When a new historical epoch comes to birth, the travail is likely to be painful and prolonged. Our own century appears to be such a time; our discomforts arise partly from our position in an age that we know is dying while we are in the dark about what will emerge. This should give us some understanding and fellow feeling for the people of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Europe, who also lived in an age of crisis and upheaval, as the old yielded to the new. The distresses of the time resulted largely from the desperate resistance of entrenched ideas and institutions to the thrust of the different and unfamiliar. The changes that run through these years were hastened by a purely accidental occurrence, the Black Death that struck in the middle of the fourteenth century. Plagues or epidemics were not uncommon; what distinguished the Black Death was its severity. The disease was apparently the bubonic plague, carried by rats. It may have come from outside Europe, on ships landing in European harbors. It started in 1348 and swept through western Europe. Some areas were little affected by it, but where it did strike it carried off tremendous numbers of people. Statistics are not available for this period, but there were places where as much as a third of the population died. The incidence of the disease varied with social position; the poor city workers, crowded together in unsanitary conditions from which they could not hope to escape, suffered the greatest number of casualties. The well-to-do, living in much more healthful surroundings and able to get out of the crowded cities like the company of young men and women who told each other stories in Boccaccio's Decameron had a much better prospect of survival.

 After the initial impact of the plague, which had exhausted itself by 1350, the disease remained endemic, recurring in some places until the seventeenth century. Until its first appearance, Europe had been experiencing a consistent growth in population. This growth was now checked, and it was not until the sixteenth century that population reached its former levels and continued. The plague was not the only factor that depressed the growth of European population. From about 1350, western Europe generally experienced depressed business conditions, and this economic decline also lasted until the sixteenth century. The economic slump was partly result, partly cause, of the other disturbed conditions of the time.

 The church passed through a period of severe strain. One of its problems was the prevalence of abuses, of which people were becoming increasingly conscious. Those reached all the way to the top; hence the cry for a reformation "in head and in members." Many of these abuses were intimately connected with the wealth of the church. The fiscal system of the church was highly developed, more so than those of contemporary secular governments. Christendom was divided into collectorates, each with a papal collector backed by formidable authority from the pope. Numerous payments had to be made to Rome, mostly by the clergy, who then got it back in one way or another from the laity. The latter had their own payments to make to the church: tithes, fees to the church courts, and in some countries a direct tax called Peter's Pence. Priests were often criticized as greedy and extortionate. As economic conditions worsened and the misery of the poor increased, social protest reinforced complaints against the clergy. It was unbearable that the sheep should be shorn for the benefit of their unworthy shepherds. The wealth and luxurious living of bishops and other prelates were a constant offense, and in the violent uprisings of the period this was a familiar grievance.

 Rich clergy were likely to be worldly another source of discontent. Many earnest people felt their spiritual needs were not being satisfied by the vast impersonal mechanism of the church and by a priesthood that was to a large extent either indifferent or incompetent. Many bishops and priests were absentees, enjoying the fruits of their offices while leaving the actual work to underpaid and uneducated substitutes. Some of the parish clergy were ignorant of even the rudiments of their faith, and some were illiterate. Many did not understand the Latin which they had to use in the services.

 Absenteeism from parishes went hand in hand with pluralism; many members of the clergy held several positions at the same time. The church suffered from the fact that powerful laymen controlled a great many appointments, and awarded them on the basis of nonreligious criteria. Kings normally had a great deal of influence in filling church offices in their domains, and they tended to make their selection on the basis of family connections, personal friendship, or political considerations. A rich bishopric was considered an appropriate reward for administrative or diplomatic service.

 One of the worst abuses was simony, the buying and selling of church offices. (For the origin of this word, see the Biblical story of Simon Magus, who tried to buy the gift of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8.) As the financial needs of the papacy grew, simony came to be increasingly resorted to as a revenue-raising device. In fact, every office to which the popes had the right of appointment had its own established price; with the passage of time the popes reserved more and more appointments to themselves, thus increasing their sources of income. They even sold expectatives, the right to hold an office at some future date when the incumbent no longer occupied it. An expectative might be purchased which entitled the buyer to hold an office after it had been vacated by the person who held the first expectative, and so on. Since these offices were purchased for money, they were expected to produce a financial return for their holders. Because of growing frustration and dissatisfaction with formal religion, movements sprang up in the late Middle Ages to provide a richer and more satisfying spiritual life. These movements, which provide part of the background of the Protestant Reformation, are discussed in connection with that movement.

 While these conditions were weakening the church from within, there were also external forces which threatened it. Among these the most dangerous were powerful monarchs in developing nations who were determined not to submit to external authority and were supported by the patriotic feeling of their people. The problems that popes, with their claims to supranational authority, would be meeting from this source are well illustrated by the famous quarrel between the French king Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, and Pope Boniface VIII, around the beginning of the fourteenth century.

