Crises of the 14th Century, part 3 – The Western Schism and Babylonian Captivity

Crises of the 14th Century, part 3 – The Western Schism and Babylonian Captivity

Along with the crises of the Black Plague which devastated much of Europe and crippled society and the 100 Years War, which cost hundreds of lives on both sides of the conflict, the Western Schism affected the Papacy and its effective rule over Christendom.  It began with the Babylonian Captivity which moved the seat of Papal authority to Avignon, France rather than its traditional home in Rome.  In 1309, the French King attempted to institute a tax on church income.  The Pope resisted and threatened the King with excommunication.  Once the current pope died, his successor was French and desired to be closer to the protection of the French monarchy (and perhaps also a mistress or two).  The decline of the clergy continued unchecked while the papacy remained in Avignon, and the city and its papal holdings were referred to as Babylon by Petrarch.  In Avignon, the papacy went for a policy of virtually anything goes.  Ultimately Pope Clement VI spoke out against the rampant corruption and sale of church office, position and holy relics.

Understandably, it was difficult for the Pope to manage his vast landed estates in Italy from his seat in France. Revolts came from all sides – from the people of Rome who had to deal with increasing taxation to support the Pope in France and from the city-states that defined Italian governance in the late medieval period into the Renaissance. The position became more and more untenable until, finally, Pope Gregory XI was forced to return to Rome in an ultimately failed attempt to regain control. Demanding an Italian pope, Urban VI was elected. Urban attempted to reign in church corruption and institute a general reform which was not met well by the Cardinals.   The French cardinals banded together and declared Urban VI’s election to be invalid. They continued on to create a conclave of their own and elected Clement VII, who was guilty of causing the massacre of over 5000 civilians in his brutal suppression of an attempted revolt. At this point, two Popes governed the church, and alliances were split between European Christian nations, although people generally followed the guidance of their own monarchs, with England typically in support of the Roman Pope and France understandably entrenched in support of the French Pope.

If two Popes were not sufficient, at one point in the Schism (ironically in trying to heal it) there were three Supreme Pontiffs at one time. When Urban VI died, instead of healing the schism in the church and recognizing the reign of Clement VII, the Roman cardinals elected a successor for Urban VI and named Boniface IX. Similarly, upon the death of Clement VII, the French cardinals elected his successor Benedict XIII. The council of Pisa was called to resolve the schism and decide on a single Pope to unite the church. Neither of the current Popes chose to attend, and the cardinals deposed them both, electing instead Alexander V. This created three rival papacies, throwing the church in to further disarray. A second council was called at Constance. In addition to removing the problem of the schism, the council aimed to address church reforms and to remove the threats of heresy springing up from the disjointed church leadership. The council, after deposing 3 Popes for the price of one (and after granting themselves the power to do so) elected Martin V, which ultimately ended the Western Schism and once again united the church. Understandably, the problems and upheaval created by the schism at the highest orders of church leadership fed directly into the desire for reformation, and provided the breeding ground necessary for the upcoming Protestant reformation to take root.

 

Sources:
https://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/WestTech/x14thc.htm
http://greatschism.org/great-western-schism/

Photo Credit: By Jean-Marc Rosier from http://www.rosier.pro, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4837750

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Crises of the 14th Century, Part 2: The 100 Years War

Crises of the 14th Century, Part 2: The 100 Years War

The 100 Years war between England and France over the right to rule tore apart two of Europe’s most notable powers and often had tragic, horrific consequences.  An epic, late medieval power struggle began as the succession of the throne of France came under dispute.  Although England displayed stunning successive victories, the outcome of the 100 years war was undeniably a French victory.  The tide turned from one side to another in any given year and the conflict lasted for over a century, spanning from 1337 through its final battles in 1453.  It saw numerous kings on both sides and was ripe with scandal, accusations, heresies, bloodshed and even descents into madness.

