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Thread: What Happened in Europe in the 14th and 15th Centuries

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    Arrow What Happened in Europe in the 14th and 15th Centuries

    War and Plague

    Between the years 1000 and 1300, economic conditions in Christendom had allowed its population to grow 2.5 times. Paris, Milan, Florence and Venice had become cities with more than 80,000 inhabitants. London, Cologne and Barcelona had more than 40,000. Rome, Naples, Vienna, Prague and Lisbon had more than 20,000. And Dublin had more than 10,000. But a temporary decline in the economy was on its way, and soon it would be followed by one of the worst of plagues.

    By the year 1300 farm expansion in western Europe had come to an end, and marginally productive lands had been abandoned. Pastures, heaths and meadows had been converted to farming, and cattle raising had declined, reducing the amount of protein in diets and reducing manure for fertilizer, contributing to a decline in crop yields. This coincided with a climate change caused by the advance of polar and alpine glaciers, bringing longer winters and wetter weather and what is called a "Little Ice Age," which was to last for the next 400 years. Agriculture's growing season shortened, and a major food source, herring, began to disappear.

    Societies were unprepared for such a change. Viking settlements in Greenland soon disappeared. Grain production failed in Iceland and diminished in Scandinavia. In the year 1315 rains were incessant and people talked of the return of the flood described in Genesis. Crops were ruined. With food shortages came a rise in food prices. Transportation being what it was, people in the cities were dependent on food from within one day's journey from its source, and from 1315 to 1317 famines developed in the poorer areas of Christendom. There are reports of cannibalism. It was said that in Poland and Silesia the bodies of hanged criminals were taken down from the gallows as food for the poor.

    Not helping matters was the beginning of the Hundred Years' War. The Norman-English king, Edward I (who ruled from 1272-1307), had married into France's royal family. The French king, Charles IV, died in 1328 and had no direct descendant to carry on the Capet line . Edward III, who became King of England in 1327, at the age of fifteen, was excluded from consideration as heir to France's throne based on a law which forbade those descended in the female line within the extended royal family to succeed to the throne. Philippe of Valois, at the age of thirty-five, succeeded Charles instead and took the title Philippe VI. It was the end of the Capet dynasty in France and the beginning of the Valois dynastry. Philippe intervened in a conflict in Flanders, on the channel coast, which was not yet a part of France and were the English were dominant. England retaliated with Edward claiming to be the legitimate ruler of France, and Philippe countered by declaring that fiefs possessed by Edward in France were forfeited. This led to war between England and the French in 1337 -- with an alliance between the French and the Scots -- the latter fighting the English monarchy's attempt to expand against them.

    Black Death and Sin

    Coincident with war between England and France was the appearance in Christendom of a plague known as the Black Death. In December 1347 the disease was in the Crimea and Constantinople. That same month it spread to Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Marseille. By June, 1348, it was in Spain, Italy and as far north as Paris. By June 1349 it had advanced through London and central Europe. From there in the year and a half that followed it swung as if on a hinge in central Europe, through Ireland and through Scandinavia. It reached people weakened by decades of hard times and malnutrition.

    The bubonic form of the disease was a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) spread by fleas from rats. The pneumonic form of the disease spread from one person to other people. This was made worse by crowding in the cities. Some cities lost from half to two-thirds of their population. Some small cities became ghost towns. Farm animals also died from the disease. Common folks were dying as well as the most pious. Perhaps a third of the Catholic clergy died, with priests who attended the afflicted being hit the hardest. The poor were hit harder than aristocrats because they were generally in poorer health and less able to resist the disease and because they were more crowded together. Wolves fared well and made their appearance in some capital cities.

    People did not understand the source of the plague, and panic spread faster than the disease. The belief in witchcraft was revitalized. Believing that the end of the world was at hand, some groups engaged in frenzied bacchanals and orgies. People called the Flagellants believed that the plague was the judgment of God on sinful mankind. They traveled the country, men and women flogging one another. They preached that anyone doing this for thirty-three days would be cleansed of all his sins -- one day for every year that Christ lived. The Church was still on guard against such innovative religious proclamations from common people, and in 1349 Pope Clement VI condemned the movement.

