The Fourteenth-Century Crisis
During the fourteenth-century, the world saw a series of events that we now deem to group together as the ‘fourteenth-century crisis’. The main aspect of this was the spread of the Black Death throughout the ‘old world’, from Burma in 1306, all the way through Asia to France & England by 1348. The plague devastated populations all along trade routes, many created by the Mongol expansions of the previous century. The Black Death hit the world at about the same time as the ‘little ice age’ hit, where world weather conditions were meagre and crop harvests failed. The Plague itself resurfaced every decade throughout the 14th century.
As well as The Plague, much of the world was hit by crop failure and famine. The change in climate heavily affected agriculture and crop production with colder temperatures causing the Great European Famine of 1315-1322, a generation before the plague hit. Furthermore, in china we see the Yellow River flood as the Black Death hits, causing widespread death and famine amongst the Chinese population. We see the Chinese population reduce by 40million people during the fourteenth-century. As well as this, the crisis helped to destroy the Chinese Yuan dynasty’s claim to have a mandate from heaven, leading to a growth in dissident movements and religious sects, such as the Red Turban Movement, who overthrew the Yuan dynasty and established the Ming Dynasty in 1368. Despite this success, it took Zhu Yuanzang, the Hongwu Emperor, twenty years to pacify and reunify China.
Within Europe, we see an even larger crisis. Although previous centuries had seen population increases throughout Europe, the declining climatic situation led to harsh winters and wet summers, resulting in various famines, notably the Great Famine of 1315-1322. Also, the declining quality of arable land, with soils being exhausted, combined with the climatic change, killed millions. As well as the Black Death, which killed 40% of the world’s population, there was also popular dissent. Noble taxes and demands on peasantry led to dissent and, after the events of the famine and Plague, revolts became a common theme in Europe against Feudalism and low pay. After peasant revolts in England in 1381 and France in 1358, we see a change away from feudal culture, with less people to till the land, meaning higher wages and more worker freedom.
There was also widespread discontent with the established Church, with peasant dissatisfaction at monk and priest abuse of finances. Rational Christianity declined as poverty and death surrounded Europe, yet spirituality increased as people searched for answers. We see the beginning of the renaissance and the declining influence of the Catholic Church, eventually leading within a hundred years to Luther and the Reformation. As well as the declining influence of the Church, states themselves had to rebuild, and we see dynastic struggles between England and France, the Reconquista in Spain and the beginnings of Portuguese and Spanish search for new trade routes.
The reunification and emergence of states pushed forward competition between them, resulting in a military revolution, the beginning of trade empire, and changing political lifestyles.