BECK index

Summary and Evaluation

Medieval Europe 1250-1400

by Sanderson Beck

Eastern Europe 1250-1400
Catholic Ethics 1250-1400
Northern Europe 1250-1400
Italy 1250-1400
Western Europe 1250-1400
British Isles 1250-1400
Evaluating Medieval Europe 1250-1400

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
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Eastern Europe 1250-1400

Byzantine and Frank Empires 610-1095
Crusades Era 1095-1250

Although the crusade led by Louis IX captured Damietta in Egypt in 1249, they suffered diseases and had to retreat. In 1258 Mongols sacked Baghdad, massacring nearly a million people, and Damascus fell in 1260. Mamluk sultan Baybars raided Palestine and made truces with Christians; but his army destroyed Antioch in 1268. Another crusade led by Louis IX was diverted by his brother Charles of Anjou to Tunis, where Louis died in 1270. After so many disasters public opinion from troubadors to Roger Bacon turned against the crusades despite a few religious appeals. Mamluk sultan Kalavun (r. 1279-90) stopped two invading Mongol armies with his own large Egyptian army in 1281, and two years later Franks made a truce with him. The Mamluk army drove the crusaders out of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Haifa, and the Templars and Hospitallers fled to Cypress in 1291. Christians became a persecuted minority everywhere in the Mideast except in Cilician Armenia. Two centuries of religious wars had made the Muslims much less tolerant of the hostile Christians.

Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Paleologus (r. 1258-82) regained Constantinople in 1261, ending the eastern Latin empire; but his effort to reunify the Church under the Pope in 1274 failed. Bulgarians invaded the Byzantine empire in 1272, and ten years later Stephen Uros II Milutin (r. 1282-1321) led another invasion by Serbia, John of Thessaly, and Charles of Anjou, who had inherited Achaea. Then Bulgaria’s George I Terter (r. 1280-92) attacked the Byzantines. Andronicus II ruled the Byzantines 1282-1328 and was defended by Genoa’s navy. The Eastern Orthodox Church was restored, and the Byzantine army invaded Thessaly in 1290. A marriage united the daughter of Andronicus with Serbia’s Milutin in the treaty of 1299, but they were drawn into Genoa’s war against Venice 1294-1302. Czar Theodore Svetoslav (r. 1300-22) expanded Bulgaria and made a treaty with Andronicus in 1307. Venice agreed to an armistice with the Byzantines in 1310.

Serbia destroyed Bulgaria’s army in 1330, but Ivan Alexander ruled Bulgaria 1331-71 and made peace with Serbia’s Stephen Dushan (r. 1331-55). A revolt by the poor caused a civil war in the Byzantine empire 1341-55 during the reign of John V (r. 1341-76), who allied with Ottoman sultan Murad I (r. 1361-89) against Asia Minor in 1373. The Ottoman Turks advanced and defeated Serbia at Kosovo in 1389. By the time of Manuel II (r. 1391-1425) the Byzantine state retained little more than blockaded Constantinople.

Hungary’s Bela IV invaded Austria in 1254 and took over Styria from Bohemia. His son Istvan divided Hungary in civil war, but he died two years after his father in 1272. The Hungarian assembly declared Ladislaus IV king in 1277, and with his Hapsburg ally he defeated Ottokar’s Bohemians in 1278. The Mongol invasions had pushed Kumans into Hungary. Ladislaus IV had Kuman concubines and protected Kuman rights, but he was assassinated in 1290. The succession was challenged by independent barons until nobles made Charles I king in 1307. His army conquered Transylvania by 1321 and reunified Hungary in 1323. Charles ruled by force and violence until his death in 1342. His son Lajos I (r. 1342-82) fought many wars, and he was crowned king of Poland in 1370. The law code of 1351 recognized the rights of nobles, but Jews were persecuted. Princess Mary wed Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1385, and after struggles he became king in 1387. His crusade against the Ottoman empire in 1396 was a disaster, but he survived and ruled Hungary for fifty years.

Bohemia’s Ottokar II (r. 1253-78) resisted imperial rule and invaded Austria but lost the territory he had gained. Under young Wenceslaus II (r. 1278-1305) Bohemia had trouble with Germans and stopped using that language. Wenceslaus conquered Poland and became its king also in 1300. The Premysl dynasty in Bohemia ended in 1305, and the Diet chose Heinrich of Carinthia as king in 1307. In 1310 Emperor Heinrich VII’s son Jan of Luxembourg became king of Bohemia. Jan was a military adventurer, and in his absence Jindrich of Lipa governed Bohemia until 1329. Jan’s son Karl was elected king of Germany in 1346 and was crowned king of Bohemia the next year. Karl IV made Czech the language of the courts and founded the University of Prague before his death in 1378. Milic of Kromeriz lived in poverty and worked to reform the Church. Wenceslaus IV was king of Germany 1376-1400, and he ruled Bohemia 1378-1419. At Prague he massacred thousands of Jews in 1389.

German immigrants brought Magdeburg law to Poland, and Jews were given a charter in 1264 by Boleslaw V (r. 1243-79); but five years later Jews were required to wear a red badge. Despite the efforts of King Wladyslaw Lokietek, Bohemia’s Wenceslaus II ruled Poland 1300-05; but Lokietek persevered, fought the Teutonic knights, and reigned until his death in 1333. Then his son Kazimierz (Casimir) III ruled Poland until he died in 1370. He made peace with the Teutonic order and Bohemia but fought Lithuania and Hungary in 1340. He codified laws and created a royal court of appeal. He welcomed Jews from Germany and founded the University of Krakow in 1364. Kazimierz more than doubled the size of Poland. He was succeeded by his nephew Lajos, who was king of Hungary and let his mother Elzbieta govern. The nobles gained more power. In 1386 Lajos’s daughter Jadwiga married Lithuania’s king Jogaila (Jagiello), who became a Catholic.

Lithuania became a nation under King Mindaugas (r. 1253-63), suffered civil war, and invaded Livonia in the 1270s. Grand Duke Viten governed Lithuania 1295-1316, defeating the Livonian knights and invading Teutonic territory. Gedymin (r. 1316-41) made trade agreements with the west but tried and failed to open Lithuania to Christian orders. Olgerd had married a Russian princess, and he was grand prince of Lithuania 1345-77. Jogaila ruled Lithuania 1377-1413 and Poland with Jadwiga 1386-1434. After marrying Jadwiga in 1386, he converted to Christianity and changed pagan Lithuania’s religion.

The Mongols ruled Russia for more than two centuries. Batu began ruling from Sarai on the Lower Volga in 1242. Russian princes governed and collected taxes for the Mongols. Alexander Nevsky was Grand Prince of Russia in 1252-63, and he traveled to the Mongol court four times. Khan Berke (r. 1257-66) converted to Islam. Alexander’s four sons Vasily, Dmitri, Andrey, and Daniel governed different parts of Russia. Mangu Temir (r. 1267-80) exempted the Russian Orthodox Church from taxes and conscription. Andrey sided with the Mongols against Dmitri in a civil war and became grand duke of Vladimir in 1294. Uzbek Khan (r. 1313-41) gave Moscow’s Ivan Kalita (r. 1325-40) 50,000 Tatars to suppress the rebellion of 1327. Jani Beg Khan (r. 1342-57) summoned Russian princes in 1353 and appointed Ivan II in Moscow. The Muscovite army led by Dmitri Donskoi (r. 1359-89) defeated the Mamai’s army in 1380, but two years later Tokhtamysh (r. 1378-95) took revenge on Moscow. In 1391 he let Vasily (r. 1389-1425) annex Nizhni-Novgorod. Sergius of Radonezh (c. 1320-92) popularized the monastic movement in Russia. Stephen of Perm (1340-96) converted the Finnic tribe of Komi Permyaks and created the Old Permian alphabet.

Eastern and Northern Europe 1400-1517

Catholic Ethics 1250-1400

Christian Ethics 1095-1250

In 1252 Pope Innocent IV authorized the Inquisition to use torture for gaining information, and Pope Alexander IV increased its power in 1255. Charles of Anjou allowed the Inquisition into Sicily in 1269. About two hundred Cathars were burned to death in 1278.

Bonaventure was minister general of the Franciscan order from 1257 until his death in 1274, and he wrote the official biography of Francesco of Assisi. Bonaventure’s ethics are based on natural law, which he believed derived from eternal law. Justice is the law of social order. Innocence is not harming others, and beneficence is doing good to others. The duty of rulers and subjects is to work for the common good. Charity above all fosters order and virtue. Bonaventure believed in hierarchical order and saw prelates instructing and correcting people. No one has to obey commands against God’s laws. He believed in equal rights for women, though he granted the husband authority similar to that of the prince. Children when they are grown up no longer have to obey their parents. He observed that elected rulers are better than hereditary ones. Excess riches should be distributed to the poor.

The rational development of systematic theology was pioneered by Albertus Magnus, who taught Thomas Aquinas. Both were Dominicans, and Thomas taught at the University of Paris and in Italy. Thomas answered the challenges to Christianity in his Summa contra Gentiles. He argued that evil is not intentional and only a privation. Ultimately happiness is found in contemplating God. Divine law directs humans with reason. In On Kingship Aquinas considered this the best form of government, but its abusive form (tyranny) is the worst. He believed that humans are free because they are intelligent; but irrational actions are neither human nor free. Virtues are good habits, and vices are bad habits; they become second nature. Virtues enhance freedom by using abilities in the best way. Thomas Aquinas became most influential with his Summary of Theology (Summa Theologica), which applies Aristotelian philosophy to Christian doctrines. Thomas listed the seven deadly sins as pride, envy, anger, avarice, sadness, gluttony, and lust. The intellectual virtue of prudence is responsible for regulating the passions. Conscience guides us to what is right. Only just laws are binding on the conscience. Although he did not believe in forced conversions to Christianity, he did justify the persecutions and torturing used by Dominicans in the Inquisition. Aquinas justified war under a sovereign prince but not private warfare.

Roger Bacon taught at Oxford and did scientific research. He was allowed to write but not to publish, and later he was imprisoned in a dark cell for fourteen years. In his Great Work (Opus majus) Roger Bacon explained that human ignorance fails to find the truth because of following unworthy authorities, customs, habits, and popular prejudices while displaying the appearance of wisdom. He emphasized studying languages and wrote grammars of Hebrew and Greek. Like Grosseteste, he considered mathematics the key to science. He also developed Grosseteste’s theory of light and refraction, preparing the way for telescopes and microscopes. Bacon considered moral philosophy most important because it teaches us the laws and obligations of life. From Socrates and Plato he got the idea that everyone has a guardian angel. His seven mortal sins substitute sloth and luxury for the sadness and lust of Aquinas.

Ramon Llull was married and had children, but while composing a love song for a lady, he had a vision of Jesus on the cross. He provided for his family and gave the rest away, devoting himself to converting Muslims with his writings. He learned Arabic from a Saracen slave and wrote the Book of Contemplation in that language. Llull risked his life in Africa trying to convert Muslims. He wrote many books, writing in Catalan for lay people and in Latin for Christian clerics. In a dialog between a Gentile, a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim, Llull outlined his principles of goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, love, and perfection. His many books on various arts analyze life into philosophical categories. His novel Felix, or the Book of Wonders was intended to reform a corrupt society by telling numerous stories with moral points, including in the Beasts part stories of Reynard the fox.

