Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2014
The Europe into which the eastern Baltic littoral was drawn from the thirteenth century on was itself undergoing major changes. The grand struggle between secular rulers and the papacy over ultimate allegiance was resolving itself in favor of the monarchies, and by the fifteenth century, the monarchs had begun to realize the importance of dynasty and effective internal administration. As old feudal ties between lords and vassals and sub-vassals were eroding, lords could no longer expect loyalty from their subordinates on the basis of a personal bond alone. Military servitors to whom lands had been granted were refashioning themselves into land-based aristocracies, discovering at the same time the benefits of heritability of their holdings and the advantages of binding “their” peasants to the soil. Cities were becoming an increasingly powerful and independent political force, while long-distance trade and commerce established new forms of personal wealth.
The western church still remained in charge, at least nominally, of the salvation of souls, but, as an institution deeply involved in secular affairs, its activities were being questioned by reformers such as John Wycliff and John Hus who were greatly dismayed about ecclesiastical corruption and the spectacle of a very wealthy church. A conciliar movement (Constance, 1414–1417; Basle, 1431–1449) sought to pacify the reformers, but their disquiet continued. Wealth was being redefined to include more than land, but the impulse to control territory remained strong at both the personal and state levels.