    The wandering mobs focused their wrath upon clergy who opposed them, and they targeted Jews, whom they blamed for inciting God's wrath. In Germany rumors arose that Jews had caused the plague by poisoning the water. Pogroms followed. Jews were arrested. Their fortunes were seized by the lords under whose jurisdictions they lived, and Jews were put to death by burning. The attacks on Jews were condemned by Clement VI, and he threatened excommunication for those Christians who harmed Jews.<>

    Depopulation, Rebellion and Social Progress

    It has been roughly estimated that a third of England died from the Black Death of 1348-49, and perhaps this figure is not far from the losses suffered in other areas of Europe through which the plague passed. Much farm land went into disuse, reducing the output of food. But with all the deaths the demand for food dropped faster, lowering its price. In Western Europe the demand for labor rose, and with a diminished supply of labor (fewer people around willing to work for less) wages rose.

    In Western Europe, the shortage of labor brought on by the plague increased the demand for slaves, cutting into the demand for free labor. Wealthy merchants vied for servants to staff their households. Craftsmen and shopkeepers felt that they had to keep slaves. Cobblers, carpenters, weavers and woolworkers bought men and women from the slave dealers to help in their industries. And more slaves were put on the market as hungry parents sold their children, preferring their children's enslavement to watching them starve to death.

    In Western Europe, common folks who survived the thinning of the population were more inclined to rebellion. With labor in short supply they were aware of their added value as producers and eager to improve their situation. In response to rising wages, authorities started to fix wages at a low level -- the opposite of a minimum wage. Hostility toward employers and authorities increased. Peasants and other workers tried to dodge these impositions. Peasants called for a reduction in service obligations. In cities, workers rose against the wealthy merchants who had been running city hall. Peasant and worker revolts occurred in Spain, the Netherlands, southern Germany, Italy, and England.

    In England, some asked why there was bondage when all were from one father and mother -- Adam and Eve. Rebellion was mixed with religious fervor and a call for holding everything in common and for the abolition of differences between lord and serf. In most of England were castles with soldiers enough to control local peasants.

    In Western Europe, serfdom was coming to an end, but the opposite was happening in Eastern Europe. There, populations were less dense. Towns were smaller and more distant from one another. The availability of land had given peasants freedom and opportunity, and serfdom had all but disappeared. But after the Black Death power over the peasants swung to the side of big landowners. Working land alone in the wilderness was dangerous, and the big landowners, unchecked by governmental authority, were able to force peasants to work the land under their conditions -- into the kind of servitude that, except for slavery, was vanishing in the west.

    Peaceful Progress

    While violent revolution was failing, social change by other means was taking place. Land had become much cheaper to buy. With fewer people to labor in agriculture, serfdom was diminishing in western Europe. Landlords in need of people to work their lands had begun renting out their land to peasants for sharecropping, and great estates were being replaced by small farms. Linen production as an alternative to wool had arisen. Metal and glass industries were growing. The use of free labor -- in contrast to slave gangs of ancient times -- would in the 1300s contribute to inventions such as cogwheels, gears and suction pumps in mining. Power driven bellows was soon to make it possible to fully melt iron. Rare and expensive in ancient times, iron would soon become inexpensive and its use more widespread.

    Europe was benefiting from geographical advantages. It had a variety of slow-moving rivers on which goods could be transported, which was easier and cheaper than transporting goods across land by pack animals as was done in some other parts of the world. Europe had just enough mountains for slow moving rivers -- rather than the higher mountains and faster moving rivers of India.

    Europe also had no caste system to strangle initiative. And in Europe governments were uninterested in taking over or holding a monopoly on any industry. Industry in Europe was freer than in China. Instead of businessmen being dependent on government for favor, monarchs in Europe were dependent on businessmen. If a monarch repudiated his debts he was in effect killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.


    Intellectual Change and William of Ockham

    Hard times did not diminish a passion for learning. And, as always, upheaval stimulated questions. The plague had caused people to question divine purpose, the nature of God and society. During these times the Franciscans defended their view that knowledge of God can come only through revelation and that the divine cannot be known through logic or reason. One of the more creative of such Franciscans was William of Ockham, who studied and taught at Oxford University.

    Similar to Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham recognized that universals were abstractions rather than things -- a step up from Plato. But unlike Aquinas, William of Ockham doubted that one could build from Aristotle's deductive logic to knowledge of the first cause of anything. He rejected abstractions hanging on to nothing concrete. William believed in specifics. There was no fatherhood, he said, without fathers. He stated that what could be expressed in fewer words was expressed "in vain with more" -- which came to be known as Ockham's razor. For William of Ockham it was back to apostle Paul, who based his Christianity on faith and scripture, not on Aristotelian logic.

