The sack of Rome was, in effect, an accident, ordered by no political leader or general. The imperial forces, supposedly under the control of the French renegade, the Duke of Bourbon, were in reality under no direct control. Rather, the army acted independently, roaming the Italian countryside and, starving and unpaid, setting their sights on the conquest of Rome for reasons of revenge and anger more than as the military extension of a political aim. Nevertheless, the sack of the city took the wind from the sails of the Italian city-states, who were soon resigned to imperial subjugation. The new situation crushed the city- states economy and spirit. In addition, Italy's prime geographical location within the Mediterranean lost some of its importance; after the discovery of America in 1492 the importance of trade routed through Italy steadily declined, leaving the Italian city-states weak and especially vulnerable to the economic restrictions placed upon them by the Spanish. By 1550, the once great trading cities of Florence, Venice, and others, were on the decline, sapped of their wealth by the combined lack of trade combined and the taxes and restrictions of the Spaniards.

Perhaps the greatest finishing blow dealt the Renaissance was the Counter- Reformation initiative pursued by the Church in response to the Protestant movement begun by a German monk, Martin Luther, in 1517. The Counter-Reformation involved a conservative Church backlash. In particular, the Church extended censorship to protect itself against further criticism, thereby stifling any literary and artistic ambitions that still prevailed after the middle of the fifteenth century. Resistance to these measures was weak and sporadic. Authoritarianism triumphed, and a somber pessimism descended upon the once joyous Italian states. Even the style of dress changed to reflect Spanish dominance. The black cap, doublet, hose, and shoes that became the fashion in Italy of the mid-sixteenth century, seemed in their contrast to the bright colors of the Renaissance, the vestments of mourning for the glory and liberty of the Italian Renaissance, now dead.

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