Recovery and Expansion (1300–1600) for AP European History
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Around the middle of the fifteenth century, European civilization began to recover from a series of calamities that had destroyed much of the culture that characterized the High Middle Ages. What emerged was a more secular, ambitious culture that began to explore and exploit new areas of the globe, including Africa, the Americas, and the East. The influx of trade, wealth, and new cultural influences put severe stress on the traditional economic and social organization of Europe.
Effects of the Hundred Years War
The dynastic conflict known as the Hundred Years War had begun in 1337, pitting the armies and resources of the Norman kings of England and the Capetian kings of France against one another. By 1453, the reorganized French had managed to push the English out of all of France except for the coastal town of Calais, and both sides agreed to end the conflict.
The Hundred Years War had several transformative effects on the kingdoms of England and France:
- It disrupted agriculture, causing famine, disease, and a significant decrease in the population.
- It created an enormous tax burden that led to a series of peasant rebellions.
- It left France an economically devastated but more politically unified kingdom.
- It weakened England economically, but (due to the difficulty of keeping trade lines open) it also led to the beginning of a textile industry upon which it would rebuild its economic strength.
Disappearance of the Black Death
The plague known as the Black Death had first appeared in Europe in 1347. Numerous outbreaks occurred in the following decades. In 1352, it disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared. It is estimated that between one-quarter and one-third of the population of Europe died during the plague years. The virulence and unpredictability of the Black Death had several lasting effects on European society:
- The isolation that resulted from the fear of contagion weakened the traditional social bonds of society.
- The inability of the traditional authorities like the Church and the nobility to do anything about the plague weakened respect for them among the lower classes.
- The shortage of labor in some areas helped to spur the creation of a textile industry as some land owners abandoned agricultural production in favor of sheep farming, thus producing greatly increased quantities of wool.
A Weakened Papacy
The fourteenth-century Church was a deeply divided one. During the Avignon Papacy (1309–1377), the papacy had been under French influence. Attempts to break that influence led to the Great Schism (1378–1417), in which there were competing popes. In the fifteenth century, there were considerable attempts to reform, reunite, and reinvigorate the Church. The movement, which came to be known as the Conciliar Movement, was led by various councils of cardinals and peaked in 1449 with the collapse of the Council of Basel. Although it failed to accomplish its reformist goals, the Conciliar Movement did have two lasting consequences:
- It articulated and spread a belief that the Church must not neglect the needs of the faithful in pursuit of worldly power.
- It allowed secular governments—kings in England and France and local magistrates in Italian, German, and Swiss cities—to gain some measure of control over the churches in their lands.
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