 The question of the powers of the church and of earthly authority and their relation to one another had been fought out for hundreds of years in the realm of theoretical writings and in concrete cases. Popes had claimed superiority over secular rulers, sometimes using the figure of the two great lights mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis. The "greater light" was the church, and the "lesser light" the civil power or state. The conflict of Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII was a practical one with theoretical implications.

 The practical issue which precipitated the break was the desire of the king to tax the French clergy. The church traditionally claimed that it could not be taxed without its own consent, though it sometimes made "free gifts" to the crown. In the course of the struggle, Boniface issued in 1302 the bull Unam sanctam, which contained the most extreme assertion of papal claims to superiority that had ever been issued. In this bull the pope asserted in strong terms the primacy of the spiritual authority over the temporal, and stated that every human soul depends for its salvation on the pope.

 This remarkable declaration of papal authority did not correspond with the actual facts. So low had sunk the reverence offered to the sacred person of the pontiff that in the following year, 1303, Boniface was seized and briefly held prisoner in the little town of Anagni by a combination of his French and Italian enemies. Though soon released, he died a short time afterwards.

 At this point, when the papacy needed all the strength it could muster to face the power of the emerging European states, it weakened itself through a succession of catastrophes which lasted for over a century. First of all, from 1309 to 1378, the popes did not live in Rome. In 1305 a French pope was elected, and in 1309 he moved to the city of Avignon which, though not technically part of France, was completely surrounded by French territory. When he died, a French pope was chosen to succeed him, and French popes continued to be elected and to live at Avignon for several decades. The College of Cardinals came to be dominated by Frenchmen, and pope and cardinals incurred the charge of being unduly influenced by the kings of France. Dante pictures the papacy as the harlot of the French king, and Petrarch inveighed against Avignon, where he lived in his youth.

 Certainly Avignon was a more comfortable place to live in the fourteenth century than Rome, torn by the strife of warring factions. Nevertheless, the papal desertion of Rome roused bitter protest. It was particularly unfortunate for the popes to identify themselves with one of the states of Europe at a time of rising national feeling. This identification was bound to be deeply offensive, especially in those countries which were unfriendly to France. England was at war with France much of the time; the Hundred Years' War started in 1337. Englishmen were outraged that the popes were so closely associated with their country's enemy. In Germany, the popes gave offense by their intervention in the affairs of the Holy Roman Empire. Such intervention was nothing new, but now it helped to bring about a virtual declaration of German independence. In 1356, the Golden Bull, which made into law the system of choosing the emperor by a college of seven electors, made no reference to papal approval in the electoral process. By thus ignoring the popes, who had always claimed that no man was emperor without their approval, the German princes served notice that henceforth they intended to conduct their political affairs without papal sanction.

 The period during which the papacy was resident in Avignon is known as the "Babylonian Captivity." One of its results was a loosening of the hold of the popes on their Italian domain, the Papal States. Local tyrants were able to assume power in many of the cities, and the French officials sent by the absentee pope roused strong resentment. In the 1370s, revolt broke out in the Papal States, abetted by Florence, which was at war with the pope from 1375 to 1378 (See Chapter 3, The Italian City-States of the Renaissance). It was this threat to the pope's temporal power rather than any purely religious motives that impelled the return of Gregory XI to Rome in 1377.

 It is possible that Gregory XI was planning to abandon the inconveniences of Rome and return to Avignon when death overtook him in 1378. Since he died in Rome, the rules of the church required that his successor be elected there. During the conclave the palace where it was taking place was surrounded by a mob clamoring for a Roman pope. The cardinals did not altogether give in to this demand, nor did they choose one of their own number, but they did at least pick the first Italian pope in over seventy years. He was the archbishop of Bari, who assumed the papal name of Urban VI.

 Urban proved unsatisfactory to the cardinals; he was arbitrary, lacking in tact, and believed in reform, which would have deprived the cardinals of some of their income. Therefore, they met, alleged that Urban had been elected under duress because of pressure from the mob, declared him deposed, and chose another pope, who called himself Clement VII. Urban refused to yield, and Clement eventually returned to Avignon.

 The period from 1378, the year of Clement's election, to 1417, when the papacy was finally reunited, is known as the Great Schism. It was one of the most serious scandals in church history, with two (later three) claimants to the papacy. It was also a crisis of conscience for Western Christians, faced with the dilemma of having to decide who was truly the successor of Peter. The moral and spiritual authority and prestige of the Holy See, already weakened, was further undermined. Each of the European states had to make a choice as to which pope it would recognize. For a while, the French monarchy took the unheard-of step of refusing its allegiance to any pope.

