During the 1300s, the European region was torn apart by pious conflict, the Century’s war-Hundred Years’ War as well as the bubonic pestilence. Events of the fourteenth century led to a change in attitudes toward religion and the state, a change reflected in modern attitudes. At the turn of the century between the 1200s and 1300s, church and state seemed in good shape, but trouble was brewing. The Church seemed to be thriving. Ideals of fuller political representation seemed to be developing in France and England. Nevertheless, the fourteenth century was filled with disasters, both natural and manmade. By the end of the century, the medieval way of life was beginning to disappear (A Century of Turmoil, 1998, p. 356).
Europe in fourteenth century was well on the way to hurried growth. It was quickly escalating in mathematical sophistication and intellectual. In principle, thanks to the mechanical discoveries as well as the water power that flowed from it, Europe was in the middle of what is referred by numerous historians as the Medieval Industrial Revolution. One of the reasons there seemed to be a difference between the Renaissance and the Middle Ages was in actuality a break. The 14th century was marred by diminished expectations, a period of turmoil, and prevalent loss of confidence in institutions as well as the rampart feeling of helplessness at forces far much beyond human control.
A church Divided
At the beginning of the 1300s, the papacy was still apparently strong. Soon, however, both pope and Church were in desperate trouble.
Pope and King Collide
The pope in 1300 was an able but stubborn Italian. Pope Boniface VIII had made several attempts to try and impose the papal authority on kings as was the norm with his successors. When King Philip IV of France asserted his authority over French bishops, Boniface responded with a papal bull (an official document issued by the pope). It stated, “We declare, state, and define that subjection to the Roman Pontiff is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature.” Basically, the kings had to pay tribute to the popes and King Philip simply derided at this bull. In fact one of Philip’s ministers is said to have remarked that “my master’s sword is made of steel, the pope’s is made of [words].” Instead of obeying the pope, in September 1303 Philip had him held prisoner. The king planned to bring him to France for trial. The pope was rescued, but the elderly Boniface died a month later. Never again would a pope be able to force monarchs to comply with him (1998, p.357).
Avignon and the Great Schism
While Philip IV failed to keep Pope Boniface captive, in 1305 he convinced the College of Cardinals to select a French archbishop as the new pope. Clement V, the selected pope, later afterwards transferred to Avignon in France from Rome. Popes would live there for the next 67 years. The move to Avignon badly weakened the Church. When reformers at last made an attempt to shift the papacy back to Rome, however, the result was even worse. In 1378, Pope Gregory XI died whilst on a visit to Rome. The College of Cardinals subsequently met in Rome to decide on a successor. As they deliberated, they could hear a mob outside screaming, “A Roman, a Roman, we want a Roman for pope, or at least an Italian!” Finally, the cardinals announced to the crowd that an Italian had been chosen: Pope Urban VI. Many cardinals regretted their choice almost immediately. Urban VI’s passion for reform and his arrogant personality caused French cardinals to elect another pope a few months later. They chose Robert of Geneva, who spoke French. He took the name Clement VII.
Presently, there were two popes. Each declared the other to be a false pope, excommunicating his rival. The French pope lived in Avignon, while the Italian pope lived in Rome. This began the split in the Church known as the Great Schism, or division. The Council of Constance had as its major task to end the Great Schism by choosing a new pope. In 1414, when the Council of Constance began its meetings, there were a total of three popes: the Avignon pope, the Roman pope, and a third pope elected by an earlier council at Pisa. With the help of the Holy Roman Emperor, the council forced all three popes to resign. In 1417, the council chose a new pope, Martin V, ending the Great Schism.
