Knights, War, Death
and Social Change
War technologies affected society in the late Middle Ages. Lords created castles on their manor lands that were great fortifications that could withstand assaults from enemies. Check out the picture below that shows all the parts of a castle and this modern castle in France to see what the castle looked like up close. If you click on the street view (the little person on the left) you can see what it is like up close.
Lords had knights as their vassals and their job was primarily to defend the manor and fight in wars. Knights developed armour and weapons that worked well in a fight (see below). Knights lived by a Code of Chivalry and were admired and respected in medieval society. The video below explains more about life as a knight. Check out this page if you are interested in learning more about knights.
The Hundred Years' War
The Hundred Years' War was fought between England and France over territory. The map below shows how the disputed territory changed hands many times throughout the war years but ultimately accomplished very little for either side. Check out this website that explains more about the war if you are interested. Over time, new weapons such as the longbow and cannons reduced the importance of both knights and castles. The result was a change in the way wars were fought, and to feudal society itself as people no longer looked to the manor for protection. As a result, the king gained more power as feudalism with its reliance on nobles and knights lost its importance.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was a young 16 year old girl who rallied the troops of France to fight back against the British invaders and retake the territory in northern France from the British. She was charged and found guilty of heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake, but she was the focal point of the French resistance at the end of the Hundred Years War that developed into a nationalism that allowed the French to overthrow the British and reclaim all their territory. She was later canonized by the Catholic Church in the early 1900's.
The Black Death (or bubonic plague) was the nail in the coffin of feudalism. This fatal highly contagious disease wiped out more than half the population of Europe. It emptied towns and left the manors without the necessary workers to grow the food crops that were needed. Many people died of starvation as well as this disease. The surviving workers were able to demand higher wages of the lords who could not afford to pay them. As a result, we see the end of the feudal system in Europe as it was no longer economically practical to run the manor system.
The Peasants' Revolts
After the Hundred Years War and the Black Death there were fewer peasants to work on the manor lands. As a result the ones who remained had to work even harder to do all the work that was needed to grow the crops and supply the food. Food production was reduced so prices went up. Peasants began to demand higher wages which the lords could not afford to pay. In England, the nobles passed a law that kept wages at a pre-plague rate making it difficult for peasants to afford to pay the higher prices of food. The Parliament also imposed a Poll Tax to help pay the costs of the Hundred Years War which the peasants could not afford to pay. In France, the peasants were upset also by the high taxes they were asked to pay the nobles for use of the manor lands which had been destroyed during the Hundred Years War. In both England and France, the peasants revolted and killed many nobles and burned buildings. These revolts were quickly put down by the nobles who killed the leaders and participants and burned their homes. Although the peasants did not win anything they did show that they were unwilling to accept the way they were being treated by the nobles which led the way to equal representation in a democracy.
Changing Attitudes Towards the Church
As the people of medieval Europe were experiencing famine, plague, wars and difficult labour shortages, the Church continued to preach that these were the consequences of evil behavior and God's punishment to them. People tried to please God by going on pilgrimages and building elaborate Cathedrals which showed the Church's power and wealth. Some people began to question the authority of the Church. They believed that people could get salvation through following their own conscience and did not need the Church to tell them what to believe. They wanted the Bible to be written in a language they could read, not Latin, so they could understand it for themselves. They also believed the Church was too rich and should not be making people pay high taxes for use of its lands, pay fees for religious ceremonies and pay to visit pilgrimage sites. As a result, people began to turn away from the Church.