 Financial abuses in the church were intensified as a result of the Great Schism. Each of the rival popes possessed a much diminished allegiance, and consequently a narrower revenue base. To maintain his income at something like the normal level, he had consequently to make greater demands. The general awareness of abuses, and the call for basic reforms, became greater than ever. At the same time, the existing structure of church government was subjected to close scrutiny, and radical changes were suggested, with the leading role being taken by scholars at the University of Paris. It was now proposed, in essence, that for the pope's headship of the church there should be substituted the authority of a general or ecumenical council. General councils had met from time to time since the Council of Nicaea in 325, and their pronouncements were regarded as authoritative for the church. However, they had met sporadically, not at fixed intervals. By the time of the Great Schism, they could be convened only by the pope.

 Now it was proposed to make the council a permanent body, meeting regularly and serving as the highest governing body in the church. There were various ideas as to how the council should be constituted. Some of the more radical theorists proposed that laymen should be admitted to membership, and the suggestion was even made to allow women to take part. What it amounted to, in political terminology, was an attempt to replace the papal government of the church with a more representative polity. The papacy would not need to be abolished; the pope could remain as the chief administrative officer of the church, carrying out policies determined by the council. Underlying these ideas was a conception of the church as consisting of the whole body of Christians, instead of the common idea that the church meant the clergy.

 Other reform ideas were increasingly voiced at the same time. In protest against the great wealth of the church as a whole and of some of the clergy, a return to apostolic poverty was called for. One manifestation of this protest was the rise of a group in the Franciscan order called the Spiritual Franciscans, who agreed to a return to the practice of poverty as enunciated by the founder of their order. The Spiritual Franciscans were officially condemned as heretics by decretals of Pope John XXII in 1322-23. One of this group's prominent members was the Englishman William of Ockham, an important philosopher and a proponent of the conciliar theory of church government.

 Ockham himself was condemned specifically as a heretic, as was his contemporary, the Italian Marsilio of Padua (1275/80-1342), author of the famous book Defensor pacis (The Defender of Peace). Marsilio argued for a more representative government both in church and state, and claimed that the church, as a spiritual body, had no right to any coercive power. Its job was to show men how to attain salvation, not to administer earthly punishments. The property of the church is held as the gift of the state and is, therefore, revocable. Similarly with offices in the church: even the pope, if unworthy, can be deposed by the secular arm. The ultimate source of authority is the people. Marsilio's book, startlingly modern in some of its ideas and proposals, is one of the most remarkable productions of the Middle Ages.

 The Great Schism, which helped provide the occasion for all these radical ideas, could have ended at the death of any of the competing pontiffs; all that was needed was for his cardinals to acknowledge his rival. However, what actually occurred was that on the decease of each of the rival popes, the cardinals chose a successor, no doubt partly to protect their own vested interests.

 Although the various popes often pledged themselves to work for the reunification of the church, nothing came of this pledge. Finally, a group of cardinals from both obediences determined to put an end to a situation generally recognized to be intolerable. They called a general council to meet at Pisa in 1409 and summoned the rival popes to appear and have the validity of their claims adjudged. There was a legal difficulty about the Council of Pisa from the outset, because it was not summoned by the pope. The two popes ignored the summons, and the council solemnly pronounced them contumacious and issued formal sentences of deposition against them. It then proceeded to elect a new pope, who took the name of Alexander V.

 The problem of the divided papacy remained unsolved. If anything, it grew worse, because now there were three claimants to the papal throne. The Council of Constance (1414-17) was able to end the schism because rulers and peoples everywhere were willing to abandon their obedience to whichever pope they supported in order to restore unity, and because of the diligent efforts of the Holy Roman emperor Sigismund (1410-37) to this end. With the emperor's backing, the council deposed one pope and succeeded in getting one to abdicate his claims. The third, who never gave up, was abandoned by all the states that had supported him, and spent the rest of his life still claiming to be pope though virtually nobody paid any attention.

 In 1417 the council chose as pope a member of the great Roman family of Colonna, who took the name of Martin V. Before choosing him, the fathers at Constance were faced with a crucial decision: Should they inaugurate the much needed reforms in the church before electing a pope, or should they elect a pope first and trust him to carry out the reforms "in head and members"? In the end, it was the latter road that they decided to follow, and with fateful results. As pope, Martin evinced little enthusiasm for reform, and lost what was perhaps the last best chance to reform the church from within before the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation.

 The Council of Constance signifies the high-water mark in the conciliar movement. Its decree Frequens was called by J. N. Figgis, a famous student of the history of political theory, "The most important constitutional document of the fifteenth century." It provided for regular meetings of the general council of the church, the next session to be held in five years, the following one in seven, and others at ten-year intervals thereafter. The decree Sacrosanctaofficially declared the general council of the church to be superior to the pope.