When the French began attacking English holdings in France, English King Edward the III boldly (and also ironically) declared himself the King of France.  If declaring oneself the ruler of any given empire at any given time was sufficient to actually claim it, I imagine that history would look a lot different today than reality dictates.  Strangely, English law allowed for the passage of property and holdings can descend through a maternal line, which is what Edward III was claiming through his mother, Isabella.  French law, however, dictated that property and possessions descended solely through paternal lineage, making Edward’s claim obsolete.  The conflict spawned by his claim to the throne, however, sparked a century-long conflict and untold numbers of lives on both sides – something that it seems unlikely that anyone could anticipate at the time they occurred.

England first attacks the seas, attempting to gain control of the English Channel.  Although Edward III manages to sink the very ship he’s sailing on, he is ultimately successful.  Landing in Normandy in 1346, Edward is pursued by French forces and attacked at Crecy.  The French, however, are held at bay by longbow men, and the English gain a victory at the first decisive battle of the century’s conflict.  The English continue their victory march and successfully siege Calais. Hostilities briefly cease after that due to the onset of the Black Plague, with England losing up to 1/3 of their population, and France losing about a quarter.  The 1356 battle of Poitiers continued the English victory trend, and the Black Prince successfully captures Jean II – the French King, along with more than a thousand French nobles.  As a result of the decisive Poitiers battle and successful naval campaigns, France cedes a formidable chunk of its Northern territories as well as its coastline to England.

France gradually regains the lands that it ceded to England, and after the death of both Edward III and the Black Prince a 28 year treaty is signed between the two opposing sides.  France continues to gain back its holdings under its new king Charles V.  In 1372, the naval power swings back to France as they regain the important control of the English Channel, making it all-but impossible for the English to send reinforcements to their French territories.  The tide swings again in English favor under King Henry V, who has also declared himself King of France.  Henry V gains victories in both Harfleur and Agincourt only to be defeated soundly at Beauge.  The English, however, managed to fight off a joint attack by French and Scottish forces at Verneuil against a much larger force.  The victory can be attributed once again to English longbowmen.

Joan of Arc, a French national hero, has come of age and has once again stemmed the tide of English victories.  At the siege of Orleans, Joan of Arc leads a French relief force against the English and attacks, driving the English out from their entrenched positions.  The Siege of Orleans and its French victory is typically thought as the turning point of the war itself, and firmly planted the French on victorious ground – although it was hardly settled or secure.  Joan of Arc is captured by English sympathizers in Northern France and is handed over to the English who put her on trial for witchcraft.  in 1431 after a tumultuous and horrific trial, Joan is burned at the stake as a convicted witch in Rouen.The French continue on the offense and slowly keep reclaiming English holdings in France.  At the final battle of the 100 Years War in Castillon, the English forces are completely routed and the last survivors set sail for England.  In 1453 after 116 years, the Calais coast is the only remaining English territory remaining and will stay in English hands until halfway through the 16th century.

Sources:
https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/Hundred_Years.html
http://www.history.com/topics/hundred-years-war

 

Re-Learning History

Re-Learning History

Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, I was raised in a very religious home.  We went to church at least twice a week, and participation was mandatory rather than encouraged.  I went to a religious school, and had only religious friends – only of a particular type of religion, that is.  Secular music, books, television and movies were either forbidden outright or accepted in small, limited doses.  To say I was sheltered would be an understatement of epic proportions.  Once I had moved out of the house, however, and had my first taste of college education, I gradually began to realize that I could no longer accept that a lot of things I were taught to be absolutely true were accurate – and if they were accurate, they couldn’t exactly be demonstrated.  While there were many reasons for this realization, one of the big ones was religion’s ambiguity.  Too much seemed open to interpretation or bias.  By a twist of ironic fate, my one true educational passion – the study of history – is strikingly similar in many ways.  It is also impossible to study a lot of history without studying the religious context that surrounded it.  Studying religion and studying history very much go hand in hand – especially in the concentration of European history where politics and religion were so entwined that it’s practically impossible to separate one from the other.

