A Distant Mirror – Part 2: 1351 – 1400

images“Full wise is he that can himself know.” – Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Canterbury Tales’

The 14th century produced some great literature even though the printing press was not yet invented.  ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri and ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer, both of which I’ve read, and ‘The Decameron’ by Giovanni Boccaccio and the poems of Francesco Petrarch, both of which I have not read, were all written during the 14th century.

Here are some of the significant events of the last half of the 14th century.

At the battle of Poitiers in 1356, once again the English beat the French mainly due again to the long bow.  This time the English capture and hold for high ransom the French king John II (John the Good).

Jacquerie In 1358, peasants in France called the Jacquerie were unhappy with their financial burden resulting from the Hundred Years’ War.  They roamed through the countryside killing nobles, raping the nobles’ wives and daughters, and burning down their estates.  Later in 1381, the English peasants also revolted against high taxes and having to work on church lands.

John Wyclif of England began giving stirring sermons in the 1360s against the supremacy of papal law and against payment of revenues to the papacy.  He is sometimes called the Morning Star of the Reformation.   Wycliff was also responsible for the first translation of the Bible into vernacular English.

Pope Gregory XI dies in 1377, and in the disagreement that followed, two Popes are elected.  Urban VI in Rome has the backing of the Holy Roman Empire, England, and most of Italy.  Clement VII in Avignon has the backing of France, Spain, and Scotland.  The papal schism will last until 1418.

The second and third waves of the Black Plague swept through Europe during the second half of the 14th century, killing a further large portion of the population.

At one point. both England and France had boy Kings.  Richard II in England succeeded to the throne in 1377 at the age of 10.  Charles VI was only 11 when he became the King of France in 1379.  In both cases the boys’ uncles actually ruled taking no responsibility beyond lining their own pockets.  Finally in 1388 Charles VI was able to dismiss his uncles, and he became known as ‘Charles the Bold’   However in 1392, Charles VI had his first spell of temporary insanity and killed four of his knights and almost killed his brother.  His sporadic bouts of insanity became more frequent and of a longer duration, and from then on he was known as ‘Charles the Mad’.

9781855329188_p0_v1_s260x420For most of the 14th century the countries and city states of Europe were too busy fighting each other to mount a crusade.  However the Ottoman Empire made major gains into Serbia and south eastern Europe winning the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. In 1394 Pope Boniface IX proclaimed a new crusade against the Turks.  This was the last major crusade, and it culminated in the Battle of Nicopolis.  This battle was a major victory for the Turks and a major defeat for the crusade army.   Sigismund would later state, “We lost the day by the pride and vanity of these French. If they believed my advice, we had enough men to fight our enemies.”

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