A Scholarly Challenge to Church Authority
The papacy was additionally challenged in the late 1300s and early 1400s by two professors. One was an Englishman named John Wycliffe. He advocated that Jesus Christ was the true head of the Church and not the pope as it was initially accepted. He was much insulted by the wealth and worldliness portrayed by several clergies. The pope himself, as Wycliffe noted, lived in shameful luxury, serving dinner on gold and silver plates to guests dressed in costly furs. Wycliffe supposed that the clergy was not supposed to own any wealth or land. In addition, Wycliffe also taught that the Bible only and not the pope was the ultimate authority for Christianity life.
Additionally, he aided with the spread of the subject by motivating the translation of the New Testament of the Bible to English language, which at the time was available only in French or Latin. Wycliffe’s radical ideas were discussed widely throughout England. Influenced by Wycliffe’s writings, Jan Hus, a professor in Bohemia, taught that the authority of the Bible was higher than that of the pope. Hus was excommunicated in 1412. In 1414, the German emperor Sigismund arranged the Council of Constance. He urged Hus to attend and even gave him safe conduct. When Hus arrived at the meeting, however, he was seized and tried as a heretic, then destroyed by fire at the stake in 1415 (1998, p.358).
The Bubonic Plague Strikes
Death according to the artists of the 14th century was depicted as the Grim Reaper, a skeleton on horseback whose scythe cut people down. The image was appropriate since approximately one third of the of Europe’s total population was swept off by the fatal disease known as the bubonic plague.
Origins and Symptoms of the Plague
The Bubonic is thought to have originated from Asia, from where it moved along the trade lanes, consequently infecting most of the Muslim as well as Asian world. Unavoidably it reached Europe. In early 1347, a fleet of Genoese trading ships docked in Sicily with dread cargo onboard. Later on, the disease came to be known as the Black Death. The name was coined due to the blackish or purplish spots that usually appeared on the surface of the skin. The ailment brushed throughout Italy; from there it spread to other trade routes in England, Germany, and England as well as other parts of the world. Contrasting to other catastrophes that bring communities together, this outbreak was so frightening that it split apart the very fabric of society. As described by an Italian writer of the time, Giovanni Boccaccio, The bubonic plague, or Black Death, was a killer disease that swept repeatedly through many areas of the world. It wiped out two-thirds of the population in some areas of China, destroyed populations of Muslim towns in Southwest Asia, and then decimated a third of the European population (Tankard, 2009, ¶1).
The Black Death came in three main types, the pneumonic, septicemic and bubonic. Each diverse form of pestilence killed individuals in a cruel way. All types were initiated by a bacterium referred to as Yersinia pestis. The bubonic epidemic was the most recurrently seen variety of the Black Death. The death rate was between 30-75%. The symptoms were inflated and reddened lymph nodes (in the region of the groin, arm pits and neck). The phrase ‘bubonic’ refers to the attribute bubo or inflamed lymphatic gland. Fatalities were exposed to headaches, queasiness, painful joints, fever of 101-105 degrees, nausea, and a common sensation of infirmity. Signs and symptoms took from 1-7 days to emerge (2009, ¶2-3).
Route of the Plague
The horse-riding Mongols most likely propagated the spread of the diseases through the rat and flea infected food supplies as they swooped into China. In 1345-46, a Mongol army besieged Kaffa, on the Black Sea. A year later, Italian merchants who lived there fled back to Italy, unknowingly bringing the plague with them. The disease came with merchants along the trade routes of Asia to all parts of southern Asia, southwest Asia, and eventually Africa. Black rats carried fleas from one area to another-fleas that were infested with a bacillus called Yersinia pestis. In those days, people did not bathe-and almost all had fleas and lice. In addition, medieval people threw their garbage and sewage into the streets. These unsanitary streets became breeding grounds for more rats. The fleas carried by rats leapt from person to person, thus spreading the bubonic plague with incredible speed. The symptoms of the disease included painful swellings called buboes in the lymph nodes, predominantly those in the groin and armpits, sometimes purplish or blackish spots on the skin, extremely high fever, chills, delirium, and in most cases, death (2009, ¶4).
