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words, people mainly exchanged items and services for money rather than bartering (exchanging items and services for other items and services).
As a result of these changes, commercial and professional groups gained increasing power in many countries. These groups included merchants, lawyers, and other educated and skilled individuals. Often, they made deals directly with monarchs. So, while owning land could still bring money and power, having education or expertise also became important.
In Northern Europe, the development of commerce and finance led to a golden age of art. For example, in the Netherlands, Dutch artists painted for private collectors rather than the Catholic Church. These private individuals supported many painters and a wide range of styles. While many artists continued to use religious themes, they often showed the influence of Protestantism. Others portrayed wealthy individuals.
Guilds Merchant groups called guilds, which first began in the Middle Ages, continued to wield significant power. Although kings and queens controlled state governments, these guilds often controlled local governments. Usually, guilds and their members stayed loyal to their king or queen. Doing so helped guild members stay in control on the local level.
Power of the Medici Family Merchants and financiers also led developments in Renaissance Italy. One of the most prominent families based in what is today Italy was the Medici family of Florence. (See Topic 1.2.) The Medicis were independent patrons of the arts, providing artistic freedom that was previously unknown. The Medici family itself also produced three popes and two queens and founded the Medici Bank, one of the most prosperous institutions in Europe at that time.
Gentry Reform in England also led to noble titles becoming rewards for personal or professional accomplishments. The gentry was the class of prosperous families who made their money through commercial ventures rather than inheritance, though they did sometimes include rural aristocrats, which were called landed gentry. The gentry in England often allied with the king to increase their political standing.
Nobles of the Robe In France, some nobles gained power by holding important state offices. People called them nobles of the robe because of the robes they wore while carrying out these duties. This was a change from the past, when power usually come from military service, not from carrying out official duties. There was often tension between nobles of the sword (military leaders) and these new nobles of the robe. Eventually, nobles of the robe were able to transmit their titles and power to their children, thereby increasing their families’ status for generations.
Secular Political Theories
As the Catholic Church began splintering and losing some of its power, monarchs, nobles, and merchants were starting to gain power. In Central Europe, the Holy Roman Empire began to shrink in territory and influence.

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