A Century of Turmoil

14.4 - A Century of Turmoil

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This is over the late Middle Ages, specifically the Great Western Schism, the Black Death, and the Hundred Years' War.

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A Century of Turmoil

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• Know what the Great Western Schism was, the events that led to it, what happened during it, and its effects.

• Know who John Wycliff and Jan Huss were and what they argued.

• Know what the plague and the Black Death were.

• How was it spread?

• What factors led to its rapid spread?

• How did it affect society during its progress?

• What were its aftereffects on Europe?

• How did it affect the Church as well as the European Jews?

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• What was the Hundred Years War?

• Between whom was it fought and why?

• What was so pivotal about the Battle of Crecy (and the follow-up of Poitiers and Agincourt)?

• What’s the end result?

• Know about Joan of Arc.

• Who was she, what did she do, and why was her participation in the Hundred Years War pivotal?

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Church Turmoil

The Great Western Schism

• King Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII weren’t getting along too well. Philip was disobeying Boniface and eventually takes Boniface prisoner, though he escapes and dies.

• Philip, having enough of uppity Italian popes, “persuades” the College of Cardinals to elect a French pope who will be housed at Avignon in France instead of Rome.

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• Having a French pope based in France allowed Philip and the French kings to exercise more control over the papacy.

• Seven popes were in Avignon from 1305 to 1378.

• In 1378, Pope Gregory XI tries moving the papacy back to Rome but dies while visiting there.

• The Cardinals, pressured by a Roman mob, elected an Italian as Pope Urban VI.

• The only problem was that Urban quickly proved himself to be an overbearing, pompous, temperamental jerk.


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• The cardinals take off from Rome, declare that the election of Urban was illegitimate because it was done under duress and fear of the mob and elected somebody else pope, Clement VII, who was based in Avignon.

• This created a little problem because now there were two popes who were validly elected by the proper people.

• Europe quickly took sides:

• In Avignon Clement’s corner were France, Spain, Cyprus, Burgundy, Savoy, Naples, and Scotland.

• In Rome Urban’s corner were Denmark, England, Flanders, HRE, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, and Sweden.

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• The problem lasted past both of them and when they died, new Avignon and Roman popes were elected.

• In 1408, a council at Pisa tried resolving the issue by electing somebody else. This only succeeded in adding a THIRD pope to the mix. Smooth move, guys.

• Finally, in the Council of Constance, 1414-1418, all three popes are deposed/compelled to abdicate. A new pope, based in Rome is elected, and the Roman line is considered the valid one.

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The Church also faced challenges from early reformers.

John Wycliffe

• Not to be confused with Wyclef Jean.

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• Wycliffe was an English theology professor who argued that the Church should live in poverty much like the apostles did.

• The Church, naturally, wasn’t real keen on this idea since it owned a lot of land and treasure. It also needed to finance military actions.

• That and most folks prefer luxury to poverty.

• Wycliffe also wasn’t a fan of the papacy. He thought Christ was the head of the Church and the pope was not only dispensable, but could be anti-Christian.

• He died in 1384 of an apparent stroke. The Council of Constance in 1415 declared him a heretic and ordered his books burned, his body exhumed, burned and ashes cast into a river. They were. He was.

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Jan Huss

• A Czech reformer who taught that the authority of the Bible was greater than that of the pope (among other disagreements).

• Hus was arrested by the Council of Constance (after being promised safe passage to the Council), and burned at the stake.

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The Plague

• The plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis (for those of you biology people, it’s a gram negative, bipolar staining coccobacilli).

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• You can actually be infected in several different ways.

1. One is pneumonic plague and is the second most common variety.

• It can come from bacteria migrating from the lymph nodes to the lungs or from inhalation.

• Flu-like symptoms present quickly and there may also be coughing up of blood.

• It will kill in one to six days and has a mortality rate of nearly 95% when left untreated.

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2. Septicemic plague

• Usually associated with the hunting and skinning of infected animals.

• Bite-like bumps appear on the skin and leave black patches.

• If left untreated, the mortality rate is nearly 100% and death usually comes on the same day symptoms first appear.

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3. Bubonic plague

• The most common variety and the most well-known. This is what we’ll talk about.

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Bubonic plague

• Spread by fleas and rodents, usually rats.

• Here’s what happens:

1. A flea bites an infected rat and gets the bacteria in its gut.

2. The bacteria multiplies and forms a plug in the flea’s gut. This plug makes the flea very hungry and more aggressive than normal.

3. The flea attempts to feed on a human, but the plugged gut keeps it from keeping down the blood. Instead, it vomits the blood back into the body with plague bacteria mixed in. The human becomes infected.

4. The flea will eventually starve to death. The human gets the plague.

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• Symptoms

• Will set in three to seven days after infection.

• Chills, fever, diarrhea, headaches, and swelling of the lymph nodes.

• Lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system, which transports fluid and immune system stuff around the body. The nodes are like filters stocked with lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) that kill bacteria and viruses that come through.

