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The New Cambridge Medieval History
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Book description

This volume covers the last century (interpreted broadly) of the traditional western Middle Ages. Often seen as a time of doubt, decline and division, the period is shown here as a period of considerable innovation and development, much of which resulted from a conscious attempt by contemporaries to meet the growing demands of society and to find practical solutions to the social, religious and political problems which beset it. The volume consists of four sections. Part I focuses on both the ideas and other considerations which guided men as they sought good government, and on the practical development of representation. Part II deals with aspects of social and economic development at a time of change and expansion. Part III discusses the importance of the life of the spirit: religion, education and the arts. Moving from the general to the particular, Part IV concerns itself with the history of the countries of Europe, emphasis being placed on the growth of the nation states of the 'early modern' world.

Reviews

‘In a series of elegantly written and richly textured sketches, this large book provides some 32 chapters on the material, cultural and political condition of late medieval Europe. The task has been immense and the product is testimony to the editorial commitment that has sustained it in moments when others would surely have faltered and fallen.’

Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement

‘This is a triumphant final volume of the series, which will enrich historical literature for a long time to come.’

Jeremy Catto Source: The English Historical Review

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Contents


Page 1 of 3


  • 1 - Politics: Theory and Practice
    pp 1-28
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In 1415 Henry V, king of England, invaded northern France. In the east, two new powers, Muscovy and, above all, the Ottoman Empire, were putting eastern Europe to the sword. The 'modern states' of western Christendom were characterised by the provision of substantial revenues derived from national taxation raised by consent. Dialogue, political intercourse between prince and subjects, was essential to the modern state. Both theory and practice needed adapting to the particular political society of each state on at least two levels. Epitomising power, witnessed by an attentive audience, they became complex rituals, given tangible expression as dramatic presentations overlaid with symbolism. Speeches, in particular sermons, could convey unequivocal declarations of political thought. Clerics and ecclesiastics who had completed their university studies in the faculty of arts had become acquainted with the political works of Antiquity. History, like politics, was being transformed by literature; the success of Jean Froissart's work in aristocratic and bourgeois circles is testimony of this.
  • 2 - Representation (Since the Thirteenth Century)
    pp 29-64
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Political representation, based on the mandate bestowed on elected and responsible delegates, and applied at regional and national levels, can be considered as one of the major contributions of the western Middle Ages to world history. German historian Otto Hintze identified the conditions necessary for the unique emergence of representative government in western Europe. Hintze saw the extension of monarchical authority over the representative institutions for the development of representation. This chapter deals with the wider concept of representation, which includes forms. It is generally assumed that states or, before their stabilisation, countries or territories formed the system in which representative institutions operated. This chapter focuses on the analytical framework of political systems, starting from the various representative activities themselves, rather than from the territories. Royal elections stimulated the development of representative institutions in Sweden. Fundamental weaknesses of the medieval representative institutions were their lack of continuity in the monarchical model, and their lack of unity in both models.
  • 3 - Popes and Councils
    pp 65-86
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Supporters of the conciliar way wanted the council to undertake a reform of the Church, especially of papal taxation and papal appointments to senior benefices. On 26 June Peter Philarge, cardinal-archbishop of Milan, was elected pope and took the name Alexander V. The ensuing military and political events had a decisive impact on church history. The project of reunion through a council had been attracting strong support among the universities, especially Paris, and the numerous clerics, including senior prelates, who had been educated there. The defeat of the Council of Basle proved decisive for the western Church, for western Christendom and for European civilisation. Public opinion, amongst intellectuals and in court circles, seems to have favoured the more moderate view that a council was the emergency superior of the pope in cases of heresy, schism and the urgent need for reform. A look at popes and councils shows that the politics and ideology had an effect in shaping European culture.