 There was another area in which the council was active: that of heresy. It condemned the teachings of John Wycliffe and burned at the stake John Hus and his follower Jerome of Prague. More will be said about these matters shortly. In accordance with the decree Frequens, other councils met during the next few years at the specified intervals, the most important of them being the Council of Basel, which opened in 1431. From the first it was involved in a power struggle with Pope Eugenius IV, who, like other popes, was not prepared to abdicate supreme headship of the church. Although the council lasted for many years in one form or another it went on until 1449 and even chose an antipope in its struggle against Eugenius, in the long run it was the papacy that won out. By the middle of the fifteenth century the conciliar movement, as a means of changing the governmental system of the church, was dead. Thus the monarchical principal was retained, though the doctrine of conciliar supremacy was a most convenient weapon in the hands of such monarchs as the kings of France in their recurrent battles with the papacy. If we seek the causes of the failure of the councils, one factor that stands out is the rising spirit of nationalism in Europe. Success of the conciliar movement depended on the ability of representatives from many different nations to work together in regulating the affairs of the international church. This was no longer possible, because national feeling had begun to throw up walls of distrust and rivalry between the different countries. Two of the most important, France and England, were at war throughout the entire conciliar period, for the Hundred Years' War did not end until 1453.

 Each of the states preferred to seek separately the best bargain it could make with the church, and for this purpose, had to determine whether it could get a better one from the pope or the council. Normally it was the pope who was chosen, and this, in time, strengthened papal authority and weakened that of the council. One such arrangement was the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, an agreement between the pope and the French king reached in 1438 during the period of the Council of Basel. In return for recognition of the supremacy of the pope over the council, the French church was released from the payment of certain dues to the pope, and gained a great deal of authority in the selection of its own officers, particularly the bishops.

 The pope also gained strength when he persuaded representatives of the Greek church to meet with him instead of with the Council of Basel. The advance of the Ottoman Turks into eastern Europe, where they conquered the Balkan peninsula and threatened Constantinople itself, frightened the Byzantine emperor into seeking defensive help from the West. No such help would be forthcoming unless a religious agreement could be reached between the Eastern and Western churches, severed for centuries. Representatives of the Eastern Empire and church were ready to travel to the West to seek such an agreement, and received rival invitations to meet with pope and council. The pope's invitation was accepted, and in 1438 a council opened at Ferrara to work out a settlement between the two churches. An outbreak of plague in Ferrara caused the meetings to be moved to Florence in 1439. Because of their desperate military situation, it was the Greeks who had to give in and agree to a reunion on what amounted to western terms. This agreement was regarded as a shameful submission to error when it became known in the empire, and was, therefore, repudiated. Constantinople was left to defend itself, and fell to the Turks in 1453. The problem of heresy, which concerned both the Councils of Constance and of Basel, had become by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries more serious than ever before. One reason for this is, again, the rising tide of national sentiment.

 When heretics represented national resentment against the pope as a foreign power, the papacy was likely to be nearly helpless to do anything to check them. This was especially true of the two greatest heretics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, John Wycliffe in England and John Hus in Bohemia. Wycliffe (c.1330-84) was associated with Oxford University as student, teacher, and preacher. In England, as elsewhere in the fourteenth century, national resentment against Rome was strong. This is clearly shown by the Statutes of Provisors and of Praemunire, enacted several times in the fourteenth century. The Statute of Provisors (1351) had the effect of denying the pope the right to make appointments within the English church. The Statute of Praemunire (1353) forbade the reception of papal documents in England without express royal permission, and cut off appeals from English ecclesiastical courts to the pope. Neither act was consistently enforced, but both were used by kings of England as bargaining devices in their encounters with the papacy. Nevertheless, they serve as an accurate expression of antipapal sentiment in fourteenth-century England.

 These laws followed a well-established tradition; struggles between kings and popes and antipapal measures by king and Parliament had a long history in England. In 1365, all antipapal legislation was reenacted by Parliament. It must be remembered that at this time the English were involved in a war with the French and the popes were Frenchmen living in Avignon. In retaliation against this antipapal legislation, the pope demanded that England pay him the arrears in tribute that it owed him. Since the reign of John (1199 1216), the realm of England had recognized the pope as feudal overlord and was obligated to pay him a yearly tribute of one thousand marks (a mark was two-thirds of a pound). The government had long ceased to make these payments, debts which the pope now tried to collect.

 In this situation the government called on John Wycliffe to defend its refusal to pay the money. He was the appointed spokesman for the national resistance to the temporal power of Rome. His rejection of the papal claims to tribute from a secular state was in accordance with his idea of stewardship, which denied the concept of private property. The earth is the Lord's; those to whom is allotted the use of any part of it are stewards, who must justify their possession by the good use they make of it. On this basis the church can be deprived of any of its temporal possessions of which it is making improper use.

