European History: Late Middle Ages

Crisis and reorientation (1200–1500): While the 13th century was still characterized by economic prosperity, since the beginning of the 14th century there have been increasing signs that the limits of growth had been reached (increasing crop failures due to the aging of the soil and the deterioration of the climate). The great plague that broke through Europe in 1347–51 and in later waves, with its catastrophic human losses, probably only accelerated one development that was already mapped out: the transition from the growth phase to a long-lasting agricultural depression with a steady decline in population. The effects of the resulting »crisis« in late medieval society affected the individual population groups in very different ways, whereby a strong regional distinction must also be made. While v. a. the landlords had to accept in some cases considerable income losses due to the dramatic rise in wages and a simultaneous fall in the price of agricultural products, the smallholders, who were able to use their now particularly sought-after labor, are likely to have benefited from the new situation. While on the one hand entire villages and landscapes were deserted in the countryside (Desolation), the increased purchasing power of survivors elsewhere – v. a. in the cities – to growing consumption and economic prosperity. The compulsion to reorientate gave rise to new techniques, trades and branches of production (e.g. in the field of sheet metal, wire and paper production), while others fell into disrepair; Decline and vital economic power, resignation and optimism were close together.

Eastern Europe has faced the most severe threats since the 13th century. The Mongol-Tatar cavalry army, which penetrated as far as Silesia and Hungary in 1241, brought the whole of Russia under the rule of the Golden Horde, under whose influence a new form of rule of the Moscow Grand Dukes developed; these led to the unification of Russia in the 15th century. The Latin Empire, established by the act of violence of 1204, did not lead to the integration of Southeast Europe into the West, but it did lead to a fatal weakening of the Byzantine Empire. Even if it was Michael VIII Palaeologus In 1261 the Greek Orthodox Empire was restored, so his successors could neither prevent the independence of the peoples of Southeast Europe nor the advance of the Ottomans, who set foot on European soil near Gallipoli in 1354. After the defeat of the Serbs on the Amselfeld in 1389, Western aid also failed in 1396 at Nikopolis (today Nikopol, Bulgaria). If the Ottoman defeat by Timur in 1402 brought a delay, the rest of Southeastern Europe followed after the Battle of Varna in 1444. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the thousand-year history of the Byzantine Empire ended, but only the first phase of Ottoman expansion in Europe.

In Western Europe as defined by, the two leading and connecting authorities, Pope and Emperor, had already passed their peak at the beginning of the 13th century. The papacy, under Innocent III. Also a political leader, was able to maintain his position in the dispute with Emperor Friedrich II, but came under French influence after 1250. The fierce opposition from Pope Boniface VIII. the complete dependence followed in the Avignon exile (1305–76). The attempt to end this led to the great occidental schism (1378–1417), a burden so unbearable for the occident that the nations together at the Council of Constance restored the unity of the Catholic Church. The Roman-German king (Siegmund, since 1433 emperor), although since the end of the Staufer (1254/68) the empire had lost its leadership role. While the kings of Western Europe – like most of the rulers in Germany – expanded their countries into early modern territorial states, the Holy Roman Empire itself remained an association of persons with only partially pronounced features of modern statehood until its end in 1806. Even the last expansion of Latin Christianity by the Teutonic Order in the Baltic States hardly benefited the empire. Lithuania’s Christianization only took place through the political connection with Poland. With the Union of Krewo in 1385, the Jagiellonians created a new great power as far as the Black Sea. The Scandinavian great power formation of the Kalmar Union of 1397 proved to be less stable.

France and England measured their strength almost constantly, around 1200 in connection with the struggle between Emperor and Pope and the internal German conflict between Staufers and Welfen (Bouvines), then in the Hundred Years War. These fierce battles, which in England led to the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses (1455–85) and in France to the struggle with the Duchy of Burgundy, which was striving for royal power, resulted in extensive political, social and economic structural changes; so in the disintegration of feudalism, with which the beginning formation of the modern sovereign monarchical state and the amalgamation of the political classes went hand in hand. With the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery in the 15th century, the spread of Europe overseas was initiated (also the result of scientific progress).

Scholasticism reached its peak in France, nominalism in England, and mysticism in Germany; v. a. universities developed in France and Italy. Early humanism grew in Italy from the 14th century. In the spiritual and ecclesiastical life of the time, the bourgeoisie increasingly played a role. Old and numerous newly founded cities became cultural centers, were v. a. but centers of the economy, which in trade and handicrafts became more divided and, through the new money economy in the 15th century, also took on features of early capitalism.

European History