There were many reasons for the downfall of the Middle Ages, but the most crucial ones were the decline of the feudal system and the declination of the Church’s power over the nation-states. In feudal society, everyone had a definite place and a definite role, with the power resting in the hands of the local lords (instead of a central government). The lords, or nobles, lost power after the Crusades when the Europeans came into contact with the more advanced civilizations of the Byzantine Empire and the Muslims.
That spurred the growth of trade, which in turn gave rise to a money system. The money system in turn caused the birth of a middle class, which didn’t fit anywhere into the feudal system. It was made up of the serfs and peasants that left the feudal system in search of making money in trade.
For the middle class, the king granted Charters, made a uniform law, started banking, offered protection, and expanded territory. In return, the middle class paid taxes to the king. While this money economy grew, the feudal lords were put into an economic squeeze. As one may see, that didn’t leave much of a place for the nobles, who were rapidly losing power.
Another thing that contributed to their loss of power was the enforcement of Common Law, which applied throughout the kingdom.
The effects of the Hundred Years’ War hastened the decline of the feudal system. The use of the longbow and firearms made the feudal methods of fighting obsolete. Monarchs replaced feudal soldiers with national armies made up of hired soldiers. Finally, threats to the monarchy decreased as a result of the large number of nobles killed in the war.
Another major factor that contributed to the end of the Middle Ages was the declination of the Church’s power over the nation-states. Conflicts between the papacy and the monarchy over political matters resulted in people losing faith in the Church.
Events like the Babylonian Captivity and the Great Schism further weakened the Church’s influence over the people. Aside from that, people were disgusted at the actions of the corrupt church officials. They would charge the people money for all church services, and they also allowed church positions to be bought.
The princely lifestyle of the clergy further eroded regard for the church. While some still believed that religion held all the answers, others were beginning to put faith into reason and science. The uncertainty of the existence of God made people question the Church. Perhaps one of the most vital blows to the Church was the printing of the Bible in the vernacular language.
That was a revolutionary act because only the clergy was permitted to interpret God’s words in the Bible. People angrily criticized the Church for that. A religious reformer, Jan Hus, led the Czechs who produced religious pamphlets and copies of the Bible in Czech and criticized the corruption of the leading Church officials. When Hus and his works were condemned, riots broke out across Bohemia. Hus’ ideas were spread throughout Europe after his death, and that left the Church with even more resistors.
These reasons resulted in the inevitable end of the Middle Ages, giving rise to a new age full of new and wonderful things in art and society.
Although the Middle Ages are sometimes labeled as the Dark Ages, there were some really important things accomplished in that time that have a crucial effect on society today as we know it; for instance, the Magna Carta, which in the Middle Ages placed clear limits on royal power, and today, is the basis of our Constitution.
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