. On the Continent, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the German Principalities were embroiled in the Thirty Years War - an era of sporadic fighting, devastation and misery which in fact lasted for fifty years (1610-60). In Britain the Civil War led to the execution of Charles I in 1649; there was further upheaval after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, though relative calm followed the restoration in 1660. Over a great part of Europe the Roman Catholic Church's counter-Reformation was supported by an active Inquisition, and the heretic Protestant Churches were themselves divided into acrimonious sects. As Donne said, the old-established certainties had been undermined and yet nothing had replaced them. Each man could claim that he spoke truth; philosophies conflicted and mystical fantasies and magical practices abounded; humanity seemed to be degenerating fast and moving ever farther from the Golden Age.