Following Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press and the flow of wealth from trade, literacy increased across Europe, and libraries and universities were popping up all over the continent. As John Merriman explains in "A History of Modern Europe," "Printing shops soon started up in the Italian city-states, Bohemia, France, the Netherlands, and in Spain and England by the 1470s. By 1500, about 35,000 books were published annually in Europe. A century later, the number jumped up to between 150,000 and 200,000 books." However, these texts still saw a minute audience and did not have a significant impact on the vast majority of Europeans. As Rita Santillan writes in, "The effect of the printing press in the Renaissance in the 15th century, Italy," the Renaissance affected only a minimal, literate, and elite number of people. The recording of sermons, orations, adages, and poems served the needs of preachers and teachers pursuing traditional Christian ends. Literacy did increase, but the literate population remained a small minority. As John Merriman states, "it is unlikely that more than one percent of workers and peasants could read and write," and "the literate population of the German states in 1500 was about three or four percent." As for universities, these remained available for only the wealthy families, as much of the European population continued to work under the feudal system as farmers.
The philosophy, art, and wealth of the Renaissance were experienced by more than just the wealthy. To begin with, the invention of the printing press contributed to an increase in literacy rates. The rates vary from region to region, but European males in the 1300s held a five to ten percent literacy rate. By 1530 in London, the literacy rate rose to twenty-five percent, and by 1650, in Spain, it was over sixty percent. Additionally, the bubonic plague, also known as the black death, created new opportunities for those who survived the pandemic. Notably, the Medici family – and many other men – took advantage of their new world and sought social mobility. Many of these wealthy families became patrons of artists who, in turn, moved up the socio-economic ladder and experienced the Renaissance. For example, Raphael was an orphan by the age of eleven whose artistic talent lead him out of a life of apprenticeship and into one of fame.