16th Century Timeline 1500–1599

Woman enjoying a beer in the sunset up a bay
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The 16th century was a time of unprecedented change that saw the very beginning of the modern era of science, great exploration, religious and political turmoil, and extraordinary literature.

In 1543, Copernicus published his theory that the earth was not the center of the universe, but rather, that the Earth and the other planets orbited around the sun. Called the Copernican Revolution, his theory forever changed astronomy, and ultimately changed all of science.

During the 16th century, advancements were also made in the theories of mathematics, cosmography, geography, and natural history. In this century inventions related to the fields of engineering, mining, navigation, and the military arts were prominent.

1500–1509

In 1500, the wheel-lock musket was invented, a firearm device that could be fired by a single individual, ushering in a new form of warfare. Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci began painting his "Mona Lisa" in 1503, and finished it three years later; in 1609, Michaelangelo began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The first reported enslaved person is described in the Americas in 1502; and in 1506, Genovese explorer Christopher Columbus, "discoverer" of that New World, died in Valladolid, Spain.

1510–1519

The Renaissance continued to fire up the modern artists and technicians during this second decade. In 1510, Da Vinci designed the horizontal water wheel; and in Nuremberg, Germany Peter Henlein invented the first portable pocket watch. The Swiss artist Urs Graf invented etching in his studio in 1513, and the same year Machiavelli wrote "The Prince."

The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when firebrand Martin Luther posted his "95 Theses" on a church door in Saxony. The year 1519 saw the death of Da Vinci in Amboise, France, at the age of 67; the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan left Seville on August 10, 1519 to explore the globe; and Charles I, King of Spain, became the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

1520–1529

In 1521, two years after he left Seville, Magellan was killed in the Philippines; only 18 of his 270 shipmates made it home to Spain. In 1527, Charles V took his army and sacked Rome, ending the Italian Renaissance.

1530–1539

In 1531, King Henry VIII broke away from Rome and created the Church of England, naming himself the head of the church, and beginning decades of political upheaval; he had his second wife Anne Boleyn beheaded in London in 1536. The Ottoman Empire captured Baghdad in 1534.

In 1532, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire in South America. The city of Buenos Aires in what would become Argentina was founded in 1536.

1540–1549

The Polish astronomer Nicholaus Copernicus published his blasphemous theory that the earth and planets revolved around the sun in 1543; King Henry VIII died in England in 1547. The Ming Dynasty government of China led by Zhu Houcong, the Jiajing Emperor, closed the nation to all foreign trade in 1548.

1550–1559

The political disruption led by Henry VIII continued after this death. In 1553, his daughter Mary Tudor, known as Bloody Mary, became queen regent of England and restored the Church of England to papal authority. But in 1558, after Mary died Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, her half-sister Elizabeth Tudor became Queen Elizabeth I, beginning the Elizabethan Era, widely regarded as the pinnacle of the English Renaissance.

1560–1569

The 1560s saw the resurgence of the bubonic plague, which killed 80,000 people in England in 1563, 20,000 in London alone. English essayist Francis Bacon was born in London in 1561, and playwright William Shakespeare was born on Stratford-on-Avon in 1564. That same year, Italian scientist and inventor Galileo Galilei was born in Florence, Italy.

A graphite pencil was invented by the German-Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner in 1565; bottled beer appeared in London pubs in 1568, and Gerardus Mercator invented the Mercator map projection in 1569.

1570–1579

In 1571, Pope Pious V established Holy League to combat Ottoman Turks; and in 1577 English explorer Francis Drake began his voyage around the world.

1580–1589

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian calendar, which remains in use, with some modifications, to this day. In 1585, the Colony of Roanoke was established by English settlers in territory that would later become Virginia. Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed as a traitor by Queen Elizabeth I in 1587.

In 1588, England resoundingly defeated the Spanish Armada, and in 1589, Englishman William Lee invented the knitting machine called the "stocking frame."

1590–1599

In the Netherlands, Zacharias Janssen invented the compound microscope in 1590; Gaileo invented the water thermometer in 1593. In1596, Rene Descartes, future philosopher and mathematician, was born in France; and the first flush toilets appeared, invented and built for Queen Elizabeth I.