Late Middle Ages15 minutes read


Black Death- a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis that spread through Europe in the fourteenth century that killed millions.

Great Schism- a period of time between 1378 and 1415 when there was more than one pope in Europe.

Lollards- a group of people who followed John Wycliffe and questioned the authority and privileges of the pope and church.

boyars- wealthy land owners and nobility of Russia.
Hussites- a group of people who followed John Huss and questioned the Catholic teachings of

the Eucharist: eating bread and wine in church.

Estates General- the parliament of France during the Middle Ages until the Napoleon revolution.

Jacquerie- the revolt of peasants in France against the state called “Simple Jack”.



During the late Middle Ages, a bacterium called Yersinia Pestis swept throughout Europe. From 1347 to 1353 it left more than two fifths of the population dead. The disease contributed to altering the political, social, and religious aspects of Europe. People only started calling it “The Black Death” afterwards in the 16th century when its name was invented. Why was this disease so virulent and lethal? How did it affect European society? These are the questions I will answer in this essay.

The Black Death first arrived Constantinople in 1346 and spread to Sicily in 1347. It spread on infected fleas on the backs of rats that were on ships traveling from Asia to Europe. It is believed to have originated in Mongolia and spread on the silk road. The Black Death hit Europe at it’s worst. During this time in Europe there were more people than food for them to eat. Between 1315 and 1317 crop production was at its lowest and this produced the greatest famine during the Middle Ages. Densely populated areas sustained the most casualties during the plague. Poor sanitation, famine, malnutrition, and lack of medical knowledge all contributed to the spread of the disease. Sneezing, coughing, and direct contact between people also quickly spread the disease. Physicians used smoke and herbal medications to the sick. This helped by

lowering the number of infected fleas. Some extreme measures to try to rid the disease were purposefully whipping one’s self in belief that it would bring divine help. Instead this had the opposite effect, and the blood from the whipped bodies spread the disease.

Industrial, urban centers where affected the greatest with the most casualties. In cities the disease spread quickest because of closer contact with infected people. Cities were hit much harder than rural country sides. In cities it was not uncommon for over 50% of the population to perish. This was because people in cities interacted with more people and increased their likelihood of contracting the disease. Some small rural areas of France were completely sparred by the disease. In the rural countryside, because people were more spread out, only up to 20% of the population perished. Large rural areas, like the majority of Poland, were completely saved from disease. Parts of Scandinavia were not as greatly affected because of the cooler climate made it tougher for the disease to survive and spread.

The disease took a toll on European society during the Middle Ages. Entire villages disappeared during the Black Death. The large death toll resulted in a smaller labor supply and decreased the value of the land nobility controlled. When the labor supply decreased, the wages of the remaining workers increased. Agricultural prices fell because of low demand but the prices of high quality goods produced by artisans rose. The nobility that owned the land had a decrease in power because they no longer had a large, cheap labor force to work on in their fields. To hold on to power some landowners converted their land into wool producing, sheep pastures instead of the high labor costs of grain production. As peasant wages increased governments increased taxes for the peasants and forbid them to leave their masters’ lands. This ended in the peasant revolt of 1381 in England. The same happened in France and it this instigated the French peasant uprising known as the Jacquerie. Even though the plague hit cities the hardest soon cities began to flourish after the effects of the plague. The plague helped free surfs from their masters’ land and helped turn Europe away from feudalism. After the plague luxury goods such as, jewels, fine clothing items, and manufactured goods became more expensive which encouraged people from the countryside to migrate to city-centers to work and produce these items. The disease killed nearly one third of the church clergy. The decline in the church caused the pope to move from Rome to Avignon in southern France. The Black Death changed the social structure of Europe by helping to end feudalism and cause peasant revolts in England and France. This changed the way the society of Europe functioned.

The Black Death had a significant impact on the history of Europe. The plague indirectly caused the Avignon Papacy. It also gave more equality to peasants working for wealthy landowners. It took power away from the nobility in Europe. It turn it helped strengthen the waning economy of Europe by increasing the price of luxury and manufactured goods. People soon moved to cities to work and learn from skilled artisans. Without the Black Death Europe would not have progressed quickly. The Black Death ignited change and without it, Europe would still be two hundred years behind the rest of the world. I think the Black Death was a significant part in shaping history. It made Europe come out of an economic depression and instilled progress. If the Black Death had never been introduced in Europe there would not have been a Renaissance or Scientific Revolution. The greatest change comes through adversity.


