Things began to get better: The economy improved; There was a return to building, cathedrals, universities, cities...; a return to “luxuries” -- paper, plays, music...; a return to invention -- the compass, printing...; a return to exploration -- Africa, the New World, the Pacific.... It was the renaissance, which we date (roughly!) from 1400 to 1600 or so. They were vigorous times, interesting times, dangerous times!
The aristocracy had won the day over the fledgling monarchies and even the church’s heavy hand, at least for now. So there were just tons of these upper-crust types, often with lots of money, totally in love with the idea of themselves. Religious and other thinkers were freed, to one extent or another, from the powerful central authority of the church to create their own, very reasonable or totally outlandish, religious philosophies. And merchants found that money can buy almost anything, including the traditional respect that the aristocracy received. In fact, aristocratic title and merchant wealth were a perfect combination for a good marriage!
These aristocrats and merchants believed in the "perfectibility" of mankind: We could become better human beings! Most importantly, we could become more powerful, richer -- more aristocratic, if you will. Much attention was paid to behaving like a gentleman or a lady, as reflected, for example, in Baldesar Castiglione’s guide to proper conduct, The Book of the Courtier.
They were practical, interested in real events and real people in the real world. Individualistic and competitive (and very “dog eat dog”), they liked their politics, and they like to play rough.
But, they were also anti-intellectual, even cocky in their ignorance. They tended to think of scholars as dry, impractical types, who might be able to forecast eclipses, but probably couldn’t tie their own shoes, much less make money or run estates!
And they were superstitious, spiritualistic, fascinated by astrology, ancient Egypt, the Kabbalah, alchemy, magic -- a Renaissance version of our “New Age” movement.
Two events in particular stand out as representative of the renaissance: The first was printing. Johann Gutenberg (c 1400-1467) of Mainz invented the printing press and movable type, and printed the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.
The second was the discovery of the New World, which meant lots of gold and silver and a stoked-up international economy, as well as an outlet for those discontented with life in Europe (“Lebensraum” -- room to live, as the Germans call it). This, of course, is usually credited to Christopher Columbus (1451-1506).