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The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (1300-1450). Or “The Calamitous 14 th c.”. Introduction. Why the “calamitous 14 th c.”?. From historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th c.

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The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (1300-1450)

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The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (1300-1450)

Or “The Calamitous 14th c.”



Why the calamitous 14 th c

Why the “calamitous 14th c.”?

From historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th c.

Her thesis: when the gap between the ideal and the real [in society] becomes too wide, the system breaks down.

Essential questions objectives

Essential Questions & Objectives


  • In what ways was the 14th c. “calamitous”?

  • To what extent is Tuchman’s thesis accurate?


  • Recognize the geography of Europe in the later Middle Ages.

  • Identify events that have resulted in the use of the term “calamitous” to describe the 14th c.

  • Describe the social characteristics of the 14th c.



The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

Europe in 1300

Geography of europe in 1300

Geography of Europe in 1300

Europe = many small states!!

Major states at this time:



France Bohemia (= Czech Republic today)

AustriaTeutonic Order (= Baltic states today)

Do not yet exist as we know them today:

Spain = Castile, Aragon, Granada, Navarre; not united

Italy = Sicily, Papal States, + others; not united

Germany = not united; part of Holy Roman Empire

Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg = the Low Countries

Russia = group of principalities; Mongol Yoke (1237-1480)

Nations of SE Europe = part of Byzantine Empire

The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

Europe in 1328

The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

Europe in 1400

Geography of europe in 1400

Geography of Europe in 1400

From 1300-1400 states consolidated their holdings = fewer small states

Major states at this time:

EnglandUnion of Kalmar = Norway, Sweden, Denmark



France Hungary

AustriaWallachia (= Romania today)

Ottoman Empire

Do not yet exist as we know them today:

Spain, Italy, Germay = still not united

Russia = still under Mongol Yoke (1237-1480)



In what ways was the 14th c. “calamitous”?

1 great famine 1315 1322

(1) Great Famine (1315-1322)

From the Apocalypse in a Biblia Pauperum illuminated at Erfurt around the time of the Great Famine.

Death sits astride a lion whose long tail ends in a ball of flame (Hell). Famine points to her hungry mouth.


price inflation

In 1315 the price of wheat rose 800%

3 SFHS cookies cost $1.25.

With 800% inflation  $10!

In 1303 and 1306-1307, the Baltic Sea froze!


  • terrible weather


 susceptibility to disease

later marriage

 population

 homeless

rich farmers buy out poor farmers

volatile land market


migration of young males to towns

 crime

Int’l trade = consequences spread far

Gov’t. responses ineffective

Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1497-98)






2 black death 1348

(2) Black Death (1348)

Boccaccio in The Decameron:

The victims ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors.



  • famine  susceptibility to disease

  • advances in shipbuilding

  • Genoese traders carry black rats from the Crimea

  • urban overcrowding & poor sanitation

The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

The Culprits

The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

The Disease Cycle

Flea drinks rat blood that carries the bacteria.


multiply in

flea’s gut.

bubonic = spread by flea

pneumonic = spread human-human

Human is infected!

Flea bites human and regurgitates blood into human wound.

Flea’s gut cloggedwith bacteria.

The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

The Symptoms


Septicemic Form:almost 100% mortality rate.

The mortality rate

The Mortality Rate


25,000,000 dead!!!

Consequences social

Consequences – Social

  • pogroms against Jews

  • merchants endow hospitals

  • migration

  • clergy care for sick

The burning of Jews in 1349

Consequences economic

 unemployment

craft guilds take new members


 productivity, wages, & standard of living

Wage Increase










Consequences – Economic

Consequences psychological cultural

Consequences – Psychological/Cultural

  • pessimism

  • art & lit – theme of death

  • flagellants

  • new colleges & universities – more localized

  • culturally Europe becomes more divided

Dance Macabre (Hans Holbein)

3 hundred years war ca 1337 1453

(3) Hundred Years’ War (ca 1337-1453)

Battle of Sluys (1340). Illustration from a manuscript of Froissart’s Chronicles.


