The Crises of the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages was a period of approximately 1000 years of history; generally accepted as spanning from the fall of the Roman Empire (toward the end of the 5th century) to the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. This period began with a demographic downturn at the end of the Roman imperial era, with European populations shrinking and many cities and rural estates abandoned. A cooling climate, disease, and political disorder each played a part in this opening period which saw Classical Mediterranean civilization eclipsed. Across Europe, there emerged smaller, more localized hybrid societies combining Roman, Christian and Germanic or Celtic barbarian influences. By the 9th and 10th centuries, populations had reached their minima, and Europe became a largely rural and somewhat backward region. Commerce and learning flourished in the Islamic world, China and India during this the same period. Islamic armies conquered Spain during the 7th and 8th centuries, but were defeated by the Frankish kingdom in 732 when they attempted to enter France. Warmer weather after 900 allowed more land to be brought into food production. The feudal system of agricu tommy hilfiger uk lture, where peasants were tied to their estates by obligations to local lords or to the church, provided a degree of economic stability. This was aided by the arrival in Europe of the horse collar from Asia, which increased crop yields by allowing plows to be drawn by horse, rather than by slower oxen. Commercial towns flourished in England, France and the Low Countries. German rulers dispatched monks and peasants to clear forests and settle in Eastern Europe and the Baltic regions. The city states of northern Italy rose in wealth and influence. Islamic Spain became a center of learning and culture where Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted in relative amity. Despite many local wars and disputes between knights, the High Middle Ages, from 1000 1250, saw growing populations and prosperity enough to build great cathedrals and send European armies abroad on crusades.After 1250, demographic stagnation emerged. Population growth slowed or stopped as the limits of medieval agriculture were reached. Major conflicts between powerful kingdoms, such as the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, became more frequent. The year 1348 saw a catastrophe as the virulent bubonic plague (the “Black Death”), entered Italy, carried by ships from Asia. It spread across the continent over three years killing, by some estimates, one third of all Europeans. Many believed it was the end of the world foretold by Christian myth. Along with its suffering, the plague wrought economic havoc, driv tommy hilfiger uk ing up the cost of labor and making the old feudal system untenable, as surviving peasants scorned its demands.The following century and a half transformed Europe from a patchwork of feudal fiefdoms, under loose royal and church control, into a collection of newborn but increasingly unified national states. Former noble and knightly influence declined, and rulers realigned themselves toward the increasingly wealthy and influential burgher and merchant classes. Emergence of the printing press and spreading literacy, increased religious and political conflict in many countries. By 1500, Christopher Columbus had sailed across the ocean to the New World, and Martin Luther was about to take much of Europe out of the orbit of the Roman church. These developments opened the modern era of history, and brought the Middle Ages to their true end.A number of modern institutions have their roots in the Middle Ages. The concept of nation states with strong central governmental power stems from the consolidation of powers by some kings of the Middle Ages. These kings formed royal courts, appointed sheriffs, formed royal armies, and began to collect taxes all concepts central to modern government. A leading example was the French kingdom, ruled by the Capetian dynasty from 987 until the early 14th century. French provincial nobles and their castles and knights were brought under effective royal control during this time, and national unity benefited. Conversely Germany, which had strong kings in the 10th and early 11th centuries, suffered a series of political conflicts during the High Middle Ages between rulers and the Church, which weakened national cohesion and elevated regional lords to great influence.During the Middle Ages, Kings originally called Parliaments to explain their policies and ask for money. Parliaments at this time represented the three collective estates tommy hilfiger uk the clergy, nobles, and merchants not individuals.The idea of limited government also arose, challenging the traditional notion at the time that rulers were all powerful (such as a Roman emperor or an Egyptian pharaoh). The most substantial occurrence was in 1215, when the nobles of England asserted their rights against King John in the Magna Carta. In addition, the notion of parliaments, as explained above, came into existence, and the reciprocal nature of the feudal and manorial contracts laid the most basic groundwork for the concept of the social contract.In addition, the formation of governmental bureaucracy began