    In scholastic circles Ockham's point of view gained wide popularity. But he was at odds with Pope John XXII, Ockham siding with those Franciscans that the Church condemned as heretics for holding onto the doctrine of apostolic poverty. The Inquisition was hunting down the rebel Franciscans, and Ockham fled to the court of the emperor Louis at Munich. The Pope dismissed Ockham from the Franciscan order in 1331. And Ockham died in Bavaria in 1349, a victim perhaps of the plague while he was trying to reconcile with the Church.

    After Ockham's death, the intellectual movement to which he had founded grew, but while pursuing philosophical questions they still lacked interest in experimentation and quantification. They kept to the common belief that everything in nature operates in accord with the Divine Spirit while their emphasis on the specific over the general was setting the stage for the scientific revolution of the 1500s.

    End of Chivalry and the Hundred Years' War

    The major occupation of nobles had been warfare. Among these nobles were the knights, who earned their knighthood through long and hard training on horseback from early childhood. The knights were vassals of some higher lord, or perhaps a king, whoever supplied him with the land that he was free to use -- called a fief -- in exchange for duty as a warrior. But on the field of battle knights on horseback were becoming an anachronism. Feudalism was in decline, with kings gaining over nobles and acquiring a monopoly on war-making and violence. England's King Edward III supported the trappings of chivalry, and during his reign the rise of heraldry, tournaments and banquets, courtly love and the writing of epic romances flourished. But in the place of knights, mercenaries were being hired. The English benefited from an army armed with the longbow, with arrows that hit effectively at a good range. There was also gunpowder and firearms, with less range and accuracy than the longbow, but greater range than the knights' weapons -- the sword and lance. When the Hundred Years' War began in earnest, in 1346, the English were in control of the English Channel and the North Sea. Edward invaded France, his army of 10,000 men defeated a numerically superior French army at the Battle of Crécy (pronounced cressy), and ten years later the British defeated the French at Poitiers. The French and their horses went down in heaps. The English captured and held for ransom the French king, the successor of Philippe VI, John II (r. 1350-1364) and many French nobles -- captivity and ransom a major goal and source of wealth for combatants.

    The Jacquerie, Robin Hood and Other Unrest

    Peasants near Paris disliked the increased tax burden that accompanied the Hundred Years' War, and they were fed up with being forced to labor on castles and fortifications and fed up with marauding English and French soldiers. Peasants near Paris called the Jacquerie went on a rampage in 1358, moving through the countryside, killing nobles, raping the wives and daughters of noblemen, setting fire to castle interiors and destroying estates. The aristocracy united against the rebels. They were better organized and had a larger army, and thousands of peasants were slaughtered -- the guilty and the innocent alike.

    In 1360 the first phase of the Hundred Years' War ended in a tenuous treaty -- the Peace of Brétigny. In France, out of work mercenary soldiers, who had been hired by the English, were living off plundering the French. In England, knights idled by a truce in the Hundred Years' War were trying to keep up with the generosity and lavish style that had been a part of the culture of chivalry and resorting to their old habit of robbery and abuse against the poor. A group of vigilantes formed who would become known as Robin Hood and his band of followers, living in the Sherwood Forest. According to legend they were opposed to corruption and abuse by aristocrats, grasping landlords and wicked sheriffs. The governments under Henry IV and Henry V were dominated by aristocrats and reluctant to effectively combat robberies by the nobility. And those who were summoned to appear in court were inclined to intimidate witnesses, threaten jurors or bribe judges.

    In 1381 English peasants rose as they never had before. Peasants feared the lords would be taking back lands they had given them after the Black Death. Peasants were unhappy about having to work on Church land, sometimes twice in a week, making, as they saw it, the Church rich and leaving them unable to do needed work on their own land. The most pressing grievance was increased taxes -- demanded by government to help pay for the Hundred Years' War. An incident regarding resistance to the poll tax that sparked the rebellion. Peasants marched from Kent to London, along the way burning to the ground buildings that housed tax records and tax registers. People in London opened that city's gates to them, and in London the king, Richard II, met the peasants at Mile End, gave them what they asked, and invited them to return home in peace. Some did not. Discipline among the rebels was lax. There was the drinking of alcohol. Some executed ministers, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sudbury, and they sacked the mansions of some bishops and lords.

