The Crusades were a series of wars begun by Christians to take the Holy Land, the land in and around Jerusalem, by military force from the Muslims. They were devastating wars that left centuries of hate and distrust between Europe and the Arab nations. Probably most disastrous was the Children's Crusade. In their trips to the Holy Land, Crusaders encountered societies far more advanced than their own. They brought ideas back to Europe that began to change the ways Europeans thought, acted, and lived.
Pope Urban II call the first Crusade in Claremont, France in 1095. The Pope was trying to reunite the Byzantine Empire with Christian Europe by a campaign against the Muslims who controlled Jerusalem. He also wanted to defend Constantinople from attackers coming in from the east.
Ironically, Crusaders were generally attacking societies in Palestine that were living in relative peace with one another. At the time of the First Crusade, Muslims controlled Jerusalem as they had for about 400 years. Muslims, Jews and Christians in Palestine had developed a fairly peaceful coexistence.
The Crusades continued in separate waves for almost 200 years. The last Crusade ended in 1272,
The Crusades were bitter. Other than the first victories in conquering Jerusalem, the Christian warriors seized very little territory and hundreds of thousands of Europeans died on Crusade.
In the process of traveling to Palestine, Crusaders encountered societies much more advanced than their own. The Byzantine Empire and the Muslims lived in conditions much better than did the people of Europe. Crusaders returning to Europe brought back many types of learning and ideas they had encountered in the east. Among these were medicine, art, architecture, and ancient books.
The Black Death came to Europe from Asia by means of Italian sailors returning from the city of Kaffa on the Black Sea in 1347. Fleas attached to infected rats carried the disease. As the fleas traveled between the rats and humans they carried plague-infected blood between the two.
Within eight years, the plague ravaged every nation in Europe. Some towns in the Mediterranean may have experienced death rates as high as 80%. The best estimates are that the Black Death killed between 25 and 50% of Europe's population within about eight years. The death toll was probably between 75 million and 200 million people.
The Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. Physicians and priests seemed unable to stop the spread of the plague. As a result the people of Europe began to lose trust in the Church and their leaders.
As a result of the plague, peasants were able to start demanding higher wages. Nobles tried to force peasants to work for what they had received prior to the plague but their efforts failed. With the population decreased, the price of goods also dropped and the average plague survivor found themselves with a standard of living that had improved quite a bit from the years before the plague.
People also lost a great deal of their unquestioning faith in the Church and began to look elsewhere for ideas about life. This helped set the stage for the Renaissance.
The Hundred Years War
It began in 1328, when the French king died leaving no children as heir to the throne.
Then English king, Edward III, proclaimed that he should rule France also because his mother was French. The French nobles had two choices: they could let a French king come to power or let an English king rule from London ..
After the French declared a new king, they attacked the English territory in Aquitaine or southern France. Then in 1337, Edward III declared war. The war lasted until 1453.
In 1340, The French prepared for the English to attack from the sea, so they built a massive fleet. The fleet also had an army that was headed to attack the English owned Flanders before hitting England first. But the English attacked first and destroyed the French fleet. With no gunpowder at the time, they fought the battle like a land battle from their ships. After the battle, England controlled the English Channel and was able to ferry armies to and from France.
The English army was mostly made up of longbowmen, pike men and light cavalry. They proved to be the most effective army since the Romans. In 1346, the English army was very sick and was retreating to the ports to go home, but
the French were pursuing. They took a last stand
at a hill at Crecy. As heavily amoured French knights charged up the hill, they got stuck in the mud. And were massacred by English archers.
The war was famous for the introduction of firearms into European warfare, the use of archery as an attack tool, and the leadership of Joan of Arc, a teenage mystic woman, as she led the French armies into battle.
After many deaths and battles, France ended up winning the hundred-year war but Europe had been damaged and would suffer for many years to come because of the long and deadly warfare.
In the year 1215, King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta. It was a legal document which had a huge influence on the developing legal system of England. 'Magna Carta' means The Great Charter. The intent of the Magna Carta was to re-establish laws that had existed in England before the Norman invasion. John was forced to sign it after he was ambushed by an army of nobles in London. The Magna Carta greatly restricted the power of the king. It was affixed with his seal and posted throughout England. Thus he bound not only himself but his heirs, to grant all free men of their kingdoms certain rights.
King John never intended to abide by the restrictions On his power contained in the Magna Carta but over time the threats of the nobles against him forced him to follow it.
King John was widely hated because of his high taxes and terrible personal conduct. The nobles threatened him with civil war if he did not accept reductions to his power. At one point the nobles appointed a new king of England but the appointee was never crowned.
The Magna Carta gave the free people rights against the power of the king. It was the first time the power of the kings in Europe was reduced by law.
In many ways, the Magna Carta provided the basis for ideas that were used in Common Law throughout England and in the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the United States. This is especially true regarding the Sixth Amendment.
The Western, or Papal, Schism
The Western (or Papal) Schism was a political division of the church in the 1300's. The pope moved the church to Avigon, France from Rome because of political turmoil, which angered the Romans.
The French had the capital of the Church moved to France in order to have more control. In 1376 Pope Gregory XI moved the church back to Rome. When he died two years later, the Romans elected Pope Urban I. In France however, there was dissatisfaction. A group of cardinals elected another Pope, Pope Clement II. They claimed that Urban r was angry and ignorant
Western Christendom split with a Pope for each side. Every country was now politically divided over which Pope to follow. France would of course support Pope Clement II, and Rome would support Pope Urban XI.
Many countries supported both sides of the conflict and this weakened the power of the Church to rule over the nations of Europe. Many people lost faith and were just confused. Because depending on what Pope you followed, you could either be condemned to hell or go to heaven, slowly the power of the papal began to diminish.
In time, the cardinals who elected both popes decided to make a council of holy men to be over the church instead of a pope. They asked the church council in Pisa to elect a new pope to unite the divided sides. The other popes however didn't want to let go of their power, so we ended up with three popes wanting authority over the church. Eventually the Council of Constance solved the Schism. The Popes of Avigon and Rome gave up, and a new Pope, Pope Martin V, became leader of the reunited church.