 Wycliffe did not believe that the church should own any property or have any temporal power. Like Marsilio of Padua, he conceived of the church as a purely spiritual body with no other function than that of imparting a knowledge of salvation. It could not inflict punishments, including excommunication. As time went on, and perhaps influenced by the Great Schism which began in 1378, his views became more radical that is, they began to involve theological doctrines. To deny the right of the church to hold property or to wield secular power however distasteful such views were to the pope was not considered as subversive as the questioning of an established article of the faith. Thus, when Wycliffe began to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation, many persons were horrified who before had supported him. In denying transubstantiation, he was attempting to undermine the special sanctity the church attributed to the priest; he was saying that the bread and the wine in the Eucharist, even after the priestly consecration, remained bread and wine, and did not become the body and blood of Christ.

 He also held that popes could be deposed, and that there was no necessity for the offices of pope or cardinals. Attempts by the pope to have him tried and condemned failed because of the support he enjoyed in the highest levels of government. This support may have been to some extent withdrawn after his theological views became radical, but he was never molested.

 Wycliffe believed that the Scriptures should be made available in the vernacular language. An English version of the entire Bible appeared during his lifetime and seems to have been very widely distributed and read. It is not clear how much Wycliffe had to do with this Bible. It was long believed that he was the translator, but today it is held that he took little if any direct part in the translation and that his share was probably confined to stimulating others to do the actual work. The work of spreading the English Bible was undertaken by the so-called poor priests who traveled throughout the country; it is no longer considered certain that Wycliffe had very much to do with sending them out. His followers became numerous, at Oxford and elsewhere throughout the country. They were called "Lollards," an old word meaning "mumblers," which had been used for previous English heretics. The political situation in England soon brought about their suppression. In 1399 King Richard II was deposed and replaced by the Lancastrian Henry IV. Among the forces that had worked for the accession of the Lancastrians was the church. As a repayment for this support and a guarantee of further assistance, the new line of monarchs had to agree to the demands of the church for the prosecution of heresy. One of the results of this collaboration was the law De haeretico comburendo (On the burning of heretics) of 1401. Under this law, very few heretics were actually burned. After an abortive uprising in 1417, led by Sir John Oldcastle, Lollardy went underground. Currents of Wycliffite sentiment remained active, particularly among humble artisans, surfacing occasionally through court records when suspected heretics were brought to trial.

 Meanwhile, the ideas of Wycliffe had gotten to Bohemia. There were good opportunities for the transmission of ideas between the two countries. Richard II's queen was a Bohemian princess, and many students passed between the English universities, Oxford and Cambridge, and the University of Prague, founded by Emperor Charles IV in 1348. Although the ideas of Wycliffe helped to mold the Bohemian, or Czech, heretical movement, it is likely that the movement would have occurred anyway.

 The movement in Bohemia was a revolt against the Roman church and an expression of Czech nationalism, directed particularly against the influence of Germans. All this is made clear in the career of its leader John Hus (1369-1415). As a preacher in the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, he gave sermons in the vernacular, in which he called for reforms in the church, including the lives of the higher clergy. As a professor in the University of Prague, Hus was prominent in a conflict between the Bohemian members of the university and the Germans who had dominated it. The outcome of the struggle was a Czech victory; henceforth, the Bohemian party was supreme in the university. A great exodus of Germans took place, one result of which was the foundation of the University of Leipzig.

 Hus did not deny transubstantiation, but he was accused of doing so. He and his followers did, however, ask that both bread and wine be given to the laity in communion, instead of just the bread as was customary. Those who made this demand were known as Calixtines (from the Latin word for chalice or cup) or Utraquists (from the Latin word for both, meaning both bread and wine). Hus's following among his fellow countrymen became so great that the archbishop of Prague asked him to leave the city for the sake of preserving public order. Hus complied with this request, going into the countryside where he continued to preach and work. From there he was summoned to the Council of Constance, with the promise of a safe-conduct from the Emperor Sigismund, which should have ensured good treatment at the council and enabled him to return home in safety.

 When Hus appeared at the council, the emperor's promise was disregarded, and he was thrown into prison under conditions so bad that his health was undermined. Although Sigismund made some attempt at protest, he did not insist, fearing to antagonize the council, which he felt he needed. Hus, therefore, remained a prisoner until eventually he was put on trial before the council, convicted of heresy, and condemned to death. He was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. To justify this act in the face of the emperor's promise of a safe-conduct (although the safe-conduct was never issued), the council issued an official statement that is it not necessary to keep faith with heretics.

