AN03e5_Formation of Western Europe: Europe’s Response to The Black Death
Timeline: 14th Century
FQ: How could the after-affects of The Black Death contribute to significant changes in Feudal European Society?
In the 1300s, Europe was torn apart by several events. Among these was bubonic plague. The Plague was a biological catastrophe. Its decimation of urban populations left an indelible mark on human events since then. In Europe and elsewhere, the plague’s impact was exacerbated by the famine-causing climate change and ever-present warfare. Social, economic, and political change was inevitable. Devastated communities challenged the inequities embedded in long-standing institutions. Like recent medical crises (eg. AIDS, Bird Flu, West Nile, etc.), this pandemic forced society to react and change.
I. Socio-Economic-Political Impact
1. ‘Acts of Passion’: Acts committed because of sudden strong impulses. These impulses are often emotional in nature and do not allow for premeditation (prior planning or forethought).
2. Loss of a Wage Earner: Families become destitute.
4. ‘Hope’ in Religion: (Religious Rationalization/ Questioning the Faith)
The Flagellant Movement: A movement consisting of Christians who publicly announce their sinful behavior and partially atone for it by physically punishing themselves (self flagellation or whipping oneself). Often groups of people from within this movement would walk from town to town and offer this option to those who seek an escape from divine wrath.
1. Peasant Rebellion: The peasant population of European countries turn away from an aristocracy that is increasingly less concerned about the plight of the peasantry. The peasantry, instead, turn to a king who is growing increasingly independent of the nobility that was once the foundation of a feudal society. The growing disaffection between the peasantry and the aristocracy at times explodes into violent clashes. (eg. England & Italy).
2. Revenues decrease while expenses increase.
3. Tax Increase
4. Quelling the Masses
Ponder: “…if the kings and nobles do not address the needs of those from which they derive the bulk of their wealth, then that abused segment of society will force the change…” -John Bolle
1. Loss of Workers/ Labor Shortage
– Free Peasants and Serfs demanded wages for their labor.
– Competition for laborers developed among landowners.
– Landlord’s made an effort to institute laws that kept wages low and workers tied to the land. Imprisonment and fine were penalties often applied.
2. Loss of Consumers
As demand for agricultural products dropped, many landlords ceased trying to cultivate their land and simply leased it out.
3. Volatility in Economic Forces (Supply, Demand, Price, & Production).
II. End of the ‘Old Order’/ Birth of a ‘New Order’.
A. The Aristocracy
Ponder: Plague & Mini Ice Age claim many Serf lives. From where will nobles get their income?
1. Options available to the aristocracy might include the following:
2. Raise rents/ crop payment of serfs and force them to work more? Could lead to rebellion (eg. England).
3. Allow Serfs to acquire economic freedom in return for a payment. (Tried in various localities)
4. Raise rents of townspeople to compensate for loss of serf labor? Could lead to rebellion (eg. Italy).
5. Allow towns to purchase their independence via a payment to the local lord for a town charter. (tried in various localities)
If you combine the loss of life and wealth suffered by the aristocracy (Nobility) resulting from the Crusades, Hundred Years War, battles with Mongols, Mini-Ice Age, and The Plague =\> the nobility is severely weakened while monarchs grow economically and politically stronger.
1. Confidence in the Church diminishes. Contributing causes for this would include:
– High mortality rate despite efforts of individuals and local clergy to prevent illness.
– Inappropriate behavior of clergy when addressing the needs of the people, both sick and healthy.
– The Church was the largest feudal entity. It had the greatest reserve of resources to address the needs of Europeans most susceptible to the illness- but didn’t.
2. Heretical Movements: Individuals and communities would turn to religion for answers and a chance to be spared death via The Plague. There were examples of Christian groups who organized religious movements that were not sanctioned by the Church. One such movement was the Flagellant Movement. Some devout Christians would partake of this physical suffering to atone for the sins of others- as did Jesus. These Christians, as were others in similar movements, were branded “Heretics”.
3. The growing popularity of “heretical” movements and activities generated increased pressure for the Church to address this issue. In response, the Church will create an office charged with the task of addressing all issues pertaining to the ‘purity’ of the faith- The Holy Office of the Inquisition.(1)
C. Towns/ Urban Life
1. Though town populations suffered high mortality rates, it was fast becoming host to the surviving agricultural laborers abandoning farming and the manorial estates.
2. Many flocking to the towns pursue occupations in manufacturing.
3. Commercial associations like Guilds and the Hanseatic League continue to survive despite the heavy loss of life.
III. Summary: Why it matters now.
Events of the 1300s led to a change in attitudes toward religion and the state, a change reflected in the Renaissance, and later, modern attitudes.