The patterns of interaction
According to Tankard, the bubonic plague was just one of the numerous lethal diseases that have swept from one culture to another all through history. The spread of disease has been a physical and very tragic result of cultures’ interacting with one another across place and time. Frightened people looked around for a scapegoat. They found one in the Jews, who were held responsible for passing on the pestilence by polluting the wells. Throughout Europe, Jews were thrown from their abodes or, worse, massacred. It took the bubonic pestilence almost four years to get in touch with nearly each corner of Europe. In any given community, approximately 75% of those who caught the ailment passed away. Ahead of the bubonic pestilence running its course, it eradicated nearly 25 million Europeans and scores of additional millions in Asia and North Africa (2009, ¶5).
Effects of the Plague
The pestilence came back every few years, although it certainly never struck as relentlessly as in the primary eruption. Nonetheless, the cyclic attacks significantly reduced the inhabitants. The financial impacts of the pestilence were massive. Town populations fell. Trade declined. Prices rose. Fewer people meant that workers were scarce everywhere. Farmland was abandoned or used to pasture sheep, which required less labour. Serfs had often been unpaid or poorly paid for their labour. They left the manor in search of better wages. The old manorial system began to crumble. Nobles fiercely resisted peasant demands for higher wages, causing peasant revolts in England, France, Italy, and Belgium. The Church suffered a loss of prestige when its prayers and penances failed to stop the onslaught of the bubonic plague. In addition, many clergy deserted their flocks or charged high fees to perform services for the dying (The Disastrous 14th Century, 1998, ¶9).
Many people who saw how abruptly life could end became pessimistic about life itself, fearing the future. As one poet of the time wrote, “Happy is he who has no children.” Art and literature of the time reflect an unusual awareness of death. On the other hand, many people became occupied with pleasure and self indulgence. They displayed the attitude of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.” The bubonic plague and its aftermath disrupted medieval society, hastening changes that were already in the making. The society of the Middle Ages was collapsing. The century of war between England and France was that society’s final death struggle. This plague had deep-rooted great dread in the hearts of many that even relatives abandoned each other, and in numerous cases wives isolated their husbands. But still worse, parents declined to nurse and help out their own children.
The Hundred Years’ War
After the very last Capetian ruler died devoid of a heir, England’s Edward III declared the mandate to the French throne as grandson of Philip IV. The warfare that Edward III instigated for that throne persisted on and off between1337 to 1453. It turned out to be referred as the Hundred Years’ War and added to the century’s miseries. The war was a seesaw affair, fought on French soil. Conquest conceded back and forth amid the two nations. Ultimately, between the year 1421 and 1453, the French gathered and threw the English out of France completely, excluding the harbour metropolis of Calais (The Disastrous 14th Century, 1998, ¶1).
The Battle of Crecy
While the French eventually won the war, the English won three important battles in France. The first and most spectacular was the Battle of Crecy. Some of the combatants were still operating under medieval ideals of chivalry. They were anxious to perform noble deeds in war. They stared with disapproval on the ordinary foot territorial army and archers who fought alongside them. However, in the Battle of Crecy, it was the English archers who won the day. English and French forces met near the town of Crecy on August 26, 1346. English men-at-arms and their longbow men were outnumbered by a French army three times its size, including armoured knights and a force of archers with crossbows. Mounted on warhorses and protected by heavy armour, French knights believed themselves invincible and attacked (1998, ¶2-3).
Meanwhile, English longbow men let fly thousands of arrows at the oncoming French. The crossbowmen, out of range and peppered with English arrows, retreated in panic. A French noble, seeing the crossbowmen fleeing, shouted, “Slay these rascals who get in our way!” The knights trampled their own archers in an effort to cut a path through them. English longbow men sent volley after volley of deadly arrows. They unhorsed knights who then lay helplessly on the ground in their heavy armour. Then, using long knives, the English foot soldiers attacked, slaughtering the French. At the end of the day, more than a third of the French force lay dead. Among them were some of the most honoured in chivalry. The longbow, not chivalry, had won the day (1998, ¶4).