• They’re mainly clustered in a few places in your body, like the armpits, groin, neck, chest, and abdomen.

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• It causes a swelling of the lymph node – whichever node it gets to first, but usually the groin since people will get bitten on the legs – because the bacteria multiply like crazy there.

• This swelling is called a bubo and is a bump 1-10 cm across and very painful, even to the touch. It may be so painful that the person can’t even move that part of the body.

• If left untreated, the mortality rate is about 50%.

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The Black Death refers to the plague outbreak that began about 1347

• It actually wasn’t just an epidemic, it was a pandemic as it popped up in other parts of the world at the same time.

• It appears to have first broken out in central Asia and then traders and Mongols spread it from there.

• In one case, the Mongols laid siege to the city of Caffa in the Crimea, controlled by the Genoese. The Mongols were being decimated by the disease and started catapulting the corpses over the walls in a form of biological warfare.

• The Genoese fled and took the disease back to southern Italy with them. Most were dead or dying by the time they got to port. Some ran aground with all aboard dead. From there, it spread like wildfire.

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• Modern scholars estimate that anywhere from half to two-thirds of Europe’s population died during the outbreak of 1348 to 1350. (but estimates have ranged from 1/3 to 2/3).

• Whatever the proportion, tens of millions of people died in just a little over two years.

• Towns and cities were filthy and tightly packed, which helped spread the disease.

• People were afraid to leave their homes and they would die there with nobody finding them. They were only known to be dead because neighbors would complain of the smell from the decaying bodies.

• Most were afraid to handle the dead or be around the sick. Bodies stacked up. In Paris, a city of 100,000 – 800 people were dying per day.

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• Mothers refused to see their sick children. Close family members were to be fled from and not taken care of.

• There were too many dying at once to give proper burials in individual graves. Instead, large pits were dug and the bodies dumped in.

• As Catholics, they believed they needed to be given last rites in order to enter heaven, but many of the living priests didn’t want to be around the sick. Other priests charged exorbitant prices to give the rites.

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• People had a variety of responses to the pandemic.

• Doctoring wasn’t all that advanced. Some were fanciful costumes meant to scare away the evil spirits.

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• People carried around flowers and herbs in their pockets thinking the scents would ward away the disease.

• Other places thought sound was the answer and rang church bells or fired cannons.

• Plague hospitals filled up and were more hospices to isolate the sick than anything else.

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• Others gave themselves over to religious devotion.

• The Church, however, was unable to stop the pestilence. The clergy died like everyone else. Monks died off even faster due to the close quarters of the monasteries.

• The plague was seen as a punishment by God for the people’s sinfulness.

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• Some became flagellants. They traveled from town to town, singing hymns and chanting while flagellating themselves, i.e. whipping themselves, in a sign of physical penance.

• People at first flocked to the flagellants, especially considering the Church’s inability to do anything. Some flagellant groups, though, actually spread the plague to new towns.

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• Some blamed the Jews and wild conspiracy theories developed that they were poisoning the water and food supplies.

• In fact, Jews died at a lesser rate than others, but this was likely due to Rabbinical laws dictating greater hygiene and the fact that they were isolated in ghettoes. They still, however, died in alarming numbers.

• The Christians responded by persecuting the Jews. They were arrested, tortured, and put to death. Still others were simply seized by mobs and burnt to death. Tens of thousands died in this way.

• Surviving Jews started migrating to eastern Europe, especially Poland where the king was giving them protection.

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• Ironically, fleeing this first Holocaust to eastern Europe worsened the 20th century Holocaust when the Nazis took the region.

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• Some became exceptionally morbid. Art and literature focused on death and disease.

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• Yet still others became hedonists who lived for the moment and the plague was blamed for a loosening of morals.

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• Results

• A lot of people died.

• This was, strangely, a good thing for the survivors.

• Europe had become overpopulated by the mid-1300’s and this thinned the herd.

• Economically and socially, it helped to break down the feudal/manorial system.

• There were no longer enough serfs and peasants to go around and little ability to force them to stay on the land. Landowners started competing for labor through wages and freedom.

• Moreover, laborers could start demanding them, which gave them greater power.

• More land and food was available.

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• The Church was also weakened.

• Its image had been tarnished by its inability to stop the plague.

• It didn’t help that the clergy had also been decimated and some of the replacements were inexperienced and/or not very devoted to their religious responsibilities.

• The weakening of the Church helps lead to the Renaissance and Reformation later on.

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• There’s even some speculation that the Black Death helped end the Medieval Warming Period and begin the Little Ice Age because the empty field reforested and sucked carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

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The Hundred Years’ War

• A war between England and France that went off and on from 1337 to 1453 (more like a 116 year war).

• It starts off because the French king dies and the English king, Edward III, claims the French throne due to relations (it’s complicated).

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• The entire thing was fought on French soil and the English got the better of the French most of the time, but the French ultimately won the war.

• The English were almost always outnumbered, but they had better weapons and a paid professional army, which was highly unusual at the time.

• There were three pivotal battles.