Lives of Christian saints replete with miracles became especially popular in the 13th century. The most influential collection of saints’ lives was The Golden Legend by the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine, who compiled and organized many lives of the saints around the church calendar. The Franciscans were divided by a conflict between the more zealous Spirituals and the relaxed Conventuals. The Spirituals were the minority and were persecuted as heretics. In 1294 Pope Celestine V gave them an exemption to join the Poor Hermits, but Pope Boniface VIII rescinded his order in 1297. In 1318 Pope John XXII condemned the Spirituals for denying the authority of priests. Twenty were forced to recant, and four who refused were burned at Marseilles. Ludwig of Bavaria took the side of the friars and chose a Franciscan to be the alternative Pope Nicholas V in 1328.

In the second half of the 13th century Béguine communities spread in the Low Countries and Germany. Marguerite Porete was a Béguine and wrote The Mirror of Simple Souls. The Inquisition condemned her book and her in 1310, and she was burned to death at Paris. The Council of Vienne (1311-12) condemned the Béguines, the Beghards, and the Free Spirits, who believed they transcended authorities and customary morality.

The Dominican Humbert of Romans wrote a book to help the new profession of preachers with their sermons. Meister Eckhart was a Dominican who preached in Germany and wrote sermons and books on how to experience God directly. His Book of Divine Consolation emphasized accepting suffering as God’s will. In The Aristocrat he wrote how the noble person inside us can discipline our desires and love God. He published a series of talks called Counsels on Discernment, and he emphasized the virtues of detachment and humility. In 1327, the last year of his life, Eckhart fought against charges of heresy. His disciples Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Süs became leaders in the Friends of God movement. Süs began young and practiced extreme asceticism until he had a vision not to do that. His mystical Little Book of Eternal Wisdom in German and Latin translation was the most popular book in those languages for nearly a century.

Giles of Rome was an Augustinian who criticized much of the teaching at the University of Paris, and 51 of his propositions were among the 219 that Bishop Tempier condemned in 1277. In his 1301 book De ecclesiastica potestate Giles argued for papal supremacy over temporal rulers, influencing Pope Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctum issued the next year.

Duns Scotus (1265-1308) taught at Oxford University and wrote much on theology. He believed that freedom of will is more important than intellect and that goodness and charity are superior to truth and wisdom. He solved the contradiction between free will and God’s omniscience by arguing that not even God knows the future completely. God wills the good, and the ethic of Scotus is to love God above all. Conscience protests against evil and shows what good should be willed.

William of Ockham was excommunicated by Pope John XXII in 1328 and went with Emperor Ludwig to Munich, where he and Marsilio defended the Emperor. He wrote fifteen works on politics, and in 1339 he defended Edward III’s right to tax church property. “Ockham’s razor” is the law of succinctness, that entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. Reasoning should be based on evidence, and assumptions should be reduced. He argued that generalities and concepts are not real, and his philosophy is called nominalism because they are only names. Duns Scotus, like Plato, believed concepts are real and so was called a realist. Ockham agreed with Scotus on freedom of the will and that morality is doing the will of God.

Jan van Ruusbroec (1293-1381) was a mystic at Brussels. He wrote The Spiritual Espousals, describing the active spiritual life and the interior life. In going out he recommended the virtues of humility, obedience, renouncing one’s own will, patience, peacefulness, kindness, compassion, generosity, devotion, sobriety, and purity. He founded a hermitage in 1349. In The Seven Rungs in the Ladder of Spiritual Love he wrote about good will, voluntary poverty, purity, humility, zeal to serve God, contemplative union with the Trinity, and complete immersion in the Godhead. Geert Groote visited Ruusbroec at Groenendael in 1378. Before his death in 1384 Groote appointed Florens Radewijns (c. 1350-1400) as the new leader. He united the wages of those in the community in a common fund for those calling themselves the Modern Devout. The Brethren of the Common Life began in 1391, and Jan Brinckerinck (1359-1419) organized houses for women.

Richard Rolle (d. 1349) translated the Psalms into English and wrote The Mending of Life and The Fire of Love. He urged people to turn to God and train oneself to avoid temptation. He recommended poverty and humility. Discipline is needed to correct bad habits, and patience enables one to bear hostility. He encouraged the reading of scripture, prayer, and meditation in order to experience God directly. Walter Hilton (1340-96) is most famous for writing The Ladder of Perfection. He emphasized the active life of love as well as spiritual contemplation. The humble love all. One must study oneself to destroy the roots of sin. We may love people while hating their sins. He warned against bodily desires, foolish fears, deceitful spirits, flattery, and vanity. Humility and charity help one acquire all virtues. Juliana of Norwich had mystical experiences on May 8, 1373, and she described them in Revelations of Divine Love, the first book by a woman published in English. She emphasized true contrition, genuine compassion, and sincere longing for God, and she prayed for all souls to be saved.

The anonymous Cloud of Unknowing was written in English. God wants all your love, and the author recommends centering one’s mind and heart on God. The intellect cannot comprehend God, but the miracle of love can experience God. The active life is in the world, but the contemplative life goes on eternally. Above you is only God. Love and humility are the two main virtues. The contemplative life is the quickest way to God, but first one must purify one’s conscience of sins. Prayer is directing our will toward God. Leave behind self-centered consciousness to rise in contemplation. The higher faculties of the soul are mind, reason, and will; the senses and imagination are lower. Reason discerns the good, and will chooses the good. Directing the mind to God takes you above yourself.

John Wyclif was educated at Oxford. In 1374 Edward III sent him to Bruges to negotiate peace with France. Wyclif wrote much, and he argued that the Church should be relieved of its excessive endowments because poverty is the way of the true Church. In 1377 Pope Gregory XI issued five bulls against Wyclif, who then urged Parliament to withhold papal taxes. He advised withdrawing cooperation from a tyrant. Wyclif challenged the beliefs about church rituals such as the eucharist. He satirized the pope’s getting money through taxes. He believed in the value of Bible study, and so in 1380 he organized the first translation of the Bible into English. Wyclif denounced the taxes and fines that monasteries levied against their villeins, but he objected to the violence of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. He suggested that serfdom should not be hereditary so that it would die out. The archbishop of Canterbury condemned his works, and Oxford banned his writings and his teaching. He criticized crusades against other Christians, and he challenged the Church’s authority to sanctify war. He argued it is better to follow the Bible than the Church; one should follow one’s conscience rather than authority. Wyclif died in 1384, and his followers soon translated the Bible into English. In 1395 his followers, the Lollards, presented “Twelve Conclusions” to Parliament that criticized the Church of England.

Humanism from Italy to Europe 1400-1517

Northern Europe 1250-1400

Byzantine and Frank Empires 610-1095
Crusades Era 1095-1250

After 1256 German electors were bribed to choose two different foreigners as king; thus princes maintained their independence. The Rhenish League organized to alleviate the heavy tolls imposed on merchants by the nobles, and merchants made the Hanseatic League prosperous. Jews in Germany were persecuted as prelates meeting at Vienna in 1267 confirmed the canonical laws of Pope Innocent III. Christians were forbidden to associate with Jews, who were required to wear distinctive clothes. Church councils condemned usury at Lyon in 1274 and Vienne in 1311. Training for German soldiers began at 14 and lasted seven years. Their castles dominated the countryside. Improved agriculture helped by Cistercian monks tripled the German population from 1100 to 1300. Guilds flourished in urbanized industries and provided social as well as economic benefits. Coined money increased, and loans were made by Jews or Lombards. Citizens clashed with bishops, and Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden of Cologne fled to Bonn because his currency was so unpopular. Rudolf of Hapsburg was king of Germany 1273-91. Adolf of Nassau paid for his election as the next king and got 30,000 marks from England to buy Thuringia, which he plundered. Albrecht marched his Austrian army against him in 1298 and killed Adolf. Then Albrecht was elected king of Germany. He invaded Bohemia in 1304 and was assassinated in 1308. He was succeeded by Heinrich VII, who was crowned in Rome in 1312 but died the next year.

Duke Ludwig of Upper Bavaria was elected king of Germany, but he fought a civil war against Friedrich of Lower Bavaria. In 1323 Pope John XXII claimed authority over the imperial elections, and the next year he excommunicated Ludwig, who was crowned in Milan and Rome and in 1328 appointed Pope Nicholas V. Karl of Luxembourg made concessions to Pope Clement VI at Avignon and was elected king of Germany in 1346. The bubonic plague devastated Europe 1349-50, and Germans killed thousands of Jews and took their property. Karl IV reformed the currency, tolls, and election laws. In 1364 a treaty was signed by the Luxembourgs, the Hapsburgs, and Hungary. In 1378 Karl IV was succeeded by his son Wenceslaus in Germany and Bohemia. During the schism he supported Pope Urban VI in Rome. In 1400 Wenceslaus was deposed in Germany.

Rudolf of Hapsburg expanded Austria and was elected king of Germany 1273-91. Ottokar II resisted, submitted in 1276, rebelled again, and was killed in 1278. Rudolf launched a persecution of Jews in 1286. Albrecht I ruled Austria 1291-1308. In 1298 his army defeated and killed King Adolf, and he became king of Germany. Albrecht was assassinated by his nephew in 1308 and was succeeded by his sons Friedrich and Leopold, who ruled Austria together until Friedrich’s death in 1326. Friedrich had challenged Emperor Ludwig, but the Austrians were defeated at Mühldorf in 1322. Albrecht II (r. 1330-58) used skilful diplomacy but had trouble with the Swiss. Rudolf IV (r. 1358-65) reformed the fiscal system, reorganized guilds, restrained feudal lords, developed municipal liberties, and founded the University of Vienna. Young Albrecht III and Leopold III divided Austria in 1379. Leopold was killed fighting the Swiss in 1386 in a war that lasted until 1394.

Many Swiss cantons submitted to Rudolf of Hapsburg, but upon his death in 1291 a resistance movement began. Uri and Schwyz allied with Zurich and joined Constance and Lucerne. Bern defeated Austrians in 1298, and Emperor Heinrich VII recognized Unterwalden’s liberties. In 1314 the Schwyz revolted against Austria, which subdued several towns. Three states formed a federal union in 1315, and in 1318 Austria agreed to a truce with the Forest Cantons. In 1351 Zurich joined the Swiss alliance and was besieged by Austria. Emperor Karl IV confirmed Swiss privileges in 1361. Six cantons established democratic principles in 1370, and in 1393 eight cantons agreed on laws of war and limiting the military to defending justice. Austria and the Swiss Confederation made a peace treaty in 1394.

