Plagues and pagans, guilds and goblets, knights and kings… Funny how you never see them around in Europe anymore. Why? What is written in your textbooks? The travels of Columbus? The Fall of Constantinople? Gutenberg’s press? What ended the world’s most realistic fairytale, the Middle Ages?
Or maybe it was suicide.
No, really. These man-made activities might give us a year for the medieval era’s funeral, but humans might not be the most important factor. The Middle Ages brought its end only by itself.
Already existing inequality, the Medieval Warm period, lessened rations, poor hygiene, the plague, the Little Ice Age, lessened rations! Nature always plays her cards in our favor.
Yersinia pestis saved Europe from the downward spiral of the Middle Ages, and even though it is seen as a symbol of the beginning of the Late Middle Ages, the recognition we give to the world’s best catastrophe is lacking at best. After the plague, Europe had at most two thirds of its former population. And what solves the world’s problems?
The answer is simple: death. How morbid the world is, you would be surprised.
Let’s start from the environment. How many people have seen Northern Germany? Even if you haven’t, you should know that the area is covered with forests. Well, not during the 14th century. Same goes for the Mediterranean. Before the outbreak, cultivation and deforestation was incredibly common. Europe restored its actual flora and fauna with the immense fall of agriculture due to the shortage of labor. Do you remember Genghis Khan? He is known to be one of the leaders that nature most benefited from because of all the people he killed. Now just assume how the plague lowered our carbon footprint. These “catastrophes” helped humanity more than any invention has, and this is purely math. We know that pollution increases geometrically and thus, anything that would make it return to a previous point on the graph would leave us with a few extra centuries to exist.
What about religion? Luther or Jan Hus did not get the inspiration to start the Reformation from their dreams. A peasant would not believe this but everything has an explanation. Since the clergy suffered from the most deaths during the outbreak because the sick took refuge in monasteries, many universities were opened to rcruit new priests as fast as they could. Seems like something would go wrong eventually. Uneducated priests bring exploitation. Proof? Chastity belts, witch trials, the Inquisition, Anne Boleyn and much more. And what else do they bring? Anger and Reform, Renaissance and Enlightenment.
And now to talk about what the world revolves around: money and politics.If you aren’t familiar with the English Peasant Revolution or the Jacquerie, that’s completely fine. Not all of us were born poor. Some of us are Swiss.
Since jobs were in abundance after the plague in order to recover from this tragedy, you would expect the wages to go down. But when the number of workers go down in high percentages (up to 80%!), peasants become valuable. Thus, the fiefs have two choices. Increase the wages or do nothing and wait. The second option was not the best choice, we read from books. People revolted against serfdom and monarchies that worked only for the rich. The wealth gap narrowed and the kingdoms, already tired from the Hundred Years War, the plague, inflation, famine and much more, saw many bloody revolts that, successful or not, showed peasants of Western Europe that governments could be affected by people’s demands (the English with the English Civil War and the French with their famous revolution, may not be a coincidence with their early revolts).
There were many familiar political consequences though. The English king wanted more taxes from peasants as a solution.bThe English started to protest Flemish immigrants who took their weaving jobs from them as part of the revolt. Peasants burned Jewish communities, thinking they were responsible for the disease.
Now look at modern Europe again and tell me if this is not Jack London’s atavism.