Causes 1 controversy over succession to french throne

Causes 1: Controversy over succession to French throne

  • Charles IV of France dies heirless

  • French nobility selects Philip VI of Valois

  • Chosen over Edward III of England

    • “no woman or her son could succeed to the [French] monarchy”

    • 1340 – proclaims himself King of France

Causes 2 french land belonging to british monarchy

Causes 2: French land belonging to British monarchy

  • English claim Aquitaine as ancient inheritance & occupy it as vassal to French crown

  • Philip VI confiscates Aquitaine in 1337



Causes 3 struggle for french national identity

Causes 3: Struggle for French national identity

  • France disunited

  • French vassals of Philip VI side with Edward III to assert independence from French crown

Causes 4 wool trade control of flanders

Causes 4: Wool trade & control of Flanders

  • Wool trade b/t England & Flanders

  • Flanders = French fief

  • Flanders wants independence from French rule & asks English for help


Course 1 english winning at 1 st

Course 1: English Winning at 1st

  • Crécy, Calais, Poitiers, Agincourt

  • English longbow

  • vs. French crossbow

  • Cannon

Height of english dominance 1429

Height of English Dominance, 1429

Course 2 french victory

Course 2: French Victory

  • Joan of Arc to the rescue!

  • Orléans = turning point



  • Both

  • economic problems

  • social discontent

  • nationalism

France becomes unified

France becomes unified!

France in 1453

France in 1337

4 church in decline

(4) Church in Decline

Babylonian captivity 1309 1376

Pope in Avignon

Popes live extravagantly

Rome left in poverty

Clement V

Babylonian Captivity (1309-1376)


Great schism 1376 1417

2 popes!! (Rome & Avignon)

Gregory XI brings papacy back to Rome

Urban VI (Rome) – aggressive reform causes anger & second election

Clement VII (Avignon) – “antipope”

Great Schism (1376-1417)

Great schism divides europe politically

Great Schism divides Europe politically

Conciliarism theory

Reform movement

Pope derives power from entire Christian community

Constitutional structure: pope + general council

Conciliarism: Theory

Marsiglio of Padua

John Wyclif & Lollards

Conciliarism practice

Conciliarism: Practice

  • Council of Pisa (1409)  3 popes!!

  • Council of Constance (1414-1418) – 3 goals:

    • end Great Schism

    • end heresy

    • reform church

Jan Hus

5 fur collar crime

(5) Fur collar crime

  • Nobles attack rich and poor to raise money

6 peasant revolts

Jacquerie (1358)


Long-term socioeconomic grievances

100 Years War – taxation

Result: Crushed by nobility

English Peasants’ Revolt (1381)


Long-term socioeconomic grievances (Statute of Laborers freezes wages)

Urging by preachers

100 Years War – French raids

Head tax on adult males

Result: Crushed by Richard II but serfdom disappeared by 1550

(6) Peasant Revolts



Life went on even in the face of calamity.

What did 14th c. society look like?

The crisis of the late middle ages 1300 1450

Marriage & Family


Based on economics (vs. ♥)

Age: men in mid-late 20s, women <20

Children = objects of affection

No divorce (annulments in rare cases)


Legal & regulated

Not respected


Life in the parish


Rural: farming

Urban: craft guilds – hard to enter (more open post-plague)

Women “inferior”  limited opportunities


Central to life

 lay control over parish affairs


Aristocracy: tournaments

Commoners: archery, wrestling, alcohol

Both: “blood sports,” executions

Life in the Parish

Race ethnicity on the frontiers

Race & Ethnicity on the Frontiers

  • Migration of peoples to frontier regions

  • “race”/“ethnicity” = used to mean language, customs, laws (vs. blood)

  • Legal dualism: natives subject to local laws & newcomers subject to laws of former homeland

    • Ireland as exception – Statute of Kilkenny (1366)

  • As time passed, moved away from legal dualism toward homogeneity & emphasis on blood descent

    • Dalimil Chronicle

Vernacular literature

Vernacular Literature

  • Dante, Divine Commedy (Italy)

  • Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (England)

  • Villon, Lais & Grand Testament (France)

  • Christine de Pisan, The City of Ladies, etc. (France)

  •  lay literacy – due to needs of commerce & gov’t.


Christine de Pisan presenting her book to the Queen of France

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