In 1254 Ottokar II, Rudolf, and Otto of Brandenburg led 60,000 crusaders into Prussia, founding Königsberg. Resistance in Prussia continued in the 14th century. Estonians revolted against Livonia in 1343, but the Teutonic Order annexed Estonia three years later, governing Livonia, Kurland, Prussia, and East Pomerania. The Order reached its height under Grand Master Winrich 1351-82. After Jogaila converted Lithuanians to Christianity, the Baltic crusades lost much of their purpose, but in 1399 they joined with Lithuanians and Ruthenians in attacking the Golden Horde in Russia.

In 1257 Denmark accepted an alliance with Sweden and Norway. Erik V (r. 1264-86) kept the parliament (hof) from meeting for six years and was unpopular for debasing the currency; but in 1282 the hof became the highest court in Denmark and demanded that Valdemar’s laws be followed. Denmark’s kings had conflicts with the Church, but in 1303 Erik VI Menved (r. 1286-1319) reconciled with Pope Boniface VIII. Erik had to suppress revolts and left Denmark’s finances in bad shape. All his children died before he did, and the hof gained power when they made his brother Kristofer II king. Taxes were restored, and outlaws regained their estates. In 1326 Kristofer fled with his sons; he was imprisoned and died in 1332. After a power struggle Valdemar IV was made king in 1340. He gave South Jutland to Holstein and sold Estonia to the Teutonic Order, but he regained other territory. The Black Death killed about half the Danes in 1349 and 1350.

When Valdemar’s daughter Margrete married Haakon VI of Norway, Denmark gained Skane. The Hanseatic League objected, and in 1370 they made Denmark grant them major concessions. After Valdemar IV’s death in 1375 Margrete’s 5-year-old son Olaf was elected king of Denmark, and she became regent. When Olaf II became king of Norway in 1380, she extended her regency. In 1397 Erik of Pomerania, the son of her niece Maria, was crowned king of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; but Margrete ruled the three kingdoms until her death in 1412.

Birger Magnusson helped Sweden expand its territory and develop humane laws. His son Valdemar became king in 1250, and in 1275 he was overthrown by his brother Magnus. Swedish law established hereditary nobility in 1280, and in 1285 royal law replaced blood feuds. The third Finnish crusade 1292-95 converted Karelians. Sweden banned selling slaves in 1295. King Birger and his brothers Erik and Valdemar divided Sweden in 1310, but Erik and Valdemar were imprisoned for life in 1317. People chose Mats Kettilmundsson as regent, and he defeated Birger. Swedes chose Norway’s young Magnus IV, who began ruling Sweden also in 1332. Sweden adopted a constitution and new land laws in 1350. Magnus allied with Denmark and against his son Erik, who died in 1359, but his nephew Albrekt allied with Germans, conquered Stockholm, and was crowned king in 1364. Norway’s Haakon VI marched on Stockholm, and the council of Swedes was set up to advise Albrekt in 1371. When he tried to regain power, Swedes turned to Margrete, whose troops captured Albrekt in 1389. Her nephew Erik of Pomerania became king of Sweden in 1396. Birgitta (1303-73) had visions, became a penitent, criticized indulgences and usury, favored constitutional government, and urged popes at Avignon to return to Rome.

Civil wars plagued Norway until 1260 when the assembly established hereditary monarchy. Magnus VI (r. 1263-80) instituted national law for Norway in 1274; the king was sole legislator, but the assemblies were the courts. Norway’s Erik II (r. 1280-99) made an agreement with the Hansa cities but went to war against Denmark in 1289 and 1293. Under Haakon V (r. 1299-1319) most land was owned by him, the church, nobles, and burghers. In trade he favored the Hanseatic League rather than the English. After a regency Magnus VII ruled Norway from Sweden. The bubonic plague came in 1349 and killed half the Norwegians and most of the clergy. Young Haakon VI ruled Norway 1355-80. He tried to rule Sweden also but was driven out in 1365. His queen Margrete was ruling Denmark and became regent of Norway in 1380, appointing Danes to high positions in the church.

Iceland had democratic government until it lost its independence to Norway in 1264, though its church became independent in 1297. After not meeting for a decade representatives attended the Althing in 1315. Trade with Iceland decreased after the Black Death devastated Norway in 1349. The Eyrbyggja Saga depicts the struggle between the Viking feuds and the development of law and democracy in Iceland as Christianity gradually replaced blood feuds. Njal’s Saga is about a skillful lawyer who tries to reduce violence with lawsuits and compensation for murders; he accepts Christianity but ends up being burned in his home.

Eastern and Northern Europe 1400-1517

Italy 1250-1400

Byzantine and Frank Empires 610-1095
Crusades Era 1095-1250

Ghibellines in Italy supported the emperor while Guelfs sided with the pope. In Milan the archbishop Ottone Visconti led the Ghibellines, but the Della Torre family banished him from 1262 to 1277. Matteo Visconti was elected captain in 1287, and he used a private council to increase his power. In 1298 Emperor Albrecht named Matteo imperial vicar over the Lombard cities, but the Milanese banned the Visconti and recalled the Della Torre. Milan and several cities formed a Guelf alliance in 1302. Emperor Heinrich VII was crowned in Milan in 1311 and made Matteo an imperial vicar for life. In 1328 Emperor Ludwig sold Milan back to the Visconti, and Matteo’s nephew Azzo ruled Milan and ten towns in Lombardy until his death in 1339. Archbishop Giovanni Visconti (d. 1354) increased his influence, and Venice organized a league against them. Oleggio led the Viscontis in a struggle against the marquis of Montferrat, who won over the Beccaria of Pavia. The Augustinian Bussolari organized companies of men and removed the Beccaria from Pavia. The Visconti came to terms with Montferrat, besieged Pavia again, and Galeazzo regained power. Both sides made peace in 1358, and despots ruled Milan, Verona, Mantua, Ferrara, Pavia, and Piedmont. Gian Galeazzo paid Emperor Wenceslaus to recognize the Milanese states.

Venice elected a doge to lead them, but many of them were elderly. Venice had to import food, and its navy often fought the Genoese. In 1298 Venice lost 65 ships and thousands of men in a naval battle against Genoa. While in a Genoese jail, Marco Polo wrote his famous Travels about his twenty years in China. In 1299 Matteo Visconti mediated a peace treaty between Venice and Genoa. Venice fought the papacy over Ferrara in 1309. Giovanni Soranzo was doge 1312-28 during an era of peace, but in 1332 Venice increased its army to 30,000. Venice formed a league in 1337 and extended its territory by a treaty in 1339. Venice needed land for agriculture and allowed its cities to be independent. Venice and Genoa allied against the Turks, and in 1348 their ships brought infected rats to Europe. Venice had the best intelligence system and often stopped conspiracies.

From 1350 to 1354 Venice fought several naval battles against Genoa, but they signed a treaty in 1355. Doge Marin Falier conspired against the nobles, but he was caught and executed in 1355. Hungary went to war against Venice in 1353, and Venice gave up Dalmatia in the Treaty of Zara in 1358. Venice suppressed a revolt in Crete in 1364. Venice formed an alliance with Milan in 1377. Venice expelled Jews in 1395. Venice sent its fleet to help Sigismund’s crusade against the Turks in 1396, and after their defeat they rescued Sigismund and many Christians. Venice sent an annual subsidy to the University of Padua.

Genoese overthrew a Milanese podesta in 1257, and in 1270 Ghibelline nobles took control. Genoa’s navy defeated Guelfs led by Charles of Anjou in 1273 and the Pisan fleet in 1284. The first major war between Genoa and Venice was 1294-99. In 1312 Emperor Heinrich VII imposed tribute on Genoa. The Ghibelline Doria and Spinola took power but were challenged by the Guelfs. Simone Boccanegra was doge 1339-44. Genoa suffered losses in an attack on Constantinople in 1348. Genoa’s second war against Venice was 1350-55. In 1378 Genoa went to war against Venice again over Tenedos. Both sides suffered, and in the peace of 1381 they gave Tenedos to Savoy.

In 1254 Florence defeated Pisa, where Guelfs set up a democratic government. Genoa’s navy destroyed Pisa’s fleet in 1284 and its port in 1290. Pisa joined the Guelf league in 1293, but they supported Emperor Heinrich VII’s expenses in Italy. Pisa managed to control trade with Palestine, Africa, and Spain. Imperial vicar Uguccione della Fagiola took over Pisa and plundered Lucca in 1314. In 1329 Pisa went back to democracy under Bonifazio. In an expensive war they defeated Lucca in 1342. Pisa rebelled against being put under Emperor Karl IV in 1355, and he recognized their independence in 1368. Pisa was sold to the Visconti in 1398.

After Emperor Friedrich II died in 1250, Florence became democratic but fought with their Ghibelline enemies. In 1260 Florence lost 10,000 men fighting against Manfred at Montemassi, and the Ghibellines drove out the Guelfs. In 1282 the guilds took power by electing six priors. The last serfs were liberated in 1289. Like Pistoia, Florence divided into Whites and Blacks. In 1301 Pope Boniface VIII sent Charles of Valois to conquer the Whites in Tuscany. The Blacks summoned the Whites for trials, and many fled, including Dante. Emperor Heinrich VII outlawed Florence and seized their goods. In 1315 the imperial vicar Uguccione della Fagiola defeated the league of the Tuscan Guelfs. In 1325 Florence was defeated by Castruccio’s imperial army and hired Duke Charles of Calabria to defend them.

Florence’s fighting stopped in 1339 with the Treaty of Venice. Florence was the financial center, but the state was deeply in debt. When England’s Edward III could not pay his debts, two Florentine banks in England went bankrupt, causing a run on the Bardi and Peruzzi banks in Florence. In 1343 the government was reorganized, and financial reforms were implemented. Malnutrition was followed in 1348 by the plague, which devastated the crowded quarters of the poor. In 1362 Florence went to war against Pisa and spent a million florins. In 1376 hungry Florence went to war against the papacy that blocked food going there. Florence’s debt increased to 3,500,000 florins. In 1378 the common people revolted and demanded their own guilds. In 1382 a select committee of wealthy merchants was given power, ending the democracy. In 1390 Milan’s Gian Galeazzo Visconti invaded Umbria and Tuscany, and the war against Florence went on until his death in 1402.

Siena lost territory to Florence in 1254, but its army defeated Florence at Montaperti in 1260. After 1285 Siena was governed by nine rich merchants who changed every two months. Siena lost three-quarters of its people to the plague in 1348. When Emperor Karl IV came to Siena in 1355, the Nine were replaced by a committee of twenty that chose a governing council of twelve, who turned out to be more corrupt. Before Karl IV arrived in 1368, a revolution put ten common people on the Council of Fifteen Reformers. The government was made more democratic in 1371 and 1385, but in 1395 Siena submitted to Milan. Caterina (1347-80) became a nun at age 18 and devoted her life to Christ. Her specific goals were a crusade in the holy land, reforming corrupt clergy, and getting the Pope to return to Rome.