  • 4 - The European Nobility
    pp 87-105
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The nobility of Europe at the end of the Middle Ages needs and deserves to be studied from a standpoint that is not merely socio-economic, but political and cultural, too. Europe is deemed synonymous with Latin Christendom. The Castilian nobility was distinctly divided into three categories: the titulos, the caballeros and later the hidalgos and the escuderos. Nobles from different parts of western Christendom could also meet at the court. The Prussian Reise, that cross-roads of western nobility, was more characteristic of the fourteenth than of the fifteenth century. Texts, in some cases translations, spread far from their place of origin identical concepts of nobility and chivalry, and stimulated commentaries upon them. The existence of noble classes of varying importance within different European societies is explained, first and foremost, by the long-term history of these societies, and, vitally, by its outcome.
  • 5 - Rural Europe
    pp 106-120
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The European countryside in the fifteenth century was more sparsely populated than at any time since 1150. This chapter focuses on the view of a 'demographic crisis' that helps understanding of the fifteenth century, but that excessive dependence on it leads to a distorted and incomplete picture. The desertion and shrinkage of settlements followed from the demographic crisis. The developments in farming amounted almost to a new ecological balance, reflected in the scientific evidence of pollen samples by a diminishing proportion of cereals and the weeds of cultivation, and increases in grass and tree pollen. The examination of the varied history of different regions suggests that the 'demographic crisis' applies most appropriately to lowland arable farming regions. Fifteenth-century Europe had experienced centuries of commercialisation and urbanisation. Peasants accounted collectively for the bulk of agricultural production. Despite the widespread abandonment of direct production for the market, home farms still produced for lords' households, and some nobles ventured into profitable enterprises.
  • 6 - Urban Europe
    pp 121-144
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The vagaries of record survival still make it impossible, and perhaps pointless, to try to estimate the total number of urban communities in late medieval Europe as a whole. Several fifteenth-century towns were sufficiently large and self-possessed to create an urban society capable of articulating its own communal values in religious, ceremonial, literary and artistic form. As the civic councillors of Florence, Venice, Bruges and Barcelona were alike aware, both urban self-expression and urban political power were always dependent on a local economy prosperous enough to generate exceptional wealth, albeit always unequally, among their citizens. The limitations of German urban political and military power, even when towns associated themselves with one another in so-called leagues, were already becoming obvious by the end of the century. The Italian humanists who began by creating the most explosive new urban ideology in European history eventually helped to destroy the community of tastes and interests upon which a common civic mentality must ultimately rest.
  • 7 - Commerce and Trade
    pp 145-160
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The fifteenth century is seen as one of economic contraction until the late 1460s and then of expansion, although within it many short-term fluctuations took place. Trade took place at local, regional and international levels. Besides major routes, many minor land, river and coastal routes existed, appropriate to regional and local trade. Luxury goods circulating on international routes were only the tip of the commercial iceberg. Merchants matched commodities to their markets: Italians bought English cloth differently for Tunis or Egypt, and Toulouse merchants ordered specific English reds for their customers. Transport, already well organised, regular and dependent on professional carriers, was steadily improved. Mercantile organisation was sophisticated enough to cope with geographically extended businesses of widely varying sizes, and, like shipowning, must be reckoned a capitalist activity. The English Staple Company illustrates a different sort of trade organisation. Regular trade, backed by political stability, allowed commercial specialisation. The specialisation of commodities was an integral part of the European economy.
  • 8 - War
    pp 161-174
  • View abstract

