At the beginning of the fourteenth century, conditions in Europe were adequate. Nobles were prospering, trade and commerce were doing fine, and agricultural production was sufficient. However, that all changed later on in the fourteenth century due to two factors. These two factors propelled Europe into one of the worst times any culture has ever seen. Climate and disease-ravaged their way through Europe causing (and these problems called for) economic, social, and political change.
Disease affected many areas of the Fourteenth Century, the main one being the black plague. The black plague arose in central Asia and then moved on to China. From China, it continued eastward until it reached Europe from merchant ships, due to trading which was prominent back then. (Trading during the 14th century was prominent and this brought the disease from China to Europe through merchant ships.)The disease was carried by black rats and fleas on the ships. The black plague was not the only disease to affect the people of Europe; influenza, typhus, malaria, typhoid, and smallpox all played roles in decimating the people. (Hunt page 469)
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Diseases such as the black plague in Fourteenth-century Europe severely affected the economics of the continent. During this time Europe lost 1/3 of its population due to the black plague. The heavy losses of the population paved the way to economic contraction. There were falling demands for food and goods leading to the abandonment of many farms and settlements. (hunt 468) Many people gave up, ( working was no longer a priority because of the belief that they were going to die.) they did not care about working anymore because what is the point if you are just going to die(plague reading). However, once the death reached a standstill, people picked right back off from where they left off, and many benefited from the decrease in population.
Because of the labour shortages, workers received much higher pay. These workers were typically the poor, thus helping them tremendously, especially with better living and eating standards. (hunt 472) (As a response to the notion of impending death; the commoners bought luxury items because they felt that there was no reason to “pinch pennies”, so to speak. luxury goods were being imported and new commodities were readily available.)
Goods such as jewelry, silk clothing, hats, and boots from Italy were among the most popular (hunt 473). However, economics in the Fourteenth century had its highs and lows among all the classes. Nobles lost some of their power and wealth while peasants gained wealth as I mentioned above. (Hunt 468)Altogether the economy fell hard, but little by little it began to pick up the pieces and return to the status quo.
With the introduction of the plague and struggling economics, the fourteenth century witnessed immense social changes. During the fourteenth century, the people of Europe battled through many social difficulties. They were in the midst of the Hundred years war between France and England when the plague hit. Even during the Hundred years war many towns were still prospering and carrying out ordinary lives. However, once the plague hit that all changed. (hunt 454)People stopped caring about appearances, and many became close with each other as a response to the fear of imminent death. On the other hand, there was social unrest and labour strife. Towns became deserted as people tried running away from the plague; some locked themselves in their homes and most of the healthy rejected the sick leaving them to die alone. Doctors had no cure for it.
Numerous people became frustrated with the church because they died too. The church was always looked to in times of need; however, they were nowhere to be found. The plague affected everyone; the rich, the poor, and even the clergy. (the plague reading) Many found something or someone to blame like God, the Jews, or even the stars.
The Flagellants were a group of men and women who publicly whip themselves with metal on the edges as a sacrifice to God. They travelled to local churches and called upon congregations to repent their sins. They only recruited merchants or artisans, which were respectable groups, to gain more respect from God, the clergy, and other people of Europe. The church eventually suppressed them (hunt 471)
The attacking of the Jews became popular from 1348-1350. People needed a scapegoat for the social chaos, so they turned to the Jews. Many Jewish synagogues and communities were destroyed; many Jewish people and rabbis burned at the stake, and children were forcibly baptized. The clergy called them names such as Christ-killers, and accused them of poisoning wells and killing Christian children. (Hunt 471)
The last idea of the cause of the plague was in the stars. The physicians of the University of Paris blamed the stars. They saw a conjunction of Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter and for that reason, there was widespread death on the world. (hunt 470)
This time period in Europe was catastrophic. Not only was there a war going on, but on top of that disease hit. As if the war and disease were not enough people were even killing others by blaming the plague on them, like the Jews. Many people questioned God and wondered why he would do something like this to his people, this began the shift of a God-centered world to the shift of the human-centred world of the Renaissance.