Brancaleone governed Rome from 1252 to his death in 1258. In 1254 Pope Innocent IV made Sicily and Calabria fiefs of the Papal State. Pope Clement IV appointed Charles of Anjou pacifier of Tuscany in 1267. Pope Gregory X (1271-76) tried to mediate the Guelf-Ghibelline conflict and put Florence under interdict. In 1281 Charles got a French cardinal elected as Pope Martin IV. He excommunicated the Greeks and claimed to be lord over Naples and Sicily. When Aragon took Sicily from Charles, Martin put Aragon and Sicily under interdict. Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) used his office to promote his family’s fortunes. He promised remission of sins to 200,000 pilgrims visiting Rome in 1300. He proclaimed that God had placed the pope above kings, and he excommunicated Philippe IV.

When Emperor Heinrich VII visited Rome in 1312, the Colanni Ghibellines refused to disarm, igniting civil war. In 1317 Pope John XXII appointed Robert of Anjou to govern Rome, and he supported Guelfs against the Ghibellines. In 1328 Emperor Ludwig was crowned in Rome, and he chose alternative Pope Nicholas V. Pope Benedict XII (1334-42) reformed papal policies, stopped violence, and encouraged elections. In 1347 Cola di Rienzo governed Rome as tribune. Pope Clement VI (1342-52) directed much money to France’s Philippe VI and left the papacy broke. Pope Innocent VI (1352-62) pardoned Cola, who returned to rule Rome briefly before being killed by a mob in 1353.

Pope Innocent VI spent 560,000 florins on wars between 1353 and 1357. Pope Urban VI (1362-70) left Avignon and spent three years in Rome. Pope Gregory XI (1370-78) sent the French to fight the Visconti, and he left Avignon and moved the papacy back to Rome in 1377. The next year Pope Urban VI was elected in Rome, and French cardinals elected Clement VII who resided in Avignon, beginning the Great Schism that would last until 1417.

Manfred conquered Sicily in 1256 and became king, but Charles of Anjou defeated and killed him in 1266. Charles also defeated Konradin’s imperial army in Italy in 1268. In April 1282 Sicilian rebels massacred 2,000 French, and Aragon’s Pedro III invaded and took over Sicily. In 1285 his son Jaime became king of Sicily, but in 1289 Pope Nicholas IV crowned Charles II king. After a struggle until 1302, Frederic III ruled Sicily until 1337 despite several invasions by the Angevins. After his son Pedro II died in 1342, Louis’ mother Elisabeth governed until he died in 1355. Frederic IV made peace with Naples and the papacy in 1372. In 1377 his daughter Maria became queen of Sicily, but four barons divided the island. In 1390 she married Martin the Younger, and he claimed the throne.

Charles II of Anjou ruled Naples until his death in 1309. His successor Robert was a scholar and ruled until his death in 1343. He was succeeded by his granddaughter Giovanna, who was married to Andrew of Hungary. When Andrew was murdered in 1345, Hungary’s Lajos invaded Naples. Giovanna married her cousin Luigi of Taranto, and they were crowned queen and king of Naples in 1353. Luigi invaded Sicily in 1360 but died in 1362 when Lajos invaded Naples again. Giovanna fled and married Jaime IV of Majorca in 1363. After his death in 1375 she married Otto of Brunswick, making Louis of Anjou her heir. Pope Urban VI gave her kingdom to Charles of Durazzo, who invaded Naples with a Hungarian army, defeating Otto and killing Giovanna in 1382. Pope Clement VII and Bernabo Visconti financed an invasion by Louis, who died in 1384. His son Louis II was crowned king in 1389, but he eventually yielded Naples to Lajos.

In The New Life young Dante wrote in poetry and prose about his feelings for his acquaintance Beatrice. Just seeing her inspires love in him. When he learns she died, he grieves and questions his romantic love by this spiritual love. Dante studied and was influenced by Boethius, Aquinas, and Bonaventure. He engaged in politics and was elected prior for two months in 1300, and he tried to be fair. He was an envoy to the Pope and then was banished. He refused to fight against Florence. He studied philosophy, law, and rhetoric at Bologna. While traveling he wrote The Banquet, which is about ethics and how to be virtuous.

Dante supported Emperor Heinrich VII as a bringer of peace. He wrote De Monarchia in order to advocate a unified government for all humanity as the best way to universal peace. Humans should follow the pattern of one God. One government would be devoted to the good of all. He argued that humans do best when they are free, and a united government allows the most freedom. A world government would provide the universal justice that leads to peace. Dante argued that one government could be best, but he did not address the danger of tyranny under one ruler.

In Dante’s great work, Commedia, the poet Virgil guides him through the Inferno and Purgatory. In hell they see souls who have lost the good of intellect. In Limbo souls are held back because they were not baptized. In the next circles of hell they see souls who suffer from lust, gluttony, avarice, anger, sloth, heresy, violence, deceit, bestiality, blasphemy, usury, seduction, simony, corruption, hypocrisy, stealing, rebellion, and betrayal.

In Purgatory Dante travels up a mountain where souls are being purified for the ascent to heaven. They see the indolent who delayed repenting. They learn how humility purges away pride. They observe souls who are affected by envy and its antidote mercy. Next they meet angry souls and then the angel of gentleness. The lazy are treated with zeal, but the cure for all these sins is love, which comes from free will. On the fifth terrace they see the greedy crying on the ground, and on the sixth are the gluttons who need temperance. On the last terrace the two pilgrims see lusty spirits and the angel of chastity. Virgil says goodbye and crowns Dante lord of himself. A lady leads Dante to Beatrice. Dante drinks water and feels reborn.

Beatrice is Dante’s guide in Paradise, and she says every being rises to its appropriate level. The moon is the first celestial level for souls who broke their vows to God. Beatrice explains that all souls in Paradise are eternal. In the realm of Mercury he learns how one may make amends for past mistakes. In the sphere of Venus he notices that Beatrice appears more beautiful, and here souls smile. Souls are brilliant in the realm of the Sun, and they see Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Solomon, and many other sages. Dante finds his questions are answered without being asked. In the red sphere of Mars he learns about justice and moderation, and they see military heroes. From there they are lifted to the white sphere of Jupiter. They see rulers with faults and then six champions of justice. In the seventh sphere of Saturn they find wisdom. Then the poet sees the light of the Christ. The ninth sphere is the Prime Mover, and they hear a hymn. Peter asks Dante what faith is, and he gives Paul’s answer. James explains hope, and John asks Dante about love. He says he learned love by perceiving good. Peter is embarrassed by Boniface VIII. He laments how Christianity has become divided and is angry at their selling privileges. Dante sees nine circles of angels and the most glorious souls. Finally he penetrates to truth itself and how Love moves the universe.

Dante may have proven that he was alive after death by hiding the last eight cantos of his masterpiece and then sending a message after his death so that his manuscript could be found.

Marsilius of Padua completed The Defender of Peace in 1324, and two years later he fled from papal condemnation to Emperor Ludwig in Nuremberg. He traveled with Ludwig to Rome in 1327 and was appointed its imperial vicar, but both returned to Bavaria. Marsilius blamed the Guelfs for causing wars in northern Italy. The three main points of his book are that states are created by human reason so that people can live well together, that political authority needs coercive power to resolve conflicts, and that the only legitimate source of this political power is from the will of the people. Marsilius considered the health of the state to be peace, the greatest of goods. In a good society people are free to live well and exercise virtues. The best way to choose governors is by election. Marsilius argued against giving temporal power to the Pope, and he blamed the Church for interfering in politics. All the citizens should be the legislators. He objected to any bishop or priest having any coercive jurisdiction over anyone. For many Marsilius went too far when he argued that the state should take over many functions of the Church. He noted that even the supreme leader must obey the laws. He urged people to elect wise rulers and live in peace and prosperity.

Modern humanism emerged in Padua where Lovato dei Lovati began collecting classical manuscripts and writing poetry in the late 13th century. Albertino Mussato wrote the tragedy Ecerinis and a chronicle of Heinrich VII’s tour of Italy. He also wrote Italy’s history from 1313 up to his death in 1329.

Francesco Petrarca studied at the University of Bologna, became a cleric in 1326, and wrote many poems about Laura, whom he loved at first sight. Like Dante’s Beatrice she was married, and the love was spiritual and continued after her death. Influenced by Augustine, Petrarca traveled to monasteries looking for rare manuscripts. He took a vow of celibacy, but he fathered two children. In 1337 he began writing On Famous Men. On April 8, 1341 Petrarca was crowned with laurel in Rome as a master of poetry and history. In Verona he discovered many letters of Cicero.

Petrarca wrote poems that are autobiographical and that comment on current events. He wrote On Monastic Freedom in 1347, and that year he completed Secretum (My Secret Book). He wrote this for himself and never made a copy in his life. In three dialogs between Augustine and himself they discuss death, happiness, self-knowledge, desire for virtue, limiting worldly desires, despair, his love for Laura, and desire for worldly glory. Augustine urges him to work on making himself worthy. In his “Letter to Posterity” Petrarca explained that he did not seek wealth, but he lived simply so that he could study and write. He wrote letters to his friend Cola di Rienzo urging him to unite Italy and bring peace. When Petrarca visited Rome, the Orsini family protected him with a hundred horsemen. Laura died in the plague of 1348, and Petrarca first met Boccaccio at Florence in 1350. In March 1351 Petrarca sent letters to the doges of Genoa and Venice, asking them to avoid war. His letters urged Karl IV to come to Italy, and he did in 1354.

Petrarca moved to Milan and went to Venice as their peace envoy. He condemned the folly of hiring mercenaries and warned that waging wars is contagious. In his longest book Remedies Against Fortune he urged readers to avoid the extremes of fortune and misfortune. Reason debates Joy and Hope and then Sorrow and Fear. His autobiographical poem Triumphs describes a series of victories by love, chastity, fame, time, and finally eternity. Petrarca collected his best letters, but he put 19 controversial letters in his Book Without a Name. Some of his letters were invectives with sharp criticism of popes, politicians, and others. In 1360 Galeazzo Visconti sent him on a mission to Paris. Petrarca collected a valuable library, had books copied, and bequeathed it to Venice. His letter in 1366 urged Pope Urban VI to move to Rome. Though ill, Petrarca continued to write. He preferred the humanistic ethics of Cicero and Seneca to the rational ethics of Aristotle. In November 1373 he wrote a long letter to Francesco da Carrara, thanking him for ending Padua’s war with Venice. He argued against using fear and cruelty to maintain power. Petrarca agreed with Cicero that love is the best influence. He emphasized justice with mercy and urged public improvements. He noted that greed affects more people than cruelty. True friendship is based on virtue and wisdom.

Giovanni Boccaccio soon left business and law to become a writer. His autobiographical novel about beautiful Fiammetta’s illicit love for a poet was popular. His poem Love’s Victim tells the story of the love between Troilo and Criseida and her seduction by Diomedes. Next Boccaccio wrote an epic poem about Theseus and the rival lovers of Emilia. His Comedy of the Florentine Nymphs has Lia and her six companions tell stories of love to educate her lover. In The Amorous Vision Boccaccio sketched briefly numerous lives of famous people and then praised the eternal feminine and love as the greatest virtue.