 The death of John Hus did not end the movement that he had led, but intensified it. Revolt broke out in Bohemia when the fate of the great leader became known, a revolt against both the Roman church and the emperor Sigismund, who was also king of Bohemia. The troops sent by the church and the emperor to crush the revolt were repelled, Sigismund ceased to rule in Bohemia, and the rebels even went on the offensive and invaded Germany. Since it proved impossible to subdue the Bohemians, it finally became necessary to treat them somewhat more respectfully. They were invited to send representatives to the Council of Basel to discuss the theological points at issue.

 The result was a compromise that gave the Bohemian church a special status. The most significant concession was the granting of the cup to the laity in the communion service. It is likely the Bohemian revolutionaries would have received even more concessions from Rome had they not split among themselves into an extreme party and a more moderate one. Peace was restored, and the government of Sigismund was once more established.

 Thus the church came through the fifteenth century with its traditional government, doctrine, and abuses more or less intact. That it had been weakened in the process seems evident from its inability to cope successfully with the greater crises of the sixteenth century.


 The late Middle Ages was an age of turmoil and conflict in secular and ecclesiastical affairs. International and civil wars characterized the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the most serious was the Hundred Years' War. England and France were the chief antagonists in this struggle, which lasted from 1337 to 1453. The precipitating occasion for the war was the refusal of Edward III, king of England, to swear homage to Philip VI, king of France, for England's Continental possessions. The underlying cause was the existence of these English possessions on French territory. The war exemplified the incipient growth of nation-states and the accompanying spirit of nationalism or patriotism. It was also a stimulus to the further development of these nations and of the national spirit.

 The war was fought on French soil, and for much of the time the advantage lay with the English invaders. The battles of Crcy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) were great English victories, won against superior numbers by an army that was more cohesive, better-trained, and equipped with more modern weapons than the rather undisciplined body of feudal knights that fought for France. At Poitiers the French king, John the Good (1350-64), was captured, and spent most of the rest of his life in England. France was further weakened by the reign of Charles VI (1380 1422), who was subject to intermittent bouts of insanity. Most of all, France suffered from internal conflict, combined with the rise of the powerful duchy of Burgundy. When John the Good named his son Philip duke of Burgundy, he unwittingly gave rise to a grave threat to French power. Philip, known as Philip the Bold, and his three successors followed a policy of expansion by means of marriage, purchase, and conquest that created a powerful state situated between France and Germany, the most important component of which was the Netherlands.

 Burgundy under its four great dukes became a center of wealth and culture. The Order of the Golden Fleece, founded in 1430 by Philip the Good (1419 67), was one of the most distinguished of all knightly orders. Cities noted for their trade and industry made the area one of the richest in Europe. Among these cities the most important included Bruges, Ghent, and Lige, with Brussels and Antwerp developing a little later. A great school of artists flourished, which will be more fully dealt with in Chapter 22. The dukes had a sincere interest in art and literature, encouraging and supporting them.

 The successful policy of territorial aggrandizement, combined with economic prosperity, made Burgundy a factor to be reckoned with in European affairs. During much of the Hundred Years' War, the Burgundians were allied with the English against France, an alliance which, if continued, might have crushed the French ability to resist. The seriousness of the situation was not lost on the French government, which strove for a reconciliation with Burgundy and finally achieved it in 1415.

 It was the desire of the dukes of Burgundy to free themselves from their feudal relationship of vassalage to the king of France and to set up a fully independent state. This dream came to an end with the premature death in battle of Charles the Bold (or more accurately the Rash) in 1477. He left as heir only a daughter, Mary, who became the wife of Maximilian of Hapsburg, later to be Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. In this way the bulk of the Burgundian domain became part of the Hapsburg inheritance, while part of it, including the original duchy of Burgundy, fell to the French. The reconciliation of France with Burgundy in 1415 did not mark an immediate recovery by France in the war against England. In the same year, the young king of England Henry V invaded France and won the battle of Agincourt. English successes over the next few years culminated in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which secured to England a large block of French territory. The treaty was sealed by the marriage of Henry and the French princess Catherine. Their son was to be recognized as king of both France and England. This treaty, if carried out, would have disinherited the dauphin Charles, son of Charles VI. Both Henry V and Charles VI died in 1422. The infant Henry VI, son of Henry V and Catherine, was recognized by one party as king of both England and France, while the hapless dauphin held only a part of southern France and was rather contemptuously referred to as the "king of Bourges." It was this dauphin, however, who was eventually to win out, less perhaps by his own talents than because of the help of others, which has given him the epithet of "Charles the Well-Served." The most remarkable of his helpers was Jeanne d'Arc, or Joan of Arc (1412 31).