    The War Resumes

    Nobles in Gascony (south of Bordeaux) complained to the French king, Charles V (r.1364-80), about oppressive taxation by Edward III of England. Charles confiscated English holdings and Edward III reasserted his claim to the French throne. Warfare began again. Rather than confront the English in head-on battles, the French employed hit and run raids, wearing down the English. Stalemate, exhaustion and a slowing of warfare followed.

    England's king, Henry V (r. 1413-22) resumed the war, partly as a distraction from social tensions in England, and in 1415 the French blocked him as he led his force on the road from Flanders to the port city of Calais. The French challenged him and the Battle of Agincourt followed. French knights charged against the British and were compressed by the terrain, with England's archers dropping the leading wave and fallen horses preventing other knights from advancing. In a half hour of battle thousands of French knights were taken prisoner. The fear of a second attack prompted the English to kill them on the spot, and the French nobility was horribly decimated in a single day. For France the use of knights in warfare was at an end. The French king from 1422, Charles VII, would create France's first standing, professional, rather than feudal, army. No longer needed in battle, the knights would take refuge in the tournaments that were merely staged pageantry.

    Joan of Arc

    After Agincourt, French morale was low, with some believing that only a miracle could save them from the English. Among the French appeared the illiterate daughter of a modest but locally prominent farming family -- devout Catholics. Joan heard voices, and in 1428, at the age of sixteen, a voice told her that the English had to be expelled from France. Society was not as densely populated as it would be in the 21st century, and Joan was noticed. Her story was accepted by several leaders of the French army, and the following year, 1429, Joan persuaded Charles VII to support her effort at relieving the city of Orléans, then being besieged by the English. She knew little of warfare, but she believed that if the French soldiers with her would not swear or visit prostitutes they would win.

    The English had been weakened by disease and their supplies were low. They pulled back from Orléans, and the French defeated them in a number of battles. The English were allied with the Burgundy (it being common to have as an ally a power that was a neighbor of one's enemy), and in 1430 Joan and four or five hundred men attacked the Burgundians at Campiègne. Joan and her army were driven back. Most escaped, but Joan was captured, and the Burgundians turned Joan over to the English. The English, suffering from attacks by forces under Joan's command had come to see her truly as a witch and as an agent of the devil -- a common view of adversity in this age. Wishing to have her discredited before she was executed, the English turned her over to ecclesiastic authorities -- the Inquisition -- at the French town of Rouen, then under English rule.

    The Inquisition pondered the question whether Joan's visions were genuine or delusions of the devil. The British wanted her executed and were displeased when it appeared that she would be allowed to recant. In her cell Joan was given a dress as a part of her recantation. But Joan was found back in her usual men's garb. Her recantation a failure, Joan was charged with sorcery (witchcraft) and burned to death in the marketplace at Rouen.

    End of the Hundred Years' War

    After Joan's death, the war continued in desultory fashion as before. The English had been superior on the battlefield, their longbow archers having a greater range than the French crossbow and faster rate of shooting. Cannon and handguns were used with more regularity, although the hand guns were less accurate and had less range than archery and often as threatening to its user as to the target. The war had stimulated changes in military organization. National armies were replacing armies of individual noblemen. Infantry had been growing and cavalry diminishing. For awhile the French had been hurting because of their slowness in making these changes. But France was a larger and more prosperous nation and eventually developed superiority in weaponry, especially in mobile field artillery. The English longbow could not match France's new artillery -- which had a devastating effect on the ranks of an advancing English army.

    England lost its alliance with Burgundy, both countries were exhausted by the war, and the insistence on total victory had dissipated. Both countries welcomed peace. The vanity of the English kings had come to nothing. Except for the Calais, on the channel coast, the English withdrew from the continent, the end of the Hundred Years' War marking the end of England's attempts to hold territory on the continent. And with the end of the Hundred Years' War came a revival of trade and an end to economic depression.

    Dracula (Vladislav II of Romania)
    The ruler of Walachia, in eastern Europe, had as his emblem a dragon, displayed on his shield and coins. The word for dragon in Romanian was dracul, and the ruler used it as his official name. His son attached to the end of this name the letter a, signifying the son of Dracul -- Dracula. Dracula is also known as Vladislav II of Walachia. He inherited rule in Walachia from in 1435 and ruled to 1446, taking part in Christendom's crusade and wars against the Ottomans.