Boccaccio is most famous for the hundred stories in the Decameron. He wrote these stories to entertain and to educate men and women about love. The setting is the time of the Black Death in Florence. Seven ladies and three men leave the city, and each tells a story on ten days. Boccaccio admitted that many of these stories arouse lust and show people’s vices, but he hoped they would provide both pleasure and edification.

After meeting Petrarca in 1350, Boccaccio entered politics and went on diplomatic missions. He promoted Greek translations and helped arrange for the first chair of Greek in western Europe. He wrote books on classical mythology and on famous men and an innovative one on famous women.

Salutati Coluccio was a humanist who served as chancellor of Florence 1375-1406. He defended monastic life and valued the active life of helping others even more. He argued that practicing law is better than medicine because one serves all of society.

Italian City States 1400-1517

Western Europe 1250-1400

Western Europe 1095-1250

Alfonso X (r. 1252-84) of Castile was called the Learned for promoting education and law, but he had to quell Muslim revolts, withdraw his laws, and face civil war between his sons. Communes gave charters, and brotherhoods protected people from soldiers. Jews were tolerated in Spain and often were intermediaries between Christians and Muslims. The Jewish Kabbalist Moses de Leon wrote the mystical Book of Splendor (Zohar) about 1280.

Sancho IV (r. 1284-95) ignored his father’s will, claimed the throne of Castile, and continued the civil war. His son Fernando IV was only nine when he began his reign that lasted until 1312 with help from his mother Maria de Molina. Jews were excluded from offices in 1313. Fernando’s son Alfonso XI (r. 1312-50) was born in 1311 and survived the chaos that lasted until 1325, and in his last twenty years he fought against Granada and Morocco. He protected castles to prevent private wars.

Pedro I (r. 1350-69) was called the Cruel, and he had to fight his brother Enrique of Trastamara. Pedro imprisoned and killed his wife Blanche. In 1356 Castile went to war against smaller Aragon which allied with Enrique. Pedro I broke a truce in 1357 and was excommunicated. Enrique invaded Castile in 1359 and urged the plundering of Jews. Pedro I made peace with Aragon in 1361 and went to war against Granada. In 1362 Pedro I allied with Navarre’s Charles II the Bad (r. 1349-87), and they attacked Aragon. In July 1363 Pedro IV gave up half of Aragon to Castile. Pedro IV hired French mercenaries led by Bertrand du Guesclin, and in 1366 they forced Pedro I to retreat to Galicia. Enrique was crowned at Burgos and began taxing Jews. Pedro went to Gascony and paid Prince Edward and Charles of Navarre to help restore him in Castile. In 1367 they crossed the Pyrenees and defeated Enrique, who fled to France. Pedro I could not pay Edward and made a treaty with Pedro IV of Aragon. When Pedro I killed his enemies instead of ransoming them, Edward left. Enrique invaded Castile, stole from Jews, captured Leon, promised his navy to France for Guesclin’s help, and defeated and killed Pedro I in 1369.

Enrique II (r. 1369-79) held off Portugal’s Fernando and made peace with him in 1371, and the next year Castile defeated Fernando’s invasion. Some families gained power, and Jews had to wear distinctive clothes. Juan I (r. 1379-90) favored the clerics as his advisors, and Castile defeated Portugal again in 1382. Juan made peace with the duke of Lancaster in 1388. The Cortes of Madrid chose a regency council to govern for young Enrique III (r. 1390-1406. Jews were persecuted in Cordoba, Toledo, Valencia, and on Majorca. The aristocratic families increased their power and reduced their taxes.

Aragon’s Jaime (r. 1213-76) settled territorial disputes with Louis IX in 1258. Peasants rebelled in Valencia, and 100,000 Muslims were expelled in 1263. Pedro III (r. 1276-85) began his reign by subduing a Muslim revolt in Valencia. In 1282 Pedro III took over Sicily as Charles of Anjou fled. Aragonese nobles resenting taxes for that war formed a Union and gained an annual Cortes and other demands. Pedro III subdued his rebellious brother Jaime and fought off a French crusade in 1285. Pedro’s son Alfonso III (r. 1285-91) subjugated Majorca and Minorca in 1287. He let his son Jaime rule Sicily, and he made peace with France in 1288. In 1291 he made a treaty with Pope Nicholas IV and agreed to withdraw Aragonese troops from Sicily. Alfonso’s brother Jaime II (r. 1291-1327) began by making a treaty with Castile’s Sancho IV. Jaime’s navy took over Sardinia by defeating the Genoese. He founded the University of Lérida to offer law and medicine. More than 100,000 French textile workers moved to Catalonia and they formed a guild in 1308. Alfonso IV (r. 1327-36) married Leonor of Castile in 1329, and he made peace with Granada in 1335.

Pedro IV (r. 1336-87) was a religious king and tried to help the poor. He quarreled with Jaume III of Majorca and took over that island in 1344. Nobles in Valencia rebelled and were defeated in 1348. Aragon lost a third of its population in the plague. Pedro IV started two universities and applied the laws of Alfonso X. He fought the Genoese over Sardinia and allied with Venice. Pedro IV supported the coalition that helped Enrique overthrow Castile’s Pedro I in 1369. Pedro IV wrote histories of his own reign and those of his predecessors. The Franciscan Francesc Eiximenis wrote extensively about Christian ethics. Juan I (r. 1387-96) resisted reform. In 1391 persecution of Jews spread from Castile into Aragon, though Juan ordered Jews protected. Aragon’s Pedro de Luna became Pope Benedict XIII in 1394, and Marti (r. 1396-1410) sent a fleet to protect him at Avignon in 1398. Benedict then authorized Marti’s crusades against the Moors. Juan Manuel 1282-1348) was of royal blood and was active in the military and politics, but he is most famous for his stories in El Conde Lucanor. Juan Ruiz wrote the poetic, romantic, and satirical Book of Good Love.

Muslims retained the small state of Granada in the southern portion of the Iberian peninsula. Muhammad I ruled Granada 1237-73, and he fought against Castile and the Ashqilula. His son Muhammad II (r. 1273-1302) invaded Castile in 1275, and in 1280 Sancho sided with him against Castile, the Marinids, and the Ashqilula. Granada was with Aragon against Castile in the civil war 1295-1303. Muhammad III (r. 1302-09) allied with Castile, but he was overthrown by Nasr (r. 1309-14). Isma‘il (r. 1314-25) recaptured territory from Castile. Granada lost Gibraltar in 1309, but Muhammad IV (r. 1325-33) regained it in 1333. Yusuf I (r. 1333-54) formed an alliance with the Marinids and allowed the arts to flourish. Muslims were defeated at Saledo in 1340, and in 1344 they agreed to a ten-year truce. Young Muhammad V was replaced by a coup in 1359. When Pedro I murdered Muhammad VI at Seville in 1362, Muhammad V came back and ruled Granada again until 1391. Granada defeated invading crusaders in 1394 during the reign of Muhammad VII.

Portugal’s Afonso III (r. 1248-79) allowed the first commoners into the Cortes at Leiria in 1254, and in 1261 he agreed not to tax people without their consent. King Dinis (r. 1279-1325) promoted a university, literature, fairs, minted money, agriculture, and the planting of pine forests. Afonso IV (r. 1325-57) went to war against Castile in 1337; but Pope Benedict XII proclaimed a crusade, and Afonso IV helped Castile defeat the Moors in 1340. Pedro I (r. 1357-67) strictly enforced Portugal’s laws. Fernando I (r. 1367-83) took uncultivated land and gave it to farmers. He had many problems in foreign policy and found the English to be an unreliable ally. Queen Beatriz’s unpopular regent was assassinated, and Joao of Avis was elected king of Portugal in 1385. His smaller army fought off an invasion by Castile. In 1392 Joao outlawed the persecuting of Jews, and many from Spain took refuge in Portugal.

Countess Margaretha II (r. 1244-78) of Flanders raised money to pay the debt, but she confiscated English property. She abdicated to her son Guy of Dampierre (r. 1278-1305). In 1294 Philippe IV of France imprisoned Guy until he agreed to enforce the trade embargo against England. In 1297 Guy renounced France and made an alliance with England’s Edward, but Charles of Valois led a French army that defeated the Flemings and took over Flanders by 1300. In 1302 a Flemish revolt defeated the French, and Ghent accepted Jean of Namur as prince; but the French fleet defeated their navy in 1304, and the French army won again in 1305. Flanders was under France again, though Count Robert of Béthune governed 1305-22.

Bruges rebelled in 1323 and 1327, but Philippe VI’s army subdued them in 1328. Jacob van Artevelde of Ghent led a Flemish revolt in 1340 allied with England’s Edward III. The Flemings fought a civil war against Ghent’s domination, and in 1348 Count Louis of Male invaded for France and captured Ghent. He became duke of Brabant in 1355. Another civil war broke out between Bruges and Ghent in 1379, but in 1383 the French army defeated the Flemings, as Ghent lost 26,000 men. Louis of Male died in 1384 and was succeeded by his daughter Margaretha and her husband, Philippe the Bold of Burgundy. They ruled Flanders until his death in 1404. French was made the official language.

Brabant was usually allied with France and was governed by Jan I 1267-94, his son Jan II 1294-1312, his son Jan III 1312-55, and his daughter Johanna 1355-1406. Guelders was ruled by Reinald I 1271-1318, Reinald II until 1343, and Reinald III 1343-71. After a succession battle, Karl IV granted Guelders to Wilhelm III of Jülich in 1377.

Count Willem II ruled Holland 1235-56. Floris V was an infant in 1256 and began ruling Holland and Zeeland in 1266. He was called “God of the Peasants” and was attacked by nobles in 1274. He defeated the Frisians in 1288, but in 1290 the nobles aided the invading Flemings. He gained support from England’s Edward before allying with France in 1296, the year he was captured and murdered by the lords. Willem (r. 1304-37) was count of Hainaut, Avesnes, Holland, and Zeeland, and he fought against Flanders until 1323. Margaretha struggled for power against her son Wilhelm of Bavaria in Holland and Hainaut in 1350, but he succeeded her in 1356. He instituted the election of sheriffs and helped Jews but went insane in 1358. Margaretha’s son Albrecht by Ludwig of Bavaria governed Holland, Hainaut, and Zeeland until his death in 1404.

France’s Louis IX instituted government reforms in 1254. He expelled Jews, excepting skilled artisans. He prohibited private warfare and banned carrying weapons in 1258, and then he abolished judicial duels and forbade tournaments and festivals. Philippe III (r. 1270-85) revived judicial combat, and he died trying to invade Aragon. Philippe de Beaumanoir wrote about legal issues in The Customs of Beauvaisis.

Philippe IV (r. 1285-1314) clashed with Pope Boniface VIII over taxing clergy, and Boniface died soon after having been arrested by French cavalry in 1303. In 1306 Pierre Dubois proposed a league of peace, but his plan was biased toward France. Pope Clement V (1305-14) moved to Avignon in 1308, and he appointed 25 French cardinals. Philippe IV arrested Templar Knights and seized their assets, and in 1312 Clement ended the Order. Philippe IV minted debased coins in 1310. France borrowed money under Louis X, creating a large debt. Philippe V (r. 1316-22) used diplomacy, but in 1320 he initiated the Shepherds’ Crusade that degenerated into killing Jews. Charles IV (r. 1322-28) went to war against England in 1323 by invading Guyenne. In 1327 France, England, Castile, Aragon, Sicily, and Majorca agreed to a treaty on free trade.

