History (General)

Start Free Trial

Why was the fourteenth century described as an age of adversity?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The fourteenth century was known as the age of adversity for several reasons. One factor was the continued growth of the population, which reached about 100 million people in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century. When farm prices dropped due to crop surpluses, many people moved to the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The fourteenth century was known as the age of adversity for several reasons. One factor was the continued growth of the population, which reached about 100 million people in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century. When farm prices dropped due to crop surpluses, many people moved to the cities and towns, increasing the chance that disease could rapidly spread. The Black Plague spread rapidly throughout Europe in 1348 and 1349, killing many people.

Another factor was that the climate had changed. During the Great Famine of 1315–1317, Europe became much wetter and colder. This impacted the growing of crops, leading to food shortages and famine.

There were many wars fought during this time. The Hundred Years' War led to much death and destruction, as England and France fought each other. The Ottoman Turks arrived and cut trade with the East, leading to rising prices. They took over land throughout Europe and eventually took over Constantinople in 1453.

Even the Catholic Church was experiencing difficulties. The French forced the Popes to move from Rome to Avignon. During the Great Western Schism, opposing popes tried to rule, causing dissension and division to develop, as followers were not sure which Pope, the one in Rome or the one in Avignon, was the real Pope. Without effective leadership, the Church lost power and prestige.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Since the end of the last Crusade in the late 13th century, the authority of kings had been growing progressively stronger. Many of the most powerful nobles had perished in the Crusades, which meant, among other things, that political authority became more centralized as monarchs arrogated more power to themselves. The effective abolition of feudalism created a growing crisis within 14th century society. The old structures were now in decline, and the ensuing social upheaval led to a significant increase in popular revolts. Now that the nobles were less powerful, the lower orders of society, such as peasants, felt more emboldened to challenge what they perceived as unjust treatment and economic exploitation.

The gap between rich and poor was widening; incomes of the poor were in sharp decline; inflation was rampant; and famine due to bad weather and the succession of bad harvests were becoming regular features of life in 14th century Europe. All of these factors combined to create a perfect storm that caused widespread disruption across the continent, leading many to prophesy that the end of the world was at hand. No wonder, then, that the 14th century has been called the "century of adversity."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The fourteenth century is described as an age of adversity for many reasons. In this answer I will give you the top three reasons.

First, the plague called Black Death peaked in 1348-1350. Although it is difficult to estimate numbers, the Black Death is estimated to have killed up to fifty percent of the population. Even if we take a more conservative estimate, around thirty percent of the population died. In other words, every third person died. This is simply devastating. It would take the world over a hundred years to regain that population.

Second, there were great problems in one of the most stable institutions of society during this time period - the Church. The great schism took place in 1378 and there were two rival popes, one in Rome and the other in Avignon. This shook the confidence of the people and divided nations.

Finally, there was also the spread of the Ottoman Empire and it threatened the very fabric of the Western world. This was not a false fear, because in 1453, the Ottoman Empire took over one of the greatest cities, Constantinople.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team