    Dracula hated evil, and he is said to have resorted to severe measures against people who had overstepped what he thought were the boundaries of moral behavior. According to Romanian legend, as punishment for adultery a woman was skinned and left to die tied to a stake in the public square. Legend describes him as hating thieves and as having looked upon beggars and the homeless as immoral and on the verge of thievery. Legend also describes Dracula as having invited beggars and the homeless to a banquet, locking the doors and setting the hall afire, killing them all and ending the local homeless problem. His reputation for being tough on crime gave rise to the story of his placing a gold cup for passers by to drink from at a fountain and that no one dared steal it. Dracula was known for executing people by impalement, and he became known as the Impaler. Into the 1700s tales about Dracula grew in exaggeration, which in the 20th century were adopted for entertainment by Hollywood film makers.

    The Decline and Fall of Constantinople
    Since the end of the eleventh century, emperors at Constantinople had been losing territory to the Turks, and with this loss they lost revenues from taxing agricultural production. In the twelfth century they lost eastern markets to Venetian and Genoese seaborne traders, and revenues from customs duties. Constantinople had come to see the upkeep of their merchant fleet as a drain on their meager money supply, and the city's neglected fleet rotted away while foreign ships came and went from its port.

    The government lost revenues too with the growth of big estates and the diminished number of independent farmers. The great estates were worked by a growing army of people forced to remain there. These estates were less efficient in production than had been land worked by free peasants, and less in taxes was collected from them. And estates owned by the Church and worked by monks were often tax exempt.

    The royal government continued spending money for extravagant displays necessary to keep up the appearance of grandeur, and Constantinople became impoverished. Some of the poor of Constantinople took to the hills. Some people emigrated. The once proud Christian people, enthusiastic for their racing team at the sports arena, was no more. By the 1400s Constantinople had a diminished population and seemed to be in mourning. And Constantinople was diminished militarily.

    When the Turks overran Constantinople in 1453, Constantinople's thousand year reign as the center of the Roman Empire had come to an end. The flow of refugees from Constantinople to Italy included intellectuals with their manuscripts. In Italy, these refugees stimulated a new interest in the ancient past, an interest that was humanistic rather than concerned with sin and salvation. Wealthy businessmen in Italy began to support education and the arts. It was the beginning of what would be called the Renaissance.

    Patriotism, Central Authority and the New State
    The hundred years' war had stimulated greater national identity among the English and the French, with people looking more toward their king as a father figure and away from the Holy Father in Rome. France's king had gained too with the demise and death of nobles during the war. In France the war left fewer local lords between a king and his people and fewer layers of authority -- barons, earls, counts and knights. The expansion of the money economy had contributed to the breakdown of the old agricultural feudalism. Fiefdoms had been disappearing. Warring nobles were of the past. A new kind of state was developing. The king of France won the right to tax, judge and legislate for all inhabitants in their realm. Power there was becoming more centralized.
    After the Hundred Years' War many English believed that they had lost the war against the French, causing some unrest. And between 1455 and 1471 there was civil war between powerful landowning families -- the kind of competition over succession that had been common in China and elsewhere. It was the family of the Lancasters against the Yorks -- "War of the Roses." The York family won and placed on the throne Henry Tudor, who became known as Henry VII. To consolidate his power and to bring law and order at the local level, he crushed the power of the already weakened nobles. This pleased people, who wanted order, stability and an end to the disruptions and costs of warfare, and for these they favored strong central authority and loyalty to the king. Feudalism in England had come to an end.
    In France, Charles VII strengthened the rule of his family, the Valois -- a branch of the Capetian family. Charles was not a strong monarch, but he managed to reform the military, he pursued sound fiscal policies and encouraged trade. He was succeeded by his son, Louis XI, who had been in revolt against his father since 1446. In 1477, Louis extended Valois authority to Burgundy, and in 1480 he gained the territories of Anjou, Bar Mine and Provence. His successor, Louis XII married Ann of Brittany, adding Brittany to territory belonging to the French king.
    In Italy, meanwhile, much wealth had been accumulated from commerce and trade, and city-states were controlled by wealthy merchants and bankers, while patriotism had remained local. Five powers dominated Italy: Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal states (in central Italy, including Rome) and Naples (which ruled the southern half of the peninsula). Competition for territory was intense. All the states were worried that one state might become so powerful as to rule the rest, and to prevent this, alliances had been formed. Warring in Italy was continuous, including a war in 1450 between Venice and Milan, with an alliance between Florence, Naples and Milan on one side and Venice and the papacy on the other.

