A Time of Crisis

The Black Death: A Global Epidemic
In the mid-1300s a deadly disease called bubonic plague, or the Black Death, reached Europe. It was spread by fleas carried by rats. Eventually, the epidemic, or outbreak, killed one-third of all Europeans. People were terrified and normal life broke down. People fled cities or hid in their homes. Without workers, production declined. Survivors demanded higher wages, leading to inflation, or rising prices. Landlords tried to limit wages and forced villagers off the land. The plague not only spread death but also social unrest, as bitter, angry peasants revolted.

Upheaval in the Church
By the late Middle Ages, the Church, too, was in crisis. Many monks and priests had died during the plague. Survivors asked tough spiritual questions. The Church could not provide the strong leadership that was needed. For 70 years, a luxury-loving papal court ruled in Avignon. Reformers arose within the Church, calling for change. In 1378, they elected their own pope in Rome. French cardinals elected a rival pope. This Church schism, or split, finally ended in 1417 when a Church council removed authority from all three popes and elected a compromise candidate.

The Hundred Years’ War
For most of this time, a destructive war raged. Between 1337 and 1453 England and France fought a series of conflicts known as the Hundred Years’ War. Both sides wanted control of lands in France that had once been England’s, the English Channel, and regional trade. England won early victories with new technology, the longbow. However, led by 17-year-old Joan of Arc, France began to win battles. Joan had told the uncrowned king, Charles VII, that God sent her to save France, so he authorized her to lead an army against the English. In one year, her troops won several victories, but she was captured, tried, and burned at the stake. Her martyrdom rallied French forces, and with their powerful new weapon, the cannon, they drove the English out of most of France. Ultimately, the war helped French kings expand their power. In England, it strengthened Parliament.

As Europe recovered from the plague, its population grew, manufacturing expanded, and trade increased. This set the stage for the Renaissance, Reformation, and Age of Exploration.
The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453)