    Summary

    War was more than an opportunity for physical excitement or the chance to win reputation through deeds worthy of being recorded for the benefit of others. War was widely regarded as a way of securing peace and justice. Differences between religious and social systems lay behind wars fought mainly at the extremities of Europe. The most decisive development was the move towards centralisation of military organisation and command which was to be achieved in many parts of Europe. The requirement to avoid the collective consequences of defeat led to societies choosing both soldiers and, in particular, leaders from among those who had good practical experience of war. The war involving England, France and Burgundy, fought largely in the north and north-east of France, advanced considerably the use of heavy artillery in that part of Europe. War helped to stimulate the development of economies associated with it, in particular the provision of armaments and the materials which went into their making.
  • 9 - Exploration and Discovery
    pp 175-202
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter focuses on the term 'exploration' for the identification, investigation and recording of practical routes. The story of exploration in the fifteenth century is very largely of the crossing of the Atlantic with routes that linked its shores and led to other oceans. This story should be understood against the background of the internal exploration of Latin Christendom in the late Middle Ages. The discovery of new sources of gold and slaves meant that the direct economic effects of west African exploration were potentially revolutionary. Exploration was a means whereby the civilisation of Latin Christendom established access to and, in the longer run, command of a disproportionate share of the resources of the world. Explorers made a major contribution to the reversal of fortunes on a global scale. Previous civilisations derived their images of the world from dogmas of cosmology, from inductive reasoning, from revelation, from inherited tradition or from the elaboration of theory.
  • 10 - Religious Belief and Practice
    pp 203-219
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The religious history of the fifteenth century was dominated by the Great Schism. The religious education of the laity had never occupied so high a place among the priorities of those clergy who took their duties seriously. The majority of priests capable of preaching and eager to do so effectively lived in towns, and thus their normal congregations represented only a small proportion of the total Christian population. At the beginning of the fifteenth century a ruling of the Inquisition listed the actions characteristic of a good and faithful Christian. The Catholic belongs to a complex society which cannot function without priests. Image-makers, painters and sculptors, put the resources of their talents and craft at the service of this multi-faceted religion. As people can estimate the frequency and regularity of religious practice, they can establish that the majority of the faithful did carry out the prescriptions of the Church, year in, year out.
  • 11 - Schools and Universities
    pp 220-242
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The salient features in the history of schools and universities of medieval Christendom were progress and, on the whole, continuity until the crisis of the Great Schism. This chapter focuses on the consideration of the old and the new, of tradition and innovation. The new universities created in fifteenth-century France, be frequently linked with provincial parlements, were in towns that were asserting their authority as regional capitals. Universities formed the top tier of educational establishments in Europe during this period. There were the traditional ecclesiastical schools, to be found in large numbers in the vicinity of cathedrals, main collegiate churches and urban monasteries. The responsibility for primary education devolved upon municipalities and families, whose financial capacities were limited. During the fifteenth century some university colleges initiated grammar courses in annexes, so that future students could be better prepared. Because of the absenteeism endemic among teaching staff, curricula were often only partially covered, and the practice of disputation fell into disuse.
  • 12 - Humanism
    pp 243-277
  • View abstract

