The Renaissance is most remembered as a period of intellectual and artistic ferment and revolution. However, the Renaissance spirit also had a great impact on practical areas of life. It is no accident, for example, that the Renaissance coincides with the beginning of the Age of Exploration. Improved techniques of navigation were developed, and equally important, new types of ships. It is also not a coincidence that the revolution in warfare due to guns took place during the Renaissance.
The following discussion will center on the Renaissance impact on the technology of naval warfare. War at sea had previously developed along lines going back to the Middle Ages or even, in the Mediterranean, to classical antiquity. New ships and weapons led to dramatic changes, which would ultimately have an impact not only on Europe but on the entire world. The discussion will begin by outlining the situation in the Middle Ages, and explore how naval warfare was affected not only by new techniques but by new ways of thinking.
Medieval Background and Renaissance Developments:
During the Middle Ages, the European seafaring world had been divided into two separate and nearly independent environments, the Mediterranean on the one hand and the Atlantic and North Sea on the other. These regions differed both in climate and sea conditions -- and therefore in the conditions under which people sailed and fought at sea -- and in their historical backgrounds. Their traditions of shipbuilding and sailing had developed independently of one another, while social and political conditions imposed differing constraints on the operations and objectives of war at sea. Even in countries such as France, which had both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, the traditions of seafaring remained independent.
For example, Mediterranean sailors had used square sails in ancient times, but by the early Middle Ages the square sail had disappeared entirel...