The Hundred Years War was a series of conflicts between the English and the French that lasted from 1337 to 1453. The English and French conflict instilled a sense national sentiment in both nations and led to the modern nation state. The war led Europe away from chivalry and feudalism. The conflict became known as the Hundred Years War because it began in 1337 and ended in 1453. What were the underlying and precipitating causes of the Hundred Years War? What advantages and disadvantages did the English and French have during the war? How did the French eventually drive out the English from their mainland? These are the topics I will highlight in this essay.

The war may have been started when King Edward III, the grandson of Philip the Fair of France, claimed power the power to rule England and France. When all of Philip the Fair’s male heirs died leaving no one to the throne, King Edward of England decided to try to claim power of France. The French were not about to let the fifteen year old King claim rule over France. Instead the French instilled the first cousin of Charles IV(the son of Philip the Fair), Philip of Valois to become the King of France. The English and French also argued for Flanders; an area on the French mainland. Although Flanders is on the French mainland and is part of France, Flanders had close economic ties to England. Flanders was the provider of English wool, an important material for England’s textile industry. These two arguments: who ruled France and who controlled Flanders instigated the Hundred Years War; a War that was a struggle for land and national pride.

During the war both sides had their advantages and disadvantages. The English were significantly outnumbered and were fighting in a foreign land. The French had a much greater population compared to the English during the war. Although it seems as if the French could have easily and quickly defeated the English, the French lacked the technology, strong monarch and strong military the English had. The French were not unified due to social conflict. The French were still trying to transition from feudalism to more of a centralized government with a powerful monarch. The French also lacked a Parliament which the English already had established. The Magna Carta gave a little more power to the people and limited the King’s Power.
France also had a parliament; Estates General which consisted of three separate groups: clergy, nobility, and commoners. Estates General did not have as much power as the English Parliament did. The French also lacked the English military superiority. The English infantry was much more dedicated than the French infantry. The English also had the powerful long bow which was much more powerful than the French crossbow. The longbow could easily pierce through the armor of the French Knights and proved to be extremely effective in battle.

At the peak of the war when the English controlled a majority of France things looked bleak for the French. Then, Joan of Arc a peasant from eastern France recaptured Orléans a key city. This was the beginning of the end of the Hundred Years War. Joan of Arc gave French soldiers a sense of national pride. The English became terrifide of Joan of Arc because she won several battles against the French. In 1430, Joan of Arc was captured and then later burned at the stake as a heretic by the English. She became a symbol of national pride and identity. Joan of Arc was a key factor in driving out the English from France. Without Joan of Arc there might have not been a France today.

The Hundred Years War left France decimated. The English had killed nearly half of the country’s population. Even though the English lost the war, England was left enriched by the

plundering of France for many years. The Hundred Years War marked the end of feudalism and chivalry because no longer were people willing to die for their local lords. When the war had ended it gave both the people of France and England a sense of nationalism. No longer were the people France divided. It brought the people living in France together because they now shared history with one another. The same was for England. No longer did people feel as divided because now they had a common history. The end result of the Hundred Years War was national pride and the modern nation state.


•Pope Innocent III becomes pope of Catholic Church (1198-1216)
•Pope Innocent III strengthens the Church into a more secular power
•Catholic Church becomes a strong political power
•Pope Innocent III elaborates doctrine of papal plentitude of power
•Pope Innocent III weakens the spiritual aspect of the Catholic Church by making it more secular •Pope Urban IV (1261-1264) establishes Rota Romana: Catholic Church’s court system

•By end of 13th century the Papacy became a powerful, political position that usually dealt with secular activities
•Church clergy protests the undercutting of their of their powers by the pope
•Pope Boniface comes to rule

There were significant changes in the Catholic Church from 1200 to 1450. The Catholic Church had become more secular by getting involved with secular political actions. No longer was the Catholic Church a purely spiritual institution. The Catholic Church tried to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims through the Crusades. What was the Catholic Church’s response to the rising power of monarchs? How great an influence did the church have on secular events? The Catholic Church had to respond to the growing power of monarchs to maintain power in Europe.

The Catholic Church had significant power over secular political events that were going on during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The pope had the power to excommunicate any ruler who did not act under the pope’s consent. Up until the Renaissance and Middle ages the Catholic Church had somewhat of an unlimited power. During the Middle Ages no King was installed without the pope’s consent (most of the time). The Catholic Church was extremely wealthy due to its ability to tax the people to fund its operations. The Hundred Years War between the English and the French discredited the Catholic church because France and England were both part of the Holy Roman Empire. No one thought that there could be a war between two nations of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Catholic Church during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was extremely corrupt. The Church sold indulgences and pardons for people’s sins. The corruption in the church resulted in the Wycliffe, and Hussite anti-ecclesiastic movements. The corruption in the church also sparked the protestant reformation with Martin Luther.