Studying history is all about analysis and probabilities.  What sources are you using?  Are your sources biased for or against what they’re talking about?  How close to the events that they’re relaying are they writing?  Do other bodies of work from a similar time relay the same information, or do they differ in significant ways?  History, in that sense is a big mystery – and I’ve always had a fondness for mysteries (thanks, in large part, to my grandmother who watched Murder, She Wrote with me as far back as I can remember).  History is a giant puzzle where the pieces move, and sometimes they lie.  And I love every moment of it – even when it’s frustrating and confusing and difficult.  Needless to say, the further back in time you study, the more difficult it is to pin down facts and the more you have to piece together varying pieces of information in a way that they make the most sense and have the most consistent corroboration – simultaneously recognizing that there is going to be less information available.

The study of history also varies significantly by education level.  This has nothing to do with how much education you have, but where you actively participate in historical classes.  In elementary school you are taught a white-washed version of pivotal historical events without the often bloody, tragic or horrific context that surrounds it.  You learn bits and pieces without ever being able to connect the dots.  In high school, however, you gain more context but the majority of history classes you have to take are taught by memorization.  You learn names, dates and events around the world but you’re so busy memorizing events that you have very little opportunity to dive into the deeper issues.  In college, conversely, you are taught the context of history, and you’re taught the tools necessary to place historical events in their proper context, analyze sources, think critically about those sources and place them in a reasonable frame of reference for how they influence the time and place they were in.  The more I learn about history, the less I think I know.  When preparing for a research project for practically any term, there’s a process of elimination and concentration required before I can ever begin on the writing aspect.  First, you have to identify a person, a place or an event within the context allowed by the project.  Then you have to narrow it down to a manageable chunk.  And rarely, if ever, do you end up writing about what you thought you would be writing about when you first started out.  You learn how to make historical arguments and you learn how to defend them.  You begin to learn the process of peer review as you analyze your fellow student’s work.  You interact on a higher level with your professors, regardless of whether you’re attending classes in person or on line.  You learn not only the value of asking questions, but also which questions to ask.  Your gaze becomes focused while still maintaining the ability to see the big picture – and if, like me, you’re majoring in history, you make valuable connections in the field that can be useful moving forward as other opportunities and possibilities open up.

History has so many intricacies and avenues open to exploration, regardless of time period or specialization.  No matter what topic you start researching, there are a myriad of avenues that open up the deeper into the topic you get.  Each one of those avenues has the potential to lead you down a rabbit hole of other directions.  One of the things I love about the subject so much is that no matter how much you learn, there is so much more out there – and while you can specialize in an area of history that interests you the most, it is absolutely impossible for any one person to know it all – and even as a specialist, it is almost guaranteed that another specialist in the field will disagree with a particular interpretation of events, and a whole new potential for dialogue can open up.

Far from getting sick of it, my interest in history has only deepened the more I study it.  Although the manner of learning has evolved over time, my appreciation for it has deepened exponentially.  And while I’m still learning tools and techniques that I will have to put into practice both now and in the future, I’m greatly looking forward to the outcome.

Crises of the 14th Century, part 1 – The Bubonic Plague

Crises of the 14th Century, part 1 – The Bubonic Plague

There’s nothing like cheering up your day with a little light reading on the bubonic plague – the scourge that swept through Eurasia, the Middle East and Europe and eliminated up to 1/3 of the population as it went. Although precise death counts will never be possible due to inflated numbers due to panic, 1/3 of Europe’s population in the 14th century would equal approximately 20 million people. To those living through the horror, it truly must have seemed like the end of the world.

Already battered by the economic devastation wrought by the Little Ice Age which led to famines over much of Europe, the onset of the plague devastated an already weak economy both in social terms and in economic resources, the workforce and social order.

