Growth and Change in the 1200s | Plague and Progress in the 1300s | The Hundred Years' War
Cannon, Politics and Machiavelli | Russia and the Mongols, to Ivan III | Rising Powers of Portugal and Spain
An explosion of cathedral and castle building was taking place in the 1200s. This is the Cathedral of Notre Dame
on the River Seine in Paris. It took 90 years to contruct and was finished, more- or-less, in 1250
The Château de Coucy, which Barbara Tuchman focused on in her book A Distant Mirror. Its citadel was 90 feet in diameter and 180 feet high, its four courner towers each 90 feet high. It took seven years to build, using around 1,600 craftsmen, and was completed in 1230. Watercolor ca 1820. (Wikimedia Commons)
Tuchman describes chivalry's rationale
Into the 1200s, rope, clocks and eyeglasses were coming into use. Buttons were being sewn onto clothing. Western Europeans were doing more measuring and beginning to use navigational charts. Advances were made in the smelting of ore. More iron was being used in tool making. The use of water power was increasing. Spinning wheels and treadles for looms were being used in the fabric industry. Trade was spreading over a greater distance. And western Europe was enjoying a long period of boom in commerce.
Castles of wood had been replaced by castles of stone, with thicker and higher walls. Great Gothic cathedrals were being built – a huge investment of time and money, reflecting economic vitality, civic pride and religious faith. Grand cathedrals contributed to community. There people gathered for prayer, funerals and festivities. Marriages were performed – daughters commonly being married at ages fourteen or fifteen. Local guilds met at the cathedral, as did magistrates and municipal officials. The cathedrals were not only churches but town halls, places where actors staged plays, where couples courted and homeless pilgrims slept.
Farming had expanded onto lands with soil that was of lower quality than that of the river valleys previously farmed. With improved farming methods and more acreage being farmed, a surplus of food was being produced, lowering its price for consumers but making it harder for people to make a living on marginal land. The reclamation of land was coming to an end and people who had farmed were moving to the towns in search of work, and work was harder to find. The economy was not keeping up with the rise in population, and at the end of the 1200s an economic recession was developing and the confidence that characterized the 1200s was on the wane.
Monarchs were building centralized bureaucracies and extending their rule across territory that had been dominated by nobles. In 1284 the English monarchy completed its conquest of the English countryside. There was the power of kings and the power of the Church, and in the 1200s the church was at a high in influence and power. Only a few small pockets of paganism remained, in Scandinavia and among the Lithuanians. The church remained at the center of people's lives. It controlled education, including the universities, with all teachers being members of the clergy. With scholastic thought it dominated Europe intellectually. Princes frequently went to the papacy to settle their disputes. But from this peak, the Church was about to decline.
Many were ignoring Church law. The Church condemned the killing of newborn babies, but this continued to be widely practiced, especially the exposure of infant daughters – exposure preferred over abortion. And the Church's position was being threatened by the growing power of kings.
In 1294, King Edward I of England and Philip IV of France went to war against each other over a fishing conflict. This led to conflict with the Church. Edward and Philip laid taxes upon the clergy in order to pay for their war, and Pope Boniface VIII objected. He insisted that all Christians were subject to him and that kings must submit to papal authority. Boniface proclaimed that the clergy was not to pay taxes to secular rulers. King Edward resisted, and King Philip maintained that he was completely sovereign and responsible to God alone. Philip stopped the flow of money from France to the Vatican. Philip charged Boniface with heresy and in 1303 sent troops to Italy to arrest the pope. Pope Boniface had no substantial military power of his own. He was rescued by friends. But old at sixty-nine, he died a month later.
In 1305, French influence in the College of Cardinals resulted in the election of the Biship of Bordeaux as the new pope, who became Clement V. Romans rioted, and at the request of Philip IV of France, Pope Clement moved his court away from hostile Rome to the fortress town Avignon, in southeastern France, but technically not French. Avignon was the fief of a vassal of Rome. Pope Clement appointed cardinals from French clergy. Against a weakened papacy, the monarchies in England and France took taxes and other payments from bishops and lower clergy. Papal prestige suffered. English, Germans and Italians accused the pope and cardinals at Avignon of being the tools of the French monarchy. And pious Christians called the Avignon papacy the Babylonian Captivity.
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