As Kings gained more land from the nobles and lords, their power also increased. This built up tension with the Catholic Church. Kings began to question the power of the Catholic church. In 1302 Pope Boniface III issued the Unam Sanctam to try to regain control of state controlled churches in France. In this document Pope Boniface III declares that royal power was subject to spiritual power of the Roman Catholic Church. After the issuing of Unam Sanctam in

November of 1302, the French denounced Boniface as a heretic and a common criminal. In 1303 the French capture Boniface and beat him up, almost killing him. Soon afterwards Boniface dies from sickness in 1303.

After Boniface, no pope dared to threaten powerful leaders in the state. The balance that was once tilted in the favor of the church was now tilted more towards the state. Religion was no longer solely in the hands of the Catholic Church. Religion was now swayed toward the powerful state monarchies.


The Avignon Papacy was a period of time between 1309-1377 when the papacy was in Avignon, France. This period of time has sometimes been called the “Babylonian Captivity”. In March of 1309, Pope Clement V moved the entire Catholic Church to Avignon. The Avignon Papacy was a chaotic time for the Church in which there was more than one pope at a time in Europe. During the time of the Avignon Papacy, England and France were in a state of political unrest. How did the Papacy get moved to Avignon in the first place? How was it reunited in Rome? In this essay we will explore these topics and discuss them.

The Avignon Papacy began when Pope Clement V moved the Catholic Church to Avignon, France in 1309, to escape the political pressure from King Philip of France, and to leave Rome which was in political turmoil. During the Avignon Papacy the Catholic Church was under great influence of France. Many of the cardinals in the Church were French, and this led to the election of many French Popes. Also during this time England and France were at war with each other in the Hundred Years War. When the Papacy was moved to France in March of 1309 this increased tensions between England and France before the war. Since the Catholic Church was no longer in Italy, where it received most of its funds the Catholic Church had to find other ways of funding its operations. One of the ways the Catholic Church did this is when Pope Clement VI began the practice of buying and selling of pardons and indulgences. This is when a person can buy repentance for their sins or the sins of a deceased family member. This practice sparked the religious movements of John Wycliffe and John Huss.

The conciliar movement was a religious movement which followers believed that the pope of the Catholic Church was not above the people. The conciliar movement discredited the pope because no longer did the state and some people believe that the papacy was a holy position. This was a setback for the papacy because the pope lost political and spiritual power of Europe. This was also the beginning of the state controlled church. No longer did the powerful state monarchies need to consent with the Catholic Church. During the Avignon Papacy, France elected antipopes who were popes elected to be the competition of the legitimately elected pope. Europe during the Avignon papacy saw up to three popes at a time. This was known a the Great Schism. It was a time in which Europe saw more than one pope at a time and the Catholic Church was divided. The Avignon Papacy was a part of the Great Schism because there were popes in Rome at the same time there were popes in Avignon, France.

After 67 years of the Avignon Papacy, Pope Gregory XI moved the papacy and clergy back to Rome. This was the end of the Avignon Papacy. During the Avignon Papacy the Church became more divided because there was more than one pope in Europe. When the Catholic Church returned to Rome it became reunited. The Avignon Papacy showed Europe that the Catholic Church was no solely a spiritual institution.

The power struggle for the papacy was between the French supporting it in Avignon and the English and italians supporting it in Rome. After the Avignon Papacy the Catholic Church loses much of its power to the nation states of Europe.


During the fourteenth and fifteenth century often times the Kings of nation states would appoint the bishops and cardinals of the Catholic Church. This made it easier for Kings to elect which pope they wanted. During this period, kings would attack the Catholic Church by electing more than one pope at a time. This was called the Great Schism when the Church was divided because more than one pope at a time thought they were the legitimate pope of the Holy Catholic Church. The France succeeded in controlling when the Church moved to Avignon. The state knew if they controlled the church they could get consent from the church for all of their actions. The corruption of the Church discredited the actions of the pope. In the long run, the secular states were too powerful for the medieval church.


Kagan, Donald, Steven E. Ozment, and Frank M. Turner. The Western Heritage: Since 1300. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.



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