    Summary

    A discussion of Renaissance humanism must begin with Burckhardt, whose The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy has set the terms of debate and analysis from the time of its publication in 1860 up to the most recent scholarship. Burckhardt had posited a political explanation of the origins of Renaissance individualism, which in his view was the product of the egoistic and amoral political world of the Italian city-states. The great merit of Kristeller's interpretation of Renaissance humanism, indeed the key to its lasting appeal, is his philological study of primary sources. History, as one of the five disciplines of the studia humanitatis, was a principal concern of the humanists, who not only assiduously studied the ancient Roman histories but also wrote histories of their own. The grammar curriculum in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was divided into two relatively distinct phases: elementary education, and secondary education.
  • 13 - Manuscripts and Books
    pp 278-286
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The production of books and manuscripts in the fifteenth century saw the culmination of tendencies which had begun during the latter part of the thirteenth century. It is important to distinguish between 'mere books' and illuminated manuscripts, produced on the finest sheepskin or goatskin parchment. The use of paper in book production was evident from the late fourteenth century onwards. Parchment provided a better medium for manuscript painters, and was far better suited to the production of de luxe editions for affluent patrons and clients. The fifteenth century also saw an unprecedented demand for illustrated books at social levels. The manufacture and sale of books was only loosely controlled by guilds and corporations. The tendency towards the establishment of publishing houses, was especially marked in the Low Countries and at Florence. The important development in the style and format of illuminated books stemmed from the emergence of a closer relationship between manuscript painting and the art of the panel painter.
  • 14 - The Beginning of Printing
    pp 287-298
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The advent of printing heralded changes that have rightly been described as revolutionary. The invention of printing, its subsequent course, its effects and the ways in which it was exploited, raise issues that have little to do with the more immediate circumstances of invention. The application of metallurgical, chemical, calligraphic and engraving skills to the production of a printed page. Documentary sources, and close examination of surviving copies of books, have revealed a great deal of the background and financial and practical details of the beginnings of printing at Mainz in the 1450s. In general, printing was slow to take root in university towns; and where it did, as at Paris and Cologne, the earliest printers either showed little interest in local teaching needs, or moved on to other themes once a patron's initial enthusiasm waned. The potential of printing technology, linked to the exploitation of paper, was rapidly recognised for its religious, scholarly and social value.
  • 15 - Architecture and Painting
    pp 299-318
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The epochs in the history of art occupy so central a position in western achievement yet so strongly resist the neat distinctions of period and categorisation as the fifteenth century. The arts of fifteenth-century Christendom, known variously as 'late medieval', 'early Renaissance', 'late Gothic', even 'florid' and 'flamboyant', present an extraordinarily heterogeneous picture. The most profound changes come from the most mimetic of media, manuscript and panel painting, and to leave architecture, and to a lesser extent sculpture, unaltered until the mid-sixteenth century. The contrasting sensibilities of van der Weyden and van Eyck established the two poles within which Netherlandish painting operated to the end of the century. The Quattrocento sanctioned all kinds of personal commemoration for political, military, literary and artistic achievement. The cultivation of purely aesthetic values and interests, allied to a proliferation of new kinds of secular art in northern Europe and Italy, cannot obscure the fact that fifteenth-century art remained predominantly religious.
  • 16 - Music
    pp 319-334
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Music permeated every walk of fifteenth-century life, from popular and aristocratic entertainment to religious and civic ritual. Music was sung or performed on instruments, executed by individuals or groups, played by ear, improvised or read from notation. During the 1430s and 1440s, the traditionally rather learned and esoteric isorhythmic motet was eclipsed as most prestigious genre by the so-called cyclic Mass, grouped settings of texts from the Ordinary of the Mass. The smaller-scale music also tended to be composed rather differently, with simpler vocal parts conceived together rather than as successively superimposed layers. Range of musical style is also surprisingly wide, despite a general tendency towards a tuneful, semi-popular manner, there are also a number of far more refined and sophisticated pieces, especially among the more austere devotional carols of the later years of the century. The basis for academic study of music and the ultimate source for most of the speculative treatises was Boethius' treatise De institutione musica.
  • 17 - Germany and the Empire
    pp 335-366
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Thomas Murner derided as naive the contention of Jakob Wimpfeling that Alsace had always been both geographically and politically 'German' since the days of the Roman Empire. Throughout the fifteenth century the 'German tongue' stamp a linguistic community set apart from foreign speakers. The campaigns against the Hussites were launched as European crusades with papal sanction, but their military organisations and financial burden drew members of the Empire into closer and more frequent consultation. The dualism of the Empire is reflected in the two issues which remained running sores throughout the century. They are the need for the kings to establish a dynastic power base strong enough to enable them to rule effectively as emperors; and the concern of members of the Reich to establish public order and the rule of law within Germany. In the consolidation of the greater secular principalities fifteenth-century Germany displayed the constitutional and political features which elsewhere in Europe marked the emergence of nation-states.
  • 18 - Hus, the Hussites and Bohemia
    pp 367-391
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In the fifteenth century the king and nobility of Bohemia were in competition to fulfil what each saw as the interests of the kingdom. Along with Moravia, Silesia and Upper and Lower Lusatia, the kingdom of Bohemia was one of five provinces united under the crown of St Wenceslas. By the fourteenth century, lay religious groups such as the Waldensians were active in southern Bohemia, Hradec Královè, Prague and Žatec, and would supply recruits for the Hussite cause. Nicholas of Hus constituted an example of a man prepared to risk worldly achievements for the sake of Hussite ideals. The fifteenth-century was marked by the Hussite revolution which grew out of an attempt to reform the religious lives of the people. Hus was primarily concerned with the reform of religious life both in the individual and in the Church. The first diet of the Hussite revolution recognised urban power and was determined to give Czechs the dominant position within the realm.
  • (a) - France at the End of the Hundred Years War (c. 1420–1461)
    pp 392-407
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In 1521, Francis I of France visited Dijon, where he was shown the skull of John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy. Oaths were taken by the greatest French princes, such as Burgundy and Brittany, to pledge their allegiance to a Lancastrian succession to the throne of France after the death of Charles VI. Hatred of the Burgundians and their allies was as powerful an incentive to resist the Lancastrian war effort as any sense of nascent French nationalism. The creation of the standing army had been preceded by a period in which positive gains were made by Charles VII's forces, especially in the southern territories of the Lancastrians. Although there were apprehensions about a further revival of English war aims the disturbed political condition of Lancastrian and Yorkist England militated against a concerted policy of intervention in France. The strength of regionalism had led to a widespread devolution of royal authority: poor communications militated against effective government from the centre.
  • (b) - The Recovery of France, 1450– 1520
    pp 408-430
  • View abstract

