During the fourteenth century, the Catholic Church was torn apart by corruption and conflict. When the French king attempted to tax the Church in France, he was threatened with execution by the Pope. In 1309, a Frenchman was elected Pope Clement VI, and moved the seat of the papacy to Avignon, France, where he presided over a court noted for its luxury and decadence. Petrarch, who spent time in the court around midcentury, described it in a famous letter to a friend:
Here reign the successors of the poor fishermen of Galilee; they have strangely forgotten their origin. I am astounded, as I recall their predecessors, to see these men loaded with gold and clad in purple, boasting of the spoils of princes and nations; to see luxurious palaces and heights crowned with fortifications, instead of a boat turned downward for shelter.
In 1377, the papacy returned to Rome, but political intrigue there led to the election of two popes, an eventuality known as the Western Schism. This condition persisted for 70 years, with the churches in some kingdoms declaring loyalty to the Roman Church, and others following Avignon. This was an existential crisis for many Europeans, who saw the structure of the Church as essential to intervening with God for their salvation.
The fact that many local parish priests and certainly bishops emulated the lavish and secular lifestyles of the popes did not help matters. The fourteenth century was a devastating one for Europe in general, due to the Black Death, Hundred Years War, and repeated famines, and the turmoil experienced by the Church did not help matters. Some pious Europeans responded with campaigns to reform the Church, the most famous of which were the Lollard movement led by John Wycliffe in England, and a similar movement in Bohemia led by Jan Hus.