Although this is not the place for an exhaustive description of that world, a brief look at it may not be out of place here; for in certain respects, it was world surprisingly like our own. Social changes were taking place, though on an incomparably smaller scale and much more slowly than has been the case in our own time, and one of the contributory causes of this slow change, then as now, was inflation of the money supply, for the influx of gold and other treasure from the New World increased as the century progressed.
As in our own day, too, western Europe was under constant threat by a large, autocratic superpower in the East with a radically different ideology from her own, namely Ottoman Turkey; and then as now the various peoples and countries of eastern Europe and the Balkans were largely impotent to affect the course of events, for they were either occupied by the armed forces of their eastern neighbor or governed by one of its puppets.
But if there are political and military similarities bet between the world of the sixteenth century that of today, the differences are much greater, and some of these are easily overlooked or forgotten. For instance, histories of the time speak of Spain, France, England, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Russia and the rest, and it is only too easy to imagine that they are speaking of the countries with which we are familiar, as they appear today on modern map; but this is not so. To give a few examples only, in the territorial area which we think of as Spain – that is to say, the lebrian peninsula apart from Portugal – a number of small kingdoms has come together over the years to from the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, on the one hand, and the quite separate kingdom of Aragon, on the other, and these were not united until as late 1479, when the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon to Isabella of Castile brought the two together. Meanwhile, the Moorish kingdom of Granada did not succumb to Christian arms until thirteen years later in 1492, when at last the map of Spain assumed the political shape which it has retained ever since.
France, too, was very different then from what it is today; although it had perhaps made slightly more progress towards unity than any other European state, in the closing years of the fifteenth century much of her territory was subject more to the nominal jurisdiction of the kings of France than to any real authority exercised by then. The dukes of Burgundy, who also owned the of Charolais, Macon, Auxerre, Bar-sur-Seine, Ponthieu, the Somme towns, towns, Artois and Flanders together with extensive possessions in the Netherlands, had taken the English side in the Hundred Years War, and were accustomed to act as independent sovereigns in their own right when it suited them to do so largely regardless of the kings of France, whose subject technically they were.