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(EUROPE from 501 to 1212 -- continued)

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EUROPE from 1001 to 1212 (1 of 7)

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Europe: 1001-1212

Growing towns and intellectuality | Decline of Muslim Power in Spain | William of Normandy Defeats the Anglo-Saxons | English Kings and Resistance in Wales and Scotland | Europe and the First Crusade | Knights, Chivalry, Sadism and Impulsiveness | More Crusades and Heretics, 1144 to 1212

Paris, 1223 CE

Paris in the year 1223, on both sides of the River Seine, surrounded by farms and some forest. It's population for the year 1000 has been estimated at 20,000, and 120,000 for the year 1200.

Growing Towns and Intellectuality

The year 1050 marks the beginning of what some describe as Europe's "High Middle Ages." During this century, Europe's climate was warming, which helped in the growing of food. In Europe's northwest and England's southeast, people benefited from a topsoil in river valleys that was rich and deep. Forests in Western Europe were being cleared. Towns were giving the countryside a new market for crops. Rural estates gained confidence that they could abandon economic self-sufficiency.

While agriculture remained feudal (owners of large estates ruling farm workers), society was benefitting from a spurt in mechanization and trade. In northern Europe an advance in technology came with the use of water wheels. Northern Europe had rivers that continued to run throughout the summer, providing power to water wheels that drove shafts, gears and cams. It ground corn, sawed wood and operated bellows. Windmills also appeared. Winds were steadier than streams, which froze in winters. Windmills as a source of power appeared in Flanders and the Netherlands. And by now, Europeans were using cranks.

The downside of the population growth that accompanied an increase in food was that towns were often densely packed with people, with no sewers, rain turning dirt streets into mud and diseases spreading more rapidly than it did where people were less densely distributed. With the spread of diseases, more people in towns might die than were born, but the populations of these towns were replenished by migrations from the countryside.

A part of the rising population and increase in trade was an increase in people moving around. Merchants were seeking customers in more distant places. Nobles were traveling more from one of their estates to another. Clerics wandered in search of learning or to a place to begin an ascetic life. Young men went to Reims to study philosophy and some to Spain to study math. The roads of Europe were also traveled by peasants looking for land on which to settle. And on the road might be refugees from war, part-time soldiers or part-time bandits.  

In the towns was a seeking of order. Merchants sought a charter for their town – a guarantee of sorts – from great landowners or from monarchs. Monarchs offered towns protection from the jurisdiction of a nearby lord, and the towns offered monarchs a source of wealth, through taxation, that freed them from reliance on the nobles with whom they were in competition for power. Charters offered merchants guarantees of personal freedom and freedom from arbitrary seizure of property. Runaways from serfdom to a town might be considered free if they could elude capture while living in the town for a year. Meanwhile, fraternal and political clubs called guilds in a town helped create local regulations and government that suited the interests of its members. Some clubs built their own chapels and created their own schools. The craft guilds buried members who had died, and they cared for the widows and orphans of those who had been their members. And some towns hired military men for the sake of order.

In places where the trend toward freedom was blocked, attempts were made to establish it through violence. In 1070 the people of Le Mans formed a commune and rose against their lord – a rebellion that failed. In 1077 people of the town of Cambrai rebelled against an Episcopal overlord. And in 1112 a bishop in England who tried to suppress a commune was hacked to pieces.

Some towns were exceptionally successful in trade. London trade extended to the European continent. The English town of York prospered. So too did Paris, Lyons, Marseille, Florence in Italy, Prague, Frankfort, Danzig, Cologne, Nuremburg and Krakow farther east, and Lisbon and Barcelona on the Iberian peninsula.

Copyright © 2009-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.