The Late Middle Ages is a term used to describe European History in the third period of the Middle Ages, and is typically defined as the period between the 14th and 16th centuries (1300-1500 AD.) The end of the Late Middle Ages signaled the beginning of the European Renaissance, and the immense revolution of art, architecture, and literature which came with it.
Where the High Middle Ages is defined as the period in which Europe blossomed, the Late Middle Ages can be described as the exact opposite. Centuries of European prosperity ended with the rise of global catastrophes like the Great European Famine (1315-1317) and the spread of the bubonic plague, or “Black Death.” These issues gave rise to further problems of social unrest and international warfare.
Peasant risings were common, and dissatisfaction with the feudalist system reached an all-time high. Even the Catholic Church had trouble in this turbulent period. Its unity was shattered by the Great Schism, and would go on to be further damaged in the centuries afterward by events like the Reformation and split towards the Lutheran faith.
However, despite the issues society faced in the Late Middle Ages, they were also a time of great progress in the realms of art and science. An important invention of this period was the first iteration of the printing press, which was used in the centuries afterward to spread ideas and literacy across the continent. New interest in ancient Greek and Italian texts led to the schools of thought that would go on to form the bedrock of the Renaissance.
Exploration experienced huge development in this period, as men like Christopher Columbus began to sail huge distances to discover new lands. The invention of the compass, the astrolabe, and sturdier boats meant that lengthy sea voyages were made less challenging, and new trade routes between nations were developed as a result.
The bubonic plague, known at the time as the “Black Death”, wiped out over one-third of the population of Europe, and some historians estimate that number to be closer to one-half. The plague arrived in Europe in 1346. A ship carrying a population of plague-carrying rats were released in Sicily, and decimated the local population.
The disease spread through Europe, reaching as far north as Denmark and Germany by 1350. Doctors at the time could find no cure for it. The Black Death was recognizable because of its distinctive appearance. Sufferers would come out in huge, black boils, and would experience fever, pain, and vomiting for days before eventually dying. It was extremely contagious, and due to how it spread – not from the rats themselves, but from the fleas they carried on their backs – it was nearly impossible to contain.
The huge drop in population which came as a result of the plague meant that the economy of Europe experienced a huge decline in this period, and the wage drops which came about, as a result, fueled peasant outrage across Europe.
The Great Schism is the name given to an internal Church issue relating to the establishment of the new Pope in 1378. The College of Cardinals (who were predominately French) chose Urban VI as their new Pope. However, after it was revealed that Urban had many radical ideas about church reform, they tried to have him removed from power.
Urban refused to step down. The College of Cardinals returned to France and elected a new French Pope in his place – but with two men claiming to be the “real pope,” and two groups claiming to be the “real church,” Europe was divided between who they supported. The Church’s power was greatly weakened as a result.
– 1300-1500 AD.
– The European Renaissance. Its foundation was laid during this period.
– The spread of the plague/the Great European Famine.
– Christopher Columbus.
– The Black Death.