Poitiers and Agincourt
The English repeated their victory ten years later at the Battle of Poitiers. Near the town of Poitiers, France, the French believed they had caught the English at a disadvantage. When the overconfident knights charged on foot, English long bowmen greeted them with volleys of arrows so thick that the air grew dark. French knights were helpless. The French king John and his son Philip were captured and held for ransom. The third English victory, the Battle of Agincourt, took place in 1415. Again the English army was outnumbered, with their 6,000 troops against a French force of 20,000 to 30,000. Led by King Henry V, English archers again won a victory over the heavily armoured French knights. The success of the longbow in these battles spelled doom for chivalric warfare. The mounted, heavily armoured medieval knight was soon to become extinct (1998, ¶5).
Joan of Arc
Five years after Agincourt, the French and English signed a treaty stating that Henry V would inherit the French crown at the death of the French king Charles VI. The French had lost hope. Then, in 1429, a teenage French peasant girl named Joan of Arc felt moved by God to rescue France from its English conquerors. She believed that heavenly voices spoke to her. They told her to drive the English out of France and give the French crown to France’s true king, Charles VI’s son. Joan convinced Charles that she was sincere. On May 7, 1429, Joan led the French army into battle against an English fort that blocked the roads to Orleans. The English had been besieging the city for over six months. Without help, the city’s defenders could not hold out much longer. The English forts had to be taken in order to lift the siege. It was a hard-fought battle for both sides, and the French finally retreated in despair. But suddenly, Joan and a few soldiers charged back toward the fort (1998, ¶6-7).
The entire French army stormed after her. The siege of Orleans was broken. Joan of Arc guided the French onto the path of victory. After that victory, Joan persuaded Charles to go with her to Reims. There he was crowned king on July 17, 1429. Joan helped turn the tide for France. In 1430, she was captured in battle by the Burgundians, England’s allies. They handed her over to the English. The English, consecutively, turned her over to the Church authorities to stand trial. Although the French king Charles VII owed his crown to Joan, he did nothing to rescue her. Condemned as a witch and a heretic because of her claim to hear voices, Joan was tied to a stake and burned to death on May 30, 1431 (1998, ¶8).
The Effects of the Hundred Years’ War
The long, exhausting war finally ended in 1453, with the English left with only the French port of Calais. For France, the war-despite its terrible costs in lives, property, and money-ultimately raised the power and prestige of the French monarch. Nonetheless, it took a long time for some regions in France to recover.
The war gave birth in both countries to a feeling of nationalism. No longer did people think of the king as simply a feudal lord, but as a national leader fighting for the glory of the country. Following the Hundred Years’ War, the English suffered a period of internal turmoil known as the War of the Roses, in which two noble houses fought for the throne. Nevertheless, this war was responsible for strengthening the English Parliament. Edward III’s constant need for money to finance the war led him to call Parliament as many as 27 times, asking for new taxes (A Century of Turmoil, 1998, p.359).
Gradually, Parliament’s “power of the purse” became firmly established, sowing another seed of democracy. The conclusion of the unending Hundred Years’ War in 1453 is considered by some historians as the end of the middle Ages. The twin pillars of the medieval world-intense religious devotion and the code of chivalry-both crumbled. The Age of Faith died a slow death. This death was caused by the Great Schism, the scandalous display of wealth by the Church, and the discrediting of the Church during the bubonic plague. The Age of Chivalry died on the battlefields of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt.
By 1400, the worst of the upheavals had passed and European society was on the mend. The term “Renaissance” was first used in the late 14th century by Italian scholars who saw themselves as the vanguard of a period of improved conditions. Many of our modern problems had counterparts in the 14th Century. Even the extinction of the human race, something we ponder in discussing nuclear war, was faced by medieval Europeans, in fact, far more directly than we ever have.
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