Philippe VI (r. 1328-50) invaded Flanders in 1328 and took one thousand citizens hostage. He also took over Modena, Reggio, and Lucca. In 1335 he began aiding the Scots against England. Edward III asserted his claim to France in 1336, and the next year Philippe declared Guyenne forfeited. The English attacked Flanders, starting the “Hundred Years War” between England and France. In 1339 England invaded France from Flanders. The next year the French fleet was defeated off Sluis. Philippe raised taxes and borrowed a million florins from Pope John XXII. The war over Brittany began in 1341. Welsh archers helped the English defeat the French at Crecy in 1346. Calais was besieged for a year before they surrendered. The bubonic plague killed about a quarter of the French. After a while Pope Clement VI and the University of Paris condemned self-flagellation. Lack of workers caused high grain prices and starvation.

 Jean II (r. 1350-64) debased the coins, and in 1352 he founded an order of knights. Jean made concessions to Charles of Navarre, but in 1356 he had him arrested for conspiracy with the dauphin Charles. The States General granted subsidies to King Jean. In September at Poitiers the English army defeated a larger French force which had 11,000 killed. The English also captured 2,000 including King Jean. They agreed on a truce in 1357. The three estates elected a Grand Council that raised revenue. The reformer Etienne Marcel helped Charles of Navarre escape, and Marcel led the Grand Council. In May 1358 bands of peasants began plundering the country and killing the gentry. Then Charles of Navarre and knights killed thousands of peasants, ending the revolt in August. In May 1359 the States General rejected a treaty signed by King Jean. Edward III invaded with an army in October; he marched to Paris but signed a peace treaty that released Jean for a large ransom. In 1361 Jean annexed Burgundy.

Charles V (r. 1364-80) ruled France fairly wisely. Du Guesclin led an army to Avignon and made Pope Urban V give them 200,000 francs. Then they supported Enrique in his civil war against Castile’s Pedro I, who allied with Prince Edward. The latter coalition defeated the French at Najera and captured du Guesclin. Charles V ransomed him and openly allied with Enrique in 1368. Du Guesclin led the French army and with Enrique they defeated and killed Pedro in 1369. France resumed the war against England and developed new strategies. Charles V encouraged learning, and the Bible was translated into French. A peace conference in 1375 led to truces; but after both Edwards died, Charles V tried to conquer Guyenne. In 1379 Gascons confederated with France. After Urban VI was elected Pope at Rome in 1378, the French cardinals elected Clement VII who resided at Avignon. Duke Louis of Anjou supported Clement and tried to conquer the Papal States. Overtaxed, the people of Anjou revolted and were suppressed.

Under the regency of Louis of Anjou, taxes went up, and demonstrations tried to get them repealed. In March 1381 during the riots many Jews and tax collectors were plundered and abused. Philippe of Burgundy and Charles VI (r. 1380-1422) led an army of 40,000 against revolting Ghent, killing 25,000. Then they burned Courtrai and enslaved the inhabitants. One of the last judicial combats occurred in 1387. Honoré Bouvet wrote The Tree of Battles on the morality of war. Philippe de Mezieres was the tutor of Charles VI, and he wrote Dream of the Old Pilgrim, suggesting that crusades could replace wars. Charles VI began ruling in 1388 and tried to go back to his father’s reforms. The financial commissioner Bétizac was accused of corruption and was burned at the stake. England and France agreed to a truce in 1389 for three years. In 1392 Charles VI had his first episode of madness. The dukes of Berry and Burgundy took over. Charles banned the Jews in 1394. His daughter Isabella was betrothed to Richard II of England in 1396. That year many French knights joined the crusade against the Turks, and they were badly defeated. In 1398 the University of Paris and the French Church withdrew their support from both popes.

Romance of the Rose is an allegorical poem of romantic love begun by Guillaume de Lorris and greatly extended by Jean de Meun. The art of love is described using personifications of abstract concepts. Jean de Meun portrayed Reason and criticized the mendicant friars by presenting them as False Seeming. The Duenna says that jealousy is foolish because it causes one to lose what one is trying to keep. Nature explains many complex questions about human experience. Finally Venus directs the assault on the castle of Jealousy. Fair Welcome is rescued, and the dreamer wins the Rose. By synthesizing erotic paganism with the spiritual charity of Christianity western civilization has become a romantic culture.

The Parisian trouvere Rutebeuf wrote an early play about a man who makes a bargain with the devil for a worldly position. Secular plays were pioneered by Adam de la Halle, including Robin and Marion. Miracle plays about the Virgin Mary (Notre Dame) were performed annually.

Guillaume de Machaut composed music and poetry. His Story of the Orchard is an allegory of love overcoming negative emotions. In The Judgment of the King of Bohemia Jan judges the pain of a widow and a man in love with a beautiful girl who chose another man. Machaut’s Remede de Fortune is narrated by the Lover, and Hope teaches him about courtly love. Machaut wrote Comfort for a Friend to console Charles of Navarre, who spent a year in prison for claiming the crown of France; it includes stories of heroes from the Bible and classical myths. In the Book of the Fountain of Love the poet portrays a nobleman like Jean of Berry; in a dream Venus tells a story. In the autobiographical Book of the True Poem Machaut wrote about a difficult relationship he has with a young admirer. He hopes to serve her better after death.

Spain, Portugal, and France 1400-1517

British Isles 1250-1400

Western Europe 1095-1250

Bishop Grosseteste went to Rome and complained about the Roman Church’s exploitation of England and other issues. Concerned about debt to the Pope and money wasted on a crusade and Sicily, magnates met in a parliament in 1258 to demand reform. An Oxford group planned regular meetings for the Parliament, and the knights were elected in shires to attend. Henry de Bracton wrote an important treatise developing common law in 1259. In the treaty of Paris that year Henry III gave up his claim to much in France, retaining only Gascony. Simon de Montfort led a revolt and forced King Henry to accept the Oxford Provisions in 1263. The next year Henry and his son Edward became hostages. However, Simon was defeated and killed in 1265; but common law was revised, and an assembly enacted the statute of Marlborough in 1267, marking an end to feudal law. Parliament approved a 5% tax to replenish the treasury in 1270.

Westminster statutes of 1275 and 1285 improved common law. Edward I (r. 1272-1307) expelled all Jews from England in 1290, the same year he banned private warfare. Burning coal made London the first city known to suffer air pollution. War broke out between England and France in 1293. By the time a truce led to arbitration in 1298 Edward had spent £750,000 on this war and in fighting rebellious Scots led by William Wallace. Edward continued his attacks on Scotland until his death in 1307.

During the revolt Robert Bruce was crowned king of Scotland on March 25, 1306, and three years later the first Parliament met at St. Andrews. By the end of 1309 Bruce controlled two-thirds of Scotland. Edward II invaded Scotland with 20,000 men in 1314, but Bruce’s army of 8,000 defeated them at Bannockburn. Robert’s brother Edward Bruce led the invasion of Ireland in 1315 to claim the throne, and he was crowned on May 2, 1316. However, an Anglo-Irish army defeated and killed Edward Bruce in October 1318. Robert Bruce took Berwick and occupied most of Northumberland, but Pope John XXII put Scotland under interdict. In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath explained that the Scots were fighting for their independence. England and Scotland agreed to a 13-year truce in 1323, and in January 1324 Pope John XXII recognized Robert as king of Scotland. Robert tried to annex Northumberland, and in a 1328 treaty England recognized Scotland’s independence in exchange for £20,000 in compensation for damages. Robert died in 1329.

Robert’s son David II was too young to rule, and Edward Balliol was supported by Edward III, who renounced the treaty in 1333 after Balliol was crowned. In the civil war Andrew Murray led the fight for David II and regained most of Scotland. In 1341 the Scots regained Edinburgh, and 17-year-old David II began to govern. The English army continued to attack Scotland, and in 1346 they defeated the Scots and captured David II. Scotland was defended by a citizen force, and the English did not stay long. Balliol resigned his claims in 1356, and in October 1357 David II was ransomed in the Treaty of Berwick to be paid during a truce for ten years. In 1360 David stopped paying the ransom so that he could pay soldiers. David II died childless in 1371 and was succeeded by his nephew Robert II. He agreed to a long truce in 1389 but died the next year. His oldest son became Robert III, and Scotland’s battles with England continued from time to time to 1400.

England’s Edward II (r. 1307-27) favored his friend Piers de Gaveston who was unpopular. Edward married Philippe IV’s daughter Isabella in 1308. The barons forced the King to banish Gaveston, but Edward did not comply. In 1310 Edward agreed to let seven bishops, eight earls, and six barons reform his administration, and Parliament published their Ordinances in 1311. The next January Edward II moved chancery to York and restored Gaveston’s lands. The Ordinancers took control by force and executed Gaveston in June. In the Parliament they apologized and were given amnesty. After the English army was defeated in Scotland in 1314, first the earl of Pembroke and then Thomas of Lancaster took power. In 1318 Lancaster and the Middle Party agreed on reform. Edward favored the Despensers; but sixty magnates objected to their administration, and Parliament banished them. Edward raised a large army and got a convocation of bishops to condemn banishment of the Despensers. Lancaster had allied with Scotland and was declared a rebel. His forces were defeated, and Lancaster was beheaded in 1322. Many objected to the Despensers’ corruption. In 1325 Queen Isabella went to France, and Prince Edward came to do homage to Charles IV. Isabella joined with Roger Mortimer, and they got soldiers from Hainaut. They returned to England and gained support in London. Edward fled, and Isabella called an election. Magnates hanged the elder and younger Despensers, and the Parliament at Westminster charged Edward with six crimes. In January 1327 he abdicated in favor of his son Edward III. Edward II was killed in September.

As Edward III was only 14, Roger Mortimer ruled through the regency council and Queen Isabella, enriching himself and her. In 1328 Edward married Philippa of Hainaut and tried to claim France. England made a treaty with Scotland. In 1330 Edward III arrested Mortimer, and he was convicted of treason and hanged. Edward III forbade war but helped Beaumont raise money to put Edward Balliol on the Scottish throne in 1332. Edward III renounced the treaty with Scotland and led the attack on Berwick. Scotland fought back, and England lost most of its newly gained land by 1337. England borrowed from Italian bankers and formed a coalition against France that soon fell apart. In 1339 England invaded France from Flanders, and they defeated the French fleet off Sluis in 1340, killing 16,000. That year Edward replaced clerics in his administration so that his officers would be subject to his royal courts. The English fought the French in Brittany, and they manufactured gunpowder. In 1346 Welsh archers using longbows helped defeat a large French army at Crecy. After a year’s siege the French surrendered the port of Calais. These victories provided money from ransoms. The bubonic plague took a third of the English but few nobles.

