Factors Affecting Life In The
By all accounts, humanity was faring pretty well in the period from the eleventh century to the thirteenth. The population was steadily increasing due to better farming methods that better feed the people in Europe at this time. Significant social and political changes proved to be making life more stable, and there were many advances being made in the intellectual community. This stability, however, was upset by some of the most sever calamities ever to affect modern society.
Things began going downhill during the early thirteen hundreds, when Europe encountered what was latter termed to be a, “little ice-age.” This very subtle shift in economic patterns was enough to cause rampant malnutrition and even starvation in some heavy hit areas. Things were so bad that historians now believe that the famine may be responsible for a nearly ten percent drop in population in during the first half of that century. Although this is a staggering figure in itself, it is widely believed that it also had a hand in further reducing the population via the most terrible epidemic know to man; the Black Death
, or the bubonic plague.
The Black Death was the most lethal outbreak in recorded history. While different sources have conflicting figures, it is widely believed that the Plague wiped out up to fifty percent of the entire population. The plague itself was probably brought to Europe from Asia through trade ships or caravans, where it was spread through flees that lived on rats that co-existed in the cities and other urban areas
. Lacking present day knowledge about bacteria and biology in general, the seemingly arbitrary spread of the Black Death completely baffled the early European, who attributed it to all sorts of things, such as Jews or the wrath of a vengeful
God. The unfathomable amount of death had very negative effects on almost every human institution, such as the religious establishment and normal social behavior. It must have a terrifying era to live in, and is a situation that hasn’t been duplicated in nearly 700.
Probably owing partially to the examples already given, war and general social unrest were another evil that beset an already bewildered people. The most brutal and protracted single example would have to be the Hundred Years War between England and France. It was touched of 1337 when Philip VI, the king of France, forcefully seized the province of Gascony from the English. There wasn’t really a hundred years of ceaseless fighting, various seize-fires and truces were declared but small-scale skirmishes and all out fighting still pervaded.
Social unrest was fairly common as well in this period of history. Most historians agree that this stems from the collapse of the traditional feudal system and the rise of the “merchant class”, or middle class. Middle-class people of this time usually lived in cities and were often independently wealthy due to trade of some sort. This breakdown often turned to violence as the common people fought against oppression and the nobles fought to keep their serfs obligated to them and to maintain almost exclusive control over politics. There even began to be disorder between nobles, who were forming alliances and factions in an effort to stay politically powerful in this new era.
It is not very difficult to surmise that life in this period was radically different than it is now or was before. These disasters affected everything and everyone, usually quit negatively. Due to the loss of nearly half the people on the continent, the European economy nose-dived into recession. People were living as if every day was there last, and had little regard for prudent spending or saving. The price of labor went through the ceiling as people were cut down by sickness and starvation, which had the effect of making the survivors per capita much more well off than they had been before.
Socially, much of Europe was in moral anarchy throughout much of the fourteenth century. Seeing such carnage around them, many people began to truly live for the moment and give in to their most basic desires. Looting, rioting, and a general breakdown of law and order were the norm for a time. Even those who survived the epidemic were changed for the worse, for it is now believed that violent crimes such as murder were actually more common in post-plague Europe than before. Additionally, people were very scared and searched for a scapegoat to blame, which they found in the Jews. It was erroneously thought that Jews were spreading the Plague by poisoning wells, and hence were massacred all over Europe.
Even the Church was adversely affected by the catastrophes of the day. It initially lost much face when the papacy was relocated to Avignon in 1305. Though not part of France, Avignon was still just across the border from it and the move seemed to be thought of by most as a toadying of the French pope, Clement V, to the French king.
Still another blunder by the Church was the Great Schism, in which two popes claimed to be head of the church. This situation caused a split in the Catholic faith that very clearly ran along political lines, as the French and her allies supported the pope at Avignon and the English supported the pope in Rome. This duality caused great confusion for the average person who relied upon the church to bring hope to a dismal world, and thus the church lost much of the prestige it formerly possessed. Bizarre factions of Christianity began to pop up, probably in response to the Black Death and also to the Great Schism. One of the strangest groups, the Flagellants, would walk from town to town and beat themselves with whips and such in the hopes that God would see how repentant they were and spare them His wrath. The mere formation of such radical groups was a strong indication that the Church did not possess the power it once held.
All in all, the fourteenth century was a very tumultuous period of history. At no other time has such widespread and indiscriminant death occurred as it did during the Black Death, and the political turmoil thus caused changed Europe for all time. It is amazing to think that civilization at all was able to continue after such disasters. It did survive, however, and our society today is shaped in part by the ideas and concepts that came forth during this horrible part of history.