    After the Muslims broke down the triple walls of Constantinople in 1453, word spread that walls and castles were no longer much of a defense. Castles were on their way to becoming relics. Rulers saw that security would have to provided by standing armies.

    Security could also be provided by a balance of power, requiring diplomacy, and addressing the art of diplomacy at the end of the century was Niccolò Machiavelli. Countering the claim that good government ought to follow God's will, Machiavelli saw events as being human in origin, and largely that of human weaknesses. He believed that a ruler should be concerned not with how things ought to be but with how things are and that politics should be scientific, in other words about empirical realities rather than religious faith. His better known work, The Prince, was written in 1505 and published in 1515. Machiavelli was trying to win back his standing as a diplomat. He was a republican and an Italian nationalist, wanting Italy rid of foreign armies. He wanted a new appointment from the Medici family, which ruled Florence -- Machiavelli's purpose in writing his book. He urged a development similar to what had been taking place to the north, in France. A princely state, claimed Machiavelli, needed a professional military rather than seasonal mobilizations by knights. He saw rulers as needing the support of their subjects gaining in strength by political and other improvements. He wrote that a prince should act in the interest not just of himself but in the interest of his subjects, that a prince should create institutions that serve and evoke loyalty. Societies, he held, should be governed by laws rather than whim. And he claimed that a good ruler maintained permanent embassies in other lands and based his diplomacy on good information.

    Moscow and the Mongols

    The prince of Moscow, Ivan I, was frugal. He saved his money, became known as Ivan the moneybag and bought property, enhancing himself economically. A nearby rival town, Tver, rebelled against Mongol rule, and Ivan sided with the Mongols. The Mongols elevated Ivan to chief tax collector in all Slavic lands to which they were overlord. Ivan and the Mongols destroyed Tver. Ivan enhanced Moscow's prestige by talking the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church in Kiev into moving its Slavic headquarters to Moscow -- while the world center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity remained at Constantinople.

    Ivan I died in 1348. Ivan III, whose rule began in 1462, bought the town of Rostov. He warred against Pskov -- a republican merchant town. And in the 1470s Ivan III extended his rule through warfare to Novgorod and its territories, Ivan exiling 1,000 wealthy families from Novgorod and replacing them with families from Moscow.

    With Islamic rule having come to Constantinople, the eastern Christian Church moved to Moscow. Leaders of the Orthodox Church spoke of "Holy Russia and described Moscow as the "Third Rome." Ivan III saw himself as the heir of Rome's emperors -- the word tsar (czar) being derived from the word Caesar. And Ivan III saw Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the one true faith. All the Catholic kings in the West, he believed, were heretics.

    In 1480 Ivan III felt strong enough to refuse to pay tribute to the Mongols. The Mongols were fighting among themselves, and Ivan was able to make his independence stick. He annexed Tver in 1485. He maintained friendly relations with the khan in the Crimea. And with passage through the Crimea, Ivan maintained communications with Islamic Constantinople. He was interested in trade and knew its benefits and the benefits of diplomacy, and he opened an embassy in Constantinople in 1495.

    Toward the end of the 1400s the area around Moscow and the rest of Europe was returning to the population levels that had existed before the Black Death. Earlier agriculture had been largely slash and burn. Now, with more people, agriculture around Moscow became what it was in the West -- the three-field system, with the raising of farm animals. Farming was becoming more profitable around Moscow, and those with wealth, including enterprising monasteries, were absorbing more land.

    A trend had begun: the rich were getting richer. The nobles were buying more land and less land was available to free peasants -- not only in Russia but elsewhere in Eastern Europe. In Russia, Ivan III gave land away as a reward for military service. These new landholders hired people to work their lands, and in 1497 Ivan III accommodated the landowners by limiting the rights of agricultural workers. More peasants in Eastern Europe were forced to labor on the estates of nobles and to give an exorbitant amount of their produce to the nobles as rent.


    The Rising Powers of Portugal and Spain

    The Black Death had encouraged the development of sailing ships that would not require a lot of manpower. The Portuguese built such ships -- three-masted ships with stern rudders that could sail forty-five degrees into the wind, carry more cargo and sail the high seas. These ships carried cannon that fired stone or iron balls, which could demolish a ship at a distance, reducing the need for armed marines.