The Bubonic plague came to Europe on the flea infested rats on boats that landed in the harbor of Messina. The plague came in two forms simultaneously – one was a blood infection that manifested in the infamous buboes as well as massive internal bleeding which was spread by human contact, the other was airborne and manifested as a respiratory infection. It moved devastatingly fast, causing death anywhere from a few hours to a few days after initial infection, with many cases reported of people falling asleep healthy and never waking up. The plague was not a one-hit-wonder. It came and went repeatedly in spurts between 1347 and 1369, wiping out entire villages throughout the European countryside and wreaking havoc on the densely populated city areas, resulting in the deaths of between 50-70% of some urban areas.

Virtually all reports of the plague, however, share disturbing similarities. People were dying faster than the dead could be disposed of properly. Mass graves were dug. Unburied bodies were often left for days at a time as the living struggled to cope with the load, with more dead being constantly added. Burials were often hasty, and graves were shallow and unprotected only to be dug up by dogs or other animals, further distressing those left behind. In many convents, monasteries, prisons and other closed communities, a single living person was left among the dead, waiting for the plague to come for them as well. In at least one instance, the single remaining live inhabitant left a record of the plague until he, too, was claimed by the plague himself, only to have his memoirs completed in another hand by someone else arriving at the scene. By the end of the 14th century, the population of Europe as a whole was halved.

Outbreaks of the plague also caused religious anxiety as priests were dying off just like common people.  With too many dead or dying and not enough priests to administer last rights or preside over a burial, laypeople were allowed to administer last rights to their friends, neighbors and family members when a priest could not attend.  This also included women being able to hear last confessions if no man was present by edict of the pope.

One of the lingering horrors after the pestilence had passed was the effect that it took on society overall. Scapegoats were not unheard of – the most common targets being either Jews (most likely targeted for financial reasons as much as the blame for the plague) or witchcraft. Contrary to common perception, the medieval mind did not focus too much attention on witches, but that began to change at the end of the 14th century, continuing on into the 15th.

The Bubonic plague is a disturbing and fascinating subject that is far from concise, and I’ll have to revisit it again in the future. It is simply one of several crises that arose in the 14th century, and there is much more to dive into at some future point.

Further reading about the plague outbreaks and its connection to the 20th century can be found here

Sources:
“The Disastrous 14th Century” University of Wisconsin
“Notes on Fourteenth-Century History” Public.WSU.edu

Tampa Explorations – Ybor and the Carnival

Tampa Explorations – Ybor and the Carnival

My wife and I went on our traditional, post-tax refund trip to Tampa today to visit Ikea and pick up some new furniture for the house.  Since I disdain driving on interstates, we try to take the back roads to Tampa from our home in Clearwater as much as possible.  Thankfully, this is usually possible, and it offers up some exciting new adventures traipsing through parts of the Tampa Bay Area that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see – and who likes being dumped onto an interstate only to have to merge across five lanes of crazy traffic in under two minutes?

Driving to Ikea from Clearwater, however, requires us to drive through Ybor city – a notorious party/club historic district, and it looks a lot different in the daylight than it does at night.  As we were driving, my wife made an apt comparison, mentioning that Ybor was reminiscent of Pleasure  Island from Disney’s Pinocchio.  It’s the city of bad choices – you go out, you drink, perhaps enjoy a cigar and often it makes people turn into an ass – minus the ears and tail that Pleasure Island portrayed in cartoon form.

Ybor city itself has a colorful and enlightening past.  Formerly the Cigar Capital of the world, it fostered a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic past and still remains visible today.  While known primarily for the nightlife, it is full of historically preserved buildings and sites and has become revitalized from a post-WWII ghost town once the cigar trade died down.  While visiting the city in daylight hours can be a stark reminder of previous bad choices and drunken evenings – or falling asleep on manhole covers – it is a city that portrays its own miniature beauty, and is a place that this aspiring historian would like to explore more.  Maybe next year on our annual Ikea roadtrip.

For further reading on this place and it’s rich history, you can start your search here