 Jeanne was a peasant girl from Domrmy in Lorraine who, though far from the scenes of battle, was deeply concerned about the fate of France. She became convinced that saints appeared to her while she was in the fields and announced to her that her destiny was to go to the aid of her country and, in particular, the dauphin Charles. She managed to make her way to Charles's court, where she succeeded in being given command of a body of French soldiers. With these troops she played an important part in lifting the siege of Orlans, a great victory for the French and an important factor in reviving their morale. After this, Jeanne's career was marked by continuing success for a while, until she had accomplished her great purpose, the coronation of Charles as Charles VII in the traditional ceremony at Reims. In 1431 she was captured by the Burgundians, who turned her over to the English. She was put on trial before an ecclesiastical court at Rouen, charged with heresy, witchcraft, and other offenses. Though the trial was ostensibly on religious grounds, it was in reality political. Her judges knew that she would have to be condemned; in the psychological atmosphere of the time, an acquittal would have convinced many that she did in reality have a divine mission and that God favored the French. The records of her questioning show that she was remarkably clever in meeting the arguments of her accusers, men of great learning and experience, in spite of her youth and lack of education. Nevertheless, the outcome of the trial was a foregone conclusion. Condemned to die at the stake as a heretic, for a time she lost faith in her mission and recanted. But she soon recovered her nerve and reasserted her conviction that the saints had indeed sent her. She was, therefore, condemned again, this time as a relapsed heretic, and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. In 1456 a new trial was held in which her name was formally cleared of the charges for which she had been condemned. In 1920 she was canonized.

 The figure of St. Joan has proved to be a source of endless fascination and wonder. She appears not only in historical works but in drama and in opera as well. One reason for the perennial interest in her career is the mystery that surrounds it. How are we to explain her extraordinary successes and accomplishments? Was she really a saint, divinely inspired? Or was she a clever impostor? One proposition that can probably be accepted by most students is that she owed much of her strength to the national spirit that she represented, and to which she gave an abiding stimulus. Ever since her own time she has stood as an embodiment of the love of France. Although it still took many years to make France free of the English, the tide had begun to turn. The death of Henry V in 1422 left an infant on the English throne, a state of affairs that was invariably a source of weakness to any country. Already there had been signs of restlessness among the nobility and a desire to gain power at the expense of the crown, but Henry V had for a time successfully channeled these energies into foreign invasion. His death removed the strongest obstacle to the ambitions of the nobles, and for several decades England was torn by civil war, as factions among the great families fought for the crown and the control of the state.

 This period of civil strife in England is known as the Wars of the Roses. The contending factions were the houses of Lancaster, symbolized by the red rose, and of York, represented by the white rose. As Henry VI grew to manhood, it became apparent that he had inherited from his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France, a tendency toward insanity, along with a mild and devout character. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that he proved unable to maintain order. Eventually the Yorkists gained the throne in the person of Edward IV (1461-70; 1471-83) and his brother Richard III (1483-85). At the battle of Bosworth in 1485, Richard was killed, and the crown passed to Henry Tudor, who as Henry VII opened a new era in English history.

 All these events in England aided the French in the fight to drive the invaders from their homeland. By 1453, when the French recovered Bordeaux, the Hundred Years' War was essentially over, though the two countries continued to make hostile gestures and Edward IV staged a brief invasion in 1475, in alliance with his brother-in-law, Charles the Bold of Burgundy. Of all her possessions in France, which had at one time been so extensive, England retained only the port city of Calais with its surrounding country. Paradoxical as it may seem, both France and England came out of the war strengthened in some ways, even though England had lost much territory and France, as the scene of the fighting, had suffered great devastation. The English had now to be satisfied with their island, but this meant a contiguous territory and a population far more homogeneous than would have been the case if it had included parts of France. It is highly likely that the English would eventually have lost their Continental possessions in any event. In time, the English would hold that their true field of growth lay outside Europe, and the loss of their Continental foothold may have hastened the day when this could become clear. As for France, she had not only gained a larger body of territory but also had strengthened her governmental institutions. During the war, the crown had acquired the right to levy direct taxes and to use these for the purpose of maintaining troops. These prerogatives were not lost at the end of the war, and so the French monarchy entered the sixteenth century equipped with two of the most important qualifications of the modern state: the powers to levy taxes and to maintain an army.

 Both countries emerged from their long struggle with a heightened self- consciousness and a stronger sense of national and patriotic pride, brought about by the presence of a dangerous and easily identified enemy. War is one of the sources of nationalism.


 Another indication that the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were witnessing the breakdown of an existing society and the birth of a new one is the prevalence of social protest and class struggle, often assuming the character of revolutionary movements. In England the question was asked, "When Adam delved and Eve span, / Who was then the gentleman?" A spirit of Christian egalitarianism began to spread, challenging the great discrepancies between rich and poor on the grounds of men's common status as children of one God. The wealth of the clergy was a particularly sore grievance.