    The sea captains benefited from pilot books -- first created around the year 1280. Away from shore they benefited from use of a magnetic compass and from an astrolabe for measuring the angle of celestial bodies from the horizon, the astrolabe enabling sea captains to determine their location north and south. Positions east and west were calculated from speed and time.

    The Portuguese were interested in trade. They reached the Canary Islands in 1415, off the coast of northwestern Africa. They discovered the Azores Islands in 1419, about 900 miles west of Portugal. Of concern to the Portuguese was Islam. They wished to find a route to India that outflanked Muslim dominated trade routes. They also wished to convert the "heathen" and to establish Christian colonies. In 1424 they began to colonize Madeira Island. They warred against Muslims at Ceuta and Tangier. In 1441 a ship brought back to Portugal the first slaves and some gold dust. In 1443 the Portuguese discovered the four by two-mile Arguin Island -- a 1,600 kilometer sail from the Canaries. An increase in slave trading followed, with the Portuguese buying more slaves from Africans, while believing that they were giving the slaves an opportunity to become Christians.

    Aiming toward the Riches and the Saving of Souls

    The kingdom of Castile had expanded to Cordoba and Seville in 1236, and since then it had been forcing Grenada to pay tribute. In 1469 Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, married, more or less unifying these two kingdoms, creating what looks like the modern map of the Iberian peninsula -- except for Islamic kingdom of Grenada in the south and the small kingdom of Navarre in the northeast.

    Pursuing what they believed was God's will, Isabella and Ferdinand moved against Judaism and Islam within their realms -- an effort toward creating Christianity as the universal faith. It was the time of Tomás de Torquemada, Inquisitor General under Isabella and Ferdinand. Converted Jews and Muslims as well as Catholic intellectuals, among them Ignatius Loyola, were among the persecuted. Of the 200,000 or so Jews who had lived in Spain, perhaps as many as 150,000 fled. And in 1482 Castile launched a war of conquest against Grenada.

    Meanwhile, the Portuguese had reached the equator, and in 1487 a Portuguese explorer, Bartolomew Diaz, sailed as far as the southern tip of Africa -- the Portuguese having overcome fears of monsters at sea and boiling water at the equator.

    In 1492, after having defeated Grenada, Isabella and Ferdinand backed Christopher Columbus's dream of reaching India by sailing westward. Columbus believed, as did many literate Europeans, that the world was round. He had calculated that a couple thousand miles of ocean lay between his point of departure and Japan. He promised to bring back gold, spices and silks, to spread Christianity and to lead an expedition to China. If a more accurate calculation of the size of the planet were known, he might have tried to reach India by going east.

    Christopher Columbus and his crew were at sea for seventy days, his crew saying their vespers and singing a hymn to the Virgin Mary every night before sleeping. The island they came upon Columbus called Hispaniola (the island that today includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti). If people on this island had known what was coming their way they would have been praying to their gods and sharpening their spears.

    In 1498 a Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, did make it to India, by sailing around Africa, stopping at four places in eastern Africa along the way and picking up a guide. He dropped anchor at Calicut in India (modern Kozhikode), and he returned to Portugal in 1499 with a load of spices which brought him a huge profit. This inspired a mad scramble for more voyaging across the sea. From his king he received the rank of an untitled noble, a pension and property. Portugal then sent a fleet of thirteen ships to make another voyage south around Africa. The fleet was blown off course and ended in what is today called Brazil, which the Portuguese claimed as theirs.

    Christendom's penetration of the "New World" had begun, with the excuse that they had an opportunity to convert heathens to Christianity -- a motivation that had been lacking in the Chinese. Also unlike the Chinese, the Spanish, Portuguese and English were far from isolationism. They did not see themselves at the center of the world; they saw Jerusalem as the center of the world.

    Another motive for their penetration of the New World was the search for riches. But Europeans venturing overseas cannot be said to have been any more greedy than the Mongols had been, or any more greedy than other Asians, or Arabs and Africans who also traded. Islam still had its trade routes in Africa and across the Indian Ocean, and its slave trade.

    The Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch had the technology needed to sail across the Atlantic -- and around the world. Technology had shrunk the world -- the voyage of Columbus and that of Vasco da Gama being the first of what was to be called "globalization." Also in the second half of the 1400s printing with movable type had come into being in Europe -- printing on paper. A new age was dawning.

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    Post Re: Europe in the 14th and 15th Centuries

    Excellent !!!!!

    But, "You must spread some Reputation around before giving it to Johannes de León again."

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