Episode 19 AD 1347-1396

The Ottoman Empire, the Black Death and the 100 Years War

The long secular rise of Christendom, unbroken since the 10th century, suffered severe setbacks during the 14th. The society had reached a high level of wealth, for the elite; those working the land had a standard of life better than in some regions of the 3rd World today. There were major gains on the peripheries: in Spain, the last major invasion from Morocco was successfully repulsed; in the east pagan Lithuania opted to join the European cultural realm.

But internally the society was fracturing on several levels, as new ways of thinking and new forms of claims to authority collided with one another. Civil war was the result, and from it spewed forth chaos. While this almost paralysed Christendom, the Roman Empire at Constantinople was entering its final years, as the Ottoman Turks emerged as an enormous military power and transplanted their centre to continental Europe.

Contents of the video (59 mins.)

  • Europe, in the Middle Ages, had the characteristics of a single Nation, in terms of identity and values, but its lack of political unity brought to it waves of conflict and disaster.
  • Christendom was now a densely interconnected society, with a flourishing trade system and a high level of development. It had completely recovered from the dislocations caused by the fracturing of the Mediterranean centuries before.
  • The Hansa merchants dominated the Baltic, the Venetians, Genoese and Aragonese traded across the Mediterranean and into the Black Sea. The city merchant class became rich, the money economy spread.
  • Anarchy of the nobility in Castile prompted the assertion by the cities of the concept of the ‘public good’, the commonwealth. In 1325 a vigorous new king reasserted royal authority and united the nobility in a campaign against Muslim Grenada. In 1340 the Emir of Grenada was aided by the landing of a large Muslim army from Morocco. The Christians won a crushing victory at the battle of Salado, putting a final end to Islamic ambition in Spain.
  • On the north-eastern rim of Christendom, pagan Lithuania was a powerful political community. The Lithuanian princes wavered between Orthodoxy and Latin Christianity, eventually choosing the latter. A dynastic marriage in 1384 united Lithuania and Poland and brought Lithuania as the last country into Europe. Poland-Lithuania existed until 1795.
  • What was lost by Islam in Spain was gained by it in Greece. In 1354 the Turks crossed the Dardanelles and fortified Gallipoli. In 1365 Sultan Murad took Adrianopolis and made it his capital. In 1388 Murad annihilated the Serbs in Kosovo. A new Islamic superpower had set itself up on the European mainland. Constantinople was doomed.
  • While this was happening, the heart of western Europe was descending into systemic civil conflict, with the Plantagenet-Valois struggle at its core.
  • Climate change ended the centuries of warm summers and high crop yields and brought famine. In 1349 a Genoese ship brought the Black Death from the Crimea to Sicily, from where it travelled the trade routes throughout Europe, killing up to half the population.
  • The religious populism of the Flagellants. In 1329 the tensions between the Valois and Plantagenets broke out into a full-blown civil war.
  • The Hundred Years War was one of continuous low-level destructiveness and rare set-piece battles. The Valois were losing. The Companies emerged as the major military phenomenon of the age. During the long truces, they became a scourge upon the whole of society, operating as swarms of land-based pirates.
  • In 1395, during a truce, the Valois and Plantagenet kings proposed to bury their dynastic differences and to go on a joint Crusade to the Holy Land.
  • Such a Crusade was undertaken in that year, but not by these kings personally. Led by the Duke of Burgundy and king of Hungary, it was utterly destroyed by the Turkish Janissaries at Nicopolis.

Now with the audio-only version included

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