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The Crisis Of Renaissance Europe With Prominent Biographies. The period after about 1300 may be viewed in several quite different ways. Is this the “waning of the Middle Ages”? Should our interpretive categories emphasize, decline, disruption and despair?

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The Crisis


Renaissance Europe


Prominent Biographies

The period after about 1300 may be viewed in several quite different ways.

Is this the “waning of the Middle Ages”? Should our interpretive categories emphasize, decline, disruption and despair?

Is this the “dawn of a new era”? Should we see initiative, originality, and creativity?

In reality there was a social, political, religious, and economic dynamic taking place.


Certain broad trends are clearly visible in this era.

In political and institutional history, the basic trends evident in 1300 persisted throughout the period.

Where centralization or fragmentation were

present, they did not change much.

The biggest event of the age was the 100yrs war actually 116 yrs—but dominated all politics and economic philosophies.


This was, on the whole, a period of disastrous problems for the Church.

The great facts of the period where the “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy and the Great Schism.

There was also anticlericalism and limited efforts at reform.

At the same time, ordinary people showed signs of religious faith.


The most dramatic developments of the period were the demographic and economic problems associated with the Black Death.

25 to 35% of the population died; Great many people between the ages 15 to 45—largest most productive of the labor force.

No cure or preventive medicine—no vaccines or immunity—kept coming back and always with a vengeance.


Let us first look at the overall political shape of Europe.

The Hundred Years War was the all-but-inevitable outcome of the longstanding enmity between France and England occasioned by the Continental interests of the English kings.

In 1340, Edward III of English claimed the throne of France (through his wife) and opened a war that lasted until 1453.


The irony of the 100yrs war--There were only 3 major military campaigns;

bands of freebooters rampaged in France; They were more of a rub for both sides, English and French;

and Jeanne d’Arc rallied the French in 1429-1431 after the Treaty of Troyes nearly gave France to England.


The English won all the great battles and, at times, held much of France but finally lost the war and retained only a little area near Calais.

The war had important consequences for both France and England.

For the French, the war heightened the sense of national consciousness, professionalized the military, generalized several forms of taxation, and restored royal prestige.


For England, the war enhanced the role of Parliament through the principle of “redress before supply,”

diverted royal attention from pressing problems at home, and created deep factional divides in the aristocracy that culminated in a civil war, the War of the Roses (1455-1489).


Much of Europe was drawn into war in one way or another, and trade was seriously disrupted.

In Iberia, we may take 1492 as a vantage point on developments in the late Middle Ages.

In January, a crusading army entered Granada, and the last Muslim stronghold fell to the centuries-long Reconquista. (retake lands for the Church—for Christianity and depose the Muslim and Jewish influence in Spain).


In March, Ferdinand and Isabella issued a decree requiring the Jews of Castile and Aragon to convert or depart.

This ended centuries of rich Jewish- Muslim-Christian interaction in Spain. * (all scholarship introduced into Europe was because of these Muslim-Jewish scholars).

In April, Isabella commissioned Cristoforo Colombo “to discover and acquire islands and mainland in the Ocean Sea,” a development that initiated the globalization of Western civilization.


The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469 laid the foundation for a unification of Iberia, a realm where crown and nobility, abetted by the Church, had been building effective government for three centuries.

It also made for the beginning of the global age of discovery—Portuguese began with Prince Henry the Navigator—Looking for ‘Priester John’ gold, but mostly wanted to spread Christianity to the heathen world outside of Europe.


In Italy, the basic tripartite scheme remained in place.

German control in the north grew progressively weaker, and in 1494, the French invaded, albeit without lasting consequences.

The great development in the north was the rise of Milan, Florence, and Venice as key, and competing, powers. Italy never truly unified—the city was more important individually than as a unified nation.


The papacy's control of the center (Rome) was severely compromised by the papal absence in Avignon.

Pope decided to move the Holy seat of the church to Avignon to appease and manage the rift between Pope and French King.

Created a good alliance and peace in France, but started a schism or rift in the Church itself—was power to be in the Holy City of Rome????


The Golden Bull of 1356 might have created a stable federal regime. Instead, it built a framework for continuing fragmentation.

The most famous Bull of them all—issued by Charles IV Holy Roman Emperor—establishing the constitutional structure of the Holy Roman Empire—seeking power was now more important than unification.

It eliminated the Pope from internal German Affairs; recognized the importance of the Princes—ensured almost absolute independence of each German Duchy.


Along Europe’s eastern frontier, there were three major developments.

Lithuania and Poland coalesced into a powerful, stable kingdom.

Russians, centered on the Grand Duchy of Moscow, threw off the Mongols and began to unite a huge swathe of lands.

In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople. This consolidated their position as the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean.


Ecclesiastical affairs may be more briefly summarized.

In 1305, a Frenchman, Clement V, was elected pope in the hope that he might settle the long-running dispute with the king of France. He settled on papal property in Avignon, and his successors remained there until 1378.


Europe was divided in allegiance.

The absence of the popes from Rome scandalized many—writers spoke of the “Babylonian Captivity”.

Attempts to restore the papacy to Rome resulted in the Great Schism: a period from 1378-1417 when two, and sometimes three, men claimed to be the legitimate pope.


Because of this schism and the Pope’s inability to unify the schism—differences of opinion began to settle in on how best to manage and administrate the Church—In Rome, In France--somewhere

Scholars began to define conciliarism, a doctrine that claimed that ultimate authority in the Church resided in councils, not in the papacy. Some churchmen called for frequent councils while popes tried to subvert them.


Challenges for the official Church did not bespeak a decline of religious sentiment.

Such writers as Chaucer were humorously anticlerical but still conventionally pious.


The Modern Devotion, which arose in the Netherlands, was a powerful movement of spiritual renewal for lay people that produced “bestsellers”, such as Thomas a’ Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.

People could now read how best to live and emulate Christ—now had an available rule book


There were large scale heretical movements, too, that challenged both the authority and the teachings of the Church. The most powerful were the Lollards in England, who took their rise from John Wyclif and the Hussites in Bohemia, the followers of Jan Hus.

Records indicate huge numbers of pilgrims and many examples of lay piety, such as the rosary.

Issues with Church—but People remained Pious.


The most devastating crisis of the age was caused by the plague. Again, 25 to 35% died—

A series of seasons of bad weather, poor harvests, and famine between 1315 and 1322 weakened Europe severely and put an end to the expansion of the preceding centuries.

Death, fear, and Starvation—seemed as if God’s judgment was at hand—


The Black Death was a savage outbreak of bubonic plague—the first in 600 years—brought to Europe from the Black Sea region by Genoese merchants.

The 1348-1349 outbreak was serious, but the plague kept coming back, beginning in 1363 and lasting until the 18th century.


The consequences of the plague were many and complex.

Mortality rates were tremendous—25% to 35% overall—with young and productive urbanites most vulnerable. Depleted the work force—stifled innovation and creativity

There was widespread anxiety, hysteria, and depression. These conditions manifested themselves in appalling attacks on Jews.


Trade and finance were disrupted; prices and wages fluctuated wildly.

Social insurrections occurred in England, France, and Florence.


Recovery did not come until the age of European imperial expansion.

“Renaissance” Europe was a difficult place and time. What, then, was this Renaissance?