 After the Black Death the size of the laboring population was seriously diminished, and wages went up. The government attempted to hold down wages, and this generated discontent. Radical leaders like John Ball, Jack Straw, and Wat Tyler influenced the masses.

 The climax was the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which involved a broader section of English society than the name implies, since many of the London poor became part of it. The rebels gathered in many of the counties and marched on London, where their movement was joined by numerous apprentices, workers, and unemployed. Before they were pacified, they had sacked several noble houses and Lambeth Palace, the London home of the archbishop of Canterbury, and murdered the archbishop. To quiet them, King Richard II met them at Blackheath. Since they consistently claimed to be protesting, not against the king but against his evil advisers, they allowed themselves to be satisfied with royal promises and they disbanded. After this, little if anything was done to meet their grievances, and the causes of their discontent remained. In some cases, their unhappiness may have made them Lollards, although it does not appear that Lollardy was one of the chief causes of the revolt.

 In France the Hundred Years' War brought great suffering to the countryside, and waves of peasant discontent swept the country, particularly in the year 1358. This peasant unrest was called the Jacquerie from the nickname applied to the French peasant, Jacques Bonhomme. Another significant social development in France during the war was the rising importance of the city of Paris. In the years 1356-58, one of the leading figures in French political life was Étienne Marcel, who held the important office of provost of the merchants in Paris and for a while was master of the city, until he was assassinated in 1358. Under his leadership the interests and needs of the bourgeoisie, or town dwellers, made themselves heard at the highest levels of government.

 Something analogous took place also in the flourishing commercial and industrial cities of the Low Countries. Here there was antagonism between the workers and merchants of the cities, on the one hand, and the noble class on the other. There were underlying economic reasons for this hostility, as can be most clearly seen in the case of Flanders. The textile manufacturers and workers in the great Flemish cities were aware of their dependence on English wool, and inclined, therefore, to side with England, whereas the counts of Flanders tended to identify themselves with the interests of their overlords, the kings of France.

 In 1302 there had occurred the Matins of Bruges, a bloody uprising of the workers of that city against the French and the count of Flanders. During the Hundred Years' War, these antagonisms were heightened. Under the leadership of Jacob van Artevelde and his son, Philip, the workers of Ghent offered serious resistance to the pro-French policy of the counts. The rise of the Arteveldes signifies something more than a split over foreign policy; like the career of tienne Marcel, it points to the emergence of a new factor in European society, the growing cities with their outlook deeply affected by the needs of business, industry, trade, and banking.


 To summarize the events described in this chapter, it is clear that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries western Europe was in the throes of a more or less continuing crisis. Tension and conflict within church and society, as well as between states, brought about constant unrest and disorder. The strong attachment of contemporary observers to the ideals of order and stability caused them to look on their times with gloomy foreboding.

 The emotional atmosphere of the late Middle Ages has been brilliantly defined in the book, The Waning of the Middle Ages, by the great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. In this book he is particularly concerned with Flanders and France. It was a time, he says, when "a sombre melancholy weighs on people's souls."1 There was an intense preoccupation with death. Depictions of the Dance of Death were common in woodcuts, drawings, and paintings. Over and over the theme was repeated that Death comes to all: Popes, kings, emperors are subject to it along with the humblest peasant.

 Obsessed with the shortness of human life, the men of this age were also acutely aware of the transitory character of human beauty. "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" asked Franois Villon, reviewing the beautiful women of legend and history. In another one of his poems he has an old prostitute comparing her present repulsiveness with the charms of her youth.

 There was a factual basis for the concern with death. Life expectancy was shorter, and infant mortality was high. Unsanitary living conditions, plague, poor or insufficient food, to say nothing of war and crime, all made the risks of life and the chances of death greater than they are now.

 Religion was powerful in this age, but in a society breaking away from familiar moorings and obsessed with death it took some extreme forms. An apocalyptic mood was common: Men had visions and dreamed dreams. Many thought that they were living in the last days of the world. A common theme of art in this period was the Passion, the most tragic of religious subjects; the suffering Jesus was emphasized rather than the glorified Christ. Religious devotion sometimes assumed abnormal forms, among them hysterical repentance and extreme ascetic practices, such as flagellation. But these acts of almost excessive piety might alternate, in the same persons, with orgies of sensual indulgence.

 The ideals of knighthood, of chivalry, continued to receive lip service, but they were becoming increasingly anachronistic in the age of rising towns. The historian Froissart, writing about the events in France and Flanders during the Hundred Years' War, concentrates on the deeds of nobles and princes, regarding the movements among the city populations as a rather irritating distraction from the main events. There were no doubt many of his contemporaries who, like Froissart, failed to grasp the fact that what to them seemed of paramount interest belonged to a dying society, while the future was being shaped largely by forces that they either ignored or affected to disdain.