    Summary

    France witnessed both the recovery of lost territory and a crucial advance towards territorial cohesion and monarchical absolutism. The position of the great nobility is now better understood, while the recovery of France after the war against England is no longer seen as an inevitable royal victory but rather the story of how a fragile monarchy overcame the power of the princely polyarchy. Charles VII had managed to maintain the precarious balance between royal sovereignty and princely polyarchy which had been struck after the defeat of the Praguerie in 1440. The bedrock of the state, however, was not military might but the upholding of justice by which 'kings rule, while kingdoms, principalities and monarchies are maintained'. The royal fiscal system had been reconstructed after the recapture of Paris in 1436. The rural lordship, 'the unique legal and stable framework of the recovery', took full advantage of the favourable economic situation.
  • 20 - Burgundy
    pp 431-456
  • View abstract

    Summary

    On 27 April 1404, Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, died in the town of Hal, south of Brussels. The late duke's matrimonial policy had, in effect, led to the marriage of three Burgundian princesses to princes of the Empire. Heir to an important group of principalities, the new duke of Burgundy also took charge of the administrative and judicial institutions upon which ducal government relied. In the fourteenth century the position of the duke of Burgundy was such that, whether political, military or diplomatic, had repercussions across the length and breadth of Europe. The court of Burgundy was both an organ of government and a manifestation of prestige. The dynamism of the Burgundian territories, at the western Europe and the importance of their economic activities combined to give contemporaries an incomparable prosperity. Margaret of York and Mary of Burgundy saw that the way of rescuing survived of the Burgundian inheritance lay through an alliance with the house of Habsburg.
  • (a) - Lancastrian England
    pp 457-476
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The usurpation of 1399 provided a precedent and a model which exercised a profound influence over the politics and government of fifteenth-century England. The dubious title of the Lancastrians diluted the hereditary principle and thus widened the field of potential claimants to the crown. The Lancastrian era, from Henry IV's usurpation until Henry VI's deposition in 1461, was dominated by three interwoven themes: warfare, service and finance. Henry V's elder surviving brother. The crisis of the Lancastrian monarchy was inevitably precipitated by events in France. The cohesion amongst the leading magnates, long sustained by the common purpose of defending Lancastrian France, began to disintegrate. In May loyal Lancastrians were summoned to Leicester for military service, and the following month a great council was held at Coventry. The victories of Henry V, culminating in the Treaty of Troyes, linked the fortunes of the Lancastrian dynasty inextricably to continued military success in France.
  • (b) - Yorkist and Early Tudor England
    pp 477-495
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Edward IV dated the start of his reign from 4 March 1461, the day he was acclaimed by the Londoners and took his seat on the throne in Westminster Hall. His claim to be king of England received its real confirmation three weeks later, on 29 March, when he led the Yorkists to victory at Towton. Alongside Edward's search for domestic security went the need to secure recognition for his dynasty in Europe. The Burgundian alliance was formalised in the marriage of Duke Charles to Edward's sister Margaret, the only one of the Yorkist royal family to make a 'dynastic' marriage. Edward IV, now reconciled with Clarence, defeated Warwick at the battle of Barnet and then went on to overcome a Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury. The handful of exceptions included the Lancastrian half blood, now represented by Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry, and a few men who knew that they had no hope of regaining their land under York.

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