England enacted some reforms in the 1350s. In 1355 Edward III sent his son Edward to govern Aquitane, and the next year he led the army to victory at Poitiers and captured King Jean II. England gained more territory from France in the treaty of 1360, and a period of peace required no direct taxation. Prince Edward led an army into Castile in 1367 and defeated the usurping Enrique at Najera. Edward III’s son John of Gaunt married Constanza of Castile and tried to claim that throne in 1372. Between 1369 and 1375 England spent more than £670,000 on the war with France. In 1376 the Commons began impeaching government officials, and the Lords tried them. Prince Edward died a year before Edward III.

A council governed for ten-year-old Richard II (r. 1377-99). In 1378 the Commons refused to tax for a war outside the realm. A graduated tax in 1379 took more from the rich. England spent £467,000 on war from 1376 to 1381. People resented the poll tax and the labor laws, and they rose up in 1381. Wat Tyler led people, and they opened prisons. Jack Straw led rebels in burning houses of the prominent. Tyler demanded a written charter abolishing serfdom. Young King Richard managed to defuse a mob by leading them away. He issued pardons but later revoked them. Yet reprisals were not allowed, and punishment was moderate for most. The poll tax was never imposed again.

Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich led a crusade into Flanders in 1383 that failed, and Richard led a campaign into Scotland that wasted lowlands. In 1387 Richard went on a tour of the midlands and northern England. In 1388 a commission purged the royal household, and Richard submitted. The “Merciless Parliament” put several men to death for corruption. John of Gaunt sold his claim to Castile and went to govern Gascony. In 1389 Richard II began ruling England and replaced the top officials. England and France agreed to a truce for three years. In 1394 Richard II went to Ireland to subdue revolt. In 1397 England and France agreed to a truce for 28 years. The Parliament of 1397 condemned three magnates to death for what they had done in 1388, and the Parliament of 1398 annulled all the acts of the Merciless Parliament that violated the will of the King. Richard gave pardons for money and made his critics defend themselves by battle. During peace Richard spent more than Edward III did in war. When John of Gaunt died, his exiled son Henry Bolingbroke was disinherited. Richard went to Ireland again in June 1399. Henry returned and picked up support in the north. Richard came back but could not raise many troops. Richard restored the Lancaster inheritance but was taken to the Tower, where he resigned on September 29. Henry IV began to rule England. An attempt to restore Richard was crushed in early 1400, and Richard was killed.

England dominated Ireland, which held its first parliament in 1264. The Irish families often fought each other. A rebellion led by the earl of Desmond in 1331 failed, and he was finally pardoned in 1349. In 1338 Edward III ordered that judges in Ireland be English. Edward’s son Lionel came to govern Ireland in 1361, but in 1363 Edward ordered all of Ireland’s revenue be used to hire men for war. Lionel held a parliament in 1366 that codified the laws of Ireland. In 1378 Lionel’s son Edmund Mortimer was sent to govern Ireland, but he died in December 1381. Most of the Irish chiefs submitted to Richard II when he came in 1394. The wars continued, and Richard came back briefly in 1399.

As with Dante, Petrarca, and Machaut, much English poetry in the 14th century is about courtly love or spiritual love. Pearl describes a dream in heaven where all the maidens are equally queens as brides of the Lamb. Purity discusses that theme in the Bible. Patience is treated in connection with poverty and the story of Jonah. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Gawain is dedicated to the virtues of franchise, fellowship, cleanness, courtesy, and charity, but he is challenged by a knight with supernatural powers. Gawain withstands the temptation of a beautiful woman and demonstrates his courage.

The poet William Langland blamed Edward III for the war in France, and he wrote the allegorical Piers the Plowman. A wandering hermit falls asleep and dreams of another world in which ideas are personified. Lady Holy Church tells him that God is love, which is the source of faith and virtue. Reason and Conscience persuade a king to follow them. The seven deadly sins of Pride, Lechery, Envy, Anger, Avarice (coveting), Gluttony, and Sloth confess and ask Christ to forgive them. Piers Plowman says he can guide them. He says doing well leads to salvation. In the second part the poet searches for Do-well. Thought advises Will to ask Intelligence. Loving God is better than fearing God. Lady Study sends him to Learning and Scripture. Imagination shows him how Wisdom can aid salvation. Conscience is persuaded to follow Patience, who teaches how Poverty can overcome the seven deadly sins. Soul teaches him about charity. He shows him Faith in Abraham and Hope in Moses. Then he sees the last week of Jesus, who gives them the power to do best.

John Gower described the sins of society in his French poem, The Mirror of One Meditating. His Latin poem Vox Clamantis (Voice of One Crying) is about the Peasants Rebellion of 1381. He criticized all three estates and the violence of the poor. He objected to the Norwich crusade of 1383 and Pope Urban VI’s killing with armies for riches. His Cronica Tripertita exposed Richard II’s wrongs. Gower wrote Confessio Amantis (The Lover’s Shrift) in English with 34,000 lines. He lamented that love had grown discordant. The poem tells 150 stories and begins with love by praying to Venus. She asks the poet to confess to the priest Genius. There follows a detailed examination of the seven deadly sins. The cure for pride is humility. Envy may be tamed by charity. The remedies for anger are patience and mercy. Gower does not mention a cure for sloth, but as the most passive vice action may be recommended. The virtue that solves avarice is generosity. The poet denies that he suffers from gluttony, but its cure may be self-discipline. In the seventh book Genius explains how Aristotle educated Alexander. The last book is on lechery. Then Venus forgives the poet and advises him to adopt Reason as his guide, and he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to prayer. In 1400 Gower wrote the poem “In Praise of Peace” in order to advise the new king, Henry IV.

Geoffrey Chaucer served the court as a diplomat, and he was related to John of Gaunt by marriage. His Book of the Duchess commemorated the death of Gaunt’s wife Blanche. Chaucer was given positions in the government and a pension. In 1377 he was sent to France and Lombardy to arrange royal marriages. Chaucer wrote The House of Fame about Aeneas and Dido and other famous people. He translated The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius into English. In 1383 Chaucer completed The Parliament of the Birds, an allegory about love and choosing mates. In The Legend of Good Women he told the story of ten exemplary women—Cleopatra, Thisbe, Dido, Hypsipyle, Medea, Lucrece, Ariadne, Philomela, Phyllis, and Hypermnestra. Chaucer extended the tragic love story of Troilus and Cressida from Boccaccio’s version. In 1385 Chaucer became a judge in Kent. After losing privileges in 1388, he regained them under Richard II, whom he served.

Chaucer is most famous for his Canterbury Tales in which the character of the storyteller is revealed in the story. The knight tells of Arcita and Palamon, who are put in prison and fall in love with Emilia; eventually they fight over her in a tournament. The miller’s story is about a cleric who seduces the wife of a jealous husband. Then the reeve tells how two students slept with the wife of a miller. The lawyer tells a violent story about merchants in Syria. The wife of Bath begins by telling about her five husbands. Her story is set in King Arthur’s court, and a knight has to learn what women most desire. He finds out that women want to have sovereignty over their husbands. Because she saved his life, he has to marry the crone. The friar hates the summoner and tells about an evil summoner and yeoman. Then the summoner tells about a corrupt friar.

The clerk of Oxford tells the famous story of Griselda that Boccaccio also told. She is tested to the extreme and is shown to be a humble and saintly wife. A newly married merchant tells an absurd story of an older merchant who marries a young girl; she takes a lover after he goes blind. The franklin tells of a faithful wife who makes a promise to an expectant lover that is miraculously fulfilled. Her husband says she must keep her promise, but the lover respecting her fidelity releases her. The physician’s tale is about a corrupt judge in ancient Rome who is so cruel that the people lock him up. A pardoner, who sells fake relics, tells of three greedy and violent men who find Death. The shipman tells about a clever monk who tricks a merchant and his beautiful wife by borrowing money from the husband, using it to buy love from the wife, and then tells the husband he paid it back to the wife. The prioress tells an anti-Semitic tale about a Jew influenced by Satan to commit violence against a boy.

Chaucer himself tells an enlightening story in which Prudence counsels her husband Melibeus how to avoid revenge and costly war by achieving reconciliation with his enemies, and finally Melibeus forgives his enemies. The monk tells biographies of famous people from the Bible and history. In the nun’s priest’s tale the proud cock Chantecleer is tricked by the fox but narrowly escapes by getting the fox to talk. The second nun tells of the saint Cecelia who is married and suffers martyrdom with her husband and his brother and Maximus. The yeoman tells how the canon pretends to practice alchemy. The manciple tells of the god Phoebus who finds his wife with a lover and changes the color of the crow from white to black. At the end of the Canterbury Tales the parson gives a long sermon on repentance and the seven deadly sins. Like Gower, he also gives their remedies. For sloth he recommends courage, strength of character, and magnanimity. His remedy for gluttony is moderation or abstinence, and his antidotes for lechery are chastity and continence. The parson also discusses confession, penitence, and restitution.

At the end of his life Chaucer retracted all of his writing except his religious works and his translation of The Consolation of Philosophy.

England, Scotland and Ireland 1400-1517

Evaluating Medieval Europe 1250-1400

Evaluating Medieval Europe 610-1250

Two centuries of crusades by European Christians against Muslims in the Mideast had failed, and by 1291 the few Christians left in the east were worse off than before. Many learned that such violence in the name of religious conversion is wrong. The Byzantine empire also rejected the Latin Church, and they faced the aroused hostility of the Muslims as well as Bulgarians and Serbians. After 1300 the Ottoman empire grew and expanded into eastern Europe, and they defeated Serbia in 1389.

Hungary had to absorb Kumans driven west by the Mongols, and Hungarians fought many wars. The attempted crusade led by Sigismund in 1396 to stop the advance of the Ottoman empire failed. Under Ottokar II (r. 1253-78) and Wenceslaus II (r. 1278-1305) Bohemia became more independent of German influences, and Karl IV (r. 1347-78) did much to develop Czech institutions and culture; but Wenceslaus IV (r. 1378-1419) persecuted Jews. Germans immigrated into Poland, and in 1369 Boleslaw V (r. 1243-79) made Jews wear a red badge. King Wladyslaw Lokietek struggled to govern Poland until his death in 1333. His son Kazimierz (Casimir) III ruled until 1370 and was later called “Great” for expanding Poland, improving its laws, and treating Jews well. Lithuania’s first king Mindaugas (r. 1253-63) invaded Livonia. Grand Duke Viten (r. 1295-1316) also fought Livonian and Teutonic knights. Gedymin’s attempt to open Lithuania to Christian orders failed; but when King Jogaila (r. 1377-1413) married the Polish princess Jadwiga in 1386, he converted himself and his large nation to Catholicism. Russia suffered under Mongol domination, and their princes collected taxes for their overlords.