Political Change in Europe was also fueled by disease. Due to the Hundred years war and the disease inflicted upon Europe, there was only minimal authority. The people of Europe did as they pleased. They robbed one another, like I said before they attacked Jewish people and their communities; they even destroyed their own churches.
Everything was a mess; there was no order to Europe. Neither the nobles nor the clergy was anywhere to be found, they were either at warfighting or facing the wrath of the plague. ( the plague reading) The plague helped to bring down Feudalism. Feudalism was a system where the powerful received everything from the weak. With the death of many lords, the peasants fought back when they tried to reimpose Feudalism among them. (Merriman or some other source)
Climate as well as the disease had its effect on fourteenth-century Europe. It affected the same areas as a disease: economics, politics, and socially. Some areas were affected relatively the same and others differently.
The climate was a major factor in the declining economics of fourteenth-century Europe. Beginning in 1315 the climate turned drastically cold. With the cold came many rainy periods and flooding. The unwanted change in weather led to crop failures and forced many farms to shut down. This hurts the economy immensely because of the rising prices of agricultural goods (Hunt 468).
The people of Europe were dependent on farms and what they produced, and when many of them failed to produce, the people could not afford to eat. The shortage in food led to a high demand for it, which increased the price. In many cities the price of bread was three times the normal amount, making it too costly for citizens to purchase. The rise of prices hurt the economy, which took years to get back on its feet.
Society in Europe was also affected by the dramatic change in the climate. With the rising prices of bread and other food sold by farmers many people died. The Great Famine took place from 1315-1317. The food prices were unaffordable to the poor and resulted in a lack of nutrition in many Europeans, which then led to the spread of the plague. If the population was healthy it would have stood a greater chance to survive. Famine not only killed many, but it served as the backbone for the spread of disease through Europe. (Hunt 470)
Climate had its effects on the politics of Europe as well. Many nobles and lords lived off the profits of their lands. When the cold and rain came they lost a lot of money. To make up for the money loss they hired mercenaries. These mercenaries taxed, robbed, raped, and murdered French Peasants. (Hunt 453)
As the population decreased the peasants began to gain some influence of their own. They gained more independence go to where their services would be better compensated. Most of the time the lords did not want to give the peasants more money and on top of that even taxed them. They looked to the government for help, which came and caused conflict eventually leading to peasant revolts.
The first revolt was the Jacquerie of 1358. The French peasants were treated unfairly by the French government who attempted to place limits on wages. Business leaders in Paris also wanted some form of representation in government, led by Etienne Marcel, merchant of Paris they pushed strong and hard. All the groups joined forces and attacked the nobles. After two weeks of bloodshed the revolt ended. The revolt did not last long, but it showed the deep discontent with the French Society. Many more urban rebellions continued until the fifteenth century (Hunt 461).
The French peasants were not the only ones to rebel against the government. In 1381 there became discontent between the landlords and peasants. The peasants wanted serfdom to be abolished because they felt that they should not be confined to one house.
There was a demand for workers and they wanted to go out and make the most out of that demand. The economy seemed to be better suiting the peasants than the landlords. Parliament would do nothing, other than enforcing a poll tax to raise money for the war. That was the last thing the peasants wanted to happen. They believed the tax only helped the King, so they revolted. Rebels from Kent and Essex joined together to confront the King. King Richard II agreed to abolish serfdom and impose a ceiling on land rent. Concessions immediately were taken away after the rebels’ defeat (Hunt 462).
Both of these revolts can be related to climate and disease. The French tried to limit wages to keep the peasants poor and the rich, rich. The climate ruined the people’s nutrition while the plague wiped them all out which led to a shortage in workers and an increase in pay. The same happened with the English revolt in 1381.
Every aspect that climate and disease had on the people of Europe can be related. It was like a domino effect, the harsh climate would destroy agriculture leading to a lack of nutrition. The disease came in and wiped out millions many due to the lack of nutrition. Then the society would suffer, everyone scared, do not care about rules anymore. The plague would then end, resulting in a prosperous time for peasants and the rich lords not wanting to see that happen, leading us to the revolts I just explained above.
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