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The Battle of Crecy – 8/26/1346

• The English had just 11,000 soldiers, which included 2,000 knights and 7,000 longbowmen. The French had 60,000 soldiers, with 12,000 to 20,000 of them knights.

• The English were in a strong defensive position and were well-disciplined. The French were under an assortment of nobles who thought of themselves more as allies than vassals of the king. They didn’t take orders well.

• Upon arriving on the battlefield, the French king, Philip, wanted his army to rest for the day and attack in the morning.

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• The nobles, however, were eager to attack that day. They thought it would be a cakewalk. They also wanted to capture the best prisoners who would fetch the highest prices when held for ransom.

• They were also operating on chivalry and everyone wanted their own personal glory.

• The French attacked at 6 PM after a brief rainstorm turned the field they had to cross into mud and with the sun setting behind the English and in their eyes. It was tactical stupidity.

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• Philip’s Genoese crossbowmen attacked first but were out of range. They were not, however, out of range of the English archers with longbows and they got cut down.

• The crossbowmen panic and flee.

• The mounted French knights, sneering at the fleeing commoners, charge… through and over the Genoese.

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• The knights are slaughtered by the massive hail of armor-piercing arrows raining down on them. The arrows got either the knights or their horses. Dismounted knights on muddy ground were sitting ducks.

• Charge after charge is decimated. Few French knights even make it to the English lines.

• Only night stops the battle.

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• Around 10,000 to 15,000 French soldiers are killed compared to just around 200 English killed.

• Around a third of the French nobility was killed.

• What French soldiers were still alive were taken prisoner to be held for ransom. Those who couldn’t be moved, were killed by having special long daggers plunged through the face plates of the helmets or through the armpit into the heart.

• At the battles of Poitiers and Agincourt, similar events took place: greatly outnumbered English forces defeat French heavy infantry through use of the longbow.

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• The battles represent a sea-change in medieval warfare.

• The value of a professional army is proven.

• In most feudal systems, people are called up as needed and you take what you can get.

• With the English, a professional army is paid and regularly practices and trains with their weapons and have unit cohesion.

• The chivalrous knight is dead.

• The invincible armored noble knight is a liability. The noble with his powerful expensive warhorse and his fancy-pants armor can be defeated by a commoner with relatively cheap bow and arrow.

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Joan of Arc

• By 1429, France was on the ugly end of the war. They had lost a lot of territory (including Paris), they were still recovering from the plague, the English had severely damaged the countryside, there were succession troubles, and the English had laid siege to Orleans – the last city in the way of English domination of France.

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• Enter Joan of Arc.

• She was born into a well-to-do family about 1412 and says she started having visiting visions from Saints Margaret and Catherine and the archangel Michael, starting when she was 13.

• When she was 17, the voices told her she would help liberate France and put Charles VII, who had no power and was rather useless, on the throne.

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• Joan was able to gain an audience with Charles VII, told him of his mission, and asked to be outfitted in knight’s armor and to lead his army.

• He had her theologically examined. She came out ok.

• Having exhausted nearly every other rational option, he went irrational and told her yes.

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• Joan went to Oreleans.

• Following the advice of her voices, she leads French forces against the entrenched English who had been besieging the city for five months.

• Through force of will, moral and skilled military leadership, she pastes the English and lifts the siege.

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• Joan continues on to more battles, leading the French and clobbering the English.

• France gets back Orleans, Jargeau, Beaugency, and Reims.

• Reims was especially important because that’s where French kings were coronated.

• After getting it back, Charles VII was formally coronated king of France, in fulfillment of Joan’s mission.

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• In 1430, she’s captured in battle by England’s allies the Burgundians, while bravely covering the retreat of her forces.

• The Burgundians attempt to ransom her to Charles VII, but the little rat who she put on the throne refuses. They sell her to the English instead.

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• The English put on a show trial that charge her with heresy.

• There was no evidence against her and all the witnesses were in her favor.

• In one famous exchange, she’s "Asked if she knew she was in God's grace, she answered: 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.'“

• This was a brilliant answer because the question was a trap. ‘Yes’ would have meant she knew she was saved which nobody was supposed to know for sure and that would prove she was a heretic. ‘No’ would have been admitting her guilt and was a heretic. Her interrogators didn’t know what to make of her answer.

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• While the trial was for heresy, it was really a political, not religious trial, and the verdict was foreordained: guilty.

• She was executed by being burned at the stake. While burning, she cried out Jesus’ name and those of the saints while looking at a crucifix held in front of her.

• Her remains were then burned twice more until there was just ash so that there wouldn’t be any relics and they were tossed into a river. She was 19.

• The executioner later said he feared he would be damned for executing a holy woman.

• She was declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 1920. Had a rather remarkable record in those two years.

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• The end result is that France takes the upper hand in the war and almost completely drives out the English by 1453, leaving them just Calais.

• Divinely inspired or no, she marked the turning point of the war. Had the English succeeded in taking Orleans, they likely would have conquered the rest of France and European history would have been much different.