Leagues arose in Germany and improved the economy, but Jews were persecuted. Kings used bribes to get elected emperor. Rudolf founded the Hapsburg dynasty in Austria and was elected king of Germany 1273-1291. Albrecht I used force to defeat the corrupt King Adolf of Germany in 1298. Ludwig of Bavaria survived a civil war and a conflict with Pope John XXII and was king of Germany 1314-46. Karl IV brought many reforms to Germany during his 32-year reign as emperor, but the devastating plague in 1349 provoked a dreadful persecution of Jews. The Austrians challenged Ludwig but were defeated in 1322. Albrecht II (r. 1330-58) succeeded with diplomacy. Rudolf IV (r. 1358-65) brought several reforms to Austria. The Swiss cantons formed confederations with democratic principles and limitations on warfare by 1393. The Teutonic knights were established in Prussia and Livonia and fought resistance.

Although Denmark allied with Sweden and Norway in 1257, the Danes suffered many conflicts and lost half their people to the Black Death. However, Queen Margrete after 1380 was able to extend her rule from Denmark to Norway and Sweden. Birger Magnusson helped Sweden develop laws in the mid-13th century. Sweden became divided but began using a constitution in 1350. Saint Birgitta criticized indulgences and usury as sins, and she supported limiting monarchical power. Magnus VI established national laws for Norway in 1274. Norwegians traded with the English and Hansa merchants. The Norwegian clergy were especially devastated by the bubonic plague. Iceland was dominated by Norway after 1264, and the era of the great Icelandic sagas came to a close in the 13th century. The plague of 1349 greatly decreased Iceland’s trade.

In Milan the Visconti family emerged triumphant and governed rather despotically. As a naval power Venice often came into conflict with the Genoese. Venice had the best intelligence and prevented revolutions. Genoa suffered because of their many conflicts with Venice. Pisa was defeated by Florence on land and by Genoa’s navy. Pisa had democracy for a while but was taken over by the Visconti. Florence became democratic and had strong guilds but suffered from conflicting parties. The common people revolted, but the wealthy merchants in Florence soon regained power. Siena also became democratic but submitted to Milan in 1395. Popes in Rome led the Guelfs and often supported wars. Rome suffered from civil conflicts and the lack of a pope for seven decades, and this was followed by a papal schism. Sicily was invaded from France, Aragon, and Naples, which was invaded by Hungary and Majorca.

Dante was inspired by Beatrice and wrote about spiritual love. His essay on one government suggested that a united world government could bring about universal justice and peace. In his great Commedia Dante described the consequences of vices in the Inferno, the remedies for purifying them in Purgatory, and how to live virtuously in Paradise. For Dante the key is love and loving what is good. Marsilius wrote The Defender of Peace to argue for a free and democratic political process without interference from religion. The ideas of Dante and Marsilius can be good guides to humanity for finding justice and peace.

Petrarca became well known for his humanistic interests in love, poetry, history, self-improvement, and political reform. He wrote love poems about Laura, biographies of famous men, autobiographical works, history, and many letters to contemporaries. He launched the humanist movement that would lead to the Renaissance. Boccaccio’s Decameron provided entertaining literature, and he also wrote poems on love and books on famous women as well as men. Salutati worked to institute humanism at Florence.

Alfonso X the Learned improved Castile by promoting education, law, protective brotherhoods, and tolerance of Jews that allowed the writing of the Zohar, though he doubled the tribute Jews paid in 1281. Power struggles caused civil wars in Castile until 1325. Alfonso XI fought against the Muslims in Granada and Morocco. Pedro I the Cruel fought against his half-brother Enrique II, who eventually put together a coalition that helped him gain the throne of Castile in 1369. Aristocratic families gained power, and Jews were widely persecuted. Aragon expelled rebellious Muslims and gained control of Sicily, Majorca, Minorca, and Sardinia. The University of Lérida taught law and medicine. Pedro IV ruled Aragon for a half century and defeated rebelling nobles in Valencia in 1348. Muslims maintained and defended Granada in the south. Portugal had several kings who worked to improve conditions such as allowing commoners in the Cortes in 1254, promoting education and agriculture, enforcing laws, and tolerating Jews in 1392.

The French army kept Flanders under control except during some rebellions, and Ghent and Bruges came into conflict. Count Louis of Male governed Flanders for France 1355-84, and then his daughter Margaretha and Philippe the Bold of Burgundy ruled it until 1404. Brabant, Guelders, and Jülich had their own hereditary rulers. Floris V (r. 1266-96) tried to help the peasants in Holland and Zeeland. Count Willem (r. 1304-37) of Hainaut also governed Avesnes, Holland, and Zeeland, and he fought against Flanders.

France’s Louis IX did much to reform France and decrease violence, and he was later declared a saint; but he also expelled Jews and led crusades. Philippe IV (r. 1285-1314) was reprimanded by Pope Boniface VIII for taxing the clergy. The election of Pope Clement V began a series of French popes who resided at Avignon. Philippe IV ended the Knights Templar and seized their assets, and he debased the coins. Under his son Louis X France began borrowing money. The foolish Shepherds’ Crusade persecuted and killed Jews. Charles IV went to war against the English over Guyenne. Philippe VI (r. 1328-50) invaded Flanders, and England began the hundred years war by fighting there. English archers helped them defeat larger French forces at Crecy in 1346 and at Poitiers in 1356. France’s three estates formed a Grand Council. A peasant revolt in 1358 was crushed. Charles V (r. 1364-80) revised their strategy against the English to get better results. Translating the Bible into French improved the education of the people. After the great schism of the papacy in 1378, Louis of Anjou tried to conquer parts of Italy, but the increased taxes caused riots and revolts. Ghent was defeated, and 25,000 were killed. Charles VI went insane, and leading dukes used their power to enrich themselves. Jean de Meun’s extended Romance of the Rose synthesized philosophy with romantic pursuit. French theater was developing beyond Church pageants, and the most famous poet Machaut wrote about love.

Under Henry III England ended feudal law and developed Parliament. Edward I (r. 1272-1307) had to get their approval for the taxes to pay for his expensive war with France and to fight the Scotch rebellion. Robert Bruce became king of Scotland in 1306, and his army defeated the larger English army in 1314, gaining Scotland’s independence despite the ongoing battles. After Robert’s death in 1329 the guardians of his young son David II and John Balliol clashed for several years, and England and Scotland were still battling in 1400. England’s Edward II (1307-27) while fighting Scotland was also unpopular and faced a revolt by magnates led by Thomas of Lancaster. Eventually Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer gained control, and Edward was forced to abdicate to his young son Edward III. Mortimer managed to govern England until he was hanged for treason in 1330. Edward III tried to intervene in Scotland, and he began the long war against France; but he was popular because they won big battles in 1340 near Sluis, in 1346 at Crecy, and in 1356 at Poitiers. Yet taxes for war increased in the 1370s, and peasants revolted in 1381. Prominent men struggled for power, and Richard II was extravagant with money. His arbitrary treatment of Henry Bolingbroke resulted in the latter replacing him as king in 1399. During this entire period the English governed Ireland despite its many feuds, battles, and revolts.

English poetry also included allegorical tales about love. Langland portrayed a spiritual hero in Piers the Plowman and described the way to salvation. John Gower used his writing to criticize English society, and in his Confessio Amantis (The Lover’s Shrift) he examined the seven deadly sins carefully. Geoffrey Chaucer had a diplomatic and political career and also wrote books. His proudest achievement seems to have been making The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius available in English. He also told stories of famous women, but, like Boccaccio, he is most famous for his earthy stories in The Canterbury Tales. In my view his greatest story is of Melibeus because in it Prudence describes very wisely how we can practice what Jesus taught and demonstrated by loving our enemies.

Bonaventure developed a comprehensive theology that included a fine ethics for the Franciscans, while his contemporary Thomas Aquinas synthesized Aristotelian philosophy into systematic theology. In my view the theology of Bonaventure deserves more attention because of its wisdom. Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon pioneered the scientific research that would give Europe the leading edge in technology, and Bacon wrote well on moral philosophy. Ramon Llull compared the teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and his own philosophy tried to integrate metaphysics and spiritual psychology. Christians were inspired by lives of saints. Poor women of the Béguines showed they could live in spiritual communities even without recognition by the Church. Meister Eckhart taught the value of detachment and humility in experiencing God, and he inspired mystics who called themselves the Friends of God. Giles of Rome defended papal power against temporal rulers, but he was opposed by William of Ockham and Marsilio who defended Emperor Ludwig. Both Duns Scotus and Ockham argued for a morality based on using free will to follow the will of God. Scotus emphasized that doing good by loving is more important than finding truth and wisdom. Thus these theologians developed comprehensive ethics based on Christian teachings that could help believers be better people.

In the second half of the 14th century mysticism increased and developed its spiritual teachings. Jan van Ruusbroec was in the Lowlands, where Brethren of the Common Life began in 1391. Richard Rolle in his Mending of Life and Fire of Love, Walter Hilton in his Ladder of Perfection, Juliana of Norwich in her Revelations of Divine Love, and The Cloud of Unknowing recommended experiencing God by reading scriptures, praying, and meditating. Through love and humility one can avoid the seven deadly sins and contemplate God. John Wyclif sought to reform the English Church by disendowing it of its worldly possessions so that it could fulfill its spiritual work. He helped make the Bible available in English so that the common people could understand it for themselves.

Once again we can see the contrast between the violence of kings and political leaders compared to the ethics espoused by the theologians, philosophers, and poets. Western civilization can learn from the misguided crusades that force is not the best way to convert people of other faiths, especially when Islamic philosophy and literature at that time was more advanced than Europe’s. Yet another consequence of two centuries of crusades was that many knights went east, and thus were less often used for wars in Europe. After the Europeans were driven out of Palestine in 1291, kings and knights no longer had that outlet for their aggression which turned against other European nations or against other city states as in Italy or to conflicts for power within European states. Thus Europe in the 14th century suffered many wars, the greatest of which was the long conflict between England and France over territory. The growth of the productive economy and the population were reduced by these conflicts and by the devastating bubonic plague that came to Europe in 1348 and wiped out about one third of the population.

During all this turmoil the intellectual life of Europe was making tremendous strides ahead with the grand theological and philosophical systems of Aquinas, Bonaventure, Bacon, and Llull in the late 13th century. Literature was reborn in vernacular languages with the masterpieces of The Romance of the Rose, Dante’s Commedia, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, works that have rarely been surpassed. Wyclif’s criticism of the Church’s assertion of secular power and wealth and his initiating the translation of the Bible would begin a series of major reforms that would reach their climax in the Reformation. Petrarca and others by discovering and appreciating the wisdom and literature of the ancients would launch the humanist movement in education that would create the Renaissance.

Evaluating Europe and Humanism 1400-1517

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
For information on ordering click here.


Crusaders and Byzantine Decline 1250-1400
Eastern Europe 1250-1400
Catholic Ethics 1250-1350
German Empire 1250-1400
Scandinavia 1250-1400
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1250-1400
Italian City States 1250-1400
Dante and Marsilius
Petrarca and Boccaccio
Low Countries and Burgundy 1250-1400
France and National War 1250-1400
England, Scotland, and Ireland 1250-1400
Mystics, Wyclif, Gower, and Chaucer
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronology 750-1300
World Chronology 1300-1400
Chronology of Europe to 1400

BECK index