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14th Century Crises

14th Century crises:
An overview

Keith Tankard
The Time Traveller
Updated: 14 December 2009
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The 14th Century was an era of great tragedy. Everything seemed to go wrong at the same time, almost as if Europe was suffering from a hangover after the heady days of the High Middle Ages.

The climate changed dramatically, ushering in a couple of centuries of colder and wetter weather. Then came the Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic. As if all this was not enough, the papacy seemed to lose its head and, in doing so, lost the support of the hearts and minds of its people, the members of the Catholic Church.

The "Little Ice Age", as the period of climatic change was known, would last for several centuries. Winters became dramatically colder and the summers wetter. Harvest failures were common, ushering in starvation and malnutrition.

While the people of Europe were prostrate, however, another blow quickly befell them: the onslaught of the Black Death. The Black Death was a bubonic plague pandemic which spread through the length of breadth of Europe, bringing with it instant death.

Estimates put the population losses as between 20% to 60%, although it is clear that whole communities were sometimes wiped out.

As if this was not enough, the Papacy itself went into decline. The Popes became caught up into political manoeuvring and moved from Rome, to take up residence in the French city of Avignon - an event commonly known as the "Babylonian Captivity of the papacy".

Later, when a rival Pope was set up, the Great Schism started. There were now two popes, one in Avignon and another in Rome. Then, to add insult to injury, a third pope (also in Rome) was added to the list.

All of this could only have a dramatic effect on a people who were at heart deeply religious. It is interesting to debate exactly how deep an impact this would be.

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