Fourteenth Century Crises Essay

1512 words - 6 pages

The 14th century is ranked as one of the most distressing epochs in the history of Western culture. With the transformation of the Holy Roman Empire into a greatly destabilized elective monarchy, the transfer in political power from Germany to France and the escalation of England's power comes the end of the High Middle Ages in which Europe sank into a time of despair. Many events were responsible for this decline and loss of hope. Among them, three deserve special attention: the Great Schism, the Hundred Years War, and the Black Plague.

The Great Schism originated in 1309, when Pope Clement V moved the papacy from Italy to Avignon, just outside of French territory. The move was the result of the constant power struggle in Rome between the Pope and the king. The purpose of the move was to insure the Pope freedom of action, but it appeared that the move allowed the King of France, Phillip the Fair, to wield a great deal of influence over the Pope. Many felt that the presence of the papacy in France compromised the Pope's independence and made it the vassal of the French King. In 1376, Pope Gregory XI made a significant move and returned the papacy to Rome. After his death, the College of Cardinals convened to choose the new Pope. "The people of Rome and the vicinity, turbulent and easily roused, had, under the sway of circumstances, loudly declared their preferences and antipathies, and endeavored to influence the decision of the cardinals" (Knight). The Roman mobs insisted on an Italian pope, and the cardinals elected Urban VI. The French did not approve of the new Pope or the method by which he was chosen, so they elected their own Pope, Clement VII, who would once again rule from Avignon. As a result, "Western Christendom would split for 68 years, with two Popes and two accompanying papal structures" (McWilliams). The split would cause surrounding countries to make diplomatic allegiances according to their long-standing rivalries. In time, the Church leaders realized that the matter of having two Popes must be resolved. The Concicular Movement was a church council that would regulate the power of the papacy and end the schism. The council overthrew both Popes and elected a new one, Alexander V, but neither of the deposed Popes regarded the acts of the council as binding, and the schism worsened with three Popes. Ultimately, the Holy Roman Empire called upon all the Churchmen throughout Europe to the Council of Constance, and the schism ended by inducting Martin V as the new Pope in 1415.

"The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts between the English and the French which raged off and on from 1337 to 1453" (Kreis). The dispute began with the conquest of England by William of Normandy, which created a state lying on both sides of the English Channel. The English kings held the duchy of Guienne in France, and for this fief were basically made vassals to the King of France. On May 24, 1337, Phillip VI of France seized...

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