during this time, as the royal councils of medieval kings evolved into modern government departments.Finally, the regulation of goods and services became increasingly prominent during th tommy hilfiger uk e Middle Ages, as guilds protected the consumer from poor products.Thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment tended to look at the Middle Ages with scorn, but the Middle Ages were essential in laying the groundwork for the times to come. Although his forms seem primitive compared to those of the Renaissance artists, he was the first to attempt to bring back the realism of Roman art. He also began to develop techniques of perspective in paintings to achieve depth. This use of the vernacular opened up such that cultural peculiarities could be more naturally expressed. This allowed literature to feel more realistic and human to the readers, and is why pieces such as The Canterbury Tales are considered depictions of life in the times in which they were written. His family was not rich but was considered an aristocratic line. He was taught by Brunetto Latini, who trained him in the classical liberal arts, including Latin and Greek. Yet, Dante set out to embrace his vernacular language and began to write The Divine Comedy in his local Tuscan dialect. Alighieri considered his work a comedy due to the differences between his Italian writing style and the great Latin tragedy. His three part epic poem sarcastically criticized the Church and commented on a variety of historical and contemporary individuals. The most important of these figures is Virgil, the Latin poet, who plays the role of Dante’s guide through the afterlife. Dante’s personal feelings towards many people are also evident in his writing. In the deepest layer of hell he punishes those for whom he personally had the greatest disdain. Much of this personal disdain came from his position as a politician in Florence. One of the victims of his deepest layer of hell is Boniface VIII, a pope whose political policy of expansion he opposed. Each of the poem’s parts portray degrees of salvation, with “Inferno” being Hell, “Purgatorio” being Purgatory, and “Paradiso” being Heaven. This collection of stories was set in a frame based around a trip to Canterbury as a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. The stories are the individual tales of thirty people making this pilgrimage. The accounts range from romance to family to religion, providing a cross section of society at the time. A large percentage of the populace, and therefore a large percentage of the characters, seemed more focused on material pleasure than on their eternal souls. The Canterbury Tales is also useful as a study of English vernacular at the time. It is a classical example of Middle English that linguists and those studying medieval and early modern England continue to use to this day.The Hundred Years War (1337 1453)The Hundred Years War was a very complex war, fought between France and England (with the occasional intervention of other countries), over three main conflicts. In particular, the nations fought over control of the Gascony region in France, rebellions supported by Britain in French cloth production towns, and English claims to the French throne after the death of Charles IV.The war, initially sparked by a dispute over who would become King of France after the death of King Charles IV, quickly became an amazingly complex and multi faceted war. King Edward III and his son Edward, commonly known as “The Black Prince”, invaded Aquitaine, a huge region in southwest France claimed by England. As time went on, the Kings of England and France involved themselves in many more operations, ranging from a civil war in Brittany, trade disputes in what became Belgium, even a war in Castile. The three major battles of the Hundred Years War, Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, were resounding English victories, the flower of French nobility being cut down at every battle. However, even though the English won every major battle and many of the smaller ones, relatively poor England was never able to subdue southern France, by far the wealthiest portion of France, which eventually led to the English losing the war.The Rise of Towns and CommerceFrom the 6th to 10th centuries, there were few commerce centers and only small merchant classes in Europe. What long distance trade there was usually focussed on luxury goods for the nobility and church elites, and was mediated by traveling merchants such as Syrians or Jews. Crafts were carried on locally in manors. Populations were not large enough to support further economic developments, and Viking and Arab attacks made trade routes hazardous.During the High Middle Ages of 1000 1500, long distance trading became safer and thus more profitable. As a result, craftsmen moved into growing centers of trade, forcing lords and serfs to have to get their goods from these centers of trade. Towns formed leagues and urban federations, or communes, that worked together to fight crime or deal with monarchs and nobles. Guilds also arose, allowing for the collective supervision of affairs the work was done by reliable people, and the guilds provided for vocational education. The spirit of the medieval economy, however, was to prevent competition.