Page 1 In the later part of the middle ages, an epidemic was unleashed upon society. Killing almost half of the population, the black death not only changed, or ended the lives of everybody in its path, it also left a dark cloud lingering over humanity for decades after. At a time when the population of Europe was at an all time high, food was scarce. The people of Europe were not prepared to fight this terrifying new disease that couldn’t even begin to understand. This catastrophe did more then kill, it changed the structure of life in the middle ages, both the church and state were effected. Surprisingly the public officials treated this as a disease, not as the wrath of a vengeful god on a society of sinners.
Although for the people who were dying, or who were seeing their families and neighbors killed, their judgment day had arrived. It would be difficult to keep your faith at a time of great tragedy, if god wasn’t doing this to them, then why was he letting it happen? Religion usually stabilizes a society and brings the people together, but in this case, the faith of the people was among the list of casualties. God had always served as a beacon of hope in uncertain times, and made the people feel safe and cared after. But at a time when entire families and towns are being wiped out, rich and poor alike, faith in god was die ing as fast as the people were.
When kings and nobles started to perish at the hands of this monster, it really painted a dark picture for the rest of society, it proved that nobody was safe. The rich already had more food and better health to start with, which made them somewhat more resistant to the plague, but in the end even they could not escape death. The cities were abandoned rapidly by those who could leave. No amount of power or wealth could save them from their grim fates. When priests and popes began dying, faith was no longer enough. The plague was accompanied by chaos and panic.
Matthew portrays a very God like, all-powerful Jesus, with very few humanistic characteristics. Matthew 2: 3, "at this news King Herod became greatly disturbed." I thought the king would be happy to hear about the birth of Jesus. Apparently the kings intentions were not very nice. I really find this passage interesting, mainly because it separates God from the kingdom. Meaning the King has power ...
People could not understand for what Page 2 they were being punished. Most took precautions and hoped for the best. Some accepted that there was nothing they could do about it and felt that they had to live like everyday was their last. They ran wild in the streets, drinking too much, stealing, doing whatever they pleased.
No longer worried about sins and that being good would save you, they simply tried to enjoy the rest of their lives. The church was quick to condemn gambling, excessive drinking and the laziness of peasants and urged immediate confession of all sins and prayer for forgiveness. But by this time, the church was losing its prestige. The church had promised cures, treatment, and an explanation for the plague. They said it was God’s will, but the reason for this awful punishment was unknown.
People wanted answers, but the priests and bishops didn’t have any. The clergy abandoned their Christian duties and fled Medieval society had a rough time trying to recover from the effects of the plague. So many people were dying that soon there were labor shortages. Peasants demanded higher wages, but landlords refused those demands.
By the end of the 1300 s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy. The governments of Europe were suffering, the people were revolting, their officials were dying. The drastic change in the population also led to a lot less revenue for the state in the form of taxes. There was still the same amount of work to be done, but only half of the people to do it. The cost of goods and services skyrocketed. Those that weren’t killed by the plague were soon met with a large demand for workers and were now able to make a lot more money.
As Nobles died, the amount of taxes the peasants were charged declined and they were no longer obligated to work for them, so they could find better paying work elsewhere. Page 3 All the landowners were suffering because of this. Many began raising sheep, they figured it would be more profitable to harvest wool as opposed to paying the ever increasing wages to farm their land. Some simply leased out their land to the highest bidder. There were landholders who tried to secure their own well being through repressive legislation that forced the peasants to continue working the land and refused to raise their wages. In France the tax applied directly to the peasants, the taille, was raised causing an uproar from the lower class.
Like Plato, almost 2000 years before him, Thomas More was not satisfied with the political and economic structure of the society that he lived in. More found that his society, 16 th century England, was a corrupt society that favored the few and oppressed the many. More, like Plato who wrote the Republic, also wrote a political commentary about his time entitled "Utopia." In Utopia, More explains ...
Faced with life at its worst, people demanded the best. Expensive cloths and jewelry were in high demand. Furs from the north and silks from the south were popular and trading became prosperous. But with all the skilled workers dead, the quality of the goods being produced declined. The merchants and working class were moving their way up the economic ladder as the nobles were paying the price. The church grew wealthier as people willed their estates to the church as a last token of faith prior to their death.
But that was overshadowed by the loss of prestige in the peoples eyes. This all added to the question of church vs. state. Until then, nobles and clergy held most of the political power, but their power relied on their strength in numbers. But as the numbers declined, so did their economic pull and kings were able to secure their realms more easily. It would be some time before Europe would recover from the devastating effects of the plague.
But eventually the economy began to improve and the population began to grow opening the door for the next chapter in the middle ages, the renaissance. It served as more then a death of an era, it became the birth of a new, more prosperous one.